28th > April > 2004 Archive

Happy Birthday, Orange

Nelson Mandela was on the verge of winning South Africa's first free election. Kylie was on the cover of Australian Vogue and Elle. The very first international conference on the World Wide Web was about to be held in CERN, Switzerland. And Orange launched its mobile service in the UK. Ten years ago today, on the 28 April 1994, Orange - backed by Hutchison - launched its mobile service with the tagline "The future's bright, the future's Orange". It was the fourth player in the market, competing against BT's Cellnet, Mercury One-2-One and Vodafone. The Independent breathlessly reported that the telephones "will also allow users to identify the incoming caller by showing a name or number on the display, although this needs to be approved by the regulator, Oftel". Andrew Harrington, analyst at Salomon Brothers Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post that Orange had entered the wrong market and was over-ambitious. Lead investor Hutchison would not see a return on its money, he forecast. Other observers predicted that with more than 2m subscribers already, the UK mobile market was saturated. Orange now has 13.6m active customers in the UK and 49m worldwide The Orange brand was chosen from a short list which included Pecan, Gemini, Egg and Miro. ® Related stories Orange boss makes the long walk Orange outage hits 10,300 punters Orange, Smart launch Bluetooth car
John Oates, 28 Apr 2004

PalmOne updates consumer PDAs

PalmOne has updated its consumer-oriented Zire range of PDAs, bringing colour to the budget end of the line and beefing up the specifications of its top-end model. The changes had been widely anticipated and the source of much online rumour-mongering. As anticipated, the Zire 72 provides a higher resolution integrated digicam than its predecessor, the 71. The new model sports a 1280 x 960 (1.2 megapixel) model in place of the original 640 x 480 job. It also provides a 2x digital zoom, and 320 x 240 video capture. The 72 runs Palm OS 5.2.8 and features a number of software enhancements developed by PalmOne itself. Most notably, it has tied the camera functionality into a broader range of apps. For instance, picture can be grabbed from within Contacts to add a snap of the individual concerned to a database entry. Photos can now be used as backdrops to app launcher categories. The 72 features a new messaging app, Messages, which integrates text and multimedia messaging. The 71's key deficiency - no Bluetooth - has been addressed with the 72, allowing messages to be sent via a paired mobile phone. PalmOne provides a new Bluetooth set-up wizard which takes the pain out of setting up phone, PC and LAN connectivity. The 72's UI now includes a Bluetooth status icon. PalmOne has updated its WebPro browser to version 3.5, adding a new thumbnail view of a page, allowing you to quickly zero in on the part of the page you want to read. The company's email app, VersaMail, has also been updated, to version 2.7, which adds a level of integration with Messages. The 72 also provides a combined still and video player, Media, also written by PalmOne and which replaced the old Photos app and the bundled Kinoma Player. The 72 continues to bundle RealOne Player for MP3 playback. IBM's Java J2ME Virtual Machine is included for games. Gone is the 71's slider mechanism, the better to make consumers realised there is a camera built in, says PalmOne, though it should also ensure the 72 is cheaper to make. The 72 also features a faster, 312MHz Intel XScale CPU, backed up by 32MB of RAM (24MB accessible to the user). The 72 retains the 71's blue and silver styling, but now it has a matt, rubberised finish. The Zire 31 also sports a blue hue surrounding its 160 x 160 colour display and new five-way navigator control. Again, the 31 boasts an updated CPU, this time a 200MHz Intel XScale, so as expected it runs Palm OS 5.2. It offers 16MB of RAM (14MB accessible to the user). PalmOne has added an SD IO card slot, primarily to allow it to bundle RealOne Player for MP3 playback. RealOne mandates a memory card, and PalmOne has also taken the opportunity to equip the 31 with a headphone jack. The Zire 31 and 72 cost £129 and £229 including VAT, respectively, in the UK. US pricing is $149 and $299. ® Related stories PalmOne preps 28 April PDA updates PalmOne preps Zire, Tungsten updates PalmOne, HP slog it out over Euro sales PDA, smartphone sales rocket in Europe PalmOne retains world PDA crown PalmSource chief outlines twin-track OS strategy
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Why shrink wrap software won't die

Remember how the 'weightless digital economy' was supposed to make shrink wrap retail software as extinct as the dodo? Only a bozo would want to pay a premium for manual and a box. But shrink wrap isn't dead. Software publisher Avanquest, the new umbrella name for US-based publisher Elibrium, which owns major publishers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom (Guildsoft and MediaGold) and South Africa, saw sales rise 20 per cent last year, and expects 15 to 20 per cent this year. How can this be so? It turns out people really do like buying something tangible, while for developers who don't want to be deluged in paperwork or start an empire, the model provides a steady royalty stream. Christine Seeleye, CEO of Avanquest USA, told us that retailers like boxed software too, because it provides a healthier margin than the big software companies. Avanquest offers a software developer everything from localization to marketing and support. In the US, it does almost all of its business in the retail channel right into the big five, which includes CompUSA, Office Depot, Circuit City and Best Buy. In the UK the mix includes more catalogs, while in France almost half of the revenue is from corporate licensing. The Internet accounts for about ten per cent of global business. We were curious what Seeleye thought of in-store burners. CompUSA has launched about 200 of these in its stores, which allow the punter to choose software and collect a CD at checkout. "The people who'll browse will browse from home," she reckoned. "It would make more sense at a McDonalds or an Internet Cafe - and you still don't get a manual." Office Depot had planned a similar scheme but abandoned it before launch. Software authors receive royalties of between 15 and 20 per cent of the sticker price, and the sweet spot is for developers grossing under $5m a year. Avanquest rejects about 50 titles a month, says the CEO, as many are "me-too" products. While some of the publisher's offerings include complex software which demands a hefty manual, not all of them are so complex - and yet there's a strong demand for buyers to carry home a tangible asset. It doesn't look shrink wrap is going away any time soon. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 28 Apr 2004

TSMC income booms on flat sales

TSMC, the world's largest chip foundry, saw its income rocket during its first quarter despite flat sequential sales. The company reported net income totalling NT$18.79bn ($568.38m), up 17.6 per cent on the previous quarter and 349.5 per cent up on Q1 2003's NT$4.18bn ($126.44m). However, Q1's sales, which reached NT$57.51bn ($1.74bn), were down fractionally on the previous quarter's NT$57.78bn ($1.75bn) but up 46.2 per cent on Q1 2003's figure, NT$39.33bn ($1.19bn). TSMC didn't comment on the results, but it's hard not to see the expanding income coming in on the back of higher prices, in turn the result of high demand and low supply. Indeed, traditionally Q1 sales fall well below the previous quarter's figure, so TSMC did well to maintain revenues at Q4's level. ® Related stories UMC sales soar on surging chip demand MS pronounces TSMC an 'Xbox 2' partner SMIC accuses TSMC of bullying tactics TSMC files verification of SMIC spy claim TSMC sues rival, alleging industrial espionage TSMC, UMC post upbeat Q3 figures
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Nvidia GeForce 6800 specs emerge

When Nvidia unveiled the mainstream-oriented GeForce 6800 and its more powerful sibling, the GeForce 6800 Ultra, earlier this month, it was keener to discuss the latter than the former. While the Ultra's specs are well known - 400MHz core, 1.1GHz GDDR 3 memory clock frequency - the vanilla version's numbers have yet to be made public. Until now. German site Hartware.net has come up with the details. According to its report, the GeForce 6800 will run at 375MHz, with its DDR SDRAM clocked to 700MHz. The 6800 is also likely to ship with up to 128MB of memory, rather than the Ultra's 256MB. While the 6800 Ultra contains 16 pixel processing pipelines, the 6800 itself has only 12 of them enabled. Both chips are derived from Nvidia's 220 million-transistor NV40 core. In Europe, Ultra-based cards are expected to retail for around €549, in the US $499. Boards based on the 6800 will cost around €349 and $299, respectively. Ultra-based cards are likely to go on sale through retail channels in the late May timeframe with 6800-based boards following shortly after. ® Related stories Review: Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra Nvidia rolls out GeForce 6800 Nvidia green lights Quadro FX 4000 chip Nvidia acquires network processor maker
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Dixons shutters 106 stores

