27th > May > 2004 Archive

ONStor's virtual NAS for SAN convergence

With Fibre Channel now mature, and the storage winner everywhere but the low end, NAS is now more of an island than SAN ever was. So says Peter Tarrant, marketing VP at NAS-on-SAN developer ONStor, which has just brought its SANfiler systems to the UK. SANfiler is an OpenBSD-based NAS head that serves up SAN storage as CIFS and NFS filespace. It is a solid-state device running on 64-bit MIPS chips, and lists from £48,000. So far, so ho-hum, but Tarrant insists that it has an edge over the likes of EMC's Celerra and IBM's 500G, thanks to its scalability and its support for heterogenous SANs and clients. "SAN has matured to the point where interoperability is no longer news, and there is a real pool of open storage now," he says. "SAN-NAS convergence is becoming reality. We still have to go through vendor certifications but that's for historic reasons." Anyone with a large-scale commitment to NAS probably knows the meaning of the phrase 'growing pains'. Just like the PC revolution 20 years ago, NAS uptake was driven by local factors such as speed of deployment and ease of use, but as those deployments have grown, ease of data management has too often fallen off the agenda. "NAS is still storage islands, so all the things you went into it to get away from, like overallocation, come back again," Tarrant says. In this context, the NAS head parallels other consolidation routes such as server-based computing. It allows centrally managed and purchased SAN storage to be deployed as easily accessed NAS volumes. Each head is still its own entity though, so data migration remains an issue, but Tarrant says ONStor has solved this problem. "Our NAS head is designed so you can add more, and once there's a pool of filers in place our software creates a virtual filer environment that gives load balancing and failover. If migrating, you can maintain existing server IDs and IP addresses as virtual filers." He adds that up to four SANfilers can be clustered together for a total of 140 SPEC sfs IOPS. Not only can ONStor create virtual filers within physical ones but it can dynamically and automatically allocate capacity to them, so there is no need to over-provision - although of course to begin with you still have to allocate SAN capacity to SANfiler for it to provision as required. It also handles backups within the SAN, with no need to touch the NAS side of things, Tarrant says. And although appliance hardware can look overpriced compared to commodity PC boxes, Tarrant defends the use of MIPS. "We are tied to hardware today because there isn't an available [industry standard] platform that meets our performance goals," he says. This may well change in the future though, as he claims that ONStor is in discussions with larger companies who want to licence its technology. "We really see ourselves as a software company - all our IP is in software," he says. ® Related stories HP and Microsoft put Exchange on your NAS Iomega dresses up NAS device EMC goes low with new NAS head
Bryan Betts, 27 May 2004

Napster opens Canadian outpost

Napster rolled out its online music service out to Canadian consumers yesterday, announcing an exclusive, "multi-year" tie-in with Molson to provide the brewer with song downloads. The move was signalled last week when the company launched its UK service - the UK software CDs also show Napster's www.napster.ca URL. Like the UK launch, the debut of the Canadian service puts Napster ahead of its chief rival, Apple's iTunes Music Store, which currently only serves US customers. But yesterday's announcement highlights the problems all music download market players face in building an international business. Napster currently offers 500,000 songs to UK consumers, but their Canadian colleagues can choose from only 300,000 songs. Napster Canada has licences from the big five labels as well as indies. Like the UK, Canada will be offered a seven-day free trial of Napster's subscription service, which is what the company appears keener to sell that pure-play downloads. Subscribers pay CN$9.95 a month for unlimited downloads and access to the service's ten 'radio' stations. Non-subscribers can download songs for CN$1.19 a go, or in album-length batches for CN$9.95. ® Related stories Oxfam enters music download biz RIAA targets 493 more unnamed file-sharers Italy approves 'jail for P2P users' law Napster UK goes live Rivals 'welcome' Napster to UK Apple creates separate iPod business unit OD2 halves music download prices
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004

NHS workers trial hi-tech panic buttons

UK health service workers are to be tagged with electronic tracking devices in a pilot scheme designed to promote the safety of NHS staff who regularly work on their own, such as district nurses. The scheme comes about in response to increased levels of violence against health workers. In the year to October 2003, 15 per cent of NHS staff suffered violence at work. The NHS Security Management Service has made the protection of staff against violence and intimidation its top priority. Its idea to supply some of the most vulnerable staff - such as district nurses - with a locator device has won the cautious backing of Unison, the health service union. Workers' representatives are positive about the technology - subject to an agreement on guidelines that address lingering privacy concerns, the FT reports. Trials will take place in Dorset and Manchester. Yorkshire-based electronic tracking firm Connexion2 is supplying the technology, called Identicom. Here's how the hi-tech panic button works: locator signals on the device (designed to resemble identity badges) would be activated by staff in need of help or if the device is forcibly ripped off. Each is equipped with a Siemens dual or tri-band GSM module. Pressing a button on the back of the device enables a worker to covertly raise an alarm. The technology allows a third party to listen to what is happening and to record events. Radio signals from the device could also be used to locate a worker. If the trials prove successful the NHS intend deploying Identicom widely across the NHS to up to 150,000 district nurses, according to Connexion2. ® Related stories NHS computers prescribe trouble Doh! Man steals GPS tracking device UK firm creates GPS tracker for kids
John Leyden, 27 May 2004

