18th > March > 2004 Archive

Nokia makes stealth moves on your living room

Only two consumer electronics companies on the planet really matter. Sony and Nokia are the only two with the market presence and reach to set the standards for the industry. Neither has all the pieces of the picture, but at CeBIT we saw them attempt to fill in some of the gaps. Sony launched the PSX, a PlayStation 2 with TiVo functionality and a DVD-burner. Unlike Xbox2, PSX will be backward-compatible. But two much more minor announcements from Nokia are worth a second look. Nokia unveiled a home set-top box and a piece of PC software. Neither of these promises a home entertainment revolution but they do indicate some strategic directions. Nokia's Image Album is a TV accessory with a 20GB hard disk that allows you to view and store images from your camera phone on your TV. With today's blurry VGA camera snaps that might seem risible, but Nokia became the latest manufacturer to equip its 2004 range of handsets with a megapixel camera, and the quality of these is improving dramatically. Images can be beamed over by infra red or Bluetooth, or transferred by MMC or SD card. Nokia bundles a remote control and has designed a family-friendly user interface that isn't too removed from the PC filing metaphor to be uncomfortable. You can plug a printer into the Image Album or backup to a TV. The concept isn't new. Nokia's Image Viewer, SU-5, is the latest in a line of these. And not many people know that Nokia also markets a TiVo-like console, a PVR with this functionality built in - the Mediamaster range. Probably because they're only available in Finland and Sweden. (Any reader reports?) The other part of the puzzle begins to fall into place with the misleadingly-named Lifeblog software. This isn't a weblog, as designer Christian Lindholm stresses. Lindholm designed the world's most popular user interface, the "Navikey" UI found on most Nokia phones, and Series 60 too, although we'll forgive him for that, as it's early days yet. "Nokia Lifeblog is not a blogging tool, it is a logging tool or as we prefer to call it a multimedia diary," he wrote, correcting some misunderstandings bloggers had spread on his own site last week. It's a scrapbook-style Windows application that gathers photos and messages and allows you to organize them several ways, including by timeline. "Nokia feels that blogging is a subset of your electronic life, not the whole life, hence our focus on the PC initially. The first version will not have any features enabling blogging (you can send e-mail from PC version, but I do not call that blogging)." Only the new 7610 will support this, as yet. Nice though this is, it's even exponentially nicer to share a scrapbook with friends, although this functionality isn't promised in the first version. Blog-evangelists often proselytize the publicness of the writing, but a finer granularity is needed if Lifeblog isn't to suffer the same fate as blogging itself. As Frank Catalano writes here many of the 98 per cent who don't keep a blog regard it as "a very public form of self-important self-abuse." Do you want your Mother to see what pictures you took last night? Series 60 already has the very convenient groups feature in its Contacts book and we'll check back to see this is on the team's To-Do list. It could be a great example of an outside vendor introducing some new thinking and features into the echo chamber, which spends not an inconsiderable amount of time congratulating itself on how jolly well it's done so far. A granular content management system - what's not to like? (Russell Beattie has more good advice for Nokia here.) Many a business plan has crashed and burned chasing the dream of convergence. Nokia makes no such boasts. But take today's two announcements together, and you see Nokia making inroads into activities that most of us do, by turning its technology into a seamless tool for sharing stuff. Both are really features - the Digital Viewer should be built into every TV set, but the politics of the CE business makes that an unlikely prospect - rather than products in their own right. But Nokia could succeed where techno-utopians so often fail. ® Related Stories Most bloggers 'are teenage girls' - survey UI Wars: Sony loves Symbian - grits teeth Sony 'confirms' 2004 PSX European launch PSX rolls out in Japan, but analysts disappointed
Andrew Orlowski, 18 Mar 2004
Broken CD with wrench

Analysts cheer AMD, Dell and Microsoft as x86-64-bit winners

AMD, Dell and Microsoft have the most to gain from a large scale move to 64-bit extensions technology, according to analyst firm Illuminata. In a recent report, Illuminata ranked the major players in the 64-bit computing arena, saying just about every vendor has a chance to thrive with either AMD's Opteron processor or Intel's upcoming Xeon (now enhanced) Extender - er, Extended Memory 64 Technology. But out of all the big boys, AMD, Dell and Microsoft are best poised to profit from a 32-bit to 64-bit server transition. HP and IBM may well have the most to lose. "x86 wasn't supposed to evolve into the 64-bit world," wrote Illuminata's Gordon Haff. "However, for reasons that include depressed technology spending and heightened risk aversion, consolidations and repositioning among vendors, and early technological missteps by Itanium, x86 has unquestionably moved into the 64-bit sphere. Breathless headlines notwithstanding (Thanks - Ed.), x86-64 isn't likely to kill Itanium, or any other processor for that matter, reckon the analysts. "And, indeed, it will be those vendors who have the most invested in, and get the most leverage from, their x86 products who will gain the most from the continuing x86 evolution." For the moment, Illuminata has a "very positive" ranking for AMD's effect on the x86-64-bit market. The chip maker enjoys a time-to-market advantage over Intel and is seen as the major innovator with the technology. While Intel's Xeon processors will certainly heat up the competition, just having Intel on board with 64-bit extensions "legitimizes" AMD's strategy, Illuminata said. Opteron has boosted AMD's fortunes in a major way. The vendor now has strong ties to IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems - something that could not be said a year ago. The near term gains are obvious. Microsoft also receives a "very positive" ranking, despite not even having a 64-bit OS for Opteron or Xeon Extender yet. For years, Microsoft has tried to crack into the lucrative part of the midrange and high-end server market dominated by Unix. Now, however, technology trends are pushing at least the midrange of the market toward Microsoft. The strength of Intel and AMD's processors have made one, two and four processor boxes attractive for a much wider variety of tasks than in the past. Microsoft does well on this class of system and should do even better with Windows Server 2003. In addition, the presence of commodity 64-bit hardware gives Microsoft customers a clear upgrade path and should keep most Beast-friendly users from flocking to Linux or elsewhere for help with memory-hungry apps. Most of this holds true for the last "very positive" vendor - Dell. In addition, unlike IBM, HP and Sun, Dell has spent very little cash on developing 64-bit chip technology. As always, the research and development efforts of others tumbled right into Round Rock, Illuminata pointed out. Dell doesn't have high-end products it needs to protect. Compare that to the "mixed" crowd of HP and IBM. "Taken as a whole, x86 extensions are a mixed bag for HP," Haff wrote. "On the one hand, extensions bolster today's x86 leaders; HP's ProLiant business is clearly at the top of this list. On the other, they'll tend to cool adoption of Itanium, at least in a generalized way—especially at x86's margins where tasks may be getting a bit memory-starved but don't necessarily need the full range of Itanium's scalability and reliability features." In its defense of HP, Illuminata went so far as to charge The Register with Itanium hate-crimes. Embracing hyperbole, they claimed that our humble reporters were "fervent" Itanic "naysayers" who had been "whipped into an 'Itanium is dead' frenzy." While this verges on slander and probably does not warrant a response, we do recommend reading the following stories for our official position on the Itanium processor: Who sank Itanic; Analyst sees St. Fister in Itanium wafer; Intel toasts Itanium's success by giving servers away; Curse of Itanic doomed MigraTEC; Itanium fends off Opteron for slowest selling chip crown; Dell 14, IBM 0 - quarterly Itanic sales revealed; Itanic: Enron's Golden Albatross; Buster Gonads inspires unfeasibly large Itanic CPU; Itanic: you've seen the movie, now buy the book; Itanic OEM slams Itanic; Miracle cures Berkeley man of Itanic wickedness; Itanic: It's all academic now - Official; Itanic crushes Beeb micro in speed bake-off; Intel airs Itanium underpants in public; HP wears Itanium underpants and sings the Intel song; Itanic Zombies check into Motel of Distinction; Do not feed, poke or disturb the Itanic user; Itanic locked Inattic for IDF; and Intel wants caviar, not cod roe, from IA-64. And that's just the favorable coverage from this decade. So, say what you will, Illuminata, our record speaks for itself. Now back to HP, Intel and Itanic's woes. As Illuminata points out, a market for Itanium will exist despite the presence of Opteron and Xeopteron. This market, however, is much smaller than either HP or Intel had hoped. Itanic has been relegated to high-end computing tasks. HP must now balance Opteron, Xeopteron, and Itanium servers in its product line and explain which product is best suited for customers' 64-bit computing needs. HP's ProLiant business will keep on thriving, but at the expense of a vast Itanic investment. IBM is also in the "mixed" bag because of its Power investment, says Illuminata. "However, IBM is also starting to push its own POWER processor family for 64-bit Linux," Haff wrote. "The upcoming broad-based shift to 64-bits will be a disruptive event that - in the absence of a single dominant architecture as x86 became for 32-bit computing - creates a breakout opportunity for POWER. But x86 extensions provide an alternative path-of-least-resistance for potential Linux-on-POWER buyers, just as they do for Itanium customers. That makes Linux-on-POWER as a mainstream option - never an easy strategy to realize - even more challenging. X86-64 may be good news for the xSeries, but remains an obstacle to IBM's ambitions for pSeries and POWER pervasiveness." Unlike HP and IBM, Sun received a "positive" ranking. Sun does have a SPARC investment to protect, but low-end x86 sales are pure gravy for the company at this point. Should Sun's Opteron bet pay out, it will own the low-end 64-bit market - at least with the Unix and Linux crowds. Most of all, 64-bit extensions technology is "very positive" for customers. It lets many customers make a smooth transition from 32-bit to 64-bit servers be it on the back of Windows or Linux. Customers will also benefit from stronger competition between Intel and AMD on server processors and from the introduction of new technology such as a 64-bit version of Solaris for x86 chips. It should be interesting to see how the presence of AMD plays out over time. AMD has several new friends, including Microsoft, and that must give Intel shivers. With HP, IBM and Sun on its side, AMD is quickly becoming a trusted name in enterprise computing, and that's the last thing Intel ever wanted to happen. ®
Ashlee Vance, 18 Mar 2004

