15th > September > 2004 Archive

Good, old database carries Oracle higher in Q1

Oracle enjoyed a solid rise in first quarter earnings on the back of its flagship database. Larry Ellison's shop posted $2.2bn in revenue - a 7 percent year-over-year rise. Net income rose 16 percent to $509m, while earnings per share jumped 18 percent to $0.10. "Since we introduced our database for grid computing, Oracle 10g, our database new license sales have grown 16%, 15% and 19% in the last three quarters, respectively," said CEO Ellison. Oracle's new license revenue increased by 7 percent to $563m with 10g doing most of the work. Oracle had previously given analysts a new license growth range between 5 percent and 15 percent, so it came in just above the low-end of this forecast. Analysts tend to look at this figure as a key measure of growth. While Oracle's database business grew new license sales by 18 percent, its application license revenue fell 36 percent year-over-year. Oracle attributed a large chunk of this loss to a giant software deal with Russia last year. Excluding that purchase, application sales would have come in just 11 percent lower year-over-year. The poor showing by the application business only emphasizes Oracle's need to complete its buy of PeopleSoft. Oracle is once again in position to make this move after a District Court chucked out a lawsuit by the US Department of Justice that looked to block the deal. Oracle is sticking by analysts' second quarter expectation that place revenue between $2.58bn and $2.66bn. ® Related stories UK uni pulls plug on Oracle project Oracle wins US antitrust suit Oracle rebuilds Warehouse Oracle's biz suite lumbers on stage Oracle's first monthly patch batch fails to placate critics
Ashlee Vance, 15 Sep 2004

Microsoft warns of poisoned picture peril

The old bromide that promises you can't get a computer virus by looking at an image file crumbled a bit further Tuesday when Microsoft announced a critical vulnerability in its software's handling of the ubiquitous JPEG graphics format. The security hole is a buffer overflow that potentially allows an attacker to craft a special JPEG file that would take control of a victim's machine when the user views it through Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, and other programs. The poisoned picture could be displayed on a website, sent in email, or circulated on a P2P network. Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Office XP are vulnerable. Older versions of Windows are also at risk if the user has installed any of a dozen other Microsoft applications that use the same flawed code, the company said in its advisory. The newly-released Windows XP Service Pack 2 does not contain the hole, but vulnerable versions of Office running atop it can still be attacked if left unpatched. Patches are available from Microsoft's website. The company said it's not aware of the hole being publicly exploited in the wild, and has not seen any examples of proof of concept code. The JPEG bug rounds out a growing menagerie of vulnerabilities in code that displays image files. Mozilla developers last month patched the open-source browser against a critical hole discovered in a widely-deployed library for processing PNG images. And last July, Microsoft simultaneously fixed two image display holes in Internet Explorer: one made users potentially vulnerable to maliciously-crafted BMP images, the second to corrupt GIF files. The GIF bug had been publicly disclosed 11 months earlier. There was a time when the idea of a malicious image file was absurd enough to be the topic of an April Fools joke. One early and widely-circulated hoax message dating from 1994 warned users of a computer virus infecting the comment field of JPEG files. "It was someone saying that just looking at a JPEG on your screen can get you a virus," recalls Rob Rosenberg, editor of the debunking site Vmyths.com. "In '94 it was a myth, but in '04 it's the real thing... We've got the JPEG of death now." Copyright © 2004, Related story First JPEG virus not a threat
Kevin Poulsen, 15 Sep 2004

Chaintech ships first i915 mobo

Chaintech has begun shipping its first 'Grantsdale'-based ATX motherboard, the V915P, the mobo maker announced this week. In addition to supporting 775-pin, Socket T Pentium 4 CPUs, the board provides slots for up to 4GB of 400MHz or 533MHz DDR SDRAM in dual-channel configuration. As per other based on Intel's i915P chipset, the V915P provides a PCI Express x16 bus for graphics. The chipset supports up to four Serial ATA drives and two IDE peripherals. The board provides eight USB 2.0 ports for further device expansion. Gigabit Ethernet is standard, along with three PCI Express x1 and three 32-bit PCI slots for non-graphics add-in cards. The board's audio sub-system comprises 7.1-channel audio support based on Intel's Hi-Def Audio technology, allowing earphone and microphone jacks to be re-tasked on the fly. S/P DIF IO is included too. Chaintech did not disclose pricing. The company also offers two mobos based on Intel's 'Alderwood' i925X chipset, the Z925X Zentith and the V925X Zenith VE. Both match the V915P's spec., but add RAID support to the Serial ATA drive chain, while the higher-end Z925X also incorporates IDE RAID and Firewire connectors. ®   Related stories ABIT debuts holo ID stickers for mobos Mobo prices fall ahead of Grantsdale cuts SiS samples second Socket T chipset Price cuts to boost 'lukewarm' Grantsdale demand - report Intel takes axe to Pentium 4 prices Intel readies 3.73GHz P4 Extreme Edition for Q4
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

US loses 400,000 IT jobs

America saw 403, 300 hi-tech jobs disappear between April 2001 and April 2004. More than half the jobs lost were lost after the recession was pronounced officially over, by the National Bureau of Economic Research, in November 2001. San Francisco and San Jose were the worst-hit places, according to the survey from the University of Illinois-Chicago. The fall represents 18.8 per cent of America's technology jobs - researchers estimate there are 1,743,500 hi-tech jobs in total. The survey looked at jobs in six areas and was paid for by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers - a Seattle group which wants to unionise Microsoft workers. Marcus Courtney, president of WashTech, said: "It is stunning to think that in every region of the country, we have fewer high-tech jobs today than we did three years ago. We must focus on exporting our products instead of our jobs to turn this critical situation around." The research found that job losses in the IT sector were made worse by offshoring. Despite the gloomy picture there is some evidence that things have improved since the research ended in April - IBM said in August it was looking for an extra 19,000 staff, one third of them in the US. More details here. ® Related stories EDS to cull workforce Dixons seeks 1,000 new recruits IBM shows HP how it's done with hiring binge
John Oates, 15 Sep 2004

TDC buys Song

Consolidation among Scandinavian telcos continues with TDC, previously Tele Danmark, buying Song, the Swedish IP specialist and business telecoms firm, for $552m. Song provides business with IP and data services. It operates in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Henning Dyremose, president and CEO of TDC, said: "An increasing number of our large business customers request integrated, cross-border communications solutions. With Song Network in our portfolio, TDC will be ready to further expand our position in the business market." Song Networks employs 850 people and has 14,300 business customers. Song shareholders can choose between an offer of 70 kroner in cash or 0.2577 TDC shares for every Song share. More details at TDC. ® Related stories Skype launches Pocket PC software Telstra buys PSINet UK Tiscali UK in free calls offer
John Oates, 15 Sep 2004

Group Sense readies Palm OS 5.4 smart phone

Far Eastern Palm OS-based smart phone maker Group Sense PDA (GSPDA) hasn't formally announced its latest model, the Xplore M28, but it appears to have given the Hong Kong Palm Users Group a sneak preview. The Group's web site has posted a spec. list and a piccy of the device, which is GSPDA's first Palm OS 5-derived unit. The device is said to run Palm OS 5.4, possibly PalmSource's smart phone oriented OS, 'Garnet'. The 'candy bar' format handset features a Texas Instruments' OMAP processor, though the clock speed isn't known. It's backed by 32MB of SDRAM and 32MB of Flash ROM. The phone is said to feature a 2.2in, 176 x 220 LCD, which seems small for a pen-input handset, though the pictures show no sign of the slide-out keyboard incorporated into previous Xplore models. However, it's clear from the unit's dimensions that a slider is part of the design: it's listed as both 10.6cm and 13.1cm long, 5.1cm across and 2.4cm deep. The unit weighs 132g. There is a VGA digicam with video capture (3GPP, MPEG 4) support, self-portrait timer and digital zoom. An MMC/SD card slot is provided for memory expansion. The phone supports MP3 playback and 40-voice polyphonic ringtones. The M28 is a dual-band 900/1800 GSM/GPRS device, incorporating an xHTML web browser and WAP, plus email and the usual SMS and MMS support. The specs list claims a 210-minute talk time and 100-hour standby time, and, elsewhere, talk and stand-by times of 3-4 hours and 150-200 hours, respectively. But the list also notes that specs. are still subject to change. No availability or pricing information is included, alas, though the dual-band radio rules out US sales, at least in the M28's current form. GSPDA primarily targets the Chinese market, but its products have begun to appear in Europe on import. ® Related stories HTC 'begins Treo 650 volume shipments' to PalmOne PalmOne 'Ace' Treo piccies leak out RIM 7100t to 'charm' mobile phone fans Orange to ship Wi-Fi Pocket 'in October' Vodafone launches Wi-Fi Pocket PC O2 unveils XDA IIs, IIi Wi-Fi Pocket PCs T-Mobile: UK will get Windows Mobile smart phone Sony Ericsson debuts keyboard smart phone Orange squashes SPV smartphone Microsoft settles Sendo 'tech theft' lawsuit
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

