7th > January > 2005 Archive

Brocade to fix two years of earnings after audit

Brocade is to restate two years worth of financial statements after discovering that it improperly accounted for stock-based employee compensation. The storage networking firm today said that an internal audit turned up two specific ways in which it miscalculated the stock compensation. In one case, it granted stock to new hires on their acceptance date instead of the day they actually started work. In another, it granted part-time workers similar stock deals prior to their being hired as full-time workers. Brocade doesn't expect to report material changes to revenue for the periods in question, which are its 2002 and 2003 fiscal years. "Our core business remains strong and the restatement does not affect the underlying fundamentals of our business," said Brocade's CEO Greg Reyes. Shares of Brocade were down more than six per cent to $6.47, at the time of this report. Brocade, which makes switches for storage networks, will delay the filing of a financial statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, as it sorts out this matter. It, however, expects to report its first quarter of 2005 earnings on time on Jan. 29. ® Related stories Apple ships Xsan 64-bit cluster file system IBM taps Emulex for cheap Fibre Channel Rumours of Tape's death exaggerated
Ashlee Vance, 07 Jan 2005

Nappletizer users - getting physical?

You've heard the sampler, now buy the real thing. CD sales rebounded for the first time in four years in the United States in 2004, according to Nielsen Soundscan, defying the predictions of big label executives. Overall music sales rose 1.6 per cent over 2003 but CD sales, which account for 98 per cent of all new music sold, saw a 2.6 per cent increase. The new music stores contributed next to nothing directly: just 0.033 per cent, or 1 in 3000 album sales were Net downloads. Nielsen says 140.9 million tracks were sold through the "Nappletizers" - new music stores such as Apple's iTunes Music Store, and Napster, compared to 666.7 million physical CDs. Universal and Sony BMG accounted for 58.7 per cent of internet downloads between them. But such figures are dwarfed by the P2P networks: over a billion tracks are downloaded each month, according to some estimates. Is there a correlation between the new music services and a renewed interest in buying CDs? Are downloaders getting physical? Evidence in the UK suggests that 92 per cent of people who bought from an online store preferred CDs. Hardly surprising, as the real thing sounds better, allows you to share the music with friends and you have something tangible at the end of the day. That's a lot of advantages to something that costs about the same, or in the case of discount CDs, is much cheaper. Who wants to pay more to get less? ® Related stories UK CD album shipments break Q3 record Digital music a long way from displacing CDs Music sales rise despite RIAA's best efforts The CD is king The CD roars back from the dead CD sales rocket in UK Retailers join zero-profit DRM ‘gold rush’ Downloading digital music - 2004 in review
Andrew Orlowski, 07 Jan 2005

Apple music store smacked with antitrust suit

An iTunes Music Store customer is suing Apple for anticompetitive behaviour, arguing that music purchased from the store obliges him to use Apple's iPod. That much at least is true, but Thomas Slattery, who filed the lawsuit in a California District Court this week faces a difficult task convincing the court of its merits. Slattery's case alleges that "Apple has turned an open and interactive standard into an artifice that prevents consumers from using the portable hard drive digital music player of their choice." He claims that he was "forced" to buy an iPod to hear the music he'd bought from the iTunes Music Store. Apple only sells music with its own DRM wrapper, while the iPod won't play music in Microsoft's WMA format, or Real's DRM wrapper used by much of the rest of the online stores. Apple has licensed the iPod to HP, which rebadges some models, and agreed to license the DRM wrapper to Motorola. Apple has blocked a workaround which prevented music from Real's Rhapsody store being played on the iPod. While Apple's market share is considerable in two markets, for digital jukeboxes and music downloads, both markets are in their infancy. Using Sherman Act successfully means first proving that Apple is first a monopoly, then that it abused that dominant position in a way that suppressed competition to the detriment of consumers. Slattery isn't the first to make the point. Microsoft, itself a convicted monopolist, has argued that Apple's monopoly is too restrictive. However, if the case reaches court, Apple is likely to argue that iTunes doesn't forclose other distribution channels. No one expects online music downloads to eclipse other music distribution channels soon, with predictions suggesting that it will at best take a single digit share of the music market by the end of the decade (with, ironically enough, the lockdown, low quality music files only spurring customers to buy more CDs). By which time a more sensible framework may well have made today's disputes redundant. ® Related stories Microsoft monopoly says Apple monopoly is too restrictive Apple iPod out of tune with Real's Harmony Digital music a long way from displacing CDs
Andrew Orlowski, 07 Jan 2005

Phone biz agrees on $1 DRM levy

The mobile phone industry has already agreed on a DRM standard for locking down media - and it'll cost $1 per handset, plus a percentage of each piece of media downloaded. The secretive Open Mobile Alliance, which represents 200 industry heavyweights, actually agreed its first-generation DRM specification back in July last year, and has sketched out its successor, but the royalty schedule had not been agreed. Now the MPEG LA, a clearing house for technology patents including Firewire and MPEG family of protocols, has brought the IP holders together to agree how much it will cost manufacturers. To implement OMA DRM 1.0 or 2.0 the manufacturer will pay $1 per device, and the carrier, or service provider, one per cent of the transaction. The money will be divvied out between patent holders ContentGuard, Intertrust, Matsushita, Philips and Sony. Agreement has been rapid, taking less than four months. But it's nevertheless a considerable burden to cost-sensitive manufacturers, which often balk at paying more than a few cents for essential software. Handset vendors only pay around $5 to license the air interface. The costs will indirectly be born by the consumers, who as always in a lock-down regime, end up paying more for less. You can read a comprehensive account of the mobile industry's lock down efforts to date here. ® Related stories Universal mobile phone DRM tech ready for prime time Guilty until proven innocent - DRM the mobile phone way Thomson takes 33% stake in MS-backed DRM developer MS PlaysForSure - GoneForNow ? Love DRM or my family starves: why Steve Ballmer doesn't Get It Here's locking down you, kid - MS hawks vision of DRM future AT&T Wireless launches mobile music store 3G chiefs choose AAC for mobile music delivery MS, Apple pitch music at mobile phone makers Hey, where'd my porn go?
Andrew Orlowski, 07 Jan 2005

Gio debt demands pulled

Wescot Credit Services Ltd is no longer collecting money on behalf of troubled ISP Gio Internet. The debt collection agency had sent out letters before Christmas demanding cash it said was owed to Gio Internet. But the Hull-based firm was flooded with complaints from people who disputed the demands - some of which ran to hundreds of pounds. One of those who received the bill told us: "We have recently been sent a bill for £319.80 from Wescot Credit Services Ltd saying we owe Gio Internet this money for the use of them providing us with the internet service. "We have never heard of this company and have only ever used AOL for our internet service use, we have only been on the internet for about a year and Wescot is stating the bill is for internet service in 2002." Another told us: "Having received this extortionate bill for £340 from a debt collection company on behalf of Gio I hit the roof. I tried to contact them but to no avail. I've been advised to contact them via email and to ignore any demands for payment since they may not be legitimate." As a result of a "significant number of enquiries" and complaints like these, Wescot has now written another letter advising "that we have now returned all Gio Internet accounts back to our client and Wescot is no longer acting in respect of this matter". However, it's emerged that Wescot wasn't acting on behalf of Gio directly, but cableco NTL, which is owed cash by Gio for wholesale dial-up services. A spokesman for NTL confirmed that the cableco was working with Gio to reclaim the cash but declined to say how much money it is owed. This is on top of the £220,000 that NetServices Ltd claims it is owed by Gio for broadband services. Gio disputes this and the matter is currently in the hands of lawyers. Part of the chaos concerning the involvement of Wescot appears to stem from incomplete records of customer accounts and billing transactions. Gio Internet MD Charles Holland said he believes Gio is owed up to £1.3m. However, due to incomplete records there is no way of knowing - at the moment at least - exactly how much money is owed. ® Related stories Gio Internet sends in the debt collectors No winding-up order for Gio Internet NetServices slams Gio Internet in bill dispute
Tim Richardson, 07 Jan 2005

Microsoft Anti-Spyware?

