26th > April > 2004 Archive

Myratech goes titsup

Myratech.net, the web hosting and design business, has gone bust. Shares in the AIM-listed firm were suspended last week ahead of the appointment of administrators The administrator is Mr C K Rayment of BDO Stoy Hayward, Birmingham. Rayment is seeking a buyer for Myratech's 200 remaining customers, which include accountants Baker Tilly and the Rio Group. The Birmingham-based business started life as a Sage reseller - this business was sold off in January to Electronic Business Systems Ltd for £160,000. Eight members of staff transferred to EBS. ® Related stories Sage profits, customers jump Dealer uproar prompts Sage rethink over price rises What a difference a Dot makes - Myratech floats
John Oates, 26 Apr 2004

Telewest boosts broadband speeds

Telewest is increasing the speed of its cable broadband services for more than 450,000 punters - and isn't going to charge them a bean. A spokeswoman said there were no strings attached to the upgrade, no hidden price rises or usage caps. The UK cableco is revamping its range of blueyonder Internet products to offer faster speeds for the same price as existing services. The 50 per cent speed upgrade means that the standard blueyonder broadband service will increase in speed from 512Kb to 750Kb, but still cost from only £25 per month. Telewest's 1Mb is boosted to 1.5Mb while the 2Mb service gets wound up to a 3Mb service. Telewest's recently launched entry-level 256k service is not included in the speed shift. Chad Raube, Telewest's director of Internet services, said: "This is the biggest shake-up in the broadband market for some time. We feel it's time to give customers a broadband boost for no extra cost and offer them something they can't get from any other broadband provider. Combined with the existing benefits of our internet products, this will make choosing blueyonder a no-brainer." Work to upgrade the network to handle the increased speed is due to be completed by the end of May. ® Related stories Telewest dubs broadband most successful product Telewest unveils capped 256k Net access Telewest MD Burdick quits
Tim Richardson, 26 Apr 2004

Intel accuser alleges 150 others violate chip patent

Patriot Scientific, the technology company sueing Intel and others for alleged patent infringement, has told more than 150 other firms that it will sue them too - unless if they come to a suitable arrangement with it. Patriot's action takes in many of the biggest names in the Wintel PC world. In addition to Intel, the company has already begun legal proceedings against Japanese vendors Sony, Fujitsu, Toshiba, NEC and Matsushita. Those suits were filed in January. The company bases its infringement claim on the ownership of US patent 5,809,336, entitled 'High performance microprocessor having variable speed system clock'. This covers "the means used by the microprocessor industry to increase the internal operating speed of modern microprocessors". The patent was filed in June 1995 and granted on 15 September 1998. Patriot wants damages "in excess of several hundred million dollars" from the five Japanese PC makers for their alleged infringement. In response to that action, Intel sued Patriot in a bid to have the court declare that its products do not infringe patent 5,809,336 and that, by extension, neither do those of its customers. The chip giant also wants Patriot to be barred from sueing more of its customers, which is of course exactly what Patriot has now done - or at least is threatening to do. Jeff Wallin, Patriot's President and CEO, said at the time that any microprocessor "operating at speeds above 110-120MHz may be in violation of portions of our patent portfolio". In February this year, Patriot countersued Intel, claiming that the Pentium family does indeed violate 5,809,336. Patriot is seeking a jury trial, unspecified damages for "willful, intentional infringement" and an injunction against further infringement. Last month, Intel was also sued for allegedly infringing microprocessor patents held by MicroUnity Systems Engineering. MSE claims that Intel's SSE and HyperThreading technologies are both detailed in its patent portfolio. The company also named Dell as a second alleged violator, indicating it too may pursue Intel customers as Patriot has done. Ironically, Intel has only just managed to shrug off Intergraph and that company's various allegations of patent infringement. The long-running case concluded last month, when Intel agreed to pay out $225m to end the fight. ® Related stories Intel sued for Pentium patent infringement Intel, Dell sued over SSE, HyperThreading Intel to pay $225m to settle Itanic patent clash
Tony Smith, 26 Apr 2004

Baltimore complains to FSA about stalking shareholder

Former dotcom darling Baltimore Technologies has complained to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) about Acquisitor Holdings, its largest shareholder. Baltimore claims the group pushed down its share price by making negative comments about the company and then snapped up the cheaper shares. According to Baltimore, Acquisitor Holdings made misleading statements between 22 and 30 March. These comments, the complaint alleges, pushed down the company share price. On March 30 Acquisitor bought 400,000 Baltimore shares. In response, Acquisitor has threatened to sue Baltimore for defamation. Last month Acquisitor led attempts to oust the Baltimore board. Baltimore Technology used to be a security software company. It is now a cash shell with approx. £25m in the bank and its board wants to use the money to build a green energy company. Acquisitor wants the money to be redistributed to shareholders. ® Related stories Baltimore failures try something else Baltimore fights attempted coup Baltimore sells crown jewels
John Oates, 26 Apr 2004

Wanadoo UK to unveil £17.99 broadband

Freeserve is to unveil a new entry-level broadband service for just £17.99 a month as part of its much-publicised Wanadoo makeover. According to insiders, the name change becomes official from this Wednesday when "Freserve" is airbrushed from history and replaced by Wanadoo - the name of its French parent. As part of the rebranding - which has seen Freeserve running a series of ads featuring its "hippies" smartening themselves up - Wanadoo UK is to introduce a new entry-level product in the increasingly crowded entry-level marketplace. According to information received by The Register, the 512k service - capped with a 2GB a month usage limit - is billed as being ideal for users who want high speed Net access but don't want to download a lot. Importantly for Wanadoo UK, this sub-£20 product trumps BT's "Basic" broadband service on both price (£2 a month cheaper) and on the cap (BT Broadband Basic allows just 1GB a month). Wanadoo UK is also offering "heavy" users a 512k service for £27.99 a month with 15GB a month limit. And its 1MB product costs £34.99 a month with 30GB a month cap. Freeserve ended months of speculation recently by confirming that it had decided to adopt the name of its French parent, Wanadoo. ® Related stories Freeserve confirms Wanadoo makeover Freeserve airbrushed from history Freeserve to sell capped, cut-price broadband Freeserve gears up for major broadband push BT touts £20 capped broadband Tiscali is UK's 'fastest-growing' broadband ISP
Tim Richardson, 26 Apr 2004

FTC outlines appeal against Rambus ruling

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has detailed its appeal against a Commission judge's February decision to drop the anti-trust action the organisation brought against Rambus. The appeal was launched early last March, but the FTC didn't release its appeal brief until late last week. The FTC's argument centres on the belief that Judge Stephen J McGuire's February ruling was based on incorrect conclusions. Judge McGuire "found that Rambus indeed has acquired monopoly power, but did not acquire that power by exclusionary [i.e. anticompetitive] means, for two reasons: First, that Rambus did not violate a 'clear and unambiguous' JEDEC disclosure rule. Second, that Rambus' entire course of conduct was irrelevant, because no matter what Rambus or JEDEC did, Rambus' technologies would have been adopted wholesale by JEDEC, at exactly the same prices as Rambus is now demanding", the brief states. The FTC claims these conclusions are wrong: "Rambus engaged in a prolonged, deliberate course of conduct that undermined the fundamental purpose of JEDEC to adopt open standards, contravened JEDEC's procedures of adopting patented technologies only on the basis of full information and a commitment to RAND terms, and violated Rambus' duty of good faith and its specific JEDEC obligation to disclose patents and patent applications that might be involved in JEDEC work," the brief says. "Rambus' deliberate conduct in violation of its JEDEC obligations and contrary to JEDEC's purposes and procedures, in circumstances that lead to concrete harm to the marketplace, constitutes exclusionary conduct," it continues. This "conduct led to specific anticompetitive harm... The record establishes the requisite causal link between Rambus' course of conduct and its acquisition of monopoly power... Rambus' concealment of this material information was capable of contributing to JEDEC's choice to select technologies covered by Rambus' patents. Even if the Commission were to apply a strict but-for test of causation, the record demonstrates... that absent Rambus' conduct, JEDEC members likely would have adopted alternative technologies or, at a minimum, would have negotiated in advance to secure lower royalties." The brief concludes: "In order to undo the effects of Rambus' unlawful acquisition of monopoly power, restore competition in the technology markets associated with the JEDEC standards, and preserve the integrity of JEDEC's industry-wide standards" the Commission should essentially force Rambus for a period of 20 years to stop demanding intellectual property licence fees from SDRAM vendors offering JEDEC-compliant products and not to sue those vendors who have or may yet refuse to cough up. The FTC filed its lawsuit against Rambus in June 2002. It accused the memory designer of covertly modifying memory patents to incorporate technology which it knew industry standards body JEDEC was to build into the official SDRAM specification. This was a violation of Federal anti-trust law and an attempt to "deceive an industry-wide standard-setting organisation, resulting in adverse effects on competition and consumers", the FTC said at the time. However, last February Judge McGuire ruled that the FTC had not proved its allegations against the company. Judge McGuire's decision was always potentially subject to review by the FTC's commissioners, and the case may also yet be referred to the US court of appeals. ® Related link The FTC appeal brief can be downloaded here (PDF) Related stories FTC appeals against Rambus ruling Judge throws out FTC case against Rambus FTC declares war on Rambus
Tony Smith, 26 Apr 2004

