14th > July > 2005 Archive

AMD shrugs off Intel shackles for ace Q2

AMD shot right past analysts' expectations during the second quarter to post a profit and sparkling processor sales. Not bad for a company alleging that Intel has an illegal stranglehold on the processor market. Opteron, Opteron, Opteron was the key message from management. Sales of AMD's server chip shot up 89 per cent year-over-year, helping push total revenue to $1.260bn. Strong server and mobile processor sales offset a drop in flash memory revenue. AMD posted net income of $11m - earning 3 cents per share - while analysts were looking for the company to post a loss of 5 cents per share. A year earlier, AMD reported net income of $32m and 9 cents earnings per share. "Our microprocessor business delivered another record quarter driven by increased demand for AMD server and mobile processors from our largest global OEM customers," said Robert Rivet, AMD's CFO. "Once again we continued to gain momentum with microprocessor sales growth increasing 38 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2004." Hard-nosed financial analysts couldn't compliment AMD enough during a conference call to go over the results. "Good execution, guys," said one. "Great gross margins there in processors," said another. "Congratulations on your server success in the quarter. You can add UBS to your list of customers," said an analyst from UBS. True, AMD's processor business performed well, but the analysts seemed to take it pretty easy on the company. As mentioned, its net income fell year-over-year. In addition, total revenue fell slightly from the $1.261bn reported one year ago. AMD is currently looking to IPO its underperforming flash memory unit which weighed down the processor sales. You may have heard that AMD recently lobbed an antitrust suit at Intel, alleging that unfair business practices have impacted AMD's ability to make the most of superior processor technology. AMD's Opteron processor outperforms Xeon on countless benchmarks and is a dual-core engine, while Xeon still has just one core. AMD's desktop and mobile products also compare favorably with those from Intel, depending on the metric. One savvy analyst tossed AMD CEO Hector Ruiz a real softball, asking how much of the x86 dual-core server market the company currently owns. "As far as dual-core processors, we have 100 per cent market share due to the failure of our competitor to execute," Ruiz said. That's strong talk for a battered underdog. AMD declined to provide much in the way of guidance for the third quarter, saying only that it expects chip sales to exceed typical, past totals for the period. ® Related stories AMD alleges Intel compilers create crash code for its chips EC officials raid Intel offices Intel and Dell thrilled to join the dual-core server chip era AMD wants Intel evidence from 30 firms AMD Japan sues Intel for $50m damages - and then some Can anyone compete with Intel? AMD says, 'No!' AMD files anti-trust suit against Intel
Ashlee Vance, 14 Jul 2005

Microsoft's 'Chimney' stuffed by TCP/IP settlement

Microsoft has settled a patent dispute with networking start-up Alacritech. The deal will see the companies cross license some technology and have Microsoft pay Alacritech an undisclosed sum. We know, we know. Microsoft pays off smaller firm is a familiar plot line. Alacritech specializes in making TCP/IP offloading technology. In particular, it makes TOE (TCP/IP offload engines) cards that many once predicted would be key in the storage and server industries, as customers looked to divert networking traffic from processors. The technology hasn't taken off as well as Alacritech and others hoped. Nonetheless, Microsoft uses such TCP/IP offloading in a project code-name "Chimney" to give Windows a boost. While present in Windows Server 2003, the offloading goods are really supposed to shine in Longhorn. Alacritech also formed a cross-licensing deal with Broadcom. "Alacritech’s patent cross-licenses with Microsoft and Broadcom provide Alacritech with access to certain Microsoft and Broadcom networking patents. Alacritech’s agreements with Microsoft and Broadcom include fees in undisclosed amounts paid to Alacritech. Collectively the agreements enable the three companies to work together to further expand the range of customer solutions available for scalable networked systems," Alacritech said. In April, Alacritech won a preliminary injunction against Redmond. Processor makers such as Sun Microsystems and Intel have been busy building similar networking aids into their chips. The rise of multicore processors that can handle different types of workloads could lessen the need for separate server cards that do similar things. Specialized software, of course, also plays a large role in these tasks. All the vendors are looking to lessen the burden that crunching through the TCP/IP stack demands of current hardware. This problem is expected to worsen as technology such as iSCSI makes it possible to send large chunks of data over IP. ® Related stories Start-up reckons it can give you twice the processor Microsoft loses Excel patent case Patent injunction knocks Longhorn Intel to attack greedy TCP/IP stack Adaptec tempts mobo makers with Serial ATA Sun gives glimpse of revised Solaris TCP/IP stack
Ashlee Vance, 14 Jul 2005