ColumnColumn Microsoft has jumped into the anti-spyware market, but is this a new approach to thwarting bugs, or is it gearing up to profit from a dubious industry it helped create? The ink is barely dry from Microsoft's acquisition of the GIANT Company Software, and already they are offering the first public beta release of a new application called Microsoft Anti-Spyware. In other words, Microsoft is getting into the anti-spyware market in a big way. What does this mean for customers? Part of me wants to applaud Microsoft and say that this is a very good thing for their customers, albeit a move that is long overdue. The other part of me says that this is a band-aid approach and a funny way for them to admit defeat - because it's holes in Microsoft's operating system that built the entire spyware industry to begin with. What does this mean for the security industry, and where are we headed with spyware? I'll try to explore both sides of the fence. Good for customers It's nice to see Microsoft attack the spyware issue head-on. GIANT's anti-spyware offering has received some favorable reviews, and Microsoft's Anti-Spyware first public beta still has GIANT's name written all over it. Installing the software reveals a clean interface with easy-to-use controls and a strangely familiar set of buttons. It looks good. The license agreement for Microsoft Anti-Spyware identifies spyware using a new Microsoft term, Potentially Unwanted Software (PUS). I love it, it's so Microsoft. In effect, Microsoft will identify all the PUS inside your Windows computer, and help you squeeze it out. Great. Anti-spyware applications require regular updates. To that end, MS Anti-Spyware's default settings look for updates on a daily basis. And for now, it appears that Microsoft will offer these updates for free -- at least for the foreseeable future. Once the product is out of the beta stage, though, things could certainly change. What if they start charging a subscription fee for the updates? It only makes sense. This is a lucrative market and a potential recurring revenue stream worth billions of dollars, which might be too sweet to pass up. The anti-virus companies in comparison are already making billions of dollars by charging for subscriptions for their own weekly updates. Why shouldn't Microsoft jump on the bandwagon? A subscription model seems to be the holy grail of software licensing, as we've seen from so many products already. Here's my prediction on how Microsoft will tackle the spyware market, moving forward. MS Anti-Spyware looks like an excellent product. By offering it for free now and soon bundling it with every new computer, similar to Internet Explorer, two years from now Microsoft Anti-Spyware could easily own the lion's share of the market, at which point they can choose to start charging for those weekly updates you have come to rely on. It will also help inch them towards licensing their OS and its updates on a pure subscription basis, something that they've already done to a large extent with their Enterprise license agreements. But from now until then, at least your computer will be protected, and safe. And in the interim, their approach to security patches with Internet Explorer and the rest of the operating system will remain the same. Ridiculous or absurd? Is Microsoft's entrance into the anti-spyware industry good for customers? Probably. But the cynic in me also looks at this as a rather ridiculous response to the problem - or a set of problems that they are simply unable to fix: massive holes in their browser and fundamental flaws in their operating system that they cannot stay on top of. Oh, some of us have talked about this many times before, but little has changed. They might as well start building more standalone applications on top of all the holes, if that's the only way to fix them. Can you really prevent the exploitation of holes in a browser and operating system using a standalone application? Maybe. The people over at PivX seem to think so. The anti-virus companies are making billions in subscription fees, and they're slowly starting to address spyware as well. Today anti-spyware companies all offer real-time, proactive detection, just like MS Anti-Spyware. This is generally effective. But isn't this simply the wrong approach to the problem? It's like selling people a toaster that could catch fire at any time, but then offering a free fire extinguisher to put out those fires as required. Is this the best they can do? Perhaps the new MS Anti-Spyware application is just a stop-gap solution until Longhorn comes out in a few years. But I'm not holding my breath. Instead, let's all follow Microsoft's lead: admit defeat now, and then figure out how to profit from the epidemic you helped create. I think spyware is going to be with us for a very, very long time. Copyright © 2004, Kelly Martin has been working with networks and security for 18 years, from VAX to XML, and is currently the content editor for Symantec's independent online magazine, SecurityFocus. Related stories Windows XP users Phelled by new Trojan Botnets, phishing and spyware Can the new Symantec make merging look easy? Microsoft buys anti-spyware firm Giant
Kelly Martin, 07 Jan 2005

The government open source dynamic

The news just broke that the Venezuelan government is planning to migrate to Open Source, having issued a decree to central government organizations to draft plans for migration. The decree involves three phases of migration beginning with central government, then regional government and finally municipal government. Central ministries covered in the first phase are being asked to complete the migration within two years (unless they can demonstrate that the time frame cannot be met). The Venezuelan government has founded an Open Source academy in the city of Merida in an effort to provide a supply of capable staff. This is yet another straw in the wind as regards global government commitments to and enthusiasm for Open Source. There is currently a remarkable amount of proposed legislation world wide that mandates the use of Open Source in government. The countries where this is the case are: Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, France, Italy and Peru. However, such legislation has previously been proposed and rejected in many countries simply because a blanket technology mandate is rarely practical. More telling, in terms of a clear enthusiasm for Open Source are countries where a stated policy of a “preference” for Open Source has been declared. Countries where this is the case, in some areas of government IT use, include: Bahrain, Belgium, China and Hong Kong, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Philippines and South Africa. Beyond this, almost all governments have R&D projects which are investigating the practicality of Open Source for government use which will, in all probability lead to local policy guidelines at some point which favour open source. There are three significant motivations for government sponsorship of Open Source. First of all, government spend on technology is very high and thus the idea of an established viable Open Source alternative to proprietary software is appealing because it must lead to cost reductions, either because it provides a bargaining position (against proprietary vendors) or because it replaces more expensive proprietary software. Secondly, for most governments, proprietary software is an import which does little to enrich the economy, while an Open Source initiative is likely to promote the development of a local software industry. Finally, governments usually see Open Source as a means of promoting IT standards which have the potential to reduce technology costs in the medium to long term – not just in the government sector but in the local economy. This is particularly important in less developed countries where the cost of IT is simply too high for many local businesses. These many government initiatives are likely to have a far ranging impact on software technology in general because they will eventually legitimize and promote Open Source in many areas, particularly on the PC. Government promotion of Open Source is now becoming an established world wide trend and it is unlikely to be reversed. © IT-analysis.com Related stories Dutch govt ends exclusive MS upgrade talks Microsoft opens e-gov collaboration portal Open Source ready for prime time in UK.gov, says OGC NHS OSS white paper is 'disappeared' UK tech specialist school pioneers open source switch Paris may favour gradual switch from MS to open source
Robin Bloor, 07 Jan 2005