HP re-elects ‘AWOL’ Disney man

California's influential public employees' pension fund CalPERS flexed its muscles again today, but failed in its bid to shake up the Hewlett Packard board. A statement by the United States' largest pension fund decision that it had "lost complete confidence" in Disney CEO Michael Eisner was instrumental in the recent decision to strip him of his Chairman role. Now another Disney man has survived the CalPERS axe. The fund, which is a large HP shareholder, voted to not to re-elect attorney Sandy Litvack and four other directors on the HP board, citing conflicts of interest. The five also serve on the board of the HP audit committee and CalPERS doesn't approve of auditors performing non-auditing tasks for a corporation. HP allows its auditor Ernst & Young to perform multiple roles. Last year CalPERS, also an AOL shareholder, voted against the re-election of five AOL directors, including Netscape veteran Jim Barksdale, ofr the same reason. Coincidentally, the auditor in that instance was also Ernst & Young. The giant pension fund has in the past supported the election of "dissident" directors, elected to report back to unhappy shareholders on the state of the corporation. CalPERS also singled out Litvack, Disney's senior general counsel from 1991 to 1998, for poor attendance. He's certainly a busy fellow. HP shareholders in Houston today decided to re-elect the five. The fund's corporate governance principles can be found here ®
Andrew Orlowski, 18 Mar 2004

Six months to get wireless rail travel free from Virgin

If you know the right person, you can spend huge sums of money on expensive wireless Internet access at railway stations in the UK. Or, for the next six months, at least, you can piggyback free on the ReadyToSurf network in Virgin Trains lounges. There is a bit of a mystery involved, however, because the plan is to provide this service on the platforms, not just in the lounges. The Broadreach Networks service, which we foreshadowed back in January, is being trialled, at last. It has been working, unofficially, for some months, and astonished commuters in Paddington Station, London, have discovered that there was an open access point there. Now, it's official, and spreading. Official, but not fully "available" because the period from now to September will be free. That normally has two purposes. First, it encourages people to get hooked, and second, it means that if things go wrong, you can't sue. The first announced hotspots are in Virgin Trains' first class lounges at London Euston, Coventry, Birmingham New Street, Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester Piccadilly. The ultimate plan, however, is far more ambitious; to provide wireless at high speed on the train itself. This trial will provide secure wireless broadband access "to any passenger who has a wireless-enabled notebook computer or PDA". Intriguingly, the announcement claims that "it will be free of charge to passengers travelling first class for six months", which has to be a misunderstanding by someone. Clearly, they don't mean exactly what they say (that it's free if you travel for six months!) but equally, it can't be true that they have a way of telling what sort of train ticket you have, or of preventing the wireless signal from reaching people sitting outside the Virgin lounges. And apart from that, there are open, and still free, Broadreach hotspots in over 70 stations around the UK, without any link to Virgin. The plan, as set out by Broadreach chief Magnus McEwen-King, is to make sure that all Wi-Fi trains, when they are launched later this year, will have broadband Internet even when in a main station. "Obviously, you can't do that with satellite signals," he said recently, "so we'll have other strategies, including GPRS links, and also including our own broadband wireless hotspots in the stations." In other words, the plan is not to restrict the wireless footprint of these hotspots. While they're free, they will be available to anybody; but even when they become paid-for, they'll still spill over onto the platforms. Virgin is one of the higher-profile partners in the ReadyToSurf venture. Like BT Openworld, a major UK broadband provider, Virgin will allow users to charge their hotspot usage to their home phone bill, or mobile phone bill. The usual PR statements were made at the announcement. Mark Sears, marketing manager at Virgin Trains, said: "Demand for connectivity on the move is growing rapidly, especially for our business passengers who need access seamlessly and frequently." That was fine, but then, carelessly, he added: "At Virgin, we constantly strive to deliver the most valuable travel time for our customers" - a statement which will cause mirth amongst the travelling public, where the memories of the rail company's early years are still sharp. "We believe that the ReadytoSurf service from Broadreach will make for more productive, relaxing and entertaining journeys," he added. Magnus McEwen-King, Broadreach Networks CEO, commented: "Our research shows that rail passengers want secure and reliable Internet access whilst on the move. By providing this service in Virgin Trains' first class lounges we are further strengthening our relationship with the Virgin group of companies, and laying foundations for the future when we will provide seamless end to end service, both on-train and at stations, for passengers travelling by Virgin Trains." The ReadytoSurf service will be rolled out to 16 more stations on Virgin West Coast Main stations later in 2004. Copyright © 2004, NewsWireless.Net Related Products Check out Wi-Fi products in The Reg mobile store
Guy Kewney, 18 Mar 2004

S3 preps native PCI Express graphics chips

S3 Graphics, VIA's imaging accelerator division, today unveiled its pitch for the hearts and minds of PCI Express-equipped PCs: the GammaChrome chip family. The chips feature native PCI Express support, negating the need for bridge chips to convert AGP 8x signals to the new interface standard. There's a clear cost benefit there, and S3 said it also ensures superior performance. S3 gave away few details of the product line - presumably more information will be made public closer to the GammaChrome chips' introduction some time in the third quarter. However, the company did say that the series of GPUs will feature its Chromotion 2.0 programmable video engine, along with native HDTV output. S3 will pitch GammaChrome parts at the high end, the mid-range and the value market, it said. The chips will be fabbed using the "latest fabrication technology". ® Related story VIA aims latest P4 chipsets at HDTV generation
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

US tells China to drop chip sales tax – or else

The US government has warned China that it must drop its 17 per cent tax on chip sales, or face the consequences. A formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) could come in the next few days. Speaking during a congressional hearing last week, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said of the duty: "If they don't stop it, we're going to take action." China levies a 17 per cent sales tax on all semiconductor products sold in the country. However, domestic producers are eligible for a 11 per cent tax rebate, rising to 14 per cent if the products were designed as well as fabricated in China. The tax was introduced in 2000. US chip trade body the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) has already claimed the tax rebate amounts to state aid outlawed by the WTO. It has asked the US government to raise the matter with the WTO. China became a WTO member in December 2001. Crucial to any WTO investigation of the Chinese tax will be its effect on overseas suppliers. The Chinese government claims that the tax has not been detrimental to foreign chip makers. "The tax policy has not brought substantial damages on US firms," said Guo Xiuming, an official at the Ministry of Information Industry, quoted by Chinese state-owned media. "I believe any action by the US to bring the case to the WTO will likely fail." Essentially, China argues that since the domestic producers are so much smaller than overseas chip makers, the tax advantage has little impact on the market. Chinese bureaucracy also ensures that the rebate can take some time to arrive. Guo Xiuming said that China may change its tax policy over time as the industry develops. The implication is that once China has a strong enough domestic industry, it will no longer need the tax break and the rebate can be reduced or even eliminated. The US government's strategy is likely to focus on the transition period, where the rebate may indeed come to have a negative effect on importers, and thus fall foul of WTO regulations. China is also subject to the Wassenaar Arrangement, a western protocol that limits the export of technologies with potential military use to certain nations. Currently, chip making kit falls under the remit of Wassenaar with the result that domestic Chinese fabs tend to be one or more generations behind their overseas equivalents. Chip manufacturing equipment makers want the US export rules relaxed to encourage sales into the emerging Chinese market, EE Times reports. According to trade body Semiconductor Equipment Manufacturing International (SEMI), the Chinese chip-making kit market was worth $1.16bn last year. Relaxing the rules on chip equipment exports could be used as a bargaining tool to reduce or remove the domestic rebate on chip sales tax. ® Related stories US chip industry to take on Beijing China tells Intel to calm down over Wi-Fi Intel won't play by China's Wi-Fi rules US chip biz tells China to ditch local WLAN standard
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

SiS goes PCI Express for Pentium 4, Athlon 64 FX

SiS has begun sampling its first PCI Express-based North Bridge chips for AMD's Athlon 64 FX chip and Intel's Pentium 4. The AMD part is supported by the SiS756 North Bridge. Like the Pentium 4-oriented SiS656 North Bridge, it has been designed to work with the company's SiS965 South Bridge part. The 756 provides a PCI Express x16 interface for graphics cards, which yields an 8GBps bi-directional data transfer rate - rather higher than AGP 8x's 2.1GBps. The 656 includes a dual-channel memory controller that can cope with 400MHz DDR SDRAM and 667MHz DDR 2, with support for up to four DIMMs and a 4GB memory ceiling. It also supports HyperThreading. The SiS965 South Bridge will provide a pair of PCI Express x1 buses as PCI replacements, support for four Serial ATA devices (with RAID 1 0+1 and JBOD) and four ATA-133 devices, Gigabit Ethernet, eight USB 2.0 ports, 7.1 channel AC97 sound. The SiS656 is expected to ship in motherboards in May, SiS said. It could not say when mobos based on the Athlon 64 FX chipset would become available. ® Related stories S3 preps native PCI Express graphics chips Nvidia unwraps PCI Express graphics chips ATI is waiting for PCI Express to launch Athlon 64 chipsets
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

AMD rolls out faster low-power Athlon XP-M

AMD yesterday announced it had begun shipping its latest 32-bit mobile Athlon processor, the XP-M 2100+. The part is pitched at thin'n'light notebooks at all price points, with the chip itself costing a mere $97 in batches of 1000 processors. One customer is Fujitsu, which said it will build the chip into its LifeBook S2000 notebook. The new model went on sale yesterday. A number of Taiwanese contract manufacturers will follow its lead later this year, AMD said. ®
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