Dixons Stores Group (DSG) is closing more than 100 High Street stores after poor trading. In an update released before the London stock market opened this morning the retail chain revealed slightly improved group trading, but said Dixons had performed particularly badly. As a result the chain will shut 106 shops within the next three months. Some staff will be found jobs elsewhere in the group. DSG runs Currys, Dixons, PC World and the Link. It also runs five brands in the Nordic region, 23 PC City stores in France, Italy and Spain and stores in Hungary and the Czech Republic. The news follows outspoken comments from Tony Shiret, analyst at CSFB, in January. He predicted Dixons would be forced to shut up to half its existing stores because of falling profits and margins. Dixons dismissed his comments as "speculation". A DSG spokesman told The Register: "It's 106 of our 320 High Street stores but that's only two per cent of group floor space. They are mainly smaller stores, typically less than two thousand square feet." The spokesman added that about 1,000 staff would be affected, 650 of these are full-time. The spokesman said: "Consultation starts today so no decision has been made on staff." The announcement was made ahead of financial results which are out 23 June. It expects group profits to be in line with expectations. Group sales were up three per cent on a like-for-like basis. Growth in the UK was just two per cent. The group has set aside £48m to pay for the closures. But Dixons has continued to disappoint. Tests of its rejigged "Dixons XL" stores will continue. A spokesman said there were some encouraging signs from the tests but no decision has yet been made. DSG is selling 27.8m Wanadoo shares, which, taken with its earlier sale of 48.4m shares, adds up to an exceptional gain of £80m. ® Related stories Dixons bottom of customer respect index What's the score on Dixons stores? Dixons, Capita in call centre talks
John Oates, 28 Apr 2004

Norway: home of the SMS tax return

Europe in BriefEurope in Brief More than 395,000 Norwegians have filed their tax return by SMS, phone or the Internet this year, according to Norwegian television. Of these, an estimated 36,000 used their mobile phones to do their fiscal duty. The SMS option is available only to taxpayers who have no changes to make to the documents they receive in the post. They can simply send a text message with a code word, their identity number and a pin code. This is the second year that Norwegians have been able to file their tax return by SMS, while the option to file it online or by phone was offered for the first time in 1999. The number of people who have chosen the paper-free route increased from 6.5 per cent of all the delivered returns in the first year, to 35 per cent this year. Switzerland: Science City in Zurich The Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich is to transform its Hönggerberg campus into a "Science City", according to Swissinfo. Scheduled for completion by 2010, the $305m campus is to include a brand new Information Science Lab, funded primarily by Zurich entrepreneur Branco Weiss. Switzerland’s other Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne is not involved in the development of Science City, but is monitoring developments in Zurich. Lausanne is promoting itself as a focal point for space R&D in Switzerland. France: fighting internet music piracy France's culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, vowed Sunday his country will get tough with illegal copiers of music and films, Expatica reports. de Vabres wants to see what technical measures can be taken to minimise illegal downloading. According to SNEP, the national union of recording companies, company revenues in Q1 are already down 20 per cent. Several labels are preparing mass lay-offs of around a quarter of their employees. Denmark: Internet payments on the up The number of Internet payments with Dankort (Danish payment card) has doubled in one year and has now passed 1m transactions per month, the Association of Danish Internet Trade says. In Q1 2004, Dankort was used for 3m purchases compared to 1.5m in 2003. New Internet services provided by mobile phone companies are estimated to account for up to 40 per cent of the transactions, national newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported last week. ®
Jan Libbenga, 28 Apr 2004

PlusNet cuts price of entry-level DSL

Sheffield-based ISP PlusNet has reduced the price of some of its DSL products as competition in the entry-level market hots-up. The price of its 150k, 200k and 250k dslConnect products have all dropped by a £1 a month. It means the 150k service costs £14.99 a month, while the 200k service is £15.99 a month and 250k is £16.99 a month. The flurry of activity surrounding the entry-level market recently suggests this is where ISPs are seeing real opportunities for growth. Only yesterday, for example, Wanadoo UK (formerly known as Freeserve) unveiled a capped 512k service for £17.99 a month, while last week Pipex unveiled a 150k service for £15.99 a month. Elsewhere, Everywhere Broadband is expected to go live with its delayed satellite broadband service next month. Teaming up with Eutelsat, the service is expected to cost £19.95 a month and offer speeds up to 1.5Mbs. ® Related stories Freeserve morphs into Wanadoo Pipex pipes-up with 150k DSL Everywhere! starts taking sat ISP sign-ups
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2004

New Yahoo! Messenger piles on the pounds

ReviewReview Yahoo! has revamped its popular instant-messaging software, calling it "The All New Yahoo! Messenger". The interface is definitely more refined, but the overall impression is one of feature-bloated software. The upgrade (Windows only) is one of the software's most dramatic makeovers to date. The new look and feel focuses more on graphics and animation, and offers access to more areas of the popular Yahoo! website, such as photo sharing and two-player games. It also adds the option of displaying avatars and increased its choice of animated "smiley" emoticons. These innovations didn’t go unnoticed here at El Reg, which has been using Yahoo! Messenger as its editorial switchboard for some time. First thing we noticed is that Yahoo! Messenger resembles the all-new MSN Messenger, its biggest rival. Yahoo! Messenger now also boasts funky skins, user pictures and audibles - "Express yourself with talking characters full of attitude", as the blurb says. Its new stealth settings will will be welcomed by many: you can now make yourself appear online to some and offline to others on your Messenger list. It also includes Internet Radio from LaunchCAST, but when we tried it the player only offered one religious and one 70s disco station for free. To enjoy a wider choice, you have to pay. When you select a station, you can choose to display the current song title playing as part of your status message. This allows others to tune in with you by joining the station and discovering new music. We liked the old Yahoo! Messenger for its compactness. The new version, however, is much bulkier, even without all the extras such as a Toolbar for Internet Explorer. It won't even let you resize the Messenger window. At least for now - Yahoo Messenger 6.0 is still in beta. Of course, Yahoo! is not alone in expanding its IM services. So far, instant messaging hasn't been much of a money maker for MSN, AOL or Yahoo! By adding more features and turning their clients into virtual billboards, the IM vendors believe they can turn the tide. There are exceptions. AOL’s new ICQ 4.0 client, for instance, is shedding the software's bloated image in favour of a new open source plug-in architecture. Interoperability among all IM clients is another feature most of us would love to see, but don’t blame Yahoo! for not interconnecting all the major messaging systems. It has stated its desire to interoperate more than once. It is just that the neighbours won't listen. ® Related stories UK firms must monitor staff IMs Look out spam, here comes spim Crikey - a freebie toolbar that works! Yahoo! IM! in! flaw! flap!
Jan Libbenga, 28 Apr 2004

UMC sales soar on surging chip demand

Taiwanese chip foundry UMC bucked the traditional Q4-to-Q1 sales downturn with a sequential sales gain leading to booming income figures, the company reported today. For the three months to 31 March, UMC's sales totalled NT$25.33bn ($765.30m), up 6.8 per cent on the previous quarter and 41.5 per cent on the same period last year. Net income for the quarter came to NT$6.89bn ($208.42m) up 1610.7 per cent on Q1 2003's NT$403m ($12.19m) but up just 2.5 per cent on the previous quarter's income of NT$6.73bn ($203.49m). "This performance not only beat our original forecast but also was significantly stronger than the seasonal pattern we have seen for the past few years," CEO Jackson Hu said in a statement. Like its arch-rival, TSMC, UMC benefited from booming chip prices, driven up by strong demand and tight supply. 180nm products remain UMC's mainstay, the company's figures reveal, accounting for 29 per cent of its business. Its 130nm process makes up just 12 per cent of sales, dwarfed by both 250nm (19 per cent) and 350nm (21 per cent) products. Communications products form the bulk of UMC's output - 42 per cent of it during Q1, up from 38 per cent in the previous quarter. Consumer and computer-oriented products dipped slightly to 30 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, of UMC's business. During Q1, North America became UMC's key market (43 per cent of sales), pushing Asia-Pacific into second place (37 per cent). Europe and Japan remained low-key customers with 16 per cent and four per cent of UMC's business, respectively. ® Related stories TSMC income booms on flat sales UMC beats Q4 forecasts TSMC, UMC post upbeat Q3 figures
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Hackers cost UK.biz billions