Online poker ace scores £4,500 - per week

A Belfast maths graduate who rejected the offer of a £40,000-a-year banking job in favour of professional online gambling is on course to hit a £234,000 jackpot by December, the Sun reports. Lee-Anne Smyth, 25, currently walks away with a cool £4,500 a week from Ladbrokespoker.com, and told the UK tabloid: "Who needs a proper job when I can make what most people earn in a month in a couple of hours?" Smyth - who graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast with a 2.2 honours degree in pure and applied mathematics - claims that "hours spent solving algebraic equations sharpened my poker brain." They clearly did, since the young card sharp has already paid for her £150,000 house outright and owns a new £15,000 motor - bought for cash, naturally. Smyth is expecting her first child and will shortly wed 26-year-old squeeze Paul Cranstom in, you guessed it, Las Vegas. ® Related stories Brits bet on gravity wave discovery Irish punters enjoy online betting Extortionists take out UK gambling site US online gambling ban may be illegal Bank manager blows customer millions on online betting
Lester Haines, 15 Sep 2004

PwC: software patents threat to Europe

Services and accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers has formally identified software patenting as a threat to the growth and success of ICT in Europe. In a report prepared this summer for the Dutch EU presidency, PwC lists ten ICT breakthroughs it says are needed to resume the pace of growth Europe experienced during the IT boom. Under the fifth, entitled "Go for global platform leadership in the ICT industry", the report states that the "current discussion on the patent on software" represents a "particular threat" to the European ICT industry. In a preface, Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Minister of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands, says that the aim of the document is to present "a list of breakthroughs that we may need to achieve our Lisbon-goals". He argues that Europe, particularly a post-dot-com-crash Europe, with ten new member states, needs to re-evaluate how best to meet its own targets for economic, social and environmental renewal, set out in Lisbon, in 2000. This is what it has to say about software patenting: The mild regime of IP protection in the past has led to a very innovative and competitive software industry with low entry barriers. A software patent, which serves to protect inventions of a non-technical nature, could kill the high innovation rate. However, opinions on software patent in its current proposed form vary a lot. Many large companies operating on a global scale, including European ones, seem to be in favour of a software patenting regime. But most small enterprises are strongly opposed. Only very few European companies have prepared themselves for the consequences of a software patent regime. It raises the question how the introduction of the European software patent interacts with a European strategy based on widespread use of ICT's. The authors have chosen their words carefully, and in doing so, have got straight to the really messy parts of the whole debate: what exactly constitutes a technical effect; and who will really benefit from the directive becoming law. The report, entitled Rethinking the European ICT Agenda: Ten ICT-breakthroughs for reaching Lisbon goals is posted on the anti-software patenting campaigners, FFII.org's website. (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure). You can access it (pdf) here. ® Related stories Software patents under attack EU braces for software patent demo EU software patents: how the vote was won EU software patent debate continues
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Sep 2004

Contractors need red tape knowledge

Contractors returning to consultancy work should make sure they've got their paperwork in order. Despite changes to IR35 legislation most would still be better off with Limited Company status rather than paying tax through an agency. The warning comes from JSA - accountants who specialise in working with IT contractors. They estimate there are between 50,000 and 60,000 IT contractors in the UK and an improving market means more people are choosing to leave full-time employment. Because 96 per cent of all IT contracts are now sourced by agencies contractors have to organise their own limited company status or arrange PAYE. Although the beancounters say 84 per cent of their new signings are "first-timers" they warn people considering returning to contract work that legislation has changed a lot since the late 90s. JSA said that offshore management companies should be avoided - if the work is done in the UK then UK tax must be paid on it. Contractors should also avoid projects under the direct supervision of the end user if they want to keep their IR35 status. An alternative to setting up a limited company is using a managed composite company - a company with at least one other director and shareholder. Contractors should also decide whether they want to opt-in or opt-out of Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations. ® Related stories IT staff strike 'indefinitely' in Swansea Freelancers fret over tangle of EU red tape Billions wasted due to IT skills deficit
John Oates, 15 Sep 2004

Norfolk man in French car bomb terror ordeal

The good burghers of far-flung UK eastern county Norfolk have for years been on the receiving end of unkind jibes suggesting that they are a little challenged in the grey matter department. Sadly, one local has done little to dispel the myths that Norfolkians are thicker than a Chernobyl safety inspector's lead underpants after provoking a full-scale bomb alert. David Page unearthed the cylindrical suspect device while digging in a workyard in Coltishall. He noticed that it had an unusual-looking button on top and - as is the local custom - immediately decided to depress it. It was only then that Page decided he might in fact be holding a piece of unexploded WWII ordnance, and that letting go of the trigger would likely be a very bad idea indeed. Accordingly, he alerted the police who in turn called the Army's bomb disposal team. Sadly, the UXB unit could not attend the scene for four hours, during which time Page clung desperately to the unexploded cannister while his arm was buried up to the shoulder in a sand-filled drum in a rather Heath Robinson attempt to dampen any blast. When, however, the lads in kevlar eventually showed up, they quickly declared the component of death nothing more sinister than part of a Citroen's hydraulic system. A visibly-shaken Page later appeared on the BBC's Look East news bulletin where he put a brave face on his terrifying ordeal. That would have been and end to it had the UK's national press not pounced on the story this morning with a certain amount of relish. Page told the Daily Mail: "The woman police operator kept saying it would be OK but I kept saying to her, 'You're not the one holding the bomb'." The paper further reports that Page sobbed to the operator: "I told her to tell my parents and the children that I loved them if anything went wrong." We at El Reg have no doubt this heartfelt plea is something the regulars in Page's local pub will want to remind him of - for about the next ten years or so. ® Related stories German jailed for email bomb hoax Suicide chicken terrorises NZ bomb.com for sale
Lester Haines, 15 Sep 2004

Amazon feels pointy end of software patenting

The British Technology Group (BTG), the IP holding and technology commercialisation outfit, is suing a group of US online retailers, including Amazon.com, for allegedly infringing patents it holds that cover tracking the path a user has taken through the web. BarnesandNoble.com, Netflix and Overstock.com are also named in the suit, which was filed in Federal Court in Delaware. BTG sfiled the suit after "efforts to reach an agreement to sell or license the patents to [the companies named] on commercially reasonable terms". It is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction against future use. The patents in question, US patents 5,717,860 and 5,712,979, were granted to Infonautics in 1998. BTG bought the patents in 2002. Ian Harvey, BTG CEO, said today that the patents are "fundamental to the tracking of users for the online marketing programmes used by Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Netflix and Overstock.com". He added that the commercial potential of the technology is "significant". BTG is also in the middle of legal action against Microsoft and Apple, whom it claims have infringed on other patents it holds, covering automated software updates. ® Related stories BTG sues Apple and MS over software downloads UK firm patents software downloads Microsoft patents tabbing through a web page
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Sep 2004

ISPA 'snubs' million UK net users

ISPA has been accused of "snubbing" a million internet users in the UK by failing to recognise the existence of their high-speed services. Tiscali UK says it is "astounded" that UK internet trade group, ISPA, has failed to include a category for "midband" services in its annual awards, even though these are among the most popular in the UK. Announcing the nominations for this year's annual UK internet industry awards, ISPA bragged that it has "built on six years of success with eight new categories, bringing the total number of awards to 20". Despite this increase, there is no chance for ISPs offering high speed services between 56k and up 512k to win a gong. Dial-up ISPs have their own chance to win an award, as do "Light" (512k to under 1Mb), "Heavy" (1Mb to under 2Mb) and "Sumo" (2Mb and above) broadband providers. Yet midband services from operators such as AOL UK, NTL, Telewest and Tiscali UK - which provide a low-cost toe-hold for an estimated million people looking to try high speed services - have been frozen out. Tiscali UK has already written to ISPA to voice its concerns. A spokeswoman for the company said: "This is a snub for operators. A whole section of the market has been ignored. This is one of the fastest growing areas of the broadband sector but ISPA is ignoring a whole section of the market and therefore the interests of around a million consumers. We're astounded." A spokesman for NTL said it was "incredible" that this section of the market had been ignored. "Our consumers absolutely love their [midband] service. It's a real shame if that won't be recognised." ISPA defended its decision not to include these "midband" services claiming that it "wouldn't be appropriate". A spokesman said the industry group had to weigh up the "practicalities of having too many awards". ® Related stories ISPs grumble over industry awards nominations ISPA seeks analysis of BT's 'Cleanfeed' stats ISPA: users should report dodgy content...
Tim Richardson, 15 Sep 2004