Broadband killed the TV star

European TV broadcasters are losing viewers to the Web, a medium they must embrace as broadband roll out presses on. That's according to UK-based research firm Strategy Analytics, which said in a new report that TV viewers are spending more time in front of the display connected to their PC, and less time watching the box. "Broadcasters Beware: Broadband Is Stealing Your Viewers" said that a survey of 800 Europeans revealed that some 56 percent have cut down on TV time since subscribing to broadband. David Mercer, principal analyst at Strategy Analytics, acknowledged that TV will continue to have a place in the home, and won't be entirely replaced by high-speed Internet, but the impact of broadband will nevertheless be dramatic. "TV companies have to pay heed to the Internet... they clearly have to look at the Web as a way to reach their audience," he told ElectricNews.Net. "Putting TV content on the Web is probably not the best way go about things. A better strategy would be to develop new on-line content that people can interact with." Mercer points to Discovery Networks, which runs the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Animal Planet and several others, as a media company that is a leader on this front. Discovery's Web site includes interactive games and information, and importantly, a section devoted exclusively to broadband subscribers. Strategy Analytics notes that in other media, such as newspapers and radio, companies have fended off declining reader and listener numbers by moving to the Web and providing interactive content and services not found in traditional formats. The firm says that TV broadcasters have these weapons, and others, such as interactive TV (iTV) services and Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) like TiVo and Sky Plus (Sky+), to defend against declining viewer numbers. Broadband marches on A separate report from Strategy Analytics estimates that Europe will have 33.5 million broadband subscribers by the end of this year, representing 20 per cent of all homes. By 2008, the figure will be 41 per cent, with penetration as high as 60 per cent countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium, where there are strong competitors to incumbent telecoms. Healthy competition is the key to broadband growth, according to Strategy Analytics. In markets where an incumbent dominates - such as the UK, Germany and Italy - penetration hit only 13 per cent to 15 per cent of homes at the end of 2003, or about half the level of smaller countries with more dynamic telecoms markets. This thesis echoes a recent OECD report, which called for governments to promote competition, rather than use subsidies, to boost the growth of broadband in rural and remote areas. The OECD says that simply forcing operators to offer services in remote areas will reduce competition and innovation and could also mean users will end up paying more for an inferior service. "Europe's smaller countries have demonstrated that loosening the grip of the incumbent telcos is critical to faster, wider broadband adoption," said Mercer. The Strategy Analytics report also claims that the "triple play" of Internet, telephony and video from a single provider will become increasingly important as the European broadband market evolves. © ENN Related stories Belgacom to launch DSL interactive TV Video Networks to speed up LLU roll-out Broadband kicks TV into touch
ElectricNews.net, 27 May 2004

Call centre company gets £2m boost

It was five years ago today...It was five years ago today... These days, offshoring British call centres to India is a contentious issue. Back in the last century, the home-grown, phone-based customer services operative was "the backbone of UK economic prosperity". No, really: Call centre company gets £2m boost By Linda Harrison Published Thursday 27th May 1999 15:12 GMT Independent consultancy, CallCentric will create 200 jobs in Britain after a £2 million investment from venture capital company 3i. The jobs, due by the end of the year, will form part of the expansion of CallCentric’s European call centre business. The Windsor-based company said the call centre industry currently employs two per cent of the UK workforce. Its growth rate of 30 per cent was creating over 100,000 jobs annually in Europe. CallCentric is a call centre consultancy advising businesses on technology and operation. David Berger, CallCentric MD, said: "Call centres are forming the backbone of UK economic prosperity and are the hotbed for technological innovation. "As ecommerce increases, so too will the need to integrate call centres to support e-business." CallCentric’s customers include Lloyds TSB, Credit Suisse and Latvia Telecomm. Well, CallCentric became Datapoint when it acquired the latter in July 2002. We rang Datapoint at its Brentford headquarters to check up on the current health of the UK call centre sector. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be anyone around to pick up the phone. Our five minutes of thumb-twiddling gave us time to ponder the following: Where have all the operatives gone? ® Bootnote Those readers whose jobs have been offshored can take solace from our outstanding My job went to India and all I got was this lousy t-shirt, er, t-shirt. There's also a lovely Bolly Mug to complete the set.
Team Register, 27 May 2004