Xbox cops another loss

Third quarter results for software giant Microsoft have shown that revenues from the division responsible for the Xbox console rose significantly, but the business still made a $209m loss in the three month period. Revenue from the Xbox operations was up by some $81m for the three months ended 31 March, with the bulk of that improvement being down to higher volumes of software sales - although the company sold 30 per cent more hardware in the quarter than it did in the same period last year, it was sold at a substantially lower price point and therefore had a diminished effect on revenues. Overall, the Home and Entertainment Division which houses the Xbox project (along with Microsoft Game Studios and other consumer hardware projects) reported quarterly revenue of $530m, up from $453m last year. However, the operating loss at the division was a very substantial $209m - illustrating just how difficult Microsoft is finding it to make money out of the Xbox. Compare this with closest rival Nintendo, which made just shy of half a billion dollars profit in the year to 31 March - and expects a billion dollar profit in the current financial year. Of course, Microsoft has arguably never needed to make money out of the Xbox, only to establish itself as a market player. After all, despite the losses incurred by Xbox, the company as a whole still made $1.32bn in the quarter (down slightly due to $1.89bn in settlements with Sun Microsystems and the European Commission) and added over $3bn to its cash and short term investment reserves, bringing the cash pile to an astonishing $56.4bn. However, it's questionable if the company ever anticipated just how much money it would have to spend in order to build market share in the games industry. With losses on the Xbox running into multiple billions of dollars, and the company still owning a global market share of the home console market that's slightly behind Nintendo's (albeit certainly leading the GameCube in North America), the console may have been an important stepping stone for Microsoft's console ambitions, but the cost of building that stepping stone must surely have been enough to make even the cash-wallowing beancounters of Redmond blanch. Copyright © 2004, Related stories Microsoft's Q3 hurt by settlement costs UK Xbox price cut? Wait and see US Xbox price cut to $149
gamesindustry.biz, 26 Apr 2004

Analyst 'confirms' impending Treo 610

Boston-based securities and investment bank Detwiler Mitchell & Co. (DMC) has inadvertently confirmed rumours that PalmOne is preparing an update to its Treo 600 smart phone. In a communication to investors, the company said: "We are hearing that PalmOne has plans to move away from Sierra Wireless for models following the Treo 600 and 610," Dow Jones reports. The Treo 610 is said to be a camera-less version of the 600 with the Bluetooth functionality missing from the earlier version of the smart phone. It's likely to sport more memory too. The DMC research note suggests that the Treo 610 will ship in the US this quarter through Verizon, the US' largest mobile operator. AT&T, T-Mobile, Cingular and Sprint are already customers. All PalmOne needs is Nextel and it has completed the set. The Verizon connection emerged earlier this month, when a message on the carrier's website claimed that the company was taking on the 600. Sierra Wireless apparently produces the CDMA modems used in the US versions of the Treo. The company's Nasdaq-traded stock fell $5.85 to $28.50 this past Friday on the back of fears that it will ultimately lose PalmOne's business. "We are told [PalmOne] has chosen G-Tran... as its new vendor and [that PalmOne] has indicated that shipments from G-Tran will start coming during Q4," the DMC note continues. Such a move, if true, isn't entirely surprising. Sierra is moving into the smart phone territory itself with Voq, a unit that, like the Treo, sports a micro keyboard (though in this case it folds out of the main body of the handset). Unlike the Treo, Voq runs the Palm OS rival Microsoft Windows for Smartphones. ® Related stories PalmOne preps 28 April PDA updates PDA, smartphone sales rocket in Europe MS plucks Sierra Wireless for smartphone iPaq 6000 wireless PDA shots slip onto web Review: PalmOne Treo 600
Tony Smith, 26 Apr 2004

Emails that come back to haunt

When you delete an email, what happens? In most cases, the email in question is transferred to a part of the computer where it may be overwritten in case extra space is needed on the computer. Or it may not - especially given the large capacity with which most computers today are equipped. Either way, the majority of emails that we delete can be found by specialised resources. But why does it matter? Under new legislation, including Sarbanes-Oxley and several rulings by the Securities and Exchange Commission over the past couple of years specify for how long business documents - including email - must be kept. While data retention regulations vary from law to law, most have a minimum retention period prescribed of at least two years, and Sarbanes-Oxley specifies that business records should be kept for five years, and those related to audits and business reviews must be kept for seven years. Companies are already finding to their cost that failure to keep business records will cost them dearly - five Wall Street firms were each fined $1.65m in 2002 for failure to maintain email records for the required two-year periods. Worse, Merrill Lynch was fined in 2002 a total of $150m because internal emails among employees indicated that, whilst analysts had publicly been recommending stocks, their private comments were rather disparaging. Even the mighty Microsoft has fallen foul of unguarded comments made in emails three years previously when they were used in evidence against them in litigation. Tool of litigation And the use of email as a tool in litigation is rising rapidly. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, nearly 10 per cent of US companies had been ordered by courts to produce employees' emails by 2001 and use of emails in court cases is emerging as one of the most important aspects of modern litigation. However, the costs are not only high for failing to comply with regulations, but may also be in high in actually complying. According to some commentators, the costs of reviewing data on a single hard drive can be as high as $10,000. In a large organisation with a multitude of business information systems in place that cost can rise into the millions of dollars. Plus, companies must review all of the servers and storage mechanisms used in their business, including redundant systems and messaging services, including email and instant messaging. To lessen the burden, companies need not only to organise their business information systems so that the cost and effort of discovery of the required data and documents will not be so high, but they need also to properly educate their employees. They need to know what is required of them in terms of records management rules and procedures, with policies for emails highlighted in particular since this is an area in which employees are probably least aware of the rules. Policies that are developed should spell out what types of communication are prohibited or restricted and employees should be made aware that emails should be treated as an important, and formal form of business communication. And companies in Europe should not be complacent that these regulations do not apply to them. Rather, the EU is currently considering enacting a version of Sarbanes-Oxley that will not only contain largely the same provisions as the US act, but that also may, in some countries, be applied to private companies as well as to those that are public. And many other laws bite on a local level as well. This is a problem that companies can avoid if they plan carefully, but it needs to be put high on the agenda to mitigate against potentially large fines being meted out. © IT-Analysis.com Related stories Feds: email subpoena ruling hurts law enforcement Anti-email snooping proposals stupid One in five US firms have sacked workers for email abuse
Fran Howarth, 26 Apr 2004

