13th > October > 2004 Archive

Qualcomm dials Cambridge to enter UI business

All of a sudden, everyone wants to be in the business of making user interfaces for mobile phones. In a move that's sure to raise eyebrows - we can only guess by how far, and at what angle - even Qualcomm has got in on the act. The CDMA chipset and licensing giant has snapped up the impeccably-connected British software company Trigenix - formerly 3G Labs - which allows operators to create custom user interfaces. T-Mobile became Trigenix's first customer last March, when it rolled out its T-Zones using Trigenix Trigplayer software. Trigenix runs on top of the major native phone operating systems, Symbian and, since June, Qualcomm's own BREW too. Qualcomm will pay $36m for the 54-person strong outfit, which is a snip considering its potential in the European market - something Qualcomm was keen to stress in its accompanying material. Qualcomm already offers its existing carrier customers billing infrastructure and a development environment in BREW, so Trigenix gives it a much more compelling offering. Although it looks very flashy, incorporating such effects as alpha blending, Trigplayer presents application developers with familiar XML, and operators can update the modular UI over the air. The acquisition puts Qualcomm on a collision course with OpenWave, which also touts a portable development environment for operators, and fires a warning shot for the smartphone OS vendors Symbian, Nokia, Microsoft and PalmSource to look sharpish. The story of Symbian's involvement in user interface design over the past six years could fill a short (but not terribly interesting, we admit) novella. Asked if there was one thing he'd do differently, given his time again, founding CEO Colly Myers told The Register, "User interfaces: it was never going to happen ... Everything about those companies is based in their own UIs." That gives you some idea of what's at stake, as the network operators seek to establish their own look and feel on mobile phones, and companies like Trigenix and OpenWave are a key part of their negotiating armory. ® Related stories Qualcomm discovers sense of Iridigm UI Wars: Sony loves Symbian - grits teeth UI wars tore Symbian apart - Nokia Qualcomm stops whingeing, reaps WCDMA goldmine Symbian owners foil Nokia takeover
Andrew Orlowski, 13 Oct 2004

Supremes sidestep RIAA's John Doe challenge

The Recording Industry Ass. of America has failed to get the Supreme Court to review its P2P challenge against Verizon. In January, a District Court ruled that copyright holders couldn't use John Doe subpoenas to obtain the details of alleged infringers from ISPs. Congress had already acknowledged that ISPs can't police every infringing action. Verizon successfully argued that it couldn't "take down" infringing material on P2P networks without, in effect, closing down the entre network. "The plight of copyright holders must be addressed in the first instance by the Congress, the Court ruled back in January, "... only the Congress has the constitutional authority and the institutional ability to accommodate fully the varied permutations of competing interests that are inevitably implicated by such new technology." The RIAA appealed, and now the Supreme Court has declined to intervene. A victory then, for P2P? Not so fast. With so many sympathetic representatives in both houses, and a well-honed lobbying machine on the Hill, the Supremes may simply be pointing the RIAA to a cheaper and more reliable approach to preventing copyright infringement. It's cheaper to buy a politician, than it is to buy a judge. But it's not the last the Supreme Court will see of the RIAA. Together with the MPAA, the lobby group will appeal the recent rulings that absolve software suppliers of responsibility for infringement on P2P networks. ® Related stories MPAA asks Supreme Court to crush P2Pers RIAA hunts down more file-trading scum UK music biz set to sue file-sharers Music boss can't wait to sue British file sharers
Andrew Orlowski, 13 Oct 2004

Dell launches Axim X50 wireless media PDAs

Dell debuted the latest additions to its Axim PDA line-up: three new models based on Intel's newest processor and mobile graphics technology, and ready to accept tracks downloaded from Windows Media-based online music stores. The X50 family will ship with the mobile version of Windows Media Player 10, which allows songs downloaded through a subscription service to be transferred to a portable player. Napster, MSN, MusicMatch and others are now offering compatible services, under the Plays for Sure logo. And Dell said it will offer system software update for its Axim X30 PocketPCs in two months' time. The X50s are based on Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. The OS' support for VGA displays is utilised on the top-end X50v, which incorporates a 3.7in, 480 x 640 display driven by Intel's 2700G graphics chip, itself based on Imagination Technologies PowerVR core, better known in an earlier form as the basis for the Sega Dreamcast console's graphics. The X50v also incorporates Bluetooth 1.2 and 802.11b wireless connectivity, potentially making it possible to download songs without the need for a PC. The X50v, like the other members of the series, provides an SD slot and a CompactFlash slot, and are powered by an Intel XScale PXA270 processor, in this case running at 624MHz. The X50v has 64MB of RAM (62MB available to the user) and 128MB of Flash (91MB configured for user storage). The other models, both shipping as the X50, contain 520MHz and 416MHz PXA270s, respectively. Both have 64MB of RAM, one with an extra 128MB of Flash, the low-end model with 64MB of non-volatile storage. Both sport a 3.5in 240 x 320 display. The 416MHz X50 supports Bluetooth, while the 520MHz unit offers Bluetooth 1.2 and Wi-Fi. All three PDAs ship with 1100mAh batteries. They measure 11.8 x 7.2 x 1.5cm and weigh 167g (the X50v weighs 175g). The X50v will cost $499 in the US, with the two X50s coming in at $399 and $299, respectively. While Dell is taking orders now, the products will not ship until 19 November, Dell said. ® Related stories Dell readies 624MHz Wi-Fi PocketPC Dell adds Bluetooth to Axim X3i Wi-Fi Pocket PC Creative, Dell prep iPod Mini rivals Dell recalls 4.4m notebook power adaptors Related reviews Dell Axim X30 Wi-Fi PocketPC Dell Axim x3i Wi-Fi Pocket PC Toshiba e800 Pocket PC Asus A620BT Bluetooth Pocket PC
Tony Smith, 13 Oct 2004

Prosecutor resigns over hacked PC

A leading Dutch prosecuter resigned yesterday after hackers entered his mail box and revealed yet another classified letter addressed to the public prosecutor's office. This was the second security lapse in recent days for Joost Tonino, a specialist prosecutor in white collar crime. Just last week Tonino was left red faced after it emerged he had put his old PC out with the trash. The hard disk, which should have been destroyed, contained hundreds of pages of confidential information about high profile cases, as well as his credit card number, social security number and personal tax files. A taxi driver who discovered the PC decided to sell the information to a Dutch TV crime reporter, who last week revealed on Dutch television what was on the hard disk. The reporter also managed to open his email box. Although Tonino changed his password immediately after this painful incident, Dutch hackers were able to get access his mail box and published yet another letter by Tonino on a Dutch weblog. In this letter Tonino downplayed the importance of the information found on his PC, claiming "it was material of little importance". Although Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner did not intend to prosecute Tonino, the top justice official decided to resign as public prosecutor yesterday, because he believed his dignity had been compromised. Tonino says he will accept another job at the public prosecutor's office. ® Related stories Prosecutor leaves crime files on dumped PC Beckham + strumpet pic actually Trojan From DRM to Driving lessons
Jan Libbenga, 13 Oct 2004