Raising the Linux Standard

The Free Standards Group and the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) hope that improved standards for Linux will help accelerate its adoption by enterprise and large business customers. FSG made Linux Standard Base (LSB) 2.0 available earlier this week. The standard aims to make it easier for software developers to ensure their applications will run on different Linux distributions. The new version supports C++, which should attract more developers. It also supports 32 and 64-bit architectures. The standard is being supported by most major Linux vendors including AMD, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Novell, Red Hat, Turbolinux and others. This support should help prevent Linux fragmenting into lots of different, and incompatible, systems. It should also make life easier for application developers - any programme they write which conforms to the standards should now run on most Linux distributions. Jon "Maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, welcomed the news: "The way of assuring that every distribution has all the applications it needs to be successful is through specifying and applying a cross-distribution, cross-applications, neutrally-determined standard. The LSB provides that specification. Without this, we are no better than the proprietary Unix systems of old." OSDL will provide infrastructure and "outreach support staff" to help software developers writing Linux applications. The FSG will collect feedback and business requirements for upcoming releases of the specification. OSDL was formed in 2000 by various industry players to promote Linux. In 2003 it hired Linus Torvalds, the original creator of Linux. More info here on the FSG website ® Related stories Software giants feel open source pressure Newham ditches IBM OSS trial, but goes to extra time with MS price talks SuSE and SGI form SMP pact
John Oates, 15 Sep 2004

World's largest ID theft felon faces 14 years' jail

A former New York computer help desk technician yesterday pleaded guilty to playing a key part in what prosecutors reckon is the largest identity theft case to date. Philip Cummings, 35, pleaded guilty to conspiracy over his central role in a scam believed to have hit upwards of 30,000 victims and cost millions through fraudulent transactions. At the time of Cummings' November 2002 indictment, investigators had confirmed losses of more than $2.7m in connection racket. Losses from the racket - which ran for approximately three years - are now estimated to exceed $50m. Cummings worked for Teledata Communications, which supplies software to link the systems of banks and credit reference agencies from mid-1999 until March 2000. He used this role to obtain confidential passwords and codes to download potential victims' credit reports before selling them on to crooks. Cummings was paid $30 for each report. The information he sold enabled criminals to impersonate victims and obtain fraudulent loans, access bank accounts and run up unauthorised credit card bills in their name. More than 15,000 credit reports were stolen from credit reference bureau Experian, using passwords belonging to Ford Motor Credit Corporation. The passwords and subscriber codes of Washington Mutual Bank in Florida and Washington Mutual Finance Company in Crossville, Tennessee were also compromised. Cummings used this information to download reports after he left Teledata and relocated from New York to Georgia. The information sourced by Cummings fed a network of at least 20 ID fraudsters across the US, according to prosecutors. A number of people have already pleaded guilty to involvement in the scam while other case remain pending. Reuters reports that Cummings could be jailed for at least 14 years and fined $1m after confessing to conspiracy, wire fraud and fraud offences in connection with his crimes. However he has a heart problem which might cause the authorities to impose a much more lenient sentence, it reports. Sentencing before US District Judge George Daniels has been set for 11 January 2005. ® related stories Feds break massive identity fraud ID theft: a $1bn a year crime 150+ cuffed in US-led cybercrime crackdown Spammer charged in huge Acxiom personal data theft ID theft hits 10m Americans a year
John Leyden, 15 Sep 2004

Small.biz in the dark over IT skill levels

The vast majority of small firms demand that their IT staff should be properly qualified, but few know how skilled their technical employees are. A survey commissioned by Microsoft found that 85 per cent of UK businesses think that IT qualifications are a vital requirement before allowing employees to look after computer systems. But 40 per cent of those polled admitted they did not know how qualified their IT staff were, with only 20 per cent ever enquiring about qualifications. The study also found that 20 per cent of firms put no budget aside for developing skills, while 39 per cent never measure the value of training schemes. Alex Keay, of Microsoft, said that firms view the skills gap as the reasons why IT implementations might fail. “It’s surprising that they aren’t more aware of what skills exist in the own organisations. It may be that businesses don’t know what qualifications staff need to have, or aren’t using the skills of current staff effectively. “Investments in IT are business critical and it’s important that IT staff are properly trained for the job or these projects don’t deliver benefit to the business. “This attitude directly contributes to the ‘failure’ of IT implementations. As 79 per cent of financial directors use technology to drive efficiency in the business, it would make sense to ensure that they are maximising the skills of staff to do this and measuring their investment.” Related stories Computer courses for computerphobes BT and Microsoft target small.biz UK small.biz gets free online training resource Copyright © 2004,
Startups.co.uk, 15 Sep 2004

PCCW opens kimono (a little) on UK broadband wireless plans

When the UK’s 15 licenses for fixed wireless broadband ended up in the hands of a single viable bidder in May last year, most European and UK operators shrugged and said so what? Pacific Century Cyber Works bought 13 of 15 licenses auctioned in the UK last year, by bidding through differently named subsidiaries and later acquired the companies that held the other two, all for a total cost of about $14m. Now the complete dominance of a UK 3.4 GHz frequencies by subsidiaries of Hong Kong telco owned Pacific Century Cyber Works is an established fact, and apart from operations in unlicensed frequencies and the fact that it may soon be possible to sell, swap and barter spare spectrum in the UK, PCCW is set to own all WiMAX class services that are rolled out in the UK and it is likely to be a marketing leading trial copied by the rest of Europe. We say WiMAX class because initial intelligence on PCCW had it that its new Netvigator service will in fact use the IP Wireless UMTS TDD technology that is a data delivery extension of 3G. Talking to the previously reticent PCCW in the UK this week Faultline discovers that actually the company is a fan of WiMAX and would much prefer to use it, but says that to wait for it would mean missing a huge opportunity in the UK. And more than this it is also working with proprietary Navini equipment as well and has yet to choose between the two technologies for nationwide roll-out. Navini has committed long term to deliver equipment that is WiMAX compatible and certified which means that it will be compatible with high volume Intel chipsets that are expected over the next few years, driving customer premises equipment down and down. Vice President of Strategy for PCCW Paul Berriman said: “WiMAX is not a full, end to end system yet and if we went with WiMAX now, before the 16e version comes along, it would mean getting involved with aerials at the customer sites.” The Netvigator uses a 6 inch by 5 inch by 2 inch device with a self contained aerial to pick up the broadband wireless signal, which effectively means that it is already portable, though not fully mobile. In order to offer a mobile service it would need handoff between base stations, which won’t be supported, as Berriman says, until 802.16e is ratified as a standard next year. Vodafone has made noises about crying foul if mobility is ever implemented having paid billions of pounds for its 3G licenses. Berriman, although he doesn’t say that he is planning a mobile service, makes it clear PCCW can go that way if it chooses. “Mobility is not specifically ruled out in our license, in fact the whole deal is silent on the matter. The only reference to “fixed” is in the title “Fixed Wireless,” and once the equipment has the capability to go mobile, we will look at it.” In fact there remains a lot undecided about the service. Berriman says that there are lots of different roll out plans and when PCCW has collected all the evidence it will begin choosing between them, whether or not it becomes a rural service, if London and the South East is rolled out first, or if it goes nationwide in one go. The impression he gives though it that all the decisions can be made this year and the service rolled out in very short order, perhaps a matter of a few months. “We’re more focused on site acquisition at the moment and planning consents,” he said, “than finalizing strategy.” PCCW bought some UK sites from the bankrupt international wireless broadband supplier Inquam, from its administrator as part of that site acquisition strategy for mounting base stations. Another thing that is uncertain is just how much entertainment will be offered down the broadband connections. “At the moment we are just selling broadband access at £18 ($32) for 512k and £28 ($50) for 1 Megabit per second. We can make money on just that,” although he admitted later that this was not where the big margins existed and said that “PCCW will make money on content and transactions.” “Sales of the Netvigator service are made over the internet, through telephone sales and by shopping mall demonstrations and the customers just buy the box take it home and it works. “We promise they will be up and running within 24 hours of ordering,” said Berriman. In the UK broadband providers have been in the habit of weeks, if not months of delay for each home to go live. So are the famous television services that are delivered by PCCW in Hong Kong, where it is a wireline incumbent, going to be implemented over wireless? “They would be if we could offer 6 Megabits per second to 95 per cent of the population, like we can in Hong Kong,” he said. “At the moment we are undecided about TV programs. We might multicast about six channels on one 10 Megahertz band, but video on demand, streaming different programs over a shared service eats up a lot of bandwidth and I don’t think we’ll be doing that. But we might be offering some programs as downloads” In fact much of what the operator offers in Hong Kong is IP multicast through DSL, with some video file downloads and a small amount of streamed on demand video using the Microsoft VC 9 codec configured to stream over 800 kilobits per second. But it has developed several hundred thousand customers on its IP TV services and is regarded as one of the most successful such services in the world. One thing that is certain to come out of the Netvigator service is a Voice over IP service. Berriman says that it wants to eventually bundle the VoIP technology into the Netvigator set top, but initially PCCW will just buy add-on phone technology available in the market place. “It’s not a question of if you do VoIP over a broadband service, but when. In Hong Kong we created the first digital network in the world and you have to be ready to sunset your old phone exchanges over a six- to-10 year period and move your network entirely over to VoIP, and that’s what BT will be doing here. “We will set it up with various gateway services to PSTN and to cellular and for that there will be a delivery charge, but we expect to roll out VoIP when we roll out the nationwide service,” said Berriman, which he concedes might be as soon as the first quarter of 2005. Copyright © 2004, Wireless Watch Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here. Related stories PCCW launches UK wireless broadband WiMAX approaches tipping point with new specs and carrier support PCCW buys Red Spectrum - sources
Faultline, 15 Sep 2004