Google back in court over Adwords

French insurance giant AXA is taking Google to court over allegations that the search engine sold on AXA trademarks as search terms. The case centres on use of "Adwords" - search terms which trigger paid-for results. AXA claims that Google users searching for "AXA" or "direct assurance" were shown ads from rival insurers alongside search results. An initial hearing will be held in Paris on 10 May. Both companies confirmed the case was live but refused to make further comment to AP. Google is already in dispute in the US with American Blind and Wallpaper Factory which is laying claim to trademark terms as well what Google says are generic terms such as "american blinds" or "american wallpaper discount". The decorator sent a list of more than 30 search terms it laid claim to. Google claims such terms are generic and descriptive and therefore cannot be copyrighted. The list includes "american wall covering", "american wallpaper discount", "decorate today" and "decorate today discount". Google agreed in September 2002 to remove trademarked terms which had been bought by rival wallpaper sellers. After continued complaints from American Blind, Google counter-sued in California in November 2003 seeking relief, the costs of its action and a jury trial to determine the legality of keyword-triggered advertising. Google is keen to gain a definitive ruling to protect its lucrative paid search advertising business. A negative ruling will also call into question the search advertising revenues of the likes of Yahoo!, MSN and AOL. Paid search accounted for 35 per cent of US online ad revenues in 2003, up from 15 per cent in 2002. This ad category drove the first annual rise in online ad revenues since 2000, according to a PwC report published last week. Google found itself in court in France in October 2003 for selling the keywords "bourse des vols" (flight market) to a travel firm. The phrase was a registered trademark of another firm and Google was fined €70,000 for copyright infringement. Playboy pursued Netscape on similar trademark grounds. The case took five years to reach the federal appeal court where it was settled in January this year. Terms were not made public. Google is widely expected to file its intention to IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week. ® Related stories Search drives US online ad sales Yahoo! shows paid search pays Online ads draw record complaints Yahoo! and MSN to dilute Google supremacy Wanadoo unveils Euro ad network SEC rules drag reluctant Google to market California Senator seeks Google Gmail ban Google's Gmail hits trademark problem
John Oates, 26 Apr 2004

Pick up a 32MB USB watch for a quid

Cash'n'CarrionCash'n'Carrion Our popular MeMIX USB2.0 Memory Watch has been such a hit with customers that we thought we'd give a few lucky punters who are not already enjoying its wrist-borne 256MB the chance to "buy-one-get-one-free". It's as simple as this: if you buy the 256MB model (which normally retails on its own at £80.85, or £94.99 inc VAT), we'll throw in the 32MB version for just 99p. So, you get both for a mere £81.69 (£95.98 inc VAT). The offer is valid as of right now, and is not retrospective. Stocks are strictly limited, so if you fancy a top bit of kit for less than a quid, you'd better get down to Cash'n'Carrion pronto. And if you think you've got time to hang about, here are the specs of the 256MB model: Height: 11mm Diameter: 40mm Weight: 39g Plug & Play on Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Linux2.4 or higher, MacOS 8.6 or higher USB Cable securely integrated in to the watch strap Bootable disk to start the computer system Contains 256MB of Toshiba flash memory LED Status indicator light Password security for file privacy Standard USB 2.0 connectivity, USB 1.1 compatible Extra 1m extension cable supplied Shock proof and anti-static Read speed of 8MB/second Write speed of 6MB/second Japanese Citizen movement with up to a 3yr battery life Related review Our original analysis of the Memix 128MB USB Memory Watch
Cash'n'Carrion, 26 Apr 2004

NTL to supercharge broadband speed

NTL is to boost the speed of its broadband service at no extra cost - mimicking a similar announcement made by Telewest earlier today. NTL's entry-level 150K service is upgrading to 300k although the price will remain £17.99 a month. The 600K service is to increase to 750K (£24.99) while its 1MB service ramps up to 1.5MB (£37.99). NTL's gear-shift will take place in the summer, a little later than Telewest, which upgrades in May. A spokesman for NTL said the announcement to double the speed of broadband services - on the same day that Telewest announced the same plan - was "pure coincidence". However, The Register understands that NTL knew in advance of Telewest's plans and decided to bring forward its announcement. The UK's two cablecos work fairly closely together, in preparation for the day that they eventually merge. Telewest has a couple of billion dollars in debt refinancing to get out of the way, first, though, before any meaningful talks can get underway. Chad Raube, director of Internet services at Telewest Broadband, said: "These are independent initiatives and we were unaware that NTL had plans to announce similar broadband changes today. This is good news for cable customers and it goes to show the capability of our networks. "Speeding up our blueyonder services has always been part of our long-term strategy and our customers are now set to benefit from faster speeds, at prices that are still lower than the majority of major ADSL providers." ® Related stories Telewest boosts broadband speeds NTL confirms price hike Telewest dubs broadband most successful product
Tim Richardson, 26 Apr 2004

Intel to launch 3.6GHz P4 in June

Intel Desktop RoadmapIntel Desktop Roadmap Intel will launch Its 'Grantsdale' and 'Alderwood' Pentium 4 chipsets during the fourth week of June, with an official announcement to that effect likely to be made at Computex Taiwan earlier that month, OEM sources have claimed. At least, that's what they have told Japanese web site PC Watch, which notes that Intel will launch the 775-pin versions of the 90nm Pentium 4 and the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition at the same time, according to roadmaps seen by the site. The June release will see the arrival of 2.8GHz to 3.6GHz P4s, with model numbers running from 520 to 560, alonside LGA775 socketed versions of the 3.2GHz and 3.4GHz P4EE. Intel will also offer a second 2.8GHz P4 using the new socket, though this one will only support a 533MHz frontside bus rather than the usual 800MHz FSB, and does not support HyperThreading. The 3.6GHz P4, which will make its debut in June, will only be offered as a 775-pin part and not in a Socket 478 version, the roadmaps suggest. So too will the 3.8GHz P4 that's due in mid-Q3 (August, basically) and the 4.0GHz version expected to ship next October (Q4). Those two chips will be numbered the 570 and 580, respectively. Those releases will be accompanied by Socket 775 Celeron chips. In June, we'll see the 2.8GHz Celeron 335, followed by the 2.93GHz Celeron 340 in August, the 3.06GHz Celeron 345 in October and the 3.2GHz Celeron 350 in Q1 2005. Unlike the P4, there will be Socket 478 versions of those chips, launched on the same days. Expect to see a Socket 478 2.53GHz Celeron 325 and 2.66GHz Celeron 330 in June, too. The Socket 478 models at higher clock speeds will share the same model numbers as the Socket 775 versions. The 2.53GHz to 2.8GHz Celerons launched in June will be the first processors of that classification to be fabbed at 90nm. The June processor launch will be accompanied by the arrival of the 925X chipset (aka Alderwood) and the Grantsdale-class 915P and 915G. All three support only 90nm P4s and, in the case of Grantsdale, 90nm Celerons. The Grantsdale chipsets also support the slower, 533MHz FSB - Alderwood is 800MHz only. It's also 533MHz or 400MHz DDR 2 only, whereas the 915 series supports 400MHz DDR too. The 915G includes the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900, the new name for Intel Extreme, but like the 915P it can also handle an external PCI Express x16 graphics card, as can Alderwood. August/mid-Q3 is expected to see the arrival of the 915GV and the 910GL. The former is a version of the 915G but with no support for an external PCI Express graphics card. The 910GL likewise offers only its integrated GMA 900 graphics engine and will only operate a 533MHz FSB. It's pitched exclusively at 90nm Celerons. Alderwood will continue in service through to Q2 2005, when Intel is expected to offer 'Cedarwood' for the 'Tejas' processor, along with the Grantsdale replacement 'Lakeport'. Cedarwood is believed to bump the FSB up to 1066GHz and support Intel's 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set. Expect 667MHz DDR 2 support to, the roadmaps indicate. ® Related stories Intel bins 'Extreme' graphics name Intel completes hi-def audio spec Grantsdale DX9 support limited to pixel shader only Intel moots Centrino-style home PC platform Nvidia, Intel target corporates with multi-screen rigs
Tony Smith, 26 Apr 2004