Nokia, Sony, Philips tout connectivity Utopia

CeBITCeBIT Nokia, Philips and Sony have formed an alliance to promote an RFID-based communications standard. The idea is that Near Field Communications (NFC) technology will allow people to access content and services and transfer data just by touching a smart object, or by bringing two devices close together. The technology has three main applications, as seen by its inventors at Philips and Sony: secure mobile payment; peer-to-peer communication; and access to information on the move. The technology could be a simple way of managing digital rights, for example. You buy the rights to a song using your phone. The rights can then be transfered to your PC at home using the NFC technology and you can download the song using your broadband connection. Teruaki Aoki, senior executive VP at Sony, foresees wide adoption of the technology as a bridge between consumer electronic devices - from mobile phones to DVD players and home networks. Today at CeBIT, he forecast the technology will be used extensively, even in white goods and the car industry. The Forum members say it is not meant to be a replacement for infra-red or bluetooth, but a complementary technology. A connection will be initiated by the NFC technology, but because the data transfer rates are so low (between 106kbits/s and 212kbits/s), bluetooth or other wireless technology will take over the actual data transfer. Philips, Sony and Nokia say the technology will let people access content and services simply and intuitively. They see a world of "secure universal commerce where consumers can access and pay for physical and digital services using any device", according to the promotional literature. The RFID tag will sit in a device and deal with authentication for the user: no more pin numbers to remember then. The question of what happens if someone steals your phone is still open, but the forum, backed by Visa, maintains that it would not be any different than losing a credit card. Working products are already available for broadband providers to test, and the Forum expects the technology will be in products on the shelves by the end of the year. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 18 Mar 2004

Sony readies Q2 dual-layer DVD+R drive debut

Reg Kit WatchReg Kit Watch Sony will ship its first dual-layer DVD+R recorders next June, the consumer electronics giant said yesterday. Two new drives are in the works, an internal unit and an external box. Both will offer nearly double the capacity of single-layer DVD+R discs, from 4.7GB to 8.5GB - enough for up to four hours of DVD-quality MPEG-2 video or 16 hours' VHS-quality video. Dual-layer DVD+R recording runs at 2.4x, compared to a single-layer write speed of 8x for DVD+R and DVD-R, and 4x for DVD+RW and DVD-RW. CD-Rs can be written at 40x, CD-RWs at 24x, Sony said. The DVD+RW Alliance launched the dual-layer DVD+R technology - dubbed 'DVD+R DL' - last November and forecast that drives would ship this coming April. The technology was co-developed by drive maker Philips, and media specialists Verbatim and Mitsubishi Kagaku. Recorded DVD+R DL discs are fully compliant DVD9 discs and should be compatible with most consumer DVD video players and DVD-ROM drives, Sony said. The internal drive, the DRU-700A, comes with an ATAPI interface. The external model, the DRX-700UL, drive features what Sony calls "a radical sleek and space-efficient design". It will provide both USB 2.0 and Firewire interfaces. Both units will ship with a full suite of disc burning and content editing software tools, Sony said. The drives are expected to start shipping in the US by the end of the second quarter at an estimated selling price of $230 for DRU-700A and $330 for the DRX-700UL. ® Related story 8.5GB DVD+R discs, drives to ship April '04
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

Eight-day BT email snag sorted

BT has been forced to halt the migration of punters to its new BT Yahoo! platform after being hit by an email glitch. The snag - which meant that users were unable to access their email - raised its head on 8 March, was resolved a couple of days later only to reappear almost immediately. BT finally sorted the problem on 16 March, a full eight days after the incident first cropped up. According to BT, it was just a "small problem" that affected a few thousand users. As a result, though, BT was forced to suspend the migration to its BT Yahoo! service until the matter was resolved.. Since there have been no reports of a recurrence of the mail problem, said a spokesman for the monster telco, work on the migration has now recommenced Last month a "couple of thousand" BT punters were left without email following the introduction of an over-zealous spam filter. BT is currently migrating some 1.8 million users over to its BT Yahoo! platform following a tie-up between the two companies announced last year. The migration began early in January and is expected to be completed by the end of April. ® Related Story BT Yahoo! ate my email
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 2004

Nvidia next-gen chip ‘to launch 13 April’

Nvidia will unveil its next-generation graphics chip - almost certainly the long-awaited NV40 - on 13 April. So claims a source close to the company cited by Extreme Tech's Mark Hachman. Alas, the source proved unable to say much about the chip itself. Unconfirmed reports from a variety of websites suggest it will be a DirectX 9.0 part with 16 parallel pipelines running through enhanced pixel shaders. The NV40 is not expected to support PCI Express directly but ship with an AGP-to-PCI Express bridge chip. One source Hachman spoke to said the chip's AGP bus will be boosted to an unofficial 16x spec. to match the needs of PCI Express. Certainly, Nvidia's first line of PCI Express parts - the GeForce PCX 5950, PCX 5750, PCX 5300 and PCX 4300 - are all AGP 8x chips that ship with a bridge part. If the NV40 is launched next month, it marks the end of a long wait for the part, which was originally roadmapped for a late 2003 debut. When that was the case, Nvidia had a revised version, the NV45, on its roadmap for a Q2 2004 introduction. The Nv45 was due to be Nvidia's first native PCI Express part, with the NV40 offered in both AGP 8x and PCI Express forms. Recent speculation has centred on major design changes made by Nvidia to the NV40 core. Certainly, ATI is believed to have binned its next-generation R400 part in favour of a souped-up version of its R300 architecture, the R420. The R420 is believed to sport a native PCI Express interface and is expected to debut in the coming months. ® Related stories Nvidia unwraps PCI Express graphics chips ATI 'drops pixel, vertex shader 3.0 support' from R420
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

Reg Readers' Gallery back from the dead

Cash'n'CarrionCash'n'Carrion We here at El Reg merchandising tentacle Cash'n'Carrion have decided, amid a fanfare of trumpets no doubt, to ressurect the almost-legendary Readers' Gallery. This monumentous decision is in response to customers' requests to have more "in-the-field" pictures of our apparel and kit, so that would-be buyers can see what the stuff really looks like. And a very good idea it is too. So, we've decided to publish said snaps down at our e-emporium, complete with "name-and-shame" captions. You get the idea - we need pictures of you in Reg kit, or using our gadgets or generally making merry with the merchandising. And what do you get for your trouble? Fame, that's what - the pure unadultered adoration of millions. If we really like your pic, we may even send you a not-available-in-any-shop Reg lapel pin - and you can't say fairer than that. You can send your masterpieces to us here. Jpegs are obviously best for our purposes, but tiffs will do if you're coming straight off your digital camera. Try and keep the file size within the bounds of reason and be sure to attach full details: name, location, etc. It goes without saying that material of an "adult" nature, and that containing shameless plugs for your company (banners, logos, etc.) will be forwarded to the relevant authorities for safe disposal. To inspire you to greater heights of artistic acheivement, here's a blast from the past: Craig Poxon skydiving his way to immortality while wearing a Reg logo shirt. Madness:
Cash'n'Carrion, 18 Mar 2004

UK VoIP sector gets trade body

The UK's fast-emerging Internet telephony industry has set up its own trade association to promote and represent the needs of the sector. Thirteen UK companies have come together to form the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association (ITSPA) to lobby the UK Government and communications regulator, Ofcom, as well the European Commission and other regulators. ITSPA is also keen to encourage the innovation and development of the Internet telephony industry through the promotion of self-regulation and competition. Internet telephony lets users make voice calls over any Internet connection, particularly broadband, using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). In many cases it can provide cheaper telephony compared to traditional services, with calls to other Internet phones often free of charge. It's estimated that more than six million people worldwide currently make voice calls over their Internet connection, primarily in Japan and the USA. ITSPA reckons that the UK market is now poised to take-off in much the same way. Said ITSPA spokesman Kim Thesiger: "Internet Telephony providers now offer a serious alternative to the existing telephone companies, and we need to look at the levels of regulation and encouragement that this industry needs. "This technology will revolutionise the way in which consumers and businesses make voice calls over the next few years ushering in far cheaper prices for phone calls and offering a wealth of new products and services that were only available to the biggest corporations until now." ITSPA is keen to recruit other companies in the sector although Mr Thesiger expressed doubts as to whether the UK's incumbent fixed line telco, BT, would be allowed to join the group. Last week BT announced details of its BT Communicator product that, once in place, will enable punters to make voice calls over the Internet. The thirteen founder members of ITSPA are: Call UK; ET Phones; Gossiptel; Gradwell dot com; Idesk; Imass Telecom; Intervivo; Magrathea; Mistral Internet; Speak2World; Telappliant; Telco Global; and T-Strategy. Industry analysts, Juniper Research, reckon VoIP is gong to be huge and predicts that it will generate $47bn a year by 2009 as flat-rate IP-based voice tariffs gradually replace traditional services. ® Related Story VoIP set to generate megabucks BT goes broadband crazy Tiscali in Net phone deal Skype secures £11m funding
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 2004