Infosecurity Europe 2004Infosecurity Europe 2004 A shortage of skills and a lack of investment in IT security is leaving British companies open to security breaches. But many UK businesses have a misplaced sense of confidence about their defences. The average cost of an organisation's most serious security incident was around £10,000 (or £120,000 for large companies), the Department of Trade and Industry's 2004 Information Security Breaches Survey reveals. The last edition of the survey, two years ago, reported an average cost of security breaches of £30,000, with several companies reporting incidents that set them back £500,000. Although the worst security breaches are costing less, there are more of them about. Computer viruses, misuse of systems, fraud and theft have risen sharply over the last two years. Two thirds of companies (68 per cent) suffered at least one such incident in the last year, up from 44 per cent in the 2002 survey and just 24 per cent in 2000. Three quarters of the 1,000 businesses polled - 94 per cent of the larger companies - had a security incident in the last year. The average UK business now has roughly one security incident a month and larger ones around one a week. Security breaches frequently left systems inoperable. Not well managed While spending on information security has increased, it is still relatively low and seen as a cost rather than investment by most of the respondents to the survey. This attitude persists despite the fact that three-quarters of respondents rated security as a high or very high priority for their top management or the board. Companies spend an average of three per cent of their IT budget on security compared with two per cent in 2002. The survey also showed ignorance about BS 7799, the international standard for information security. Only 12 per cent of those quizzed had heard about the "gold standard" for information security. Only one in ten companies employ staff with formal information security qualifications. Stephen Timms, the e-Commerce minister, said: "Risks are not well managed. We need to dispel the illusion the information security issues are somebody else's problem. It's time to roll up our sleeves. The stakes are high and security costs will only increase unless more companies apply best practices in corporate governance." Chris Potter, the PricewaterhouseCoopers information security assurance partner who led the survey, said: "While awareness of threats has never been higher, many businesses are still finding their precautions are inadequate. There are simple steps that businesses of all sizes can take to reduce the likelihood and impact of future incidents. What this survey shows is that too many companies have waited until an incident hits them before putting counter-measures in place." The consortium of companies behind the survey (which includes Microsoft, Computer Associates and Entrust) makes five key recommendations: Draw on the right expertise to understand security threats and legal responsibilities Firms should integrate security into normal business practice, through a clear security policy and staff education Users should Invest appropriately in security controls (to mitigate the risks), or in insurance (to transfer them) Check key security defences (such as operating system patches, disaster recovery plans, etc.) are robust and up to date Respond to security incidents efficiently and effectively, to minimise business disruption The full results of the survey, already heavily trailed, were made available during this week's Infosecurity Europe 2004 conference in London. Seven facts sheets covering specific findings from the survey (on backups and recovery, Viruses and malicious code, identity management, intrusion prevention, remote access, spam and staff misuse of the Internet) can be found here. ® Related stories E-crime costs UK business billions Human error blamed for most security breaches UK.biz leaves door open to hackers Blaster beats up British business UK plc reamed online External Links DTI Information Security Breaches Survey home page
John Leyden, 28 Apr 2004

AMD 'Emma' SoC revives Net Appliance concept

AMD is developing a system-on-a-chip product with the idea of pitching the part at Internet appliance developers within the next six months. According to CEO Hector Ruiz, whose Monday after-dinner comments were written up by the Austin American-Statesman, the chip maker has a vision of a Net access device no bigger than a pack of ciggies. Sorry, Hector, but such a device already exists. It's called a PDA. To be fair to Ruiz, the gadget he has in mind connects to a separate screen, keyboard and wired Internet connection. But there's no reason why PDAs will not shortly offer such functionality. The Microsoft-backed Portable Media Centre devices probably will too. Ruiz's aim is to bring the Internet to many more people across the world. With developing world telecoms infrastructures being what they are, he's going to have to start think wireless, and consider adding 802.11 or even WiMAX into whatever reference platform the company is cooking up. The key component, however, remains the chip, codenamed 'Emma'. Long-term Reg readers may recall that fellow chip maker National Semiconductor was touting a similar silicon concept back in the mid- to late 1990s, a dream that ultimately led to its x86-compatible Geode SoC. The plan was so successful that Nat Semi decided to ditch Geode a couple of years back and sell the technology off. Who bought it? A company called AMD, which now offers it as the Geode SC1100. NatSemi's vision was founded upon demand for Internet appliances, devices that provided Net access and nothing else. This dotcom bubble-fuelled concept was a favourite of research analysts during the late 1990s, who attempted to wow us all with their talk of the 'post-PC era'. In the end, the bubble burst, revealing that the world wasn't quite so bothered about the World Wide Web as the industry thought. More to the point, personal computer vendors and their suppliers - like... er... AMD - were more interested in promoting their systems as the ideal Internet access tools, and so the Net appliance concept faded into the obscurity it frankly deserved. What's (slightly) different this time round is AMD's interest in the developing world, rather than developed world consumers, who would clearly rather have a PlayStation 2 than a set-top box for web-surfing. In short, it's looking to build demand among users who are unlikely to ever consider buying a computer, which is really not the case among Western consumers these days. ® Related stories AMD buys Nat Semi Geode chip NatSemi says Transmeta, Intel no threat to Geode NatSemi rolls out Information Appliance chip Nat Semi CEO proposes giveaway PCs MS, partners tout Portable Media Center iPod killer MS 'Windows for iPod' delayed but still marks death of PDA
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

EC tells Europe and ICANN to make peace

The ever-present issue of who gets to run the Internet is coming to a head and the European Commission has made it clear it wants the arguments sorted out sooner rather than later.
Kieren McCarthy, 28 Apr 2004

PeopleSoft: the real ale analogy

OpinionOpinion Thirty years ago, Britain's pubs were dominated by a handful of major breweries. For some reason that escapes me, these companies seemed to believe that what British drinkers wanted to drink was bland beer that was fizzy and tasteless. From the brewer's perspective this had the distinct advantage that you could not tell one company's product from another's. This had the corollary that the biggest brewers would continue to dominate the market because there was, effectively, no choice. The most infamous of these drinks (they hardly merit the name beer) was known as Watney's Red Barrel, which was lampooned in both song and print, most notably by Monty Python's Flying Circus. While it took a number of years, eventually the British beer drinking public - encouraged by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) - woke up to the fact that this brewery-driven market was depriving it of real beer with real flavour, that actually tasted of the malt and hops it was made from, as opposed to the factory-produced pap it was being offered. To cut a long story short, once awakened by CAMRA the great British drinker made its opinions known and, in the fullness of time, the Red Barrel's of this world disappeared from view and we have seen the wide availability for real ales. Today, in part thanks to new government regulations, even the large breweries produce pretty decent bitter, and access to real ales is as widespread as it has ever been. What has this got to do with computing? Well, consider the statements from Oracle and others that we would better off with a two-vendor market (SAP and Oracle) as opposed to allowing PeopleSoft to retain its independence - it's a bit like the brewers who used to think they knew better about what we wanted to drink - and got proved totally wrong. However, it's not really a question of whether there are two or three vendors at the top of the tree: the issue is more about what is going on in the undergrowth. To ensure a healthy industry, whether its ERP software or databases, we need to have plenty of smaller and mid-tier players. While it would be a mistake to say that the major players never produce anything innovative (look at Oracle and 10g for example), it is typically the smaller companies that investigate and deploy new technologies first, they adopt new standards more aggressively, and exploit niches in the marketplace. So, it's the real ale computing companies that are often most interesting for an analyst like me, and especially start-ups, who have had an original idea and want to develop it. If these technologies are sufficiently successful they will eventually be taken up by other vendors and their ideas will benefit the market at large. There is one final point to make: yes, you can get a decent pint more or less wherever you go. But, overall, sales of bitter have gone down. Why? Because lager has taken a bigger share of the market. Taking our real ale computing model a stage further this means that Oracle, Microsoft and the other 800lb gorillas don't have to worry too much: there will always be people who like bland, fizzy drinks and do not appreciate a more full-bodied flavour. © IT-Analysis.com Related stories Time called on EC - Oracle investigation PeopleSoft dumps poison pill rebate Oracle counters EC competition claims Oracle pitches EC over Peoplesoft US DoJ sues to block Oracle's $9.4bn PeopleSoft bid Brussels to rule on Oracle-Peoplesoft deal by May 11 Peoplesoft spurns Oracle's final final offer Oracle hikes Peoplesoft bid to $9.4bn
Philip Howard, 28 Apr 2004