UK gov holds EDS to account over crap CSA system

Staff at the Child Support Agency are using pocket calculators to work out what people owe, thanks to the comprehensive failure of its IT system from EDS. Less than half the 320,000 applications received since March 2003, when the system was launched, has been processed. The Work and Pensions sub-committee took evidence last week from Andrew Smith, work and pensions secretary. He admitted that the cost of processing applications was 20 per cent higher using the new IT system and told MPs the original contract could have been better drafted. Smith also said the department was looking to reduce its reliance on one provider - EDS provides 85 per cent of the Department of Work and Pensions' systems. In a written answer, he said: "Technical issues continue to preclude reliable figures on compliance and throughput for the latest quarter. The Department continues to retain around 15–20 per cent of each monthly payment due to EDS, the service provider, due to the continuing problems with the computer and telephony systems. A special exercise is being undertaken to test accuracy to the year-end." Liberal Democrats say the failure means 95,000 single parents are missing out on payments totalling £45m a year. Professor Steve Webb, LibDem shadow work and pensions spokesman, said: "It is scandalous that the Government continues to fritter away huge sums of money trying to put the CSA's house in order. Under Labour the CSA has gone from bad to worse. We now have two different systems that don't work properly and thousands of lone parents missing out. Lone parents have been let down and left out of pocket. "It's high time the CSA was scrapped and the Inland Revenue was allowed to do the sums and make sure people pay up on time." The £400m computer system was supposed to go live in October 2001 but was finally switched on in March 2003. ® Related stories EDS to sue NHS over nixed email deal Inland Revenue sacks EDS Government IT: wasting money to win votes CSA computer system £50m over budget'
John Oates, 26 Apr 2004

Bell Micro picks boss for Europe

Graeme Watt has been appointed president of Bell Microproducts Europe, responsible for Ideal Hardware and Bell's European divisions. He will report to president and CEO Don Bell. He replaces acting interim president Martin Blaney who will remain at the US-owned distie as chief operating officer for Europe. Previous president Ian French left the company to pursue other interests in February 2004. Watt was previously head of Tech Data Europe. He left that job in October 2003 to run the merged operations of WestCoast and Actebis but the deal fell through at the last minute before he could take up the post. Prior to that he was managing director of Computer 2000, Tech Data's UK sub. Don Bell said: "Graeme has the in-depth knowledge necessary to lead Bell Microproducts European operations in a world class manner. His experience base and talent will give the expert guidance to Bell Microproducts ongoing expansion program in the EMEA region. We are very excited to welcome him on board." Mr. Bell expects Europe to be a strong growth market and is looking for "selective acquisitions". The firm came to Europe in late 2000 through the acquisition of UK-based storage distie Ideal Hardware. European sales accounted for 46 per cent of last year's $2.2bn turnover. More details here. ® Related stories Bell Micro ends French rule Graeme Watt leaves Tech Data C2000 appoints new UK MD
John Oates, 26 Apr 2004

Fallen in love with your PC?

People get so emotionally attached to computers that they are prepared to queue to use their favourite one. This truly baffling* finding comes from researchers at Pennsylvania State University. They wanted to know just how far people would go to use a particular machine so they monitored students using the university's 800 computer terminals, looking for interesting patterns in their behaviour. They found that people prefer to use one or two particular machines, even when others are available. Some students would even queue for access to 'their' computer. According to Professor Shyam Sundar, this is because we tend to attribute human characteristics to computers. (Computers, of course, hate it when we do this.) Speaking to the BBC, Professor Sundar said that our habit of anthropomorphising our digital friends has implications for how we treat information on the Web. "We increasingly view computers as sources of information not just mediums of information. We attribute social characteristics and treat them as autonomous," he said. This, he cautioned, could lead to people placing too much faith in information garnered from the Web, to the extent that we could chose it above a more reliable alternative. The study could also be useful for advertisers: Professor Sundar suggests that companies would do well to play on our emotional attachement to our machines by marketing them as something that grows with us, rather than as disposable tools. ® *As in: Surely there are enough things we have to queue for already...do we have to invent extra ones for ourselves? Related stories My best friend is a PC Toxic PCs destroy life as we know it Auditing the mind of a hacker
Lucy Sherriff, 26 Apr 2004

Creative MuVo 2 4GB MP3 Player

Reg ReviewReg Review I've wondered, in the past, how small solid state digital music players could get, but I'm starting to have to ask the same question of hard drive-based machines. Apple's iPod Mini is sleek enough, but Creative's rival product, the MuVo2 comes very close.
Tony Smith, 26 Apr 2004

NASA moots robotic Hubble fix

Hubble may yet be saved, despite the cancellation of service missions to the space telescope that followed the Columbia disaster. Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator, said that a small spacecraft could be designed, which would attach itself to Hubble and act as a back-up battery. This would be much easier than replacing the batteries, which would be a very difficult job for a robot, he told BBC Online. He also suggested that the craft could take over the gyroscopic control of Hubble. Hints that a solution was on the way appear in a 10 March letter (PDF copy here) from NASA head Sean O'Keefe to Senator Barbara Mikulski. O'Keefe notes that a call for ideas on how Hubble could be saved has elicited some interesting suggestions. He wrote: "[The] responses have included promising concepts on extension of power generational capabilities robotically. Indeed, these options appear more likely that the low probability of timely servicing mission in compliance with the Board recomendations." O'Keefe is referring to post-Columbia disaster safety recommendations which effectively ruled out any shuttle mission which did not include a visit to the International Space Station. Hubble missions do not include this stop, and so were grounded. Since then, the organisation has been investigating other possibilities in a bid to extend the life of the telescope. However, these alternative plans are still in very early stages, and are by no means a cure-all. According to Weiler, it is likely that Hubble's gyros would have failed by the time a rescue mission could be sent (2007/08), and even if the power and pointing could be taken over by another craft, upgrading optical kit would still need a manned mission. Despite these obstacles, Weiler insists that there is a lot of optimism within NASA about the robotic possibilities. More information is expected to be available in June. ® Related link The BBC story Related stories Radio star gazing gets European boost Hubble nudges the dawn of universe Oldest galaxy found behind big cluster Chocks away for NASA's Einstein test NASA scramjet hits Mach 7
Lucy Sherriff, 26 Apr 2004

US man on Net stalking rap

A South Carolina man has become the first person to be charged under US laws prohibiting Internet stalking. Robert James Murphy, 38, of Columbia, South Carolina, denied 26 counts of using his computer to "to annoy, abuse, threaten and harass" Joelle Ligon, a 35 year-old Seattle woman, at a US District Court hearing last week. Conviction of each of the charges is punishable by up to two years in prison. Murphy was released on bail of $50,000 pending further hearings. His prosecution is the first to rely on a 1997 amendment to federal telecommunications law outlawing cyber-harassment, AP reports. The law criminalises sending obscene email in the same way earlier regulations punished individuals who made threatening or abusive phone calls. Ligon, then resident in Salt Lake City, Utah, dated Murphy between the ages of 15 and 22. The seven-year relationship broke up 13 years ago. Prosecutors charge that Murphy sent "obscene and sexually explicit messages and pictures" to Ligon and her co-workers from 1998 onwards. These messages continued even when Ligon moved job or state. Ligon ignored these email for four years before approaching police, who allegedly tracked these messages back to Murphy. Last week Ligon came face to face with Murphy for the first time since 1991. "He didn't give me any eye contact," Ligon said after the hearing. "He has been a faceless entity to me. I wanted to see him, and I wanted him to know that I was looking at him." Murphy's trial is due to begin on 6 July. ® Related stories Ex-magistrate faces jail over obscene email blizzard Internet stalker jailed State senator drafts Google opt-out Bill Google touts stalking service RIAA 'encouraging stalkers, molesters' telco
John Leyden, 26 Apr 2004