Go Daddy broadens its domain

Go Daddy Software is getting into the SSL web server certificate business, with a cut-price offering it hopes will let it do to the SSL market what it did for the domain names market - grow fast at the expense of the incumbents. But gaining market share isn't all down to price. Internet domain registrar Go Daddy bought an unused root certificate, trusted by 99 per cent of browsers, from ValiCert a little over a year ago, and has since been developing the systems to make it work. It has now launched its offering. Go Daddy will sell its 128-bit certificates for $89.95 per year, or $149.95 for two years. They're not the cheapest in the market, but they are cheaper than offerings from market-leading VeriSign and second-placed GeoTrust. Domain registrars selling SSL certificates is a tested formula. Network Solutions pioneered the model when it was owned by VeriSign, and continues to do so now it is private. Register.com offers GeoTrust certificates. VeriSign pioneered and has long dominated the SSL certificate market; smaller rivals have been snapping at its heels with only a small amount of success. According to SecuritySpace.com, the fastest-growing competitor to VeriSign and GeoTrust is third-placed Comodo, with 5.3 per cent of the market compared to 1.2 per cent a year ago. Comodo's relatively rapid growth may be due to its prices, which, at $139.95 for two years, are the cheapest of the major players. Comodo does not operate a root certificate: its SSL certificates look back to the old Baltimore Technologies root, now managed by BeTrusted. It's not all about price, however. VeriSign has substantial time-earned brand value when it comes to SSL security, making it a difficult competitor to dislodge. Rivals consider its soft spots to be speed and support. So GeoTrust, for example, also competes on speed, offering 10-minute turnaround on certificate sales. Go Daddy also hopes to outpace VeriSign. SVP Warren Adelman says that the company will deliver its certificates to new customers in a matter of hours, using a semi-automated process that relies on Whois and Dun & Bradstreet lookups and a manual phone-call verification. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor
Datamonitor, 18 Mar 2004

The value of PC real estate

The dominant position that Microsoft software occupies on the desktop has long been a major source of competitive advantage to Microsoft. Not only does it ensure that users of Microsoft software are familiar with the look and feel of the Microsoft interface but it also has provided a launch point for their entry into server systems, writes Bloor Research analyst Martin Langham. Although Microsoft is probably the most prominent occupant of desktop real estate, other software vendors such as Adobe, Macromedia and Real Networks also own important pieces. These vendors have achieved client dominance with the distribution of hundreds of millions of copies of their client software and are now well-placed to leverage their ownership of PC real estate by extending into enterprise-level products. Adobe has an innovative strategy to exploit its electronic document management capabilities with an Intelligent Document Architecture. It is leveraging client capability to create universally readable and secure documents into a full range of document-centric capabilities for Document Generation, Document Collaboration, Document Control and Security, and Process Management. Macromedia has entered into this development path more recently. Flash Player is the world's most pervasive software platform, reaching 98 per cent of Internet-enabled desktops worldwide as well as many other popular devices such as mobile phones and PDAs (source: NPD research April 2003). By comparison, Windows Media Player and Real Player have less than 60 per cent market penetration, and QuickTime Player has less than 40 per cent. Flash Player was initially developed to deliver a rich media experience on Web sites, but it is now evolving. Macromedia Flash enables designers and developers integrate video, text, audio and graphics into effective and engaging user experiences. Macromedia is able to leverage the power of the Flash Player to deliver one of the best desktop video conferencing experiences available. The ubiquity of the Flash player enables Macromedia to deliver high quality media streams while being economical of bandwidth. This is of key importance in Web conferencing, and Macromedia recently announced Macromedia Breeze to exploit tFlash Player capabilities. Breeze delivers a range of multimedia services from Webcasts to online video conferencing. Macromedia Breeze can deliver PowerPoint slides with full animation while still allowing the user to control the pace and sequence of the presentation. Anyone who can create a PowerPoint presentation will be able to create and distribute Flash based presentations using Breeze. As Macromedia and Adobe move into server-based enterprise applications, they face deeply entrenched competition. In Adobe's case, these will be records and forms management companies, including Microsoft. Macromedia, entering the highly competitive Web conferencing market, will also encounter major players such as WebEx and, again, Microsoft with Office Live Meeting. Both vendors are delivering information worker tools where uptake will be driven as much by user preferences as by the plans of the IT department. The future success of Adobe and Macromedia in successfully delivering enterprise-level solutions will depend on their ability to copy Microsoft in leveraging user experience into effective and comprehensive business solutions. And of course, users' loyalty is not only important on the desktop; perhaps there are even bigger prizes in the future in interactive TV and mobile phones. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 18 Mar 2004
DVD it in many colours

Web services watchdogs

Web services will only become the norm if the users can be assured a level of service. They will not be deployed in earnest unless the operations department is confident that they can provide this level of service, writes Bloor Research analyst Peter Abrahams. The operations department need tools to monitor the Web services and to react to a situation before the user becomes aware of a drop in the service levels. This is complex when the total service is provided by a bevy of web services, written by and provided by different departments and enterprises. Woe is me I have spent some hours today trying to find out why an email a company sent me did not arrive, this is not a Web services problem, but it should be simpler to resolve. But tracking missing emails is not a trivial problem; my machine did not receive it, the ISP did not bounce the message, nor it appears did they receive it, but the sender is certain he sent it. So who is to blame? Several emails and phone calls between the three main parties confirmed several possible reasons that did not cause the problem. Several tests removed other possible reasons. The problem has not been resolved but there is a fair chance that it will not happen tomorrow and we will never know why it did not work today. This problem resolution is an expensive, time -consuming and frustrating process. It would not be practical to do it for a bevy of WS. What tools does an operations manager need to automatically support web services? First, he needs to be able to ensure that the individual web service and the platform it sits on are performing correctly. This is really no different to system management of traditional applications and the same tool can still be used. The next level is monitoring the performance that one web service supplies to another and checking that it meets the service level agreed between the two services. Actional Looking Glass and, the recently announced, CA Unicenter Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM) both assist in this space. These tools measure the performance of running processes, so will only detect a problem when a new process runs. If the web service is unavailable, the time to fix the problem will be considerably and will adversely affect the calling web service or end-user. This will mean at least one unhappy client but is likely to mean a lot more as new requests pile up. To be really effective there is a need for a monitoring tool to discover the problem before another service or user is affected. The only way to do this is to run synthetic transaction that ping the service to check that it is still there. Actional has just announced its Watchdog product that creates and monitors such synthetic transactions. It can be used in two ways, firstly just to ping a local service to ensure that it is still available. The second use is to initiate the ping from a remote service to check that the service is accessible and has a response time within the SLA from the remote site. Watchdog is just the latest in a series of new functions that are needed to fully manage Web services. We expect further functions to be added as web services become mainstream. One obvious extension would be the ability to include business understanding in the monitoring, for example the SLA for a Gold Card customer would be different to a standard card. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 18 Mar 2004

CeBIT 2004: Gadgets galore

Wander the 27 halls of CeBIT this week and you will be able to enjoy hundreds of unique gadgets that you may never see again - simply because they are surely too odd to gain a foothold in the market. Of course, we've already introduced to the world the USB Swiss Army Knife, a device which - as many Reg readers pointed out - is not a gadget that you would like to be caught with when boarding a plane, especially when drunk and dressed like Osama bin Laden. Well, CeBIT can offer you somewhat safer - though no less ingenious - alternatives to the data-carrying bottle-opener. One example is the Click Senior-Tel, developed by German company Vitaphone. It's a full-blown GSM phone for the elderly and confused - with just three buttons. Two buttons can be programmed to call a specific number, the third one is used to call emergency services. All well and good as long as long as you aren't so far gone that three buttons is simply two too many. Siemens has come up with an alternative telecommunications line of attack with its new PenPhone - the world's first (and last?) tri-band mobile phone housed in a pen-shaped ergo-enclosure. The 140mm long PenPhone apparently recognises handwriting for dialling numbers and writing text messages directly into the mobile phone, no matter what surface you write on. And when no writing surface is readily available - inside the International Space Station, for example - built-in voice recognition means you can still activate the device. One question: is anyone really interested in talking to a pen? Last up we have Swedish company Cypak and its disposable paper computer. Well, it's not really a PC, but it still fulfils the basic computer criterion since it can collect, process and exchange several pages of encrypted data. The technology is based on a small chip-based electronic module and printable sensors which can be integrated into a range of materials and products, such as packaging and plastic cards. Useless? Not according to Cypak. The device may have a future in lottery cards or voting systems. Whether the punters vote with their feet on this one remains to be seen. ®
Jan Libbenga, 18 Mar 2004

Unleash the power of The Register on your business

If you've got an event, product or service to promote and are wondering how to deliver it to the world's most IT-savvy readership, we at The Register have a vehicle to suit your needs. First up, some figures: The Register recently notched up its fifth consecutive quarter as the UK's most visited IT media site*. During 2003, more than 2.2 million** unique users visited the site each month. That's a big potential customer base, and we can offer a range of packages to ensure that your message gets across to the widest possible audience in the most effective manner. Our Events and Training Directory provides a platform from which you can fully exploit our strong editorial brand and deliver contextualised placements across the site. In plain English, that means your event, training course of product will appear alongside relevant content - the reader is already interested in the subject. This Home and Channel option means that your event gets pole position in the "Event of the Week" promo box - either on our front page, or specifically targeted to a relevant section of the site, or both. The Register Inbox is our email newletter delivered to 46,000 IT professionals. The double opt-in mailshot is a simple, direct way of communicating with your target audience. And for a big promotional assault, we can arrange our Ultimate Package - a pick-and-mix of some or all of the above - plus advertising - guaranteed to deliver maximum coverage where it counts. If you'd like more information on The Register's promotional opportunities you can get the full picture from our man on the spot Phil Mitchell on +44 (0)7980 898 072. If you would like to know more about promoting events and training courses on The Register, download this PDF now. If you would like to know more about advertsising on The Register, download this PDF now. * Source: Hitwise Q1 2004 ** Source: ABCe Nov 2003
Team Register, 18 Mar 2004