Former Worldcom directors cough up $18m

Ten former directors of WorldCom have agreed to cough up $18m (£9.5m) of their own cash to help settle a class action lawsuit following the collapse of the telecoms company in 2002. According to reports from the US, the ten weren't directly involved in the accounting scandal that rocked the corporate world, although they were named in lawsuits. In total, they will pay $54m (£28.7m) to settle the lawsuit brought by former shareholders. $36m (£19m) will be paid by the directors' insurers with the rest made up from their own pockets. The former directors are Clifford Alexander, James Allen, Judith Areen, Carl Aycock, Max Bobbitt, Stiles Kellett, Gordon Macklin, John Porter and Lawrence Tucker. The estate of John Sidgmore, who died last year, also agreed to pay up. WorldCom emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April last year after spending the two years clearing up the mess left behind from a damaging $11bn (£5.8bn) accounting scandal. It has since changed its name to MCI. ® Related stories MCI upbeat despite $3.4bn loss EC wrong on Worldcom / Sprint deal Ebbers sued for $400m Ebbers and chums pay $51m to settle pensions suit
Tim Richardson, 07 Jan 2005

Tesco offshores 400 IT jobs to India

UK supermarket chain Tesco is to move hundreds of IT support jobs to India. The UK retailer has set up a subsidiary company to provide service and support, which already employs 190 people. Tesco says that by the end of 2005 its Indian operation will have 770 employees in total. The Times of India reports that 400 of the new jobs will be for software professionals. It also quotes Philip Clarke, director of IT and international operations at the company, as saying that these jobs will be "transitioned out of the UK". Clarke explained that the offshoring of so many staff is part of an overall program to consolidate services. He explained that two years ago the company began to standardise its IT platforms across its 2,400 stores worldwide. The result, dubbed Tesco-in-a-box, is a combination of off the shelf apps, custom-built software and a range of integration services. Tesco first announced plans to move offshore in July last year. The company says that it does not expect too much criticism for the move because it has also created many UK jobs in the last three years. The new facility will be part of developing and rolling out the products to the parent company. It will offer other services too, such as financial processing, which is why Tesco opted to set up a subsidiary company, rather than simply outsource the work. According to newswire reports, Tesco also has longer-term plans to move some customer facing operations to the site. The company did not reveal how much it had invested in the new facility. ® Related stories ABN Amro slashes IT workforce Offshoring inevitable, so get over it BCS says skills beat outsourcing
Lucy Sherriff, 07 Jan 2005

Mozilla and Firefox flaws exposed

Mozilla and Firefox users were warned of a number of potentially troublesome security vulnerabilities this week. The most serious flaw involves a buffer overflow bug in the way Mozilla processes the NNTP (news) protocol. The bug creates a means for hackers inject hostile code into vulnerable systems, providing they trick users into executing maliciously constructed news server links. All versions of Mozilla prior to 1.7.5 are affected. Firefox users are advised to make sure they are running version 1.0 to minimise any risk. The flaw was discovered by Maurycy Prodeus of Polish firm iSEC Security Research. Next up, Secunia has discovered a flaw that creates a means to spoof the source displayed in the Firefox's download dialog box. The vulnerability has been confirmed in Mozilla 1.7.3 for Linux, Mozilla 1.7.5 for Windows, and Mozilla Firefox 1.0. Other versions may also be affected, Secunia warns. It advises Firefox users to avoid download links from untrusted sources pending the availability of patches from the Mozilla project. Finally, there's a less serious problem affecting Firefox and its email client Thunderbird. Security researchers have found that temporary files are stored by the popular packages in a format that makes it possible for snoops to read the content of downloads and attachments of other users on the same machine. An overview of these flaws and suggested workarounds can be found here. ® Related stories Poison applet peril affects IE, Opera and Firefox Firefox.de in adware rumpus Firefox 1.0 limbers up for launch Is Microsoft creating tomorrow's IE security holes today? MS quashes infamous Bofra bug
John Leyden, 07 Jan 2005

OFT rattles sabre over 'free flights' web offer

A UK website flogging mobile phones is facing legal action from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for failing to pull a misleading "free flights" promotion. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which has requested the intervention of the OFT, claims Fones4Free.com's "free flights" promo requires punters to pay taxes and other charges. Because of these charges, the ad watchdog claims the offer is misleading. While the "free flights" promo - which has been running for the last four months - has been removed from poster and banner ads, the ASA claims it is still available via the Fones4Free.com website. The ASA has called in the OFT because it has failed to win any assurances from Fones4Free.com that the deal will be pulled. Said Christopher Graham, head of the ASA: "Despite repeated attempts to contact the advertiser and remedy the situation, Fones4Free.com have failed to co-operate with the ASA. Consumers could be misled by this type of 'free' promotion which omits compulsory taxes and charges. "By referring to its legal backstop power of the OFT the ASA has underlined its commitment to maintaining the highest standards in advertising regulation and making sure advertisers comply with the Codes." The OFT has agreed to consider taking action against Fones4Free.com. No one at Fones4Free.com was available for comment at the time of writing. ® Related stories Domain slammer promises to turn over new leaf Punters warned over 'matrix' web scam Trading Standards, ASA confirm BT 'Advent Calendar' probe V Two One told to pull 'UK's cheapest ISP' claim
Tim Richardson, 07 Jan 2005

Gates holds forth on Red Menace of IP law reform

It must be wonderfully simple inside Bill Gates' head. In the world outside the debate over patents and copyright may be raging, but at Bill Brain Central there's no need for reform, the system works fine and is becoming more popular, and the opposition consists of "communists" threatening the American Way. Bill added this little gem to the Microsoft High Command's collection of well-reasoned debating points (GPL is a cancer, it eats businesses, no, it eats whole economies, etc, etc) in an otherwise largely dull interview with CNET's Michael Kanellos. Asked what's driving the growing campaign for patent law reform, and whether he feels intellectual property laws need reforming, Gates responds: "No, I'd say that of the world's economies, there's more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don't think that those incentives should exist." It's usually folly to try to parse Billspeak too deeply, but if we can figure that one out he seems to be categorising the old "Evil Empire" as having been a major threat to the US IP system, and tagging current opponents as the last deluded holdouts against the new world order. Or something. We can't say for sure what sort of communist it is Bill thinks he's dealing with when he presses his source code into the hands of Jiang Zemin, but he possibly hopes it's a similar sort of communist to John Reid, the UK Secretary of State for Health who recently handed the franchise to Microsoft for a decade. We could observe that Jiang Zemin might be a state capitalist, and Reid merely one of those old guard stalinist thugs who've run the Scottish Labour Party for decades, but we won't, and if you fancy an argument about the definition of communism, nip over to Slashdot instead. Back at the interview, there's one other piece of Bill-style incisive thought that we shouldn't let pass. He has quite a lot to say on blogs, revealing that he has "human search engines" who we presume act as his RSS feeds (sounds like a deeply fulfilling job), handing him what must amount to a boiled blog. Bill says he's "toyed with doing one myself", then explains the various ways he might go about it, if he did. "I'm thinking maybe I could do one a month or one every six weeks--something like that. I'd kind of like to, but I've got to be sure I can keep going for at least a year to make it worth doing." We at The Register are not exactly noted for our enthusiasm for the blogwave, but even we have an inkling that something you sit down and write once a month and then leave sounds like the opposite of a blog. ® Related Stories: Software patents: the fight in Europe Ethical fair trade - you knew it made sense until MS embraced it Microsoft offshores patent war - so goes the WTO?
John Lettice, 07 Jan 2005