Ofcom plays down BT split rumour

Ofcom has played down speculation that it is working on the "pros and cons" of splitting up BT. Today's FT reports that the UK's giant communications regulator is examining the merits of splitting BT's wholesale and retail divisions. Such a move would free BT Retail - which still accounts for more than 70 per cent of domestic phone lines in the UK - from regulation and been seen as a move to improve competition in the sector. However, Ofcom has played down speculation surrounding a possible break-up, claiming it's just one of the issues being discussed as part of its Strategic Review of Telecommunications. "We are exploring a large number of 'what if?' scenarios to inform our overall thinking about the future direction of the telecommunications sector," said a spokesman for the regulator. "All such discussions are entirely hypothetical and discursive in nature. They are simply intended to provide an initial understanding of the implications of possible changes in the sector over time and do not in any way indicate a decision on a course of action." The regulator is expected to publish the first phase of its consultation into the UK telecoms sector later this week when the matter, no doubt, is likely to be brought into focus. However, only two months ago an influential group of MPs rejected calls to split the UK's dominant fixed line telco claiming such as move did "not justify the upheaval involved". Although MPs accepted that such a move might be popular with some of BT's rivals, they also concluded that such a move wouldn't remove the need for regulation, merely shift it instead. Perhaps of more immediate concern for BT is Ofcom's much-awaited decision following its "urgent" investigation into allegations that the telco's new phone tariffs are anti-competitive. In March, BT announced plans to scrap its "standard rate" in a move it said would simplify its tariff structure and make its service even better value for money for its customers. Rivals were quick to point out that scrapping its standard rate would increase the cost of competing services run by companies such as The Carphone Warehouse, Telse2 and Tesco. In what is regarded by many as its first major test as the new communications regulator, Ofcom launched an investigation under Chapter II of the Competition Act into BT's new residential retail tariff packages for line rental and calls. The investigation is examining if the changes - which include the scrapping of standard rate line rental - constitute an abuse of BT's dominant position under the Competition Act 1998. An initial ruling is expected within the next week or so and the Sunday Times reckons the regulator could "take a hard line against BT". If Ofcom's ruling does go against BT, the regulator could force BT to cease or reverse the proposed new tariffs. For its part, BT has said in the past that the tariff changes are "wholly in line with our legal and regulatory obligation". A spokesman for BT declined to be drawn on the matter except to say: "Ofcom has made no formal announcement on their decision, and it would be inappropriate to comment until the decision is made public." ® Related stories Ofcom calls BT tariff changes 'a surprise' Ofcom starts urgent investigation into BT tariffs Centrica mulls legal action over BT tariffs Ofcom to examine BT tariff change BT simplifies tariffs MPs accuse Oftel of failure to help consumers UK held back by lack of broadband competition Ofcom to probe UK telecom sector
Tim Richardson, 26 Apr 2004

Telefónica fights 419 lottery tsunami

Spanish telecom operator Telefónica says it will work with the police to try and stop the problem of Nigerian scammers operating out of internet cafes and sending thousands of sweepstake scam letters. This week the Abusive Hosts Blocking List - which tracks spam sources, spam friendly providers and other hosts which pose a risk to the Internet - announced it had blocked nearly all of Telefónica's IP space because of the "ever increasing amount of spam and illegal 419" originating from Spain. Telefónica says these mails are sent from internet cafes and are difficult to control. Almost daily mailboxes all over the world are filled with emails from Madrid, congratulating punters with a "lump sum payout" in sweepstakes lotteries such as El Gordo la Primitiva, which also happens to be the name of a real lottery in Spain. Naturally, there is no prize and scammees are invited pay certain "expenses" before the funds can be released. Last year, Madrid police broke up a fraud ring that cheated hundreds of victims out of $35m through sweepstakes. A total of 103 people, mostly Nigerians, were arrested during raids in and around Madrid. The ring allegedly swindled 500 people, often residents of the US and Canada. Unfortunately, that bust didn't put an end to the amount of scam mails sent through Telefónica’s network. In February, The Bank of Spain, Spain's central bank, had to warn that its name was being fraudulently used in Nigerian lottery scams. Victims were told they had won a prize deposited in an account with the Bank of Spain, even though they had never participated in a lottery. Related stories 419 shirt in ghostly 'Abacha white' 419er Struck By American Headline Disorder Cosmic 419er lost in space Caped crusading sysadmin rumbles 419er Welsh bang up 419er for 20 months What do you get if you cross a 419er with 3000 oxen? 419ers enlist Saddam's daughter Introducing the ten-legged 419er
Jan Libbenga, 26 Apr 2004
DVD it in many colours

Shell's IT department off to India

ExclusiveExclusive Oil giant Shell is looking to offshore almost 3,000 IT jobs, according to internal documents seen by The Register. Central services at Shell have been rebranded Group IT Infrastructure (GITI), although this is known internally as "Give IT to India". Almost one third of jobs in the IT department could go abroad. The cost-saving project, dubbed ITVision, is being overseen by CIO and ex-HP man Mike Rose. Staff are deeply unhappy at the proposed changes and question if the new structure will meet Shell's IT requirements. The troubled oil giant is looking to save $850m per year by sending jobs overseas. A spokesman for Shell told The Register: "The figures you have are right. The project has been running for some time and is now moving from planning to implementation. We are committed to keeping some IT function in the UK, US, Netherlands and Malaysia. We are in the process of talking to staff and it is too early to be definitive about where the jobs will go." He would not be drawn as to where the job losses will come from, because it is too early to say - the target headcount figure is for the end of 2006. Jobs are likely to go to India, Malaysia and China. The company is believed to be in detailed talks with Infosys.The company is also trying to reduce the number of applications it uses and to standardise on shrink-wrapped items. Shell already has a centralised IT outpost in Cyberjaya in Malaysia which employs 1,000 staff. The latest memo from ITVision asks bluntly "how many jobs will be impacted?" and "Do we have IT jobs in the future, and is there a career path for me?" It also shows what the project aims to achieve: "World-class price performance in everything we do by 2008 Circa $850m per annum like-for-like cost savings achieved through: - Streamlined decision making (Governance) with 'Business at the Centre' - Applications rationalisation - Infrastructure consolidation and rationalisation - Procurement leverage and demand management - Locating more work in cost-advantaged locations where there are talented IT professionals, i.e. Malaysia and India." The memo says Shell expects to cut between 1,900 and 2,800 jobs from its total IT staff of 9,300 - a reduction of 20 to 30 per cent. Most of these losses are expected in high-cost locations such US and the UK. Shell began cutting jobs in its exploration division last month - it is looking to lose over 4,300 people. It announced a 20 per cent cut in rig workers on the North Sea, a decision which unions condemned as dangerous. Shell is also looking to cut its headcount in Nigeria by 20 per cent. Shell was recently caught overstating the size of its available oil reserves, a decision which cost the jobs of three boardroom execs. It is under investigation from the Financial Services Authority. ® Related stories Foreign workers dominate Dell Offshore IT jobs = higher employment Ebookers chief defends offshoring World's largest Linux supercomputer to sniff out oil
John Oates, 26 Apr 2004

