15th > November > 2004 Archive

Ebookers cuts losses

Online travel agent Ebookers cut its losses in the third quarter thanks to a lower wage bill arising from job cuts. The firm said it is still in discussions about a possible sale and "a further announcement will be made in due course". Gross sales for the three months ended 30 September 2004 were £159m, up from £145m for the same period of 2003. The firm made a loss for the period of £2m, down from a loss of £3.2m for the third quarter of 2003. Ebookers has cut £1.3m from its annual wage bill. It has moved more sales online. In the third quarter of this year 62 per cent of sales were made online compared to 46 per cent in the third quarter of 2003. The period also saw a small increase in non-air business - 36 per cent of total turnover up from 33 per cent in the same period of 2003. Online and web-enabled hotel bookings make up the majority of this business. Ebookers expects to introduce a "second generation dynamic packaging booking engine" in December. Its booking website hotelbookers.com should be live by the end of the year. Ebookers expects trading in the fourth quarter to be satisfactory it expects the recovery of European mid and long haul travel to continue and more European consumers using the internet to make travel purchases. Michael Healy, CFO at Ebookers, said: "This has been a quarter of improved performance. We have grown the top line, and maintained our margin. Through restructuring and staff reductions of 360 people, we have managed to improve profitability. This is despite continued investment in technology and non-air businesses, the full benefits of which will be realised next year." More details here. ® Related stories InterActive Corp walks away from ebookers Lastminute seeks £13m savings Potential buyers sniff Ebookers
John Oates, 15 Nov 2004

Dow Jones acquires CBSMarketwatch

The publisher of the Wall Street Journal is buying CBSMarketwatch for $519m. Dow Jones and Co is paying $18 per share for the San Francisco firm behind cbsmarketwatch.com. This represents a premium of 7.2 per cent based on Friday's closing price or 46.5 per cent based on the 60 day average price. Larry Kramer, chairman and chief executive of MarketWatch, said: "By combining Dow Jones' legendary brands, infrastructure and valuable strategic alliances with MarketWatch's award-winning newsroom and comprehensive suite of business and analytical tools, this transaction supports our mission to be the market leader in licensed and advertising supported financial news and information." Dow Jones publishes the Wall Street Journal and its online incarnation wsj.com which charges for access and claims 701,000 subscribers. MarketWatch was founded in 1997 and runs cbsmarketwatch and bigcharts.com as well as some subscription services. The deal should close in the first quarter of next year but must still be approved by shareholders and regulators. ® Related stories Penguin and the great katie.com hijack Archive.org suffers Fahrenheit 911 memory loss Reed says yes to science on the web
John Oates, 15 Nov 2004
homeless man with sign

Elpida IPO raises $967m

Japanese memory maker Elpida IPO'd on the Tokyo stock exchange this morning, floating 32.6 per cent of the company. The company also posted its first ever half-yearly profit on surging sales. The 29.15m shares were launched at ¥3500 ($33) - just above the anticipated ¥3400 ($32) - and quickly rose to ¥3640 ($35). The flotation raised Elpida ¥102bn ($967m) Elpida announced its intention to IPO last October, though it had been on the cards for some time. In June this year, company president Yukio Sakamoto said Elpida would consider a public offering to part-fund its fab expansion plan. The company hopes to grow its Hiroshima plant into the world's largest 300mm DRAM fab, at a cost of ¥500bn ($4.74bn) between now and 2007. Elpida has been at the forefront of DDR 2 SDRAM production, having secured investment on the basis of its work from the likes of Intel and Kingston Technology. It's banking on growing demand for DDR 2 going forward. World demand for DRAM is slowing, but Elpida's fab expansion plan should put it in a good position to capitalise upon growing demand if the market picks up again in 18-24 months' time, as many analysts forecast. Indeed, the company today re-iterated its forecast that its current fiscal year, which ends on 31 March 2005, will see net income of around ¥21.6bn ($204.7m), up from the ¥26.9bn ($254.9m) loss it posted for the year to 31 March 2004. Elpida is some way to achieving that target: today posted net income of ¥6.5bn ($61.6m) for the six months to 30 September 2004, up from a ¥17.6bn ($166.8m) loss in the year-ago half. Sales for the period reached ¥100.2bn ($949.4m), up from ¥41.4bn ($392.3m) a year ago. ® Related stories Elpida announces '$990m' IPO Elpida to mass-produce DDR 2 in August Intel invests $23m more in Elpida Kingston invests $50m in Elpida Hynix, Micron neck-and-neck in Q3 Rambus sales, earnings rise on royalties Renesas seeks Nanya DRAM ban Infineon pleads guilty to memory price-fixing Samsung targets DDR 2 with 90nm process
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

AMD updates roadmap

AMD has updated its roadmap, stretching its public processor production plan out into 2006 to add a pair of new CPUs to its future line-up. So far, AMD has publicly committed itself to dual-core Opteron and Athlon 64 designs, all fabbed at 90nm. 'Toledo', a dual core Athlon 64-FX, plus dual-core Opteron 1xx, 2xx and 8xx series 'Denmark', 'Italy' and 'Egypt' are all scheduled to ship sometime in the last six months of next year. To these we can now add 'Pacifica' and 'Presidio', which are anticipated to arrive sometime in 2006. The two designs were mentioned by AMD CFO Fred Weber in an analysts' conference this past Friday. Further details were not disclosed. Multi-core at 90nm is one possible feature of Pacifica and Presidio, but 65nm versions of the dual-core line-up are also likely, given AMD's usual caution when it comes to rolling out a new process. A third possibility is that the two new chips do both: multi-core at 65nm. During 2006, AMD's Fab 36 300mm wafer plant is expected to come on stream, as will the chip maker's recently announced outsourcing production partnership with Singapore's Chartered Semiconductor. ® Related stories AMD signs foundry for 64-bit CPU production Dell, AMD make Friday bull run Dell 'to add' AMD CPUs to product line - CEO AMD launches PC 'for the rest of us world' AMD heralds PCI Express chipsets September chip sales edge up 1%
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

Online roulette has Germans in a spin

Some 1800 people have registered for online roulette from casino Spielbank Wiesbaden since the service opened in July, Heise Online reports. Spielbank Wiesbaden operates Germany's only licenced internet roulette operation. Wiesbaden casino - with its filigree woodcarvings, golden friezes and crystal chandeliers - was already was a famous institution at the end of the 18th century. Celebrity gamblers visiting the establishment included Otto von Bismarck, Feodor Dostoyevsky and Elvis Presley, all contributing to the casino's financial success which continues to this day. Between 1991 and 1999 Spielbank Wiesbaden rose five places in Germany's gross gambling revenue ranking (to reach seventh place), managing to increase its cash across the tables to DM61.7m ($40m). In 2002 the casino - one of some 50 concessioned casinos in Germany - decided to enter into the digital arena. To offer gambling on the web, though, it needed the State Parliament to change the Casino Act and today it is still the only casino in Germany which offers roulette online. A similar venture in Hamburg failed as Hamburg's Constitutional Court held that gamblers must be physically present in the casino. Indeed, Wiesbaden gamblers do not participate in a virtual game: the numbers are still determined on a real roulette wheel, with webcams broadcasting the event live - a pretty unique concept, even by Vegas standards. Participants must, however, either be residents of the State of Hesse or currently visiting the State. So far the casino hasn't pulled a big crowd of punters. On average, only 200 gamblers take part each day. However, Spielbank Wiesbaden believes the estimate of its gross profit of €2m per year will be "slightly surpassed". ® Related stories WTO rules against US gambling laws Sportingbet snaps up Paradise Poker UK Gov unwraps Gambling Bill Amex prevents punters gambling online
Jan Libbenga, 15 Nov 2004