UK sets $1.2bn eGov budget

European governments will spend widely differing amounts on getting services online, according to IDC researchers. The survey looked at how spending in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK will increase up to 2008. Britain is expected to boost its annual budget from $828m in 2004 to just under $1.2bn in 2008. France and Germany will both ramp up their spend to $1.3bn - up from $980m and $985m, respectively. By contrast, increases in egovernment spending in Italy and Spain are more modest. In 2004 the Spanish government will allocate $200m, increasing to $300m in 2008. Italy will stump up $520m in 2008 - up from 2004's $371m. The survey looked at what government was spending on electronic delivery of services, not overall government IT spending. Massimiliano Claps, senior research analyst at IDC, told The Register: "The differences by country reflects the differences in total IT spending - i.e. the percentage of IT that goes to eGovernment is somewhat similar, but the total budgets vary significantly. The total UK IT spending is four times the Spanish, thus also the eGovernment spending." Claps said more countries were establishing central procurement procedures to improve savings. He said rating spending in terms of value for money was more difficult. There are two areas to measure - firstly internal productivity and savings which is quite easy to gauge. Secondly, the benefits for citizens which are harder to quantify but might include speed of service and improvements to services. ® Related stories NHS IT costs skyrocket UK gov ignoring ICT potential - Intellect Chicago schools hurt by web project gone wrong Socitm pushes softer skills for e-gov
John Oates, 13 Oct 2004
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Renesas seeks Nanya DRAM ban

Renesas has asked the Tokyo court to ban rival DRAM maker Nanya from importing memory chip into Japan and from promoting products there. The request follows its claims that Taiwan's Nanya infringed a variety of its memory chip patents, the Japanese memory company said yesterday, Renesas began legal action against Nanya in the US District Court for Northern California in December 2003, and in the Tokyo District Court in February 2004. Both cases are still pending. The former alleges infringement of seven Renesas-held patents, the latter of two patents. Both cases seek damages and a permanent injunction against the allegedly offending Nanya parts. Only the US case seeks a preliminary injunction against Nanya imports. As such, Renesas can hardly complain that Nanya has continued to import the disputed products into Japan in the meantime. But that's what it's saying: "After those lawsuits were filed, Nanya Japan continued to wilfully import into Japan and to market and sell in Japan memory products covered by Renesas' patents without a license from Renesas Technology. Thus, Renesas Technology filed for the preliminary injunction to obtain legal relief sooner." ® Related stories Elpida announces '$990m' IPO Hynix guilty of accounting fraud Infineon pleads guilty to memory price-fixing Japan to probe Hynix DRAM dealings Samsung chases Intel with 80% sales growth Hynix overtakes Micron in world DRAM chart
Tony Smith, 13 Oct 2004

'Overheating' NTL phone kit safe, says Tellabs

Tellabs, the US telecoms equipment maker, has rejected claims by NTL Ireland that its kit poses a safety hazard. It insisting that its cablespan units are "safe when properly installed". Last week NTL Ireland suspended the phone service for 2,000 customers in Dublin after it identified a "safety issue associated with its domestic direct telephone equipment". It refused to explain the exact nature of the problem, citing legal reasons. But it has since emerged that the kit might be susceptible to overheating. Yesterday, Tellabs went public. It said its equipment - cablespan units through which the telephone service is provided - were at the centre of the safety alert. But the US company insisted the units are safe. In all, Tellabs has issued some 600,000 cablespan units to telcos around the world, yet it is only aware of two incidents - both from NTL Ireland recently - "involving potential health and safety issues". Said Tellabs in a statement: "Tellabs is confident that our cablespan units are safe when properly installed. Cablespan equipment was rigorously tested and certified for safety prior to deployment." After being told by NTL Ireland of its safety concerns, Tellabs hired an "eminent independent engineering consultant" to look at the units. Based on the evidence available...the probable cause of these incidents was improper installation of the equipment. We are continuing to work with NTL to determine the exact cause of the incidents," said Tellabs. Despite this, NTL remains unmoved and is still sticking to the line that the kit poses a safety hazard. ® Related stories ComReg keeps tabs on NTL's 'overheating' phones NTL disconnects 2,000 Dubliners NTL customers told to 'f**k off'
Tim Richardson, 13 Oct 2004

Patriot Act tour carried a hefty price tag

He may not have trashed any hotel rooms, but US Attorney General John Ashcroft spent over $200,000 of taxpayers' money in a four-week, 31-city tour last year promoting the controversial USA PATRIOT Act, according to a report by Congressional auditors released Tuesday. Ashcroft launched the PR effort in August 2003 in the face of growing criticism of the surveillance law, elements of which are set to expire next year. The attorney general spent three weeks on the road visiting with public officials, local law enforcement and the media in such far-flung locales as Salt Lake City, Utah; Boise, Idaho; and Las Vegas, Nevada, hitting 14 states and 16 cities, including his Washington D.C. home base. At the end of September, he followed that up with a week of what the Justice Department called "Life and Liberty" travel, touting the importance of the USA PATRIOT Act in speeches in another 15 cities around the country. No roadies are listed in the report, but anywhere from four to six senior Justice Department staffers accompanied Ashcroft on his travels. Counting 29 advance trips, flights for Ashcroft and his staff, conference room rentals and other expenses, the effort cost a total of $202,345.66. The bill for audio-video equipment rental alone exceeded $45,000 according to the report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' investigative arm. Another four thousand dollars went to set up the Justice Department's pro-USA PATRIOT Act site, lifeandliberty.gov. The GAO report was produced at the request of Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. After auditors briefed Conyers on their findings last month, the lawmaker accused Ashcroft of violating federal laws that prohibit the executive branch from conducting "propaganda" or legislative lobbying with public money. He asked the Justice Department's Inspector General to open an investigation. The 132-page USA PATRIOT Act increases federal policing and surveillance powers, among other things, and it passed with overwhelming support in Congress in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But since then growing concerns about the potential for abuse have put the Justice Department on the defensive, and several legislative proposals would roll back, or provide more oversight for, the added surveillance powers. Last month a federal judge struck down a statute modified by USA PATRIOT that allows the FBI to issue "National Security Letters" demanding customer records from Internet service providers and other businesses without a court order. Under USA PATRIOT, anyone's records can be targeted in a terrorism or espionage investigation, while previously such orders were limited to records of suspected terrorists or spies. In a written response to the GAO report dated 6 October, the Justice Department claimed that the USA PATRIOT Act tour served the under-acknowledged secondary purpose of law enforcement information sharing. "This dialog between the Attorney General and state and local law enforcement occurred at nearly every stop during the Attorney General's travels," wrote Paul Corts, assistant attorney general for administration. "The Attorney General's staff took notes to record the input offered by state and local law enforcement and then followed up on these suggests and concerns afterwards." Copyright © 2004, Related stories Judge defangs Patriot Act US judge raises bar on net privacy Will the US election matter to the IT sector?
Kevin Poulsen, 13 Oct 2004

Yahoo! profits! triple!