Ofcom confirms BT break-up review

Ofcom is to dust off an "old chestnut" and investigate if BT should be broken up as part of its strategic review into the UK's telecoms sector. Publishing the first phase of its consultation into the year-long review, the communications regulator poses five fundamental questions. The one that is certain to grab the headlines reads: "At varying times since 1984, the case has been made for structural or operational separation of BT, or the delivery of full functional equivalence. Are these still relevant questions?" On Monday Ofcom played down reports that it would be examining the possible split-up of BT claiming that it was "exploring a large number of 'what if?' scenarios" and that "all such discussions are entirely hypothetical and discursive in nature". However, confirmation that Ofcom is to consult on the matter is likely to re-ignite discussion about whether BT's wholesale and retail divisions should be split. BT welcomed the comprehensive review of the UK telecoms sector and said that it "wants an environment in which people, businesses and organisations can benefit from communicating and sharing information in the way they want when they want". BT chief exec Ben Verwaayen said: "The Ofcom review asks a number of fundamental questions and we welcome the chance to put forward our views. We're pleased that Ofcom say that the review will be fact-based and forward-looking. A dynamic and forward-looking industry needs a dynamic and forward-looking regulatory environment." But on the issue of its future, the company said: "One question raised is the old chestnut of breaking BT up. It is, of course, right that Ofcom asks the question. The answer is self-evident. No other nation has contemplated the break-up of a former incumbent and the arguments against such a move are well rehearsed. "The UK economy benefits from a strong, vibrant and competitive BT. Hundreds of other business and suppliers benefit from BT's commitment to the UK telecoms sector and an end-to-end provider is the way to achieve that." The telecoms review is also looking at a number of other issues including competition in voice services and the future impact of VoIP. Ofcom is also seeking consultation on the future growth of the broadband sector and universal service obligations. The strategic review can be found at Ofcom's website here. The deadline for submission for this first phase of the review is 22 June. ® Related stories Ofcom plays down BT split rumour Broadband Industry Group demands more competition BT dominance unacceptable, say MPs UK held back by lack of broadband competition Ofcom to probe UK telecom sector UK needs greater wholesale broadband competition
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2004

World PDA shipments plunge

PDA shipments may be rising in Europe, but around the world as a whole they continued to decline during the first three months of the year, market watcher IDC reports. Some 2.2 million handheld devices shipped globally during Q1, down 11.7 per cent on Q1 2003 and 33.1 per cent fewer than Q4 2003's total. By contrast, over 852,000 devices shipped in Europe, an increase of 33 per cent year on year. A dip between Q1 2004 and Q4 2003 is only to be expected given consumer spending patterns in the holiday season, but as IDC's fuller European figures show, consumers are proving more interested in smart phones than PDAs. Buyers of high-end devices in particular are opting for handhelds with voice communications built in, the researcher said. Indeed, IDC highlighted PalmOne's Treo 600 as the device maker's fastest growing product, with shipments up 37 per cent between PalmOne's second and third fiscal quarters, roughly equivalent to calendar Q4 2003 and Q1 2004, respectively. But shipments of the company's other PDAs fell 38.7 per cent over that timeframe, IDC's numbers show. That cut its market share from 39.4 per cent to 36.1 per cent. PDA vendors are also focusing on building the market through low-end devices, and that too is pulling business away from the high-end products. "If entry-level devices prove to be the most successful products adopted by consumers, the long-term impact could be acceleration away from hardware differentiation and a further loss of value in the handheld industry," said IDC mobile devices analyst David Linsalata. Take Sony. It's focus on the high end of the market resulted in its market share shrinking to 9.3 per cent on the back of shipments down 57.2 per cent sequentially and 49.6 per cent year on year. IDC expects PalmOne's shipments to increase shortly on the back of today's new consumer devices, the latest additions to the Zire product line, which has seen shipments surpass the three million mark in under 18 months. HP saw Q1 shipments jump 24.8 per cent year on year, taking its market share to 25.7 per cent. It is expected to launch a rival to PalmOne's Treo 600, the iPaq 6300, soon. Dell's shipments were up just 2.2 per cent year on year, nudging its market share up from 4.7 per cent to seven per cent. Like Sony, Toshiba experienced big sequential and year-on-year declines, with shipments falling 48.4 per cent and 34.1 per cent, respectively, to Q1's total. The success of German PocketPC/GPS bundler Medion didn't follow through into Q1, allowing Toshiba to regain its number five placing on the vendor chart. ® Global Mobile Data-centric Device Market Vendor Q1 2004 shipments Q1 2004 market share 1 PalmOne 810,183 36.1% 2 HP 577,615 25.7% 3 Sony 209,675 9.3% 4 Dell 157,399 7% 5 Toshiba 49,067 2.2%   Others 442,560 19.7%   Total 2,246,499 100% Related stories PalmOne updates consumer PDAs PDA, smartphone sales rocket in Europe PalmOne, HP slog it out over Euro sales
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Russian 'legal' music site offers songs for 5¢

A Russian online service may well have figured out how to do digital music downloads right: make tracks cheap and available in any format customers care to select. The site, allofmp3.com, was discovered by Sydney Morning Herald reporter Charles Wright who claims to have to have downloaded a DVD's worth of tracks - 968 of them, to be precise, all from big-name artists - for just under $50 (AU$66). Assuming all the songs were available on, say, Apple's iTunes Music Store, they would have set the fellow back over $958. The Russian site charges by the megabyte, offering 1MB of downloads for just one cent. You bulk buy download capacity. Add $5 to your account and you can download 500MB worth of music. The site claims to be legal, having licensed its content from the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society - licence number LS-3M-03-79, the site says. Many of the songs are stored as uncompressed files, and the site will encode each track in your favourite format - MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, WMA and so on - at your preferred bit rate. Hence, presumably, the per-megabyte billing rate - the better the quality of the song, the more expensive it is and vice versa. It all sounds too good to be true, but Wright says that after using the site for several weeks, no untoward transactions have cropped up on his credit card bill. As for the broader legality of offering the copyright material for sale, the site claims its licence covers distribution via the Internet, though we note that its Ts&Cs forbids the use of the service "if it is in conflict with legislation of your country". And "all the materials are available solely for personal use and must not be used for further distribution, resale or broadcasting" or, it adds, for "unlawful purposes". The site continues: "Under the license agreement, MediaServices [the site's parent company] pays licence fees for all the materials subject to the law of the Russian Federation 'On Copyright and Related Rights'." Caveat emptor indeed... ® Related stories US music swappers change their tune Napster's music licensing frustration Europe demands open-to-all DRM tech Apple iTunes Europe debut 'may be delayed' Music biz appeals Canada file sharing-is-legal ruling Labels seek end to 99c music per song download
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004
Teresa Azevedo http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-80202p1.html

Marillion: appetite for resurrection

Venerable British rock outfit Marillion this week made it into the UK Top Ten for the first time in more than 17 years.
Jon Collins, 28 Apr 2004

Visa trials RF credit cards

Consumers in Malaysia will soon be able to pay for their shopping with contactless, EMV standard smart cards, as Visa does away with the need for a signature with the launch of its new system, Visa Wave. The company is running a four-month trial with 2000 Visa customers and over 150 merchants. The idea behind it (apart from selling lots of card readers) is to speed up the payment process. This, Visa hopes, will encourage people to use their cards more often in place of cash. Cardholders just need to wave their card near (within 4cm) the reader and the transaction goes through. The move contrasts sharply with the added layers of secure authentication in Europe and the UK. To pay in person in Europe, and soon in the UK, we have chip-and-PIN-and-signture, while Asia Pacific does away with the authentication step altogether. The implications for security and fraud are not altogether clear, particularly with respect to skimming the card details, and the possibility of card cloning. These are the issues that chip and PIN is being introduced to tackle: a cloned card is useless if it is not accompanied by the correct PIN. The Visa Wave system seems similar, in terms of risk, to using your card in a ticket machine at the train station, for example. In this case, you insert your card, the details are read and the cost of the ticket is debited from your account without any further authentication. However, what is not clear from the announcement is the interaction between the card and the reader. The important question is whether it would be possible to skim card details without a person's knowledge, for example, by scanning handbags and pockets with a duplicate reader on a busy train. One would hope that a company like Visa would make sure that the data on the card is properly encrypted, but so far we have not been able to confirm those details with them. ® Related stories UK credit card fraud down 8% Boffins test voice-activated secure credit card Brits are crap at password security Open and helpful community - of credit card thieves Chip and PIN: not enough to beat card fraud
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Apr 2004