Hardware vendors descend on Taipei

Computex PreviewComputex Preview The annual hardware-fest that its Computex kicks off in Taipei next week, with local players, major and minor, and multinational operations coming together to demo their latest products across a diverse array of market segments. The show's exhibitor list is extensive - we haven't counted them all, but the list stretches to 24 closely-typed pages - all of whom will be taking stands in four multi-floor halls. Computex's organiser says there are 1329 of them. Chips and components VIA will demonstrate its Digital Brilliance products, including high-performance chipset solutions, high-definintion video graphics to multi-channel audio sub-systems, and exciting new partner systems based upon them. All of these centre on VIA's power-efficient platforms and ultra-compact systems. The company will also be hosting its fifth annual VIA Technology Forum will be held on the third day of Computex, Thursday, 3 June. AMD, meanwhile, is expected to showcase its upcoming Socket 939 Athlon 64 processors. It arch-rival, Intel, may well tell the world when it's going to ship its next-generation PCI Express chipsets, Grantsdale and Alderwood. Certainly a variety of motherboard makers are likely to show products that will include Intel's chipsets. SiS will be showing its own chipsets - the 755FX, 760, 756 and 656 - with particular emphasis on its own PCI Express parts. It will also be promoting its WLAN-enbled silicon, and its consumer electronics-oriented System-on-a-Chip products. ALi plans to show its wide range of desktop and mobile chipsets for Intel and AMD processors. Expect to see its multimedia, digital AV and optical storage solutions on display too. Systems First International Computer (FIC) will showcase a complete array of digital home products, including its Consumer Electronics PC (CE PC), which combines a PC, home theatre, and music and radio audio system in a compact, all-in-one design with a 17in display. The CE PC is also completely wireless, providing access from anywhere in the room. So does the Entertainment PC (EMPC). It combines the functions of an advanced PC with those of a home entertainment system and wireless server, making managing media content easy, FIC claims. With an Intel i865G platform, FIC's Condor Gaming System is nevertheless ultra-quiet, producing less than 24 db of noise. With just a push of the chassis lock button, the contemporary chassis opens to reveal the DVD player, audio system and FDD and HDD. FIC will also showing its wide range of motherboards, including some based on Intel's Grantsdale platform. It will also demo its range of ATI-based graphics cards. ABIT, too, will be showing off its motherboards and video cards, not to mention its server solutions. It will demonstrate its BulletProof Technology, a new standard in quality, stability, reliability and engineering, it claims. ABIT will also show its revolutionary µn;Guru technology; AutoDrive, the company's Windows-based overclocking application; as well as new gaming-related products. Gigabyte will be present its desktop PC, mini PCs, displays and peripherals. It will also show off its new entry-level RZ motherboard series. The line includes the choice of either an Intel or AMD CPU. All the models included in the RZ series are furnished with high-speed LAN, USB 2.0 and six-channel audio for convenient network, device and multimedia connectivity. As well, all models will also feature unique Gigabyte software such as Xpress Install for easy software installation and EasyTune4 for convenient system control. Finally, Norton Internet Security 2004 software is also bundled for secure system protection. Nimble's award-winning V5 Personal Communicator will be on display. It combines consumer electronics and PC features in a sleek industrial design that is as "welcome in business as it is at home", Nimble claims. The V5 is an echo-free video and audio conferencing device as well as a fully functioning silent, energy-efficient PC, using only 14.2W when in full operation. Based on the VIA C3 processor, the V5 measures only 7.5 x 2 x 8in - about the size of a hardcover novel. The machine ships with Windows XP Home Edition. The Nimble V5 jams a wealth of features into a small and stylish package that also serves as a USB hub, KVM, audio playback device, versatile dual LAN router or firewall, and when coupled with a webcam offers VoIP and video conferencing to an audience of one or many. iWill will be hoping to promote its Pentium 4-based ZPCgx compact desktop. Inside its tiny 18.4 x 26.3 x 5.4cm shell, iWill has crammed a slimline CD-ROM drive - there's support for DVD/DVD+RW - a 2.6in HDD, 10/100Mbps Ethernet, two 1394 ports, and four USB 2.0 ports. The system used Intel's i845GV integrated graphics chipset. ZPC features an advanced method of heat dissipation known as Radiator Cooling Technology, iWill says. The design makes use of heat disappeared directly from the bladed heat sink to the chassis. A "no-cable" design further improves the air flow, keeping the ZPC quiet. iWill uses similar technology in its XP4evo system. This almost cubic - it's 19 x 16 x 27cm - box offers comparable internals to the ZPC - i845GV chipset, Pentium 4, integrated LAN, USB 2.0 support - but has room for a PCI slot too. Cases Beta-link will be showing its "unique" PC Photo Case. The casing includes a circular area on the front protected by an acrylic cover. The cover slips off to allow you to insert a picture - your loved one, pet, movie star, whatever. If you'd rather not fit a photo, you still get a cool blue glow. The Photo Case measures 41.8 x 41 x 18cm with a 1.7 cubic feet capacity. It contains four 5.25in and seven 3.5in drive bays. There's room for seven expansion slots. The case takes a horizontal PII/PIII/P4 power supply. Task will be showing its design-integrated PC casing - the TK-6220 - keyboard, mouse, speaker and LCD panel set. The TK-6220 itself features support for a Pentium 4 running at up to 3.06GHz inside its screwless chassis, which incorporates a detachable front panel. Task also offers optional transparent side and top panels for users who like to see what's going on inside their PCs. The 43 x 20 x 48cm case has room, for 12 drives: four 5.25in units and eight 3.5in components. It can take a full ATX, micro ATX or Baby A/T motherboard. To improve airflow, there are six locations for an optional second fan. Gyrox will be showing a range of products, including the new Noblesse Series GXY 7188, 7288 and 7388 cases. Each sports a front-mounted electroplated iron mesh that Gyrox claims maximises airflow, along with space for up to eight cooling fans to be strategically placed throughout the chassis. And yet it's very quiet, the company claims. All three 48 x 20 x 41cm cases use thumb screws instead of conventional fixings. And there's a transparent acrylic side panel with LEDs to illuminate the computer's insides. Two front-mounted USB ports make it easier to connect peripheral devices. The case is ready for an ATX motherboard and can cope with Pentium 4 thermal requirements. Finally, it comes in a choice of seven colours: black, silver, red, yellow, blue, white and green. ®
Team Register, 27 May 2004

AMD targets low-end Athlon 64s at new markets

AMD is preparing a low-cost Athlon 64 chip, the 2600+, it has emerged. Indian channel-oriented website Channel Times reported yesterday about AMD's attempts to broaden the Athlon 64's appeal in the region. In what was almost a throwaway line toward the end of the story, it mentioned an Athlon 64 2600+. The chip doesn't appear on AMD's main price list, and may not do so. The company has a programme of offering lower-cost processors exclusively for emerging PC markets such as South America, China, India and Eastern Europe. Last August, for example, it emerged that the company had developed an Athlon XP part with 64KB of L2 cache. Codenamed 'Applebred', it was designed specifically for said markets and would not be sold in more developed markets, such as the US and Western Europe. The arrival of the Athlon 64 2600+ comes after it was revealed that AMD is working on a low-end processor line, possibly as an alternative to Intel's Celeron line but potentially also as a bridge to 64-bit computing for some less well-developed markets. ® Related stories AMD preps revitalised value CPU line AMD confirms Applebred launch AMD launches x50 Opterons AMD slashes Opteron prices AMD restates dual-core CPU scheme AMD to parade Socket 939 at Computex AMD sneaks out 90nm core in 130nm chip
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004