Yahoo! made its sixth consecutive quarter of record revenue in the third quarter ended 30 September 2004. Revenues were $907m, up 154 per cent on the same period a year ago. Operating income for the three months was $172m, up 106 per cent on last year. Net income for the third quarter was $253m, boosted by $129m brought in by the sale of part of Yahoo!'s stake in Google. The firm is widely seen as a bellwether for the health of internet firms - although this position is under threat from Google, which reports later this month. Terry Semel, chairman and chief executive of Yahoo!, said: "Yahoo! began to demonstrate the next stage in the Company's evolution in the third quarter, and in doing so recorded its sixth consecutive quarter of record revenue." Yahoo! remains optimistic for the full financial year, it predicts revenues for the fourth quarter to be as high as $760m, higher than analysts expected. Shares rose slightly on the forecast. You can download the full results here. Yahoo! today announced that Pierre Chappaz and Dominique Vidal have been appointed to run Yahoo! Europe. They join the company from Kelkoo, the French-based shopping search engine founded by Chappaz, which Yahoo! bought in April 2004. ® Related stories Yahoo! can! get! stuffed! Yahoo! snaps up Musicmatch Google! Licenses! Yahoo's! Secret! Sauce! Online ad spend on the up
John Oates, 13 Oct 2004

PeopleSoft defends poison pills

David Duffield, PeopleSoft founder and acting-CEO, said the firm might have considered the Oracle takeover bid more seriously if terms had been different. Testifying in a Delaware court, he said that the bid offer might have been accepted if some terms had been dropped - and if Oracle had been serious about selling and supporting PeopleSoft products. Duffield took the reins as CEO after the departure of Craig Conway, who was implacably opposed to the deal. Oracle has applied to the Delaware Chancery Court to overturn PeopleSoft's poison pill anti-takeover arrangement. PeopleSoft did not ask its advisers to consider the first two offers of $16 and $19.50 per share. It did look at the third offer of $26 a share but decided it undervalued the company. Oracle has since reduced its offer to $21 a share, valuing the firm at $7.7bn. PeopleSoft yesterday extended the deadline for its customer rebate program until the end of the year. The "Customer Assurance Program" allows customers to claim between two and five times the amount they spent on software if the firm is taken over by Oracle. The court heard from Oracle that this had created a potential liability of $2bn. PeopleSoft executives gave evidence that the measures were needed to reassure customers. They admitted that some prospective sales had been scared off by news of the takeover bid and fears that their software would not be supported and developed in the long-term. Oracle co-president Safra Catz told the Delaware Chancery Court that the "financial condition" of PeopleSoft has fallen by between 25 and 33 per cent. She did not say what impact this would have on a possible Oracle bid. A 25 per cent cut would value PeopleSoft at around $5bn. More detail at CNET. ® Related stories Oracle vs Peoplesoft OK, so Ellison is not a sociopath... Peoplesoft sacks Craig Conway
John Oates, 13 Oct 2004

Creative unveils 5GB Zen Micro

Creative launched its Zen Micro "iPod Mini challenger" last night, as anticipated. The compact, 5GB unit will "outshine all the others", the company said, with it 12 hour battery life, FM radio with 32 station pre-sets, voice recorder and PDA-style personal information management functionality. Not to mention a wide range of casing colours. Like the razor market's obsession with the number of blades on offer - 'Four blades? F**k 'em, we're going to five' - digital music player vendors are increasingly viewing colour choice as the key distinguishing feature between their products. The Zen Micro comes in a choice of ten colours, double the "previous generation" - as Creative calls it - iPod Mini's five: silver, black, red, orange, green, pink, purple, white, light blue and dark blue. As we reported on Monday, the Micro provides a touchpad controller for one-handed usage. It supports WM 10 DRM files, along with the usual MP3 playback. Creative bundles software which synchronises Microsoft Outlook contacts, calendars and to-do lists with the player, which - as the iPod has done for some time - presents them on its 2in display. What we didn't know then is that the battery is removable, allowing users to quickly slot in a fresh one when the main unit has lost its charge. The Micro will also operate as a USB Mass Storage device, allowing users to store other files on its hard drive. The Micro is $250 in the US, a dollar more than the iPod Mini. The pricing in the UK: £180 (Micro) to £179 (iPod Mini). The Zen Micro goes on sale in November. ® Related stories Creative, Dell prep iPod Mini rivals Virgin unveils 5GB mini music player Apple iPod grabs 82% US retail market share Alleged Apple Flash iPod 'partner' signs with Rio Sony apes Apple with coloured music players Toshiba tilts digital music player line at iPod
Tony Smith, 13 Oct 2004

Ukrainian teen fights the Rise of the Machines™

A 14-year-old Ukrainian girl has struck a blow for humanity in the war against belligerent technology by completely destroying a Yalta cash machine - with her bare hands. The plucky freedom fighter took on the avaricious ATM after it swallowed her cash card. In the ensuing battle, the youth - described by police as "looking like she couldn't hurt a fly" - caused £4,500 worth of damage to the Privatbank dispenser. The unnamed girl told the press: "I just got angry and couldn't control myself after the machine took my card. I train regularly at a local boxing club to keep fit - I guess I must have learned a few things." Absolutely. If the young lady in question would like to contact El Reg, we have a few bits of obstreperous kit which would benefit from an application of the "Ukrainian Handshake" - starting with the UK's murderous cyberloos. ® The Rise of the Machines™ Man in satanic Renault terror ordeal Killer cyberappliances: Satan implicated US develops motorised robobollard Killer cyberloo kidnaps kiddie A robot in every home by 2010 Cyberappliances attack Italian village Fire-breathing buses threaten London Cyberloo blast rocks Stoke-on-Trent Spanish cyberkiosks claim second victim Cyberkiosk assaults Spanish teenager Hi-tech toilet caught on camera Hi-tech toilet swallows woman
Lester Haines, 13 Oct 2004

