3rd > February > 2005 Archive

Investors pummel Amazon for Q4 miss

Shares of Amazon.com tumbled in late trading as investors reacted to a big fourth quarter earnings miss. On the surface, Amazon's financial figures look grand. The online retailer reported a 31 per cent surge in sales to $2.54bn in the fourth quarter. Amazon earned $347m, or 82 cents per share, during the period compared to $73m, or 17 cents per share, in earnings one year earlier. But the majority of that profit came as a result of a $244m onetime tax break. Without that benefit, Amazon would have posted a profit of $149m or 35 cents per share. Analysts had been looking for earnings per share of 40 cents. That miss had investors scrambling to unload Amazon shares with its price sinking more than 13 per cent to $41.88 in the after-hours markets, at the time of this report. The earnings shortfall wasn't the only concern for analysts, who also griped about falling margins. Chris Baggini, a manager of the Gartmore Growth Fund, told Reuters the margins were a "disaster." "They're selling more stuff and making less profit margin on it," Martin Pyykkonen of Janco Partners also told the newswire. Amazon suffered from a string of embarrassing technical glitches during the peak of the holiday shopping period. Analysts noted that Amazon was also hurt by heavy price competition, which forced it to up free delivery offers in order to compete. Without exchange rate benefits, Amazon's sales would have come in only 26 per cent higher as opposed to the reported 31 per cent gain. Amazon today kicked off a new membership program called Amazon Prime to try and lure customers over the long-term. People can pay $79 per year to get unlimited, express two-day shipping. Members will also gain overnight shipping for $3.99 per order. "Amazon Prime is 'all-you-can-eat' express shipping," said Jeff Bezos, CEO at Amazon. "Though expensive for the company in the short-term, it's a significant benefit and more convenient for customers. With Amazon Prime, there's no minimum purchase to think about, and no consolidating orders -- two-day shipping becomes an everyday experience rather than an occasional indulgence." For the full year, Amazon posted revenue of $6.92bn - up 31 per cent from the $5.26bn reported in 2003. Pro forma net income, excluding the tax benefit, came in at $395m versus $256m last year. It expects first quarter sales to be between $1.80bn and $1.95bn. ® Related stories Google tops $1bn Amazon CEO chooses nowhere for space program Amazon thanks Santa for shopping record Amazon's 'morning nightmare' lasts 11 days, and counting Amazon unavailable for holiday shopping madness
Ashlee Vance, 03 Feb 2005

MP3.com founder vows unchained melodies

At least one newspaper thinks the battle against piracy is all over - and the Recording Industry Ass. of America, backed by Apple, has won. But Michael Robertson isn't so sure. The MP3.com founder who tangled with the music industry in a number of lawsuits before selling to Universal three years ago, is set to unveil MP3tunes, a new music service on Monday. Although signing up to Apple's iTunes Music Store, or one of the 'Nappletizers', is fast, convenient, and as easy as falling off a log, the numbers tell their own story. Billions of illegal downloads take place each month, vastly outnumbering the hundreds of millions the lock-down services have sold over the year. Even the most bullish predictions don't see the RIAA-backed option taking more than a few percentages out of the entire music market even by the end of the decade. Robertson thinks he knows the reason why. The music that Robertson will sell through MP3tunes won't come with any locks and keys. There'll be no need to 'authorize' your player, align your furniture, or pray to Cupertino in the hope the music will play. Robertson's store will be DRM free. IDG reports that he'll sell songs at 88 cents a piece, or $8.88 per album. But until he unveils the service at the Linux Desktop Summit in San Diego next week, Robertson is keeping more details, specifically about who he's signed, under wraps. But he clearly sees there's plenty of opportunity for a better business idea than cuffing up the punter before sending them on their way. "I'm not excited about a world where every piece of music has to have a fruit logo on it," Robertson told ExtremeTech today. A year ago he was even blunter about the business prospects for the DRM-encumbered music services. Noting that the business model allows them keep a few cents for hosting, promotion and administration, he concluded - "This is a race where the winner gets shot in the head". Of course with the iPod, Apple might be crying all the way to the bank. But there's no lasting evidence that music lovers regard iTMS as more than a short-lived novelty, before they move on. A survey last year showed that "legitimate" downloaders were more likely to buy physical CDs, echoing Robertson's prediction of a music marketplace. There'll be CDs, and there'll be illegal downloads, he said, and that leaves little room for download stores with poor choice and lock and key restrictions. "DRM ... penalizes paying customers," Robertson told Extreme Tech today. "If you can get music from file sharing networks and pay nothing, and then get it from the record guys with a pair of handcuffs attached…I think it's awful." The experience of DRM-free stores should give him encouragement. Services that shun DRM have won a loyal, and in some cases profitable following. British indie Warp Records' Bleep.com store has been such a success - it offers much better quality song files than Napster or iTunes - that it's added a clutch of popular indies, including roots/world label Cooking' Vinyl, Manchester's Twisted Nerve, and three dozen more. The songs are slightly more expensive, but a label representative told us it offers much better terms than what Apple could. And with no DRM, everyone's happy. Sites such as Better Propaganda have also won a loyal following by shunning DRM. Better Propaganda is staffed by music lovers and industry insiders and clearly works hard to provide DRM-less downloads and streams of high quality music. Sites like it prove that process issues like "ease of use" aren't in themselves enough. Unlike iTunes, which one reader at launch compared to "an airport kiosk without the chewing gum", it helps to have people who know and care about the music, and have recommendations you'd want to pursue. Well, duh! Microsoft's Orwellian choice of name for its Janus DRM architecture - Redmond will brand it as "Plays For Sure™, suggests the company knows very well that consumers remain anxious about lock-down music. It's a situation exacerbated by the deep incompatibilites between Microsoft's lock-up scheme, and the schemes used by Apple, Real's Rhapsody and the soon-to-be-introduced OMA-compliant services from the mobile carriers. None of which are compatible. Robertson hinted that the new service will offer "MP3beamer" - which will allow the user to listen to music they've purchased anywhere, on any device. Sound familiar? MP3.com introduced a "locker" service which allowed members to listen to their CDs anywhere too, but it ran into fierce litigation from the Recording Industry Ass. of America. More details will emerge next week, and The Reg will be on hand at the Summit to report them. ® Related stories DRM music goldrush is a race for losers mp3.com founder Hungover CNET wakes up next to MP3.com 'Don't shoot the MP3.com archive,' pleads founder Robertson Retailers join zero-profit DRM gold rush Digital music: flat fee futures iTunes DRM cracked wide open for GNU/Linux. Seriously Norwegian student fined for MP3 links Music sites charged with 'enslaving' users Nappletizer users - getting physical? HMV to spend £10m to catch up with Napster, Apple
Andrew Orlowski, 03 Feb 2005

Sun opens processor auction house

You've got to give credit to Sun Microsystems for its raw ambition. Just one day after it officially started a $1 per hour grid computing plan, Sun revealed phase two of the project - a type of auction system that lets customers say how much they're willing to pay for a compute hour. Sun has teamed with Archipelago Holdings - best known for its all-electronic stock exchange - to create a moving market for processors and storage. Customers will be able to bid on spare horsepower and capacity from Sun with the price fluctuating above and below the $1 mark. In addition, customers who already have fixed contracts with Sun for a given number of CPUs at the $1 rate will have a chance to sell any extra capacity to other users. The exchange will go live in a couple months. "The exchange offers some flexibility," said Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing with Sun. "There may be times when the demand for CPUs is very large, and some companies may try and get a better price." Now that you have the vision, let's take a collective deep breath and inspect the detail. After weeks of hyping the grid project, Sun only launched the effort this week and did so in a piecemeal fashion. Sun eventually plans to operate six grid centers divided between the US, Canada and Europe that will house loads of servers and storage systems. At present, however, only a couple of these centers are completed. The basic offers on tap are the $1 per CPU hour processing package and the $1 per gigabyte month storage deal. Customers who place massive orders can receive a cut rate. The users send their data to Sun either for crunching purposes or storage. Sun executives believe banks, entertainment players and large businesses that do a lot of modeling will be the first to use this type of service. The idea being that processing information on Sun servers for $1 per CPU hour is cheaper than doing it in-house. So far, Sun has not revealed a single customer that has signed up for the grid package. It assures us that some clients are using the technology. They just don't want to reveal their names at this time. One pundit, who shall remain nameless, brought up a solid point about this whole grid ordeal. Imagine Sun sold a stunning 1 billion hours worth of compute power this year. Such a high total seems highly unlikely but even that optimistic scenario would leave Sun with just $1bn in new revenue. That's a lot of investment and work to get a $1bn. How Sun must long for the days when the multi-million dollar servers went running out the door. From that $1bn, you have to subtract the cost of building these compute centers, the networking costs Sun shells out to partners, marketing (lots of that) and any other partner costs - enter Archipelago or ISV. Our friendly pundit is skeptical that much will be left over from the $1b, but Sun begs to differ. Sun has pegged the capital investment of a 6,000 processor grid center at $20m. If these processors hit 35 percent utilization, Sun expects to break even. At 55 per cent utilization, however, Sun is looking for gross margins of around 40 percent. Should Sun kick utilization up over 55 per cent, then it would be making serious gross margin headway over recent figures. While 1bn CPU hours seems awfully high, Sun thinks the total is achievable. It points to an IDC estimate for 2006 that says the financial sector alone will need 10bn CPU hours. (Only the magicians at IDC know the formula used to obtain this forecast. Lord knows, they've had troubles with some predictions.) Anyone with functioning synapses realizes there is no real way to predict how this grid gamble will play out. IBM seems to be giving Sun some grief about the idea, which validates it in a way. But Sun should get credit for putting the product out there in the first place. Major and minor vendors have been beating the grid computing bandwagon for what feels like centuries. True enough, a few laboratories have linked up their data centers, and SETI is nice, but grid computing has not lived up to its marketing. One of the biggest detractors from the concept has been the lack of large corporations giving grids a go. Sun is giving these companies a real chance to take a risk and "embrace the future." If you're a CIO that really believes in the grid, then here's your chance to a build an application that uses clusters well and send it off to Sun. Bidding on CPU hours has an Enron-like "we'll make a market out of anything" ring to it, but it sure looks like a coming reality. Get ready to bid on the grid. ® Related stories Sun product discovered away from product launch Sun server crushes IBM MP3 player Sun researchers discover 'pricing' breakthrough OpenSolaris makes Sun top donor of open source code Net cheers IBM's rejection of Solaris x86 IBM admits to low-end Linux on Power assault HP France plans February Opteron server party Globus Consortium takes grid computing to the office
Ashlee Vance, 03 Feb 2005