Innovation Prize: entry deadline looms

There are just three weeks to go before the closing date for entries in the £50,000 MacRobert Award 2005 The competition, organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering, seeks to recognise groups (of up to five people) or individuals who have "exploited a major engineering breakthrough". Last year, the £50k prize was scooped by IBM's team responsible for the company's WebSphere software. They saw off competition from Pilkinson's self-cleaning windows, 3D displays from Sharp, and a new kind of diesel injection system to win the day. More information on the runners up can be found here. If you think your team has what it takes to make the shortlist, you can download an entry form here. Entries must reach the Royal Society before 31 January. ® Related stories Pilkington perfects self-cleaning window Torvalds wins Economic Innovation Award Cheap rocket crumbles in hunt for $10m space prize
Lucy Sherriff, 07 Jan 2005

Shuttle launch moves closer

NASA has taken a big step towards the relaunch of its shuttle fleet with the delivery of a new, Improved Shuttle External Tank to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The tank is due for deployment on the May "Return to Flight" mission to the ISS, dedicated mainly to "testing and evaluating new procedures for flight safety" aboard space shuttle Discovery. NASA has spent 23 months making improvements to the 47m-long tank following the 2003 Colombia disaster - caused by a lump of insulating foam from the fuel tank breaking off during launch and punching a hole in the shuttle's wing. Superheated gas entered the rupture during re-entry, causing the vehicle to disintegrate. External tank project manager, Sandy Coleman, said: "Our team of contractors and civil servants has worked hard developing, testing and implementing improvements that will reduce the risk to the orbiter during liftoff and ascent. This will be the safest, most reliable tank NASA has ever produced." ® Related stories ISS plumbing plays up again NASA eyes May launch for Shuttle NASA celebrates martian Spirit of adventure
Lester Haines, 07 Jan 2005

BBC staff asked to lay off BBC news ticker

BBC techies are advising staff not to use the corporation's own news ticker service, Newsline. Our sources inform us an item in the corporation's internal mag Ariel reported that high network load because of the application had prompted the advice. However, the BBC says the only reason staff are told not to use Newsline internally is that its developers haven't produced an version of the application compatible with Windows XP or Mac OS X. XP came out in October 2001 so the BBC's failure to adapt its news ticker to Microsoft's flagship OS smacks of neglect, if not abandonment. In fairness, Newsline is a marginal app and the BBC's site is very well maintained. But the failure of the BBC to eat its own dog food is less than a ringing endorsement. In a statement, the BBC said: "The BBC can confirm that on 9 December Siemens Business Services, its technology services provider, informed BBC IT staff that the BBC news ticker is currently not compatible with the BBC desktop. The news ticker is currently not suitable for XP or Mac OS X desktops - which are widely used at the BBC. We are currently working on an upgrade which will include these versions." ® Related stories BBC Tech staff become Siemens workers Jowell waves through BBC Technology sale Wags hijack TV channel's on-screen ticker
John Leyden, 07 Jan 2005

UK e-spend on the up-and-up

A record number of Brits last year eschewed the pre-Xmas high street shopping stampede in favour of online shopping, and the trend is set continue during the traditional January sales. An estimated 12m Britons shopped online during 2004, and their Yule spend alone - during the last three months of the year - contributed £2.6bn to the UK's £245bn total annual retail sales. This figure represents a 44.5 per cent increase on the same period in 2003, according to the Times. This trend towards virtual purchases has hit high street retailers. Woolworths admitted in a Herald report that its "plan to prepare stores for Christmas three weeks earlier than usual had backfired" and that Xmas revenues had been "disappointing". The chain blames a combination of factors - including DVD piracy and a "general malaise" across the toy industry, but online bargains and discounts have greatly contributed to the appeal of e-shopping at the expense of the traditional store. As the Herald notes, Dixons, Currys and PC World all offer tempting savings for e-shoppers. For example, Dixons is knocking out a Fuji 605 digital camera for £84.90 online while the in-store price is £169.89. Accordingly, pundits predict that consumers will continue to favour the web for their January bargains. The head of projects and marketing at IMRG, Andrew McClelland, said: "My gut feeling is that internet January sales shopping will have risen again this year. "We saw it in the run-up to Christmas and I think we will see it again. At the moment, it is looking a little tight – high street versus the web – but what we are hearing is that electrical products are proving particularly popular with e-shoppers." However, although UK online sales are on the up-and-up, some analysts warn that the total spend must be put in perspective. Rhys Williams of Seymour Pierce told the Times: "Online retailers are showing significant growth, but it is important to recognise that they are working from a very low base. Four years ago, online consumers accounted for less than 1 per cent of total sales. That figure has now increased to 2.4 per cent. "On that basis, I would hesitate to argue that online retailers are taking market share from conventional retailers. Also, remember that most of the companies that people are buying from online also have their own stores on the high street. There are very few pure e-tailers out there." Indeed, UK supermarket chain Tesco - which has its own successful online presence - argues that people are simply chosing to spend their cash in alternative ways, rather than at different retailers: "It is a case of different customers wanting to shop in different ways. Some choose to buy bulky items online while preferring to select fresh produce themselves from their local store. Other customers shop entirely online because it suits their lifestyle." So, despite the burgeoning online market, virtual shoppers are still some way from sounding the death knell for the high street store. ® Related stories US goes on Xmas e-spending orgy Ecommerce to rocket in 2005 Ecommerce getting cheaper and easier
Lester Haines, 07 Jan 2005

Kids warned about street thefts

British kids are being warned to keep their hi-tech gadgets under wraps to protect themselves from being robbed. Although many will have been given brand spanking new mobile phones and dinky MP3 players for Christmas, a Government-led campaign kicking off next week is warning them no flaunt them when out on the streets. "SAFE week" - which intends to "protect schoolchildren from robbery" - is running at a time when thieves use longer hours of darkness to target victims. Hazel Blears, Home Office minister, said the government is "determined to increase young people's safety, which is why we have joined forces with Crimestoppers to make sure that over the coming week - a peak time for robbery - kids are taught how to reduce their chances of being a victim. "Lessons in 'SAFE' week will focus on how simple precautions - keeping mobile phones hidden, not flashing about valuables like MP3 players, keeping lockers locked - can make the difference between keeping or losing treasured possessions." ® Related stories HDTVs and iPods set to be Xmas crackers Oz teen's crime spree financed mobile phone addiction iPod: this season's must-have for muggers
Tim Richardson, 07 Jan 2005