Latest Bagle worms spread on auto-pilot

The Bagle virus saga takes a new twist today with four new members of the worm family. Bagle-Q and its three new siblings use an unusual method of infection in an attempt to bypass AV protection at email gateways. Each of the four viruses infect only Windows PCs. Bagle-Q is the more widely spread of the four. Unlike most email viruses, the four new Bagle worms do not carry email attachments, making them much more difficult to spot. If a user opens the message - and their machine has not been patched against a five-month old critical vulnerability - malicious code is automatically downloaded from the PC which sent the "carrier" email. Once installed, the malicious code is programmed to deactivate a wide range of security applications, potentially opening up victims' PCc to more virus or hacker attacks. Bagle-Q and Bagle-R also attempt to spread by file-sharing networks. Carole Theriault, a security consultant at AV firm Sophos, told El Reg that the infection mode of Bagle-Q will surprise people who think they can only get infected by clicking on an attachment. Bagle-Q and Bagle-R have spread fairly extensively through Asia (particularly Korea) and Australia overnight. US and European users are urged to take action to halt the worms' spread. There are fewer reports concerned Bagle-S and Bagle-T. Users are once again urged to update their AV software against the latest threat. Businesses can also protect themselves at their gateway firewall, preventing computers on their network from downloading the worm from outside. Patchwork quilt Thomas Kristensen, CTO of security tracking outfit Secunia, said that Bagle-Q is more advanced than earlier versions in its propagation technique. Bagle-Q exploits an Object Data vulnerability in Internet Explorer, which allows it to be executed automatically on an un-patched system. From the start, Secunia considered the Object Data vulnerability as far more serious than most, going as far as making an online test available for people to check if they are at risk. Microsoft first tried to patch the vulnerability in August. However, this proved inefficient, and a fully-working fix was released in October. A patch for the Microsoft security vulnerability exploited by Bagle-Q and R can be found here (this is a cumulative fix designed to repair other flaws too). This might also be a good time to apply other MS patches (complete list here). Worm War Three The unknown author(s) of Bagle have used progressively more sophisticated tricks to bypass AV protection. After first burying malicious code in encrypted archive files, variants are now exploiting Microsoft vulnerabilities to travel across the Net on auto-pilot. After conducting a war of words with the group behind the NetSky worm, Bagle’s creators are now directing their fire against security firms and end users. The bad guys are running the show and appear to have the upper hand. ® Related stories Say hello to the Bagle Worm Bagle-B clobbers weary Net users Virus writers in malicious code hide-and-seek War of the worms turns into war of words Bagle the 13th spread defies belief
John Leyden, 18 Mar 2004
Broken CD with wrench

Novell announces SuSE Linux 9.1

Novell today lifted the veil on some of the features that will come with the next major revamp of SuSE Linux - version 9.1 - due out in May. Based on the Linux 2.6 kernel, SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal and SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional are touted as offering higher performance and greater ease of use for both 32- and 64-bit platforms. Both packages include the latest GNOME 2.4.2 and KDE 3.2.1 desktop interfaces. The new 2.6 Linux kernel enables more efficient distribution of hardware resources, for example, guaranteeing high-quality music and video performance even while multiple applications are running. The DMA mode also accelerates CD and DVD burning. The kernel provides more efficient power management and improved audio processing, too. The Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA), now an integral component of the 2.6 kernel 2.6, supports most common sound cards and provides diverse audio functions. Ripper. Pro-power SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional runs standard 32-bit PCs as well as machines running AMD Athlon 64 and Intel Extended Memory 64-bit microprocessors. The 9.1 professional edition is designed for end-users who require network or server functionality or who want to use Linux as a development platform. The integration of Samba 3 in SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional enables the integration of Linux hosts in Windows domains and access to Active Directory. Smashing the Windows addiction SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal is delivered with a “LiveCD”, a self-running disc that lets Linux newbies experience SuSE Linux 9.1 on their systems without actually having to install it on their machines. This neat approach is designed to coax less experienced users away from their addiction to Windows. A second CD can be used to install SuSE Linux Personal and the integrated firewall in a few easy steps, either as the only operating system or alongside any Windows operating system. YaST Online Update makes sure the system is always up to date and secure. "SuSE Linux 9.1 brings the latest open source technology into a single, easy-to-use package for beginners and experienced Linux users," said Markus Rex, general manager of SuSE Linux for Novell. "Seasoned Linux users get the power of 64-bit computing and more than 2,500 software packages. Linux beginners can take advantage of 9.1’s LiveCD, which requires no installation. For veterans or beginners, SuSE Linux 9.1 has it all." Rex made these comments ahead of today's launch of SuSE Linux 9.1 at CeBIT. Down on the desktop The newest GNOME desktop emphasizes usability while delivering key new features to Linux users such as CD-burning capabilities, a universal instant messaging client (Gaim), simplified printing configuration and many other configuration improvements. Specific new GNOME applications include GNOME Meeting video conferencing system and Evolution, a groupware suite. The desktop features improved tools designed to make computers easier to use for disabled people. KDE version 3.2.1, meanwhile, includes numerous improvements to make it faster and most stable. A new personal information manager (called Kontact) now presents a uniform interface for e-mail, calendar, address book and notes. The instant messenger Kopete permits quick contacts through other messaging clients such as MSN, ICQ, IRC and Yahoo Messenger and Jabber. In addition, there is integrated spell checking for Web forms and e-mail messages, and functionality of the file manager and Web browser Konqueror have been expanded. With Konqueror, IE bookmarks can be imported, and users can quickly browse through image directories, network folders and network services, rip audio CDs, and read the contents of digital cameras and USB sticks. Kwallet serves as a central storage for passwords and access information while a music manager package called JuK enables the "intuitive management" of large music archives. Apptastic SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal and Professional continue to offer a wide range of applications. Standard packages include Internet, e-mail, image, graphics, audio and video software. In addition to text processing, spreadsheet and drawing applications, the office package OpenOffice.org 1.1 offers a formula editor and an HTML editor. OpenOffice.org can easily export PDF files, supports the import and export of various XML formats, and exports presentations in flash format. Which is nice. SuSE Linux 9.1 is the first Linux package containing demo versions of the text processing application Textmaker and the spreadsheet application Planmaker from Softmaker. The database application Rekall and the latest version of the home banking software Moneyplex from Matrica are also new. Professional layouts can be prepared with the desktop publishing application Scribus. Check out SuSE Linux 9.1 will be available from SuSE's online store and retailers from May 6. The recommended retail price of SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal (two CDs, installation guide, and 30 days of installation support) is $29.95. SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional (five CDs, two double-sided DVDs, user guide and administration guide, 90 days of installation support) is $89.95. The update edition of SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional is $59.95. ® Related Stories SuSE 8.2 approaches computing Nirvana (review) Does open source software enhance security? Novell indemnifies Linux customers Novell marries SuSE to Ximian desktop Novell bags SuSE for $210m Novell buys Ximian
John Leyden, 18 Mar 2004

MS, partners tout Portable Media Center ‘iPod killer’

AnalysisAnalysis Microsoft launched its 'Windows for iPods' platform over a year ago - as Media2Go - but this week it began demonstrating the technology in earnest at CeBIT, backed by devices from hardware partners Creative and iRiver. Now called the Portable Media Center, each gadget features a hefty hard drive and a large-format LCD panel. Microsoft's pitch is that the devices will allow users to take their photos, music and movies with them wherever they go - essentially, we're talking a video iPod. "We think this is going to be one of the hot devices for Christmas 2004," said James Bernard, Microsoft's product manager for Portable Media Center, according to Reuters. The UK, Sweden and Denmark will see PMCs go on sale first, followed by Germany, France, Italy and Spain by the end of the year. It's hard not to be impressed with the early models, such as Creative's Zen Portable Media Center or iRiver's PMC-140, with their bright 3.5in display and 40GB storage capacity. They're certainly more attractive than those bulky Archos jobs. But we don't feel Apple has to start worrying just yet. The Zen, for instance, is expected to retail for between £400 and £450, depending on whether you choose the 20GB model or the 40GB unit. Either way, it's an expensive purchase. Couple that with the limited availability of commercial Windows Media video content, plus the fact that if you want to watch taped TV shows, you'll need a Media Center PC, and the platform's appeal is already limited to wealthy early adopters. The fact that the battery is going to empty after just three hours' of video playback won't help either. Nor will the absence of way to copy over DVDs to the devices. What price portability? Over time, these limitations will be eased, of course. But the question remains, do buyers really want to carry all that content around with them? The success of the iPod shows that they clearly do when it comes to music, and the more they can carry the better. But music is one medium that you can enjoy almost anywhere, while performing almost any task. Not so movies and photos, which require your direct attention. You can't review last night's episode of The West Wing while cycling into work, for instance. Well, not if you expect to arrive at the office in one piece. Mind that lamppost! And few souls will feel comfortable using such shiny, expensive-looking devices on the subway or the underground. Music is a medium that can happily co-exist with almost all of one's daily activities. Viewing photos and watching movies tend to require you put aside time for them. That means that there's not only have less to be gained from mobility - if you have to be stationary to view your photos, you're as likely to do so in front of a PC as a PMC - but also the hardware limitations required to gain that level of portability actually reduce users' enjoyment. That's simply not the case with music now, where size limits quantity only, not quality. Why carry your holiday snaps on a mobile device, when you (a) already have them stored on your PC and (b) the PC's screen or TV is a much better medium to show them? Yes, you can inflict your home movies and family photos on other people, but we suspect people would rather do that by email or recordable CDs and DVDs, than a £500 box. The killer app? That leaves video as the 'killer app', but as we've seen content is currently limited, especially since the units have no TiVO-style functionality of their own. As an alternative to using a laptop to watch DVDs on planes, or to standalone portable DVD players, there's some potential, but if you're going to have to carry a notebook anyway, why bring the second, smaller unit with you too? Nor are they what you'd call compact. The Zen, for example, is twice as long as an iPod and three times as thick. It weighs 330g (11.5oz). So it's not what you'd call pocket size. Of course, it's foolish to assume that there's a 'one size fits all' winner in any market, and we're sure PMC suppliers will find buyers. We expect them to co-exist with the iPod, not replace it. PDAs, too. With the smart phone already eating into the PDA's traditional PIM turf, the market for standalone electronic diaries and calendars remains limited, particularly as more mainstream handsets begin to offer better PIM facilities and synchronisation with desktop PIM apps. My Nokia 6600 already means my Tungsten T now gets left at home most of the time. iPods already provide all the PIM tools most users could want. PalmOne CEO Todd Bradley told us this week that he doesn't see the iPod as a competitor. By extension, he must dismiss the PMC, too. Certainly on size, if not on functionality. But equally - and, we think, conversely - his European lieutenant, Vesey Crichton, expressed the need broaden the definition of 'personal information', to take in all those photos, songs and video clips we consider important to us, as well as the contact details and diary entries. We agree, but while the PDA perhaps provides the best combination of display quality, performance and form factor, it lacks the hard drive and capacity of more dedicated devices like the PMC and the iPod. As we've noted before, we can see these three categories merging together, with PDAs sporting faster CPUs, more memory and highly capacious yet physically tiny hard drives. Whoever first merges an iPod with a Tungsten E is onto a winner, we reckon. But we don't think the PMC is such a beast. All these devices will eventually tie into the movie equivalent of Apple's iTunes Music Store, Napster, Wippit, Rhapsody, OD2 etc. Network delivered video is a little way off, but one day it will be as commonplace as music downloads are now. Some folk will want to transfer video downloads to a portable device and one with a large(ish) screen. There the PMC will have a role to play. As the continuing availability of Casio's micro TVs shows, a lot of buyers will be willing to trade off size for improved portability and cost. But equally, how many of these things do you actually see in use? Portability undoubtedly adds a new dimension to the enjoyment of music. It's going to be much harder to make the same claim for video. ® Related Stories MS 'Windows for iPod' delayed but still marks death of PDA Whatever happened to the Windows Media Center? Gates wraps Brave New World with hefty fees MS (nearly) ditches the PC religion with home net plans
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