BT wins Suffolk e-gov contract

BT has won a ten-year contract to set up and manage the online services for Suffolk county council and Mid Suffolk district council. The deal covers public access, and behind-the scenes infrastructure. BT and CGI, its chosen technology partner, will set up a joint venture with the councils to run the services. Suffolk county council will invest £30m per year, mid-Suffolk district council will invest £3m per year and BT will invest £50m in resources and new systems over the life of the contract. Funds will come from existing budgets. Bryony Rudkin, Leader of Suffolk county council, said the council looks forward to making it easier for residents to access services, putting an end to people being bounced from one department to another, or even between different councils. A website will provide a single point of access for District and County health and social services. Residents will be able to access service information and pay bills or apply for licences online, for example. A central customer service centre will manage all public access points across the county, joining county and district services for enquirers. ® Related stories Union moots strike over Swansea e-gov plan Glasgow hands THUS £42m comms deal UK gov backs £1m blueprint for open source switchers
Lucy Sherriff, 27 May 2004

Canadian, 16, on Randex worm rap

Canadian police have charged a 16 year-old youth with writing and distributing the damaging computer worm Randex. The teenager from Mississauga, near Toronto, faces "mischief and fraudulent use of a computer" charges. Canadian authorities have withheld the suspect's name because he is a juvenile. Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators reckon Randex infected more than 9,000 computers shortly after the first versions of the worm appeared last November. According to anti-virus firm Sophos, more than 20 versions of Randex are circulating. Randex variants are generally network worms with backdoor capabilities which allows a remote intruder to access and control the computer via IRC channels. This network of zombie PCs can be used to distribute spam or as a platform to launch DDoS attacks. The Canadian courts have dealt with a high-profile computer crime case involving a teenager before. Denial of service attacks against eBay, Yahoo and Buy.com back in 2000 were traced back to Mafiaboy, a 17-year-old from Montreal, Canada. Mafiaboy was sentenced to eight months in a youth detention centre after pleading guilty to 50 counts of "mischief to data". ® Related stories Trojans as spam robots: the evidence Phatbot arrest throws open trade in zombie PCs Phatbot suspect released on bail Mafiaboy given eight months
John Leyden, 27 May 2004

Danish IT firm gives workers free Net porn

Forget luncheon vouchers, Danish IT outfit LL Media has set a new benchmark in worker welfare by handing its workers free subscriptions to Net porn sites. The company hopes that the freebies will stop randy Scandinavian employees from accessing Web smut while at work. Levi Nielsen, company director of the Nordjylland-based libertine collective, reckons that access to porn is a legitimate fringe benefit. He told Danish media: "We know that 80 per cent of all hits on the Internet are on porn sites. And we can see that people also surf porn pages during work." Nielsen apparently also expressed the hope that the initiative will make his staff "more relaxed on the job". This unfortunate turn of phrase should not hide the fact that LL Media's is a laudable example of corporate philanthropy, and one which should immediately be adopted by UK businesses. Naturally, Reg staff have already petitioned management for a similar scheme, but - being British - have eschewed hard-core rumpy-pumpy in favour of either Sky Sports or The Shopping Channel. ® Related stories Hardcore Web porn banned down under Buy pornography, fight psoriasis Have sex, save the planet Looked at porn? The boss can't just fire you (if you're Dutch)
Lester Haines, 27 May 2004

SiS churns out PCI Express parts

SiS has begun volume production of its PCI Express South Bridge chip, the SiS965L, Taiwanese sources claim. However, since SiS has already promised that mobos based on the part will ship next month, that's perhaps only to be expected. Certainly, SiS is expected to showcase the South Bridge and motherboards that use it next week at the annual Computex hardware show in Taipei. The 965L works with SiS' LGA775-based SiS656 North Bridge and its AMD-oriented SiS756 part. VIA and ALi are expected to show their own PCI Express South Bridge parts at Computex, but source cited by DigiTimes claim they will not come to market until Q3. The two companies' PCI Express South Bridge parts are dubbed the VT8251 and M1573, respectively, the sources say. Intel is expected to launch its own PCI Express chipsets ® Related stories Nvidia rolls out mobile graphics add-in card format VIA ups AMD chipset FSB to 1GHz Intel to launch 3.6GHz P4 in June S3 preps native PCI Express graphics chips
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004

Apple Euro music licence win signals mid-June launch?