Canadian scientists build nano-propeller

Canadian researchers have built a tiny, working propeller out of gold and nickel nano-rods. It is not the first time a nanoscale rotor has been made, but previous efforts have involved a biological process, which this one does not. The device is kept in solution, anchored to a silicon wafer. It spins when hydrogen peroxide is added to the solution. The H2O2 reacts with the nickel tips of the propeller. This causes bubbles to form, spinning the tiny blades at an almost constant speed. Professor Geoffrey Ozin and colleagues at the University of Toronto discovered the behaviour by accident, according to the BBC. "Rotational motion is at the heart of many conventional machines, such as rotary engines, screws and clocks," Professor Ozin says. "However, these machines clearly need more than just a rotor." The researchers don't quite have the tiny propeller under control yet: it can spin in either direction, and the researchers have spotted a variety of different kinds of motion. Critics argue that this means that it can't be considered a true nano-machine. ® Related stories Hydrogen Solar nabs $400k R&D grant Group voices concerns over synthetic technology Stinky socks get nanotech makeover
Lucy Sherriff, 07 Jan 2005

Plugs to be pulled on EU biometric visa scheme?

The European Union is poised to accept that its current plans for biometric visas are unworkable, reports Statewatch.. Last year a Council of Ministers technical group concluded that multiple RFID chips in passports would render the whole snooping match unreadable, which effectively killed a plan everybody had been poised to sign off. Now the Luxembourg incoming Council presidency has accepted this, and tentatively recommended two possible ways forward that were proposed by the technical group. Both of these are silly, each in its own way. Option one keeps the visa RFID away from the passport by putting it onto a separate smart card. Thus, instead of having the visa tidily stuck or printed into your passport as currently, your honest visiting non-EU passport holder would get a visa in two bits, one sticker in the passport and one piece of plastic that's going to get lost. Or broken. You could of course make it harder to lose it if you kept it (and any other biometric smartcard visas you might have collected on your travels) alongside your passport in a nice wallet. So it'd be sitting next to the RFID chip in the passport and all of the other visas and then none of them would... Ah, yes. And what do you do if the biometric visa breaks anyway? A virtue of the UK ID scheme (there are so few we thought we'd mention it) is that the whole shooting match is under the control of one authority and most of the bearers are in the one country, so it's at least theoretically simple to replace broken ones. The logistics of a smart visa scheme with its bearers spread across the world are an entirely different matter. Option two takes its cue more from the UK ID scheme's central non-virtue, and unhappily - as it appears to involve putting things off for a bit - it currently seems to be the more attractive one to "the majority of the delegations." This option abandons the RFID biometric visa in the passport, and instead relies on the biometric data that will be held centrally in Europe's Visa Information System, which is due to come into service in 2007, but which probably won't. Accepting this option would mean that, if biometrics were to be checked on entry to the EU, this would have to be done via an online check. Rationally, one would expect this option to result in checks being the exception rather than the rule for many years to come, because the infrastructure wouldn't be there, because checks would introduce major delays, and because the central visa database is unlikely to be complete, at least for its early years and quite possibly forever. So it would theoretically be like the anticipated UK system in that it would be dependent on a check with the central database, but in action it would be like the current system, where the immigration people check your visa by looking in your passport. Progress - but at least there will be a growing pile of miscellaneous biometrics providing doubtful value on a server somewhere. ® Related Stories: Statewatch story Senate backs visa waiver extension Home Office caned over immigration visa blunders
John Lettice, 07 Jan 2005

Three jailed in Saudi rape film case

Saudi Arabia has jailed three men convicted of organising the rape of a teenage girl and later peddling footage of the assault across mobile networks. Two Saudi men used a video mobile to film the assault of a 17-year-old girl by a Nigerian man, a Saudi court heard. The subsequent distribution of this video across mobile networks ultimately led to the men's arrest and conviction. The unnamed trio were this week sentenced to between two and 12 years imprisonment along with up to 1,200 lashes, Reuters reports. The men have a right to appeal. Saudi Arabia recently overturned a ban against the import and sale of camera-equipped phones in the ultra-conservative Gulf state. Its government handed out the first 3G licence to mobile phone operator Ettihad Etisalat last week. Despite this, net use remains restricted and tightly controlled across the country. ® Related stories Saudi ministers urge removal of camera phone ban Bust-hungry Oz beach perv busted US to ban up-skirt voyeur photos UK firms tout camera phone blinding tech Samsung to ban camera-phones from factories
John Leyden, 07 Jan 2005

Man stabs long-lost Friends Reunited mate 7 times

A UK man who traced his long-lost best mate via Friends Reuinted, then stabbed him seven times in a drunken rage because he thought he had attacked his sister, was jailed for three years today at the Old Bailey, Reuters reports. Noel Duff was lucky to survive the assault by Brendan Walsh during which he received a stab wound to the heart. The catalyst for the fracas was Duff's relationship with Walsh's sister subsequent to the two pals' doubtless tearful reunion. Immediately after the attack, Walsh suffered a fit of remorse and called an ambulance which rushed Duff to hospital. Doctors described his survival as a "miracle". Walsh pleaded guilty to to wounding with intent, and was cleared of attempted murder. The judge told him: "The victim is no longer angry at you and the remarkable fact is that [he] even gave evidence on your behalf and said he would like to be friends with you again." Duff has indeed expressed the wish to be re-reunited with his old mucker after the latter finishes his spell in one of Her Majesty's penal institutions, noting: "I can't believe a stupid fight came to this." ® Related stories Sex, Text, Revenge, Hacking and Friends Reunited Friends Reunited user in libel payout Hell hath no fury
Lester Haines, 07 Jan 2005

SanDisk offers USB-friendly SD flash memory

CES 2005CES 2005 SanDisk - the original inventor of flash storage cards - has introduced a SD flash memory card with built-in USB connectivity. Consumers can just use the SD card in their digital camera, then whip it out and plug it into any USB port, without needing an SD card reader. SD memory card and USB flash drive shipments will total 235 million units by 2008, with SD the dominant full-size card form factor. A device that can successfully be used in both sockets without external caps or adapters will allow effortless transfer of data, music, photos, and videos between PCs and portable consumer electronics devices, the company believes. The first products to be released with this technology are scheduled to be introduced in Q1. SanDisk also announced that it is entering the portable video game accessory market with a line of flash memory cards targeted at the $25bn video game market. The company's entry into the video game market comes as companies that manufacture portable video game consoles develop devices that include slots for standard flash memory cards. SanDisk initially is offering the new game cards in Memory Stick Pro Duo and SD, one of the most popular card formats. Sony’s first handheld game device, the PlayStation Portable, has just been introduced in Japan and uses Memory Stick Pro Duo cards. Separately, the company unveiled its latest MP3 player line-up, the Sansa e100 series. The iPod Mini-esque unit is a Flash-based product like SanDisk's existing players, and will come in 512MB and 1GB capacities, but there's an SD slot too to allow for further expansion. There's an FM radio on board, and the player can also cope with DRM-protected WMA files. Power comes from a single AAA battery, and there's a four-line LCD display. The 512MB e130 will cost $149, while the 1GB e140 is priced at $199. Both go on sale in the US in March 2005. ® Tony Smith contributed to this report. Related stories It's official: storage is the new chips Apple iPod Flash said to ship January 8GB Flash for a grand
Jan Libbenga, 07 Jan 2005