T-Mobile to battle iPod with music smart phone

T-Mobile is pitching its against the likes of Apple and Creative with a new smart phone specifically (nominally) designed for digital music playback. The handset will ship initially in Germany, in November, the mobile phone network said this week. The SDA Music handset is based on Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphones, and features the usual 176 x 220, 65,000-colour display, VGA digicam, tri-band GSM/GPRS radio you'd expect from a consumer-oriented handset. It provides USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The phone ships with 64MB of ROM and 32MB of RAM - hardly an iPod-beating amount. There's a Mini SD card slot in there, so presumably T-Mobile hopes users will store their songs there. It's all pretty standard smart phone stuff so far. So too is the range of formats the handset supports: MP3, WMA, WAV, AMR-NB, Midi and SP-Midi playback software. What sets the SDA Music apart are the dedicated Play/Pause and Track Skip buttons on the front of the phone. Measuring 10.8 x 4.7 x 2cm, the SDA Music weighs 100g. The 1050mAh battery provides charge sufficient for 240 minutes call time and 200 hours on stand-by. T-Mobile didn't say how long the battery will support continuous music playback. It did say it will be charging €100 (£68/$123) for the handset with a 24-month contract, or €370 (£253/$454) without a contract. As yet there's no word on availability outside Germany. ® Related stories T-Mobile: UK will get Windows Mobile smart phone MS, Apple pitch music at mobile phone makers Nokia moves to counter Apple-Moto music alliance Apple licenses iTunes to Motorola Samsung shows 'world's first' hard drive phone Orange to ship Wi-Fi Pocket 'in October' Vodafone launches Wi-Fi Pocket PC O2 unveils XDA IIs, IIi Wi-Fi Pocket PCs RIM 7100t to 'charm' mobile phone fans
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

Amstrad unveils £99 videophone

UK consumer electronics company Amstrad today launched the third generation of email terminal - now dubbed the E3 - in a bid to bring video telephony to the masses. While the device is initially geared toward dial-up connectivity, company chief Sir Alan Sugar forecast support for broadband through a plug-on Wi-Fi unit, The Register can report. The E3 provides the same voice telephony and email services as its predecessors, the Em@iler and Em@iler Plus, but adds a colour display, an integrated digicam and support for MMS messaging, both incoming and outgoing. For voice calls, the E3 operates as a standard voice phone. However, if one party pushes the handset's video button, and the other party agrees to join the voice call, the unit switches over to an IP-based voice/video call via its built-in 56Kbps modem. While the voice call is billed at the rate set by the caller's telco, the video call is costs a one-off payment of 50p, billed to whoever initiated it. Both parties need an E3, which costs £99. Amstrad is offering a £20 mail-in rebate to punters who buy two units at the same time. Email access is billed at 15p a session plus the cost of the local-rate call needed to dial up Amstrad's servers. Web surfing costs 5p a minute, but is limited to 'approved' sites that are formatted for the E3's display size. Users can also download ye olde Sinclair Spectrum games - unlike previous versions, the E3 comes with a game controller - and polyphonic ringtones. Content is stored in the unit's 64MB of RAM, while addresses are held in 32MB of Flash ROM, four times' the amount installed in the original Em@iler, a company representative told The Register. MMS messages cost £1 to send, but sending by email a picture taken with the digicam costs only 25p. Amstrad not only makes money on one-off use of such services, but takes cash from advertisers whose messages it beams through to the E3. Amstrad has also added a USB port to the device, which not only allows digital camera owners to preview pictures stored on a connected unit and then email a shot at the push of a button, but soon to connect to the Internet via a home WLAN, Sugar said. With only 14 per cent of UK homes subscribing to broadband services, according to June 2004 figures from telecoms watchdog Ofcom, the time isn't right to offer broadband support, Sugar admitted, but he said Amstrad will offer a system software update - auto-downloaded overnight - that supports a USB "radio dongle" - essentially a USB 802.11b adaptor. That paves the way for better video and audio quality that the E3 can currently deliver. However, it's of little use to people who want to see callers around the world - the E3's video service only works in the UK, Amstrad said. The E3 is available in the UK from today, on an exclusive basis from Dixons Store Group shops. Distribution will be broadened to other retailers "just ahead of Christmas", Sugar said. ® Related stories Amstrad's em@iler makes a profit Amstrad slashes em@iler prices Em@iler set to make a profit Amstrad promo cuts e-m@iler price in half Living with the Amstrad e-m@iler plus Amstrad unveils new telephone Amstrad CEO resigns over Sir Sugar's emailer obsession
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

Eidos plunges into red

UK games publisher Eidos saw fiscal 2003's £17.4m profit shrink to a £2m loss during fiscal 2004, which ended on 30 June. However, the company was confident that takeover talks with unnamed third parties "are progressing well", despite the "disappointing: dip into the red. The loss comes in spite of a 3.8 percentage point rise in gross margins to 62.8 per cent. But that simply wasn't sufficient to counter an 11.6 per cent decline in turnover. Preliminary figures for FY 2004 saw sales total £133.9m, down on the previous year's figure, $151.5m. Even ignoring exceptional items, the most recently complete fiscal year showed a loss: £2m in the red, compared to FY 2003's operating profit of £13.9m. On a per share basis, 2004's loss amounted to 2.1p, compared to 13.8p for 2003. Eidos' bosses blamed the loss on the failure of a number of releases to "live up to management's sales targets", specifically Hitman: Contracts, Commandos 3, Whiplash, and Legacy of Kain: Defiance, and the decision to delay the release of ShellShock: Nam '67 until FY 2005, all as a result of "unexpected softness" in the market. As evidence that they were not culpable, Eidos chiefs pointed to the raised gross margin - a result of better "cost and development control", they said. "This year's results should not be viewed in isolation as they do not adequately reflect the significant achievements and improvements of the past 36 months in terms of increased gross margins, balance sheet strength, cash generation and the on-time release of games," said CEO Michael McGarvey in a statement. Eidos now has to hope that the market picks up and its upcoming releases - a new Tomb Raider, another Hitman instalment and ShellShock - perform ahead of expectations. Then there's the takeover, talks centring on which are taking place with a number of companies. As yet, however, no formal offer has been made for the company. ® Related stories Eidos confirms takeover talks Eidos issues profit warning Eidos snaps up IO Interactive Eidos profits defy Legacy of Kain Vodafone tops games content for Live! with Lara Croft exclusive
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

OFT urged to investigate 'rip-off' iTunes

The Consumers' Association has accused iTunes - the music download service from Apple - of ripping off UK punters by charging them 20 per cent more than European counterparts. The consumer watchdog has written to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) asking it to investigate the possible "anti-competitive practice of the music download service, iTunes". In the UK, iTunes charges punters 79p (120 euro cents) to download one track. In both France and Germany the cost is just 99 euro cents - about 67p. The Consumers' Association reckons that this is a breach of European law which supposedly ensures that consumers enjoy the same benefits of the single market as other citizens of member states. "The iTunes service is set up in a way that prevents UK consumers from taking advantage of the cheaper download service offered to the French and Germans - UK consumers need to have a registered address and payment mechanisms in France or Germany to access the service or pay the higher price charged in the UK," said the watchdog. And its urging the OFT to investigate what it describes as a "potential breach of competition law". Said Phil Evans of the Consumers' Association: "There appears to be considerable evidence that the iTunes set up is prejudiced against the UK public and distorts the very basis of the single market. If the OFT agrees, it will be another example of the rip-off culture that the British public are often victims of." In a statement, Apple said: "The underlying economic model in each country has an impact on how we price our track downloads. That's not unusual - look at the price of CDs in the US versus the UK. We believe the real comparison to be made is with the price of other track downloads in the UK. We are extremely proud to launch the iTunes music store in the UK with by far the lowest price for track downloads, just 79p for every track." ® Related stories Real '49c a song' promo pushes downloads to 3m Real anti-Apple poll swamped by pro-Apple posters Apple iTunes catalogue tops 1m songs Apple signs key indies to iTunes Apple 'close' to accord with indie labels Apple iTunes Europe shifts 0.8m songs in first week Apple opens iTunes in the UK, France and Germany
Tim Richardson, 15 Sep 2004