Apple could be ready to launch its iTunes Music Store (ITMS) in Europe by the middle of June, sources said to be familiar with the company's plans have claimed. They reckon that the Mac maker may now have secured licences from the major labels and others it needs in order to open ITMS to UK and other European buyers. Separately, we've heard the date 4 July bandied about, though since the date is far more relevant to the US than it is to Europe, it seems an odd choice, if correct. Whenever ITMS Europe launches, it will come after Napster UK, which opened its online store last week, and Sony Connect, which is scheduled to go live on 7 June. Sony today said it had signed deals with the UK's Association of Independent Music (AIM) and its German and French equivalents, VUT and UPFI. They will contribute to the 300,000-strong song catalogue Connect is expected to offer at launch. By contrast, Napster launched with 500,000 songs and expects to have the total at 700,000 by the end of June. AIM has also signed with Napster. ® Related stories Sony US music service an 'embarrassment' Music biz fears play Apple a compliment Apple: iTunes prices not rising Napster opens Canadian outpost Napster UK goes live UK indies sign to Napster... OD2 halves music download prices
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004

Cisco outs really big router

Cisco marked its 20th birthday this week by unveiling a new router platform for telecoms firms. The CRS-1 Carrier Routing System carries a huge amount of traffic, scaling up to 92TBps, and it will provide Cisco's carrier grade platform for the next ten years. The product will have a shelf life of 20 years. The router starts shipping in June and will cost around £450,000 a pop. Cisco has not confirmed any orders yet, but says that six telcos are in the frame to buy. The CRS-1 is big news for the data networking company, which has always been stronger in flogging to corporates than to telecoms firms. The router is the result of $500m R&D supposedly - Cisco sometimes allocates acquisitions to the R&D account, so the headline figure may not be all that. Certainly, the company is not backward in coming forward. At the Silicon Valley launch, CEO John Chambers declared: "I'm not talking about an evolution of existing routing. I'm talking about a whole new generation." According to press reports, his audience, squeezed into the Computer Science museum in Mountain View, California, were "wowed" by a CRS-1 demo. Hmm, demos of the of servers and routers rank in the wow stakes a little lower than hanging out the laundry. Here is a graph, here is loadsadata - trust us on this - now watch it move on the big overhead. The CRS-1 demo showed the "ability to handle awesome amounts of traffic. With a four-router beta network set up to move data between the museum and MCI facilities in San Jose and San Francisco at speeds of 40Gbps, Cisco simulated 2500 video-over-IP streams, 2500 video-over-IP conferencing connections, 125,000 online gamers playing simultaneously, 4000 concurrent music downloads, and one million Web browser sessions, all of which ran without glitch for several minutes." OK, so perhaps this is not visually stimulating, but Cisco has made its point: the CRS-1 opens up huge bandwidth for the telcos. ® Related stories Cisco unveils monster router Happy Birthday to Cisco IBM and Cisco team up for VoIP Cisco probes source code theft
Drew Cullen, 27 May 2004

Boffins trumpet horn shaped universe

Researchers in Germany have been looking carefully at the after glow of the big bang and have decided that the universe is shaped like a trumpet bell, or as some would have it, the Eiffel Tower. And in a twist of fate that will have Star Trek fans in a state of near apoplectic glee, the particular topology that best fits the observations is called Picard. British scientists are understood to be devastated, having assumed that the universe was shaped like a football, or an infinitely extended Nelson's Column or, at the very least a passable likeness of the late Queen mum. More seriously, this model has the advantage of explaining some rather puzzling observations, New Scientist reports. In the afterglow of the big bang, there is a pattern of hot and cold spots. However, recent maps of that region of space made with data from Nasa's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, show that none is larger than about 60 degrees across. Frank Steiner, the lead researcher, says that a finite, horn shaped universe fits this observation: there just isn't room back there for the blobs to be any bigger. The curve of the Picard horn, described as pringle-like, would also explain why these background blobs are elliptical, rather than circular. Observations of circles on the sky would be stretched into ellipses by the curve of the universe. The soccer ball shaped universe was actually a serious suggestion, put forward last year as part if a finite universe theory. However, there should be a particular pattern on the background radiation, if the universe is shaped like a football, but researchers have not been able to identify it. A Picard shaped universe would also leave a pattern on the background microwaves, but the exact pattern we see would depend on which bit of the bell we are in. So the fact that we can't see them doesn't actually rule out the Picard topology. If this is the true shape of the universe, it means space is finite. The narrow tube section is infinitely long, but so narrow its volume is finite. [Yes, we have a headache too]. However, the bell section flares outward only so far. Theoretically, you could fly out of the universe on one side of the bell and arrive back on the other. It also means that scientists need to chuck out a couple of assumptions, like the "cosmological principle". This is the idea the universe is roughly the same everywhere. In the narrow end of a Picard shaped universe, things would start to look very odd indeed, with only two, very small, dimensions. If this is all a bit too much, console yourself with the thought that this research has come from the University of Ulm, Einstein's home town. There must be something in the water. ® Related stories Boffins baffled by suburban quasars Chocks away for NASA's Einstein test Macclesfield centre of universe: official
Lucy Sherriff, 27 May 2004