iTunes launches in Ireland

An Irish version of the iTunes Music Store was quietly launched on Thursday night after Ireland was previously omitted in a euro-zone roll-out in October. The launch of iTunes Music Store (ITMS) will be welcome news to the many iPod owners in Ireland following the disappointment in October when last minute issues with artists' representative group, the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO), caused Ireland to be passed by in Apple's ITMS euro-zone-wide roll-out. The Irish store has over 700,000 available tracks, which will include a number of Irish artists, and over 8,000 audio books for download. Users must register their credit card and provide an Irish billing address.The site will also provide Irish users with features such as iMix, a way in which users can publish their playlist; party shuffle, a playlist that automatically shuffles and plays songs from the user's library; and gift certificates. Pricing for the Irish store is exactly as it is in all euro-zone stores - €0.99 per song and €9.99 per album. Apple has sold over 200 million tracks via ITMS to date. But it has not been all plain sailing: the most recent problem is a lawsuit filed by a US iTunes user who claims that Apple "forced" him to buy an iPod in order to listen to ITMS-downloaded music on a portable device. In mid-September the UK Consumers' Association called on the Office of Fair Trading to have Apple's iTunes service investigated for charging UK iTunes users more than its European counterparts. In the UK, iTunes charges consumers £0.79 per song, or around €1.20 compared to just €0.99 in the euro-zone. Apple has maintained that licensing laws vary between country and says that it is normal for CDs to retail at different prices in different countries. © ENN Related stories Apple music store smacked with antitrust suit Downloading digital music Apple Canada cuts iPod prices HMV to spend £10m to catch up with Napster, Apple Canadian 'iPod tax' illegal, judge rules Apple iTunes sells 200m songs Apple iPod out of tune with Real's Harmony iTunes now accepts PayPal Apple threatens iTunes.co.uk owner
ElectricNews.net, 07 Jan 2005

Ofcom readies spectrum review

Ofcom is due to publish next week yet another review covering the UK's radio spectrum. In November, the UK's communications regulator published the Spectrum Framework Review - its strategy for securing the best use of the civilian radio spectrum. In that review Ofcom outlined how it wanted to use market forces to eliminate inefficiencies in spectrum management that have, it claims, "limited the innovation and development of higher-value services". The Review's recommendations call in part for greater flexibility to allow licensed spectrum - covering applications ranging from taxi two-way radios to mobile phones, TV and radio - to be allocated and traded on the open market. It also suggests more spectrum be deregulated. While this review dealt with Ofcom's "vision" for spectrum, the yet-to-be-published document deals more with the "practicalities" of making the strategy work. The Spectrum Framework Review: Implementation Plan was anticipated to be published before Christmas. It should now hit the streets next Thursday, an Ofcom spokesman confirmed today. The report is expected to contain details of how the UK's giant telecoms regulator plans to flog unused part of the spectrum which could be used for high-speed data services such as video and net access. The document is also expected to list 14 or 15 bands of spectrum available to the market to give potential bidders the opportunity to see what's on offer. According to Reuters, Ofcom is still keen to auction off parts of the spectrum, although this has raised eyebrows in the industry still trying to come to terms with the £22.5bn sploshed out on licences four years ago. ® Related stories UK wireless watchdog to 'open' 72% of public spectrum Ofcom unshackles radio spectrum EU moves towards spectrum trading
Tim Richardson, 07 Jan 2005

Oracle finally puts PeopleSoft in its pocket

At long last, Oracle really has its prize. Oracle today completed its acquisition of PeopleSoft. More than 97 per cent of PeopleSoft's outstanding shares have been tendered in favor of the deal. Oracle has been forced to extend its tender offer deadline twice as it looked to gather the 90 per cent of PeopleSoft shares needed to avoid a special shareholder meeting to approve the purchase. By avoiding the meeting, Oracle sped up its buy of PeopleSoft by about four to six weeks. PeopleSoft is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oracle. Oracle will begin notifying workers of layoffs on Jan. 14. It's possible that close to half of PeopleSoft's 12,000 staffers could get the axe. The company will then hold a web cast on Jan. 18 to provide more details on its plans for PeopleSoft's software. So ends one of the nastiest IT mergers in recent history. It took Oracle 18 months to convince PeopleSoft's board to accept the buyout, which ended up at a price of $10.3bn. For those of you who missed all the wonderful ins and outs of Oracle's wrangling, have a look at the history of the deal here. ® Related stories Oracle waits on PeopleSoft stragglers OracleSoft coming out party set for Jan. 18 Oracle sends pesky PeopleSoft brass packing Oracle completes regime change at PeopleSoft PeopleSoft CEO abandons ship
Ashlee Vance, 07 Jan 2005

Blu-ray Disc maker to 'abolish cartridges'

CES 2005CES 2005 TDK pledged to render recordable Blu-ray Discs more resilient yesterday when it announced a new coating material that it claims eliminates the need for protective cartridges. The material, dubbed Durabis, makes BD-R and BD-RE (rewriteable) discs significantly more resistant to scratches, TDK claimed. Durabis also contains anti-static and anti-grease substances which reduce the data-corrupting effects of dust and fingerprints, again improving BD-RE's suitability for use without a cartridge. The need for such protection is seen as one of the barriers to the acceptance of BD-RE as a storage format. Where once even regular CDs needed to be inserted into CD drives in a cartridge, now consumers have become accustomed to using all optical discs without them. Cartridges are not part of the BD spec, but such is the much greater risk of data corruption from dirt and scratches with any blue-laser format - compared to red-laser CD and DVD rewriteable discs, with their much larger data-spot size, hence the lower capacity - that most if not all putative BD-RE drives force the use of protective cartridges on the user. TDK plans to ship BD-RE discs in the US later this year. ® Related stories JVC preps dual DVD/Blu-ray disc Disney backs Blu-ray Sony points to 2006 PS3 ship date HP confirms plans for Blu-ray CE giants 'readying Blu-ray camcorders' Sony selects Blu-ray for PlayStation 3 Microsoft supporting Blue Laser? What about Blu-Ray? Err, maybe
Tony Smith, 07 Jan 2005