MS exec lists joys of high prices, vast margins to top investor

Smoking emails return to haunt Microsoft this week with the Minnesota overcharging lawsuit, which commenced on Monday. The court's exhibit vault was at time of writing disappointingly empty, but its mere existence shows willing, so check it early and often. And we have a taster of things to come in the shape of senior MS exec Jeff Raikes in full-on robber baron mode, describing a business with profit margins of 90 per cent plus that can only get better. This particular email is one of the trial exhibits, and escaped along with some choice quotes from a few others in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. (If you've a sub to the WSJ, you can get the email here and the story here.) The 1997 email was sent to Berkshire Hathaway boss Warren Buffett, and is an attempt to persuade Buffett - who famously declined to invest in Microsoft - to back a certainty. Raikes says that this effort is meant as a "fun discussion or intellectual exercise," but Buffett's influence was and is such that a change of mind on his part surely would have had a substantial impact on Microsoft's share price. And if Raikes really is only doing it as an intellectual exercise, for fun, then there's many a CFO who'd view his going on the record with this sort of stuff as cretinously irresponsible. So it's 1997, and Raikes is describing the numbers for 96. There were about 50 million PCs sold worldwide, and 80 per cent of these shipped with Microsoft operating systems. "Although I would never write down the analogy of a 'toll bridge' [er, you just did you imbecile - CFO], people outside our company might describe this business in that way. Those 40 million licenses averaged about $45 per, for a total of about $1.8BN in revenue." Raikes claims the remaining 20 per cent largely used Microsoft operating systems as well, but they were mainly pirate and so Microsoft didn't get any revenue. It's interesting that as far back as 97 Microsoft took the view that anything you didn't buy from Redmond is probably stolen, but it's not the main thrust of his argument. For FY2000, Raikes sees Microsoft as having a 90 per cent share of a 200 million PC market, with "piracy" being squeezed down to 10 per cent. The 96 sales yielded "about $45 per, for a total of about $1.8BN in revenue." But for 2000 Microsoft "will be transitioning the world to a new version of our operating system, Windows NT." By this of course he means Windows 2000, aka NT 5.0. "Today, we get more than $100 per system for NT, but only on a small percentage of the PC's. But NT will be on closer to 70 per cent of the PC's sold in FY2000. We can achieve average license revenue of $80. So 90M licenses at $80 per license totals about $7.2B, up from just under $2B in 3 to 4 years. And since there are effectively no COGs and a WW sales force of only 100-150 people this is a 90%+ margin business." The DoJ antitrust trial threw up some interesting emails from around this time showing that Microsoft was maintaining its price to OEMs at a time when PC prices were falling drastically, thus increasing its percentage take per PC sold, but not its revenue per PC. Here, however, we have Raikes confirming the company's intention to put the per PC price up as it moves everybody onto the one operating system. Because it has what "pricing discretion", by which we think he means it can charge whatever the hell it likes, and that it will. But that's just the baseline. In addition to the hugely profitable OS business, there's the rest. "The majority of the rest of the business is called the 'finished goods' business. It consists of businesses or individuals buying office productivity software, educational or entertainment software, etc. Again the structure is very simple. A PC is just a razor that needs blades, and we measure our revenue on the basis of $ per PC. In FY96, nearly 50M PC's were purchased and Microsoft averaged about $140 in software revenue per PC or $7B. This amount is in addition to the OEM royalty business I described above." In the intervening period Microsoft has become an even more dominant force in the razor market, and has successfully been able to charge more. At the same time, it has won a similar lock on the desktop productivity market, to the extent that just shooting all the MS Office licences and installing StarOffice has become a tempting quick fix for IT managers looking for cost reductions. Their discovery that MS Office is a mere razor blade that needs frequent replacing may accelerate this process. Having detailed the financial joys of owning the franchises, Raikes moves on to the benefits of monopoly - these would seem to be things monopolists can never have enough of. If you are a sufficiently dominant force in a given area for you not to have serious competition, then you can charge what you like, while if you become similarly dominant in related areas, you gain the additional benefit of protecting the first franchise. "If we own the key 'franchises' built on top of the operating system, we dramatically widen the 'moat' that protects the operating system business," he explains. And you can never have enough moats. Of Microsoft's TV investments he writes: ""The real goal is to figure out a way to get an 'operating system' royalty per TV. 10's of millions of TV's per year at $10-$20 per TV is a nice little 'operating system' business." Microsoft has in fact contrived to throw away quite a lot of money on this quest in the intervening years, but you'll have noted that it's still trying, and Raikes is telling us why, just in case we couldn't guess. You get the base franchise, pricing discretion, the price goes up, and you develop new franchises on top of that. Aside from the Raikes email, there seems to be plenty of other good stuff on the horizon. Gates seems to have been involved in a 'kill Lotus' (one of Raikes' first jobs at MS) thread, and complained of Linux: "Maybe we could define the APIs so that they work well with [Windows] and not the others, even if they are open." Sounds like we might have some pissy emails from billg coming, yum. ®
John Lettice, 18 Mar 2004

419ers form phat rap crew

There is evidence that - having seen the error of their ways - Nigerian 419ers have decided to seek more legitimate forms of employment. News has reached us of a UK/Nigerian rap outfit called 419 Squad, apparently the backing group for JJC (aka Skillz from Big Brovaz), but also a stand-alone musical unit. Our correspondant Nick Wiseman tells us that "they're hot!", although we'll have to reserve judgement until we can spin some tracks for ourselves on the wheels of steel. Here, in the meantime, is what the 419 Squad's website has to say: "The 419 Squad is a group of Nigerian rappers and singers, some born in Nigeria, while others were born to Nigerian parents in London. They are featured heavily on most tracks of the Atide album, and also appear with JJC at live shows. 419 Squad are currently writing and recording tracks for their solo album to be released in the first half of 2004. "The Squad’s name is of course tongue-in-cheek: 419 is the number of the Nigerian statute that makes the infamous Nigerian advance fee fraud illegal. Most people will have received 419 emails or faxes." Good show. To offer our support to 419 Squad in their musical endeavours, we've compiled a list of cover versions they might like to consider for future live appearences: Money (Pink Floyd) Money, money, money (Abba) Money Machine (James Taylor) Money makes the world go round (Liza Minelli) Money (That's What I Want) (The Beatles) Easy Money (Billy Joel) Money for Nothing (Dire Straits) If I were a rich man (Topol) I fought the law... (The Clash) Jailhouse Rock (Elvis)
Lester Haines, 18 Mar 2004

Microsoft – EC talks fail

Microsoft today confirmed that settlement negotiations with the European Commission have ended in deadlock. The company is dropping heavy hints that it will go to court to appeal any decision. In the meantime, it will have to wait until 24 March when the Commission publishes its ruling on actions it must take as punishment for past anti-competitive behaviour. In a statement today, Competition Mario Monti said the two sides had made "substantial progress towards resolving the problems which have arisen in the past but we were unable to agree on commitments for future conduct (our italics). "In the end, I had do decide what was best for competition and consumers in Europe. I believe they will be better served with a decision that creates a strong precedent. "It is essential to have a precedent which will establish clear principles for the future conduct of a company with such a strong dominant position in the market." In other words, the EC wants to reserve the right to take action against Microsoft over what it is doing today. Consuming passions In a rapid-fire response, Brad Smith, general counsel of Microsoft, said: "We have to ensure that the law is not just about competitors' complaints about the impact of new features. There needs to be consideration of the needs of consumers for new innovations. Consumers must be part of the equation. Perhaps the courts will provide the clarity that is necessary to resolve these issues. Today is just another step in what could be a long process." The four-day talks were conducted "in a spirit of professionalism and cooperation but without a settlement", according to Microsoft. The company says it has tried in recent months to address EC concerns, with proposals to address interoperability issues and media player technology. Microsoft is widely thought to have offered to place rival media players alongside its own software. Real Networks is sueing Microsoft for $1bn for allegedly shutting out Real's media player from PC vendors, by playing hardball over OEM contracts. Now for a statement from Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO: "I believe we reached agreement on the issues of the case. But we were unable to agree on principles for new issues that could arise in the future. We worked very hard to try to resolve these issues without litigation. Because of the tremendous value we attach to our relations with governments all across Europe, we made every possible effort to settle the case, and I hope that perhaps we can still settle the case at a later stage." ® Related stories Real sues Microsoft, seeks $1bn damages Ballmer presses Monti for compromise EC warms to Microsoft EC probes mobile sports right sales Europe's MS sanctions to be wide-ranging, long-taking
Drew Cullen, 18 Mar 2004

