23rd > June > 2004 Archive

Google demotes Coca Cola jingle

Larry Page's "Owner's Manual" for Google shareholders - his preface to the company's S1 document - has been quietly demoted in an amendment published on Monday. The letter defended the proposed company's 'dual class' ownership structure, which concentrates power not with ordinary shareholders but with the current management, and warned investors that Google would disclose only the very minimum of financial information required by law. ("We would prefer not to be asked to make such predictions," wrote Page). The founders also included some cosmic gwana-gwana with headings such as "MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE" and "DON'T BE EVIL". Sickly stuff indeed, but now less so. Instead of introducing the S1, this letter has been demoted to page 26. The preface divided pundits roughly into two camps. It was praised by people who really want Google to be something special, perhaps even transformative, and bottom-line commentators those who think scrutiny should be applied evenly to everyone. So geeks and fan-bloggers lauded it, while business commentators were less kind. We thought it sounded like the New Seekers' Coke jingle, The Observer advised a complete rewrite and The San Francisco Chronicle compared it to Mother Teresa, while others noted that it entirely lacked a business plan. There are other details to note. As we wrote earlier, Merrill Lynch has been given the boot. Google says that it hasn't, as earlier suggested, outsourced its administrative infrastructure, which it earlier said involved "sensitive interactions between us and our users, advertisers and members of our Google network". Perhaps co-incidentally, it's beefed up the warning about privacy concerns damaging the Google brand. Google had to clarify its privacy policy in the wake of complaints about its proposed Gmail service, so this is no time to be seen to be allowing sensitive data to slip offshore. Brandt to join Google Ethics Committee? Er, no... The New York Times report contained one fact which intrigued us. It attributed the Googlebomb that Google Watch's Daniel Brandt created - search for "out of touch executives", or "out of touch management" - to Google's own staff. "There was an indication yesterday that Google's vaunted corporate culture may be under stress as a result of competition and the stock offering. As of yesterday afternoon, typing the words "out of touch management" into Google caused the search engine to list as its first result a page describing the company's top management," wrote the Times. "A person close to the company said that Google employees had engaged in the practice of 'Google bombing'." That Brandt had created this Googlebomb is no secret: he described how he did it in public forums, noting its progress. We wrote about it when it exploded, or reached No.1, back in March. Had Brandt, we wondered, become a Google employee? Actually, no. Although it's not as absurd as it sounds. If Google wants the public to take its Ethics Committee seriously, Brandt should be the first call it makes. Issues of access to information (the gateway will be increasingly privatized, if Google has its way), privacy and transparency aren't specific to the young Mountain View company - they'll be justifiably asked of anyone with such market clout and such an efficient data collection operation. Google just happens to be the biggest today. But somehow, we suspect that should Google's founders decide that Google's own employees lack public credibility for dealing with ethical issues, they'll call not for Brandt, but for Vint Cerf or Esther Dyson - who both share the founders' enthusiasm for space travel. ® Related stories Google files Coca Cola jingle with SEC Google ethics committee revealed Merrill Lynch drops out of Google IPO Five-domain Googlebomb explodes in boardroom Google decides banner ads, skyscrapers are not evil
Andrew Orlowski, 23 Jun 2004

Microsoft, Apple snub consumer freedom coalition

A new coalition of citizens groups and representatives from the computer and telecommunications industry was launched today, with two big names absent. This new alliance, the Personal Technology Freedom Coalition has fairly modest goals - seeking to restore some fair use provisions that will be lost if DRM is accepted, such as making a backup copy of your software, or burning a CD you've bought. It hasn't expressed any intention to address wider reform of the copyright framework, and wants the DMCA left largely intact. It includes Intel, Sun, SBC, Verizon, citizens' groups such as the United States Student Association and the Consumers Union. So it's safe for the children. And the PTFC has rallied behind Congressman Boucher's attempt to reform parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, HR.107, or the Digital Millennium Reform Act first announced in October 2002. But the modest goals of the DMRA and the PTFC are too much for two vendors to embrace: Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft is quietly pleased with the DMCA, arguing that it needs to protect its business software, which is widely pirated. But it has another agenda, which is getting Hollywood's big content producers hooked on its formats. It's working, too, as Microsoft has already snagged Disney. Meanwhile, Apple once appeared to regard DRM as a necessary, and perhaps even a temporary evil. Steve Jobs last year told Rolling Stone that he didn't think that DRM would ever work, all the while patenting new DRM technologies and leading, with Sony and Warner Brothers, the movie industry's secretive Copy Protection Technology Working Group. And when Apple's head lawyer for its iTunes Music Store told EFF attorney Fred Von Lohmann last month that it would keep DRM even if it didn't have to, its true strategy became clear: DRM is a competitive weapon, and its customers are collateral damage. DRM-free versions of songs from Apple's music store are available on the P2P networks within a few minutes. So, "FairPlay [DRM] is bad for everyone besides Apple," concluded Von Lohmann, "useless to copyright owners, irritating to legitimate customers." Instead, it's "a great barrier to entry that keeps the iPod as the exclusive device for the Music Store. Competitors who dare to reverse engineer the protocols or otherwise support interoperability find themselves staring down the barrel of the DMCA." Although former Geffen CTO Jim Griffin characterized the computer industry's embrace of DRM as a necessary charade, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that both Microsoft and Apple see lock-in benefits from DRM, as long as the lock-ins are their own. Why risk long-term disapproval with temporary popularity? Well, each has their own rationale. With the exception of ASCII, Bill Gates has never seen a file format he didn't create that he didn't want to own. It's the nature of The Beast. After an early encounter with the Internet, Gates complained that there weren't enough Microsoft file formats to be found, and then he really started worrying. This led to his 1995 'Pearl Harbor' speech, where he all of a sudden discovered the Internet. But Apple, you'd think, is starting from higher moral ground. As the only music vendor that sees any net earnings from being in the business, it might have realized why. Apple accountants are smiling at the end of each month not because of the music store, but because the iPod has finally reached acceptance as a consumer gadget people want to have. At least amongst well-paid white middle class professionals (we don't see much acceptance of this expensuve gadget amongst what Hollywood calls "urban content creators", but we'll let that pass.) In fact, iTMS might well be a hindrance for Apple, and when you count the massive promotional overhead and legal and R&D diversion, it is surely hurting the company's bottom line, which simply wants more zeros in the "iPod" column. (The Music Store has certainly tied up some of Apple's best brains, like Bud Tribble). So if Apple is to flourish outside its traditional computer business, it needs to grow the market for iPods, and there's no better way of ensuring its iPod business propsers than by making it easier, not harder, for people to share music. With just a tweak to the copyright framework, the iPod could be the Model T Ford of the new century. While the rainbow coalition of ISPs, Baby Bells and computer giants (which even includes Intel, a DRM pioneer) argues for greater freedom, we're seeing the birth of a sort of "anti coalition" devoted to restricting consumer's rights. A sort of Axis of Two... although we're sure you can come up with a better name. ® Related stories Biometric DRM is 'empowering' says iVue maker Congress reps launch fightback on DRM rights erosion Tech giants back Fair Use bills Congressman vows Pigopolist legislation Congressman assails CD copy protection Napster gags university over RIAA's student tax Labels seek end to 99c music per song download Music biz should shift to flat-fee, P2P model exec
Andrew Orlowski, 23 Jun 2004

Vote for who should run the UK's Internet

Two spaces on the board of the UK's Internet registry are up for grabs - and three horses are in the running. Every year, two of Nominet's four non-executives on the six-person board are put up for election. The ballot papers have just gone out to all members and the deadline for returning them is the first day of its annual general meeting - Wednesday 7 July. But considering it is an influential and important position, there are depressingly few candidates. The two current non-exec directors have put themselves up for re-election and Gordon Dick - a Nominet regular - has put himself forward arguing that it is important the election provide members with a choice. All three are capable and knowledgeable, and you can read their election statements here. Gordon Dick was on Nominet's Policy Advisory Board for two years, but didn't stand for re-election last year because of personal commitments. He reckons Nominet could do with some fresh blood at the top. His homesite is at www.gordon.me.uk. Stephen Dyer has been on the Nominet board (or Council of Management) for four years and before that was on the Policy Advisory Board. He founded CentralNic and has a fair bit to do with European Net body RIPE, as well as the new .eu domain. He lists his homesite as being at www.stephendyer.me.uk, but it was only bought at the start fo the month and there is nothing up there at the moment. Fay Howard has been on the board for two years. She was previously head of European ccTLD body Centr (formerly part of RIPE), and is advising EURid on how to implement the .eu domain. She doesn't list a home domain. So there's your choice. Every Nominet member is entitled to vote and the vote is weighted according to the number of domains a voter has registered/renewed that year. All are capable. But do you go for the tried and tested directors who know how it works and are recognised, or do you pull in fresh blood in the shape of Gordon Dick, who says that his appointment would "ensure that complacency and arrogance does not have a chance to set in"? Either way, the most important aspect is participation. Not only will your vote (if you are a member) decide two of the six people that decide Nominet official policy, but there are a range of consultations currently open for responses that will have a strong effect on the how the UK Internet space is run. One consultation is on new dispute resolution rules and ends on 19 July. Another concerns Nominet's terms and conditions for registering domain names - that ends on 4 August. And a third regards changes to the .me.uk domain - that ends 23 August. Nominet's AGM will be on 7-8 July at the Sheraton Hotel opposite Heathrow airport. ® Related stories Europe sticks up two fingers at ICANN budget EC tells Europe and ICANN to make peace UK music biz tackles Nominet over domain nobbling
Kieren McCarthy, 23 Jun 2004

Broadband gets FCC chairman hot

SuperCommSuperComm FCC Chairman Michael Powell has a grand vision for 2005 - one that includes years of communications hype turning into fruitful reality. "I think the industry will be hot one year from now, and I mean that sincerely," he said, during a speech here at the SuperComm conference. "I think 04 is the year the match is lit, but I think 05 a lot of this will be on fire." The "this" under discussion was primarily broadband and wireless technology. Like any good optimistic politician, Powell believes the tipping point has been reached, meaning there are enough users, applications and interested vendors to make the delivery of high-speed Internet services very attractive. He characterized the mood as being one that "assumes" broadband connections are present as opposed to a mood that still caters to narrowband services. Giddy yet? How about a little more. "I am extremely enthusiastic," Powell said. "I would not say the industry is out of the woods, but for three years we have been pushing our way through. "I think for years now, almost a decade, we've talked and talked about convergence. . . That talk is now action. It is resonating in a way individual consumers can taste and feel." Powell comes off as a capable man - kind of a shorter, squatter version of his father Secretary of State Colin Powell. Time and again, however, his word choice makes one feel nervous. Why do politicians insist on referring to the citizenry as consumers? Powell, in particular, loves to promote Tivo and fancy TVs at every turn. It's not clear that the FCC chairman needs to be so zealous about pushing technology trinkets. In a painfully perverted way, his mission to wash out the mouths of radio hosts with soap makes more sense than doing advertising for vendors. And that hurts. But when not viewing the SuperComm crowd with dollar signs over their collective heads, Powell did have moments where he returned to policy. He urged companies to spend on improving our infrastructure, commending SBC for its actions along these lines. SBC today vowed to shell out up to $6bn to build a fiber-optic network that can deliver digital TV. There are those damned TVs again. Powell also demanded that the government avoid regulations that would affect the roll out of VoIP services. If calls can be delivered over the Internet cheaply and with enough competition, then there is no sense is cramming IP networks with regulation. All in all, Powell fluffed his way through the SuperComm event - not all that surprising for a brief appearance at a trade show. ® Related stories US extends biometric passports deadline Ministers thwart MEPs, OK EU-US airline data deal FCC chairman hails VoIP Cable TV ruled comms medium FCC attempts telco compromise
Ashlee Vance, 23 Jun 2004