Game firms back Blu-ray

CES 2005CES 2005 Two major games publishers yesterday lent their support to the Blu-ray Disc format, along with a number of lesser players, as the other companies behind the medium began in earnest their efforts to talk-up the technology ahead of its debut later this year. Electronic Arts and Vivendi Universal both announced their membership of the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), touting the format's capacity and the level of interactivity it provides as the reasons for their support, but we also think Sony's decision to base PlayStation 3 on Blu-ray may also have had something to do with it too. The addition of EA and VU, along with Sun, which also announced its membership of the BDA yesterday, brings the organisation's membership to "nearly 100", senior BDA spokespeople said. That's rather more than the number of companies actively supporting BD's rival format, HD DVD, but they are able to claim the tacit backing of the 230-odd firms in the DVD Forum, which has anointed HD DVD the future of the DVD format. That use of the DVD brand is what HD DVD's backers believe gives it the edge over BD, despite the latter's technical superiority, in particular its greater storage capacity: 25/50GB single/dual-layer, compared to 15/30GB for HD DVD. The BDA yesterday condemned the rival format as little more than a "supersized DVD", touting instead its chosen format's capacity, interactivity features and... er... because it is. That kind of schoolyard jibing - 'You smell', 'Why?', 'Because you do' categorises both camps' attempts to put down the other. While both state they don't want a format war, that's inevitably what they have forced on consumers. Canny content providers will, of course, favour one or the other, but allow themselves room to support both until the market indicates a clear winner. Meanwhile, the BDA continues to put the finishing touches on its BD-ROM format for pre-recorded content. BDA spokespeople confirmed that no decision has yet been taken on region coding, or which content protection mechanism the format will incorporate. A choice of coopy protection technology is expected to be made by the end of Q1, the BDA said. ® Related stories JVC preps dual DVD/Blu-ray disc Disney backs Blu-ray Sony points to 2006 PS3 ship date HP confirms plans for Blu-ray CE giants 'readying Blu-ray camcorders' Sony selects Blu-ray for PlayStation 3 Microsoft supporting Blue Laser? What about Blu-Ray? Err, maybe
Tony Smith, 07 Jan 2005

Studios announce HD DVD movie release lists

CES 2005CES 2005 While games publisher Vivendi Universal was touting its support for the Blu-ray Disc format yesterday, the movie business in which it owns a 20 per cent stake, Universal Studios, was announcing plans to release 16 HD DVD titles in the US. It was joined by Paramount, which will ship the first titles from its initial 20-strong list of HD DVD products in Q4 2005, and by Warner Bros., which plans to lead the field with a catalogue of 50 HD DVD titles, again commencing Q4 2005. Warner's line-up includes titles from Lord of the Rings producer New Line Entertainment - though the studio did not yesterday commit itself to offering those movies, in either their cinema or extended versions, on the new format. The 50-title list also include HBO productions The Sopranos and Angels in America. All these releases will be pitched at the US home video market. None of the companies concerned were willing to discuss when European roll-outs are likely to take place. DVD-style region coding is expected to be imposed on all future releases. It's also certain that a premium will be imposed on the new content, with disc prices only approaching those of DVDs today when the market matures. So like Super Audio CD and DVD Audio, HD DVD is likely to start out as a niche product, priced accordingly. Certainly, the studio representatives speaking to reporters yesterday gave no indication that price will be used to drive HD DVD into the mainstream. Instead, they're relying on the level of HD TV ownership to steer consumers toward the new format. ® Related stories Game firms back Blu-ray Toshiba launches HD DVD consortium Cryptography Research wants piracy speed bump on HD DVDs Toshiba touts DVD/HD DVD hybrid Major studios back HD DVD Toshiba preps HD DVD notebook PC DVD Forum finalises HD DVD-RW disc spec
Tony Smith, 07 Jan 2005

U3 launches USB drive-hosted app 'standard'

CES 2005CES 2005 A US-based start-up said today it wants to unify attempts to evolve USB Flash drives from storage devices into application delivery products. U3, founded by Flash memory and Flash-based device firms SanDisk and M-Systems, will develop and licence "mobility and security" APIs, hardware specifications and underlying intellectual property to ensure compatibility between such devices, irrespective of who made them. The idea for U3 is to provide a common framework for applications to be delivered on USB Flash drives, enabling their use on multiple machines while ensuring the data they work on and create remain on the Flash drive. Ultimately, it could provide the basis for keeping your entire Home folder and associated apps on a removable storage device. You get to work on any compatible computer as efficiently as if you were sitting in front of your own machine. Apple has often been said to be considering adding such a feature to the iPod and Mac OS X. There's an element here of a business creating a problem in order to sell the solution, of course. Software developers who need this kind of application mobility can incorporate it already, and are doing so already. Almost all of them working on the kind of software - vertical applications, for example - that can support the cost of the necessary development. Given their specialised, proprietary nature, is questionable whether they need a so-called open platform That's what U3 is offering, it says. Openly available it may be, but there's still lock-in. With software developers looking for U3-compatible hardware, drive makers will be forced to licence the company's technology. Pretty soon they're all tied into the U3 way of doing things, and paying the company licence fees and royalties for the privilege. U3 did not disclose the financial terms it will impose upon companies wanting to build U3-compliant Flash drives, or what it will charge software developers. With the platform formally launched, U3 now has to deliver the goods. It made no specific release timetable available today, but it expects the first U3-complaint devices to ship this summer. It also plans to launch a software developers' forum shortly. ® Related stories Toshiba to ship 2GB 'phone HDD' by month's end It's official: storage is the new chips SanDisk offers USB-friendly SD flash memory
Tony Smith, 07 Jan 2005

IBM buys into spookware

IBM will soon be keeping a close eye on you thanks to its purchase of SRD (Systems Research and Development). SRD, a small privately-held company based in Las Vegas, is best known for its ERIK and NORA identity management products. This spooky software collects data about an individual from various sources and is billed as a "customer relationship management" tool. SRD has been in business for 20 years and will now be part of IBM's Information Management software unit. No financial details about IBM's buy of SRD were revealed. NORA ( Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness) is without doubt the most compelling product in SRD's arsenal. It's described by IBM as a great product for figuring out all you ever wanted to know about a customer. "It's important to know who you're dealing with-and who they're dealing with," IBM says on its website. "Repeatedly, NORA has proven that a map of an individual's relationships provides a more complete view of their risk or value to your organization - whether they're a customer, prospect, or employee." Ah, but how far does this map go? "When it comes to customer relationship management, there's much to be gained in knowing that the person opening a new bank account is the brother of your best customer. If, on the other hand, security is the value proposition, then your ability to detect suspicious connections between individuals internal and external to your organization significantly decreases the threats of fraud, collusion, conflicts of interest, or even of the potential for corporate sabotage or terrorism." NORA can search through databases of addresses, social security numbers, phone records and individual's contacts. It has been used, for example, by the gaming industry to track down cheats and note who the cheats talk to at casinos. Real heart-warming stuff. It's lovely to think that a piece of software can tell you when a huge customer's CEO has a birthday and then automatically send him a present based on his most recent purchases at Amazon.com. SRD's products, however, are less flattering when you think that they could lead to uncomfortable guilt by association scenarios. The Feds have proven that they have trouble dealing with digital evidence, and one wonders if IBM or its customers will be any better at the task. ® Related stories MS out of the bundling business? Snowed-in code blamed for Comair's Xmas flight collapse Cryptography Research wants piracy speed bump on HD DVDs
Ashlee Vance, 07 Jan 2005