Punters flock to 3 UK

Mobilephoneco 3 has around 361,000 punters in the UK, after adding 151,000 new subscribers since the middle of December. In a trading update, 3 reports that ARPU (average revenue per user) is £45 a month while its pay-as-you-go offer deal - ThreePay - has been "well received by retailers and consumers". The mobilephoneco also reports that it has improved its customer service operation while the reliability of its network has also got better. Overall, 3 - owned by Hutchison Whampoa - has just over a million punters worldwide, with 361,000 in the UK, 453,000 in Italy and 36,500 in Hong Kong. Although Hutch's 3G operations reported a total turnover of HK$2.02bn (£142m), net loss after tax for the mobilephoneco business stood at HK$9.67bn (£680m). The company explained that the limited availability of handsets last year "seriously impaired" its ability to increase its customer base at the end of 2003. Now that this issue has been resolved and handsets are now available in "commercial quantities", 3 tells us that sales have "progressed very well". In a statement Hutch's top man, tycoon Li Ka-shing, said: "Although the 3G operations experienced a lack of handset supply in the second half of the year which prevented a full start-up, handsets are now being delivered in commercial quantities and new handset suppliers are entering the market. "With good quality networks in place and an ample supply of handsets, we are confident that in 2004 the 3G operations will grow into solid businesses." This month Hutch said it would pay off more than £1bn of debt for its sibling. ® Related stories Hutchison picks up 3 UK's tab Three new handsets from 3 Operators blame handsets for 3G delays 3 has too few handsets to meet million user target
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 2004

Inside Philips' CeBIT cornucopia

Philips has used CeBIT to launch its new KeyRing 019 USB stick camcorder, which it claims is the world's most compact, wearable product for capturing digital video and photographs. Oh yes, and carrying music and data. The KeyRing 019 (seen in photo on left) is capable of up to 25 minutes of continuous video recording, or can snap up to 200 still photos with 2 megapixel image quality. Other Philips' innovations at the show include a new 2GB audio jukebox - no bigger than a credit card - that boasts built-in FM radio, and room for 500 tracks in MP3 format. Moving breathlessly on, what about the company's 755 mobile phone? The all-singing, all-dancing mobe (on right in photo) can send photos, drawings and even handwritten notes. You can snap away to your heart's content with the integrated VGA camera, then creatively edit them on the phone itself, 'tag' said images by writing or drawing directly on the phone's touch screen with the stylus pen, and sent in just a few seconds. Phew. Philips' CeBIT cornucopia will also contain the latest additions to its Streamium family of products that enable the wireless transmission of digital media content throughout PC, hifi and video environments. Philips will begin adding Streamium functionality to its TV range this year, with the introduction of an LCD Flat TV with WiFi enabled broadband connection. ®
Jan Libbenga, 18 Mar 2004

NASA pulls off mindreading act

NASA boffins have pulled off a seemingly impressive feat - reading words which have not actually been spoken. The system works by computer analysis of "sub-auditory" speech at the throat. NASA's Ames Research Center developer Chuck Jorgensen explains further: "A person using the subvocal system thinks of phrases and talks to himself so quietly it cannot be heard, but the tongue and vocal cords do receive speech signals from the brain. "What is analyzed is silent, or subauditory, speech, such as when a person silently reads or talks to himself. Biological signals arise when reading or speaking to oneself with or without actual lip or facial movement." To capture the necessary data, NASA put sensors on subjects' throats and under their chins. In trials, the software has been able to successfully recognise six words and 10 numbers with 92 per cent accuracy. Although the technology is in its infancy, NASA has high hopes for it. The disabled are an obvious candidate group, but air traffic controllers and astronauts - both of whom have to work in difficult, noisy environments - may also benefit. It will shortly be tested in an experiment to exert basic control over a Mars rover type vehicle, although NASA admits that there is much to be done on the pre-analysis amplification and noise reduction of the nerve signals: "The keys to this system are the sensors, the signal processing and the pattern recognition, and that's where the scientific meat of what we're doing resides." said Jorgensen. ®
Lester Haines, 18 Mar 2004

T-Mobile goes live with 3G in May

T-Mobile will begin selling 3G data services in the UK, Germany and Austria in May. This will be offered under the TM3 brand, T-Mobile's attempt to create a unified multimedia network comprising GPRS and WLAN connections as well as 3G links. Last month, T-Mobile chairman Rene Obermann outlined the company's plan to offer "seamless" connectivity between these three network types. 'Seamless' in this instance means providing three networks from a single company, rather than the ability to roam transparently between the trio of technologies. Next month, T-Mobile will offer an updated version of its Communication Centre package, which comprises a GPRS adaptor card for notebooks. The new version adds 3G support to the card. Initially offered to corporates (April is in essence, a trial period), the service gets the full commercial roll-out in May. The new Communication Centre package will cost £199 with an additional £70 monthly connection fee. The package provides unlimited access time, irrespective of which network you use, 3G, GPRS or Wi-Fi. Customers taking up the service in April will get the first three months' connection for free. ® Related stories T-Mobile to offer 'seamless' 3G, Wi-Fi data service T-Mobile signs roaming deal with ... itself T-Mobile goes 3G in UK Orange kicks off 3G trials in UK and France Vodafone goes 3G for data only Related Products Check out all the latest phones in The Reg mobile store
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

T-Mobile to charge Wi-Fi access to phone bills

T-Mobile today offered what it claimed was a "simplified" and "standardised" pricing structure for its Wi-Fi hotspots that introduces direct billing for the company's mobile phone subscribers. It all sounds very attractive. As a T-Mobile customer, you can access the Internet through one of the company's public WLANs for as long as you like, with the cost of the airtime added to your monthly bill. Access codes can be requested by SMS. It's a good idea, and one that ought to make hotspot usage easier. Alas, it also makes it more expensive. T-Mobile is now offering two payment schemes: HotSpot Subscription - the phone bill system - and a series of time-limited HotSpot Passes. UK pricing for the company's time-limited passes are now £5, £10 and £16.50 for one, three and 24 hours' access time, respectively. The company said the scheme offers "simple pan-European pricing", but customers in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands all pay different rates. A 24-hour pass, for example, costs €18, €25 and €24 in each of these three territories, respectively. The HotSpot Subscription package bills access a rate of £1.50 per 15 minutes (€2 in Germany and Austria; €1.50 in the Netherlands). In the UK at least, the HotSpot Subscription package (for T-Mobile customers) is actually more expensive than the time-limited HotSpot Passes (for non-T-Mobile customers), unless you plan to spend less than an hour online. For example, £10; spent on a Pass gives you three hours' access; the same amount of money spend on Subscription access yields just two-and-a-bit hours' online time. Stay on for the full three hours and £18 would be added to your phone bill. Twenty-four hours' access added to your phone bill would amount to £144 - almost nine times as expensive as buying a single day's Pass. As T-Mobile claims, HotSpot Subscription is certainly a more convenient way to pay, but it's a long way from being the most economical. This leaves T-Mobile in the odd position of providing a disincentive to billing access time to your mobile phone account - or to switching to T-Mobile in order to get a better Wi-Fi access rate. Hardly a "seamless" solution of the kind the company's chairman, Rene Obermann has been touting of late. ® Related Stories T-Mobile to offer 3G data services next month T-Mobile to offer 'seamless' 3G, Wi-Fi data service T-Mobile signs roaming deal with ... itself Wi-Fi in the real world - pt. 2 Wi-Fi in the real world - pt. 1 Related Products Check out Wi-Fi products in The Reg mobile store
Tony Smith, 18 Mar 2004