Austrians silence jibbering supermarket trolleys

In briefIn brief We are receiving heartwarming reports that an Austrian supermarket has withdrawn talking shopping trolleys because, to put it bluntly, they pissed punters right off. The Billa noshatorium in Purkersdorf apparently thought it was a bright idea to have jibbering mobile baskets which pointed out bargains to delighted shoppers. The supermarket also deployed robotic cleaners which roamed the aisles politely requesting loitering buyers to shift their arses. Neither went down well with the Austrian purchasing public, and have been removed as a result. This outstanding victory for humanity in the War Against the Machines™ comes hot-ish on the heels of the announcement that UK chain Tesco will roll out multimedia trolleys to entertain obstreperous Brit tots. We await the outcome of that particular experiment with interest. ® Related stories Tesco to deploy kiddie-calming shopping trolley German revolt against RFID MS joins in German chain's RFID Future Store project
Lester Haines, 15 Sep 2004

VIA offers hard disk data scrub code

Taiwanese chip company VIA today expanded its PadLock security software suite with a tool to ensure that information deleted from a user's hard drive stays deleted. Padlock Tru-Delete uses the hardwired true random number generator built into the latest generation of VIA's x86-compatible CPUs to overwrite disk sectors containing deleted files with gobbledigook. That, the company claimed, leaves them "virtually unrecoverable" should prying eyes attempt to retrieve the data off a live machine or one that's been stolen or simply thrown out with the garbage. In addition to the Tru-Delete binary, VIA also released the utility's source code, in a bid to allow disk utility vendors to build support for the company's processors into their apps. The VIA PadLock Tru-Delete utility is available from VIA's web site, here. As part of the VIA PadLock Software Security Suite, VIA also provides the VIA PadLock SDK and the VIA PadLock ZIP utility with accompanying source code as free downloads for developers. VIA's move comes just weeks after UK PC recycling firm Remploy E-cycle warned that too many individuals and businesses are chucking out obsolete or broken kit without first removing sensitive data. When they do delete confidential files, they often don't realise that the information many not have been scrubbed off the hard drive and can be read by anyone with easy-to-obtain software tools. ® Related stories Old PCs are goldmine for data thieves Nine PCs stolen from NHS hospital Paul McCartney account details leaked on second-hand PC Datawiping works (true)
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

JP Morgan eats IBM outsourcing contract

JP Morgan is canning a $5bn, seven-year outsourcing agreement with IBM. IBM won the contract ahead of EDS and CSC, taking responsibility for the investment bank's data centres, desktop support and network services. The deal was signed 30 December 2002 and was hailed by Eric Ray, vice president for financial services at IBM, as "the largest computer services deal in the financial services sector". Four thousand JP Morgan staff moved to IBM: they are all returning to the bank, beginning January 2005. JP Morgan recently merged with Bank One and, following a review, decided it now has enough capacity in-house to manage its own technology. Austin Adams, CIO at JP Morgan Chase, said: "We believe managing our own technology infrastructure is best for the long-term growth and success of our company as well as our shareholders. Our new capabilities will give us competitive advantages, accelerate innovation, and enable us to become more streamlined and efficient." Adams said the bank would continue to work with IBM in some areas. ® Related stories IBM Global Services: billion dollar deals IBM Q4 sales stable, profits hurting IBM wins $5bn JP Morgan outsourcing deal
John Oates, 15 Sep 2004

UK school cans 'world-beating' biometric scanner

A "world-beating" biometric scanner system which was intended to remove the stigma of claiming free school meals has been removed from a school in Sunderland - after failing to deliver on its cutting-edge promise. The Venerable Bede Church of England School in Ryhope deployed the CRB Solutions' kit in its canteen as a way of identifying pupils anonymously by cross-referencing their retinas with a database. Apparently, this spared kids entitled to free grub from ridicule and lambastation at the hands of their peers. Sadly, instead of the promised 12 pupils per minute, the system managed to process a mere five. The resulting logjam meant that the youngsters' tasty meals went cold while the slow-witted computer battled to keep up. School head Dr Ed Yeates told the BBC that he "hoped to bring the system back in six to eight months after 'teething problems' had been ironed out". He added: "The system was world-beating, but too slow and was only working at 50 per cent of its capacity." We can only assume that Dr Yeates here uses the phrase "world-beating" in the same way that Paula Radcliffe and the Sinclair C5 could be described as "world-beating". We hope that the school's English department has a more precise grasp on the language. We also hope that CRB Solutions can tackle its sluggish world-beater before those kids from impoverished households forced to beg publicly for spotted dick and custard are reduced to nervous wrecks by fellow pupils' cruel taunts. ® Related stories Cry to beat iris scanners Snags hold up biometrics, experts say Fingerprinting of UK school kids causes outcry
Lester Haines, 15 Sep 2004

Hitachi readies notebook Serial ATA hard drives

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) this week said it will ship a line of Serial ATA hard drives designed for notebook usage in Q4. The drives will appear in time for laptop makers to incorporate them into machines based on 'Sonoma', the upcoming second generation of Intel's Centrino platform. HGST's Travelstar 5K100 provides 100GB of storage in a 2.5in form-factor. Running at 5400rpm to help conserve power, the company also said it sees a role for the part in blade servers and other high-density storage rigs. The company said it will also offer 40, 60 and 80GB models, and will make Parallel ATA versions available too, under the E5K100 brand. HGST didn't refer to Sonoma by name, but its support for Serial ATA is a clear enabler for the company's new drives. Sonoma will bring together Intel's latest Wi-Fi adaptor, the 802.11a, b and g ProWireless 9215ABG, an upcoming version of its 90nm Pentium M CPU, 'Dothan', that supports a 533MHz frontside bus, and 'Alviso', a chipset that provides that bus speed, along with PCI Express, Serial ATA, Intel High-Definition Audio and Intel's Media Graphics Accelerator 900 technology. ® Related stories Toshiba takes micro HDDs to 60GB Maxtor boosts SATA HDD cache to 16MB Seagate targets rival with import ban demand Seagate unveils 'tiny to terabyte' hard drives Intel 'delays' Centrino 2 chipset to Q1 2005 Hitachi blows its own 300GB trumpet 300GB drive: now it's Fujitsu's turn
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

Brazil 'tops cybercrime league'

Brazil is the world capital of cybercrime, at least according to the Brazilian Federal Police. Eight in ten computer hackers are Brazilian while two in three paedophile pages are hosted in the South American country, the BBC reports. Local police say that losses from online financial fraud exceed that lost through bank robberies. The figures - released in Brasilia, at an international conference on combating electronic crime - should be treated with caution. UK computer security experts say the figures do not gel with their experience, nor do they match our own observations of the computer underground. The claim that 80 per cent of world's computer underworld is living it large with the sons and daughters of Samba will no doubt surprise US ID thieves, Russian DDoS gangs and German virus writers. Aside from some examples of Brazillian defacement gangs there have been few reports of cybercrime activity in the country. Neil Barrett, technical director of security consultancy IRM, and a veteran expert witness in numerous computer crime cases, said that Eastern Europe and Indonesia are more often the source of hacking attacks than Brazil. The Indian sub-continent is the fastest growing area in the world for cybercrime, he added. The United States - rather than Latin America as a whole, never mind just Brazil - is more commonly the locus of net paedophilia operations, according to Barrett. A global league on cybercrime incidents doesn't exist, as far as we're aware, so where do the Brazilian Feds get their figures from? They blame the country's weak computer security laws for turning the country into a playground for crackers, conmen and perverts; but we're not so sure. This looks more like talking up a problem in the hopes of getting more government funding, than an SOS from a country on the brink of cyber-apocalypse. ® Related stories World's largest ID theft felon faces 14 years' jail 150+ cuffed in US-led cybercrime crackdown UK police issue 'vicious' Trojan alert Six charged in $10m Ingram computer fraud 102 UK kids saved from paedos US tops junk mail Dirty Dozen - again Brazilian script kiddie arrested in Japan Hacker groups declare war on US.gov Argentine judges want law update after crackers walk free
John Leyden, 15 Sep 2004

Cell chip development 'almost done' - Toshiba

'Cell', the massively parallel processing chip being developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba, is nearly done, Toshiba president Tadashi Okamura has revealed. The chip will "change the world", he enthusiastically forecast in an interview with Japan's Nikkei Journal. Work on the processor, which will form the basis for PlayStation 3, was formally announced in March 2001, but probably started some time before that. Almost three and a half years later, the chips is presumably nearing tape-out, since volume production isn't expected to take place until H1 2005. PS3 is slated to be formally launched during Q1 2005, but Cell will appear in software development workstations later this year, IBM and Sony promised in May 2004. Okamura's comments suggest that the trio of Cell partners are on course to meet that deadline. For its part, Toshiba plans to incorporate Cell into "digital consumer electronics", according to Okamura, as will Sony. Such kit seems a long way from delivering Cell's claimed ability to scale from a few CPUs up to 64-way beasts capable of providing two teraflops. That may be further off - the partners first need to create an operating system capable of scaling immediately from one processor to hundreds, and that's clearly no easy task. In may be some time yet before Cell changes the world. ® Related stories Sony, IBM to offer Cell workstations for Xmas Sony to spend $1.13bn on Cell chip fabs Sony Cell CPU to deliver two teraflops in 64-core config Sony to ramp chip spend to $9 billion over three years Sony, Toshiba team on 0.1, 0.07 micron fab tech Toshiba chief sells 'Cell' CPU Sony, IBM, Toshiba team on broadband supercomputing CPU
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