Open Source and software rental

Software pricing has always presented a conundrum both for vendors and for the customer. In the pre-internet days software pricing on servers was, roughly, proportional to the cost of the hardware. In the days of mainframes and minicomputers this seemed rational, but as the servers morphed into anything from a lonely Intel box to a high-end cluster it began to get complicated and it was quite possible that, with expensive software such as the big name database products, the structure of software pricing could limit or determine hardware choice. This has now evolved to the point where, for example, Oracle's database technology is specifically designed to run on inexpensive servers (via Oracle's RAC technology), with the idea that if the hardware costs are low, the overall ticket price is lower. Such developments would be fine, if all vendors stayed completely in step in terms of pricing policy. But that doesn't happen. So the corporate technology buyers have a mess on their hands in trying to build rational and reasonably priced networks. The mess is made greater by the reality of desktop computing costs, which also bite out a huge chunk of budget for almost every company and complicate the issue still further. After all, what is the least expensive way to build a reliable network? The truth is that once any vendor gets into a monopoly position, or even a position of significant leverage, they tend to maintain the price of the software. And by the way, I mean any vendor - Microsoft may be the vendor criticized most for this, but all vendors have a tendency to maximize the profits of success. In theory if their sales are climbing then their unit costs are trending down, but the consumer rarely sees the costs fall. This is one of the reasons that Open Source is important and why corporations really should have a policy of using it to some degree - and I'm not just talking Linux here, I mean Ingres and MySQL, I mean Apache, I mean Zope and maybe even a little desktop Linux mixed with Open Office. If it does nothing else, it may help to keep the vendors of proprietary software honest - and incidentally, a good deal of Open Source is quality software. There is, however, a market force in play which may eventually alter the way that Open Source is perceived and deployed. This is the gradual move to software rental. When the ASP trend first occurred it was accompanied by a good deal of hype, and loudly proclaimed as "the wave of the future". Then after about a year it was declared by many to be a trend that failed - ignoring the fact that IT trends always occur twice, first as hype backed by immature product and the second time as a stable offering backed by a genuine value proposition. A trend is dead only if the second wave fails. However, the second wave of the ASP trend has been reasonably successful, with the flagship vendors being Salesforce.com and Oracle. (Oracle Online is a significant success, in case you didn't know). This is moving the market gradually towards the idea of software rental as the natural way to price software. It is not a simple transformation because there are no simple and generally agreed metrics for measuring software usage, but it is a driving trend nevertheless. An interesting aspect of software rental is that the price is just as notional as it is for any other kind of software license. However, if you are renting software that is hosted elsewhere, then you probably have no interest in what software makes up the technology stack - what you are buying is the application. This allows an ASP provider to circumvent some of the commercial difficulties of the Open Source license (the GPL), because the ASP charges for the service provided and not for the software. Of course this probably acts as an incentive for them to use Open Source, but it doesn't constrain their ability to make healthy margins - and the GPL does seem to do that in the traditional software licensing model. So, as software moves towards a rental model, it is possible that the disruptive market impact of Open Source GPL will diminish. At the same time, Open Source products will take their place as viable products for specific areas of functionality. In other words the schism between proprietary software and Open Source software will be far less visible. Copyright © 2004, IT-Analysis.com Related stories Oracle cosies up to Little Biz Ltd. Ballmer: Linux is a cancer MS apps for rent at NY EasyEverything cybercafe
Robin Bloor, 13 Oct 2004

Seven critical in MS October patch batch

Microsoft yesterday released 10 new security bulletins to fix multiple components in its Windows operating system and applications. Redmond's October patch batch brings nine security updates (six critical, three important) for Windows and one critical update needed to correct a flaw in the Excel component of Office. Two of the Windows fixes cover critical vulns for Exchange Server 2003. In addition, there's an update to last month's notice about a serious flaw involving Microsoft's processing of jpeg image files, which only affects Office XP applications for users running Windows XP SP2. Consumers would be forgiven for being confused with such a confusing plethora of security vulns. Redmond's answer is simple - use Win XP SP2. "All of the critical updates in this month’s release are already included in Windows XP Service Pack 2. Customers running Windows XP SP2 who have enabled Automatic Updates will automatically receive the sole update that applies [a cumulative patch for IE, MS04-038]. Customers are encouraged to simply turn on the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP," Microsoft said. This month’s updates cover the aforementioned set of seven flaws in Internet Explorer, described by Secunia as extremely critical, as well as four Windows client vulns (MS04-032). Sys admins also have to contend with a network-based remote compromise vulnerability involving SMTP (mail) service that affects Exchange as well as other Microsoft apps (MS04-035) and a separate serious flaw involving Microsoft's implementation of Network News Transfer Protocol (NTTP) service ((MS04-031). A vulnerability has been discovered in ASP.NET which may allow an attacker to bypass authentication mechanisms and access restricted resources. A flaw involving the way Microsoft's software handles compressed folders (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms04-034.mspx) has also been unearthed and patched. All manner of mischief might be enabled through Microsoft's latest vulns, security tools vendor ISS warns. Confidential data might be snaffled from vulnerable PCs. Denial of service attacks are also possible. Alternatively, malicious code could be used to exploit the vulnerabilities and gain complete control over targeted systems. "The network-based remote vulnerabilities could be exploited without any user-interaction, while the client-side vulnerabilities require minimal user-interaction for exploitation," ISS warns. A complete list of Microsoft's security bulletins can be found here. ® Related stories Microsoft warns of poisoned picture peril MS plugs 'moderate' Exchange vuln MS hatches July patch batch WinXP SP2 = security placebo? XP SP2 über patch already needs fixing
John Leyden, 13 Oct 2004

CERN turns 50 in style

Some of Britain's most distinguished scientists gathered in the Treasury last night, along with various MPs, lords and the occasional journalist, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of CERN. The scientists, almost uniformly and most uncharacteristically dressed in variations on a grey suit theme, milled around eating nibbles and drinking wine. As tends to happen at these sorts of gatherings, there was a lot of chest-gazing as the assembled boffins hunted for the name tags that would reveal who was who. To give everyone a helping hand, the badges were colour-coded. PPARC people were labelled in white, VIPs in blue, Peers in green, while the press were tagged in yellow, one of nature's warning colours. We did notice that on spying a yellow tag, delegates often took a half-step away from the wearer. Once the mingling was in full swing, the keynote speeches began. First we heard from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web. In the manner of proper celebrities, he couldn't be at the event in person, so sent a message via the web instead. The web could only have been developed at CERN, he said, because the chaotic nature of the organisation made it a creative space. He argued that this lack of overt organisation is an important characteristic of the web, too. He thanked CERN's administration for making the web freely available: "If CERN had decided to charge royalties...the web as we know it today couldn't exist," he concluded. CERN is understandably proud to have been home to the birth of the web, but there is a lot more to it than that. "CERN was founded on principles of openness and inclusion," said Dr. Robert Aymar, director general of CERN. "Scientists from all over the world are working together peacefully, regardless of race or religion." The idea for a pan-European science venture was first mooted in 1949, not long after the end of the second world war. European science research was on at something of a low point because many facilities had been damaged or destroyed during the fighting and all the interesting research was happening in the US. Five years later, twelve nations ratified the CERN convention and began building the laboratory, and the first machine, the synchrocyclotron, was switched on in 1957. CERN now has 20 fully paid-up members (the UK contributes £70m a year to CERN, around a sixth of its total budget) and its next big project is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and, alongside that, the development of the world's largest operating computing grid, to process all the collision data. "The LHC's mission is to elucidate the origin of mass," Aymar explains, referring to the search for the Higgs boson, the particle that would account for why matter has mass. If we could only find it. Scientists will also use the LHC to investigate the universe's asymmetry - the fact that it has more matter than anti-matter, even though at the time of the Big Bang, there would have been equal amounts of both. The question is, where did all the anti-matter go? Festivities were brought to a close by Lord Sainsbury, UK science minister. He said that the value of blue skies research was beyond question, but that the UK must also seek to capture the practical benefits of the research. He pointed to the contributions CERN has made to medical research, cancer treatment and particularly PET (positron emission tomography) scans. "We must ensure that this flow out continues," he said. And with that, the speeches were over, and the networking could begin in earnest. ® Related stories Quarky theory wins Nobel Prize Brits to demo world's largest computing grid Global particle accelerator gets the big chill Godfather of Web awarded 1m CERN celebrates 50th birthday
Lucy Sherriff, 13 Oct 2004