Fraudsters prey on apathetic Brits

An apathetic and careless approach to finances by some British consumers is making fraud far easier. A survey out today suggests that more than eight million Britons would willingly disclose vital personal information to a cold caller. Men (22 per cent) are far more likely to give out information needed to commit identity fraud than women (14.5 per cent). Many people wouldn’t think twice about sharing the two pieces of personal information ‘most wanted’ by identity thieves: their mother’s maiden name (20 per cent) and their date of birth (46.4 per cent). Those with their heads in the sand when it comes to keeping tabs on finances could find cash and personal information swiped from under their noses without them even noticing. The online survey of 2,500 UK consumers by credit reference firm Experian also revealed one in seven Brits could lose £500 from their bank balance without spotting it. Anxiety could be preventing us from keeping a closer eye on our finances: one in three Britons feel apprehensive when checking their bank balance or credit card statement, with five per cent going so far as admitting genuine fear. This lackadaisical approach to money management makes punters easy picking for criminals, especially those who use stolen identities to obtain credit, goods and services, the UK’s fastest growing crime. ID thieves often harvest financial information from garages or other places where people discard credit card receipts and the like. One in ten Brits admit to simply throwing financial documents in their bin without shredding or even ripping them up, putting themselves at serious risk from ‘bin-raiding’ fraudsters. Less than half (45 per cent) follow recommended best practice for managing documents, with many storing documents insecurely. Meanwhile one in ten have no system at all for storing or managing their financial documents at home. Carte blanche for crooks Experian says its survey points to widespread financial apathy among Joe Public, which is giving fraudsters what amounts to carte blanche. Jill Stevens, director of consumer relations, said: “More than ever, consumers need to be extra careful about how they dispose of and disclose personal financial information, to ensure they stay safe from fraudsters. Think twice before disclosing personal or financial information to cold-callers, even if they claim to be from your bank or an official organisation – always phone the organisation back with the number you have for them, not the number you’ve been given.” “Identity fraud can significantly damage your credit history and victims can have terrible trouble getting a mortgage, a credit card or a bank loan for several years in some cases." Experian has developed CreditExpert, an online service designed to help people keep tabs on their finances more easily. CreditExpert notifies subscribers when an application for credit is made in their name, helping to protect punters possible identity theft. “It’s all about empowering people with the tools and the intelligence they need to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters and to manage their credit most effectively,” said Stevens. Which is all well and good, but we still believe – as we did when CreditExpert launched last year – that the banking industry needs to do more in clamping down on ID fraud, before credit is extended to crooks. ® Identity Fraud Facts and Figures Identity fraud in the UK increased by 31.6 per cent between Dec 2002 and Dec 2003, making it the UK’s fastest growing crime An estimated 43,000 UK citizens were the victims of identity fraud last year Identity fraud costs the UK at least £1.3bn every year, according to a July 2002 Cabinet Office briefing paper On average, it can take over a year before punters find out they are a victim of identity fraud, according to Experian. Identity fraud can significantly damage your credit history, it warns. Related stories Credit checkers launch ID fraud watch services UK credit card fraud down 8% Chip and PIN hits 8 million cards E-crime costs UK business billions Online fraud, ID theft soars UK ID theft gang jailed for £350K fraud
John Leyden, 18 Mar 2004

Half of UK homes have a PC

More than half of UK homes has a PC, according to the latest Government stats. According to the 2002 General Household Survey (GHS) published today, 54 per cent of UK homes had a PC, up from 34 per cent in 1998. While 99 per cent of people had a phone in their home. The GHS also found that almost a third of households (32 per cent) had a DVD player. Another gem from this somewhat out-of-date snapshot of British life is the fact that seventy-two per cent of women aged 16 to 49 used at least one form of contraception during 2002, a figure that has remained relatively constant since the mid-1980s. Which is nice. ®
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 2004

CeBIT: the handset fan's heaven

CeBIT:CeBIT: Mobile handset fans must get a real kick out of CeBIT. Seems like everyone saves up their new kit to launch at the show, and then they throw in a few extra bells and whistles for good measure. Witness O2: BT's old cellular arm has lanched two new handsets under its own brand: the X2 and the X3. The X2 will be available from May in the UK and costs £149 with a PAYG or is free with a monthly contract. The X3 will be in the shops in 'early summer'. Pricing is yet to be decided although O2 promises faithfully that it will be at the conservative end of the spectrum. The X2 is a neat little clamshell camera-phone with shiny silver bits galore. If you are a dedicated Nokia user, this will not be of any interest, but if you have a little more flexibilitiy about the kind of phone you want to use, this is quite a nice one. O2 says it is going for the "pub factor" with this phone, ie. all your friends will want one when they see it in the pub, and it is easy to see what they mean. The standard silver clamshell has an extra-shiny layer on its surface. When you shut the device, the light behind the clock switches on and the cover turns out to be translucent. Neat. The X3 is still something of a work in progress. Its major claim to fame is that it has a 1.3 megapixel camera in it. Take that, Nokia. Camera phones still have some way to go before they are truly sleek, and this shows more in the clamshell design than in a candy bar shape. Although these ones are by no means large or blocky, they are still a little chunky. If we were in Marketing we'd probably call it "rugged", which may explain why we're not... UK manufacturer Sendo has also stacked up a couple of announcements: it launches its new S600 handset and the M570 today. The s600 is Sendo's first camera phone, which looks like being a bit late to the party, but Sendo insists it means they have been able to use consumer feedback what has already been launched: "We have a habit of launching just as a market reaches tipping point," a company spokesman told El Reg today. "When you take a picture, the first option is gives you is 'send'," he explained. "On other handsets it can take up to 11 clicks to get to that which is a bit of a hassle when you have a funny picture you want to share with a friend." The M570 is the updated version of the M550 clamshell, Vodafone's best-selling handset at Christmas 2003. Its shape is a little rounder, and its antenna is fully integrated. It is not a camera phone, but users can send, receive and display pictures on its 65k colour screen. ® Related Products Check out all the latest phones in The Reg mobile store
Lucy Sherriff, 18 Mar 2004

Software hunts for Net paedos

Software agents that mimic the behaviour of real children are been used to detect paedophile grooming behaviour on the Internet. Called ChatNannies, the technology is the brainchild of IT consultant Jim Wightman, of Wolverhampton in the UK. The software runs with thousands of sub-programs - dubbed nanniebots - which log onto chatrooms and make conversations with youngsters there. While engaging in pop-culture inanities, the program analyses the behaviour of other participants in a chat room looking for tell-tale signs of grooming or slip-ups that suggest a user is an adult and not the child he might claim to be. The software emails suspicious conversations to Wrightman, who screens theses messages prior to passing details of suspect users (IP address etc.) and transcripts over to the police. We imagine the software generated plenty of false positives, particular when the technology was first used. Wightman told New Scientist his tip-offs have led to police investigations, though this remains unconfirmed, perhaps unsurprisingly. It's standard police practice (at least in the UK) not to talk publicly about active investigations. No-one has detected the bots, Wightman added. Given the short duration and limited scope of chat room conversations this is plausible. ChatNannies uses a neural network program build up knowledge and refine their responses. Each of the bots is programmed to display distinct "personalities". The technology is capable of updating itself with pop culture trivia gleaned from the Internet. Wightman doesn't want to sell his software or turn his technology into a business. However he would welcome financial support for government-run child protection bodies so that he can expand his system beyond four servers at his work. ® Related stories Watch out! There's a chatroom paedophile about Pervert! You're using the Internet Govt unveils Web kids safety campaign Paedophile gets five-year net ban UK Net paedo crackdown bags 600
John Leyden, 18 Mar 2004

IT workers demand greater work flexibility

IT workers want more flexible working patterns to help improve their work-life balance. Snag is, they fear that asking to work from home, for example, could damage their future career prospects. A study into flexible working in the IT industry was published today by the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) and the Women in IT Forum. It found that nine in ten women and eight in ten men want more flexibility in their working practices. Half of those quizzed said they didn't get involved with their family as much as they would like, while a third did not believe that their organisation was committed to helping them achieve a reasonable work/life balance. Three quarters feared that moving to a part-time or flexible career would harm their career prospects, prompting analysts to suggest that this could explain why the number of women working in IT fell three per cent last year. Part of the problem appears to be that since senior managers in IT don't do "flexible working", there are few positive role models to reinforce this more enlightened way of working. Said Carol Savage, MD of Flexecutive, which conducted the study on behalf of the DTI and the Women in IT Forum: "In common with many other industries, IT professionals are looking for a relationship with their manager and their organisation that measures their performance, not their input, and which gives them a greater degree of control over how they achieve their objectives. "They in turn will be more motivated and deliver a higher quality of work. "Without a stronger commitment to work-life balance, the IT sector is likely to continue to be unable to attract the best to the sector and to see increased female flight." ®
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 2004

Can I have an email quickie? – Phoenix says, ‘Yes’

Phoenix Technologies this week has kicked off what will prove to be a protracted battle to own the PC before the OS loads with a new version of its FirstWare Assistant software that gives customers easy access to email. Unveiled at CeBIT, the latest version of FirstWare Assistant lets users check their Microsoft Outlook email, calendar and contacts data without booting Windows XP. By holding down the "F" key, users get instant access to this information - technology thought to be ideal for checking up on appointments, recalling a phone number or pulling up directions while on the road. Phoenix is just one of a number of companies including Intel that is trying to beat Windows to the punch. "Users typically spend several minutes to boot up their machine and then boot up Outlook," said Michael Goldgof, senior vice president of marketing at Phoenix. "Now, they can turn on their machine and a screen comes up that gives them immediate access to information that is synched up." Older versions of FirstWare Assistant, currently shipping in some HP Tablet PCs, did not give customers access to their email. With the Outlook function added in, Phoenix is hoping a number of OEMs will bundle the software with their laptops or make it available as a download. Computers with the software should start appearing before mid-year, although Goldgof declined to name any specific PC vendor. Phoenix's approach differs to that of Intel and its partner Insyde Software. The two companies have developed a second LCD screen that sits on the outside of a laptop and shows available Wi-Fi networks and the same mail, calendar and contact information. The first company to pick up the technology developed by Intel and Insyde will be Lenovo - the Western brand name of Chinese PC giant Legend, which will roll out a laptop with the external LCD screen later this year. Phoenix's technology has some advantages in that it doesn't require any additional parts to function well. It's simply cutting out the middleman to give quick access to pretty key data. With Windows XP running, users can configure the FirstWare software to save X days of calendar or email data. In addition, the software will not tax a laptop's battery life as the system is only on for a few moments, as the user finds needed information. By contrast, Intel's Extended Mobile Access (EMA) technology keeps the laptop in a half-power state. This will eat up more battery life, but it also keeps a users' information truly up-to-date by downloading new data via a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connections. With the Phoenix software, you are only getting information downloaded during the last sync. Over time, Intel believes it can operate the second LCD using only one-tenth of the power needed to run a notebook. Both Phoenix and Intel have long-term visions for this type of technology. In the next couple of years, consumers will be able to start up music players, games and other software without Windows' help. In the meantime, Phoenix is simply billing its software as a tool for eliminating the PDA. Why carry both a laptop and handheld around when you get instant access to the same data on the notebook? This is a nice move for Phoenix as it tries to move beyond its BIOS roots. ®
Ashlee Vance, 18 Mar 2004