MS rethinks security patch test scheme

Infosecurity Europe 2004Infosecurity Europe 2004 Microsoft is having second thoughts about the idea of testing security patches with select users prior to their release. At last year's Infosecurity Europe conference, the software giant said it was considering introducing an external testing programme to improve the quality of its security patches. Craig Fiebig, general manager of the Secure Business Unit at Microsoft, said at the time: "We need to think of the release of a patch in the same way we would the release of a product. There needs to be broader testing... Microsoft is considering introducing external testing with key customers." Twelve months on, Microsoft's thinking is that external testing of security patches might create more problems than it solves. Stuart Okin, Chief Security Officer at Microsoft UK, asked: "How do you beta a patch so it is not reverse engineered to create an exploit?" Microsoft has consistently argued that the vast majority of security exploits and malware comes out after it releases patches but before many users have had a chance to apply them. If hackers got a hold of a pre-release patch they could see what it fixed and therefore what was vulnerable on unpatched systems, the thinking goes. The open source community has no such concerns about releasing patches, perhaps because the reliability record of open source fixes is better than that of Microsoft. Difficulty in applying patches and instances where fixes fail to work properly - or cause unfortunate side effects - has long been an issue in Microsoft shops. For example, one of four security patches released by Microsoft this month (MS04-011) has caused trouble for several Register readers, reflected more widely in postings to Internet news groups. Some Windows 2000 users have reported troubles in booting PCs, using anti-virus packages and problems with their sound cards, after applying the fix. The four patches fixed 20 vulnerabilities in total. The problematic patch is designed to correct 14 Windows bugs alone. One of these – an SSL vulnerability – has been the subject of an exploit and sustained hacker attack this month. Not applying the patch creates DDoS and system compromise risks but applying the patch can create system instability problems. So users are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Wider testing would likely help reduce these problems but Redmond's paranoia - about its own customers - means this is increasingly unlikely to happen anytime soon. ® Related stories MS mulls external testing for security patches MS score card: four patches, 20 vulns, heaps of trouble Windows Update groans under patch load Gates parades Windows security advances Security is our biggest ever challenge Gates MS bigs up Windows XP SP2
John Leyden, 28 Apr 2004

Apple posts major iTunes upgrade

Apple has updated its iTunes jukebox software and the QuickTime media code that underpins it. The new iTunes release, version 4.5, adds a raft of new features. As an alternative to the uncompressed AIFF and WAV formats the software already supports, iTunes now includes the Apple Lossless Encoder, which compresses tracks to around half the size of an uncompressed version with no loss of sound quality. DRM-less WMA tracks can now be re-encoded in AAC format. iTunes now includes a library list print-out facility but more usefully allows playlists to be printed in a form suitable for making CD case inserts. A variety of templates are provided which are printed out complete with track listing, album art if it has been imported - iTunes now downloads art automatically when you buy songs from the iTunes Music Store - and crop marks for cutting the booklet out. Inserts based on multi-album playlists will show all the album covers in a mosaic. Apple has added Party Shuffle, a dynamic playback system that creates a random playlist from your song library - or individual playlists. iTunes' preferences now allow the Radio icon to be hidden from the Source window, likewise the Party Shuffle icon. Playlists can now be published on the iTunes Music Store - a feature dubbed iMix - where they can be rated by other users. iTunes can now cope with an unlimited number of playlists. Up to five computers can now be authorised to share downloaded DRM-protected songs. The iTunes Music Store has itself been updated to provide movie trailers. The store will also retain 'Wish List' selections of songs that can be purchased at a later date. Apple also updated QuickTime to 6.5.1, and released a minor update to its Mac OS movie editing app, iMovie. QuickTime and iTunes are available for both Mac OS X and Windows XP/2000. ® Related stories Russian 'legal' music site offers songs for 5õ Apple UK store to open 'Autumn 2004' Apple iTunes Europe debut 'may be delayed' Christmas continues for iPod sales
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Apple misses iTunes sales target by 30%

Apple undershot its first-year iTunes Music Store download target by 30 million songs, the company said today, 12 months after the digital music business was launched. CEO Steve Jobs had forecast sales of 100 million songs, but in the end ITMS users acquired only 70 million - still sufficient to put the store at the top of the download service chart. Indeed, Apple today claimed a 70 per cent market share "for singles and albums", based on its own calculations. Customers are buying 2.7 million songs a week from the store - if they continue to do so, Apple will sell 140 million songs next year. Some 700,000 songs are now available for download. "iTunes has exceeded our wildest expectations during its first year," Jobs said in statement, the infamous 'reality distortion field' kicking in at this point, presumably. Apple last quoted a download figure on 15 March, when it said it had sold 50 million songs, up from 25 million as of 15 December 2003. By contrast, the new Napster managed five million downloads in its first four months of operation. Among the good news, Apple slipped in a little note to the effect that it is tightening its DRM policy, cutting the number of times a playlist can be burned to CD from ten to seven. The move seems unlikely to be much of hindrance to heavyweight music duplicators, leading us to suspect it's more to do with keeping the labels happy. By way of compensation, downloaded music can now be shared among five computers rather than three. ® Related stories Jobs: Apple will not meet 100m song download goal Apple notches up 50m music downloads Napster song sales hit 5m Apple posts major iTunes upgrade Apple iTunes Europe debut 'may be delayed' Russian 'legal' music site offers songs for 5c
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Global Crossing to restate results

Just when it seemed that Global Crossing's darkest days were over, the company announced that its 2003 results might have been flawed. The global telecoms firm, one of the casualties of the telecoms meltdown, said on Tuesday that it was reviewing its 2003 and 2002 financial statements in search of accounting flaws. The company said its 2003 results are expected to be restated, and for now, the firm's 2002 and 2003 numbers, as well as its 2004 forecast, should be disregarded pending the outcome of the inquiry. The problem surrounds the firm's reported $150m accrued cost of access liability for 2003 and its reported $1.92bn cost of access operating expenses for the year. Global Crossing said that its preliminary assessment suggests that its accrued cost of access liability at year-end 2003 was understated by some $50m to $80m. If an adjustment is necessary, it will be recorded as a non-cash charge. Cost of access includes usage-based charges paid to other carriers to originate and terminate voice services, leased line charges for dedicated facilities and local loop charges, and usage-based Internet peering charges. The consequences of the blunder could be more damaging than a mere $80m non-cash charge. For example, Global Crossing's majority shareholder, Singapore Technologies Telemedia, has promised the telecom up to $100m in short-term financial support if it meets certain criteria. The latest accounting mess could put that deal, which Global Crossing had previously hoped to close on 30 June, in jeopardy. The gaffe has also forced the company to postpone its earnings release for the first quarter of 2004, its June 2004 shareholders' meeting and the filing of its proxy statement. In its explanation of the situation, Global Crossing said it spotted the problem when it began preparing its first quarter results. Management then presented its concerns to Global Crossing's audit committee and, at the direction of the Audit Committee, is continuing to examine the company's accrued cost of access liabilities and cost of access expenses and the related internal control environment, the firm said. "The company is assessing the internal control issues presented and, in light of the expected restatement, currently believes that these issues constitute a material weakness in its internal controls. The company is undertaking steps to address these internal control issues," Global Crossing said. In early 2002 the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US. Just days later, it became apparent that the FBI and SEC were beginning an investigation into the company and its books and accountants. Global Crossing, prior to its bankruptcy, signed several important deals with the Irish government in 2000 and 2001 to install new telecoms links between Ireland and dozens of key European and US cities. The deals have been seen as a crucial part of Ireland's plans to remain a leader in ICT globally. © ENN Related stories China fears shatter Hutch Global Crossing bid Iraq war architect in Global Crossing conflict of interest Global Crossing bankruptcy plan approved
ElectricNews.net, 28 Apr 2004