ID cards to use 'key database' of personal info

David Blunkett today published his draft bill paving the way for a compulsory UK ID card, and reports over the weekend claimed that cabinet opposition had drawn some of the scheme's fangs, the draft suggests that it will be more extensive than expected in several key areas. According to the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has secured agreement that it will never be mandatory to carry a card, that a Commons vote will be required before police can require a card's production, and that it will not be necessary to produce a card in order to obtain hospital treatment or welfare benefits. Speaking this morning however Blunkett disputed this, pointing to sections 15-18 of the draft as giving the necessary clearances. This section indeed makes provision for public services to hinge on ID cards, but specifically rules out the compulsion to carry it at all times or produce it for police. How long this will last is perhaps another matter. Blunkett is however pitching the scheme far more widely than simply as an entitlement, immigration, crime or terror control mechanism. Rather, it is intended as the cornerstone of identity and identity-management in the UK. The draft bill covers the setting up of a national identity register, which is described as "the key database of personal information which the biometric cards would link to," and envisages the creation of "a 'family' of ID cards, based on designated existing and new documents." This suggests far broader purposes than simply identifying individuals, and the Home Office announcement makes no bones about this: "ID cards will help tackle the type of serious and organised crime which depends on being able to use false identities - terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud through ID theft, and illegal working and immigration. They will also enable people to access services more easily, and prevent access to those with no entitlement. And crucially, the cards will help people live their everyday lives more easily, giving them a watertight proof of identity for use in daily transactions and travel." The extent of the ID card's utility in dealing with false identity is at the very least somewhat slighter than Blunkett would have us believe, and its usefulness in dealing with ID fraud in commercial areas is dependent on whether or not it is used as strong ID there, and on the necessary equipment to validate the ID being present. An ID card with your fingerprints on it, for example, is of no protection to you in cases of 'cardholder not present' fraud (and it certainly useless in the Internet), and doesn't stop someone intercepting your mail and signing up for credit cards in your name. If we were just talking about a piece of government ID issued for government purposes only, then that would be OK - but here we're talking about "watertight proof of identity for use in daily transactions and travel." So we're not - Blunkett is really talking about something that will need substantially more networked checking points than something that was just 'son of passport', and about a lot more data, accessed by a lot more different government and non-government organisations, held centrally. And if it leads to more data on the card itself that can be used without further and/or biometric validation, then the cards themselves will tend to become more worth stealing. This is surely recklessly ambitious. More so because Blunkett still shows little sign of having a sound grasp of the actual capabilities of ID systems. This morning, for example, he told Today that ID cards "couldn't solve Madrid [the bombings] because nobody has biometric technology today." In the cases of both 9/11 and Madrid the attackers appear to have had valid ID, so biometric valid ID is neither here nor there, but despite having had this put to him by numerous interviewers Blunkett seems unable to stop presenting biometrics as some kind of magic. He went on to explain the situation of countries who didn't have biometric ID: "Those without biometrics will be known as the easiest touch. That's why we need to be ahead." The logic of this situation, that those countries where it is easier to obtain ID can be used by terrorists to establish valid ID which can then be used to visit and bomb the UK, seems to elude him. The Home Office does have schemes for biometric ID for non-UK passport holders in the UK, and is already fingeprinting asylum seekers and some visa applicants, but the scheme as announced today actually rules out biometrics for visitors who are staying less than three months. Which would seem to suggest that terrorists on an awayday are entirely immune to the £3.1 billion biometric checking regime. The roadmap as presented by Blunkett yesterday is as follows. Following the publication of the draft there will be "further consultation including opening up technical issues and inviting a development partner from the private sector", then a full bill will be introduced in the autumn session. Biometric passports will appear within three years, and "as we're putting this on a clean database this will not be forgeable." Foreign nationals will be brought into the scheme "as quickly as possible" and "we're hoping people will want voluntarily to renew their passport early" (not at those prices mate, so we can expect some special incentive discounts on the £73 for a passport), "so within seven years we will start to move to the position where people across the population have got an ID card." The Home Office itself today published a target of 80 per cent of the economically active population by 2013. Privacy International described the scheme as "draconian and dangerous," pointing out that the draft gave the Home Secretary wide powers to disclose identity-related information to a range of authorities, including police, Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise, can order a person to register for an ID card, and can even have them registered against their will if the necessary data is already known. A range of new offences including failure to notify of a damaged or defective card, and failure to report a change of address, is also introduced. The Home Secretary (i.e. Blunkett) "has the power to make Orders to change almost every element of the proposed system." It is, says Privacy International director Simon Davies, "a disgrace to democracy." ® Related links Draft bill and consultation Privacy International release UK public wants ID cards, and thinks we'll screw up the IT Fingerprints as ID - good, bad, ugly? ID cards: a guide for technically-challenged PMs
John Lettice, 26 Apr 2004

i2 Technologies: time to sell up?

i2 Technologies shows no signs of halting its revenue slide despite repeated restructuring and efforts to adapt to changing market conditions. Its business is sound but its position is not, and being acquired by a larger firm may be its best route to success. i2's revenue fell on both a sequential and a yearly basis in Q1 2004. For the latest period, i2 reported revenue of $83.6m, down from $97.7m last quarter and $157.9m a year ago. License revenue followed a similar pattern, coming in at just $12.4m compared to $14.8m in Q4 2003 and $19.1m in the equivalent quarter last year. However, the supply chain management company did reduce its net loss to $30m compared to a loss of $49m last quarter, and a net profit of $41.3m in the first quarter 2003. i2 has not been idle in trying to find a resolution to its problems. Its latest strategic initiative is to take advantage of the move to services-oriented architecture and cross-function business processes through its Supply Chain Operating Services process integration and management platform. The company describes SCOS as a software infrastructure designed to enable the efficient operation of supply chains by using web services and other open standards to bring together disparate applications. The aim is to enable cross-function business processes. However, i2 maintains that it goes beyond integration functionality because workflow, data synchronisation and business intelligence are all embedded into the platform. In this sense, it is making a similar pitch to SAP with NetWeaver, and that is part of its underlying problem. When faced with the prospect of buying a highly strategic piece of technology, customers are reluctant to go with i2, particularly when there is the prospect of opting for similar offerings from larger, broader-based, more financially stable vendors like SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle, which are also relentlessly cutting into its market. The nub of the problem is that i2 is caught in a downward credibility spiral, and no matter how it twists, it has been unable to extricate itself. With $259m in cash and a respectable customer base, its best chance would come through being acquired. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor Related stories i2 to re-cook books WebMethods, i2, HP add supply chain links Ariba, Commerce One, I2, Siebel will never come back - Ellison
Datamonitor, 26 Apr 2004

Phishing scams cost UK banks £1m+

Phishing scams have cost British banks more than £1m over the last 18 months. This is a tiny fraction of the £402.4m lost through credit card fraud for last year, but banks are still keen to raise awareness of the issue. Scam emails that form the basis of phishing attacks pose as 'security check' emails from well-known businesses. These messages attempt to trick users into handing over their account details and passwords to bogus sites. The collected details are used for credit card fraud and identity theft. First seen more than a year ago, phishing emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated, directing users to bogus websites which accurately reproduce the look and feel of legitimate sites. Such scam emails are becoming increasingly commonplace (we get four or five a day, for example) and more people are getting caught out. Sandra Quinn of the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS) told the BBC's Money Box program: "The losses now we think are over a million, and we know that figure is growing... It is something we are extremely concerned about." Money Box spoke to one woman, Andrea from Cleveland, who had lost £6,000 from her account after falling for a phishing scam. "You just feel so stupid. You feel that you have been taken in by a con that should have been glaringly obvious," she said. A spokeswoman for APACS explained that UK bank customers have not being held liable for money siphoned out of accounts as a result of phishing attacks. "Banks have taken the loss," she said. She added that only a minority of people have been taken in by the ruse - the vast majority delete suspicious email. "Nonetheless, phishing attempts are still happening," she added. According to an attack trends report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group, email fraud and phishing attacks grew by more than 43 per cent in March, with an average of 13 new, unique attacks sent out to millions of consumers each day. The group recorded 402 unique phishing attacks for March. The most-targeted industry sector was Financial Services with 256 unique attacks and the most put-upon company was eBay (110 attacks). Email filtering firm Brightmail reckons one in 20 emails (five per cent) sent last month were phishing scams. That amounts to a staggering 2.9bn messages, according to Brightmail’s figures. Users are advised not to respond to suspicious emails. Consumers should contact their bank via a trusted method of communication if they have any concerns. More top anti-phishing tips can be found here. ® Related stories Phishing attacks on the rise PayPal virus writing scammer scumbag pleads guilty MS plugs IE phishing bug The economics of spam Estonian plasma TVs: Phishers fingered Halifax suspends e-banking site after phishing attack Email scammers target Halifax, Nationwide, Citibank UK banks and police proffer anti-phishing advice
John Leyden, 26 Apr 2004