BT Wholesale to resell iomart software to ISPs

BT Wholesale is to flog iomart's Netintelligence software to scores of UK ISPs that resell BT's broadband service. This could be a big boost to iomart, a Scottish internet company, exposing it to 4.4m DSL end users in the UK Iomart boss Angus MacSween said: "All internet users, especially children are entitled to an abuse-free online environment and it is important that internet service providers make it as easy as possible for consumers to control their experience of the world-wide web." ® Related stories Iomart posts maiden profit Iomart offers free broadband The Great ISP Buyout
Tim Richardson, 03 Feb 2005

Napster launches portable player-friendly music service

Napster today formally launched Napster To Go (NTG), the portable music subscription service trialled since last Autumn, which it bullishly claims will "change the music industry forever". Based on Microsoft's Windows Media 10 technology, NTG allows songs to be downloaded to a PC and transferred to a compatible music player with their DRM data intact. The upshot is that transferred songs will become unplayable should your subscription lapse, but the quid pro quo is that Napster doesn't charge you twice: your usual subscription fee plus an extra per-track payment to transfer each song to your player, which is what it's had to do to date. Why is that second payment no longer necessary? Formerly, transferred songs did not count as a subscription download, but as a one-off non-expiring download, according to the terms of Napster's music licences. In effect, this necessitated a second purchase of songs already legally acquired. NTG neatly sidesteps the problem, by retaining the subscription status on the transferred track. Naturally, Napster charges more for the service - £15 a month in the UK, compared to its regular £10 monthly subscription fee. But punters no longer have to pay extra for each song they copy to, say, their Creative Zen Micro. NTG is good news for Napster too, as the higher margin service is key to the company's plan to rapidly grow revenues and thus its profitability. Like Apple's iTunes, Napster offers one-off downloads, but its focus is on subscriptions. It reckons that consumers will prefer this music acquisition model, going forward. This is a moot point. Subscriptions certainly match the way many people are now used to paying for TV content, whether by satellite, cable or terrestrial - what, after all, is the UK TV licence fee, but an annual subscription? But music is different: consumers have spent the last 50-odd years buying music on a one-off basis, to keep, not to lose should they fail to keep up the payments. If Napster succeeds, it will be a revolution in music purchasing, but mass-market success is by no means guaranteed. Failure will not be for want of trying, though - Napster will promote NTG through a "major multi-million marketing campaign" with retail and device partners. Napster increased worldwide subscribers by 90,000 to 270,000 in the three months to 31 December 2004, the company's third quarter of fiscal 2005. It publishes Q3 earnings on 9 February. NTG is implemented in a new version of Napster's eponymous jukebox software, Napster 3.0. ® Related stories MP3.com founder vows unchained melodies Norwegian student fined for MP3 links Sony preps PlayStation 'music download service' Apple iTunes sales tally hits 250m Napster readies German music service Legal downloads jumped 900% in 2004 Napster subscriber tally hits 270,000
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

BT bashed in prisoners' call discount row

BT is cutting the cost of making a phone call - but you'll have to be behind bars to benefit. Details fo the "discount offer" for the UK's 74,000 prisoners - which sees the cost of calls made from jails fall from 11p to 9p a minute between January 5 and April 5 - were revealed in a leaked memo. The Mirror reports that the lags' promo has sparked a massive row, angering those who work to support the victims of crime. Tory MP Damian Green told the newspaper: "I am sure many victims will be offended, as will many BT customers struggling to pay their bills." A BT spokesman explained that the offer was part of a contract it has with the Home Office. He declined to reveal the size of the contract or how much revenue BT generated each year from calls made by prisoners. However, he confirmed that call revenues are split between BT, the Home Office and the Prison Service. ® Related stories BT clobbered in Ofcom probe BT slaps £5 charge on late payers BT customer signed up for five years - without his consent
Tim Richardson, 03 Feb 2005

First French P2P 'pirate' fined €10,200

A French teacher was yesterday fined €10,200 ($13,300) in France's first major illegal file-sharing prosecution. Alain Oddoz, 28, was arrested on 18 August 2004 following an investigation into music-sharing information site France Barter by French law enforcement agencies. The teacher, one of 302 regular users of the site, was accused of sharing 30GB of music files, Le Monde reports. The teacher will have to pay €3,000 now, with the rest deferred to a later date. The fine could have been much worse. Music industry representatives had asked the Pontoise court to impose a €28,366 fine. "I do not have any idea how to pay - it is a sum which I do not have," Oddoz told the Court. However, he must take out a series of newspaper adverts to publicise the crime and punishment. His computer equipment was also confiscated. Today, a group of French musicians, academics and others will call for such legal action to cease. "Eight million French people have already downloaded music on Internet. Unable to prevent it, the majors of musical industry try to intimidate these 'pirates' with a multitude of lawsuits. Undoubtedly, the record industry is faring badly. And the digital revolution can't take place if it's founded upon the suffering of artists and producers, whose work must be protected and remunerated. But other solutions exist. New systems of financing are being invented. The music industry should back such endeavours [not engage in unnecessary legal action]," wrote the petitioners in an open letter published today in French newsmagazine Nouvel Observateur. In recent months European music industry trade bodies have actively pursued file-sharers through the courts, albeit with a lower profile than the Recording Industry Ass. of America's highly publicised anti-P2P lawsuits. In June 2004, Germany's first case ended with a fine of €8,000 imposed on a man for sharing songs without permission on Kazaa.< ® Related stories Napster launches portable player-friendly music service MP3.com founder vows unchained melodies Music biz serves writ on German IT site Norwegian student fined for MP3 links Dutch eDonkey site owners released SuprNova.org ends, not with a bang but a whimper Musicians 'unconcerned' about file sharing JetGroove culls songs as music biz says 'cease, desist' UK music biz set to sue file-sharers Iceland's net traffic plummets, following P2P raids P2P net iMesh falls in line with RIAA German fined 8000 for Kazaa uploads
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

Gigabyte 'developing' dual-GPU graphics card series

Board maker Gigabyte is to launch a family of add-in cards containing two graphics chips, following the successful launch of its first dual-GPU card, the GV-3D1, last month. So claim "market sources" cited by DigiTimes today. They also claim Asustek is preparing similar products. The PCI Express x16 connected GV-3D1 is based on two Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT chips, each with a 4bn polygon per second fill rate and 375m vertices per second geometry performance. Both GPUs are connected to 256MB of GDDR 3 SDRAM across a 256-bit bus. The two processors jointly render each scene using Nvidia's SLI technology. However, specifications for the alleged follow-up cards are not yet known. That said, SLI is supported by other members of Nvidia's GeForce 6 family, specifically the 6800 LE, 6800, 6800 GT, 6800 Ultra, so it's a fair bet that one or all of these may appear on future boards in pairs. When such parts may surface isn't known either, though the sources pointed to an Asustek announcement after the Chinese New Year holiday next week. ® Related stories Preview: VIA PT-series P4 chipsets VIA unveils P4 PCI-E chipsets Intel, Nvidia were Q4's graphics chip winners Nvidia chisels away at ATI market share ATI launches Mobility Radeon X700 Chaintech readies Nvidia 6600 AGP board Nvidia to pitch NV48 at ATI's R520
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005
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Gainward bosses 'buy company'