Ofcom hints at LLU cost cuts

The UK may see greater competition in the telecoms sector after Ofcom hinted that the cost of Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) could fall in line with other European countries. LLU gives rival telecoms operators access to BT's network so they can provide services direct to homes and businesses. It was once hailed as a revolutionary step for the UK's telecoms sector. However, LLU has failed to make any significant impact in the UK, with only 11,000 lines unbundled. Former telecoms regulator David Edmonds was so disillusioned with LLU that he admitted in 2001 that it had "not been a success" and that the practicalities surrounding opening up BT's network to competition had been a "painful and often miserable process". He said LLU was one of the "most complex regulatory interventions that Oftel's ever had to do", made worse by BT's reluctance to open up "the last mile" to competition. Now, it looks like Ofcom is keen to make LLU work - regardless of the difficulties. Speaking today at a briefing of Ofcom's review into the UK's telecoms industry, chief exec Stephen Carter hinted that the regulator would act to make LLU more attractive to rival operators. Virtuous circle "In terms of Local Loop Unbundling Ofcom will…publish its first Market Review, for consultation, in the week beginning 10 May. Ofcom cannot, of course, pre-empt what pricing decisions will flow from the review. But it would be surprising if at the end of the process, UK prices were not aligned much more closely with European best practice, where price reductions and growing user volumes form a virtuous circle. "In terms of provisioning for LLU, the processes are not fit-for-purpose for scale. The processes need to be successfully industrialised. Whilst the right prices are a critical condition for success, the right processes are also a necessary condition." He went on: "The market is now ready for investment, rationalisation and consolidation. The last three years have been torrid for the telecoms industry both in infrastructure, OEMs, innovation and scale development of new technology applications. But we are either through and/or at the point of visibility of improved operating performance, cash-flow, customer focus and some network rationalisation. "Now we can look forward with some enthusiasm to the next few years. We have, as we have said, seen some significant progress on retail broadband, but rather more limited wholesale and/or infrastructure competition." Carter acknowledged that the UK lags behind other European countries where wholesale competition at the Local Loop is much more advanced. "Germany has over three million unbundled lines (albeit mainly used for narrowband traffic). As a function of much reduced prices France has a LLU market that is growing very rapidly - 40,000 lines each month - and is providing an increasingly broad, innovative and higher bandwidth range of products and services." Italy and Spain are also attracting inward investment, yet the UK has only about 11,000 unbundled lines used primarily by high-end users. Elephant in the corner of the room No doubt this rejuvenation in interest in LLU will be warmly welcomed by Wanadoo UK (formerly Freeserve), which is keen to press ahead with LLU. Yesterday, it reaffirmed its position that it wants to see the cost of unbundling come down in line with other European countries. In its evidence to a recent parliamentary committee examining broadband, Freeserve said it was prepared to put its full weight - and the financial muscle of its parent, Wanadoo - behind LLU in a bid to sever the ISP's reliance on BT for broadband. Elsewhere, Carter urged the industry not to concentrate just on the possible break-up of BT as the regulator carries out its review of the industry. One of the key questions published in today's review of the UK's telecoms industry is: "Are structural or operational separation of BT or the delivery of full functional equivalence still relevant questions?" Carter said: "Note the phrasing of that last question and that it comes last. That is deliberate. Since 1984 that question has been the elephant in the corner of the room. And if there is an elephant in the corner, we think it better to acknowledge that fact rather than try to pretend it does not exist. "But on this question Ofcom is genuinely agnostic. And we strongly hope that it will not be the focus of everyone's input to the Review. As we all know, today's telecommunications market is many layered and complex and is unlikely to become less so in the coming years. "Indeed, some of the forces we identify in the Report could make the market more competitive. So we should be cautious in reaching for any single, magic-bullet solutions". ® Related stories Ofcom confirms BT break-up review Freeserve morphs into Wanadoo Freeserve committed to unbundling local loop Easynet to unbundle 80 exchanges in '04 UK still LLU laggard -Oftel Oftel's Edmonds says LLU has not been a success
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2004

Clueless user: ditch the victim mentality

OpinionOpinion Writing these columns gets tough sometimes. It can be quite a challenge to keep content current while trying to add value by driving home the basic concepts of security without sounding like a broken record.
Tim Mullen, 28 Apr 2004

Beware the domain slammers - UK gov

The UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is warning small businesses to look out for dodgy domain name registration services, after receiving several complaints from companies. The dotcom cowboys contact a business saying that a third party is just about to buy a domain name that would suit them, but that if they get in quickly, they can buy it for themselves. Trouble is, the OFT says, that the third party is often a figment of the salesman's imagination, conjured up to pressure the target company into making a quick purchase. Nominet, the UK's national registry for .uk domain names, says people should not be coerced into accepting unsolicited offers. Lesley Cowley, MD, added that "local businesses are particularly vulnerable to this kind of practice". The scam falls under the 'misleading advertising' banner, which should be dealt with by local trading standard officers. The OFT only gets involved as a last resort and beyond telling the companies not to do it again, there is not much it can do. John Vickers, OFT chairman, said: "Businesses should be wary of cold callers putting pressure on them to buy domain names in haste. We have warned a number of domain name registration agents about their selling practices and will continue to crack down on any misleading claims." ® Related stories Court bars Canadian domain slammer DRS quits .uk sales, in Nominet legal battle ASA slams intimidating Domain Registry of Europe mailshots
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Apr 2004

BT trims broadband costs

BT has slashed the wholesale migration costs of its DSL services following a complaint by rivals Thus and Tiscali. That complaint - which was investigated by regulator Ofcom - centred on the cost of migrating punters between BT IPStream and BT DataStream. However, the UK's dominant fixed line telco has gone one step further and reduced migration costs across the board. From 1 May, migration prices will fall to £11 per user, down from £35 for switching punters from one BT IPStream provider to another, and down from £50 for moving a customer between BT IPStream to BT DataStream. BT also plans to introduce an automated migration process later this year to make it easier and quicker for end users to switch providers and products. Ofcom head honcho, Stephen Carter said: "Migration charges can be an obstacle to fair competition. At this price, with robust processes, they should no longer be such an obstacle." Mary Turner, chief exec of Tiscali UK added: "We are pleased with the outcome of today's announcement. The new £11 migration charge is in line with the figures that Tiscali has given to Ofcom and the Trade & Industry Select Committee Enquiry in recent months." But she said that the price was "only the first hurdle" and is now looking for similar cost cutting for DSL activation, "which is still far too high at £50". John Pluthero, boss of alternative telco Energis, chipped in: "We've been calling for the migration charge for broadband to be set at a realistic level for a long time. This is a step in the right direction towards wholesale broadband competition - but there is still a long way to go." ® Related stories UK held back by lack of broadband competition UK needs greater wholesale broadband competition BT faces fresh Datastream complaint
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2004

IT security to go offshore. Maybe

Infosecurity Europe 2004Infosecurity Europe 2004 IT security - once the most closely-guarded IT function - could become the next candidate for offshoring. As the security market has evolved, more companies have outsourced functions like security monitoring and response. Tight corporate budgets and a skills shortage of suitably qualified security professionals have accelerated this trend. According to the Yankee Group, managed security services revenue is set to grow from $1.5bn in 2002 to $3.7bn in 2008. Maria Cirino, a SVP at VeriSign and head of its managed security service business, explained that the market started with mid-range companies outsourcing the management of their security infrastructures has now developed to embrace larger corporates. A swathe of corporate governance regulations, such as Basel II banking regulations and the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act on accounting, recently came into force. Cirino reckons outsourcing security helps companies to comply these regulations. Like most segments of the IT market, managed security service providers are beginning to consider using low-cost labour markets. Although VeriSign wants to retain the most critical aspects of its service - such as security monitoring - Cirino said it would consider handing over responsibility for less critical functions (such as provisioning equipment) to sub-contractors in the third world. VeriSign - like other vendors - have made no firm plans. "The jury is out on offshoring. Within the next 18 to 36 we'll have an answer on whether the managed security market will embrace offshoring," Cirino told El Reg. ® Related stories Indian call centres pose security risk Shell's IT department off to India Offshore IT jobs = higher employment
John Leyden, 28 Apr 2004

Siemens SX1 smart phone

Reg reviewReg review Siemens comes relatively late to the smart phone market. Its first handset of that type, the SX1, finally began shipping in the UK in March, despite being pitched by Siemens as the next big thing more than a year ago.
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2004