Sun makes servers Windows-ready

As promised, Sun Microsystems has certified its Xeon- and Opteron-based servers to work with Microsoft's server operating systems, cementing another change in the two companies' always exciting relationship. As far back as February, Sun executives confirmed that they would look into putting x86 gear though the Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) compatibility tests. This doesn't mean Sun will start shipping Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 any time soon, but the certification does give customers the option of running Windows and receiving support from Microsoft. Sun earlier this month reiterated its plans to make peace with Windows when announcing its $2bn settlement with Microsoft. El Reg noticed that Sun's web site clearly shows the V20z two-processor Opteron box is indeed Windows-ready. Sun isn't as clear about the WHQL certification for its V60x or V65x Xeon servers. We did, however, check with Sun's new low-end server chief John Fowler, and he confirmed that all of the x86 boxes are good to go even if the web site hides the information. "All of the x86 rack mount servers are already WHQL certified," Fowler said. "We intend to continue to do this for future products where it makes sense." Sun now offers a broad set of operating systems for its x86 gear. Along with Windows (2000/Server 2003), customers can run a 32-bit version of Solaris x86 (64-bit is coming); Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 (32-bit/64-bit); SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 (64-bit) and SuSE Linux 9 Professional (64-bit). Sun's WHQL certification is a fairly weak concession. The move, however, does provide some hope that Sun can dabble with reality from time to time. Customers obviously run a mix of operating systems in their data centers. Now, if a customer needs to set up a few Windows boxes next to Solaris/Linux systems, they can do so in relative safety. Back when Sun was storming though data centers with Solaris/Sparc boxes it was much easier for it to take a high and mighty position ignoring Microsoft. But with sales tougher to come by these days, Sun has more of "we'll do whatever it takes within reason" attitude. An argument could be made that Sun needs to go ahead and sell Windows, if it wants to compete with IBM, HP and Dell in the x86 realm. Such a move, as they say, is not freakin' likely. The bulk of Sun's low-end system strategy still centers around displacing Windows servers where possible. Sun, for example, isn't selling desktop Linux boxes to become a major PC player, but instead to clear the way for Sun server sales in the back-end. Every Windows PC gone equals a business opportunity for Sun. All that said, Sun's flaccid embrace of Windows is ultimately one of the larger crow consumptions you're going to see in the server industry. Sun has certified the less than secure, unscalable, evil hairball and served it on a plate to customers. Eat up.® Related stories Will Opteron's first birthday be its most memorable? Sun's Java Desktop gets tooled up HP takes Opteron to the next level Oracle, HP, Intel and Sun start YAGCSB* Sun slashes Solaris x86 price for big buyers Sun tops off poor Q3 by axing execs For Sun chip chief, an empty roadmap is a clean roadmap
Ashlee Vance, 26 Apr 2004

IT vendors seek the quiet life

IT sales can be fun: there is a rush from winning a deal and killing the competition. But almost no salesperson enjoys the ever-lengthening sales cycle, the creeping featurism, and the necessity to make sales monthly, quarterly, and yearly that hallmarks the IT market. No wonder vendors are desperate to get out of this cycle and into the world of nice, predictable recurring revenue streams... With many types of capital equipment, you buy a new factory, truck, or machine press when the old one breaks or when it no longer suits your needs. It is usually the former. And as far as the needs go, you can always work around the limitations of what you have so you don't have to buy something you would like but do not want to spend the money on. In the computer business, even though we talk about the feeds and speeds of hardware and the new bells and whistles of software, the need to actually move from one product to another is less concrete when the computer or software is actually functioning. And by and large, computers are pretty reliable and do what they say they are supposed to do. This makes selling hardware and software a serious drag. And as computers have matured (hardware and software both have become much more reliable, and the extra gadgets don't seem to be worth as much as they might have in the past when hardware and software were more primitive) the sales cycle has lengthened as the economic usefulness of an IT product has shrunk to zero. Back to the old ways It should come as no surprise that both IT consumers and IT vendors have had enough and are both looking for a different way to sell and buy IT components and services. There are really no new ideas in the computer business. The basic fundamentals were worked out a long time ago, and what happens in IT is that ideas get rediscovered and modified to fit a slightly different set of circumstances. The underlying components of IT change all the time, but the ideas keep coming around again and again. People talk about ubiquitous computing, utility computing, and pervasive computing, but what we really want (and what the vendors surely want) is thoughtless computing. They want to simplify computing as much as possible so we get something that looks like a monthly electric, phone, or cable bill. They want a recurring revenue stream that is predictable and, if it mirrors electric, phone, and cable bills, impenetrable and inarguable. They want to get off the sales cycle and return to the glorious past that existed back at the dawn of the computing age. When IBM was king... Back in the Depression and World War II eras, IBM was the dominant supplier of the punch-card equipment that was used for early government and business accounting systems. Because of predatory technology and pricing practices that yielded IBM profits that even Microsoft cannot match today with its software, Big Blue grew to have about 95 per cent of that tabulating equipment market, and as the computer age dawned in the early 1950s, Big Blue was sued by the Justice Department on antitrust grounds. The company had always leased its equipment, which gave it tremendous control over pricing, but also gave customers the option of unplugging their gear with 30 days' notice. In 1956, IBM signed a consent decree with the US Government that forced the company to sell its tabulating and computing equipment at a reasonable price based on its leasing rates for the same equipment. This consent decree did a lot of things, including fostering the leasing of IBM equipment by third parties, but more than anything it set the precedent for acquiring rather than renting IT equipment. With that IBM consent decree, IT moved from an operational cost to a capital equipment investment that had to be depreciated. And while that has been great for the industry in many ways, this move from one side of the balance sheet to the other inevitably leads to adding bells and whistles to products, hype in marketing, and other destructive behaviour. We end up with computers that grow ever more complex and rigid, which makes the next computers even harder to sell. Vendors aim for recurring revenues That is why vendors are all, in various ways, talking about moving away from product sales as we know it and toward recurring revenue streams that smell like the punch-card business of days gone by. IBM already has about 40 per cent of its revenue and 60 per cent of its profits coming in on a recurring basis through services deals, equipment leases, and monthly rentals on systems software. It has done a good job trying to get back to where it once belonged, and with the consent decree nullified in 2001, it has a very good chance of re-emerging as one of the dominant powerhouses of IT. IT players are desperately trying to think of new pricing schemes and product packaging to get them out of the continual sales business and into the services business. But they are not as much interested in providing services as they are keen on not having to sell. What this means is that pricing for IT components and services is going to get fuzzy. Application software maker PeopleSoft has, for instance, instituted so-called "value-based" pricing, which uses an algorithm based on company size, revenue, users, profitability, and comparisons to competitors to reckon what it should charge a specific customer for a suite of software. List price is, in effect, history. As will be comparison-shopping, since every customer gets a truly unique price and has no way of knowing what other customers pay. This type of pricing will in many ways simplify the acquisition of IT products, which will be sold as services, but it will complicate the process of reckoning one product or service against another. And vendors could not be happier. They are waiting for customers to throw their hands up in frustration, which will make picking their pockets that much easier. And after a few decades of this services phenomenon, there will be another antitrust suit, another consent decree, and the cycle will repeat again. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor Related stories What has IT ever done for business? IT vendors talk rubbish: official
Datamonitor, 26 Apr 2004

Gold and laser key to 3D circuits

Physicists in Shanghai have developed a revolutionary new technique for building three-dimensional micro-circuits, using gold oxide, chunks of glass and some high powered lasers to create a kind of 3D dot-matrix transistor-printer. Taking circuit boards into 3D is a logical and neccessary next step: although chip makers are squeezing as much as they can on to circuit boards, going up as well as out would help enormously. In fact, finding an inexpensive and reliable way of creating a 3D circuit is something of a holy grail for scientists in the field. Existing techniques include sequential fabrication. In this case, the circuit is built up layer by layer: one layer fabricated, then a layer of material is deposited on top, then another layer can be fabricated, and so on. The trouble with this is that the lower layers are 'cooked' too many times. Another method involves stacking completed wafers on top on each other and somehow bonding them together. Still another involves literally soldering two chips on top of each other. All are basically variations on a theme of the traditional circuit board fab process. The team from the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics has approached the problem in a totally new way, according to Nature. It has found a way to draw circuits by firing a laser directly into glass blocks enriched with gold oxide at one part per 10,000. They fire short laser pulses at the block to dislodge individual gold atoms. Once the block is heated to 550 ºC, the gold atoms coalesce into blobs inside the glass. So far the team has limited its efforts to sketching images in the blocks made up on millions of nanoscale golden globules. The next step is to use a slightly higher concentration of gold oxide. This, the researchers hope, will help to complete the circuits, as the blobs of gold run into one another. The findings have been published in chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie. According to Nature, the team has also suggested using the technique to store data: a dot in a 3D grid could represent a bit of data. However, it concedes that it may be some time before this is a commercially viable disk replacement technology. ® Related link Original story on Nature Related stories AMD to offer strained silicon chips Intel to cut 95% of lead used in CPUs EC to fund Euro 45nm process with 24m grant
Lucy Sherriff, 26 Apr 2004