Sony to ship portable video, MP3 player next month

Reg Kit WatchReg Kit Watch Having admitted this week that Apple beat it to offering the "Walkman of the 21st Century", Sony is fiercely fighting back to recapture the title. Earlier this month we reported on its first Vaio-branded colour portable music player, the VGF-AP1. Today, Sony unveiled a second machine, this time pitched even more as an adjunct to a home PC, but this time with still photography and video playback functionality. And in a rare move for Sony, the player supports MP3 rather than the company's own ATRAC audio format. The second model, the HMP-A1, contains a 20GB hard drive, the contents of which are listed on a front-mounted 3.5in, 320 x 240 colour LCD - larger than the VGF-AP1's 2.2in display. The new unit is larger, too, and heavier: it's 13 x 7.6 x 2.2cm to the first model's 11.5 x 6.3 x 1.7cm. The two machines weight 250g and 195g, respectively. The HMP-A1 plays back MPEG 2 and MPEG 4 files. Its software allows it to handle MPEG 1, AVI, WMV and DVR-MS, but these are converted to one of the MPEG video formats when they're downloaded from a host PC to the player. Likewise, BMP, GIF, PNG and TIFF files are converted to the JPEG files upon transfer. Not only does the HMP-A1 support MP3 natively, but Sony will ship it with MusicMatch's Jukebox software. The unit will ship with a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery capable of providing up to four hours' MPEG 2, six hours' MPEG 4 or eight hours' MP3 playback. Sony provides an AC adaptor, but the HMP-A1 can also charge off the host PC's USB 2.0 bus. The unit has an earphone socket, but it also provides all the ports punters will need to connect it to a hi-fi and TV. Primarily, Sony expects it to be used on the move. Indeed, it's pitching the product as a way to carry TV shows you recorded on your PC with you when you're out and about. While you might think the Vaio-branded model was intended simply as an adjunct to a home PC, Sony appears to be targeting the HMP-A1 at this kind of role, and the Vaio VGF-AP1 at a broader range of consumers. The new model also appears to be a follow-up to the GigaPocket PCVA-HVP20 portable video player (right) it announced last November The HMP-A1 will go on sale in Japan on 26 June for around ¥63,000 ($563/£310). ® Related stories Sony unveils colour 'iPod killer' Sony unveils video iPod Sony shows wireless PlayStation Portable
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004

Cingular kicks off 3G trial in Atlanta

Cingular Wireless is to trial 3G services in Atlanta and has selected Lucent to provide the networking equipment. No live customers will be involved in the trial when kicks off in the summer - Cingular is using its own people as guinea pigs to evaluate mobile voice, high-speed data and multimedia services. The trial will also enable the mobile network operator to "overcome technical challenges before pursuing broader deployments". The UMTS-based network will support testing of High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)technology, which one day will handle data speeds of up to 14.4 Megabits per second (Mbps). It's designed to handle VoIP services too. Lucent is supplying all the kit for the trial, including the 3G data cards. ® Related stories Vodafone penetrates Italian 3G market DoCoMo pins 3G hopes on handsets VoIP to transform telecoms market No killer app, but mobile data will boom Vodafone looks beyond 3G China snubs US with 3G phone 'wonderchip'
Drew Cullen, 27 May 2004

Dixons buys MicroWarehouse UK

Dixons Stores Group subsidiary PC World Business has bought MicroWarehouse UK, one of Europe's longest-established direct resellers, from its US parent, MicroWarehouse, inc. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. MicroWarehouse achieved sales totalling £143m during financial and calendar 2003. The company was formed in the 1980s to sell Apple products off-the-page and through its own catalogue. Since then it has grown through the acquisition of the Wintel-oriented Technomatic in 1995 and consumables specialist Inmac in 1996. Today, it operates on the web as MicroWarehouse, and through MacWarehouse, Technomatic and Inmac catalogues. Those four brands now become the property of PC World Business, as do MicroWarehouse's assets - worth £21.4m as of 31 December 2003. MicroWarehouse UK is accredited by Apple, HP, IBM, Toshiba, 3Com and Microsoft. PCWB group managing director Simon Turner said: "This is an important deal that will further consolidate our position in the b2b technology market in the UK. The MicroWarehouse business will add scale to our combination of direct selling, a national network of Business Centres and value-added services." Last September, MicroWarehouse, inc. sold its US and Canadian MacWarehouse operations to CDW for $22m. ® Related stories Dixons shutters 106 stores Dixons bottom of customer respect index Dixons signs Napster promo exclusive Dixons records Christmas cracker
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004
server room

Windows worms tax ISPs

Computer worms will cost European ISPs an estimated €123m this year, according to a study by Sandvine. The Net traffic management firm says its study shows attacks on European service providers are now a daily occurrence. Although worms are usually associated with attacks on corporate networks, the malicious traffic also ties up service provider networks, degrading the broadband experience for home Internet users. Meanwhile, outbreaks of computer worms generate a huge upsurge in support calls to ISPs. On any given day, between five and 12 per cent of all Internet traffic moving across European ISP networks is malicious, according to Sandvine. Counting the costs Working from metrics derived from its European customers and other industry research, Sandvine reckons that worm attacks will cost the European service provider sector more than €123m in 2004 and €159m in 2005. The problem will cause UK ISPs €22.4m this year. French ISPs will haemorrhage €17.9m and German ISPs €22.7m for the same reason, according to Sandvine. These estimates cover the cost of specialised tactical response teams, swamping of customer support resources, inflated transit costs and perhaps most damaging over the long term, a loss of brand equity that aggravates the industry-wide problem of customer churn. Estimating the financial cost of computer worms is a notoriously inexact science but Sandvine's argument - that broadband firms are suffering financially because of computer worms - remains sound. "The quickening pace of worm attacks makes understanding their impact on service providers increasingly urgent," said Tom Donnelly, co-founder and marketing veep at Sandvine. "Worms exact a massive toll by forcing service providers to mobilise premium resources in order to quell attacks and protect the subscriber experience." Sandvine researchers have also uncovered another type of expensive worm activity: persistent, low-level attack traffic caused by remnants of previous worms which cling-on tenanciously to residential subscriber PCs. Cumulatively, worms of both magnitudes are now an operational preoccupation for network managers and a worrisome drag on ISP profit margins, Sandvine says. Windows security tax Linux worms are not unknown (lion for example) but the vast majority of Worms exploit vulnerable Microsoft systems to spread: Code Red, Nimda, Blaster, Sasser - the list goes on. The pain experienced by telcos was a driving factor behind Microsoft's release of tool to purge systems infected by Blaster. Defending systems against Blaster-style attacks has created a new segment in the security market which host-based intrusion prevention firms (Cisco, PrevX, SecureWave), firewall vendors (Check Point etc.) and filtering firms (Scan Safe etc.) are all eager to tap into. There's a gradual realisation that the AV scanner approach by itself doesn't defend against Nimda-style attacks. This month analyst firm Gartner advised its customers to budget for extra security spending on Windows desktops (like better patch management and intrusion prevention) in the wake of the problems caused by the Sasser worm. So computer worms have become an extra tax burden on both end users and ISPs. Unless Microsoft lifts this burden through addressing the root causes - vulnerabilities in Windows - it risks making alternatives look increasingly attractive. ® Related stories Attack of the Profit-Killer Worms P2P swamps broadband networks Sasser ups cost of Windows - Gartner Sasser creates European pandemonium Blaster body count '8m or above' - MS Blaster beats up British business Blaster rewrites Windows worm rules Related links Worms gobbling ISP profits: The financial impact of attack traffic on European service provider networks, Sandvine white paper.
John Leyden, 27 May 2004