Siemens launches iPod-styled camera phone

Siemens today unveiled what's arguably the most iPod-like mobile phone yet, the shiny white plastic-cased SF65. The phone maker called the handset's design "contemporary and paired-down", but while its "polar white" colour scheme is decidedly reminiscent of Apple's iPod, the handset is geared more toward photography than phonography. For the iPod-less, Siemens will offer an 'onyx black' version. The handset incorporates a 1.3 megapixel digicam with LED flash, 4x digital zoom and timer facility. Nominally a clamshell, the front of the case can be rotated once opened and then closed to expose the main 128 x 160, 65,000-colour LCD as a viewfinder. The SF65 contains 18MB of user memory for picture storage, and includes photo editing software. Oddly, Siemens hasn't equipped the phone with a memory card slot for further storage. As a phone, the SF65 incorporates a dual-band 900/1800 GSM/GPRS radio. It supports MIDI, SP MIDI and WAV audio with 64-voice polyphonic ringtones. Java is there too, for games. The 9.1 x 4.4 x 2.4cm shell incorporates a 660mAh battery capable of providing up to 400 hours stand-by time and four hours' talk time, Siemens said. The handset weighs 97g. Siemens would not provide prices, which are always dependent on network subsidies, but it did say the SF65 will ship in December, in Europe and Asia. ®   Related stories T-Mobile to battle iPod with music smart phone Group Sense readies Palm OS 5.4 smart phone Nokia overcomes SD Card phobia GPRS prices drop 40% MS, Apple pitch music at mobile phone makers Mobile phone industry in radiation risk rap HTC 'begins Treo 650 volume shipments' to PalmOne Microsoft settles Sendo 'tech theft' lawsuit
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

Brit workers are 'apathetic and unskilled'

UK workers are apathetic and lacking in skills according to a bunch of highly-skilled and very driven management bods. The survey of board-level executives, paid for by HP, reveals "deep seated concern about the competency and motivation of the modern UK workforce". And we thought it was just journalists... The researchers spoke to 200 executives at companies with more than 500 staff and found the biggest concerns were skills shortages and employee apathy. A clear majority of firms believe they are unprepared to deal with skills shortages - 69 per cent feel unprepared versus 8 per cent who feel their firm is well prepared. Internal apathy is the issue business is failing to address according to 57 per cent of correspondents. 57 per cent of respondents feel their company is unprepared for terrorist attack or sabotage while 13 per cent think they are well prepared. The survey also asked what were the main barriers to change. Although companies cited external factors like regulation and red tape British businesses also blamed "internal procedures and infrastructure", "inertia - lack of desire of the individual to change" and "a lack of internal skills". HP believes a more adaptive approach to technology "will foster a company better equipped to deal with changing market conditions and turn this into competitive advantage." ® Stories to do with apathy if you can raise the energy Apple fans apathetic about apathy Fraudsters prey on apathetic Brits E-voting could cure voter apathy
John Oates, 15 Sep 2004

Blair reveals some games 'unsuitable' for kids

Prime Minister Tony Blair today voiced his support for the UK's game certification system, which offers parents an indication of which titles are suitable for given age groups and provides a legal framework to fine or imprison retailers who sell adult-oriented games to kids. Actually, he didn't say that at all. Blair today told parliament that the game Manhunt, alleged to have been involved in the murder of Leicester teenager Stefan Pakeerah, was "wholly unsuitable for children". Indeed, Tony, that's why Manhunt carries an 18 certificate. It is already unlawful to sell the game to anyone under that age. Despite this current legal framework, Blair said he would discuss the matter with Home Secretary David Blunkett, suggesting the possibility of further legislation. He said that while responsible adults should be allowed to choose what games they play, children needed to be protected. The PM's comments came in answer to a request from Leicester East MP Keith Vaz for yet another investigation between violent games and violent actions. Vaz asked the question on behalf of Pakeerah's parents, who believe the game was a direct cause of their son's death at the hands of Warren Leblanc, 17, who pleaded guilty to the crime in July. Local police, however, discounted the claim during their investigation of Pakeerah's death. Indeed, it subsequently emerged that Manhunt had been owned by the victim, not his killer. Pakeerah's parents are already taking legal action against Manhunt published Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. They are seeking £50m in compensation for the loss of their son. Sony and the game's developer, Rockstar Games, along with the British Board of Film Classification - which also certifies games - have rejected the alleged link between the murder and the game. At this stage, it's unclear how Pakeerah came by his copy of Manhunt. Aged 14, he was certainly too young to buy it, legally. Any retailer found guilty of selling a game to someone insufficiently old enough to buy it faces up to six months in gaol and a fine of up to £5000 if found guilty. Those penalties could be increased, but so far there's nothing to stop unwitting - or fully aware - parents buying adult games on behalf of their children. There is no evidence to suggest that this is how Pakeerah obtained Manhunt. As for Vaz's call for further research into potential links between violent games and violent acts, it's something of a red herring. Even assuming such a link is found - and on the basis of past research that remains unlikely - what then? Short of banning violent games and movies altogether, there's little that can be done beyond what the law states already: that it's wrong to sell adult games to children. ® Related stories Victim not killer owned 'murder manual' game Retailers bans Manhunt after murder link claim Blunkett's satellite tagging: the tripe behind the hype Blunkett pilot to track offenders via satellite Data watchdog slams ID card plans ID cards: a bad idea, but we'll do it anyway Tag, track, watch, analyse- UK goes mad on crime and terror IT
Tony Smith, 15 Sep 2004

Insecurity downtime on the up

Firms with a blasé attitude to security could see system downtime caused as a result of software vulnerabilities treble by 2008. Gartner, the analyst firm, estimates downtime arising from software security issues could rise from five per cent of overall downtime in 2004 to 15 per cent by 2008. "Increasing Internet activity, along with the use of web services, wireless connections and other new technologies, will lead to more vulnerable configurations," said John Pescatore, a research fellow at Gartner. "These vulnerabilities will cause increased downtime for organizations that don't push security concerns into their processes for software development and procurement." Gartner defines vulnerability as a "weakness in process, administration or technology that can be exploited to compromise IT security". Basic operating system security is likely to improve over coming years, so Gartner thinks vulnerabilities associated with unsafe customer, employee and business partner "platforms" will become more pressing concerns. Its report, Building a Sound Security Infrastructure: New Defenses for a New World of Threats, offers the following advice on reducing the scope of software problems to cause system downtime: Pressure vendors to build more-secure software Drive their development organisations to reduce security vulnerabilities in their own software Base software architectures on security standards Incorporate mechanisms to limit the "attack surface" of applications directly exposed to the internet ® Related stories Microsoft warns of poisoned picture peril Beware of malformed MIME artists Investors fret about IT security Oracle joins the monthly patch bandwagon Companies adapt to a zero day world
John Leyden, 15 Sep 2004

Italians build biggest space window

The view from the International Space Station is about to get a lot better, as the largest window ever built for use in space has been completed. The construction of the window was originally funded by NASA and Boeing. However, when NASA's budgets were tightened in 1998, the project ran out of money. The European Space Agency (ESA) agreed to complete the construction as part of a "barter agreement" with NASA. The circular window, measuring 80 cm across, sits in the centre of an observation dome called Cupola, flanked by six, smaller, trapezoid viewpanes. Each pane consist of four layers of silica, fused together to produce a 10cm-thick, transparent panel, the BBC reports. The external pane needs to withstand the kind of battering any object in orbit can expect: tiny objects at orbital speed are more energetic than a bullet fired from a rifle. The inner layer need only withstand the constant battering it will get from tumbling astronauts - small fry, in comparison. The two central layers in the silica sandwich deal with the significant pressure differences between the pressurised space station and the vacuum of space. The window gives astronauts living on the ISS a better view of what they are doing when operating the station's external robotic arm. The dome has a diameter of about 2 metres and is about 1.5 metres tall, providing a 'shirtsleeves' work environment for two people. As a side benefit, the unparalleled view of the Earth will provide long-stay astronauts with a psychological boost, according to Doriana Buffa, Cupola project manager at Alenia Spazio, the company responsible for the final construction. Maurizio Tucci, the company's CEO, said the knowledge gained from the project will be invaluable in expeditions calling for long stays in space, such as getting humans to back to the Moon, and even to Mars. The next step is transportation to the Kennedy Space centre for full approval in November this year. If approved, the window will be fitted to Node-3 of the ISS as part of the January 2009 mission. ® Related stories Scientists ponder sluggish Pioneers Brits bet on gravity wave discovery Astronomers probe Cassiopeia's secrets
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Sep 2004