UK rings up new 'real phone' VoIP service

A German company has launched a new internet telephony service in the UK which offers cheap calls and uses "geographical" numbers. The Sipgate service is now available in ten UK cities - Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle - using existing area codes. Sipgate is also planning to make the service available in other area code regions over the next six months. According to the blurb, Sipgate works in exactly the same way as a standard landline, with each user getting a geographic phone number enabling them to make and receive calls on a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone. Hardware costs for those who don't already own an IP phone or converter cost from £69. Some IP phone calls are free, while the cost of a call to a BT land line is 1.19p a minute. Said Sipgate MD Thilo Salmon: "Sipgate distinguishes itself from all other VoIP providers by offering the only 'real' phone number from a 'real' phone line. We are the first to offer this in the UK. Best of all for consumers there is no line rental, no monthly charges, no monthly minimum and no set up charges. Consumers will not even notice the difference except they will be saving hundreds of pounds per year." Sipgate launched its service in Germany earlier this year and attracted 25,000 subscribers in the first six months. ® Related stories Business Serve buys VoIP outfit Centrica buys Telco Global for £43m Former Freeserve duo dial in to VoIP Ofcom sets out stall on VoIP
Tim Richardson, 13 Oct 2004
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EC widens Intel-only contracts probe

The European Commission has told France, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden provide more evidence on how their governments procured computer equipment. The formal request is the first step of an infringement process which could end with the countries being brought before the Court of Appeal. They have two months to answer the charges. In May this year, France removed a stipulation in contracts that government IT hardware projects must be based on Intel-based kit. However, the move failed to stop the EC investigation. Sweden has also voluntarily removed an Intel-only stipulation, while Italy and Germany struck out similar clauses, following EC intervention. The EC's case hinges on procurement documents which asked for "Intel processors" or "Intel or equivalent" processors. EC procurement rules state that a specific brand should be mentioned in public supply contracts only if there is no other way to describe what is required. The Commission also complained that procurement requests for processors at specific clock speeds are a barrier to intra-Community trade. It notes that clock speeds alone are not an accurate benchmark of computer performance. The EC letters are formal requests for information. The governments concerned have two months to reply after which the EC may demand they change certain contracts if they believe procurement rules have been broken. More details available on the Commission's website website . ® Related stories Intel defeats AMD in court AMD defeats Intel in US Supreme Court EC relaunches Intel antitrust probe France bans Intel-only IT contracts EC threatens court action over Intel-only contracts
John Oates, 13 Oct 2004

EU approves €1.75bn for tech research

The EU has approved €1.75bn of funding over the next two years for research into future and emerging technologies. The funds are being made available under the Sixth Framework Programme, FP6, the EU's major source of support for technology R&D. FP6 has a budget of €19 billion, over the period 2002/6 and organisations of all sizes throughout the EC can apply for funding. The money will be allocated in three stages. The first two will focus the main objectives of the programme, supporting the overarching theme of "anywhere, anytime natural access to Information Society Technology services for all". There are five broad areas of research that FP6 will funding through the IST strand: Applied IST research addressing major societal and economic challenges; Communication, computing and software technologies; Components and microsystems (including nanotech research); Knowledge and interface technologies and IST future and emerging technologies. For the last category, there will be an open call for submissions that go beyond the other goals of the framework, taking the technology into more cutting edge areas. Proposals will be invited from 16 November this year, and 17 May 2005, and will have budgets of €1,120m and €638m respectively. More information on the areas that qualify can be found here. ® Related stories £147.5m boost for British particle accelerators UK gov awards £1m to bio-terror detector firm UK appoints tech strategy supremo
Lucy Sherriff, 13 Oct 2004

Novell to defend against open source IP attack

Novell yesterday pledged to use its patent portfolio to defend against potential intellectual property attacks by others on its open source products. The company is urging other vendors to follow suit. In July, a study by Open Source Risk Management - a start-up which seeks to sell end-users "insurance" against and advice about patent litigation - identified 283 patents potentially infringed by the Linux kernel, of which 27 are held by Microsoft. Shortly afterwards, one of Europe's most publicised Linux migration plans, in the German city of Munich, was postponed because of patent fears. Proposed European legislation that might see US-style patent laws rolled out across Europe created widespread concerns in the open source community. And that's to say nothing of SCO's ongoing legal disputes with IBM, Novell and Red Hat over its controversial claims that its intellectual property has found its way into Linux without its permission. Novell's move is designed to reassure potential and existing Novell customers that they won't have to go it alone in contesting open source patent disputes. Said Jack Messman, chairman and CEO of Novell: "Because of its disruptive nature, open source threatens entrenched interests, some of whom are fighting back with vague accusations of intellectual property risks in open source technologies. Novell is taking an active stand in defence of the software we offer – both proprietary and open source – by stating our willingness to use our own patent portfolio to help our customers. We urge other vendors with relevant patents to make the same commitment." The latter comment is clearly aimed at IBM - which owns more patents than any other single IT company. IBM has promised not to deploy its patent arsenal against the open source community but it hasn't gone as far as Novell in signalling its intention of deploying its patent arsenal against would-be aggressors. Novell argues that the intellectual property risks associated with open source software are no different than those with proprietary software. Both arenas frequently involve IP disputes and open source is not inherently riskier than proprietary technologies, it says. Legal site Groklaw commends Novell's stance but points out that if there were no software patent laws "none of this would be necessary". ® Related stories Munich OSS switch to go ahead, patents or no patents IBM promises no patent assault on Linux Patents and the threat to open source Novell offers SCO last drink at System V saloon EU software patent debate continues
John Leyden, 13 Oct 2004

Skint? Try FundsReunited

Anyone who reckons that they may have cash lying about in the form of shares or life assurance policies - but can't find the paperwork - might like to try out FundsReunited.com. Membership costs a fiver, and for £15 upwards, FundsRenuited will try to put you back in intimate contact with mislaid assets. The service has already reunited happy punters with £250,000 since its inception in May, and is now expanding its operation. According to FundsReunited's Simon Ford: “After an incredibly successful first four months we have expanded our service to encompass shares and life assurance to give people the widest possible options to search for their lost money. What we learnt from our customers who found money was that most of them had no idea that the money existed in the first place, even customers who had their finances in order. We are trying to raise awareness that this unclaimed money belongs to someone and we can help reunite them with it.” The company says there's around £20bn of unclaimed wonga just lying around the UK waiting to be liberated. It also says that FundsReunited is "accessible for even those of us who are not internet savvy". Which is probably just as well, since the outfit gives the example of one woman from Buckinghamshire "who was reunited with £5,000 in a pension fund which was being held by her current bank but she knew nothing about!" The mind boggles. So, if you invested £10k in shares and then hid them under your mattress and then threw the bed in a skip - FundsReunited can help. ®
Lester Haines, 13 Oct 2004
channel