Apple iTunes Europe shifts 0.8m songs in first week

Earlier this year, European digital music distributor OD2 announced that users of the service it sells via a variety of ISPs, high street music retailers and others had downloaded 1m songs in the first three months of the year. Apple today said that its European iTunes Music Store had sold almost that number in its first week. The exact total is somewhere just over 800,000, more than half of which (450,000) were downloaded in the UK. To be fair, Apple gave away the best part of 20,000 songs at ITMS' launch last week, and since they were provided through its regular gift voucher mechanism rather than special offer codes, they'll almost certainly count toward the total. Not that they may all have been redeemed yet. Apple also drew a comparison with OD2, which yesterday announced its acquisition by US digital music distie Loudeye, claiming that the UK weekly sales total of 450,000 was 16 times more than OD2 shipped: over 28,100 songs. Apple did not provide a source for its estimate of OD2's sales figures, which is well under the weekly rate you'd expect from a service that had already shipped 1m songs in a three-month period. One million songs a quarter comes to around 77,000 downloads a week. That said, in a week dominated by Apple's launch, it shouldn't surprise anyone that other services might see a dip. Apple didn't mention Napster, which like OD2, does not provide regular download tallies. Napster UK has said it is "very pleased" with its download figures to date, but that could as easily indicate a 'glad to get anything' target as a sign that significant numbers of songs have been downloaded from the service. If Apple maintains its current run rate, it should notch up annual European downloads of over 41.6m songs. Assuming a roughly 50:50 sale ration between the UK and everyone else, that amounts to roughly £30.1m ($54.8m), with no allowance for Euro to Sterling exchange rate fluctuations. If the European stores see the kind of growth the US has seen, that figure is likely to rise considerably. Revenue is one thing, of course, income another. Music industry insiders claim that Apple's £0.79 per track in the UK sets a bar other services will find it hard to match, not least because Apple is believed to be losing money on some songs. It can do so because, unlike Napster and the others, iPod sales can subsidise ITMS. Sony's digital music service, Connect, has the same goal: to sell more hardware, in this case MiniDisc players. And it's doubly a problem for Napster, now it's actually having to give away hardware to encourage sales. Playing the numbers game is a canny move on Apple's part. Big numbers suggest relative popularity. While its rivals stay silent, their claims about the success they've achieved look suspicious, which in turn plays into Apple's hands as far as its market leadership claims go. ® Related stories Apple opens iTunes in the UK, France and Germany Peter Gabriel sells OD2 OD2 clocks up 1m downloads in Q1 Napster gives away MP3 players Music biz fears play Apple a compliment Napster UK goes live Oxfam enters music download biz
Tony Smith, 23 Jun 2004

Carlyle and Kyocera dig deep into DDI Pocket

Personal handyphone devleopment Private equity investor Carlyle should find plenty of opportunities to develop DDI Pocket, the personal handyphone system business in which it has agreed to buy a 60 per cent stake. The low-cost system has a lot of potential in developing countries and may also offer opportunities in the data services market. Carlyle and Kyocera's acquisition of DDI Pocket is the second major deal in the Japan telecoms market this year. In May, Japanese Internet service provider Softbank bought Japan Telecom for $3bn from US buyout firm Ripplewood to gain a foothold in Japan's corporate telecom business. Under terms of the latest deal, Carlyle will own 60 per cent of the new company, Kyocera will increase its present 13 per cent stake to 30 per cent, while KDDI will retain a 10 per cent share. The low-cost personal handyphone system (PHS) service has been in decline in Japan in the face of the sophisticated products offered by the major operators, and currently has about three million subscribers. Designed to fill the gap between wireline and full mobility services, PHS has enormous potential in developing countries. The technology also has potential for data services, and Microsoft's Japanese subsidiary plans trials of a new data 'push' system, which will use PHS technology to communicate with personal digital assistants. It will use technology that will enable the PHS server to remotely 'wake' the PDA when information is available. Carlyle Japan managing director Tamotsu Adachi told a news conference that he believes DDI is at a competitive advantage in the medium to long term, particularly in the corporate mobile data market. Carlyle, which has about 30 per cent of its funds invested in world telecoms operators, will gain a majority stake in an operation that makes considerable profits offering a low-cost service that needs less capital investment than more advanced technologies. Mobile phone and electronics parts maker Kyocera is also able to increase its commitment to the PHS system. The deal also enables KDDI to cut debt and concentrate on its mobile 'au' operation, which has been gaining market share at the expense of the major operators. Source: Datamonitor Related research Datamonitor, "Mobile vertical markets - a micro-segment analysis" (BFTC0802) Related stories Kyocera recalls exploding PalmOS phone battery Chinese launch wristphone Lightweight mobiles in vogue in Japanese market
Datamonitor, 23 Jun 2004

Oracle - Microsoft sales battles revealed in court

Oracle and Microsoft competed directly for contracts 94 times between 2002 and 2003, according to documents revealed in court yesterday. They went head-to-head at 94 different companies, eight of which were large companies, the New York Times reports. The evidence was revealed as part of Oracle's attempt to show that it already faces competition from more than just SAP and PeopleSoft. Oracle claims smaller rivals such as Lawson Software are an increasing threat, as is Microsoft. Oracle is in court to defend its attempted takeover of PeopleSoft. The Department of Justice argues a merger would damage competition in the market for high-end back office software. It thinks the market is dominated by Oracle, SAP and PeopleSoft and fears that reducing three companies to just two would damage competition and lead to higher prices. The database giant is keen to paint Microsoft as a potential rival, a position strengthened by Microsoft's admission during the trial that it had held exploratory takeover talks with SAP. According to the DoJ, the failure of the talks is evidence of the difficulty another company faces in gaining a foothold in software for big businesses. The DoJ is expected to produce evidence that Microsoft will stick to medium-sized businesses for at least the next few years. It presents its final witness today - Doug Burgum, senior vice president of Microsoft's business solutions group. ® Related stories Larry Ellison's shopping list Oracle discounts revealed in court US gov and Oracle in court
John Oates, 23 Jun 2004

Call centres 'bad for income and health'

UNISON - the UK's biggest trade union with 1.3m members - reckons call centres are "bad for your income and bad for your health". North-west regional delegate Shirley Vickery told a conference this week that around 400,000 people work in call centres in the UK, and up to half of those jobs could be shunted overseas by 2008. Workers are stressed out worrying about potential job losses, but they're also getting worked up becase of the jobs they do. "While job losses are bad news for workers, excessive stress levels in some centres made some staff so miserable they couldn't bear to go back to work," said Vickery. UNISON has pledged to carry on investigating the role of call centres and their impact on the health of workers. In particular, it wants to examine sickness and stress levels within call centres and flag any areas of concern with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). ® Related stories IT workers' morale hits rock-bottom UK call centres 'unbeatable' Union blasts NTL job cuts
Tim Richardson, 23 Jun 2004

Digital home group touts convergence spec

The Digital Home Working Group yesterday issued the first full version of its scheme for bringing the worlds of home entertainment systems and home computing together through wired and wireless links. And on the back of the launch, the convergence industry body re-named itself the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), the better to focus on promoting interoperability than defining specifications to make it happen. The DLNA's Home Networked Device Interoperability Guidelines 1.0 define content delivery and display devices: Digital Media Servers and Digital Media Renders, in the DLNA's parlance. One server should be capable of delivering content to multiple display devices, and each display device should be capable of receiving data from multiple servers. The DLNA's framework to make this possible uses Universal Plug'n'Play (UPnP) for device discovery and media management. Underlying that are IP-based Ethernet and Wi-Fi transport networks and HTTP for content delivery. All these technologies need to be supported by servers and clients that want to be declared DLNA compliant. The organisation expects to begin giving its stamp of approval to products in Q4. Approved playback devices must be capable of handling JPEG for still images, MPEG 2 for video and LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) for multi-channel audio. LPCM is the format used by DVD Audio and DVD Video. LPCM offers up to 8 channels of 48kHz or 96kHz sampling frequency and 16, 20 or 24 bits per sample. These are baseline formats - devices can support others, such as MP3 or WMV, but they must support these three for DLNA compliance. Indeed, the DLNA itself plans to add other content types to its Guidelines over time. An "upcoming addendum" to the 1.0 spec. will add GIF, PNG, TIFF, MP3, WMA, AC-3, AAC, ATRAC 3+, MPEG 4 parts 2 and 10, and WMV 9 to the list. The DLNA also said it is preparing specifications for 'smart' remote control devices in version 1.1 of the Guidelines, which will take in not only dedicated devices but PDAs and mobile phones too. The DLNA comprises 145 members from the IT, CE and communications worlds, but is led by Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Sony, Nokia, Samsung, Panasonic and others. ® Related stories Gates pitches Windows Concept as home hub of everything Intel pours VC cash into Digital Home Nokia, Sony, Philips tout connectivity Utopia Nokia makes stealth moves on your living room Consumer giants encircle the home PC Gates wraps Brave New World with hefty fees Intel coughs up for the Digital Home Whatever happened to the Windows Media Center?
Tony Smith, 23 Jun 2004

eBay buys Indian auction site

eBay is buying India's biggest auction site, Baazee.com, for $50m and some post-acquisition costs. Based in Mumbai, Baazee.com has one million registered users, who flog stuff just like they do on eBay. India lags far behind China in Internet numbers - just 17 million people are online, according to IDC. But it is a growth market - Internet subscribers are expected to reach 30 million in 2006. In such an immature market, eBay could have been tempted to build its own ops. But it is probably wise to buy a thriving local player. Experience shows that there is room for only one auction player in each country (sorry, QXL.com). This is why Yahoo! withdrew from the auction business in Europe in 2003, and this is why eBay fled Japan after failing to make inroads against Yahoo!, the dominant player in this country. Right now, China is the big battleground between the two companies. Last year, eBay bought EachNet, China's biggest auction site, for $180m. Yahoo! meanwhile is setting up an auction site in China in tandem with the portal Sina.com. There are a couple of local rivals too - Taobao.com and Alibaba.com, Reuters reports. The battle for China will play out over the next 18 months, According to Rajiv Dutta, eBay's CFO. In a webcast this month, he said: "I'm very confident that the EachNet business has a tremendous head start." In new economy thinking - remember that? - Winner Takes All is a desirable form of monopoly, as it promotes market liquidity, or as former Wired editor Kevin Kelly wrote: "a single large pool is superior to many small pools". He forecast the network economy, would breed "mono-sellers with great fertility". The prediction holds water for auction sites and, with Amazon, books. But for anything else? ® Related stories Tiffany sues eBay over fakes BT links to eBay Yahoo! Europe! to! can! auction! ops!
Drew Cullen, 23 Jun 2004