Immigration, police share data in trawl of 'crime hot-spots'

As the UK Home Office has stressed on numerous occasions, police will not be given powers to demand ID papers from you as and when a national identity card is introduced. The Home Office has not however shouted quite so loudly about the fact that the Immigration and Nationalities Directorate (IND) has these powers already, and has been busily using them since at least May 2003. In a House of Commons written answer (reported here, and in Hansard here, immigration minister Des Browne confirmed that "a variety of joint multi-agency street crime operations" has been mounted in London over the past 15 months, and that: "Focusing on crime hotspots, the Immigration Service has been invited to attend where an immigration offence is expected." Browne was fielding a question from Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten, who had requested a statement on these joint exercises, and data on the number of individuals questioned and the number arrested. Browne's answer, you will note, fails to focus on the specific question and, unsurprisingly, fails to produce complete data. In 235 operations involving the Immigration Service between May 2003 and July 2004, around 1,000 immigration offenders, including 717 failed asylum seekers, were arrested. The data on the numbers of people questioned, on the other hand, is kept by police officers "in their individual notebooks" and "not collated centrally." Regrettably, it is therefore not possible for the Home Office to assess the race relations impact of such operations; news reports from last month however suggest that there probably is one. Oaten's question appears to follow up a story from the Evening Standard which revealed joint Immigration Service and Transport Police operations, and witnessed "a series of people getting off Tube trains [being] stopped by immigration officers dressed in body armour and carrying handcuffs." An immigration officer helpfully explained: 'If you hear someone speaking a language that's not European we approach them and ask, do you mind if I ask you what nationality you are?'" According to Browne's statement immigration officers "may legitimately question people to determine their immigration status where there is reasonable suspicion that a person is an immigration offender", so it's useful clarification to note that the officers on the ground see speaking foreign languages as grounds for "reasonable suspicion." A report of a specific swoop from the Bucks Free Press provides more details. "Operation Collegiate" was mounted in early August at Harrow and Wealdstone station by the Immigration Service and British Transport Police in conjunction with train operator Silverlink. "Suspected fare dodgers were approached by police officers and their names checked against databases on handheld computers to see if they were illegal immigrants or were wanted for other offences." This, incidentally, suggests we have a trawl within a trawl, as it is not part of the usual business of Transport Police to operate as ticket inspectors. As the Free Press tells us, however: "A BTP spokesman said that many criminals also avoid paying their fares on public transport." So we can see the ability to check ID against databases via handheld terminals as yielding multi-level synergies to this kind of operation. 'Reasonably suspicious' immigration officers can demand your papers, transport police suspecting fare dodging can throw up immigration irregularities and a range of other wanted criminals, and ticket inspectors can trigger intervention by either or both of the other two. Even discounting the Bucks Free Press' apparent suggestion that changing platforms constitutes "acting suspiciously," there seems to be plenty of scope for demanding ID here. As we reported earlier, however, such joint immigration-police operations have included a "walk up" at identified locations, including "car washes and other similar activity". Which is another example of checking ID in areas where immigration officers might have reasonable grounds for suspecting people who look and/or sound foreign. Presuming the ID scheme is introduced, the national identity register will provide a useful tool for these scenarios. If the authorities do not have reasonable grounds for suspecting that you've committed an offence, then they cannot demand that you establish your identity. However (we argue the wackiness of the situation here), if they do profess reasonable grounds, mobile biometric readers would (if they work, which we continue to doubt) be a simple mechanism for establishing your identity, and any refusal on your part to have your biometrics read might look, well, even more suspicious. One of the points worth noting here, however, is that well ahead of any central national ID register we have cross-referencing of databases by multiple government agencies, who are using pretexts such as 'criminals don't pay fares' or 'illegal immigrants run car-washes' as pretexts for trawls. Increased data sharing and consolidation of databases and the deployment of mobile terminals on such trawls is therefore progressively constructing such a register anyway. ® Related stories Data watchdog slams ID card plans CBI wishes for the ID scheme we're not getting ID cards: a bad idea, but we'll do it anyway Tag, track, watch, analyse- UK goes mad on crime and terror IT Blunkett appoints development partner for ID card project Glitches in ID card kit frustrate Blunkett's pod people ID cards to use 'key database' of personal info UK public wants ID cards, and thinks we'll screw up the IT ID cards: a guide for technically-challenged PMs (special report)
John Lettice, 15 Sep 2004

Picture messaging - it's worse than you thought

Two years after the introduction of picture messaging in Europe, MMS is still a flop. Network operators still gain 99 per cent of their data revenue from plain old text messaging. It's not as if the original issues haven't been addressed: cost, interoperability and availability of handsets. Next year almost half of new handsets sold in the UK will feature a camera, up from around 26 per cent this year. Carriers now offer more MMS bundles and intend to bring the cost of sending a picture message down to that of an SMS. They also solved most of their interoperability issues last spring. But the problem is really worse than it looks, says Simon East, Cognima founder and former Psion software lynchpin and Symbian technology VP. MMS users are now struck with a new problem. If camera phones are to replace traditional cameras as the main snapper, photos need to be printed and stored. And a new problem has arisen. The photos that networks deliver don't match the megapixel images that users think they're sending. "By default many phones send 30kb images, and you have to select a large image that's around 100kb manually," he told us. For example, the Nokia 7610 takes 1152x864 sized images, but even with the 'large' setting, a 576x432 sized image is delivered. You need at least 300kb to get something that's printable." First featured here last year with infrastructure software that allows users to repair phones without the user's intervention, Cognima has turned to the MMS crisis, and claims impressive results. Using Cognima's own Snap software, which uploads and stores pictures with a click, usage in trials rocketed. Since announcing the software last month, Bonusprint and OurPictures have signed up. The deal is pretty straightforward: for £1.99 a month, you can upload, print and share the photo you thought you took. Doesn't this eat into the carriers' revenues, we wondered? Since MMS is almost pure profit for them, says East, pointing out that they've built the infrastructure, and are now waiting for users to come. Five megapixel camera phones aren't too far away, he reminded us, so the industry needs to offer services like this fast. People certainly use their cameraphones right now, they just don't do anything with the images except show them to friends on the phone in the pub. It's a reminder that when companies throw technology at a market and then forget how people actually use it, success is far from assured. All that's missing is a service that allows you to nominate a nearby print booth, then go and pick them up. You can find out more here.® Related stories Megapixel camera phones will kill MMS Cognima demos self healing, self updating mobile phone Ex-Symbian exec launches mobile software biz Digital print booths: readers put us in the picture Exam cheats reveal MMS killer app Brits avoid MMS in droves Picture messaging: Peace and love breaks out Logica to bring MMS to land lines
Andrew Orlowski, 15 Sep 2004

Nation hangs up on mobile phones

A nationwide cellphone strike has been pronounced a success by its organizer, a consumer group in Lebanon. The third such action took place this week in protest against high mobile phone tariffs. The president of Consumers' Lebanon Association, CLA, who organized the strike, wants users to be billed by the second rather than by the minute, enjoy lower prices and nightime fees, and have longer lasting prepay cards. His actions have been backed by public bodies including the Chamber of Trade. July's protest took place in the early hours, when most people are asleep, but Monday's boycott affected the peak time morning period. Italian mobile users went on strike in July, and a French SMS boycott the same month was also pronounced a success. Despite comparatively expensive standing monthly charges - $37 a month compared to $12 in Jordan and Syria - Lebanon has 850,000 cellphone subscribers in a nation of four million. ® Related stories French call for SMS boycott Lebanon bans Intel Inside
Andrew Orlowski, 15 Sep 2004

Infineon pleads guilty to memory price-fixing

Infineon has agreed to pay a $160m fine to the US government for fixing the price of computer memory from 1999 to 2002, one of the biggest ever penalties imposed by the DoJ's Antitrust division. The German firm today announced that it has pled guilty to one count of price-fixing - a violation of US antitrust laws. It plans to pay off the $160m total in equal installments through 2009, it said in conjunction with the US Department of Justice (DoJ). "The wrongdoing charged by the DoJ was limited to certain OEM customers," Infineon said. "Infineon is already been in contact with these customers and has achieved or is in the process of achieving settlements with all of these OEM customers." The major memory makers - Samsung, Hynix, Micron and Infineon - have all been under investigation for artificially pumping up the price of DRAM. PC makers, most notably Dell, were outspoken about their concerns around memory costs. Dell Chairman Michael Dell referred to the memory makers as a cartel. The companies were suspected of holding secret meetings to discuss pricing plans. "According to the one-count felony charge filed today in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, from July 1, 1999 to June 15, 2002, Infineon conspired with unnamed DRAM manufacturers to fix the prices of DRAM sold to certain computer and server manufacturers," the DoJ said. "Under the plea agreement, which must be approved by the court, Infineon has agreed to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation of other DRAM producers." Infineon has received the third largest criminal fine in the history of the Antitrust Division. ® Related stories Elpida, Micron ask Japan to take Hynix to task Infineon shortlists two CEO candidates Memory makers hit by price-fixing claims Samsung damns DRAM price-fixing charge
Ashlee Vance, 15 Sep 2004