IBM software vendors feel the love

IBM is opening up its software developer programme in order to get more bodies behind its battle with Microsoft. Big Blue wants to increase the number of independent software vendors it works with. The company's improved partner program, nattily-titled Advantage Initiative Partnerworld Industry Networks, gives vendors access to marketing funds and to IBM sales people. IBM wants to make it easier to get registered as an IBM partner. ISVs will be able to nominate themselves for higher levels of accreditation, previously the top tier was by invitation only. They will have better access to IBM's sales teams as well as to marketing funds and discounted adverts in trade magazines. Lesley Norris, director of ISV and developer relations at IBM, said: "The biggest advantage is the ability of ISVs to nominate themselves to qualify for advanced levels. Other benefits include discounted adverts and free web services like getting in contact with IBM sales staff. The changes we have made address the concerns raised by our partners." IBM said its customers increasingly wanted software development partners who are regional and focussed on specific industries. Since March IBM has organised partners according to market segment or industry focus. The "Partnerworld Industry Networks" gave ISVs access to other industry-focussed companies as well as offering specific training and marketing support. Observers said the moves would make it easier for IBM to sell into small and medium businesses rather than chasing enterprise business. ® Related stories IT vendors lose that loving feeling Judge - IBM must pay for Compuware software probe Open Source and software rental
John Oates, 13 Oct 2004

Home Office seeks spin doctor to sell cuddly ID card brand

The Home Office is hiring a head of spin in order to sell ID cards to the British public, despite the fact that it has not yet published the response to the "consultation" earlier this year, and has yet to put a bill before parliament, far less get parliament to pass it. Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten has cried foul to both the BBC and Telegraph (registration required, life's too short), but while it's nice to see MPs starting to notice that the Home Office regards them as a tiresome formality, it's not exactly news. Read the Consultation and Draft Bill published earlier this year and you'll have trouble working out what it is about the scheme that's still available for consultation, as it's so obviously something the Home Office intends to happen come hell or high water. And the elusive pilot scheme questions are quite obviously about trying to improve the experience of registering, nothing to do with whether or not you want to. But the job ad is interesting (applications in by Friday please) because it tells us quite a lot about how the government is going to pitch the scheme, and what it's going to cover. For starters, note that the ID Cards Head of Marketing post will be part of the Communities Group Directorate, and if you look at the Home Office's directory structure here you'll see that this is predominantly the touchy-feely units, while the heavy squad is organised under the Crime Reduction and Community Safety Group. David Blunkett's quest to make the ID scheme a widely-popular instrument of social cohesion and commerce is well known, and the Head of Marketing will have to sell this vision. The job will include "responsibility for all aspects of positioning and promoting ID cards and ID card services to its customers and stakeholders" and: "During the passage of the Bill, this will include communications with Ministers, MPs and others." So as you see it is absolutely wrong to say the Home Office is going ahead with the scheme without bothering about MPs. On the contrary, it seems to be hiring somebody to sell them it. Isn't that political lobbying? And "the programme will involve contact with delivery partners, major users of the scheme (such as the Health Service and Police) and with members of the public." Why would the Health Service be a major user of the scheme? Well, because healthcare will be conditional on production of an ID card, of course. The most recent consultation, such as it was, finished in July, but it would appear that a form of consultation more familiar to government spin doctors continues. Organisations with an interest in ID cards, both favourable and unfavourable, will need to have their views and concerns "understood and managed". Broadly, however, the Head of Marketing will develop a "Marketing Strategy" (note the capitals) "covering the vision for the scheme, its positioning and branding". and there are plenty other examples of marketing bollox: "defining the customer experience and behaviours to support the brand", "Coaching and developing staff in marketing/sales/distribution concepts and best practice", and in the essential skills section "Developing the marketing strategy for a new product/service. Particularly relevant is experience of universal services intended for all customers (including hard to reach and 'difficult' customers who cannot be turned away)"; "Developing and implementing strategies for new brands, advertising, public relations and communications" and "Driving demand and encouraging take-up". Compulsion is of course a wonderful encouragement to take-up, and possibly fertile ground for ID scheme campaign slogans. "Your identity - lock it down before we lock you up" or "Difficult customer? We get all sorts in here, sir..." or "Know who you are. We do." Or even just "Don't leave home without it." Snappy, that one. ® Related stories UK ID cards to be issued with first biometric passports Biometric gear to be deployed in hospitals and GPs' surgeries UK gov pilots passenger tracking in fight against terror Tag, track, watch, analyse - UK goes mad on crime and terror IT Everything you never wanted to know about the UK ID card
John Lettice, 13 Oct 2004

BT cool on board rift speculation

BT has played down speculation that it's facing a boardroom split over the telco's future broadband plans. BT Retail boss, Pierre Danon, has been talking openly about the consumer-facing business investing in local loop unbundling (LLU) to compete with rivals. The move has yet to be discussed at board level and, if it went ahead, could potentially hammer revenues for BT Wholesale, which currently provides network services for BT Retail. As a result, there has been much speculation that the move could lead to a split within the UK's dominant fixed line telco. However, a spokesman for BT Retail dismissed the reports insisting there was "no tension, no split". The idea of BT Retail examining LLU was merely one of a number of options being looked at by the company, he said. As it happens, some analysts reckon that BT Retail investing in LLU might be a good idea since it would allow the company to compete more effectively wth rivals. What's more, they insist that Mr Danon is merely doing his job by - at the very least - examining all avenues to ensure that BT Retail stays on top of its game. Then again, there are those who reckon that's a load of old tosh and who would love nothing more than to be a fly on the wall next time BT's chiefs get together. ® Related stories France crowned Europe's LLU Prince BT 'unlikely' to be broken up NTL joins unbundling bandwagon C&W to throw £85m at LLU
Tim Richardson, 13 Oct 2004

UK Lotto goes mobile

If you fancy your chances at winning the National Lottery, but can't get to a newsagent or a computer in time to buy your ticket, fear not, because from today you will be able to place your one-in-14-million-chance bet by mobile phone. The service is a result of National Lottery operator Camelot's promise to use interactive services to sell tickets which it made when rebidding for the contract. To play, punters need to register their name and debit card details by phone or online. The site also requires date of birth, home address and email address details. Once the account is set up, you just text the name of the game you want to play - Lotto, Euro Millions or the Daily Play games - and your lottery numbers to 61111 (check Camelot's site before doing this, and make sure you've registered.) Each message costs 20p to send, and the entry fee is deducted from your debit account. Winners will be notified by text. Over half a million people have signed up to buy lotto tickets online, Camelot says, and its weekly revenue from online and interactive TV sales is now at £1.5m. Ticket sales are also on the rise again, with the figures for the last six months showing a 4.7 per cent rise on last year. ® Related stories Mobile gambling hits UK YouthNet buys Web agony aunt with lottery cash BT employee hits lottery jackpot
Lucy Sherriff, 13 Oct 2004