Gainward has confirmed that its Taiwanese parent, TNC Industrial, has agreed to sell its stake in the company to a third-party. Yesterday, Taiwanese news site DigiTimes reported that TNC had sold the Gainward name and the graphics card company's European operation to Palit Microsystems for $1m - essentially by selling its 69 per cent stake in Gainward. However, Gainward itself later pointed to an MBO. In a statement, Gainward Europe chief Hans-Wolfram Tismer confirmed that TNC has been "persuaded" to sell its stake in Gainward to "a new private investor group, primarily consisting of Gainward's extended management team". Tismer told news site Xbit Labs that the investor group did not include any other graphics card companies, suggesting Palit has not acquired the parts of the business the earlier report suggested it had. That's not to say that it hasn't acquired some other aspect of the operation, or that it simply approached TNC but negotiations never proved fruitful. Gainward's HQ will move from Taipei to Munich, a move that had already been announced, but its Far Eastern R&D groups will remain in place, the better to serve local markets. ® Related stories Gigabyte 'developing' dual-GPU graphics card series VIA unveils P4 PCI-E chipsets Intel, Nvidia were Q4's graphics chip winners Tyan unveils nForce Pro mobos
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

E-crime to rocket in 2005

Online shopping and online fraud are to increase in equal measure during 2005, according to payment service CyberSource. It estimates that UK ecommerce revenues will grow by 36 per cent this year with 20m shoppers spending £17bn online. By 2009 as much as 25 per cent of UK shopping will be done via the internet. However, with online revenue growing so fast, a steady rate of fraud will lead to ballooning losses for many businesses, especially those without automated card processing systems, CyberSource warns. As Chip and PIN systems roll out in stores, lessening the risk of credit card present fraud, criminals are looking to exploit the success of the online market. A survey of etailers conducted by Retail Logic, a card processing firm, reveals that 56 per cent of UK respondents believe that online fraud will become more serious for them during 2005 as criminals become more sophisticated. Online retailers are currently refusing six per cent of their orders due to suspicions of fraud. Mark Currie, marketing director at Retail Logic, said: "Only 28 per cent of merchants expect to be able to increase their manual review staffing levels in 2005. But sales are projected to grow to 36 per cent. This implies that most merchants will need to improve productivity to keep up with sales growth. "Yet with each manual check requiring three minutes on average, they simply won’t be able to cope with demand. Therefore, automated systems are an obvious answer." Copyright © 2005, Related stories UK police lack e-crime savvy officers E-crime costs UK business billions Retailers set straight on Chip and PIN
Startups.co.uk, 03 Feb 2005

Bosses cool on IT spending

Fewer UK bosses are planning to increase their IT budgets compared to last year, according to research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on behalf on Telewest. Just 43 per cent of senior execs plan to boost their ICT budgets in 2005, compared to 58 per cent last year. This slip in confidence stems from continued boardroom scepticism about the value of ICT projects. While bosses can see that IT works, they also want to be able to measure what they get out of their investment. Although they are aware of the benefits of technology, they also want to see "plausible evidence" that their investments are increasing productivity and helping to deliver increased profit. According to the research, 12 per cent of UK execs and a quarter of business managers do not think that their ICT networks are cost-effective. While nine in ten said that companies should require "budgetary justification" prior to any IT spend. There also appears to be a divide between business leaders and CIOs. Two thirds of chief execs feel that technology usually under-performs against expectations, while a similar proportion of CIOs disagree. John Cunningham, head of Business Services at Telewest Business, reckons there is still a "long way to go to consolidate the two parties. Business and technology executives are still having trouble agreeing on the success of ICT projects, but investments need to be made to maintain competitive edge," he said. ® Related stories Ecommerce getting cheaper and easier IT still matters - just not how it used to Business slow to embrace wireless Corporate websites are financial black holes
Tim Richardson, 03 Feb 2005

Avalanche man urinates his way into urban legend

The report on the Slovak man who urinated his way out of an avalanche with the aid of 60 half-litre bottles of beer has been debunked by the ever-vigilant snopes.com. To recap, we noted with some delight that "Richard Kral was off on holiday when the snow swallowed his Audi in the Tatra mountains. Initially, he tried to dig his way out via the car's window, but soon realised that the snow would fill the vehicle long before he could break free." He susequently used his handy supplies of ale to generate sufficient hot liquid to melt his way to freedom. Or rather, he did not. Snopes explains: The story about a Slovak man who was buried inside his car by an avalanche, and supposedly freed himself by drinking beer and urinating on the snow to melt it, was carried by a number of western news services in January 2005. The story has so far proved difficult to verify because its attributions have been vague (e.g., "correspondents in Bratislava"), and it evidently originated in a part of the world (the Slovak Republic) where information sources are more difficult to track down (particularly because the language is unfamiliar to most westerners). However, a correspondent who works for a Slovak news agency informed us that not only has the avalanche story (or any news story about an avalanche) not appeared in the news media there, but the very same tale (of Czech origin, told about an unnamed man caught in the Austrian Alps) was circulating in that country as an e-mail joke even before the heavy snows described in the article occurred. This comes as a crushing blow to those of us who were about to use the heroic tale as proof that the safety-concious driver always carries at least 30 litres of beer, and allows him or herself the occasional sip as part of the latest, scientifically-proven cancer-busting programme. Distraught readers can rest assured that we will provide proof that beer increases male potency and eliminates world hunger just as soon we have consoled ourselves with a few pints. ® Related stories Man urinates his way out of avalanche Beer fights cancer: official Gasping for a pint? Text GOODPUB
Lester Haines, 03 Feb 2005

T-Mobile unveils Sidekick-styled 3G device

T-Mobile's German wing today launched the latest in the company's own-brand MDA handset family, the 3G-enabled MDA IV "mini laptop". With a design that clearly owes much to Motorola's MPx smart phone and Danger's Hiptop communicator - which T-Mobile offers in the US as the Sidekick - the MDA IV sports a QWERTY keyboard located below a 640 x 480 display that not only folds up and away from the keyboard clamshell-style, but also rotates to allow the unit to be used tablet-fashion like a PDA. Inside the unit is a 520MHz Intel XScale PXA270 processor, we understand, running Windows Mobile software, though at this stage the version remains unclear. It may be Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, or possibly its successor, T-Mobile said. Nor is it certain who's building the MDA IV for T-Mobile, but Taiwan's HTC remains the most likely candidate. It has designed and produced all of T-Mobile's MDA line-up to date. The design certainly has an HTC feel about it. If it is HTC, then the MDA IV is likely to appear on other networks, too, such as O2, Vodafone and Orange, all of which have taken a number of HTC's earlier Windows Mobile devices and applied their own branding. The unit sports two cameras, and come equipped with a tri-band GSM/GPRS radio. Like the MDA III, the new model features Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. There's USB for wired connections to a PC. T-Mobile also said it would offer a push email service with the unit. The MDA IV is set to ship this coming summer. ® Related stories HTC revenues break record - again O2 unveils compact PocketPC phone Group Sense ships Palm slider-phone Review: HTC 'Blue Angel' Wi-Fi PocketPC phone Orange to ship Wi-Fi Pocket 'in October' T-Mobile: UK will get Windows Mobile smart phone T-Mobile unveils Wi-Fi PDA-phone
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

Possessions Reunited

Text messaging technology can help find the owners of lost and stolen property. The Possessions Reunited service from UK firm First Point of Contact provides users with stickers, key rings and luggage tags (each containing a unique code) that can be easily attached to high value or sentimental items. If an item is found, or premise vandalised which contains a firstPOC sticker, members of the public can text a six digit code to First Point of contact (firstPOC). The owner instantly receives a coded text message containing the finder’s mobile number, enabling them to make contact and arrange for the goods to be returned. Every year the police and organisation such as London Transport receive thousands of items of lost and stolen, often without no way of tracing owners. Possessions Reunited addresses this problem, but it doesn't come cheap. The service costs £39.99 to join, which pays for a starter pack containing stickers and instructions, and a £39.99 annual membership fee. firstPOC expects early adopters will include businesses who'll use it to label laptop, PDAs and other sensitive equipment. ® Related stories Londoners top world in leaving laptops in taxis Old PCs are goldmine for data thieves Whitehall laptop theft prompts security concerns UK Government aims to track laptop theft via ID chips Ministry of Defence loses 594 laptops
John Leyden, 03 Feb 2005