Wikipedia's Emergent People fail to impress readers

LettersLetters If you could cram your favorite hobby horses into the Encyclopedia of the Future, wouldn't you be tempted? Well, refreshingly, many readers wouldn't - so let's commend their integrity. Wikipedia's reputation gets another mauling in response to this story, so if you're a member of what one reader calls the Emergent People - perhaps like Tomorrow's People, but without the transporter belts - don't read on. "Good article. Please do not let up on these people for a second," writes Kevin Browne. "If the Emergent People wish to present themselves as authorities without the credentials to back up the claim, they already begin at a disadvantage. If they then lack the discipline and knowledge to write and present themselves correctly, should one have confidence in the knowledge they claim, or that they have the discipline to research it properly?" Citing the excitable young wiki-fiddler who claimed, 'It should come as no suprise a journalist and teacher ganged up on Wikipedia. Both have much to loose. Their claim? Authority.' Kevin replies - "Indeed. Authority. And training. And experience. And having received guidance from a predecessor who had those same advantages. And the ability to fucking spell!" "Let's assume the wiki-fiddlers are right and education is obsolete, which is what their argument amounts to. They should demonstrate the courage of their convictions, quit their day jobs and impart their knowledge and wisdom to us, full-time, for nothing. I might support them in such a course of action - not monetarily, of course, as I would hate to corrupt them - and I may even read what they have to say if they learn what a bloody apostrophe is for. Some Bazaar Reader Hari Balaramaran adds: "I found the article very amusing and close to my experience. Although originally interested in the idea of a 'bazaar' of ideas, I found that there is a lot of submission by young, energetic, interested but unfortunately misinformed people (their excess free time results in distortions in the 'bazaar' equilibrium.) The fact that they don't know very much about their articles of interest seems to add to their energy and self-righteousness. The idea is very democratic and egalitarian but if you want to spread egalitarianism, start a political party. Don't subvert an encyclopaedia. Democracy may support egalitarianism but that has nothing to "truth" or "knowledge" (yes, I know you'll want to connect it all up for me but give it a rest) It brings to mind a different project, Linux, which is "successful" rather than "emergent" on account of linus, who in addition to his kernel coding, probably doesn't want to dealt with Emergent facts from uninformed heads." "Personally I'm happy to accept their information on Klingons as being authoritative," writes Andy Toone. "However, the people who get overexcited about the social effects of Wiki/ Blogs/ Open Source seem to be far less reliable when it comes to the economics and practicalities of providing time, effort and information to such projects." Ouch. Many readers pointed to this Slashdot discussion, where mistakes inserted into the online encyclopedia weren't picked up. The project's supporters said that this is because the entries were under obscure topics. Er, just the sort of things that you might need an encyclopedia to answer. Oh, dear. But there's more. Reader Pascal Monnett gets close to the truth behind the evangelism. "Wikipedia is a dreamer's idea of knowledge," he writes. "The fact that everyone can input whatever they want may a great thing for equality, but any librarian will tell you its a lousy thing for classification and evaluation." "Wikipedia has nothing over a 'traditional' library, especially when the 'Old World' institution puts its catalog on line. In the end, Wikipedia will not allow to search faster or find more, unless you're looking for Star Trek trivia of course. Having surfed on the ocean of ignorance that is the Web for the past ten years, I will prefer a library (on-line or off) whenever I want to find Knowledge (the stuff written by scientists and men in possession of that Old World thing known as Wisdom)." What's 'meme' in Klingon? "What did Wikipedia ever do to you to deserve this?" asks Ikijtsch van Beijnum. "I have found plenty of interesting stuff in there, and some of it even unrelated to Star Trek or computers." Well, so have we all, but it's when the fiddlers get to obscure or contentious subjects, that the trouble really starts. Trust is built on how hugely contentious subjects are presented, and Wikipedia with its Klingon belief in "neutral point of view" - rather than context - is where it starts to fall down. Other philosophical issues, like the idea that you can vote on the truth, might be more problematic. A most bizarre claim comes from Aakash Mehendale, who at least admits that as a first port of call and as a free resource it isn't too bad. He didn't accept our library comparison, because, he argues: "You *pay* for access to those, making a comparison to Wikipedia, free to anyone with web access, not really valid (online access to databases at sfpl.org is only available with a library card; these are free to California residents [who pay state taxes, I am assuming], but visitors require a $10 'non-refundable deposit' and a temporary San Francisco address)" But you can also look at it from another direction. Libraries are an incredibly effective way of amortizing the cost of getting expensive, good-quality information out to people. And almost everyone in the developed world already pays for some kind of library. Now remember that the database owners don't hoard this information because they're evil or mean, but because it's how they make money, and they have to eat. They don't care how they get it, and they'd be happy to receive more from the libraries, so long as Wikipedians weren't copying it out. So this could be a worthwhile project: only it's a social, rather than technical challange. It's hard to imagine anyone other than a Wikipedian arguing the wider availability of high quality information collections - at which point, you begin to realize it's a religious issue. Which brings us full circle, back to those hobby horses. Rather bizarrely, Aakash defends the odd weighting given to many entries by arguing, "Maybe 'the entry on "memes" is almost as long as the entry for Immanuel Kant' [or the KLF - ed]because there already exists a wealth of resources on Kant," he says, "so the appropriate entry is a guide to and links to those; whereas you can cover memes pretty much completely in a single article. Of approximately the same length as the hyperlink-packed entry on Kant." He adds, "In the extreme case where there already exists an online resource that says everything about topic T, why do any more than link to that resource? This is hypertext, not a paper encyclopaedia: we don't have to copy out all the work that's already been done." So there you go. Your reporter is tempted to start a supermarket where if something isn't available, the punters are simply redirected to another store where it is. We'll call this Emergent-Mart. How well do you suppose it will do, dear readers? Wikipedia has a dilemma here. I'm sure many readers have been approached by people in the street claiming to have a big book that tells all the answers - people in various states of hygiene, insisting that their book is more trusted than others. But historically, the ones we end up trusting more than others usually don't make psychobabble their main selling point. Other factors are usually decisive - like whether it's authoritative, or just plain right or wrong. So Wikipedia can go two ways: it can grown into becoming a reasonable encyclopedia, or it can hide behind the psychobabble, and claim special pleading - like religious projects do. Expect a change in how the project is marketed fairly shortly. ® Related stories Wikipedia 'to make universities obsolete' Wiki-fiddlers defend Clever Big Book
Andrew Orlowski, 15 Sep 2004

Mozilla updates browsers after bug hunt

Mozilla released a series of security updates for its Firefox and Mozilla 1.7 browsers yesterday that resolve the first security vulnerabilities to come from the Mozilla Foundation's Security Bug Bounty Program. Its Thunderbird email client also needs patching for similar reasons. The total of 10 vulns discovered are described by security firm Secunia as "highly critical" - and with good reason. Attack scenarios opened up by the flaws include cross-site scripting attacks, access or modification of sensitive information and (in the worst case) the complete compromise of a user's system. Not good. Users are advised to upgrade to Mozilla 1.7.3, Firefox 1.0PR and Thunderbird 0.8 from earlier versions to protect themselves against attack. The bugs have been discovered and patched only one month after the introduction of the Mozilla Foundation's Security Bug Bounty Program. Security researchers who discovered critical flaws in software released by the open source project are being offered a token sum of $500 in recognition for their efforts. Participants in the programme included veteran IE bug-hunter Georgi Guninski. Gaël Delalleau, of Zencom Secure Solutions, one of the group of researchers who found critical bugs, said that he found three flaws during the course of auditing parts of the Mozilla 1.7.2 C++ source code tree during his free time. "Although not 100 per cent verified, it is very likely some of these critical security bugs are also exploitable in other products based on Mozilla, like Netscape 7 and Galeon," he writes. "Users of such products should ask vendors for a patch, and meanwhile apply the workarounds described on the 'Known Vulnerabilities in Mozilla' page". ® Related stories Mozilla to pay bounty on bugs CERT recommends anything but IE Mozilla takes bite out of IE Mozilla bug rears its head A fright at the Opera External links Secunia's advisory which provides the best overview of the multiple vulns. we've seen to date Known Vulnerabilities in Mozilla
John Leyden, 15 Sep 2004