Motorola launches six clamshells

Motorola Europe launched six new mobile handsets today, three of which will be generally available and the other three under exclusive contracts with either Vodafone Live, T-Mobile or Orange. All six are clamshell style phones, aimed squarely at the gaping hole in Nokia's portfolio. The phones also have a bundle of neat features including video capture and playback, MP3 players and Bluetooth. Amer Husaini, a Motorola VP, said the company had proven itself as a branded services sales partner. Its next focus is to work with operators to drive customer migration to 3G. The Motorola V550, available exclusively to Vodafone Live customers, is an update on the V525. The E550 is exclusive to T-Mobile, and the V545, is just for Orange subscribers. Motorola is pushing all these phones on their imagining and gaming capabilities, evidently hoping to make it onto a few Christmas wish lists. The quad-band V547 is the business option of the six. It feature EDGE for high speed data exchange, has integrated Bluetooth, a speakerphone, conference calling and email support. The remaining consumer offerings are the V620 and the V535. The V620, Motorola gushes, is "matt black and silver" and "will have everyone clamouring to touch it". Readers will have to judge how true this may be from a pic of the E550, above. ® Related stories Orange moots 3G delay Carphone Warehouse rings up higher sales Orange's big push into push-to-talk O2 shuns 3G hype
Lucy Sherriff, 13 Oct 2004

ALK CoPilot Smartphone

Reg ReviewReg Review ALK CoPilot Live Smartphone
Tony Smith, 13 Oct 2004

Interactive urinal cake aimed at ravers, C&W fans

Companies such as Intel, HP and IBM dominate the media with their fancy computers, printers and patent portfolios. So often, this practice of lauding attention on the "tech behemoths" leaves little guys like Healthquest Technologies Inc. and its Wizmark division out in the cold. But we ask, what have Intel, HP or IBM done in the field of interactive urinal communication lately? Country Music Television (CMT) knows that the answer to this question is that IT powerhouses aren't doing squat for the average urinal. That's why the cable channel operator has signed a first of its kind deal to flood urinals in bars, concert venus, colleges and radio stations with the space-age Wizmark device to promote its Outlaws TV specials. The product handles basic urinal deodorizing tasks but also delivers so much more. Customers can equip the Wizmark with a pre-recorded audio message, which begins talking to the user or "urinator" when motion detectors are set off. The device can additionally be outfitted with flashing lights, a waterproof anti-glare lenticular display and various images. Each Wizmark can withstand more than 10,000 flushes. Beat that, Intel! CMT eyes the tipsy urinator much like Martha Stewart might view a fellow prisoner lathering up with scented soap. "The new interactive urinal communicator from Wizmark enables CMT to target a very captive and vulnerable audience . . .," said James Hitchcock, vice president of marketing at CMT. "The social protocols of the use of a urinal -- the unwritten rule not to look left or right -- guarantees undivided and undistracted visual attention along with the concurrent audio delivery of the 'Don't miss OUTLAWS on CMT' tune-in message,'" Hitchcock continued. "This new marketing tool is unexpected, unapologetic and good humored." Easily impressed marketing types aren't the only ones being wowed by the Wizmark. "Beginning with early attempts at writing one's name in the snow, there has already been an element of recreation associated with urination for men," said bio engineer Dr. Richard Deutsch who invented and patented (6,640,350) the interactive, plastic deodorizing unit for Wizmark. The prior art for the Wiznator patent dates all the way back to 1971 - the year most commonly associated with modern snow peeing recreation. The patent covers a wide range of new technology, including sensor transducers, LEDs, urinal cakes, perforations and separate discreet flasher components. This is serious stuff. God forbid you think any of this is a joke. Have a look at some of the public service messages that Healthquest Technologies suggests be placed on a Wizmark. Don't know about you, but when our urinal tells us to put the disco biscuits away, we listen. If, however, you need to follow a toilet's advice not to drink and drive, then it's probably too late for you. There's more on CMT's use of the Wizmark here. ®
Ashlee Vance, 13 Oct 2004

Yelp! A viral recommendation system you can't resist?