Parliamentary report flags ID scheme human rights issues

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has flagged a string of problems the UK's ID Cards Bill has with the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into UK law in 1998. The Committee's report draws Parliament's attention to "a number of serious questions of human rights compatibility", and it has written a lengthy note to Home Secretary Charles Clarke asking for answers to 14 of them by next Monday (7th February). Asked this morning if the report meant that it was now time to put ID cards on hold, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said that international requirements for biometric passports meant there was a need to go down this route, and that the Prime Minister believed the legislation satisfied the UK's commitment to international human rights conventions. This however is clearly not what the Committee believes. It particularly questions the extent, justification and proportionality of the information to be held in the National Identity Register, and points to the potential for information to be recorded there without the individual's consent. It also notes that the "designated documents" capability will make registration effectively compulsory for some groups of people, and that the intent to phase the scheme in may discriminate against some groups subject to compulsion. The extent of disclosure of personal information to service providers in exchange for the delivery of public services and other reasons, and the capability for the unlimited extension of powers of disclosure are also flagged. The Government's approach so far to such criticisms of the scheme has boiled down to stating that it is confident it complies with human rights law, and that there will be "safeguards". The Committee's letter to Clarke however demands clear justifications of the purpose of each of the points of concern, together with detailed explanations of the safeguards. Some of of this territory has actually been covered during the extremely brief Committee stage of the Bill, where Minister Des Browne in particular fleshed out some of the Government's interpretations and intentions. These are, however, simply what the Government currently says the Bill is supposed to do and what it intends to do with it, not what the Bill itself says, and the Bill emerged from Committee largely unamended. Also on the human rights and freedom theme, the Office of Government Commerce has responded to Spy Blog's FOIA request for publication of its Gateway Reviews of the ID scheme saying it needs a further 15 working days "to consider the balance of public interest." Spy Blog notes that this takes any publication neatly beyond the Third Reading of the Bill in the Commons on 10th February. Coincidentally (?) Minister Paul Boateng recently replied to a question from LibDem Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten with: "I am currently reviewing whether there is any Gateway Review or other OGC review which should be published regarding the identity cards scheme and I will write to the hon. Member as soon as these considerations are complete." Which would perhaps be the week after next, Paul? So over to Charles Clarke. Will he have a response to the Committee on Human Rights by Monday, and if so, will it be good enough? The Bill will almost certainly go through the Commons next week anyway, but if the Government can't make a convincing stab at the human rights angle, opposition in the Lords is likely to stregthen. ® Related links: Joint Human Rights Committee report UK gov ready to u-turn on passport-ID card link? Labour's Zombie Army clinches ID card vote for Clarke Europe kicks UK out of biometric passport club
John Lettice, 03 Feb 2005

Sierra sued over 'flawed' Voq smart phone

Sierra Wireless has been targeted with a class action lawsuit that alleges the company violated its duties to its shareholders when it launched its "flawed" Voq Pro smart phone last year. The complaint was filed by law firm Lerach, Coughlin, Stoia, Geller, Rudman & Robbins with the US District Court for Southern New York. That said, as of yesterday, the legal eagles had no one to stand up an be the public face of the lawsuit, which came to light when the company made a public request for a suitable individual to take on the role of lead plaintiff. Without such a character, the complaint may fall by the wayside in 60 days' time. Lerach Coughlin is looking for anyone who held Sierra stock between 28 January 2004 and 26 January 2005. The lawsuit follows Sierra's Q4 results, posted just over a week ago, in which the company reported revenues well below the level it had previously forecast. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the company's Nasdaq-traded SWIR shares plunged in price the next day, from almost $15 to just under $9, a year low, on heavy trading. Since then the stock has rallied a little, rising to $9.5 and closing yesterday at $9.43. Essentially, the lawsuit seeks damages for the loss in value of shareholder's stakes as a result of the dip, which the complaint alleges, arose because senior Sierra executives misled investors. The Voq smart phone is singled out for attention. According to the Lerach Coughlin complaint, Sierra bosses "made statements [that] were materially false and misleading" and "failed to disclose... material adverse facts which were then known to defendants or recklessly disregarded by them". Specifically: (i) That Sierra's strategy to correct its deficiency in technology as compared to its competitors by introducing the Voq Smartphone was flawed and its business model was not working; (ii) That Sierra was facing increasing competition, intensified by its failure to enter into the WCDMA (wideband code-division multiple access) market; (iii) That Sierra's recent venture into the Smartphone market with the introduction of its new Voq line was a serious misstep, as it did little to add revenue and further seriously harmed Sierra's relationship with a prime customer PalmOne as its Voq Smartphone would compete with PalmOne's Treo - the product for which Sierra was a supplier; (iv) That Sierra's dependence on revenue from PalmOne in its OEM business - selling embedded modules that allow other device manufacturers to give their products wireless connectivity - was substantially greater than had been reported; (v) That Sierra's customers were materially over-inventoried, which would lead to greatly diminished orders and sales in future quarters. How bad were Sierra's numbers. Well the company had forecast Q4 revenues of $63m - in fact, it made $58.5m, just 6.7 per cent below expectations and up 70 per cent year on year but down half a percentage point on the previous quarter. Operating expenses were below expectations, but the quarter's net income was $7.3m, just shy of the $7.7m forecast. For the full year - the period of the class action - revenue hit $211.2m, up 108 per cent year on year. Earnings were $24.9m, up from just $2.3m the year before. Sierra described the year as one of "extraordinary growth and profitability" for the company. The Voq Pro is by no means the only or even key Sierra product. Sierra has yet to respond to the Lerach Coughlin - presumably it's waiting to see whether the law firm is able to find a lead plaintiff. ® Related stories T-Mobile unveils Sidekick-styled 3G device Symbian updates OS, toolchain Smart phone shipments break records Mobile phones shipments up 38% in Q4 Siemens delays decision on handset biz fate Nokia smiles through falling profits Alien smartphone lands in Netherlands MS plucks Sierra Wireless for smartphone Related review Voq Pro smart phone
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

Hackers at mercy of US judges

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last month giving judges more leeway in deciding federal prison terms could be good news for computer intruders who don't fit the classic criminal mold, legal experts say. In US v. Booker, decided 12 January, the court ruled 5-4 to overturn part of a 1984 law that required judges to sentence offenders strictly by a book of written guidelines produced and periodically revised by a seven-member, presidential appointed commission. Originally intended to eliminate unfair disparity in sentencing, the guidelines are built on an elaborate point system that sets a baseline value for each category of crime, and then adds or subtracts points for specific aggravating or mitigating circumstances. The more points, the higher the minimum and maximum sentences available to the judge. In computer crimes the most significant guideline factor by far was the amount of financial loss the offender caused - a calculus that led to a decade of fierce courtroom battles over what constitutes loss in different computer intrusion scenarios. In the most famous example, in 1999 federal prosecutors claimed that hacker Kevin Mitnick inflicted $291m in losses on his corporate victims, based primarily on the companies' own assessment of the value of proprietary source code that Mitnick copied, but did not damage. More recently, prosecutors put the losses caused by convicted virus-modifier Jeffrey Lee Parson at over $1,225,000, while Parson's lawyer counted less than $10,000 in damage. "Everything comes down to damages, basically," says Orin Kerr, a cyber law professor at George Washington University Law School, and a former attorney with the Justice Department's computer crime section. "How much harm is caused by the crime? It became a monetary calculation. The victim says we've lost $5m, the defendant says it was only $100,000." But under the Booker ruling, the sentencing guidelines are just that: guidelines. Judges are free to disregard them and consider other factors. In cases where a defendant has a story to tell, that could translate to an easier sentence. "Now that the guidelines are merely advisory, the judges will really have a lot of discretion in sentencing," says San Francisco defense attorney Omar Figueroa. "It's going to help a lot of hacker cases in the future because the sentencing calculation isn't going to be so formulaic." Chaos That could help one of Figuroa's clients: 21-year-old Robert Lyttle, who faces five felony counts for his role in a string of high-profile website defacements in the spring of 2002. Under the moniker "the Deceptive Duo", Lyttle and another intruder, Benjamin Stark, specialized in cracking vulnerable U.S. government websites and posting a patriotic "mission outline" in which they described themselves as anonymous US citizens determined to save the country from cyberterrorists by exposing security holes. According to the government, Lyttle caused over $70,000 in losses. Before last month, an attacker's motives could have little influence over his sentencing exposure for such a crime. "Now when you have, like in Robert's situation, somebody who was acting in good faith and meant no harm, the judge can take into account the lack of malice," says Figueroa. Kerr agrees that some cyber offenders could fare better under the new regime. "There will probably be less focus on dollar loss, more focus on the equities of the case and why the defendant did what he did," Kerr says. Moreover, some judges won't see straightforward computer intrusion as comparable to larceny or bank fraud - while under the guidelines, they were all the same. But judicial independence swings both ways, and without the guidelines a computer crime defendant's fate will have much to do with what kind of judge they draw. "It's chaos," says Jennifer Granick, clinical director for the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School "The question is, would the judge guided by his or her own discretion sentence a computer crime case more or less harshly than the sentencing guidelines?" "Some judges are going to look at computer crime cases and think, oh, this is only a virtual crime, there's no real physical harm," Kerr says. "And others will probably think, this is really worrisome, online crime is out of control, and this really needs to be stopped. It introduces uncertainty more than anything else." Copyright © 2004, Related stories Hacker charged with US gov attack 'Deceptive duo' hacker pleads guilty Chapter One: Kevin Mitnick's story
Kevin Poulsen, 03 Feb 2005