Government IT laid bare

The Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland has published a damning report into the cancellation of a human resources and payroll system for the Northern Ireland civil service. The project cost £3.3m and after nine years never delivered a workable system. The Department of Finance and Personnel signed a contract with McDonnell Douglas Information Systems in December 1991 to deliver an integrated payroll system by April 1993. This contract was finally cancelled in May 2001. The report notes that nine different individuals held the chair of the Project Board which was supposed to monitor the project. The auditor general recommends that one individual should be Single Responsible Owner for such complex projects. It also criticises the Assistant Secretary Establishment Officer's Meeting, which had overall strategic control, for being too distant from the project. Apart from the direct costs of the project it also cost the taxpayer £6.1m in savings promised by the new system but never delivered. These will continue because the Northern Ireland Civil Service was forced to renew the contract with its existing provider until 2006. The Auditor General bemoans the lack of "an overarching strategy for the development of central IT systems". It criticises the Project Board for not spotting warning signs that MDIS was having problems implementing payroll software for other organisations. It also said there was a mismatch between the Civil Service requirements and MDIS's standard software package: "This amount of software tailoring substantially increased the risk of project failure." The Report ends on an almost optimistic note: "Departments are now in the position of having a considerable amount of good practice guidance available to them in the management of large procurement projects. Complex IT projects can succeed and it is essential that NICS secures the efficiency gains which they can deliver. It is, however, important that such projects are properly planned, resourced and managed in line with the guidance now available." The Auditor General's office acts independently to investigate government spending.More details available here ® Related stories Microsoft opens e-gov collaboration portal UK.gov meets and greets anti-patent lobby 'Sophisticated' UK sprints ahead in ICT race
John Oates, 15 Nov 2004

Boris Johnson website falls eerily silent

There is a distinct lack of foppish wit and public school drollery to be had this morning down at the website of sacked shadow Arts minister Boris Johnson — made to walk the plank over the weekend after allegedly lying to Conservative supremo Michael Howard over an affair with luscious blue-blood hackette Petronella Wyatt. Howard, mindful of his party's rock-solid repuation for personal and professional integrity coupled to an absolute committment to upholding the moral values of Middle England, ditched the wisecracking Henley MP after shocking tabloid revelations that he had been indugling in aristo rumpy-pumpy with the aforementioned Wyatt. Sadly, although Johnson has been defending himself resolutely to the press this morning, his website is strangely silent. Indeed, the best he can offer is this rather feeble message under a "Media Maelstrom" headline: Great of you to log on to Boris Johnson's website. We are snowed under at the moment, but will be ready to resume later on this week with Boris's next posting. All comments options will be frozen in the meantime. For shame. Interestingly, though, Johnson's last entry before his fall from political grace is entitled "Special relationship or one-way street?". It begins: Can someone just remind me about this Special Relationship business. I know it's very wonderful and important, and I know the whole country will be sitting on the edge of their sofas and dabbing their eyes... Yes, that's right Boris. The whole nation is as we speak sitting on the edge of its sofa and dabbing its eyes at the consequences of your very own "special relationship" which led you inexorably down a one-way street to the back benches. We imagine that the people of Liverpool are particularly upset by your predicament. ® Related stories Gore wins! Pro-Web filter politician changes track after his site is blocked
Lester Haines, 15 Nov 2004

Intel 3.8GHz P4 570J slips out

Intel's 3.8GHz Pentium 4 570J has yet to be added to the chip maker's price list, but it's expected to be launched today and indeed has already started appearing in the Japanese chip stores. Sony has even launched a Vaio Type R desktop PC based on the new processor. With Intel's decision to drop the 4GHz P4, the 570J - the 'J' indicates support for the no-execute bit - is likely to be the highest clocked 'Prescott'-based P4 we'll see, with future incarnations of the chip boosting performance through bigger caches and faster frontside bus clocks. The new chip uses an 800MHz FSB and offers 1MB of L2 cache, but Intel is expected to announce the P4 6xx series early next year, which include 2MB of on-die L2 cache and 64-bit addressing through EM64T support. Launched at 3-3.6GHz, a 3.8GHz P4 670 is set to ship in Q2 2005. That's it before the dual-core 'Smithfield' arrives, in Q3. Although not yet confirmed, it's likely the 570J will be based on the E-0 P4 core stepping. Lesser-clocked P4s are due to appear in E-0 form in a week's time, on 22 November. ® Related stories Intel 'plans' December Grantsdale price cuts Intel to add Wi-Fi to Pentium 4 chipsets - again Intel 1066MHz FSB chipset slips out Intel puts back 90nm P4EE to Q1 '05 - report Intel said to have set 'Sonoma' launch at 17 Jan '05 Intel follows Centrino price cuts with 2.1GHz Pentium M Intel to maintain 775-pin P4 prices to 2005 - report Intel readies updated 90nm Celeron cores Intel decides speed matters less these days, kills 4GHz Pentium Intel ships 'execute disable' Pentium 4s Intel to add NX security to Pentium 4 in Q4 Intel preps 2MB L2 Pentium 4 6xx line?
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

Sony enhances tiny wireless pen PC

Sony will ship an updated version of its Vaio U-series tiny PC next month, increasing the micro marvel's hard drive capacity and processor speed. The Vaio VGN-U71P is based on a ultra-low voltage, 90nm 1.1GHz Pentium M 733, up from the previous model's 130nm 1GHz CPU. The new chip offers 2MB of L2 cache - double that of the previous Vaio, the VGN-U70P. The hard drive capacity has also been raised, from 20GB to 30GB. Like the VGN-U70P before it, the new model contains 512MB of DDR 2 SDRAM and runs Windows XP Pro. The unit measures 16.7 x 10.8 x 2.6cm and weighs just 550g. Much of the machine's face is taken up by an 800 x 600 transflective colour LCD. Inside is a rechargeable battery with capacity sufficient for three hours' operation, Sony claimed. The unit also provides Compact Flash and Memory Stick ports, and incorporates 802.11g wireless networking. The unit ships with earphones, a unique lead-shaped stylus, a foldable USB keyboard and a docking cradle. The U71 goes on sale on Japan on 6 December, priced at around ¥199,800 ($1893) - several thousand yen less than the U70 was put on sale at last May. ® Related stories Sony unveils tiny wireless pen PC Graphics patent holder sues Sony, MS, Nintendo Sony to ship PlayStation Portable for under $200 Sony launches 1GB Flash MP3 player Related reviews Sony Ericsson P910i smart phone Sony Ericsson V800 3G handset
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