Surveys are tosh, and so's your reporting

LettersLetters We like to open a letters page with a thought provoking communique, if possible. (And goodness knows it isn't always...) We thought you might like the following response to the article about the launch of VisaWave in the Asia Pacific region: A friend of mine recently went to Japan and commented on the fact that no one (according to him) signs their credit cards. This seemed odd at first until you remember that no one there actually has what we would call "handwriting". You write in Japanese and it looks exactly the same as everyone else's writing. Hence you don't really have a signature as we know it. It would just be your name in written form and if anyone else wrote it, it would look the same. Hence no signatures. And this may well explain why in Asia the idea of just swiping a card near a card reader and not having any more authentication is not such a huge step. Although I'm not sure why they don't use the card + pin model we'll be seeing here in Europe, which is surely more secure than just a card alone. We like that. Any other thoughts on this one? From the sublime to the ridiculous, and how often that happens in these letters pages... Subject: Tinfoil hats for virus protection I've noticed that in your virus reports (most recently, the one about Cherry Bagel), The Register is no longer recommending the use of tinfoil hats for virus protection. Is this because consumer confidence has dropped in this once highly-regarded defense mechanism, or are there reports doubting its effectiveness.? Either way, I think the public needs to know... Sincerely, via Linux, -- Paul "LeoNerd" Evans To clarify, we still throroughly recommend the use of tinfoil hats as protection against computer viruses. Bound to work, really, when you think about it in this wireless age. However, it has come to our attention that some less-than-scrupulous vendors have been marketing greasepaper hats for the same purpose. We have conducted extensive tests, and cannot support the notion. Stick to tin foil, that's our advice. A cautionary tale for those conducting research: sometimes your lab rats bite back, as below, regarding news of a change in behaviour of US file sharers: Just a quick note on the research cited in this article. I was one of those 1,371 interviewed for the research report. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, the study was severely flawed for two reasons. First, their questions were all in the wrong order. They started by asking about Internet availability. Then they asked a few questions about copyright and the RIAA. THEN they asked about peer-to-peer networks, and had I used them in the past, and was I using them now, and so on. Well, only a complete idiot is going admit to a total stranger, who might or might not be recording the phone call for the RIAA, that he is currently in the middle of downloading gigabytes of possibly copyrighted material from the rest of the world. (Which, for the record, I most certainly am NOT doing, because I don't wish to deprive poor Michael Jackson of his royalty checks, because, God knows, he really, really needs the money right about now. Oh, and it is wrong.) Second, they are comparing apples and oranges. The survey was asking about who was _getting_ files from peer-to-peer networks, but, it is my understanding, the RIAA is (are?) suing people who _provide_ files on the networks. So, it seems to me, if the RIAA (or anyone else) wants to see if the RIAA is (are?) having any success, they should commission a survey about who is putting files on the net. But, again, good luck getting accurate numbers. Best Regards, Cody J. Reeder While we are on the subject of research, we've had a tsunami of chocolate-related letters, following the news that people will trade their passwords for an Easter egg. There are waaaay too many to print, so here are the highlights: Dear John, You reckon that the 70% survey result, compared to 90% a year before, suggests something might be changing in the world. On the contrary, I would have thought that it must be particularly galling for M&S to find that even with the instant-gratification appeal of a chocolate egg, pitted against that well-known source of disappointment at important moments, the cheap pen, they still managed to lose out. If I were them, I'd probably appeal to statistical margin of error. Perhaps the only thing the survey proves is that at any given time, approx 15% of adults either hate chocolate or are temporarily forswearing it for some reason or other, and another 5% or so have fallen victim to the last year's fad of being snobbish as about chocolate as about wines. Meanwhile, common to both surveys, there is a further 10% who didn't give their password away. How many of them wouldn't because they thought they shouldn't, and how many because they'd have to look at the post-it note to know what it was anyway, a different survey will have to reveal. Do you remember that wonderful scene in Entrapment when they get the security clearance to some bank by getting the Mr Big hospitalised for a minor eye injury and photographing his retina while he's in there? I'm visualising running the same scene using the "market research" stunt instead to get his security details. In the hands of a good director, could it be done with a straight face? with best wishes James Minney PS - was the survey done after Easter, or before? The article doesn't clarify. We don't have those answers...perhaps if you offer us chocolate, we might remember... Do the Choccy-wielding and pen-dispensing box tickers actually realise that they have been royally conned? Let's see know, I'm offered a free choccy bar (or easter egg, or pen) for my password, do I: 1) make up a random one on the spot 2) give them my real one and then immediately change it when I get to my computer. Hey I win! I mean are they really going to verify my password ?? force me to log on at pen-point? I don't think so. Don't you condemn the 71 / 90 % in the survey, rather congratulate them for taking candy from the intellectual 'babies' with the clipboards. Ray You make a good point, Ray. We'd like to believe it, but suspect that there are some people who would just hand over the info for the chocolate. Our roving contributor, Mr Kieren McCarthy, inspired the wrath of one of our Finnish readers with his almost correct brief history of the previously low profile Aland Islands. Now, we haven't had an honest to goodness proper rant from a reader for a long time, and this one is nearly a flame. Note the occasional use of caps, and edited swearing. Dear Mr. McCarthy, I just finished reading your April 18th article 'All hail the new TLD-.ax' over at The Register. I'm not quite sure how to put this, but...Jesus Bleepin Christ, man! Did you just make things up as you went along? The article is so full of factual errors I seriously get the feeling that you didn't even try to get anything right. First of all, the Aland Islands are NOT, and have NEVER BEEN independent. They are an autonomous province of Finland, with their own "parliament" etc, as you, amazingly, managed to get right. To call Finland and Sweden "old rivals" is like calling Canada and the USA old rivals. The only major conflict there has ever been between these two countries was the Aland Islands issue back in 1917-1921, which, after having been settled by the League of Nations, was relatively quickly accepted by all parties involved. There are small factions within the Alandian populace that really would like the Islands to be transferred back to Sweden, as there also are some who would like Aland to be completely independent. These are, however, a tiny minority, and most Alanders are more than content with the current situation, which involves the Aland Islands enjoying a handful of rather exceptional benefits, including demilitarization of the Islands and extensive autonomy. The fact that most Alanders cheer for the Finnish team in hockey games between Finland and Sweden should tell us quite a lot. Furthermore, the Aland Islands has NOT "jumped beween Swedish and Finnish ownership over the centuries". Finland itself was annexed to Sweden until the early 19th century, when Finland, including the Aland Islands, became a semi-autonomous part of Russia. When Finland finally gained its independence in 1917, there was some disagreement over whether the territory should be returned to Sweden or remain part of Finland. The issue was settled by the League of Nations in 1921. Hence, the Islands have changed "owners" twice: from Sweden to Russia in 1800-something, and from Russia to Finland in 1917. While I'm at it, I might also point out that the Aland Islands flag is the of the traditional "Nordic Cross" type, like the flags of all other Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark). There's nothing strangely "English-looking" about it if you compare it to Iceland and Norway for instance. (The colors are a combination of the colors of the coat of arms of Finland and Aland.) Also, the Finnish will have the province known both as "Ahvenanmaa" (in Finnish) and "Aland" in Swedish, since both are official languages in Finland, and all Finnish provinces have names in both languages. Now, since all most of this information can be found in a matter of seconds through Google, or at Wikipedia.org (where they have an excellent page on the Aland Islands), I can only assume that, instead of doing even the most basic research on the matter, you chose to use the age-old "pull the facts out of your ass"-method, pardon my language. The only other explanation I can think of is that you actually found all this groundbrakingly inaccurate information in some other article, such as a fairly tale, or a fortune cookie. I suppose none of this would really bother me that much if it wasn't for the fact that I actually used to consider The Register as a fairly reliable source of information. Obviously, I now have to reconsider that. Frankly, I think your article is a disgrace to The Register, and to online journalism in general. Please, in the future, try to refrain from writing about things you know absolutely nothing about. Also, if just copying the "facts" directly from another article, you could at least give the original author some credit, however dubious that credit might turn out to be. Yours sincerely, Rolf Smeds Åbo Akademi University Turku, Finland We consider ourselves more informed that before. So that there are no further gaps in our reporting, you might also like to know that the "1800-something" skirmish to which you refer was the 1808-1809 war. But you have inspired us: come on people, let's keep the flames coming. Don't forget to read the guide. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Apr 2004
server room