Mobile operators push next gen services

Disappointing take-up of new mobile services such picture messaging is behind the creation of a lobby group by the major mobile operators. DoCoMo, MMO2, Orange, Telefonica Mobiles, T-Mobile and Vodafone have all joined the organisation, called the Open Mobile Terminal Platform Alliance. They aim to work with handset manufacturers to improve standards. Despite good sales of camera phones many consumers still have problems sending pictures between handsets and between networks, reports the FT. The group wants both handset makers and operating system providers to improve interoperability between phones, making it easier for users to access new services. KPN, Telenor and 3 have expressed an interest in joining. The lobby group will also encourage non-proprietary operating systems with better interoperability with Java. There are concerns that mobile operating systems will be dominated by Microsoft and Symbian. The group is believed to be talking to Savaje Technologies which develops a Java-based OS for mobiles. ® Related stories Nokia deploys 'wave messaging' mobile Exam cheats reveal MMS killer app Picture messaging: Peace and love breaks out
John Oates, 23 Jun 2004

Dixons profits up

Dixons Group has increased turnover by 13 per cent to £6.5bn for the year ended 1 May 2004. Pre-tax profits for the period were up 11 per cent to £331.6m. The electronics retailer plans European expansion and will take on 2,000 more staff, 1,000 of these jobs will be in the UK. Dixons saw two per cent growth in the computing market but a two per cent fall in PC hardware where strong unit volume growth was more than offset by price deflation. PC peripherals and accessories performed well. Mobile phone sales continued to grow strongly - up 19 per cent for the year. John Clare, group chief executive, said the company recorded strong performance in its largest chains - Currys, PC World, Elkjop and UniEuro. Sales in the new financial year were in line with expectations. Dixons today announced a £200m share buyback scheme funded by the sale of Wanadoo shares and Codic International. Costs associated with the closure of 106 Dixons stores are now believed to be £44m, not the £48m originally set aside. The full results can be downloaded here. Dixons finance director Jeremy Darroch has been approached by BSkyB to be join the broadcaster as its finance director, according to today's FT. ® Related stories Dixons buys MicroWarehouse UK Dixons signs Napster promo exclusive 60 face axe at Dixons call centre
John Oates, 23 Jun 2004

Iomega debuts PC card slot drive

It was five years ago today...It was five years ago today... It seems almost unthinkable now that we were once satisfied with transferring stuff on a 1.44MB floppy disk - or that 1.44MB was quite adequate for most everyday files. Pretty soon, our lust for bigger, faster, external storage provoked development of a whole basket of essential products: PC card slot drive debuted by Iomega By Lucy Sherriff Published Wednesday 23rd June 1999 11:13 GMT Iomega has started shipping its Clik! PC card drive, worldwide. The new drive fits into the PC card slot on a notebook and accommodates 40MB Clik! disks. Jeff Jeter, MD of Iomega commented: "The Clik! PC Card is meeting with a positive response in Europe." Iomega says that as this drive comes without the fuss of extra cables, it eliminates the need for external storage backup. The company hopes that this new drive will be to laptop users what the Zip drive became to the desktop. Available now in the UK, the Clik! drive is expected to cost £179. It comes bundled with Iomega's Quik Sync and Copy Machine software. Both pieces of software are Y2K safe. Clik! disks cost £7.99 if bought in volume. The drive ships with a disk, a protective carrying case and software. Of course, the inexorable rise of USB flash memory - offering capacious, compact and portable storage at bargain prices - has pretty well done for kit like the Clik! Iomega, however, remains a stalwart of the storage device market. We've still got a couple of the redoubtable Zip drives knocking about the office, and have been greedily eyeing the new 35/90GB REV. After all, those 40MB Photoshop files soon stack up... ®
Team Register, 23 Jun 2004

Network Associates CEO denies sale rumours

George Samenuk, chairman and chief executive officer of Network Associates, has sent an email to all staff reassuring them that rumours of an imminent takeover by Microsoft are simply not true. Network Associates makes McAfee anti-virus and security products. The story on CRN.com on Monday said simply: "Network Associates is for sale, and Microsoft is rumored to be the buyer." It predicts official confirmation by 1 July. It quotes anonymous Wall Street sources and channel partners. Both suggested Microsoft was the most likely candidate to buy the company. One channel partner pointed to Network Associates recent sale of non-core businesses like its PGP product and its Sniffer line as evidence of a company preparing itself for sale. Microsoft, long pilloried for its weak security, stuck to its policy of not discussing rumours and refused to comment. The email from Samenuk says: "Many of you have seen the article in Computer Reseller News (CRN) which says that Network Associates is being acquired by Microsoft. There is no truth to this rumor...Sometimes, stories like this one take on a life of their own. You may hear slants, spins and variations, but the bottom line is the same, it's just not true." However Samenuk does like one part of the story. He points to a reference buried in the ninth paragraph to Network Associates' "extensive intellectual property". He cheekily suggests if staff are asked about the story by customers they should "tell them the acquisition part is totally wrong, but the part about our extensive intellectual property assets was right. Then ask if they have heard about our great new intrusion prevention products." Network Associates is under pressure from investors to improve operating margin to 25 per cent by the middle of next year. This has led to rumours that it is planning big layoffs on 1 July. And a big thank you to the reader who kindly forwarded us George's email. ® Related stories Network Associates warms to behaviour blocking Network Associates sells Sniffer NAI re-cooks the books
John Oates, 23 Jun 2004

Moore shows hi-fi styled 'home cinema' PC

Reg Kit WatchReg Kit Watch UK media PC developer Moore Innovations has launched its first system, Medio, pitching the machine at home cinema enthusiasts and audiophiles. Medio comes in two versions, one for the digital TV era, the other to take advantage of today's analog transmissions. The former is equipped with a Freeview receiver, courtesy of the build-in Hauppauge Nova-T digital TV tuner card, which can also reach digital radio stations. The analog machine contains a regular TV and FM radio tuner card. Both systems provide TiVo-style live and time-shift video recording, plus the ability to pause 'live' TV. Users can play CDs and DVDs, and recorded programming and audio content can be burned to DVD-R, DVD+RW or DVD-RW for archiving. Medio is powered by a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 and backed by 512MB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM. There are two 160MB Serial ATA drives. The display is controlled by an ATI Radeon 9600 XT Ultimate card, while Dolby Digital and DTS Surround Sound is delivered by the unit's Creative Audigy 2 card, which offers both digital and analogue audio output. All this is crammed into 43.5 x 35.5 x 16.5cm casing that looks more like a high-end hi-fi than a PC. Aluminium cooling fins help keep the temperature down, as does the Zalman processor cooler and Seasonic power supply. The Medio is foam-lined to reduce noise. Each unit ships with a wireless keyboard and mouse, but multi-channel speakers and a large-format display are extra. The unit itself costs £1999 (inc. VAT) from Moore's exclusive online supplier, kustompcs.com. The hardware is covered with a full two years' warranty. ® Related stories Digital home group touts convergence spec iRiver to ship third 'video iPod' in July iRiver readies 'PC-free' colour music, photo player Sony unveils colour 'iPod killer' Personal video devices to challenge music players MS, partners tout Portable Media Center iPod killer AMD pitches Athlon 64 at Media Center PC makers Consumer giants encircle the home PC Whatever happened to the Windows Media Center? These Tablets could take years to work, warns Acer Related reviews Biostar iDEQ 200N small form-factor PC case Elonex eXentia Media Center PC Poweroid 1204 silent PC Intel i915P, G and i925X chipsets
Tony Smith, 23 Jun 2004

Beastie Boys CD installs virus

A new Beastie Boys' CD called "To the Five Boroughs" (Capitol Records), is raising hackles around the Web for reputedly infecting computers with a virus. According to a recent thread at BugTraq, an executable file is automatically and silently installed on the user's machine when the CD is loaded. The file is said to be a driver that prevents users from ripping the CD (and perhaps others), and attacks both Windows boxen and Macs. The infected CD is being distributed worldwide except in the USA and UK, which prevents us from giving a firsthand report. However, according to hearsay, we gather that the Windows version exploits the 'autorun' option, and that the Mac version affects the auto play option. On Windows, when a CD is loaded, a text file called autorun.inf is read, and any instructions within it are executed. In this case, the machine is instructed to install some manner of DRM driver that prevents copying. We haven't seen either the .inf file or any of the executables, so we can't say how or at what level it accomplishes this - or if indeed it actually does accomplish this. But assuming that the unconfirmed reports are accurate, we have here a media company infecting users' machines silently with a file that affects a computer's functionality, without first obtaining informed consent: a likely violation of pretty much every jurisdiction's anti-hacking laws. It's possible to foresee criminal charges being brought at some point: after all, having a good reason for spreading malware has never been much of a defence in court. And a file that alters a computer's functioning without the owner's informed consent is the very definition of malware. Because this malware can be transferred from machine to machine on a removable disk, and requires user interaction to spread, it is, quite simply, a computer virus. (A worm, on the other hand, is distinguished by its ability to spread without user interaction.) CD virus protection Let's look at the ways this autorun business can be defeated. It's quite easy to disable autorun in Windows by holding down the Shift key when loading a CD. Unfortunately, this has to be done each time the CD is played. However, it's easy to insert the CD once with the Shift key depressed, and then simply rip the tracks to the hard disk. You can then use the CD in other devices, and listen to your corresponding MP3s or whatever on your computer. You can also disable the autorun "feature" on your Windows machine permanently so that this and other CDs infected with viruses won't affect you in the future. To do this, go to the Start menu ==> Run, and type in the command regedit. Your registry editor will launch. Navigate to the following key, and edit as shown: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\CDRom and set Autorun DWORD=0 It might be necessary to create the value, thus: Data Type: DWORD Value Name: Autorun Value: 0 As usual, you must reboot your Windows box for the changes to take effect. Disinfection The above procedure assumes that you haven't previously installed the suspected Capitol Records virus, or a similar one from another fine entertainment conglomerate. But if you have, you will need to find and uninstall the malware first. The autorun.inf file on the CD will likely indicate the name of the relevant file(s), the locations where they're installed, and any registry changes made. Armed with that information, go to the Windows 'uninstall' utility: Start menu ==> Settings ==> Control Panel ==> Add or Remove Programs ==> Change/Remove. Look for any program files referenced in the autorun.inf file and uninstall them. If no related programs are listed, you will need to launch the Windows Search Companion and search for any files named in the autorun.inf file and delete them manually. Be sure to activate the options in the "more advanced features" dialog allowing you to search the entire disk (search system folders, search hidden folders, and search subfolders). Now, a word of caution: if the Capitol Records virus has updated a library file or driver, deleting it might affect your system's functioning, and you might need to re-install Windows to put things right again. (Carefully log the time needed to do this and include it in your criminal complaint.) However, deleting a foreign executable file is safe, so long as it's not one you actually need. So be careful about file name spellings so that you don't accidentally delete an important file that's spelt similar to the one you wish to be rid of. ® Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a comprehensive guide to system hardening, malware protection, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux. Related stories Lock-d own CD scores No.1 hit Biomet ric DRM is 'empowering' says iVue maker Copy protection to extend to multiple but limited burns EMI admits CD copy protection compatibility problems Copy-crippled CDs launch in UK, baffling Auntie Beeb
Thomas C Greene, 23 Jun 2004