Thus squeezed by tough conditions

Thus, the Glasgow-based alternative telco, blamed fierce competition for a slide in earnings as rival operators scrap hard for new business. Confirmation that market conditions remain tough came as the company behind the Demon internet brand reported that while turnover for the six months to the end of September was up 13 per cent at £177.5m, EBITDA (earnings before interest etc) slipped to £18.1m from £20.6m last year. And despite bragging about winning "significant" new contract wins from Chrysalis Radio, Scottish Prison Service and South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, it was unable to hide the fact that it made an operating loss of £26.4m over the period. Of course, the company had already flagged these problems in September when it warned that tough trading conditions and predatory pricing from rivals had squeezed margins. Turnover from its internet business swelled six per cent to £45.1m with revenues from broadband up 57 per cent (£5.1m) to £14m. This increase was reported as its customer base climbed 77 per cent to 70,000. Snag is, this increase was largely at the expense of a sharp fall in revenues from dial-up net access, down £4.3m to £10.9m, as the number of narrowband punters fell to 90,000 during the year. Said chief executive William Allan: "Looking ahead into the second half, while we remain cautious on pricing and the market structure for telecommunication services in the UK, contract renewals and business expansion from existing customers combined with new customer accounts will deliver further growth. Against this background, it is expected that for the year ending 31 March 2005, THUS will deliver revenue of not less than £360m, continued positive cash flow and EBITDA of not less than £39m." Thus, which used to be known as Scottish Telecom, was created ten years ago by ScottishPower. The business floated as Thus on the London Stock Exchange in 1999 with ScottishPower remaining a major shareholder. In March 2002, Thus demerged from the ScottishPower Group. ® Related stories Thus shares nosedive over gloomy forecast Thus shares hit by profit warning Demon does entry-level DSL Iomart offers free broadband
Tim Richardson, 15 Nov 2004

Will 3G save the phone repair industry?

As Vodafone bids for space in Santa’s sack with the long-awaited launch of 3G mobiles, it could be a long awaited Christmas present for a sector of the mobile industry which has been having an utterly miserable time. Nokia’s repair outfits have seen catastrophic falls in business, as the Finnish giant finally gets to grips with its reliability issues. 2001 and 2002 were bonanza years for Brummie outfit NSH Techlogistics, as the company did £60m and £52m of business respectively. However, business in 2003 looked slimmer than Bob Cratchett on Christmas Eve, as turnover slumped to £23m for 2003. Nokia phones, it seems, just aren’t as crap as they used to be. The company’s accounts drily note that: “The business saw a downturn in product volume for service, mainly due to reliability of product. The industry in general is suffering the same plight.” One of NSH’s rivals, CRC Group, is similarly suffering from the drought of dud phones. CRC’s accounts state: “The level of sales transacted with Nokia, CRC’s largest customer, reduced by £45 million compared to 2002 as a result of the improved reliability of Nokia mobile handsets and changes made to the service management contract between CRC and Nokia.” This is quite a hit for a company with turnover of £109m. Things have got so bad for CRC that it had to shut down a repair facility in Rugby last year. The picture isn’t as simple as it seems, as the numbers are also affected by changes in the organisation of Nokia’s reverse supply chain, and the volume of phones sold. Nonetheless, the underlying picture is pretty clear. 2002 was the year that smart phones began to appear on the market in volume. And being an order of magnitude more complex than their predecessors, it’s not surprising that they were more liable to going kaput. In April 2002, The Carphone Warehouse suspended sales of the newly released Nokia 8210 as punters returned them to the stores in droves. That year Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein analyst Per Lindberg published a research note suggesting that reliability problems could cost the company £92m per quarter. “What happened was that Nokia suffered an epidemic failure of certain components. That provided a bubble of work for the phone repair companies, and things came back to normal in 2003,” Alan McLaughlin, CEO of the CRC Group, told The Register. “The phones being sold are more complex, with cameras and Bluetooth and so on. And despite huge efforts, and great success to achieve high reliability, the inevitable fact is that when you have new tech being taken to market as quickly as it is and changing as fast as it is, that leads to a higher rate of return.” Happily for it, but unhappily for customers, the mobile phone repair industry is looking forward to healthier times on the horizon. “With the introduction of new devices entering the market place we should see a return in service volumes but not until 2005,” says the report from NSH, whose directors declined to comment for this story. That should be more or less when 3G phones will hit the market in volume. “2005, with the imminent arrival of 3G from Vodafone and later others, will be a good year for the phone repair business,” says CRC’s McLaughlin. Nokia, however, doesn’t see it this way. Company spokesman Mark Squires welcomed the improvement in reliability. “We were cast iron, now we’re cast diamond,” he said. But he conceded that a rise in repair volumes wasn’t impossible, but that it could be a result of other factors. “3G is a new tech but we have been making 3G handsets for a while. It’s not as it was when we went from analogue to digital. This change doesn’t fundamentally alter the construction.” The problems may also be down to the increasingly large amount of third party software downloaded onto phones, he suggested. Or it could just be the popularity of phones. “An awful lot more people may be buying phones than there has been. So by default there will be a lot more work [for the repair companies],” he said. However, the rise in faults could have started already. “Handset repair volumes showed a modest increase in the second half of 2003,” says CRC’s report. We’ll find out soon enough. But let’s hope that 3G phones don’t turn out like other Christmas toys – Broken by Boxing Day. ® Related stories Vodafone leads charge in 3G offensive Sony Ericsson V800 3G handset Vodafone 3G is go
Ben King, 15 Nov 2004

Apple iPod Flash said to ship January

Talk of iPod's rumoured low-cost Flash-based iPod continues with the claim that Apple will put the machine into production next month in a bid to build stockpiles sufficient to satisfy post-Christmas demand. According to an AppleInsider report citing "extremely reliable sources", Apple wants to have at least 2m of the machines ready to sell before the ship date in order to avoid a re-run of the problems it had meeting demand for the iPod Mini. That player, a 4GB hard drive-based unit, was announced in January 2004 at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. If the iPod Flash reports are correct, that show seems a likely venue for the new player's unveiling. The possibility of a Flash-based iPod surfaced in October this year, when Thomas Weisel analyst Jason Pfaum claimed, citing "numerous" Asian sources, that Apple will use MP3 chip maker SigmaTel's controller chip in an upcoming music player scheduled for a pre-Christmas launch. SigmaTel already produces controllers chips for Rio and Creative Flash-based music players. Indeed, it signed a two-year deal with Rio round about the time of the Pfaum report. Apple's current player controller partner is PortalPlayer, which provides a similar ARM-based SoC product that supports a variety of transports, including Firewire, USB and Bluetooth, and include memory, LCD and other controllers in addition to the audio stuff. PortalPlayer's chips can also control Flash storage. While the iPod Mini was originally pitched against lower-priced, lower-capacity Flash players, it has essentially built a mid-range niche of its own, rather than hinder Flash-player sales, which continue to be strong, especially in the Far East. Apple may have been dismissive of the segment in the past, but if it's not only to maintain its market dominance but increase it, a move into all parts of the digital music player market make sense, hence the iPod Flash. It's not hard to imagine a Mini-like device that uses the same screen and controller, but without the hard drive can be significantly thinner - like Creative's MuVo Slim, say. ® Related stories Alleged Apple Flash iPod 'partner' signs with Rio iPod-crazed youths invade London station Apple 'signs second iPod supplier' Creative unveils 5GB Zen Micro Virgin unveils 5GB mini music player
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