Boffins build room-temperature nano transistor

A collaboration between German and US scientists has yielded a single-electron transistor with a vibrating silicon arm 200 nanometres long, just tens of nanometres across, and tipped with gold. The transistor belongs to a class of devices known as nanoelectromechanical systems, which, according to PhysicsWeb, can be manufactured fairly routinely on a nanometre scale. Traditionally, NEM devices operate in a strong magnetic field. The device is particularly interesting because it is relatively simple to make and - because it can be switched on with AC voltage - it operates without cryogenic cooling. The researchers say it could be very useful to fundamental research in physics, as well as having a variety of practical applications. Dominik Scheible at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and Robert Blick at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the researchers responsible for the device, set it up so that the gold tip of the arm sits between two electrodes. When an AC voltage applied to one of the electrodes matches the resonance frequency of the arm - specifically between 350 and 400MHz in this example - the arm will oscillate between the electrodes. This causes a flow of electrons from the source electrode to the gold island, and from there, they are tunneled towards the drain electrode. The researchers suggest it could improve our understanding of nanoscale behaviour, if it were tailored to study the mechanically-controlled transport of single electrons. ® Related stories Europe slips behind on nano technology Boffins slow neutrons to 15mph DNA-based nanobot takes a stroll The fastest nanotube in the west
Lucy Sherriff, 27 May 2004

Apple posts Mac OS X update

Apple has released Mac OS X 10.3.4, the latest Panther update. The new release is available as a 39.5MB standalone download from Apple's web site, or via the operating system's Software Update System Preferences panel. Apple is also offering a 79MB combination update for folk who have yet to upgrade Panther from 10.3 to any of the intervening updates: 10.3.2 and 10.3.3. Mac OS X Server users can download their version of the update here. Again, there's a combination update here. The two weigh in at 44.7MB and 102MB, respectively. Components of the client edition include a raft of fixes for OS X's Mail and Address Book apps; some network tweaks; improved iPod, camera and Bluetooth handset connectivity; a variety of printing and faxing enhancements; and some Finder fixes. The update also new OpenGL drivers for Nvidia and ATI graphics chips. You can find a more detail list of fixes here. Contrary to the documentation, 10.3.4 does not appear to include Apple's most recent security updates, and we would very thoroughly recommend a trip to Apple's support site to download this fix, which patches a rather nasty vulnerability. Early reports suggest only minor problems induced by the update. Almost certainly these relate to specific users' configurations rather than 10.3.4 per se. We experienced a glitch with Safari after the update, but running Mac OS X's Disk Utility and choosing the Repair Permissions option fixed the problem. We'd recommend everyone follows the same procedure after updating, whether they notice oddities or not. ® Related stories Apple patches critical Mac OS X hole Apple posts major iTunes upgrade Apple to slow annual OS X update rate MS ships Mac Office 2004 Apple Euro music licence win signals mid-June launch?
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004

Xerox to fight patent validity ruling

Xerox is to appeal against a US District Court ruling that this week declared invalid a text-entry patent it holds and used to sue PalmOne in 1997. On Monday, Judge Michael A Telesca of the US District Court for the Western District of New York said: "Prior art references anticipate and render obvious the claim [made in the Xerox patent]." The patent, number 5,596,656, details Xerox's Unistroke system, a series of 'shorthand' symbols drawn instead of real character glyphs. The symbols can be recognised by software more easily that real handwriting, making the conversion of writing into text data much faster. The patent was granted in 1997, but filed some years earlier. In April 1997, Xerox said that Palm, then owned by US Robotics, had infringed that patent when it released Graffiti, a series of 'shorthand' symbols drawn instead of real character glyphs. Graffiti was a key Palm technology and had been introduced with the first Palm Pilot. The Court agreed with Xerox, and in December 2001, Palm was ordered not to offer products using the infringing technology. The handheld maker - by now operating as Palm and PalmSource - achieved that by licensing CIC's Jot software, the text-entry system already used by Microsoft's PocketPC OS. PalmSource re-branded Jot as Graffiti 2. ® Related stories PalmOne overturns Xerox Graffiti patent Palm draws up plans for Graffiti 2 Xerox priesthood suffers Graffitti setback Xerox wins Palm handwriting case Xerox patent action over Palm Pilot casts cloud on IPO Smart card company sues over Palm patent piracy claim
Tony Smith, 27 May 2004