EU goes on biometric LSD trip

In December 2004, the European Commission adopted the biometric passports directive, a regulation that mandates the use of biometric facial images within 18 months and fingerprints within three years for all passports issued. Biometrics such as fingerprints have long been used as identifiers, albeit mainly for catching criminals. But it is only in recent years that computational devices have come into standard use for companies and individuals that the use of biometrics has become viable everyday applications. However, investigations conducted in the US and Europe have concluded that there is much work to be done to improve biometric technologies so that their full potential can be reaped. Different types of biometrics have differing levels of accuracy, leaving room for much improvement, and user acceptance still needs further testing. Notwithstanding this, governments worldwide are demanding that biometrics are used as unique identifiers, with the primary emphasis being on improving security for such things as access control, electronic payments and authenticating travellers. One such scheme that has been raising concern is the US-VISIT scheme unilaterally imposed on international travellers to the US. This requires the transfer of large amounts of personal information on travellers to the US, in contravention of Europe's data protection laws, as well as the provision of fingerprints and facial images when entering the US. Schemes such as this are driving the EU to develop robust standards for technology and to ensure that they are actually useful in real-life applications. As part of this, BioSec was set up at the end of December 2003 to engender a European-wide approach to the development of biometric technologies for security applications. It comprises a multinational consortium of companies, universities, public institutions and governments from nine European countries, providing a solid base for piloting prototypes and applications. With a remit covering a very wide area, BioSec's three main objectives are: To enhance biometric technologies: including the refinement of user interfaces, sensors, devices and algorithms, and advancing the usability of biometric devices. Work is being done to improve storage systems, including personal, portable and centralised devices, to improve technology systems such as those that support transactions made over computer networks, and to enhance interoperability of devices and support for public key infrastructures. To ensure that technologies meet the requirements of real-world scenarios: the work that BioSec is doing in this area includes evaluating usability and acceptability of biometric technologies through field tests, including scenarios for physical and remote access, as well as contributing to the definition and adoption of standards and interoperable solutions for biometric-based transactions. To become the reference point for al European research into biometric technologies and to ensure that European experts are central to the development of international standards for biometrics to avoid the imposition of unworkable schemes. The BioSec consortium was set up to conclude its work by end-2005. At the halfway point, the group has just help its second workshop at the European Commission in Brussels to present achievements to date and outline the challenges that are still to be faced. Progress has been good, with a number of workable prototypes developed and good results in field tests. But a number of challenges remain in bringing biometrics into everyday use. BioSec has boiled these down into three main areas of concern, known to BioSec members as ‘LSD'. These stand for legal issues, such as concerns about privacy and data protection, standardisation issues, including technical interfaces and interchange formats, and deployment issues, divided into technological and social barriers to use. Information about the work of BioSec can be found at www.biosec.org. © IT-analysis.com Related stories Plugs to be pulled on EU biometric visa scheme? EU biometric RFID scheme unworkable, says EU tech report Europe kicks UK out of biometric passport club Fingerprints to become compulsory for all EU passports Everything you never wanted to know about the UK ID card
Kevin Poulsen, 03 Feb 2005

Siemens readies digital TV, VoIP Wi-Fi handsets

Siemens may have yet to decide whether it intends to flog off its mobile phone division, but while it ponders such a course, its handset business has to continue touting new product. To that end, the company today revealed a trio of handsets it will show off at CeBIT next month. The line-up includes a rugged unit for active-lifestyle folks, a Wi-Fi VoIP handset and a concept device geared more for mobile media than telephony. As its name suggests, the 'DVB-H Concept' (above) can pick up digital TV signals beamed across 3G networks. DVB-H is a version of the existing DVB-T terrestrial digital TV standard but modified to suit mobile, battery-powered terminals. Rather than broadcasting continuously, DVB-H broadcasts in bursts, allowing the receiver to power-down whenever possible, boosting battery life. DVB-H trials are underway in the UK, US, Germany and Finland, with a view to rolling out services sometime next year. Nokia is working on a DVB-H handset with a view to a 2006 debut, and presumably that's the kind of timeframe Siemens has in mind. Its concept model features a VGA screen and stereo speakers, plus support for all the interactivity features you get with regular digital TV. CeBIT will also play host to Siemens' Gigaset S35 WLAN (below, right), a handset pitched as a Wi-Fi based alternative to today's DECT cordless phones and other companies' attempts to supersede DECT with Bluetooth. The can at least be taken out of the home or office and connect to Internet telephony services through public Wi-Fi hotspots. Finally, the M75 (below, left), decked out in a "military green" colour scheme, will clearly appeal to the paintballing set with its "splash water, shock and dust resistant" casing. No, we're not sure why anyone who wants to get "active in a demanding outdoor environment" will want to pause while hanging off a sheer rock face and take a call or download a ringtone or two, but there you go. ® Related stories Mobile DRM levy hits operators where it hurts Nokia to bring digital TV to mobile phones Nokia revives media phone concept with pen mini-tablet TI launches 'digital TV on a phone' scheme 3G must embrace TV
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

BT promises to play fair, in Ofcom appeasement

BT is offering "transparent and equal access" to BT's local network in a proposed regulatory settlement with Ofcom. It also plans to cut the cost of wholesale broadband, and local loop unbundling (LLU) products, and to make wholesale line rental (WLR) more "commercially attractive". The string of proposals announced today form part of BT's response to a year-long telecoms review by Ofcom. In November, the regulator rejected calls to break up BT, but warned that it would take action against the former monopoly, unless it made "substantive behavioural and organisational changes" - including giving rivals equal access to its wholesale products. Responding to Ofcom's demands for "substantive" changes, BT said its proposals form part of a regulatory settlement between the former monopoly, Ofcom and the industry, and provides "all players with the confidence they need and see red tape rolled back where appropriate". "Central to the proposals are plans by BT to offer operators lower wholesale prices, faster broadband services and transparent, highly regulated access to BT's local network," the telco said in a statement. BT intends to establish an Access Services division, which will be responsible for ensuring "equal access to the services and assets associated with the local loop". An Equality of Access Board, with two independent members chosen in consultation with Ofcom, would oversee its operations. "This division would be able to demonstrate that every operator is treated equally and so allow regulation to be rapidly rolled back in other areas. This would greatly simplify the complex mesh of regulation that has built up over twenty years and provide all companies with the confidence they need to make their long-term investment plans," said BT. Ofcom boss Stephen Carter said: "We welcome BT's structural and governance proposals and its commitment to Wholesale Line Rental and Local Loop Unbundling. However, as ever, real deliveries will require real detail." A spokesman for internet trade group UKIF told The Register: "On the surface it looks fine but the devil is in the detail." One senior industry source said BT's announcement amounted to little more than "gobbledegook. It's a joke. Where's the clarity so we can get on with our business?" ® Related stories BT faces 'bogeyman' if it fails to open market BT warns of broadband divide ahead of Ofcom review MPs to scrutinise Ofcom's telecoms review Ofcom orders BT price cuts for broadband rivals Tough-talking Ofcom boss slaps BT BT stands firm against Ofcom Ofcom tells BT: shape up, or split up
Tim Richardson, 03 Feb 2005

No Xbox 2 launch at GDC - MS

Microsoft has confirmed that Xbox 2 will not be unveiled at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) next month, leaving all eyes looking to the E3 show in May for the next-generation console's debut. It's going to be a crowded event: Sony is expected to have playable PlayStation 3 consoles up and running at E3, and Nintendo is likely to discuss its GameCube successor, the 'Revolution' console. It had been thought Microsoft would avoid the competition and launch Xbox 2 at GDC, as it did in 2000 with the original Xbox. But back then the company was entering the console market for the first time, and undoubtedly felt that, as the underdog, it needed game developer support more than it needed the plaudits of the wider games industry and public. Not so now - MS has become a major player, so E3 it must be. If there's any truth in the suggestions that Xbox 2 will ship later this year - given credence by a leaked Electronic Arts document that point to such a timeframe - presumably in time for Christmas, then E3 2005 become the key launch candidate. ® Related stories The Cell chip - what it is, and why you should care Friday 11 March is Euro Nintendo DS day Microsoft halves R&D spending, posts record profits Gizmondo store shuffles to London's Regent Street 'EA leak' yields late 2005 Xbox 2 ship date IBM, Sony to detail 'Cell' PS3 CPU February 2005
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