Nortel re-restates results, fires CEO

Nortel Networks today sacked its CEO, CFO and controller and said it would restate financial results for the second time in five months. Earnings for 2003 will only be half of what was previously stated, said Nortel, which will delay future earnings results and keep plugging away with an internal investigation into accounting practices. Nortel has sent CEO Frank Dunn packing and tapped former Teledesic - a satellite communications company - CEO William Owens as his replacement. Former CFO Douglas Beatty and former controller Michael Gollogly will leave as well, with William Kerr and MaryAnne Pahapill filling the respective posts. In March, Nortel placed Beatty and Gollogly on paid leave of absence. Four unnamed senior finance executives have been placed on paid leave of absence, while the internal investigation continues. "The Board of Directors believes that the actions announced today are about accountability for our financial reporting and are in the best interests of the Company and all of its stakeholders, including our investors, customers and employees," said Lynton Wilson, Nortel's Chairman. "These actions are an important step in the process of restoring confidence in the Company's leadership and financial reporting." Nortel joins fellow IT giant Computer Associates on a less than impressive list of companies that have replaced their CEOs this month due to accounting concerns. CA turned former CEO Sanjay Kumar into a chief software architect and restated figures for 2000 and 2001. Nortel has yet to determine "the full extent of adjustments that will be required" to its own figures, but it does know that net earnings for 2003 will likely be lowered by close to 50 percent. The earnings will transfer to previous fiscal periods, lowering net losses for 2002 and 2001. Nortel does not expect a "material impact" to past revenue totals. "In addition, in light of the foregoing, the Company has not finalized its financial statements as at December 31, 2003," Nortel said. "At this time, the Company cannot estimate the impact of any such adjustments on its results of operations or financial position." Nortel has been a bit vague in the particulars of the accounting snafus. The company has confirmed that auditors found $900m in liabilities that had been accounted for in an incorrect manner. The US SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and Staff of the Ontario Securities Commission (the OSC) are currently investigating Nortel. ® Related stories Nortel suspends finance chiefs Nortel delays results Networking sector haunted (still) by dotcom collapse
Ashlee Vance, 28 Apr 2004

RIAA tax could add millions to education fees

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is once again using lawsuits to ramp up its plan to foist music subscription services on universities - a move that could cost colleges millions, leading to higher tuition fees. The music-label lobby group today dropped 477 new lawsuits into an already massive litigation pile. Of this group, 69 individuals were singled out by the RIAA, in a statement, for using university networks to trade music files via peer-to-peer services. The RIAA then went one step further and outed the offensive institutions, pointing to Brown University; Emory University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Gonzaga University; Mansfield University; Michigan State University; Princeton University; Sacred Heart University; Texas A & M University; Trinity College (Conn.); Trinity University (Tex.); University of Kansas; University of Minnesota; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. "It remains as important as ever that we continue to work with the university community in a way that is respectful of the law as well as university values," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. In many ways, we just did the RIAA a favor by naming the schools, since that's exactly what the pigopolists are hoping for. The idea, more or less, is to finger these universities and push them toward picking up RIAA-friendly music subscription services. The only problem with the strategy, one that doesn't affect wealthy artists but rather hungry students, is that the schools may not be able to afford Napster and the like. Last month, the RIAA used a similar tactic, when it sued 532 more people. The lobby group pointed out that 89 of the 532 individuals attended university. The RIAA could just have easily pointed out that X percent of those sued were males/females, children/adults, Virgos or churchgoers, but it took pains to put blinking lights around the students, so the press would pick up on the signal. That's because the RIAA can point to schools such as Penn State and the University of Rochester that have agreed to run trials of Napster's music subscription service. These programs are part of what the RIAA calls its "effort to reach out to the university community on proactive solutions to the problem of illegal file sharing on college campuses." Penn State and Rochester are the proactive good guys who make non-Napsterized schools look like shady laggards. (The heads of Penn State and Rochester happen to be close friends with the RIAA's Sherman.) As part of the pilot agreements, students at Penn State and Rochester get free music at almost no cost at all to their schools. The Napster service allows students to download as many songs as they like for free onto a network-connected PC, with the schools, in theory, fronting the $9.95 per month charge for this service. If the student actually wants to keep the song for after-university use, they can pay 99 cents per tune to download the track onto an MP3 player or to burn the track on a CD. In reality, however, the schools have admitted they receive massive discounts for the Napster service - close to free. Still, the RIAA bills Penn State and Rochester as the "models" deviant institutions should follow. The problem for the other schools is that, unlike RIAA chums Penn State and Rochester, they will have to pay and pay big for Napster. So the "model" is a bit flawed." The actual "model" for the schools works out like this. If you have 10,000 students, the Napster cost would be close to $100,000 per month or more than $1m a year. For schools the size of Texas A & M University with tens of thousands of students, we're talking many millions of dollars. The total one-year Napster cost for just the schools mentioned today by the RIAA would be close to $27m. The RIAA has yet to show a "model" where schools facing these fees describe how they funded the Napster service. Singling out the universities makes an easy, high-payoff target for the RIAA. Going after the AARP (American Association of Retired People), for example, isn't likely to generate a steady future revenue stream. So, no need to put yellow starts on the seniors in a press release. It's much easier for the RIAA to make music subscription services a standard part of college IT costs. Only that has to be recouped from somewhere. You can guess where. ® Music sales 101 University of Rochester opens online music store Penn State President loves Microsoft, Napster, the RIAA and Al Gore (true) There is magic behind Penn State's Napster deal Penn State trustee and RIAA lawyer denies conflict of interests Penn State's pigopolist pork is not smelling sweet Penn State students revolt against Napster, DRM invasion Related stories US music swappers change their tune Witchfinder General targets NSA in Warez sweep? RIAA withdraws prosecution amnesty Music biz appeals Canada file sharing-is-legal ruling Global P2P jihad stumbles Labels seek end to 99c music per song download
Ashlee Vance, 28 Apr 2004

Bush presses for electronic medical records

US President George W. Bush has been on a technology tour lately, promising wonderful things to potential voters and campaign contributors. In addition to his recent broadband promotion scheme, Junior is also promising to unleash the healing power of the database to improve the health of every lucky American who can afford medical care. And not a minute too soon. The Bush administration is currently fighting to allow employers to drop older retirees from their medical insurance plans, thereby creating an equation of profound Hobbesian elegance that couldn't please the industry more: increased revenue coming from younger, healthier people, and fewer benefits going to older, needier ones. To take up the slack, Junior is invoking the powerful voodoo of high technology, which, he says, will reduce health care costs for everyone and dramatically improve the quality of medical services. To realize this worthy goal, he has created a new federal office, called the National Information Technology Coordinator, within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Once the project gets off the ground, it should be possible to computerize the medical records of all Americans within about ten years' time, Bush reckoned, and in so doing, make everyone healthier. Pennies from Heaven A few companies and lobbyists have already rushed to approve. For example, AuthentiDate Holding Corp., owner of software outfit Trac Medical Solutions, Inc., "applauded President's [sic] Bush's call for electronic medical records, stating that it 'stands ready to lend its expertise in security and tamper proof technology,'" according to a company press release. The American Medical Informatics Association, a lobbying outfit for the medical IT industry, "believes that the [proposed scheme] will profoundly improve the health of the American people... Seamless and interoperable transmission of health data will increase efficiency, improve quality of care, reduce medical errors, and reduce administrative costs," the group declared in its own press release. The program may never be realized on a grand scale, of course, because there are enormous obstacles involving patient confidentiality, preventing unauthorized access to, and misuse of, the data, and ensuring system availability and data accuracy. Misuse of the data could include 'health discrimination' by employers, lenders and insurers, and of course myriad nuisances from the direct marketing and privacy invasion industries. Additionally, a system of this sort, were it relied upon, would be so mission critical that anything less than 100 per cent availability could be fatal. Similarly, even minor errors could prove fatal as well. It's a fair bet that public support will fizzle as these and other obstacles are encountered in the real world. But not before a plethora of tech companies will have profited mightily from the big database dream. Which of course is the point: the program is chiefly an election-season shot in the arm for technology sector and insurance industry giants to whom Bush is paying court. ® Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a complete guide to system hardening, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux, available at discount in the USA, and in the UK. Related stories Blue Shield teams up with RelayHealth Europe wears its heart on a card NHS IT a wonderful thing - NHS Doctors divided over £2.3bn NHS IT project Telemedicine: remote healthcare reaching new audiences
Thomas C Greene, 28 Apr 2004