Today sees the launch of yet another networking website, only with a difference. It's a doh! moment - one of those simple splendid ideas that has you asking "Why didn't anyone think of that before?" much like eBay and the original Napster - although Yelp's ambitions are far more modest. We're very glad such things can still pop up like this out of nowhere, and especially glad that they can still happen in California, where every web service hopeful seems obliged to bury itself beneath tons of weblog-empowered, New Age sales patter (think of people who say "meme" a lot) before they've even had time to plug in their servers. Many other hopefuls, without a clue or a prayer, nervously wave such "emergent" marketese around in the hope of attracting a piece of orbiting Esther Dyson space debris, having once read, perhaps in Wired that VC money follows such recommendations. This is how the old Silicon Valley racket used to work, but not any more. But no such worries for Yelp! - the first product from PayPal co-founder Max Levchin's San Francisco's secretive Mission Street incubator. Yelp! is a website that helps people find things that are useful to them, and it does so by piggy-backing onto existing social relationships: our own trusted email circles. In essence, it does for "tips" what Evite does for "birthday invitations": it takes the chore out of maintaining the processes without being overly intrusive in return. Shorn of any hype, it's a workflow system, the founders suggest. This is how it works in its first instantiation. Suppose you want to find where you can drink the most romantic Mint Julep in town, or where to find the cheapest key cutter. You enter your request into Yelp, then nominate some friends who you know can be trusted not to jerk you around, or who really know a good tip. This much you might have already done, for sure, without Yelp! but like Evite, Yelp! takes care of the rest of the business. If your friends can't come up with the answer, it will then tentatively try friends of friends. Yelp! takes care of mis-spellings, and plugs into a directory at the back end, giving you an address and a map. And, overtime, becomes an authoritative information source. "There's fundamentally no incentive for people to write testimonials about things they like," says Levchin. (Wiki-fiddlers will disagree). "Suppose you know a really good mechanic - you'll recommend him. But unless you're particularly verbose you won't write 'I love my mechanic'. On the flip side, if I wrote you an email asking a favor, you'll recommend one and that's a very natural thing do." "It cuts down on stupid email traffic. You want the respondents, not the "I don't know sorry's". Now this sounds very much like the Friendster-style "social network" model that was much-hyped in 2003 and continues to receive investment, despite the model's manifold failings, from feather-brained venture capitalists. But la difference is important. "A recommendation in itself means very little. But if you get a recommendation from a friend that's more valuable. Social networking isn't the focus of a site: if you look at eBay, you see they are a social network very naturally," says Levchin. This can't be underestimated. Yelp! acknowledges a reality that optimistic "emergent" types, and "social network" companies know deep down is true, but haven't been able to address so far because it destroys an essential plank of their belief system. It goes like this. The social network is us In one of her legendary debunkings of the AI hype of the time (specifically George Buglarello's proto-Wired descriptions of a global, computer-mediated consciousness delivering us a human salvation), the feline English moral philosopher Mary Midgley pointed out a very awkward fact. No one, she said, has ever joined a computer network "unless they already had a purpose in common". The network "usually only dealt with that purpose", and "anyone who did become dissatisfied could leave a computer network far more easily than they could have left any more bodily kind of association." Well, as Bessie Smith might have sang, ain't that the truth? Very deep down, almost every reader, we bet, will know this to be so: normal people have used computers to make friends, date, and mate ever since the first transistor flickered into life - just as they've used every other technology as a tool. It hardly needs to be said that when we employ machines, these machines are our servants. But not everyone thinks so, and this is the kind of thinking that's been trying to drain VCs of their funds recently. A small number of people have seized on the old AI idea of "wise machines" and tried to transpose it to the Internet. Hence the religious fanaticism that characterizes advocates of weblogs and wikis and social networks. But it's a very impoverished belief system, and it's no surprise that so many end in failure: like this, this and this. Often at the first contact with the real world. Max Levchin, who had been following the Friendster bubble for the last 18 months, is acutely aware of this, although when we caught up with him last week he was trying very hard not to look like the cat that had eaten the cream. Yelp! came together only in June, when Jeremy Stoppelman, a PayPal engineering veteran, who eventually became PayPal's VP of Engineering and who's now the Yelp! CEO, cottoned on to the idea of using our existing social networks to tackle the problem of trust. So what's Yelp!'s biggest sales pitch? "Heh! It's not emergent!" says, Levchin, with a wicked grin, although he's at pains to point out he's not picking a fight with the junk science techno-utopians. Then again, with $100 million in the bank from PayPal, he doesn't have to worry. The whole idea of social networks was wrong, he says - they were never anything more than a feature. (Echoing the words of Andrew Conru here last Fall. "People get excited about joining a network and use it for a couple of months, but once they get to know people, they'll use other communication like email or IM," the Friendfinder CEO predicted. So basically, "Social Networking" was only ever a "feature" of something else? A means to an end? A point-one release of another product? Say it ain't so! "Friendster has a problem," says Levchin. "The fundamental value of the network to the user goes down as the inter-connectedness of network increases." Isn't this is counter to the techno-utopian mantra that the value of the network increases, blah, in proportion to the other blah you've heard repeated so often: two blah squared? No. Just think of yourself as a user. Networks just get in the way. "If I can see you directly I don't need to go through someone. If you could see everyone at once, who you wanted to know, there's no point to a social network," he points out. Bingo. At which point people can leave the, er, network at will, OK?. Yes, they can. Returning to last Fall, FriendFinder's Conru had spotted the same flaw in the Friendster model. Maybe the spiders in the middle of the web, those boring web designers who'd started these companies and received pots of money, maybe they were of no value to anyone at all? However their business plans were predicated on them being permanent, and irreplacable matchmakers to these incredible new communities. Conru's prophecy seems to be coming true. Users of Friendster, Linked-In and the other nascent social networks have made their connections and don't feel obliged to stick around to pay their dues: "We're not here because of you, Mr Charisma brain!" By contrast, Conru had based his successful business on the idea that people meet, pair, and you never see them again quite often - and he was quite relaxed about this. Tomorrow brings another set of customers. In human historical terms, you can see why Levchin's right, and why the Friendster model was doomed from the start. Usually, the spiders at the center of a social network need to lay claim to some Druid or Priest status before pulling that kind of stunt: they hold some special ingredient secret, or they're uniquely able to offer some quite new and utterly convincing belief system to persuade everyone to "keep connected". These boys most certainly didn't have it. In fact, even the fancy diet wasn't original. "How many people will pay even $10 or even $5 a month, when they have access to their Outlook Express inbox for free?," asked Conru. "The social network isn't the focus of the site," says Stoppelman. "There's no profiles and no pictures. The friction of using this thing is just the same as email." OK. So having made the concept of the social network look very silly overnight, how does, er, Yelp! plan to make money? Well there's ads, eVite style. And Yelp!'s founders aren't averse to taking paid listings "as long as we differentiate between paid and unpaid" says Max. And what about gaming? As we've seen with Google and the Wikipedia, there's an incentive to rig any system: "The backbone of the idea is to level out the playing field for the little guy, rather than the meeellion dollars big guy," says Levchin. "We have some tricks we learned at PayPal. And PayPal is a more attractive target for a gamer than us." So there you have it: real software for real people? It had to happen eventually. ® Related Link Yelp! Related stories Emergent cheese-sandwich detector enlisted in War on Terror Why the Friendster bubble 'has peaked - will pop' You are a Web Service - and you have an STD Wikipedia's Emergent People fail to impress readers Google sued over Orkut bug replication feature
Andrew Orlowski, 13 Oct 2004

Feds mull regulating online campaigning

The US Federal Election Commission (FEC) is contemplating the regulation of online political activity to ensure compliance with recent campaign spending limits, the Associated Press reports. US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, of Microsoft anti-trust fame, said in a recent ruling that the FEC's exemptions for online political activity are wrong under current law. She was ruling on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly called "McCain-Feingold" in reference to its sponsors, US Senators John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Russ Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin). The Act places limits on generic "soft money" donations to political parties, and on so-called "issue ads" which subtly advocate a candidate or a party while appearing to be concerned with a specific political topic. The Act treats these as back doors to virtually unlimited campaign spending and advertising. Judge CKK, apparently, sees the internet as another back door. Specifically, she struck down FEC exemptions for internet advertising and coordination among candidates, PACs (political action committees) and 527 political groups, that effectively permit candidates and party apparatchiks to collaborate with fundraising groups and online advertisers. The Judge said that this "severely undermines" McCain-Feingold. The FEC is likely to appeal the ruling, and is in general reluctant to regulate political activity on the internet, presumably because it has no earthly idea how to go about it. The net is decentralized and international, and following the money is a good deal more difficult than it is in the broadcast and print world. The only practical approach to enforcement would be to penalize the candidates for infractions, even if they're not responsible for them. Of course, there is no guarantee that a group would observe online funding regulations, even if a candidate or party representative asked it to. Investigating complaints will be extremely difficult. Torrents of political spam can be sent from anywhere in the world. Political blogs, and fundraising and advocacy sites, can be hosted anywhere. Campaigns will have to spend a good deal of time monitoring their opponents' web activities, and lodging complaints with the FEC, which in turn will have considerable difficulty verifying them. And the potential for abuse, by lodging frivolous claims, is greater with online politics than it is in the world of broadcast and print. In short, Judge CKK is ordering the FEC to write regulations that it will hardly be able to enforce, but that will draw many complaints and partisan accusations. No doubt she's right about the law, but she doesn't seem to have given enough thought to the practical end of things. Instead of promoting fairness in campaigning, the regs will add more fuel to a fiercely dualistic, and increasingly bitter, political process. ® 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 Republicans put $1.5m behind internet push Will the US election matter to the IT sector? Kerry girlfriend won't give up web shame Blogging 'cruelty' allegations rock post-DNC calm Howard Dean's Net architect blasts 'emergent' punditocracy
Thomas C Greene, 13 Oct 2004