UK scientists seek silent aircraft

Today saw the launch of an ambitious £2.5m, three-year project led by Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) - the Silent Aircraft Initiative (SAI). Its plan is pretty simple: to produce aircraft "whose noise emissions would barely be heard above the background noise level in a typical built-up area". The initiative boasts an impressive manifest of partners, including British Airways, the Civil Aviation Authority and Rolls-Royce. It also aims to consult representatives of community groups opposed to aircraft noise - a sensible move given the current brouhaha over the proposed extension to London's Stanstead Airport and ongoing protests surrounding increased air traffic at Heathrow. According to Cambridge SAI professor Ann Dowling - quoted on the SAI website - "The civil aviation industry is already introducing small, incremental decreases in aircraft noise. But we are aiming for a radical change in noise levels - so that beyond the perimeter of the airport, the noise of aircraft flying would be imperceptible to the public." All well and good, but how? We asked project manager Paul Collins if the research would centre on existing jet turbine technology, or would it embrace newer, more radical solutions? He confirmed its radical nature, but noted that "it still flies and carries passengers and yes, it's still powered by gas turbines". This is an interesting line of attack, and one completely different to that adopted by NASA and its scramjet-powered Hyper-X programme, which the agency hopes will eventually promise "to increase payload capacities and reduce costs for future air and space vehicles". It's also a big leap from other current gas turbine-driven developments. The Boeing 7E7's main techie selling point is its composite materials body and wings. Its principal commercial appeal lies in a quoted 20 per cent fuel saving over other equivalent aircraft. Airbus's A380, in contrast, is going for the "more is more" approach, packing 555 paying punters into two decks. However, both the A380 and 7E7 are simply technologically-advanced offspring of a tried-and-trusted design concept. SAI is approaching the commercial airliner from another tack - its fundamental consideration being noise rather then necessarily capacity or pure fuel economy. Tackling this key issue centres around "making the aircraft as slippery as possible," according to Collins. This points to a blended wing concept, with the engines incorporated into the aircraft's structure. Collins explained that, for example, an aircraft coming into land at 600mph has to dissipate a lot of energy - around eight megawatts - and extruding structures such as engines and undercarriage generate a hell of a racket. The design is just part of the plan. Collins spoke of "new operational procedures" which might contribute to an overall noise level reduction. MIT in the US is already investigating how alterations to an airliner's glide path into an airport might have a beneficial effect on the ears of those below. In the end, though, the proposal must "buy itself into the airlines". There's little point developing a stealthy passenger-carrier if the operators won't touch it, as Collins acknowledges. In short, it has to fit in with the existing infrastructure. And as for Mother Earth, Collins is adamant that any future airline innovations must address environmental considerations: "The effects [of jet engines] on the environment are not fully understood. We are planning outreach activity to raise the profile of the debate so that people become more aware of what the issues are." An overview of the SAI is available here. Collins asked us to note that the website is currently awaiting expansion to cover all aspects of the various teams' research. ® Related stories A380 Airbus suffers Virgin knock-back Airbus behemoth faces the press NASA scramjet ready to roll Reader flak brings down flying car Wright Brothers' centenary provokes aviation speculationfest
Lester Haines, 27 May 2004

NTT DoCoMo flees 3 UK

NTT DoComo is offloading its 20 per cent share of 3 UK to majority owner Hutchison Wampoa for £120m ($218m). Hutchison is buying the stake with shares in Hutchison Telecommunications International, its Hong Kong mobile telecoms operator. But first it has to list HTIL - failure to do so means that DoCoMo can claim cash. Hutchison will regret losing DoCoMo - the company has been selling off what it now dubs non-core assets - to fund its 3G telco services. A cash-rich partner such as DoComo, Japan's biggest mobile operator, would have been useful. Now it also has to pay back £200m lent it by DoCoMo last year. However, it did not help its cause: DoCoMo has a fetishistic attachment to its i-mode data service and it was irked by 3's refusal to adopt i-mode as a content platform. ®
Drew Cullen, 27 May 2004

Taiwanese engineer 'assisted Chinese hackers'

Are international law enforcement authorities finally mounting a concerted clamp-down on virus writers? A Taiwanese computer engineer was arrested on cyber-crime charges today following the arrest of a teenage virus writing suspect in Canada and the capture of two alleged VXers in Germany earlier this month. In the latest case, hackers from China allegedly used viral code designed by Wang Ping-an, 30, to launch attacks on Taiwanese government and business. It's the cyber equivalent of carpenters from Troy going outside the city to knock up a Trojan horse for the Greeks. Taiwanese investigators reckon a Trojan horse virus called "Peep", created by Ping-an, allowed Chinese hackers to run amok across Taiwanese networks. "He placed his program on popular hackers' Web sites and encouraged people to download it, "Lin Chieh-lung, an official from an Internet crime investigation task force told AP. "He might have wanted only to show off his skills, but he should be aware what harm this could cause," he added. Ping-an faces charges of vandalizing public and corporate property punishable by up to five year in prison on conviction. The attacks on Taiwan's computer system came at a time of heightened tension between it and China, which claims sovereignty over the island nation. ® Related stories Canadian, 16, on Randex worm rap German police arrest Sasser worm suspect/ Phatbot arrest throws open trade in zombie PCs US China cyberwar is a self-fulfilling prophecy Chinese hackers turn to identity theft Chinese Govt. loosely implicated in credit info heist
John Leyden, 27 May 2004