Microsoft's Ballmer beat off Asian genital challenge

We've all wanted to say it. "Hey, Steve Ballmer, Why don't you suck my tiny yellow balls?" Only the chosen few, however, get the chance to flaunt their undercarriage in front of Microsoft's CEO. One of these chosen few was Hiroshi Yamauchi - the former CEO of Nintendo - who apparently told Ballmer to taste his tadpoles, during a meeting between the two executives. Or so we learnt via the self-correcting blogosphere this week. "I wanted to offend them, to show them something about Japanese Pride," Yamauchi recounts, in an interview. "Please, write Pride with a capital P when you transcribe this, thank you. Pride. So I saw that the translators were unreliable and was going to kick them out when I noticed Ballmer smiling and mouthing the word 'yellow' to his assistant. They thought this was a joke . . . Well, that did it. I stood on my chair and put my hands around mouth to amplify my voice, see, and said, in English, slowly and forming the words very carefully - HEY, BALLMER, WHY DON'T YOU SUCK MY TINY YELLOW BALLS?" Shocking? Well, yes. Even more gripping statements from Yamauchi can be found in a Wired interview due out in the February issue of the magazine. At least, that would be the case if the interview were real. A Spanish gaming site put up the faux interview and word spread rapidly.Bloggers and less reputable news sites jumped on the chance to expose Ballmer's ball episode. The fake page does have a realistic look to it, complete with a flashy cover graphic. It's said to be written by Jack Gleason, a 28-year-old freelancer. Both Nintendo and Wired told The Register that no such interview with Nintendo's former CEO actually took place and that no article will be appearing in next month's issue of the magazine. Still, we can dream. Were the interview real, we'd all be chuckling as Yamauchi compared Sony's game consoles to a penis and took shots at Italians. "For instance, he didn't want to give Jumpman (aka Mario) a moustache (sic) because the (sic) thought it made Jumpman look like Hitler," the CEO didn't actually say. "But I told him, Jumpman is Italian, Italians are hairy, he needs a moustache, and so what if some idiots think he looks like Hitler?" That's the spirit. Despite the fictional nature of this interview, there's truth in jest. The interview draws on a history of Microsoft driven Asian angst that results from both cultural and economic clashes between consumer electronics giants and the software monopoly. Sony has been one of few Microsoft global rivals with, er, big enough balls to stand up to the Beast - and certainly the only Windows licensee. Panasonic has also faced Ballmer, after the CEO mocked Asian companies' use of Linux on portable devices. Microsoft's bloated code isn't always welcome in a land that loves small, sleek devices. ® Related stories Panasonic braves Linux-inspired wrath of Ballmer Use Linux and you will be sued, Ballmer tells governments Novell fires counterblast at Ballmer Linux summary
Ashlee Vance, 07 Jan 2005

A boutique PC for only $50,000

In the cut throat world of PC retail, where margins are razor thin, major OEMs are looking at a small boutique outfit with close interest. Truvia's designer PC, which blends furniture with a high-end desktop from VoodooPC, doesn't immediately look like a promising avenue for the big box shifters. Truvia's custom PCs start at $50,000. But there is a market for such kit, founder John Wojewidka told us, before flying out to the 'soft launch' at CES this week. "Some of the furniture goes for between $30,000 and $70,000 just for the desks. Mark Levinson, who is working on the designs with us, sells speakers for $50,000. "The justification is very emotional. Every piece is going to be unique. On the inside, we're going to adjust the technology to each situation," he told us. Truvia will design the furniture you want around a high end PC. The actual PC hardware is expensive, but not that expensive, of course. The specifications from VoodooPC might typically include a terabyte of space, two TV tuners and fans allowing the machine to operate inaudibly. But it's the custom fit and finish that justifies the tag, according to Wojewidka. Each one takes several months to complete, and Truvia has its first customer. The founder says he'd be happy knocking out a couple of units a month. On the face of it then, it sounds like a way of depriving people with more money than sense of their cash. But the story only starts here. There's clearly a demand, particularly from women, for design that makes technology disappear. If PC vendors want to stake a place in the living room or the bedroom, they need to alter their approach to design radically. Some, including HP, already know this, says Wojewidka. "Women do not want to see the technology but would like a beautifully turned out box. They do not want to see an overt technology statement." "Ideo love to show off the technology, but the way the market works is that roughly 85 per cent of people buying furniture are buying conservative furniture, and not a lot of steel and glass." The trick, he thinks, is to find a magic price point, which he believes is around $5,000 to $6,000 and then integrate the OEM's technology into their products. Media Centers "look like crap now", he reckons, "and in fact they don't work that great either. So to put one of those in the bedroom is a little bit of a stretch." But doesn't Apple, with beautifully designed computers, have some difficulty expanding beyond three per cent market share? Wojewidka doesn't agree. "Apple nailed their target market; it's very much an iconic aesthetic and it's worked out fabulously; I'm a big fan of the high tech clean look. But my wife looks at a new iMac and thinks 'iMac Schmimac!'. It just isn't going to happen. While Apple has found a place to live and make money, I think there's a whole other market there that hasn't been addressed at all." Whether people want such complicated PCs in the bedroom, let alone the living room, is another question - and probably one beyond any designer's hands. But good design for the mass market is a vanishing feature, and surely the beige box brigade can do worse than listen closely. ® Related link Truvia
Andrew Orlowski, 07 Jan 2005

Thin client firm NCD becomes invisible

ExclusiveExclusive This year started with a major member of the thin client market missing. Onetime high-flyer NCD (Network Computing Devices) has met its end and done so with no fanfare at all. NCD officials still refuse to take any calls regarding the company's fate. This silence has been NCD's policy since The Register first discovered that the computer maker was going under. A call, however, this week to one of NCD's US numbers did help explain what has happened to the firm. Five former NCD employees have started a new software-only company called ThinPath Systems. We talked this week to just about every one of the staffers, but none of them wanted to say too much. They would say that Thin Path - formerly the brand name of NCD's thin client software - will continue to operate in some way, shape or form. It will leave actual thin client hardware to the likes of Wyse and Sun Microsystems but produce complementary code. A man named Bill Steele is wrapping up NCD's operations, but he refused to talk to us. So it's not exactly clear who current NCD customers are meant to call about any product problems. The ThinPath workers promised to give us these details sometime next week. NCD still appears to trade publicly on the Pink Sheets but has literally sunk below being a penny stock, closing Friday at $0.009 per share. The company has not made any filings about its closure with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that we can locate. The last available statement - from the quarter ended March 31, 2002 - shows that NCD made $4m from hardware sales and $530,000 from software sales. Sales were about half those from the same quarter the previous year. A few years back, NCD received tons of press as did thin clients. It had deals in place with the likes of Intel and IBM to go after the fat client world dominated by Microsoft. In the last couple of years, NCD's sales have steadily declined with it falling off many of the analyst firms' thin client sales trackers. It seems safe to bet that ThinPath Systems will claim that NCD's software was what really made the company unique. The new company will likely bill itself as an open platform for thin client hardware makers and for companies looking for a better way to manage groups of PCs. We suspect ThinPath will also look to take care of NCD's existing customer base. ® Related stories Sun shows pleb-ready thin client NCD to 'cease operations' NCD boosts reseller programme Lysander goes skinny dipping Intel ready to roll with StrongARM Web pad 'idea'? What the hell is a thin client? Intel's Barrett a director of thin clients NCD raids Wyse for UK operations NCD scores thin client deal with EDS NCD and Intel to leanly dally The IBM plan to destroy Windows (take 2)
Ashlee Vance, 07 Jan 2005