Alleged software piracy CADs collared

Two people were arrested last week for allegedly masterminding a multi-million dollar software software piracy ring following a joint operation by Greek and British police. The duo, one Greek and one Briton, are accused of selling counterfeit computer aided design software for $905, much less than the going rate, Reuters reports. The news agency adds that police allegedly recovered a computer, three hard disks and 7,000 CDs of "warez" pirated software in the process of arresting the pair. This illicit trade cost the unnamed developer, a"multinational software firm", $360m, according to police. This figure assumes that anyone who used the counterfeit software would have bought the legit version and paid top whack for it, both questionable assumptions. ® Related stories Grand Theft Auto sequel leaked onto web DrinkOrDie London trial opens 11 charged over 'biggest-ever' MS piracy bust SMEs slammed for unlicensed software use Software pirates cost $9.7bn in Europe - BSA
John Leyden, 15 Nov 2004

Tiscali eyes profit in 2005

Tiscali reckons it's still on course to make a profit next year as it continued to improve key financial indicators during the last quarter. Revenues were up 22 per cent in the three months to the end of September from €222m (£155m) last year to €270.6m (£188.5m). The European ISP made a pre-tax loss of €33.3m (£23m), a 54 per cent improvement compared to the €73.6m (£51m) pre-tax loss recorded last year. At the end of September, Tiscali had 1.54m ADSL customers, up from 602,000 at the same time last year with 102,000 new punters signing up during the quarter. In all, Tiscali has 7.7m active punters, of which 6.2m are dial-up users. Despite this, the ISP claims it is "well on track" to hitting it target of 1.7m broadband punters by the end of the year. It's been a busy summer for the ISP ever since it announced plans to flog a number of non-core country businesses. During Q3 it raised €81.3m by flogging its businesses in Austria, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and South Africa. Said the company in a statement: "On the basis of the implemented disposal plan and of other actions already taken, Tiscali's board of directors has confirmed its confidence in the financial sustainability of the business plan which is currently being implemented, aimed at meeting the rapid growth in demand for broadband services throughout Europe." ® Related stories UK.biz in the dark over broadband jargon Tiscali targets SMEs with 'affordable' broadband Tiscali UK blames spamfest for sluggish email Tiscali OKs H1 numbers Tiscali chops off Swiss arm Lycos Europe buys Tiscali Sweden Tiscali Norway flogged Tiscali flogs South African ISP
Tim Richardson, 15 Nov 2004

Boffins unleash robotic cockroach

A tripartite alliance of scientists has developed what it claims will will be the solution to the perennial cockroach problem - a robotic Judas roach which will have the capability to seek, locate and betray its insect counterparts. The Belgian, French and Swiss team says that the invention is "a breakthrough in mankind’s struggle to control the animal kingdom", the Times reports. The undercover InsBot is the result of three years' research into cockroach behaviour which resulted in a computer programme allowing a cyberroach to mimic its victims' social habits. Professor Jean-Louis Deneubourg, of the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research, said: “Cockroaches like contact with each other. When they meet, they stay still. They are happy to be with a friend for a few moments. The more friends around them, the longer they stay.” Bless. Next on the agenda was to construct the matchbox-sized InsBot and arm it with lasers, infra-red sensors and roach scent to allow it to move in complete darkness and properly interact with the cockroach community. Deneubourg is currently carrying out tests to demonstrate that while cockroaches will naturally gravitate to a dark shelter, if the Judas roach leads them to a lit shelter they will follow - presumably to their destruction. The prof notes: “It is plausible and realistic to imagine that, in five or ten years’ time, people with a cockroach infestation will be buying robots to get rid of them." But it doesn't end there. The team also reckons its research will allow the development of robots to "stop sheep jumping off cliffs, to prevent outbreaks of panic among guinea fowl and to encourage chickens to take exercise". Indeed, the boffins are not targetting cockroaches per se, but just using the InsBot as a proof-of-concept device. While we concede that a world free of panic-striken guinea fowl would be a safer, happier place for our children and that fitter chickens would relieve the NHS of a great burden, we cannot accept that even tentative development of a laser-guided cybernetic cockroach is anything other than a gravely misguided concept. Although the InsBot researchers believe that they are contributing to our eventual subjugation of the animal kingdom, it's evident that taking the only creature on God's Earth capable of withstanding a nuclear holocaust and bringing it into contact with its ostensible nememis can only end one way - post apocalyptic winter with a human slave army serving the merciless hordes of bomb-proof, laser-armed roboroach hybrids. We cannot stress strongly enough that this research must stop now, the lab be consigned to the flames and all elements of the InsBot dissolved in molten steel. ® The Rise of the Machines™ Ukrainian teen fights 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, 15 Nov 2004

UK group preps public digital music 'ATMs'

UpdatedUpdated The UK will this week see the launch of music download vending machines that allow punters to purchase songs for cash as easily as buying soft drinks or snacks. Inspired Broadcast Networks (IBN) will leverage its network of 7800 music jukeboxes and games machines, located in pubs and other venues throughout the country, to offer downloads to mobile phones and digital music players. Initially limited to a trial run, the service will be made available in a number of public venues, such as railway stations. IBN and its partners said they expect to invest £50m over the next two years replacing existing vending machines and entertainment devices with digital download-enabled equipment. IBN will formally launch the service on Wednesday, and is keeping details of the service - prices and catalogue range, for example - to itself for now. However, it is believed the machines will offer access to a massive 2m tracks, though how much of those are available for download rather than playback is not yet clear. Which format(s) the system will support isn't known either. Publicity photos show an iPod connected to a terminal. Since Apple hasn't - so far as we know - licensed its FairPlay DRM technology, or Real Networks its Harmony DRM conversion system, that implies MP3 downloads, but we can't see the music industry being happy with that. Windows Media seems the most likely format, which would cut iPod owners out of the picture. Songs can be downloaded via USB or Firewire, and to memory cards. The company is partnering with British physical media distribution group Entertainment UK, retailer Woolworths Group and EMI Music. Woolworths recently launched its own online music store, and undoubtedly sees in-store downloads via terminals of the kind IBN is producing as a way of maintaining shop sales should demand for physical media slide. It also provides it with a way of taking digital music to PC-less customers. For similar reasons, online travel agent Lastminute.com is also partnering with IBN on the digital music vending machines, which can also punch out concert and travel tickets. UK telco BT is part of the consortium too. Last month, the company admitted it was exploring ways to provide digital music through its own public terminals, such as payphones. IBN is part of the Leisure Link group, which supplies public gaming, music and ATM systems to some 25,000 leisure and retail venues. It's also the parent company of UK wireless ISP The Cloud, which runs Wi-Fi hotspots off the back of suitably equipped broadband-enabled jukeboxes, one-armed bandits, pokies and the like. ® Related stories BT ponders music downloads for payphones France rules Apple's DRM denial not anti-competition Tesco opens digital music store Music biz in unauthorised downloads shock Apple iPod Flash said to ship January Napster beams songs to Windows smart phones Grokster, Sony BMG to do legit P2P service? Digital music firm demands big-name business boycott Woolworths to take on Apple iTunes store
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