Brit flying car earns its wings

UK flying car outfit Avcen (beware: Flashtastic site) - the hopeful future manufacturer of the Jetpod city-hopping airborne taxi - has been in touch to keep El Reg up to speed on the project's progress. To recap, we reported back in November that Avcen was hoping to fill the skies above Blighty with its $1m Jetpod by 2010, funding permitting. We noted that the said vehicle comes in a range of flavours: the T-100 "low-cost world-class city airtaxi"; P-200 "easy and safe to fly personal twinjet aircraft"; M-300 "battlefield Transpeeder"; E-400 "civil air ambulance variant"; and the U-500 "civil or military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)". The basic principle is the same for all models: two overwing jet engines for VQSTOL (Very Quiet Short Take-Off and Landing) operation. Part of the engine's thrust is directed downwards through the wings to provide the additional vertical thrust required for the quick get-away. Well, things are moving on. According to a Flight International report dated 25 January: Technology for a proposed short take-off and landing (STOL) air taxi has passed computational fluid dynamics tests conducted over the past 12 months at City University's centre for aeronautics in London, UK. The vertical thrust augmentation, horizontal stabiliser and wing designs for the aircraft, known as Jetpod by its UK developer Avcen, were studied in the computer simulations. The study of the new STOL vehicle also required the development of new computation mechanics software. "The results obtained up to now indicate that the wing cross-section appears to be ideal for low- and high-speed flight, and that Jetpod's augmentation vertical thrust, as generated by deflecting a portion of the horizontal outlet jet downwards, does indeed lead to a reduction of the required take-off distance to under 125m [410ft]," says Dr Joe Iannelli, director of City University's centre for aeronautics. As well as design assessment studies the company is discussing engine options with small gas turbine engine manufacturer Williams International. The Avcen website adds: Avcen will now bring the Jetpod off the drawing board, through a proof of concept flight-testing phase, into a structured aircraft certification program and eventually into the marketplace. Applications will in due course be made to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in Cologne. Certification of the civil passenger version can take some 4-5 years from first application. The military and UAV variants could be ready in 3-4 years. Our strategy is to continue with what funding we have but our doors are open to new investment. Good show. We wish Avcen well in its pursuit of fresh funds for the Jetpod, and feel it only fair at this point to allow supremo Mike Dacre to request that we "please note that the aircraft is not at all a car but a 350 mph cruise capable aircraft that can take-off and land in 125 metres." With all due respect to Mr Dacre, when your project looks like a Citroën Berlingo with wings, well, enough said... And while the world awaits with mounting excitement the first flight of the Jetpod, we offer flying-car-hungry punters the following list of mouth-watering specs. Put El Reg down for one in metallic blue with sunroof and alloys: Super noise attenuated quiet (Q) thrust; A reduction of up to two chapters (or stages) of jet noise; 125 metres take-off and landing distance; Unique horizontal and vertical thrust management; 300 kts high-speed cruise; Built for multiple daily sectors; Very rugged tricycle undercarriage with dual wheeled bogeys; Wide rear clamshell doors with walk/run-in foot-ramp; All round safety redundancy; Non-pressurized; Single pilot IFR capable but designed primarily with VFR in mind; Wide-bodied fuselage with high cabin ceiling and recessed foot-well; Standard synthetic terrain-mapping display; Warm-surface anti-icing; Full reverse thrust; Twin-engined, high-thrust safety; Lightweight instrument T-Pack - all EFIS display; Side-stick flight controls; Extra-large passenger windows for viewing and increased ambient light; Spacious 6-seat layout, including pilot; Standard external overhead camera to monitor traffic and view engines; Bird impact tested; Engine intake bird impact and debris protectors; Excellent front, overhead and through floor viewing for pilot(s). So, where's our bloody flying car? Brits roll out jam-busting airtaxi Briton invades France in amphibious car Flying car less likely than flying pig Flying car more economical than SUV Swiss set to unleash flying car Reader flak brings down flying car Wright Brothers' centenary provokes aviation speculationfest Indian flying car shot down - Israeli rival soars India to levitate flying car Flights of fantasy Skycar crashes and burns? So, where is my flying car? Where's my flying car?
Lester Haines, 03 Feb 2005

The Cell Chip - how will MS and Intel face the music?

AnalysisAnalysis A number of readers consider Intel and Microsoft the two dumbest companies ever to file a 10Q, and rejoice at the prospect of an upstart - almost anyone will do - dethroning them. But be careful for what you wish for: it might come true.
Andrew Orlowski, 03 Feb 2005

Software patents: EU votes for restart

The European Parliament's committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a restart of the whole legislative process of the controversial directive on computer implemented inventions. The result of the vote is a huge boost to anti-patent campaigners, who are concerned that the directive would allow patents to be granted on pure software inventions, as they are in the US. Although anti-software campaigners had predicted this result, many others working in Brussels will be surprised. One source told El Reg that it is almost unprecedented for such a high profile piece of legislation to be sent back to the drawing board. Although yesterday's result is being hailed by campaigners as a remarkable victory, Florian Muller, director of the No Software Patents movement, said that the battle was a long way from being over: "We have to keep pushing. In our case, for years to come," he said. The European Commission must now resubmit its original proposal, or submit a new proposal; either will go to the Parliament for a First Reading. The bill's new rapporteur, MEP Michel Rocard, will shepherd the new proposal through the process all over again. At the original First Reading, MEPs made several amendments considerably limiting the scope of the Commission's proposal. The Council of Ministers later removed most of the MEPs' changes, prompting accusations of undemocratic processes, and secret deals behind closed doors. Nonetheless, the Council's version was informally adopted as the parliament's common position in May last year. Since then, groups like FFII and No Software Patents have waged a campaign to stop the formal adoption of the directive. Poland has blocked this, twice, and was recently joined in its opposition by Denmark. ® Related stories Denmark joins Poland's software patent picket Poland blocks software patents again Munich asks ministers to drop EU patent vote EU fish ministers to vote on software patents
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Feb 2005

DEC warns of fake tsunami appeal website

Charitable webusers are being warned away from website masquerading as that of the Disasters Emergency Committee. The site, which looks like an older version of the official DEC page, claims to be collecting money to help the victims of the boxing-day earthquake and tsunami. Users are directed there by a spam email, headed "Urgent Tsunami Earthquake Appeal" containing the fake site's URL. The real Disasters Emergency Committee says it has nothing to do with the site, and that it has informed Scotland Yard's Computer Crime Unit. Spokeswoman Patricia Sanders told BBC Online that the spam emails first appeared two days after the site, decuk.org, was registered, possibly in Romania. The real DEC site is at www.dec.org.uk. DEC is working with BT and its hosting company to get the fake site closed, it said, and is in contact with US registrars as well as the faker's own webhosts. It says it will push for all the money sent to the fake site to be handed over to the real organisation. ® Related stories Brit jailed for tsunami emails Tsunami spam scammer cuffed VXers hit new low with tsunami-themed worm Tsunami relief donors under cyber-attack, says FBI
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Feb 2005

Matrox unveils PCI-E Millennium

Matrox will ship its latest PCI Express pro graphics card, the Millennium P650 PCIe 128 next April, the company said this week. Pitched at content creators, the card provides a pair of 10-bit, 400MHz RAMDACs feeding twin DVI ports and dual RGB outputs. With 128MB of RAM on board, the card can drive two screens at resolutions of up to 1920 x 1440, Matrox said, or 1920 x 1220 for digital flat panels. The card uses the company's DualHead system to spread a single image across multiple monitors, and to display a zoomed portion of the image on the first screen on the second monitor. A single image can be mirrored on both displays, or the second screen used as a DVD display, while the first operates as a regular PC monitor. The P650 PCIe 128 also features advanced image quality and video settings, including Matrox's UltraSharp Display Output technology, independent gamma correction support for both displays and adjustable proc-amp controls for hue, saturation, contrast and brightness. The card is set to ship in April for $249/£139 excluding VAT. It will ship with Matrox's PowerDesk-HF utility software suite, which the company describes as "an intuitive and feature rich interface for adjusting board-level and multi-display parameters". Drivers for Windows XP and Windows 2000 are included too, with OpenGL and DirectX support. ® Related stories Gigabyte 'developing' dual-GPU graphics card series Intel, Nvidia were Q4's graphics chip winners Nvidia chisels away at ATI market share Freescale licenses PowerVR MBX graphics core ATI launches Mobility Radeon X700 \ Chaintech readies Nvidia 6600 AGP board
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

Worm poses as Saddam death pics

A worm that seeks to tempt Windows users into infection by promising "death pictures" of Saddam Hussein has begun doing the rounds on the net. The Bobax-H worm offers up infected email attachments posing as “photographic evidence” that the former Iraqi dictator has been killed during an attempted escape bid from custody. Bobax-H also tries to spread by using the same vulnerability (MS04-011) used by the infamous Sasser worm. Emails generated by Bobax-H come with a variety of message texts including: "Saddam Hussein - Attempted Escape, Shot dead. Attached some pics that i found". Other variations in subject lines used by the worm claim to have pictures of a captured Osama Bin Laden. Windows users induced into running infected attachments will load a backdoor email relay module onto their PCs which can be used by ne'er-do-wells to distribute spam. The virus is in the wild but it isn't spreading rapidly. Anti-virus vendors rate Bobax-H as a low risk. ® Related stories Email worm poses as Osama videogram Sasser worm creates havoc German customs grab Saddam's left leg
John Leyden, 03 Feb 2005