PCs throw nine sickies a year

British PCs are taking an average of nine sick days a year due to spam and viral attack, Yahoo! claims. This is two more days than the typical Brit spends at home as a result of illness/injury/Euro 2004-induced hangover. Interestingly, six of these silicon sickies are due to spam, with just three days attributable to viruses. People too are wearying of the spam tsunami, with half of UK computer users claiming that confronting junk emails is more harrowing than sitting in rush-hour traffic gridlock. Yahoo! surveyed 2,500 punters - half of whom said they'd asked their ISP to pull the finger out in addressing the spam issue. Rather bizarrely, roughly a third would be prepared to "make a drastic lifestyle change, such as exercising five times a week, if it meant an end to spam". As far as we are aware, this is the first time that jogging and circuit training have been mooted as a solution to spam. And speaking of making the effort, SurfControl's marketing director, Martino Corbelli, reckons that it's the ISPs who should be moving their lardy arses off the sofa: "They never have done much about spam and all the indications are that they are lethargic about fighting the problem," he told the BBC. "They are not listening to their consumers and I can't see that changing." Yahoo!'s report has been released to coincide with 'Global Anti Spam Day' - a title which rather has the feel of a triumph of hope over expectation. The survey does, nevertheless, highlight a few stats which prove how spam will, inevitably, bring down western civilisation. For example: 2 per cent of the average worker's salary (£463 out of £20,000) is wasted on spam fighting chores If Spam takes over our emails, our social lives will suffer. For most of us, email is an essential tool in organising our social diaries and staying in touch with friends and family. Two thirds of us (65 per cent) use email to plan our social lives. Over one in five (22 per cent) emails are used to set up social engagements, while one in ten (9 per cent) is to set up a date 70 per cent of British PC users have fallen victim to a computer virus over the past year. Only 46 per cent are aware that computers get viruses by opening attachments, while only 17 per cent know that you can get a virus by downloading a file online Over three quarters (79 per cent) of Brits delete any spam they receive, which does nothing to combat the problem. 53 per cent have notified their ISPs and expect them to take action. 16 per cent reply to junk emails, a sure fire way to get more spam. However, British PC owners are better educated than their European counterparts. In France, 25 per cent reply to spam emails There you have it. So, while the French do their bit to accelerate our descent into socio-economic anarchy, here is UK communications minister Stephen Timms' overview: "Nobody - be it government, industry or otherwise - can work alone to eliminate the problem overnight, if we are to have an impact on reducing it, the fight against spam demands international co-operation and collaborative campaigns. Yahoo!'s Global Anti Spam Day is exactly the sort of initiative that is critical in raising awareness amongst Web users." Fair enough. We at El Reg will move immediately to berate our ISP on the lack of tangible anti-spam action. If, that is, our entire IT infrastructure is not at home in bed having over-indulged last night on Nigerian 419 solicitations. ® Related stories UK.biz complacent over virus threats 'Spam King' Richter get legal roasting Viruses and spam hit small firms harder EU attacks anti-spam industry Zombie PCs spew out 80% of spam Two thirds of emails now spam: official
Lester Haines, 23 Jun 2004

Biometric DRM? You're kidding, right?

LettersLetters A couple of weeks ago Andrew Orlowski reported on the RIAA's suggestion that music players ought to be biometrically locked. Orlowski asked if you thought the idea would catch on. We've taken some time sifting through the letters, for there were many, (many, many), and the consensus of opinion can be summed up roughly as: "Erm, no. Do they think we are stupid?". You're kidding right? So now if someone mugs me for my iPod they may cut off my finger as well? Well isn't that just f*cking wonderful. I wonder if they thought of that? Of course I'm sure they didn't because the RIAA doesn't listen to music for two reasons; 1, anyone who here's the shit they turn out now a days knows there's no one at the steering wheel, and 2, being devoid of a soul they can gain no pleasure or enjoyment from music or the arts in general. -Chris Myers Hello: But of course it won't catch on. There are currently a myriad alternatives to getting your music that do not involve subjecting any part of your body to the RIAA. If these type of Orwellian "solutions" are implemented, the alternatives will continue to exist until a critical mass of adoption is achieved -- which will then never happen while the alternatives exist. The only way they could actually implement this with some degree of success would be by pure force, i.e. legislation. But, I wouldn't really expect any elected official to be stupid enough to propose such an onerous, desperate, and controversial measure, which has only a particularly obvious benefactor. -dZ. From: Mike Crosland All it takes now is that these devices be shipped with earphones that only biometrically recognise their owner's ears, and the destruction of music as a shared activity will be complete.. Subject: Biometric DRM So when you get mugged for your fingerprint enabled Personal Player, the crims are going to cut off your fingers as well? Who can tell where this will go? Before genetically modified seed was first sold, who spotted that it was infected with 'Intellectual Property'? Or that a Canadian Farmer [google: "Percy Schmeiser"] would find his seedstock involuntarily contaminated with Monsanto's 'Intellectual Property' - and that Monsanto would sue, claiming rights which transcend Schmeiser's undisputed Property Rights in the seedstock? On the RIAA's fingerprint proposal, I forsee a huge market in Joke Shop fake cut off fingers, with decent fingerprints - and commercial competition to be the company which owns the 'Intellectual Property' rights to the joke finger which unlocks the most music on the web. Or some totally innocent model for Joke fingers being sued for billions by the RIAA, having effectively become victim of global identity theft. Or the RIAA claiming that all fingerprints are their 'Intellectual Property'. The RIAA will probably wise up to this quickly and get into controlling Joke Shops. There must be some synergy in there somewhere. Digital Millenium Joke Shop Act perhaps? Vince Littler Bit of a no brainer really, the choice between an mp3 player that plays tunes, and an mp3 player that records biometric information and restricts my ability to transfer mp3s between devices. I see no better way of ensuring that a media device won't sell apart from smearing with excrement before packing it. - Tim Everson Now, I'm assuming that amounts to encryption using some type of hash generated from the fingerprint as a key. But, that would merely stop me from copying the "files" from whatever storage media is used inside. What's to stop me from tearing my iVue apart, ripping out the speaker, soldering some wires from a cheap pair of headphones to those contacts, and plugging that into my sound card? From there, any time I listen to music, I can record it on my hard drive in whatever form I want, and it no longer has any of the "anti-piracy" mechanisms in place. Actually, it probably wouldn't be that hard, especially considering the chance that the iVue will have a headphone jack, in which case I don't need any special materials or skill, I can go to a local store and buy a mini2mini (1/8" phone to 1/8" phono, male connectors on both ends) for about $4 and use that instead. And how does the fingerprint scanner stop me from doing this? The RIAA needs to realize that in order for it to use closed media, it has to have a monopoly on a market that doesn't ask questions. The only problem is that the market they're selling to doesn't care what form the music comes in as long as they can listen to it, preferably without having to spend any money on it. How are you supposed to sell closed products to a market that wants open products and has the means to convert a closed product to an open product. The RIAA has three options here: A) Take over the world, once they own everything, closed media will work B) Go to open products, use online media stores, sell CDs for those that collect the real albums C) Die off because once they sell a single copy of a closed product, everyone will get the open version Picture the scene: Undertakers office. UNDERTAKER: Madam, I'm truly sorry about the loss of your husband. Is there anything we can do to make his passing more comforting? BEREAVED WIFE: Any chance of you cutting off his finger before you bury him? I haven't been able to listen to any of his music since he dropped dead. Honestly, if they can guarantee I will have access to the music I purchase "forever" and will be able to listen to put it on CDs, play it on a portable flash/HD player, and can play it on my computer (my music jukebox) after successive upgrades and OS reinstalls, it isn't too biometric authenticaion isn't onerous to dealwith, and I can still rip my CDs and play that music wherever I want, then I am fine with their 'biometric drm'. The problem arises when I can only only play the music on 3 computers ever (a different computer including a new OS installation) or I can only only play 'authorized' music using this DRM. I have no interest in 'sharing' music I buy other than playing it for friends. Jeremy Silver Your article on the iVue fingerprint-controlled media player intrigues me. I am particularly keen to know how it is able to discern how the unit's analogue audio output is not connected to any kind of recording apparatus -- such as a tape recorder, or the line-in connection of a sound card? It is surely a prerequisite of any successful audio copy prevention scheme that throughout playback, the device is aware that nothing save a loudspeaker lies downstream of the analogue outputs, and that no microphone is trained upon that loudspeaker. AJS. How can it work? I press my finger against the player, and it plays one track.. Then I have to run back to it, to press my finger against the player, because the second track is locked.. Or do I just put in all 4000 songs that I own, (bought on cd) and press my finger once, authorize the whole lot, and give the player to someone else?! It all makes no sense... It is absolutely absurd that anyone would allow themselves to be subjected to such treatment for the sole purpose of listening to an album THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN PAID FOR!!!! Personally, I'd rather stop listening to music that to be TREATED AS A THIEF FOR PURCHASING MUSIC! What will they think of next? Sincerely, Matt H WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE AN EYE OR AN ARM OR EVEN A THUMB OR INDEX FINGER ? What if I was in NAM ? Keith Personally I suspect it's about as likely to catch on as Shrub is to endorse the setting up of muslim commercial flight training schools in New York State. Andrew, When will you see the light? Sacrificing an index finger to the RIAA is a great bargain--didn't they want my firstborn just a few months ago? I'd give my left testicle for another opportunity like this. Ted Part of me would like to believe that things like this will strike a chord within us all, making us rise up and say "NO, we will not have it!". But then I remember that it's humans we're dealing with and the eejits will queue up to buy these things without understanding what it is they are doing. Richard Asbridge You know how muggers pick out marks by their iPod headphones? Now we can all pick out retards by their iVue headphones! Isn't there a rather fundamental flaw in this system? How does the magic little device know that it is a fingerprint reading that it has taken? What if I used something that is easily replicatable like a really smooth glove. Oh no! Suddenly the whole biometric thang is rendered into high quality snake oil. What are the RIAA going to do? March us all down to Pigopolist Towers so that they can witness that it was indeed a fingerprint used as biometric? Would the queue even make it round the block? Richard Smith Say for example you have lost all of your fingers (some sort of freak piano accident maybe), does this mean that you will never be able to purchase or listen to music again? Perhaps this quote from the http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1995/95050--c.htm Disability Discrimination Act 1995, detailing "Discrimination in relation to goods, facilities and services" may fit here? Note: the definition of "services" includes the provision of any goods or facilities "Section 21 - Part 2 (2) Where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to make use of such a service, it is the duty of the provider of that service to take such steps as it is reasonable, in all the circumstances of the case, for him to have to take in order to- (a) remove the feature; (b) alter it so that it no longer has that effect; (c) provide a reasonable means of avoiding the feature; or (d) provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service in question available to disabled persons." I doubt the RIAA care much about what us eccentric little Brits have to say on accessibility, but surely there must be some sort of equivalent in US law. Just a thought. Richard Vivash We'll give the final word to a man who managed to sum up nearly everything above with a brevity that, after trawling this particular postbag, we found quite refreshing: Subject: Biometric DRM Bollocks. Andy ®
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Jun 2004