European online sales to outpace US

European online sales during the holiday season are set to reach €13bn, according to Forrester Research released. This is €3bn more than the US, at €10bn ($13bn). Sales in the UK, totalling €4.3bn, make up 36 per cent of the total. Germany will account for 29 per cent of the total, at €3.8bn. France will take a nine per cent share, at €1.1bn. European ecommerce during the Xmas period will increase by 44 per cent compared to 2003, according to Forrester. It attributes this growth to more affluent online shoppers, an ecommerce push by traditional retailers and the aggressive promotion of online stores. Many European retailers' offline revenues have declined as a result of customers purchasing online in greater numbers, while in the UK competition has increased, with companies such as Sainsbury's and Tesco battling it out for Christmas sales. Leisure travel will form the largest portion of the market, at 21 per cent, closely followed by apparel sales, at 17 per cent. However, this increase in online purchasing carries a risk of fraud and a danger of faulty products being sold, particularly when it comes to healthcare products. To combat this, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has published a set of guidelines to help consumers shop safely for healthcare products online. The OFT advises that when shopping online you should: Consider claims or testimonials made on the site about the benefits of a product carefully - if something sounds too good to be true often it is untrue. Read the returns and complaints policy carefully and check it doesn't seek to reduce or remove your right to cancel and get your money back. Make sure you have the company's address - without it, you will find it more difficult to get your money back if things go wrong. Be wary of sites that seek to limit their legal responsibilities if things go wrong. Seek advice if you are unsure of your rights. Also listed are details of some of the rights granted to consumers by the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000: A cooling-off period during which an order can be cancelled. The right to claim a refund within the cooling-off period without deductions being made by the supplier for their initial handling charges. Confirmation of details such as the supplier's address for complaints (a PO Box number isn't enough). ® Related stories eBay snaffles Dutch classifieds website Eight fined in eBay auction scam MP takes aim at eBay over gun sales
Robin Lettice, 15 Nov 2004
SGI logo hardware close-up

RIM signs BT to sell Blackberry

BT is to offer Research in Motion's Blackberry mobile email and personal information management system, the UK telco said today. The deal puts BT alongside the likes of Vodafone, Orange and co., allowing it to sell Blackberry Enterprise Server software, Blackberry 7230 and 7730 wireless handhelds, and mobile data contracts to its corporate customers. Traditionally, RIM has focused on selling through mobile phone networks - it recently partnered with Vodafone to brand its 'Charm' handset as the 7100v, for example - since they can add the GPRS data connectivity needed to make the system work. The BT deal follows the same pattern - the telco will just have to buy the wireless connectivity component from one or several of the mobile phone networks. ® Related stories Nokia to bring Good push email to business phones Global smart phone sales soar RIM rises as PalmOne slides in Euro device market Sproqit readies real-time PC-to-PDA remote access Vodafone to bring Blackberry 'Charm' to Europe Nokia calls up RIM, again Siemens touts Blackberry-based business phone Related reviews Vodafone Blackberry 7100v Sony Ericsson P910i smart phone Danger Hiptop 2
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004
globalisation

SCH profits grow a little

Specialist Computer Holdings saw turnover increase 8.3 per cent to £1.88bn for the year ended 31 March 2004. Operating profit for the year - before exceptional items - was £30.7m, up slightly from £30.6m for 2003. More than half of total turnover, 56 per cent, came from outside the UK. Continental European turnover was £1, 056m against £828m in the UK. Three acquistions were "successfully integrated" in the period - Pluz BV, the payroll business of Hays Group and the IT services arm of ATR Group in Italy. SCH also bought a Triaton, a product supply business, from HP in Germany. All European non-distribution business has now been re-branded SCC. Sir Peter Rigby, chairman and CEO, said the firm had made excellent progress in a year when market conditions remained challenging. Rigby said: "We have a proven track record in not only making strategic acquisitions but in taking cost out, retaining value and fully integrating them into our European business. This financial year is no exception and has seen the successful integration of three strategic acquisitions in the UK, Italy and The Netherlands, underlining our unique capability to manage IT service delivery on a truly pan-European stage." Looking forward Rigby said: "We cannot forecast a trading improvement in the short term, particularly in Continental Europe, although UK IT expenditure has moderately strengthened." He expects the company to continue to grow both organically and fuelled by acquistions. SCC employs 6,000 people in 65 offices across Europe. ® Related stories SCH snaps up Hays payroll biz SCH reigns in Spain SCH acquires French dealership
John Oates, 15 Nov 2004

NetApp says gFiler is its Trojan horse

Network Appliance plans a virtualisation-powered push for its gFiler storage controllers, which are currently sold to add NAS to Hitachi and IBM disk arrays. New software enables gFiler to provision both NAS and SAN volumes from a single virtualised pool of storage. "We have a plan to grow our gFiler business over the next few years and put our DNA into places it wouldn't otherwise get - gFiler has been a bit of a Trojan horse for us," says Keith Brown, NetApp's director of technology & strategy. "Although gFiler was marketed as a NAS head, it is way more than that - we will now provision all protocols from the front, so we're moving gFiler to the front end." This relies on new operating software, called Data OnTap 7G, which is also available as an upgrade for existing NetApp filers. Using technology derived from NetApp's acquisition a year ago of Spinnaker Networks, it turns all the attached physical storage into a single pool, says Brown. "The second component is FlexVols drawn from the pool, which we can provision as SAN or NAS," he adds. "They can be any size, and you can non-disruptively expand or contract them with the same ease. We reckon we can get utilisation into the 90s." He says that while others can also do thin provisioning - allocate say 2TB of nominal storage to a volume, but only allocate physical storage as the volume fills up - this ability to shrink volumes is NetApp's differentiator: "We are unique in doing dynamic virtualisation. All the others use entirely static - and I would argue quite trivial - technologies. Their systems create composite volumes, for example by striping and/or concatenating physical disks, but there's no intelligence in those disks - the data still maps to a physical location. "FlexVols are metadata-driven, block objects can be provisioned using file or LUN semantics. In 7G we have split the virtualisation layer from the file system layer. We've also added the capability to do FlexClones - take a dataset and provision a facsimile of it. It's an evolution of our snapshot capabilities to add writeability. The clone is based on the same block set but with its own section for changes." NetApp will not stop selling filers that include disk arrays, partly because there's revenue in it, but also because there is value in integration. However, with its recent announcement of support for IBM midrange arrays, as well as for storage boxes from Sun, HP and HDS, it now sees big opportunities for its controller technology to fulfill the 'storage grid' vision of many non-NetApp storage shops. "Disks is disks, you need reliability and performance but beyond that it's a commodity," says Brown. "You have to get tight with the back end to avoid finger-pointing though. We don't support some arrays because we can't get the co-operation of the vendors, EMC is a notable example." ® Related stories The risks of remote back-up Europe's SAN avoidance strategy EMC makes run for SMBs with Dantz buy
Bryan Betts, 15 Nov 2004

Was Einstein a plagiarist?