Nvidia updates mobile Quadro FX graphics chip line

Nvidia this week added another member to its Quadro FX Go mobile line-up, at last bringing Shader Model 3.0 and PCI Express support to its workstation graphics processor chip family. Nvidia says the new chip's updated architecture offers twice the performance of the previous model. The 1400 certainly doubles the memory bus and capacity of its predecessor, the Quadro FX Go 1000 to 256-bit and 256MB, respectively. The 1400's wider bus and faster memory clock yield 19.4GBps of memory bandwidth to the 1000's 9.4GBps. In addition to DirectX 9.0c support, the 1400 doubles the full-screen anti-aliasing level to 8x and adds rotated-grid AA. The chip also incorporates, for the first time in a mobile workstation graphics chip, Nvidia's fifth-generation PowerMizer energy conservation system. The company quoted ViewPerf 8.0.1 benchmarks for the 1400, which scored 22.56 for sw-01, 27.90 for ugs-04 and 31.58 for 3dsmax-03. The 1000 scored 11.62, 12.98 and 20.64, respectively, for the three tests, though Nvidia admitted that they were taken on a machine with a 3.2GHz P4 rather than the 3.6GHz P4 system used to test the 1400. However, both machines were equipped with 2GB of memory and were running Nvidia's version 78.81 drivers, the company said. Nvidia also noted that notebooks incorporating the 1400 are available from Dell, Alienware, Boxx and Eurocom. ® Related stories Matrox unveils PCI-E Millennium Gigabyte 'developing' dual-GPU graphics card series Intel, Nvidia were Q4's graphics chip winners Nvidia chisels away at ATI market share ATI launches Mobility Radeon X700 Chaintech readies Nvidia 6600 AGP board Nvidia unveils mainstream GeForce 6 mobile GPUs Nvidia to pitch NV48 at ATI's R520 Nvidia apes ATI to revive mid-1990s AGP feature
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

UK's Royal Festival Hall announces WLAN link

UK public Wi-Fi network provider The Cloud has equipped London's South Bank Centre with a WLAN centred on the arts complex's Royal Festival Hall site. Ultimately, the company said, it hopes to roll out Wi-Fi across the whole 10.93 hectare (27 acre) site. The South Bank Centre is currently being redeveloped, with building work due to be completed by 2007. The initial installation, however, covers the public lobby areas on the RFH's levels two and three. The Cloud has already equipped the British Film Institute's National Film Theatre, also part of the South Bank Centre, with Wi-Fi, and last year kitted out the British Library with WLAN access points. Both projects were central in the South Bank Centre administrators' decision to offer the RFH gig to the WISP, the Centre's head of media services, Owen Pringle, said. Access is open to anyone with suitable hardware, with not only 802.11b but also 802.11a and 802.11g connectivity supported, if The Cloud's equipment manifest is anything to go by. Prices start at £4.50 ($8.49) for an hour's online time. ® Related stories T-Mobile widens UK airport Wi-Fi cover British Library tunes into Wi-Fi Sweden's rail stations to roll out Wi-Fi UK group preps public digital music 'ATMs' Football League clubs to offer Wi-Fi Aussie telco moots payphone Wi-Fi hotzones UK WISP moots IPO Intel-backed Wi-Fi network calls it quits
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

BT DSL price cut undermines LLU competition

BT Wholesale is promising faster and cheaper broadband in a move designed to back its commitment to greater competition and flexibility in the UK's telecoms sector. It's looking to run ADSL trials up to 8Mb and run pilots for ADSL2+ technology to support higher-speed services of up to 18Mb. From April, BT's also intends to cut the cost of its end-to-end wholesale IPStream broadband product. On the face of it, increasing speeds and cutting prices appears to be great news for consumers. However, there is a catch. The price cuts of around eight per cent will only be applied in areas where there is "a combination of high customer demand, high take up and lower costs". In effect, BT Wholesale will be passing on volume savings delivered by high demand. So far, 561 local BT exchanges have been earmarked for the rebates of between £1.10 and £1.40 per line. However, industry insiders claim these exchanges are the same ones that rival operators are currently investing, in a process know as local loop unbundling (LLU). In effect, BT is lowering the cost of its own broadband service in areas where it will be competing head-on with LLU operators. And industry insiders claim BT is already up to its old tricks. One senior industry insider, who asked not to be named, told The Register that far from being, as BT Wholesale chief executive Paul Reynolds put it, "fully committed to seeing LLU a success", BT is "demonstrating its ability to undermine wholesale competition and LLU". Today's announcement shows that the former monopoly can change the pricing for its own products "on a whim". By changing prices at a stroke, BT can effectively change the economic viability of LLU. Operators looking to spend cash installing their own kit in BT exchanges to provide services direct to customers will have no guarantee that BT won't pull the rug from under them and chop its own wholesale prices as it sees fit. This becomes especially likely if BT manages to see "red tape rolled back", as it so desperately wants. "It is entirely in BT's power to do as it likes," said the insider. News of the speed trials and limited price cuts coincided with BT's formal response to Ofcom's demands for "substantive" changes, claiming its proposals form part of a regulatory settlement between the former monopoly, Ofcom and the industry, and provides "all players with the confidence they need and see red tape rolled back where appropriate". "Central to the proposals are plans by BT to offer operators lower wholesale prices, faster broadband services and transparent, highly regulated access to BT's local network," said the telco in a statement. A spokeswoman for rival telco Energis said: "Too little, too late." ® Related stories BT promises to play fair, in Ofcom appeasement BT faces 'bogeyman' if it fails to open market BT warns of broadband divide ahead of Ofcom review MPs to scrutinise Ofcom's telecoms review Ofcom orders BT price cuts for broadband rivals Tough-talking Ofcom boss slaps BT BT stands firm against Ofcom Ofcom tells BT: shape up, or split up
Tim Richardson, 03 Feb 2005

HP preps iPaq smart phone

Undoubtedly stung by PalmOne's relative success with its Treo range of smart phones, HP this week wanted World+Dog to know that it too is in the PDA-meets-phone market. To prove it, the company said it was going to launch more such models this year and next. Surprise, surprise. Equally unsurprising was the company's unwillingness to spell out exactly what it has in mind. All it will say is that it's got something up its sleeve called the iPaq Mobile Messenger and it will, Treo-fashion, sport an integrated keyboard. The device will operate on GSM/GPRS networks and support those of them with the EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) bandwidth enhancement. There will be Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in there too, like the current iPaq h6315. It will also incorporate GPS satellite positioning technology, which will disappoint Tiger Telematics' Gizmondo subsidiary. As it prepares to ship its GPS-enabled handheld games console, it has its eye on the smart phone market too, hoping to tempt business buyers with that same navigation feature. HP's offering is scheduled to ship in Q2, though as yet the manufacturer won't talk about network partnerships. It will be pitching the product at enterprises rather than the consumers it claimed PalmOne was targeting, though anecdotal evidence suggests HP's rival isn't exactly being ignored by corporates. It can't have become the leading smart phone vendor in the US market on price-sensitive consumers alone. ® Related stories Sierra sued over 'flawed' Voq smart phone T-Mobile unveils Sidekick-styled 3G device Smart phone shipments break records Mobile phones shipments up 38% in Q4 Nokia cuts hit smart phone, multimedia R&D PalmOne Q2 sales soar Gizmondo creator touts smart phone scheme PalmOne launches Treo 650 HP rolls out Wi-Fi PDA phone
Tony Smith, 03 Feb 2005

UK councils will all meet e-enabling deadline

Local councils will all meet the 2005 deadline for e-enabling their services, according to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM). Local e-Government Minister Phil Hope said yesterday that most councils have already made good progress towards the target. He added that, altogether, local authorities expected to save £1.2bn by 2007/2008 as a direct result of e-government investment. Implementing Electronic Government (IEG4), a survey of all the councils, revealed that the average council is nearly 80 per cent e-enabled, and according to Hope, expects to be 100 per cent ready by the end of the year. Hope commented: "In over 100 councils, citizens can already go online to submit planning applications, check their council tax balance and calculate their benefits entitlement. Our challenge for the next twelve months is to drive through the full benefits of e-government to help build the efficient and effective local councils that our communities deserve." He added that there will be another progress review in July 2005, so that any councils who need it, will get help to meet the deadline. So far, 59 councils have asked for more help. However, as we have previously reported, while the government's statistics sound impressive, the level of technology required to qualify as e-enabled is not very high. Some services qualify if they have an email address and telephone contact number for people to use. ® Related stories NCC and eGov launch IT accreditation scheme UK forecasts 96% e-gov hit rate Local e-gov is wonderful
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Feb 2005