RIAA sues 482 more unnamed file-sharers

The Recording Industry Ass. of America's assault on copyright infringers continued this week as 482 more North American computer users were accused of sharing music files without authorisation. The RIAA doesn't know who any of these folk are - the organisation's lawsuits target unnamed defendants - but 213 are believed to live in the St. Louis area, 206 in Washington, DC, 55 in Denver and six in New Jersey. The RIAA has the users' IP addresses and can now pursue ISPs to force them to hand over the names of subscribers who use those addresses. To date, this approach has been used against 3429 people. The RIAA began its campaign of legal action in September 2003. No lawsuit has yet led to a trial, though 600 people (17.5 per cent of those sued) have settled with the RIAA - around 200 of them since May 2004 - and paid up to $3000 apiece. A number of individuals have been named in fresh lawsuits after they failed to reach such a settlement with the organisation. In April this year, the organisation admitted it had ended its amnesty programme, originally offered to allow file-sharers to mend their ways with impunity. ® Related stories RIAA targets 493 more unnamed file-sharers Italy approves 'jail for P2P users' law German fined E8000 for Kazaa uploads Global P2P jihad claims success RIAA wants your fingerprints Self-destructing MP3s don't satisfy Korean RIAA Microsoft, Apple snub consumer freedom coalition
Tony Smith, 23 Jun 2004

Make BT more transparent, say rival telcos

UK telecoms trade group - UKCTA - has called for a new "regulatory model" to be adopted by communications regulator, Ofcom, that would help curb BT's market dominance and lead to greater competition in the industry. It claimed that its "Transactional Transparency" (TT) model would, if implemented, give rival operators greater scope to compete with BT. Responding to the first phase of Ofcom's telecoms review, UKCTA said: " BT should be required to provide its access products to all operators, including its own downstream operations, to the same specification, at the same price and using the same processes (including product development)." Although the group - made up of a host of telcos including Cable & Wireless, Colt, Energis, NTL and Thus - stopped short of calling for the complete break-up of BT, it does want to see greater operating and accounting transparency within the UK's dominant fixed line telco. Responding to Ofcom's question as to whether the structural separation of BT - splitting its wholesale and retail business - was still a relevant, UKCTA said that it was: "20 years after privatisation, we are still faced with an incumbent that enjoys a dominant position not only in the access network where the underlying economics make a different outcome difficult, but also in the parts of the value chain which should be susceptible to far more effective competition. "The situation in these markets, both network markets and retail markets, of an overly strong BT able to distort competition, is not conducive to delivering maximum benefit to the citizen-consumer and the UK economy which derive from the technological revolution we are witnessing today." UKCTA's submission went on: "UKCTA does not currently strongly support full ownership separation of BT into a regulated access network business and a competitive business. In terms of creating the correct incentives for the regulated entity to treat all its customers equally, this structure would be optimal. However, it would be slow and difficult to achieve in the face of BT opposition. Also, where the line between the monopoly and competitive parts of the network are either not yet clear or likely to shift over time, ownership separation may be less successful than TT in producing the anticipated benefits. "Furthermore, we would observe that were full structural separation ever to become the generally desired outcome as a means of delivering benefit to citizens and consumers, the chances of a smooth and successful transition would be enhanced if BT and its shareholders are convinced that they themselves will be able to reap tangible benefits. "Such potential added shareholder value is, in our external view, virtually impossible to measure at the moment. But if TT is comprehensively implemented as we are advocating, it will become much easier for BT’s executives and owners to determine whatever future structural strategies are in their own best interests." Not surprisingly, BT has rejected any notion that the company should be split up, maintaining that structural separation "would not be in the interests of the UK economy, UK consumers, the telecommunications industry or BT’s shareholders". And it called on the regulator to "end debate over this matter", which it claims "adds to the level of uncertainty in the industry and therefore reduces all players’ incentives to Invest". Instead, BT called on Ofcom to develop a "more targeted regulatory regime that can keep pace with technological change and so ensure the UK benefits from a vibrant telecommunications industry". It wants to see a movement away from "micro-regulation" and see the focus shift instead to the regulator dealing with "bottlenecks" and "barriers to entry" rather than on market share. It also wants to see a regulatory regime that encourages infrastructure investment instead of relying on mandated access to networks. Said BT chief exec Ben Verwaayen: "Many markets are now extremely competitive and so there should be a relaxation of complex regulation particularly when new services are introduced and there are no barriers to entry." Last week, the UK's two telecoms trade unions resolutely rejected any suggestion that BT should be broken up. Even if the separation of BT could be achieved technically - which Connect and the CWU say would be "immensely complicated" - any British Government would find it extremely difficult to bring it about politically, said the unions in a joint statement. Instead, the unions called on Ofcom to promote investment in the network and to help consumers better understand all the different options available to them. ® Related stories Unions say 'no' to BT break-up Ofcom confirms BT break-up review Ofcom plays down BT split rumour Ofcom broadband review says nothing new Energis Ofcom to probe UK telecom sector Competitive broadband could add £22bn to UK economy
Tim Richardson, 23 Jun 2004

Telewest plagued by intermittent email probs

Telewest has admitted that it's still suffering ongoing email problems. Two weeks ago around 40,000 Telewest punters were left without email after a cock-up with overnight maintenance work. Although email was restored to all users, many of those hit were unable to access their old emails or address lists. Telewest says those problems have now been sorted. Yesterday, though, the cableco was hit by yet another snag leaving as many as 250,000 punters facing difficulties accessing their email. Those hit reported problems logging into their email accounts and sluggish downloading of messages into inboxes. Telewest's director of Internet services, Chad Raube, explained that the cableco has "embarked on a project to improve our previous email platform with an upgraded system". He went on: "These types of modernisation projects are inherently complex, and do require a certain amount of fine-tuning. "Although the initial migration was carried out last year, some blueyonder customers have experienced intermittent issues with their email service more recently." Telewest has drafted in a team of experts from Microsoft to try and resolve the problems. The email problems are often intermittent and are proving difficult to track down. ® Related stories 40k hit by Telewest email snag BT cocks up email storage upgrade Damaged undersea cable blamed for UK Net problems
Tim Richardson, 23 Jun 2004

UK.gov stuck in 'old economy' mindset

The government is stuck in an "old economy" mindset and is using the wrong tests to check on the health of UK Plc, according to IT trade body, Intellect. The organisation has warned that continued measurement of the wrong indicators will lead to the wrong policies being written, and says because of this, the country is treading water - unable to move forward. Ministers looking for quick solutions to this problem should not ask Intellect what it should be doing, just yet. The body is launching a twelve-month research project that will uncover the gaps in government thinking, and suggest additional "new economy" indicators that should be monitored. "The UK is facing rising competition from low-cost economies using new technologies, highly educated and skilled workforces and mobile capital within a rapidly changing global market," said John Higgins, Intellect Director General. He argues that the government has failed to act quickly enough to help the UK compete in a knowledge driven economy, and calls for the creation of more supportive policy. The results of Intellect's analysis of Government's current data collection practices are due for release in early 2005. ® Related stories UK.biz gets tough on IT suppliers Budget sells IT industry short Intellect Anti-spam law will tie up UK firms up in red tape
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Jun 2004