A theoretical physicist at the University of Nevada has published a paper alleging that Einstein did not derive the gravitational field equations at the heart of the General Theory of Relativity, and might in fact have copied key equations from fellow physicist David Hilbert. The two scientists were working in the same area in 1915, and were developing their theories independently but concurrently. Each submitted papers for publication throughout November of that year. The two were also corresponding about their research, making it hard to unravel exactly who knew what, and when. As a consequence the question of which researcher can claim priority has been the subject of some debate. Prof. Friedwardt Winterberg says that contrary to the conclusions in a paper published in Science in 1997, Einstein did have the opportunity to plagiarise Hilbert's work. He claims that printer's proofs of Hilbert's paper have been tampered with, and that a key part of the derivation had been excised. In their 1997 paper, Corry, Renn and Stachel concluded that Hilbert altered his published paper to include the correct forms of the gravitation field equations after seeing Einstein's final paper. But Winterberg argues that this is impossible. Winterberg suggests that someone deliberately tampered with the document, specifically to support claims for Einstein's priority. He compares the 'mutilated' document with published papers, and notes that certain forms of Hilbert's notation were only used by Einstein at a later date. "My analysis of Hilbert's mutilated proofs therefore cannot prove that Einstein copied from Hilbert," he says. "It proves less, which is that it cannot be proved that Einstein could not have copied from Hilbert. But it proves that Hilbert had not copied from Einstein, as it has been insinuated following the paper by Corry, Renn and Stachel." Winterberg concludes that three people should be given credit for developing the general theory of relativity: Einstein, for recognising the shape of the problem, Grossmann for his insight that the contracted Riemann tensor was key to solving the problem, and Hilbert for completing the gravitational field theory equations. The full explanation can be found here. (pdf) ® Related stories Brits bet on gravity wave discovery ESA on mission to surf gravity's waves Chocks away for NASA's Einstein test
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Nov 2004

Grokster touts 'legal, licensed' p2p music share system

Grokster has partnered with 'P2P radio' company Mercora to offer what it claims is "the Internet's largest, legal and licensed peer-to-peer music search and discovery service". Given Grokster's own insistence - backed, it has to be said, by US District Court and appeal court rulings - that its own P2P network is legal, we're not sure why it needs to stress the legality of its own-branded version of Mercora's music broadcasting software. Grokster's Windows-only distribution will be called Grokster Radio. It's "legal and licensed" because Mercora has a number of non-interactive webcasting licences, as provisioned by the notorious Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Non-interactive webcasting essentially means not telling anyone in advance what you're going to broadcast, and not letting them choose to listen to specific songs. Mercora's "licence pertains to the digital performance rights of sound recordings and the associated reporting and royalty payments to SoundExchange", it says. "We have also obtained all US (and in some cases international) musical composition performance rights through our licenses with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC." Sub-licensing provisions allow Mercora to worry about its users' licensing, reporting and royalty obligations without them having to. Ditto Grokster users and the company itself, which said it would be broadcasting seven channels in addition to those of its users'. Unlike regular radio, you don't have to put up with DJs waffling over the start and end of songs, but without knowing what's coming up, it's harder for listeners to record the songs they want in order to avoid having to pay for them. That's why the licensing provisions are rather more relaxed than they are for music retail, for instance. In essence, P2P radio provides a way of sharing songs with a much-reduced opportunity for copyright infringement. Music fans get to play stuff they like to other music fans, and the music industry gets an opportunity to gauge what's hot and what's not - without the risk of losing too much income. Artists get paid a royalty - albeit a very small one. It's what P2P was always about - music discovery, access to better selections of songs that station playlists provide, etc. - without the risks. That said, since it's easy enough to hijack audio streams, tech-savvy listeners will be able to grab songs in any case, though it won't be as smooth a process as pulling them off Grokster's regular P2P client, we suspect. And it may well provide Grokster - and others of its ilk - with a future should the Supreme Court or a change to the law come place the burden of responsibility for P2P-based copyright infringement on the P2P companies themselves. ® Related stories McAfee founder returns with 'legal p2p radio' Grokster, Sony BMG to do legit P2P service? MPAA asks Supreme Court to crush P2Pers Court tells RIAA and Congress to let P2P software thrive UK group preps public digital music 'ATMs' Stealing movies: Why the MPAA can afford to relax Movie biz to sue P2P film-sharers Spanish MP3 site owner to pay RIAA $10m
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

Taser-happy cops floor suicidal six-year-old

Miami-Dade police have announced a review of policy after two kids were zapped with Tasers within a couple of weeks of each other. Tasers fire wire probes which hit suspects with a debilitating electric shock. The first incident involved a six-year old boy who was Tasered at his elementary school. He had broken a picture and was threatening to cut his leg with the glass. Police defended the decision saying they were happy to talk about use of the Taser rather than talking about injuries the child could have done to himself. The boy's mother told CNN: "If there's three officers, it's nothing to tell a 6-year-old holding a glass, if you feel threatened, 'Hey, here's a piece of candy, hey, here's a toy. Let the glass go." The second incident involved a 12-year old girl who was skipping school. Police officer William Nelson found her drinking and smoking at a swimming pool on 5 November. The officer told her he was taking her to school but on the way to the police car she ran away. Nelson told CNN that she "continued running even to the point of starting to run into lanes of traffic". So he zapped her with 50,000 volts of electricity. Miami-Dade policy only forbids the use of Tasers on pregnant women. In presumably unrelated news, Taser Inc shares rose five per cent on news that South Korean police have decided to extend field tests on the guns. ® Related stories US cops taser battling granny Police to trial plasma stun gun Home truths: Bionic man takes the Metal Mickey
John Oates, 15 Nov 2004