Bid now for a piece of computer history

If you ever wanted to own a contemporary sketch of Charles Babbage's analytical engine - the forerunner to modern-day computers - or get your hands on the first business plan devised to sell computers, or even the original Arpanet documents written by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn - then now's your chance. But it won't be cheap. Later this month, a remarkable collection of documents following the evolution of computing from the 1600s to the 1970s will be on auction at Christie's in New York. And the 255 lots, containing 1141 items, are expected to make their owner at least $2m. That owner, one Jeremy M. Norman, has been collecting computing books and documents since 1971 and his life's work, The Origins of Cyberspace Library, will be up for grabs on 23 February, following a few exhibitions and speaking engagements. Among the multitude of original and fascinating documents are those that cover the first programmable computer, the first electronic computer, the first software, mathematical theories covering all aspects of telecommunications, the history of the whole computer business and the odd children's game or two. Norman's initial fascination was with Babbage himself, a genius who lived most of the 1800s and as a mathematician in Cambridge created all the main elements of the digital computer. He loved fire, hated music and had it away with Ada Lovelace, Byron's daughter, not to mention nearly bankrupted himself by betting on the horses so extensively because he was convinced he had a devised a perfect system to pick winners. As such, a good amount of Babbage's work is up for sale, including a sketch of his legendary Analytical Engine - yours for only $30,000 to $40,000. But you want to know though is the most expensive item, right? It is the business plan for the worl'd first computer company written by J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly. Titled "Outline of plans for development of electronic computers", you can see this scrappy looking document in good details here. But if you want to hold it, you'd better dig deep because the expected price is $50,000 to $70,000. In comparison, the first documents for Arpanet and the TCP/IP protocol that is the foundation of the internet, are a steal at $2,000 to $3,000. You could even track down the authors to sign it for you. Vint Cerf is currently chairman of ICANN in Los Angeles and Bob Kahn is CEO of CNRI in Virginia. If you can't quite afford that either but want a piece of computing history, the cheapest lots start at $400. For that you can get a presentation on computer networks by Joseph Licklider or a book of machine translation, or various other assorted goods. Of what you could do is buy a book that contains detailed notes and pictures of every single item of Norman's collection. In fact, you can get "Origins of Cyberspace: A Library on the History of Computing and Computer-Related Telecommunications" on Amazon.com right now. It will cost you $500 and Amazon only has one left, so be quick. But, for the rest of us, more concerned about eating, drinking and living in a warm house to go spending thousands of pounds on old bits of paper, there remains the internet. And being a computer-head, Norman has very thoughtfully stuck huge wodges of his library up on the web for all to see. So pay it a visit at www.historyofscience.com. If you are seriously thinking about bidding, or you're just curious, Christie's has a section on the auction here, and you can get more in-depth details on each lot by clicking here. Related links Collection's homesite Christie's auction
Kieren McCarthy, 03 Feb 2005

Botnets strangle Google Adwords campaigns

Security researchers have discovered a way to shut down or seriously impair a Google Adwords advertising campaign by artificially inflating the number of times an ad is displayed. By running searches against particular keywords from compromised hosts, attackers can cause click-through percentage rates to fall through the floor. This, in turn, causes Google Adwords to automatically disable the affected campaign keywords and prevent ads from being displayed. By disabling campaign keywords using the technique, cybercrimals could give their preferred parties higher ad positions at reduced costs, according to click fraud prevention specialists Clickrisk. "By disabling targeted keywords across many advertisers' campaigns simultaneously by artificially inflating the number of times an ad is displayed an attacker can secure a higher ad position," explains Clickrisk.com chief exec Adam Sculthorpe. The attack - dubbed keyword hijacking - is difficult to prevent because it takes advantage of a design feature of Google Adwords rather than a flaw, he added. Clickrisk came across the attack in investigating why the click through rates of one of its clients - which had been running at a steady rate - dropped to zero for no apparent reason. Subsequent monitoring and forensic testing revealed that a botnet made up of open proxies in China was responsible for the attack. High—cost-per-click (CPC) advertisers in niche markets are particular vulnerable to the keyword hijacking attack. "Once keywords are disabled they can't be re-enabled and attacks can go undetected for some time," Sculthorpe told El Reg. When keywords are disabled an advertiser must erase all campaigns featuring the affected keywords and create a new campaign as a workaround. Although the true scope of the problem remains unclear, Clickrisk security analysts believe the keyword hijacking attack may be widely exploited. Clickrisk advises users to monitor click-through rates and traffic levels, log into Google Adwords campaign frequently and check that keywords are not disabled. The incidence of click fraud risk exposure in general is on the rise. According to Clickrisk’s chief risk officer, Jack Bensimon, "our clients have experienced substantial losses ranging from 20 – 65 per cent of their total click costs." Bensimon believes that "managing business risk is a critical component of online advertising" and further recommends that "online marketers should be vigilant and regularly monitor keywords". ® Related stories Man charged over Google blackmail attempt French court says Non! to Google's adwords Google hails adwords victory Google plugs brace of GMail security flaws Interview with a link spammer External links Clickrisk's advisory
John Leyden, 03 Feb 2005

Tory group report attacks ID scheme as a con trick

The Bow Group Tory think tank has published a critique of the ID scheme by former Minister Peter Lilley MP. Lilley, who has been active in opposition to the scheme in Parliament, echoes Privacy International's suggestion that the ID card could become the Labour Party's poll tax, and the report provides a succinct primer to the flaws of the scheme. But it's Lilley's parliamentary and ministerial experience that makes the report particularly interesting. He notes that in opposition (in 1995) one Tony Blair said: "Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities", which is of course just slightly different from the current line. Lilley contends that "his change of heart is entirely cynical. It reflects government by focus group. The focus groups showed that the public felt the government had failed on crime and immigration; the Conservatives were trusted to do better; and Michael Howard was a successful Home Secretary who reduced both crime and immigration. Focus groups also showed that the public believed ID cards would help tackle both problems. So Blair is pressing ahead with ID cards to create the impression that he is being tough on crime and immigration. Having adopted the idea cynically, the government embraced them wholeheartedly because ID cards fit squarely within the New Labour mould. They have the smack of modernity – witness Ministers' talk of biometrics, smart cards and new technology; they are nakedly populist; they make Britain more like our European neighbours, many of whom have identity card schemes of one sort or another; and they reflect New Labour's desire to nanny and control us." Which is an argument, certainly. Lilley the politician also notes a telling signpost in the ID Bill's Regulatory Impact Assessment, which says: "The government wants to encourage lawful migration into the country... In sustaining and perhaps increasing current levels of lawful migration, it is important to retain the confidence of the resident population". The assessment says ID cards will help achieve this by convincing people "that immigration controls will not be abused". "In other words," says Lilley, "if the government mounts a high profile campaign against 'abuse of immigration controls' the public will not realise that it is actually 'encouraging' and 'increasing' the present unprecedented level of immigration." Perception management of this sort chimes with David Blunkett's explanation of the need to deal with perception of threat, as opposed to reality, here (where you'll also see the first sighting of ASBOs for terror suspects, which are now likely to be deployed as Clarke control orders for Belmarsh prisoners), and with his explanation of pre-emptive measures as a response to fear. And also, of course, with the news that the Home Office is actively trying to measure fear levels. So there's ample support for Lilley's pitch that the ID scheme is just a hugely expensive exercise in mass perception management, whether or not you agree with him that immigration levels should be reduced. Lilley makes several other useful points, notably that asylum seekers have had biometric ID cards anyway since 2002, and that detected illegal immigrants would simply have to claim asylum in order to get one. The Government's lack of success in actually removing many illegal immigrants from the country, says Lilley, means that in these circumstances most of them can stay indefinitely. Coincidentally, in a parliamentary answer a few days ago Immigration Minister Des Browne explained the Government's failure to achieve its 30,000 removals target (10,780 were achieved in 2002) thus: "The 30,000 removals target was set to drive up performance and to achieve a real step change in the number of failed asylum seekers being removed. We have since accepted that it was not achievable." Which does sound a bit like an admission that it was perception management and was never expected to be achieved in the first place. The Bow Group site doesn't yet have a copy of the full report, but it will no doubt be posted there in the near future. ID cards extra: The Portuguese Government is to introduce an electronic ID card in order to tackle forgery of its existing cards. Fakes Portuguese cards, it has emerged, have been widely used by Brazilian illegal immigrants in order to work in the UK. There is as yet no introduction date, so at around €75 the current fakes remain an excellent deal for the wannabe European citizen. France meanwhile has launched a public debate on its proposed electronic ID card, INES (identité nationale électronique sécurisée). The French card is also being pitched as a secure successor to the current card, but France is majoring on its use as a means of enabling secure electronic ID from the citizen's point of view (i.e. it helps you, as opposed to your needing to have it in order to get stuff from the Government). There's a very readable (if you read French) consultation document here, and a live citizen's discussion forum with a credible level of activity (how different from the sites of our own dear Home Office) here. ® Related Stories: Parliamentary report flags ID scheme human rights issues UK gov ready to u-turn on passport-ID card link? Labour's Zombie Army clinches ID card vote for Clarke Europe kicks UK out of biometric passport club
John Lettice, 03 Feb 2005

HP and EMC ready to settle ancient storage dispute

After battling for years over storage patents, EMC and Hewlett Packard have agreed to settle the matter out of court. The companies last week filed a joint motion to hold a private arbitration to resolve the dispute, an EMC spokeswoman confirmed. HP, which acquired the patents and legal baggage when it acquired StorageApps in 2001, was found to have infringed EMC's IP by a federal jury in 2004. A damages hearing was set to take place on Feb. 16 but will now be avoided. The squabble with EMC forced HP into a tough spot. It was barred from selling the CASA (Continues Access Storage Appliance) product that used StorageApps technology. Rumors have recently circulated that HP has teamed with Falconstor to develop a CASA replacement. The arbitration clearly saves on legal costs for both companies and puts this long-running matter behind them. ® Related stories EMC rides coders to banner Q4 HP and Falconstor team on fancy storage kit - report Customers pay billions for storage software in Q3
Ashlee Vance, 03 Feb 2005