Open sourcerers slam licensing slur

LettersLetters Ah, open source. Is there a topic more likely to spark an animated discussion among geeks of a certain type? [Yes, plenty: DRM, IP, patents, ID cards, biometrics, etc, etc - Ed] More to the point, is there a middle ground on this? Are there any people out there who can discuss it with anything less than a passionate, even religious intensity? All we did was run a story looking at open source from a business perspective. Well, who knew such a thing could be quite so provocative? Well, OK, maybe we did. Maybe that's why we ran it... Dear Philip, Very interesting article (Open Source: just another licensing model) - I'd like to suggest there maybe other reasons for moving towards open source. Information technology has commonly been seen as a differentiator between business, a source of competitive advantage. Whilst this may have been argued in the early days - due to the scarcity of Information technology - in my personal experience, this model would appear to be changing as information technology tends towards more of a commodity. This is more clearly seen with hardware, but there are arguments that the same will happen with software. From my experience, most companies want those information technology services which are needed to run a business to be at least as good as a competitor and preferably at a lower cost. Increasingly, information technology is seen as a cost of doing business. A company can create advantage (difference) through novel services and how information technology is used, but this is only a stepping stone to the next advantage, as each change is again adopted throughout the market. The pace of integration and adoption of new concepts in competitive systems appears to have accelerated and the open source approach and the move towards open source standards could further accelerate this. Inherent in the open source model is a pressure to do this due to the cost of re-applying internal modifications to new releases. The balancing act becomes the advantage of the modification against the constant cost of re-applying the change. The open source model has the potential to drive software towards more of a commodity, whilst providing a "battleground" for companies to identify the few individuals (wherever in the world) who have the skill to create those novel services (or modifications) which may at any time differentiate one company from another. To pinch a phrase "the rise of talent." It is potentially a catalyst for a fundamental change in how information technology is viewed. For companies providing services in information technology, future value may well be derived from consultancy and support of products (for those companies who wish to purchase this) and not the licensing of general (as opposed to niche) products themselves. Business will in general seek to obtain the lowest cost for a commodity product. Premium will be paid for that which really creates difference. Whether this will happen may well depend upon whether the open source model extends beyond operating systems and applications into entire business applications (ERP etc). We are not there yet, but I suggest that this has the potential of far more than just another licensing model. Your sincerely Simon Wardley Your writer says: There are four different reasons for choosing an open source solution...second, because you have ethical concerns over the extent to which proprietary vendors should be allowed to profit from their products; Now, as far as most businesses are concerned... they couldn't give a tinker's cuss about the philosophy Quick, someone lock him in and give him a good gouging, then make him repeat what he said about this being a purely philosophical concern. Best regards, Antony To add to the doubtless hundreds of mails you're getting about this: "I don't think you could point to any open source product that was demonstrably better (or equivalent in most cases) than all of its proprietary counterparts" Apache Mozilla Firefox (Check out the new 0.9) Evolution (Ximian/Novell) BIND Exim / Postfix / Sendmail CVS / Subversion PHP JBoss C Perl / Python / Ruby Nmap / Nessus That's just off the top of my head. And as for: "There is no doubt that Ingres will rapidly become the open source database of choice" Oh really? Has the author ever actually tried to *install*, never mind use, Ingres? Let me tell you, it's a PITA. Plus, the "strength of features" that he talks about are undoubted, but most of them (replication, solid transactions, snapshots etc) aren't required for the task of most current instaances of open-source DBs (MySQL, PostgreSQL): powering web applications. These DBs both have a bundle of bindings to languages and other applications that Ingres doesn't, as well as a groundswell of developer support. Do jobserve searches for 'Ingres' vs. 'MySQL' and see what comes up. The fact is that users who need mission-critical databases aren't using open source products, they're using Oracle or SQL Server, and they're not likely to move to Ingres just because CA has decided they're sick of getting murdered in the market by Oracle and Microsoft and they'd rather cut their costs by outsourcing their development to the community at large. According to the author's Bio, he moved into 'product management and marketing' in the early 80s. It shows: perhaps he should talk to some people who actually use the products he opines so presumptuously about. Your publication has a well-deserved history of technical savvy in its articles. Please, run any future submissions from this source through a bullshit filter. Cheers W "Now, as far as most businesses are concerned, they are not interested in the code and they couldn't give a tinker's cuss about the philosophy. The third point is worth consideration but I don't think you could point to any open source product that was demonstrably better (or equivalent in most cases) than all of its proprietary counterparts." Ummm.... Apache. -Brian Dear Me, how simplistic. "Let's be clear about this. There are four different reasons for choosing an open source solution. First, because you want to play around with the code; second, because you have ethical concerns over the extent to which proprietary vendors should be allowed to profit from their products; third, because you think the product is better or more suitable for what you want it for than any proprietary equivalent; and fourth, because it is cheaper." Well, yes and no. Because there's a fifth reason. Which is that you want to have strategic (that is, long-term) control over your information and your costs. You never want to be locked in again. You understand the difference between tactical cheaper (this year's licence costs) and strategic cheaper (the though-life cost of being held over a barrel by lock-in to some proprietary vendor whose business interest is directly contrary to your own). Strictly speaking, freedom from lock-in means open standards, not open source. the only problem is that, so far, the open source solutions provide better compliance to the open standards than any proprietary stuff. As to quality: I couldn't say whether Apache is better or not, but I notice it's gained two-thirds of the web "market" without a single ad or salesman. I couldn't say whether Mozilla is better or not, but it works for me, when IE won't. I couldn't say whether OpenBSD is better or not, but I do know its security trounces all comers bar none. The bottom line is that open source is all about lucre. Of course it is. But not in the sense you mean it at all. It's all about cost of living, and husbandry, and sustainability, and not spending the rest of your life - as an individual or a business - paying blackmail to extortioners. You just haven't got that, have you? GWW El Reg, Philip Howard gives four reasons for choosing open source over proprietary software, but I can see an obvious fifth reason which I think is one of the more important ones from a business perspective: avoiding vendor lock-in. A proprietary software vendor has great power over a business that needs its software, a situation usually called "leverage". This "leverage" is all bad for the party at the wrong end of the lever. With an open source program, there is no lever, just the usual healthy buyer-seller relationship of "if I don't like what you're selling, I'll buy elsewhere". This also reduces the risk factor in dealing with an innovative but not well-established vendor. If your chosen vendor goes tits-up, then with open source you are at least in a position to find someone else to support the product, whereas with proprietary software you are at the mercy of whoever winds up with ownership of the associated copyrights. Think of it as an insurance policy, the likes of which just isn't available from any proprietary vendor I've seen. "Freedom" isn't just a pleasant philosophical abstraction: it's a sound business decision. Regards, TFBW The third point is worth consideration but I don't think you could point to any open source product that was demonstrably better (or equivalent in most cases) than all of its C counterparts. Have you not looked at Apache, Tomacat or Sendmail? These products lead in percentage of use, and leave their proprietary counterparts in the dust when it comes to security, stability, and cross platform support. How about discussing MaxDB from MySQL and SAP. I would compare this offer to Oracle 7 to 8. How many of us need the total package of features built in to 10i? Where is the mention of Open Office? To your point that people don't care about the availibility of source code, when's the last time you where involved in the purchase of a proprietary solution? It's the first item that is covered in the RFP. Dot com melt downs.... Who cares if the source code disappears with the firm, right? Take a look at what Largo FL and Kenosha WI have done. Open source is not only a alternative solution, it the only player in town when fiscal responsibility is considered! John Pederson Putting this "article" in the category of "Software", rather than "Odds and Sods" (subcategory 'FUDnotes'), hurts your reputation with me. Mr. Howard's initial paragraph, "Let's be clear about this...." says that there are 4 different reasons for choosing an open source software solution. He magically avoids the two reasons which nearly _every_ user of Open Source software puts First, and offers a gratuitous insult as his "second reason". Real reason # 1: Open Source users want to assure future access to THEIR data. Most users never "play around with the code". Instead, they want the Source Code to be available so that future programmers may see how data is processed, stored, and sent between application components. Most users would describe this issue as, "no vendor lock-in of MY data in hidden formats". Real reason # 2: Open Source projects grow to meet the requirements of their users, not a vendor. Does Mr. Howard remember all the months when Word-97 users couldn't save a file in Word-95 format, forcing all of their acquaintances to upgrade? Whom did that serve? And who really needs things in Word-XP which they can't do in Word-2000? - - - As for Mr Howard's insulting "second reason", I will grant that I have ethical concerns with the ill-gotten gains of a particular criminal monopolist. But IBM and Red Hat, and many other companies, deserve the profits which they earn by providing real value to their customers, without resorting to criminal behavior to "earn" those profits. I think that Mr. Howard's third reason applies to any selection of a software package over it's alternatives, and applies in both directions: A CIO might be using DB2 (proprietary) because the firm's needs can't be met by MySQL. Or, the CIO might be running Apache webservers (open source), because IIS lacks Apache's reliability, servicability, quick release of bugfixes, and proper design. Mr. Howard's fourth reason is OK, but by ignoring the most important reasons for using Open Source, his subsequent commentary is useless drivel. Was he funded like AdTI? Your disappointed but loyal reader, Rick Stockton P.S. I'm writing you from Mozilla 1.7-RC3 on Mandrake 10. My freely given contributions to Mandrake have been much higher than the purchase price for Windows-XP, it's NOT about price. All Trademarked software product names which I have referenced are the property of their owners. Nice article, but I have a different opinion on one of the points you're making: "Now, as far as most businesses are concerned, they are not interested in the code". Well, in general, for the bulk of the software out there and the bulk of the companies, that statement is correct. But when you speak of database systems, as the rest of the article focuses on that, I think there is a representative number of companies among the ones using database systems extensively which *are* interested in the code. Even if only in order to fix a glitch or customize some functionality. Programmers can be found, the tariffs for such small changes aren't really significant even for most SMEs, and as long as the management is aware that they have this possibility, I think they would be interested in the code for this purpose. The catch, of course, is that at least IMHO most managers don't know this is possible due to the traditional licensing model they're been dealing with for so long. Obviously just my 2c, Bogdan Philip has just TOTALLY IGNORED the fundamental raison d'etre of Free Software. Seeing as he can't see the elephant because he's looking at the mice, I think the rest of the analysis carries about as much weight as the mice compared to the elephant. Cheers, Wol Still running with the proprietory software vs. alternatives theme, it seems that Mr. Orlowski's been at it again. Upsetting people that is. Andrew wrote: "A petition in support of the official online [here] points out that with 46 Brazilians living below the poverty line, the country can't afford proprietary software licenses", and the elusive "ed" added: (In which case, what's it doing buying PCs? - ed) Errm, perhaps because PCs my be necessary, or perhaps more efficient at, implementing helpful gov't work whereas the various costly Microsoft licenses aren't. I can only speak for myself but my Mandrake workstation (and servers) on 6 year old, or so, PCs work help me do far more for less (or even free) tan I was ever able to do with Windows and its re-boots, constant patching and faffing about with anti-virus, firewall and spyware apps. I can ship an adequately powered, fully kitted-out (software-wise) secure PC/server to Sao Paulo for less than a Microsoft Office Student license costs. The little mammals be a nibblin' round that dinosaur so when (not if) that comet hits... -- Lee Alley "A petition in support of the official online here points out that with 46 per cent of Brazilians living below the poverty line, the country can't afford proprietary software licenses. (In which case, what's it doing buying PCs? - ed) " Is he serious? Does your editor really think it's possible for any country to grow its economy in todays climate without computers? Without developing an IT infrastructure, Brazil would end up with a lot more than forty-six percent below the poverty line in the long term. Any investment in development will have a regrettable impact on wealth in the immediate term, but if open source can reduce the immediate cost then so much the better. Every country needs computers now. That anyone can maintain a position as the editor of such a well-respected news site and yet be incapable of grasping this simple reality beggars belief. Name witheld Another item that caught your attention was the stalemate reached in negotiations between the US and Europe over what to do with online hate sites: It's a little shocking to find the Bush Administration doing something right, but even a blind pig will get it right once in a while. I'd rather they did something useful like opposing censorship than pursue the majority of the peculiar notions that seem to drive US foriegn policy these days. The other obvious point is that we're all better off if hate material is easier to find. Datamining the bad guys is a lot easier if we know who and where they are. You'd rather these sites became "password only" and SSL-encrypted and known only to other "bad guys" will make you safer? The theory that "hate material" should be suppressed is only supportable if one believes that the masses are so weak-minded that Bad Ideas will propagate among them if a paternalistic government doesn't protect us from them. I'm sure you've logged onto Stormfront (American Nazi site) at least once. Did you have a sudden urge to burn down synagogues after looking the site over? The Internet *is* censored in places like Saudi Arabia. Is this doing either their people or economy any good? Is "limited" Internet censorship doing anybody in EU any good? Does anyone really think that the Nazis will take over Germany again if those idiots have freedom of speech? Those looking for a positive sign in the deadlock consoled themselves with the thought that the issue was now at least on the global agenda. A "positive" sign would be a strong EU movement to copy the 1st AND 2nd amendments of the US Constitution into the EU Constitution when you guys finally get one of your own. I promise that not one attempt will be made from any US entity to bust the EU government on a DMCA violation. A.Lizard We would ask that readers in the US try to avoid the use of the word 'constitution' too often. It gets some people awful riled over here in Blighty... Dispensing as quickly as possible with the politics of Europe, let's turn our attention to more important matters. We would like to apologise to any readers who were misled by a recent headline, as poor Michael below was: I'm so dissapointed. Saw the headline and assumed there were a lot of bootleg copies of 'I think we're alone now' on ebay. Just checked on ebay and there aren't even any non-bootleg copies. :( Michael And finally...Intel's attempt to mix the disciplines of Web and wave surfing have not met with universal approval: Hi Lucy, Intel does the ridiculous. WiFi-ring the take off spot. We paddle out to get away from the manic techno babble. See: You Ain't Surfers. Aloha, Mike Aloha indeed. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Jun 2004