Pentax Optio X digicam

ReviewReview The diminutive Optio X features a swivel-body design that rotates through 270 degrees. One section houses an excellent 3x optical zoom lens, 5.2 megapixel CCD and flash unit, while the meat of the camera is in the other, larger section, which includes a large, 2in LCD, camera controls, battery and removable SD/MMC storage, writes Doug Harman. The all-metal body measures a diminutive 11.7 x 4.7 x 7.5cm and weighs only 145g - including the battery and memory card. The Optio X is nothing if not extremely pocketable. Pentax say the camera is aimed towards the female camera purchaser but its specification is - ahem - man enough for most 'snapping' tasks. The zoom lens section accommodates a fast, F2.6-F4.8 lens with 35.6mm to 107mm (35mm equivalent) focal range and is emphasised nicely with a black fascia. The other body section includes the colour LCD - the camera lacks an optical viewfinder - and contains all the controls. Plus you get 14MB of built-in storage. Controls are not immediately intuitive; it takes a while to get used the multi-function approach to control afforded by a tiny joystick that doubles as the four-way controller and access point to most shooting and set-up options: the tiny zoom control adjacent to the LCD is particularly fiddly to use. The mini-joystick activates most options including a separate menu for no less than 15 subject programs; these include settings such as a Firework mode and a Pet setting along with the 'usual' modes such as Portrait and Night scene. A neat Panorama Assist mode is in there too and the camera is supplied with (excellent) ACDSee software to help stitch your panorama images together and/or organise your images on PC. I don't know what Pentax thinks of its prospective female Optio X purchasers, but three on/off buttons seems excessive. There's one each for sound 'voice memo' recording, another for the 320 x 240, 15fps movie capture (clip length restricted only by the limit of the storage) and another for still-image capture, for which you have Best, Better and Good quality settings. Picture quality is pretty good in terms of metering, but the Auto Focus (AF) suffers if the subject lacks contrast; there's a degree of barrel distortion at the lens's wide-end too. Captured detail is compromised somewhat by the camera's processing, even in the top, 'Best' setting, some detail is lost to JPEG artefacts. Verdict The Optio X is replete with shooting options: a very comprehensive package indeed. Picture quality is marred by over-compression, even when shooting in its top quality mode, detail is JPEG'd away. But PictBridge direct-print capability, great build, superb metering, fast operation and comprehensive scene modes compensate for these somewhat. Overall, the Pentax Optio X is good rather than great.   Pentax Optio X   Rating 70%   Pros — Superb metering; great colour and control of image noise; excellent build quality; great specification.   Cons — Counter-intuitive controls; over compression of image detail.   Price £350   More info The Pentax UK website Recent Reviews Mio 8390 smart phone PalmOne Tungsten T5 Creative Zen Touch 20GB music player Danger Hiptop 2 Sony Ericsson V800 3G handset Vodafone Blackberry 7100v HP iPaq h6340 Wi-Fi, GSM PocketPC Olympus Mju-mini digicam Intel 3.46GHz P4 Extreme Edn and i925XE chipset
Pocket Lint, 15 Nov 2004

Aruba to bring WLAN-level security to LANs

Wireless switch specialist Aruba will next year bring to wired networks the same tight security it provides for WLANs in a bid to provide better protection from inside-the-firewall attacks. During Q1 2005, Aruba will ship a unit that connects to an existing LAN port and provides a buffer between a potentially unauthorised computer and the enterprise network. Essentially, the intermediary, branded the Aruba 2E Grid Point, creates a secure IP tunnel to one of the company's 'wireless grid' switches, blocking access to network resources until the client has been authorised and a suitable access policy applied. Each wired grid point can be powered by the Ethernet link itself. The system builds on the 'wireless grid architecture' Aruba introduced in August this year. Instead of fitting a small number of expensive, ceiling-mounted access points, Aruba reckons it makes more sense to roll out a large number of low-cost, low-power 'thin' APs, which are cheaper to upgrade and provide, it claims, better per-user coverage. "Security and wireless networking are synonymous," an Aruba spokesman told The Register. "Now we can extend that same level of security to the wired infrastructure." That it has needed to do so is the result of increased mobility within the enterprise, he said. Where IT departments could once be certain that desktops machines connected to the LAN inside the building were authorised to do so, the mobility that comes from laptops means that's no longer possible. "Anyone can bring a notebook into the building and connect it to a spare Ethernet port," the spokesman said. Support for the 2E wired grid point and an integrated policy enforcement engine are provided by an upcoming update to Aruba's wireless switch OS. While an update will be offered for its existing 5100 grid-oriented switch, Aruba will also offer two further models, the 6000 and 6100, which incorporate the new code and up the bandwidth provision to 4Gbps clear/3.6Gbps encrypted and 8Gbps/7.2Gbps, respectively. Both are designed to connect directly to a range of security appliances, in particular Fortinet and Sygate anti-virus kit. Since the wireless switch can be connected anywhere on the LAN - every client is connected through an isolated, encrypted tunnel - it allows the security hardware to be equally easy to implement, saving the need to install it in every wiring closet, Aruba said. The switches can also hook up to standard authentication servers. Aruba said it doesn't expect enterprises to equip every LAN port with an E2. Instead, it's pitching the boxes for use in more public ports, such as those located in meeting rooms. The E2, 6000 and 6100 are set to ship in Q1 2005. Pricing will be disclosed at that time, Aruba said. ® Related stories Aruba touts Wi-Fi grid scheme Airespace extends WLAN switch line to SMEs Cisco offers WLAN switching Switch start-ups turn to WLAN security
Tony Smith, 15 Nov 2004

Lexmark denies spyware allegations

Lexmark has firmly denied installing spyware on its customers' computers, after allegations appeared on a Usenet newsgroup that its printers install software that sends personal information back to the company. The poster, calling himself Commander, writes on the comp.periphs.printers Usenet newsgroup, that while he was installing a new Lexmark printer, he noticed that a program called Lx_CATS had been added to the program files directory. He determined that it was programmed to collect data on his printing and scanning habits and send it to a domain owned by Lexmark at 30 day intervals. He added: "Furthermore, it is embedded into the system registry, so average users would likely never know it was there and active." He states that Lexmark did not ask his permission to install the program, or to gather this information at any time during the installation. He adds that when he called Lexmark to complain, the company originally denied all knowledge of the program, only to cough to it when confronted with his evidence. Lexmark UK has issued a statement in response to the allegations: "Lexmark Connect is a voluntary program that is fully disclosed to all users during the installation process for a new printer. During this process, a registration screen will appear that will allow the user to choose to participate, or not participate in this program. A user MUST review this page and click "continue", or the registration process will not install the program or the printer." Fair enough, but it looks on the following screen grab like both the registration and Lexmark Connect options are "opt-out", so you have to physically deselect the latter to avoid being registered in the programmme. We asked Lexmark to confirm but this the company had not been able to do so at time of publication. The company also denies collecting personal information. It says Lexmark Connect merely tracks printing habits, such as the number of pages printed, amount of ink used, and how frequently product features are used so that it can "understand our customers printing habits and needs better". However, there is some debate on the newsgroup over the purity of Lexmark's intentions. Commander argues that while Lexmark maintains no personal information is gathered, "the program transmits the printer serial number, and when I registered the warranty with Lexmark, they recorded my personal information along with the serial number. How hard is it to match the two?" Another poster responds: "It's obvious Lexmark has punctured your tinfoil hat without your knowledge". Indeed. Black helicopters on standby. ® Related stories Lexmark suffers setback in DMCA case Lexmark recalls 40,000 laser printers HP builds inkjet R&D centre in Ireland
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Nov 2004