60 face axe at Dixons call centre

IT services company Capita has confirmed that 59 jobs are under threat at its contact centre in Sheffield following a "review of operations". News of the proposed job cuts emerged a fortnight after Capita took over the site as part of a £18m a year outsourcing contract with electrical retailer The Dixons Group. The five-year deal sees Capita running customer contact operations - such as customer service, product and sales enquiries - for Dixons, The Link, Currys and PC World. Capita has also taken on board Dixons Group's contract to provide narrowband technical support for Freeserve customers. Under the agreement the 800-strong workforce based at Dixons Group's Nunnery Square site in Sheffield have transferred to Capita and continue to operate from the same facility. However, insiders have told The Register that they were stunned when they learned of the proposed job losses because they thought their jobs were safe under TUPE (Transfer of Undertaking - Protection of Employment) regulations. "The operation in Sheffield was assured during numerous talks with Capita that there would be no redundancies," said one source. News of the job cuts came out of the blue and has severely dented morale among staff. A spokesman for Capita said that the redundancies were a "minor restructure of operations for the Dixons Group". He denied staff were given assurances about jobs, insisting the company has "abided by TUPE regulations throughout". ® Related stories Dixons, Capita in call centre talks Union moots strike over Swansea e-gov plan Union opposes BT HP job swap plan
Tim Richardson, 26 Apr 2004

CA puts 35-day month and $2.2bn in revenue behind it

In a broad housekeeping exercise, CA today admitted to prematurely booking $2.2bn in revenue during 2000 and 2001, named Ken Cron as interim CEO and appointed a new chief operating officer. The $2.2bn in prematurely tabulated revenue was discovered by CA's internal audit committee during a lengthy investigation. The committee found that CA for some time used a 35-day month to slip revenue into closed quarters. The committee also pointed to its reassuring discovery that CA did not actually make up revenue in 2000 or 2001. Phew. “The Audit Committee has found that CA had a practice of prematurely recognizing revenue on software license agreements for several years prior to CA's adoption of its New Business Model in October 2000," said Walter Schuetze, head of the audit committee. "These practices included holding the financial period open after the end of the fiscal quarter in order to recognize revenue from contracts that were not executed by the end of such fiscal quarter. "It's important to note that the '35-day month' practice involved the premature timing of revenue recognition, not the making up of revenues. Thus, the restatement involved the movement of revenue from one quarter to another. This '35-day month' practice was wrong, and CA has taken and will take any remedial steps necessary." Ken Cron, former CEO of Vivendi Universal Games, has been charged with the task of leading CA through a difficult period. He steps into the role vacated last week by former Chairman and CEO Sanjay Kumar. Amid pressure to resign, Kumar took on the Gatesian role of chief software architect and handed his chairman title to Lewis Ranieri. Along with Cron's appointment as interim CEO, CA said that CFO Jeff Clarke will take on the additional role of chief operating officer. Clarke joined CA earlier this year after serving as a top exec at HP and before that as Compaq's CFO. On the fiscal front, CA found that $1.79bn of revenue was prematurely booked in 2000 and another $445m was booked too early in 2001. CA has restated results to show that revenue decreased $2m in 2000 from $6.094bn to $6.092bn. The 2001 results now show that revenue increased $558m to $4.748bn from $4.190bn. CA said that its results from 2002, 2003 and the first three quarters of 2004 will remain unchanged. CA is still under investigation by the US Attorney's Office and Securities and Exchange Commission. ® Related stories Man overboard! CA chief Kumar walks plank... CA makes nine workers remedial CA faces SEC action
Ashlee Vance, 26 Apr 2004

Would you like a cherry Bagle with your zombie PC?

An unknown group of VXers has released a new version of the Bagle worm. Bagle-Y (AKA Cherry Bagle) spreads by either email or network shares. It opens back doors on infected PCs and turns them into zombie clients in DDoS or spam networks. The worm also tries to terminate various security and anti-virus applications, as well as processes associated with the NetSky worm. Most AV vendors rate Bagle-Y, which was first spotted today, as medium-risk. Finnish AV vendor F-Secure reports that the executable file icon in infected emails "looks like cherries on a stalk". The worm can attach itself as an executable file with COM, EXE, SCR and CPL extension, as a password-protected ZIP archive and VBS or HTA files. The number of spreading mechanisms distinguishes Bagle-Y from its numerous sibblings. The worm can attach an image of a girl to its message so as to appear more legitimate. There are images of three girls inside the worm's body, F-Secure reports. As usual, users are advised to minimise risk of infection by not clicking on unknown email attachments. Updating AV signature files is another sensible precaution. Mac and Linux users are - as usual - immune. ® Related stories Netsky tops virus charts by a country mile Bagle-U plays MS Hearts Latest Bagle worms spread on auto-pilot Virus writers in malicious code hide-and-seek War of the worms turns into war of words
John Leyden, 26 Apr 2004

Airport security failures justify snoop system

Recent government reports on the failure of American airport screeners to detect threat objects at security checkpoints may provide ammunition for proponents of the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) database solution, which is currently stalled by myriad snafus too numerous to mention.
Thomas C Greene, 26 Apr 2004

Bush demands Net access tax ban

President Bush today called for Congress to maintain a ban blocking taxes on Internet access and for the US to increase the spread of broadband connections, during a speech in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Now, the use of broadband has tripled since 2000 from 7 million subscriber lines to 24 million," Bush said. "That's good. But that's way short of the goal for 2007. And so - by the way, we rank 10th amongst the industrialized world in broadband technology and its availability. That's not good enough for America. Tenth is 10 spots too low as far as I'm concerned." Don't worry, George. We'll hit zero before you know it. "Broadband technology must be affordable. In order to make sure it gets spread to all corners of the country, it must be affordable. We must not tax broadband access. If you want broadband access throughout the society, Congress must ban taxes on access." The President's comments come as the US Senate begins its debate on whether or not the government should renew a temporary ban on Internet access taxes or create a permanent ban on the taxes. Bush, and others, argue that banning the taxes would make broadband access more affordable to consumers and keep service providers interested in providing high-speed access. Critics, however, say that taxes could help out states in desperate need of cash. To help spur broadband adoption, Bush called on the government to ease restrictions banning the use networking equipment on federal lands. "One sure way to hold things up is that the federal lands say, 'you can't build on us,'" Bush said. "So how is some guy in remote Wyoming going to get any broadband technology?" Bush then got a bit more technical, calling for more focus on broadband over power line (BPL) technology. "Power lines were for electricity; power lines can be used for broadband technology," Bush said. "So the technical standards need to be changed to encourage that." Him eloquent. Me say, "Yes!" In an online chat with Richard Russell, associate director of the office of science and technology, one concerned citizen charged that Bush was only talking up broadband access because it's an election year. "I haven't heard the President talk about broadband for 3 and 1/2 years," wrote Wendy from Annehurst. "It's election year and this is the first I've heard him discuss it. Seems to me this is a last-minute move to show the technology industry that the Bush Administration is interested in technology." Russell responded: "Thanks Wendy for your comments.... In fact the President has talked about broadband on a number of occasions. For example, in 2002, he spoke forcefully about the benefits of broadband and the need for the government to ensure it was creating an environment that would facilitate deployment. Last year, he directed the Department of Commerce to create a spectrum task force to make proposals for innovative ways to improve spectrum management and to make more spectrum commercially available. Following on recommendations from the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, today he signed an executive Memorandum directing agencies to streamline their rights of way processes to make it easier for broadband deployment. The administration has been working hard to develop policies that enable new broadband technologies. The President has pledged to make broadband universally accessible by 2007 and we will meet this goal." ® Related links Bush speech text White House chat Related stories US defends cybercrime treaty Broadband rocks for 68m US Net users Bush promises universal broadband access Bush backtracks on offshore czar post My shirt went to America and all I got was a gay sheep Homeland insecurity starts at home HP's Fiorina aims to put Bush on the moon
Ashlee Vance, 26 Apr 2004