Big six unite to can spam

Some of the world's largest ISPs and email providers are joining forces to fight spam by using existing technology and best practice rather than just looking for future technical solutions. Founder members include AOL, BT, Comcast, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo!. They have released a statement of intent outlining best practice. The organisation, called the Anti-Spam Technical Alliance (ASTA), will update this document as necessary. It says: "We fully recognise that this document does not provide all solutions to the spam problem... However, we feel that our recommendations, if implemented on a large scale, can be successful in improving email messaging and Internet communications." The first suggestion is that all providers do their best to remove open relays from their systems. Open relay machines, aka "zombies", are controlled remotely by spammers and used for distributing spam. It also calls on mailbox providers to do a better job of telling users what they can do to combat spam. The group is looking at ways to provide secure email identity. It notes that where once spams used false origination addresses (spoofing) to fool spam filters they are now using the same trick to fool users with phishing scams. ASTA is looking at several technologies to secure the domain address of emails. ASTA recomends that ISPs closely monitor software which can be used to create emails, like formmail.pl and CGI E-mail. It also recommends ISPs take a firmer line in identifying compromised machines. This can be done by paying attention to abuse complaints from other ISPs, monitoring email volumes from internal machines and testing networks for open relays or open proxies. Any machines found by these methods should be quarantined until fixed. ASTA further recommends setting outbound email limits of about 150 messages per hour in order to limit the damage done if a machine is compromised. ISPs should take action to stop spammers being able to automatically register free email accounts. Users also have a role to play. They should ensure they have up-to-date anti-virus software and personal firewalls. ISPs should ensure punters know about these techniques when they sign up for accounts. The complete guidelines are available for download here ® Related stories PCs throw nine sickies a year Spammer prosecutions waste time and money Viruses and spam hit small firms harder
John Oates, 23 Jun 2004

SBC plans über-network

SBC Communications is to spend between $4bn and $6bn on a fibre optic network to offer "super-high-speed broadband" to residential and small business customers. Bandwidth would be great enough for high definition IP-based switched TV services. The company is starting trials with Microsoft's IPTV later this year. The infrastructure would allow households to access standard or high-definition TV and video-on-demand services. SBC believes the move to an all IP network will mean lower maintenance and upgrade costs than a traditional network. To reduce expense and disruption SBC will put fibre to the premises (FTTP) only in neighbourhoods which are still being built. In existing neighbourhoods SBC will provide fibre to the node (FTTN). Nodes serve 300 - 500 homes. This will provide download speeds of 15 to 25 Mbps(megabits per second) and upload speeds of 1 to 3 Mbps. SBC CTO Chris Rice said: "This strategy would be a substantial shift in the structure of the SBC network, but it is also the next step in a transformation process that we have invested in for years. "From our backbone networks to the 'last mile' connections to homes and businesses, we have been bringing the power of fiber-optic connections closer and closer to customers to 'future-proof' our network and meet their bandwidth needs for decades to come." SBC's DSL network Project Pronto pushed fibre to remote terminals within 12,000 feet of millions of homes and offices. With FTTN SBC will push fibre to nodes within 5,000 feet of homes and offices. SBC has four million DSL subscribers. To read the whole press release click here ® Related stories SBC serves up McDonald's Wi-Fi deal SBC workers use four-day weekend to taunt management Union ballots SBC workers on strike action
John Oates, 23 Jun 2004

Fine Telstra AUS$100m, rival ISP demands

Telstra - Australia's incumbent telco - should be fined more than AUS$100m (£38m) for its anti-comptetitive broadband pricing, according to the boss of a rival ISP. In February, Telstra cut the cost of its retail broadband service undercutting what it charged other operators for wholesale broadband. Rivals said this was unfair and an abuse of Telstra's dominant position. In March, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) agreed that Telstra had engaged in anti-competitive conduct and slapped the company with a competition notice. Although the ACCC has yet to decide what further action, if any, to take against Telstra, the watchdog has been given a rather forthright pointer by the MD of one of Australia's leading ISPs. Greg Wilson, the boss of Primus, said that Telstra should be fined more than AUS$100m to deter the telco from engaging in such behaviour again, The Age reports. He told an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney: "Boy, I'm hoping that a massive great stick will come down on Telstra. They need to be given a massive disincentive not to do this to the industry again." "Telstra cannot be allowed to get away ever again for what they did. For two to three months they raped and pillaged everyone else's customer base. They should be punished for that. Punished severely." Go on, Greg: say what you really mean. ® Related stories Telstra backs down in BB pricing row Telstra faces court over broadband price cuts Telstra faces fines over broadband price cuts Broadband war breaks out in Australia
Tim Richardson, 23 Jun 2004

'Son of Patriot' hits Basildon

The news that the UK has today opened a new high-tech assembly facility for the Javelin shoulder-launched missile in Basildon, Essex, certainly raised a few eyebrows down here at Vulture Central. It's not that we don't consider Basildon the perfect location for such a venture - after all, the warring tribes of East London's hinterland will certainly welcome the availability of heavy ordnance on their doorstep - it's just that we're a bit concerned about the project itself. According to the MOD press release: The BAE Systems Production Facility, which will employ more than 30 staff, will make the advanced guidance system for Javelin, the shoulder-launched missile system. Javelin will provide UK troops with a marked increase in firepower. It is light enough to be carried by just two men, yet capable of destroying the most heavily protected tanks and armoured vehicles. Although an American designed weapon, Javelin will be constructed in the UK, sustaining around 300 UK jobs in total. Javelin has proved itself in combat and has been recently deployed by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh no, we're starting to get that queasy feeling: The £300 million contract to supply the new missile system was awarded to a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon last year. That settles it: we advise all Basildon car owners to immediately evacuate a six-block area around the assembly plant - it's only a matter of time before a Javelin indulges in a bit of "blue-on-blue" - identifying your Ford Mondeo as an Iraqi tank and blowing you all the way to Epping Forest. You have been warned. ® Related stories Patriot missile: friend or foe? 'System error' downed RAF Tornado
Lester Haines, 23 Jun 2004

Dutch e-voting software goes open source

The source code of the software that is used for online e-voting in the Netherlands has been made public by OSOSS, a Dutch association that promotes the use of open source software in government. Electronic voting in the Netherlands was made permissible by an amendment to the Elections Act back in 1965. Mechanical voting machines were used until 1974, and then gradually electronic versions began to replace them. In most voting Dutch stations these days an electronic machine by Dutch company Nedap is used instead of paper ballots. Proper verification of the votes - as opposed to a simple comparison of "votes per candidate to the votes per party, and to the total number of votes cast" remains, however, largely unresolved. This has considerably frustrated academics, who so far have failed to retrieve the source code of the Nedap machines via the Dutch "public government" law. Because of the controversy, online e-voting in the Netherlands at present is still restricted to the 16,000 or so Dutch expats, of which 5,000 used the system during the European parliamentary elections earlier this month. The system is part of the distance-voting project (KOA), which also allows voting through a phone-based voice-response system. The project, launched in 1999, was outsourced to to tender winners LogicaCMG. A report by the Dutch ministry of internal affairs earlier this year expressed concerns over security and privacy issues. Electronic voting and Internet voting in particular is seen by many as risky. When the Irish government proposed a Nedap/Powervote system to be used in locally held elections for the European Parliament, it met with fierce resistance from critics because it came without an audit trail. Releasing the source code of the Dutch e-voting system software will enable voters to verify that the system does what it is supposed to, proponents say. In Australia the software for parliamentary elections is already open to public scrutiny. ® Related stories UK gov planning switch to e-voting for 2007? E-voting promises US election tragicomedy Ireland to scrap e-voting plan California set to reject Diebold e-voting machines Irish e-voting furore hots up UK not ready for e-voting
Jan Libbenga, 23 Jun 2004

Virgin Digital sets US, UK debut dates

Virgin Digital, Richard Branson's move on the digital music market, will launch in the UK next September, a month after the service's US debut, The Register has learned. According to industry sources familiar with Virgin's plans, the company is assembling a range of offerings the music service will offer with a view to those launch windows. It is believed that Virgin Digital (VD) will offer both iTunes a la carte downloads and a Napster-style subscription package. The sources suggested that VD's offer will go even further than downloads and subscriptions, but details for now remain scarce. At the service's launch, Virgin described VD as a "full service entertainment destination for consumers who want to access their music anytime,anywhere". Music-derived mobile phone ringtones, music hardware and possible full-length videos are possible additions to the core music offering. VD was announced last March. At the time, the company revealed that it was working with digital music distributor MusicNet. Virgin did not provide a timeline or details of its ambitions for different territories. Given the scale of the US market, it's hard to rule out launch there, and a UK presence seems highly likely because of the strength of the company's brand here. Virgin's high street retail subsidiary, Virgin Megastores UK, already offers digital downloads through a partnership with OD2, which yesterday announced its acquisition by US-based MusicNet rival Loudeye. VD is expected to provide not only its own service but act as a front end for other Virgin Group operations, almost certainly including the UK and US Megastore chains. VD's US and UK launches put the service well behind Apple's iTunes Music Store, which has sold over 450,000 songs in the UK in its first week of operation here, Apple claimed today. ® Related stories Virgin to open music download service Apple iTunes Europe shifts 0.8m songs in first week Peter Gabriel sells digital music firm Napster gives away MP3 players HMV iPods not compatible with store's music downloads Papers plan digital music moves Apple opens iTunes in the UK, France and Germany
Tony Smith, 23 Jun 2004

How safe is your medical record?

Richard Granger, director general of the National Programme for IT, has sought to allay security fears citizens may have about the computerisation of many familiar NHS services. Speaking at the Government Computing conference in London, Granger said that the NHS is on the cusp of introducing electronic referrals, and electronic care records will be going live soon. Ideally, these changes will mean all data on a patient will be held centrally, with abstracts held locally. It will also mean referrals to external consultants will be accessible to patients themselves, who will be able to go online and change appointments if they don't suit them, for example. What this will also mean, however, is a single point of access to patient data, making it much more vulnerable to unofficial access. It is this worry that Granger wants to address. Unfortunately, he seemed reluctant to provide delegates with details about how the information would be secured. He instead went on the attack, saying that people who have concerns about the security of their records should consider how the system works at the moment, and then decide if the new system is better. "The system is NOT secure at the moment," he said. "There is lots of private personal information flowing around by phone, by post, by fax, and even by post-it note. Electronic records will be more secure, and more accurate." This may be so, but one could argue that replacing one insecure system with another, expensive, insecure system, is not the kind of progress the NHS needs. Granger's argument may seem to address the issue, but in fact it merely sidesteps it. Anyone who has an interest can get further information here. ® Related stories Doctors divided over £2.3bn NHS IT project NHS patient privacy? What patient privacy! NHS wants another £2bn for IT mega project
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Jun 2004