Dell re-enters the blade-o-sphere

After talking up its new line of blade servers for months, Dell went ahead today and delivered some product. Dell, not surprisingly, is touting its new blade server as a space and cost-saving improvement over standard 1U rack servers. Customers can fit 10 of Dell's PowerEdge 1855 servers into a 7U high chassis. All in all, this means customers can squeeze up to 62 percent more blade servers than typical 1U boxes in a standard rack. "Dell has designed its blades to offer the right balance of performance and density at a price point that enables customers to deploy blades cost effectively alongside 1U servers," said Jeff Clarke, SVP in Dell's product group. "Initial blade investments from Dell are no longer prohibitive and customers will save more with every blade they install -- improving their TCO as they scale out." Dell's latest blade product doesn't arrive without controversy. Way back in 2001, your reporter was at Dell's Round Rock headquarters when the company first revealed its intentions to enter the blade market. It later put a system on the market only to see the most mediocre of sales. Small companies such as RLX and Egenera dominated early blade sales, and then big rivals such as HP and IBM took over the market. Dell never registered at all on the sales charts and decided to go back to the drawing board with a new design. Dell claims to have designed the 1855 on its own, but sources have noted that the product is remarkably similar to a system from Fujitsu. This likely means the two vendors have tapped the same Asian design house, which would be standard procedure. While Dell is touting the compactness of the PowerEdge 1855, the product isn't all that dense. IBM, for example, can fit 14 blades in the same 7U chassis that holds only 10 Dell blades. RLX has an ultra-dense product that puts hundreds of blades in a standard rack. Dell, however, has taken an interesting middle of the road approach. Its blades aren't all that dense, but they aren't all that expensive either. The chassis starts at $2,999 and each blade starts at $1,699. A customer will pay $11,494 to fill up half the chassis and $19,989 for the whole shebang. In general, and it's tough to do apples to apples from the vendors' web sites, Dell's individual blades come in cheaper than those of rivals. As is typical with Dell though, the company is offering you a pretty basic product. If you're looking for a high-end, mature blade product, IBM and HP clearly have the superior offerings. They've spent years tuning their chassis and software for blade servers, have denser designs and more of the management features seen on higher-end gear. IBM also has a new line of less fancy, low-cost blade systems, and HP has a high-powered line of Opteron blades on the way. It will be interesting to see how much headway Dell can make in the blade market. Sun Microsystems has been battling to take share from IBM and HP for some time with little luck. Dell's less compact design could offset some of the heating issues that blade customers face, but it's not clear that customers want a middle of the road approach in this segment of the market. Time will tell. ® Related stories Dell booms in record Q3 IBM touts poor man's blade server box HP summarizes blade strategy with new marketing term HP gears up for Opteron server binge IBM and Intel open some blade server specs Orion delivers first 'personal cluster' workstation
Ashlee Vance, 15 Nov 2004

Sun stares down Red Hat with Solaris 10

If you can't beat them, join them and then beat them. That appears to be the flag Sun Microsystems will be waving today as it officially unveils Solaris 10 (even though the OS won't actually ship until January). Sun is eliminating the fee customers have paid in the past to run Solaris x86 on Intel or AMD servers in a bid to make its software model more like that of Red Hat. In so doing, the Unix server maker hopes to regain ground lost as customers flocked to Linux boxes in the post-bubble era. While the new pricing scheme will steal most of the headlines, let's not forget that Solaris 10 arrives with a $500m investment and close to 600 new features. Sun is the most regular of OS makers on the planet, delivering a new version of its flagship OS every two years with fanfare unmatched by main rivals HP and IBM and consistency unimagined in Redmond. On the pricing front, Solaris/SPARC customers won't notice any real changes. Sun has long bundled in the price of its OS as part of the total "system" or server buy, making the actual cost of Solaris pretty irrelevant. The same policy, however, did not apply for Solaris x86 customers who faced a sliding scale of per processor charges to use the operating system on their Xeon or Opteron boxes. Now Sun will offer a three-tiered model for the x86 crowd. In the coming months, Sun will finally release an open source version of Solaris. It's still debating between two licenses - it won't say which ones - but once the lawyers make up theirs minds, developers and plain, old code freaks will get a free look at the Solaris innards. This is Sun's attempt to stir up more developer interest in its OS and to mimic Red Hat's unsupported Fedora operating system. What will be of more interest to Sun's customer base is a new mid-tier release of Solaris 10 x86 that is totally free of charge and ready for use on production boxes. Sun will give customers free security updates for this version of the OS but not support or bug fixes. "We're hoping that people may be happy to download this commercial version of Solaris and basically use it at no charge to convince themselves that it's as cool as they think it is," said Mark McLain, vice president for software marketing at Sun. Sun manages to garner a lot of attention for new versions of Solaris and is hoping that some of those folks that went with Linux will be tempted to give Solaris another try. This mid-tier pricing model gives Intel and AMD server customers a chance to test Solaris for free. The third-tier of Sun's Solaris x86 pricing scheme is pretty much exactly like Red Hat's top offering. Customers will pay for bug fixes and various levels of support. The price start at $120 per year, per processor for bug fixes. Support then ranges from $240 to $360 per year. A customer could expect to pay somewhere in the range of $1,440 for top-of-the-line support on a four-processor Opteron server. Sun believes its prices will undercut those of Red Hat on a per processor basis by a decent margin. What must be remembered through all of this is that Sun's Solaris x86 customer base is still extremely small, so these policies are almost exclusively of interest to potential customers. Sun is pushing hard with its new fleet of Opteron servers, and this tiered pricing scheme should be appreciated by customers not running Linux or Windows on the kit. What's more important to Sun's main customer base are the new features in Solaris 10. It would not be out of line to make a bigger deal of the Solaris 10 bells and whistles if they were new in the classic sense of the word. Sun, however, has a program called Solaris Express where it gives users access to upcoming Solairs features ahead of time. Large customers can essentially begin using a new version of Solaris well before its "revenue" release. Sun is very methodical in the way that it makes the new Solalris tools available, and customers seem to appreciate this strategy. (Lord knows HP customers must be in awe of Sun's approach as they watch the HP-UX roadmap gyrate like a hooker on quarter night.) We've covered just about all of the major new features in Solaris before, and will spare you the fine details this go round. The main attractions include the DTrace debugging/performance improvment tool, the 128-bit ZFS file system, the Solaris Containers for running numerous partitions on a single copy of the OS, the Janus software for running Linux applications natively on Solaris, and the super-fast TCP/IP stack known as Fire Engine. Sun tends to receive the highest marks from analysts and engineers for Solaris, and this release should follow this trend. Sun is basically claiming the OS is faster than ever before on SPARC and even faster now than Linux for a number of applications on x86 systems. The standard security strengths are there along with a host of new virtualization, management tools. ® Related stories Sun's Linux wins right to be considered in Japan Security Report: Windows vs Linux Schools, patents and the future of Linux Sun: MS truce clears way to open source Solaris McNealy: Microsoft needs Sun to beat IBM and Red Hat Sun Thumper server plans excavated by The Reg Red Hat hates money, which makes it better than Sun HP knifes Itanium, cans IA-64 workstations Sun does dancing bear act for Wall Street
Ashlee Vance, 15 Nov 2004