Domain names come of age

We are still in the Bronze Age of the Internet, according to the man who created the Domain Name System 21 years ago. Dr Paul Mockapetris created the system of .com, .org and .gov which end Internet addresses in 1983 while at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. Jon Postel shares the credit for the system. Mockapetris told the BBC: "Ten years from now, we will wonder how it was so hard find on the network too. At best we at the Bronze Age, we are not even at the Iron Age stage in the network." He believes in future all communication will be over the Internet. Mockapetris was one of the scientists working on the forerunner to the Internet ARPAnet - the first packet switching network funded by the Department of Defence. He is now head scientist and chairman of Nominum a DNS management company. Mockapetris said he had always argued for diversity and was pleased that people had tried so many different things. He is surprised at how the technology has turned into such an industry. For the next 21 years he would like to see bettter access, security and easier ways to find information and people. Universal Internet access for everyone in the world is another important goal. Mockapetris points out that although we have an idea of an ideal natural world - how it was 1,000 years ago without pollution, cyberspace and the net have no natural starting point - it's up to us to invent it. ® Related stories Harvard man loses 3,000 weblogs TM domain leads anti-spam charge DNS Rootservers go international
John Oates, 23 Jun 2004

Hotmail bins email accounts on hearsay

Hotmail has been caught closing down email accounts accused of spamming without carrying out proper checks first. An investigation by Israeli news site NRG Maariv found that all it takes to close down a hotmail account is a report - be it true or not - to Hotmail's abuse team that a Hotmail account has been used for spam. Even if the accounts had not been used to send spam, within 24 hours, those accounts had been shut down without the account holder being notified. When journos at NRG Maariv tried it themselves, they found their newly-created Hotmail account was deactivated even though it had not been used to send a single email. It means that malicious users acting out of revenge or some warped sense of pleasure can easily get Hotmail email accounts shut down, said the news story. Question is, are the three cases highlighted just a blip or symptomatic of a new approach by Hotmail to clamp down on spammers? No one at Hotmail was available for comment at the time of writing, although it's understood the matter is being investigated. ® Related stories Verified: you can get anybody you want kicked off Hotmail MS sues 200 for spamming MS opens Hotmail to bulk mailers Hotmail back online Microsoft unleashes legal attack dogs on spammers
Tim Richardson, 23 Jun 2004

Oracle eyes Business Objects from afar

Following the revelations over Microsoft's merger discussions with SAP, speculation is rife about over the next wave of M&A activity in the enterprise applications software field. Business Objects was among those named on Oracle's potential takeover list, though an acquisition by the Californian firm in the near future is nothing more than a remote possibility. Shares in Business Objects rallied up by as much as 4 per cent following the publication of the list and subsequent takeover speculation among investors. The Franco-US company was one of nine companies included as "potential targets" in a memorandum document presented to Oracle's board in April 2003. Other companies mentioned in the list included JD Edwards, Cerner and BEA Systems. The 48-page document was released publicly this week as evidence in a US antitrust suit over Oracle's $7.7bn hostile takeover of archrival PeopleSoft. Regulators are seeking to block this move claiming it would stifle competition and drive business application software prices skywards. The publication of the 'Oracle Nine' comes at a time when mega-merger hype in the enterprise applications software sector is at its peak. Earlier this month Microsoft revealed it had held discussions with German business software giant SAP about a possible merger. Two companies on Oracle's list have also merged with bigger companies: PeopleSoft acquired JD Edwards last summer for $2bn and EMC swallowed up Documentum at the end of last year for $1.8bn. With California-based Oracle currently fighting tooth and nail to buy PeopleSoft, the list may not seem so far-fetched after all, although the companies targeted are quite different in the products they offer. Oracle's list once again puts Business Objects in the merger and acquisition spotlight. Last summer the company made a $820m swoop for rival BI software maker Crystal Decisions, which sparked off a mini-wave of consolidation in the BI sector. However, Oracle has its hands full at the moment with the PeopleSoft lawsuit while Business Objects is going full throttle to integrate Crystal's technology into its BI suite, making a takeover between the two unlikely in the short term at least. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor Related stories Oracle - Microsoft sales battles revealed in court Larry Ellison's shopping list Oracle closes year with modest revenue run Business Objects makes Crystal Decisions
Datamonitor, 23 Jun 2004

Spanish police smash €35m dialer scam

Spanish police have arrested five men in connection with what appears to be the biggest Internet dialler fraud in history. More than 45,000 victims lost a stunning €35m to the scam, Spanish newspapers report. The five scammers operated out of Madrid and Pontevedra in Galicia. The team, all men, and most in their mid-thirties, created over 150 Web pages filled with music, cars and pornography. When victims visited these sites, a premium rate dialler was installed on their PCs. The program would then call out to high rate numbers starting with the prefixes 906, 907 and 806. Most victims were swindled into paying €3,000 or more. Internet dial scams are popular all over Europe. Last year a 39-year-old Italian man was arrested because he used a virus which altered the Internet dial-up number used by victims to a premium rate line. ®
Jan Libbenga, 23 Jun 2004

Guantanamo Bay loses 'least worst place' status - Navy

On a scale of worst, how worst can worst get? Back in 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took a crack at solving this riddle, dubbing Guantanamo Bay "the least worst place" to store evil-doers. But now, with the torture scandal unfolding, the Navy has declared that Guantanamo Bay is not "the least worst place" at all. The Navy once embraced the "least worst place" Rumsfeldism proudly, displaying the slogan across the banner of its Guantanamo Bay web site. The witty motto made the Cuban prison seem not so bad, especially if you consider the palm trees and excellent views. Times, however, change, and when a new commanding officer for the prison - Captain Les McCoy - took over near the end of 2003, he ordered a Photoshop job on the "least worst place" banner, removing the slogan all together. "The removal was ordered because the commanding officer did not feel it accurately reflected his vision of the base," said Navy spokesman Lieutenant Mike Kafka. (Yes, you're reading that correctly. A man named Kafka has been deployed to field questions about a prison where the criminals are only vaguely charged with crimes, can't speak to lawyers and likely will never get out.) According to Navy sources, it may be acceptable for a slogan such as "the least worst place" to find its way onto a uniform patch, but it's really not meant to serve as the welcome wagon for a penal colony. Lt. Kafka declined to discuss whether this site change implied that Guantanamo Bay was still the least worst place. But another Navy worker told us, "You know some commanding officers come in and there is a picture of a sunset on their web site, and they decide they want a sunrise. You know, so they can start with a big bang. This is like that." So, near the end of 2003, Cpt. McCoy pulled the banner and relegated the most famous Rumsfeldism to obscurity. All you'll find on the Guantanamo Bay site these days is a Red Cuba with an American flag thrusting out of its rear, along with a calming blue background for the text. You'll see that the Vet Clinic is still open for business as well - but that, according to the site, is supposed to be for the household pets of stationed officers' families. Did the recent prison torture scandal play a role in the banner's demise? Not according to the dates provided by the Navy's Lt. Kafka. The scandal broke at the end of April, and the Commanding Officer ordered the site change at some point last year, or so Lt. Kafka told us, "prior to January 2004". Still, McCoy's sensitivity and foresight was impressive any way you slice it. And here's a cheer for Photoshop, where the least worst place can become ambiguously worst with just a few clicks of the mouse. ® Related stories Abu Ghraib: US security fiasco RIAA punishing Navy cadets because it can NASA to fight terror with mental telepathy
Ashlee Vance, 23 Jun 2004

Comdex canned

The ailing Comdex show in Las Vegas is off. The promoter which owns the rights, and which also puts on the JavaOne, Networld+Interop and Seybold events, has decided that the old albatross isn't worth feeding this year. However Media International insists that this is merely a US postponement in 2004 and that Comdex will take place again in Las Vegas in 2005 - it's already booked a telephone booth. In other countries, whose economies haven't slumped quite as dramatically as the United States', Comdex will continue. So it's full steam ahead for Comdex Greece. In its heyday Comdex drew a quarter of a million visitors to two huge Las Vegas exhibition halls, LVCC and Sands, but last year could only attract 50,000 and had to give away floor space for free to attract exhibitors. Only last week Media International was telling us how smaller was really better. "Report by Exhibit Surveys, Inc. Reveals that COMDEX 2003 Attendees are Highly Qualified and are in the Market to Purchase," we learn from an excited press release issued last Wednesday. Originally conceived by Bill Ziff as a way of plugging his magazines and his advertisers, the show was acquired by Softbank in the 1990s, which bought Ziff Davis Events. But after the mighty Softbank empire [don't you mean "debt-bloated carcass?" - ed.] was split asunder, the new owners, Key3Media, declared themselves bankrupt. The firm, which had run up $370m of debts, has been nursed along by its current owner, a private equity fund called Thomas Weisel Capital Partners.® Related stories Booming CES marks death of Comdex A smaller CeBIT? COMDEX Fall: the view from the Cab
Andrew Orlowski, 23 Jun 2004
SGI logo hardware close-up

Seagate gets litigious with small hard drive rival

Less than ten days after it rolled out a series of small hard disc drives, Seagate has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against tiny drive maker Cornice. Seagate claims that six of its patents have been violated in "several areas of disc drive technology." The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for Delaware, seeks monetary damages and looks to place a permanent injunction on Connice from selling the allegedly infringing product in the US. "We cannot allow the competitive advantage we've established through our long-term investment in R&D to be unfairly attacked by those who would illegally infringe on our technology portfolio and intellectual property," said Bill Watkins, president of Seagate. Cornice would not comment on pending litigation. The company's wee drives are used in mobile audio and video products from the likes of Rio, iRiver and Digitalway. Earlier this month, Seagate rolled out a similar set of products, including a new 5GB 1-inch drive. ® Related stories Seagate unveils 'tiny to terabyte' hard drives Punters kill healthy hard drives - Seagate Seagate thins product line in black ink bid Seagate axes thousands Disappearing disks punish Seagate
Ashlee Vance, 23 Jun 2004

HP's OpenView set for identity showdown

HP has made good on at least one of its recent acquisitions, rolling out a new identity management software packaged based on purchased technology. The new HP OpenView Select Identity software is a retooled version of the code HP acquired in its March acquisition of TruLogica. The identity product lets administrators automate some functions associated with setting up end-user permissions. HP plans to include the Select Identity packaged with its OpenView Select Access product. "Security management used to be about keeping people out. Today, it's about letting the right people in, and having a strong, adaptive system in place to manage who can go where once they're inside," said Tony Redmond, CTO of HP Services. HP has been busy trying to roll software from various acquired companies - TruLogica, Talking Blocks, Novadigm and Consera - into OpenView packages. The pace at which HP can pull this off is key as the company tries to bring its software business back to profitability. HP's CEO Carly Fiorina recently warned that the acquisitions along with research and development costs make it unlikely that HP's software biz will post a profit before mid-2005. And the OpenView code is the brightest, revenue-producing spot in HP's software line. With OpenView Select Identity, HP goes head-to-head against Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and others in the identity management market. The software is generally used to reduce the number of passwords a user must keep track of and to cut down on costs associated with password retrieval. The identity applications also give administrators a broader set of tools for setting up policies than can govern what types of software and hardware users can touch. By going with the larger HP OpenView Select Access package, customers receive an even more sophisticated set of tools, HP said. ® Related stories HP OpenView software can tax corporate bottlenecks TruLogica proboscis grows out of HP's adaptive enterprise HP grabs two more software makers
Ashlee Vance, 23 Jun 2004