HDS intros midsize storage controller

The decline of big iron in the storage department accelerated this week as HDS announced a cut-down model of its virtualising storage controller, able to manage both HDS and non-HDS arrays. Called the TagmaStore NSC55, the device is aimed at midrange buyers, but HDS admits it will also appeal to larger organisations - potentially in place of its bigger boxes. Alongside this, the company has also rebranded its modular storage line, replacing its Thunder family with TagmaStore AMS (adaptable modular storage), which can mix up to 88TB of Fibre Channel and SATA drives, and WMS (workgroup modular storage), hosting up to 42TB of SATA only. HDS adds that Sun and HP are also signed up to sell the new systems. First off, we've all been under a misapprehension - even the analysts. The name TagmaStore doesn't specify virtualisation after all; instead it's the new HDS brand for storage in general, so even a SATA disk array will be a TagmaStore something-or-other. Right, so no confusion there then... Meanwhile, the virtualising gear will go out under snappy and unique nicknames [yes, that's irony] - USP (universal storage platform) at the high end, and NSC (network storage controller) for the midrange. Mmmm. Can anyone else smell a palace coup by some more-demented-than-usual branding and image strategists? Anyway, back to the plot: the NSC55 uses the same microcode as the USP, and will make tiered storage and ILM practical for mid-sized customers, according to Roger Turner, storage systems director for HDS EMEA. "We've taken the virtualisation of the USP, kept the multiprocessor and caching architecture, and added the best bits of modular storage - inexpensive racking, small footprint," he said. "Virtualisation is the fundamental technology needed before you can say 'My server doesn't care where this information is stored' - the NSC introduces that to a lower market." Is virtualisation and ILM ready for mid-size organisations, though? Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Tony Asaro thinks so: "The NSC55 is an enterprise-class solution that provides the same compelling value as the USP, but for medium-size customers," he said. Others aren't so sure. "I think this kind of function appeals more at the high end," noted Claus Egge, IDC's European storage research director. "The installation can't be too small, and it's also to do with the skillset in the IT department. You can't really sell this unless the customer understands the proposition." Roger Turner acknowledged that modular storage - of which NSC is a part - is taking an ever bigger share of a market that was once restricted to big mainframe-class arrays, but said it's not a problem. Sure, NSC will cannibalise some USP business, but it's better to eat your own than have someone else eat them. "Midrange technology is broadening its appeal," he said. "We are seeing high end businesses that have traditionally used cache-coherent storage looking at their environment and asking, 'Can we reduce costs by using this cheaper storage that's gradually accreting functionality?'" He argued there will still be a place for the USP and its ilk, and denied stories that NSC was needed because USP was too expensive for many buyers: "USP is selling like hot cakes - our biggest problem is building enough of them." Overall though, it's a big win for modular storage versus the big box. More and more organisations are looking at tiering their storage to better suit application needs, and increasingly virtualisation is the glue that holds it all together. On that basis, Claus Egge applauded NSC as a speedy move. "Hitachi has got in there very quickly, with a low end version of its high end technology - it's got a headstart over the competition," he said. ® Related stories HDS goes multidimensional on ILM HDS aims virtual Lightning at EMC, IBM HDS adds NAS gateway by NetApp
Bryan Betts, 14 Jul 2005
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Dell: why Customer Care had to die

We notice that you were very interested by the news that Dell has closed its customer support boards (on the US site). We had asked the company itself to explain why; and within just two days of our urgent request, it managed to unburden itself of the following response, which we quote in full. "Effective Friday, July 8, 2005 Dell's Customer Care board on the Dell Community Forum (DCF) is no longer available. Customers are therefore no longer able to post questions to the Customer Care board on the DCF. Customers seeking general order support, rebate status, warranty information or invoice questions, can now visit Dell's Customer Care website or talk directly with a Dell Customer Care representative on - 0870 906 0010 or visit the UK website: www.dell.co.uk. Because many of these non-technical issues can only be addressed by authorised Dell representatives, with access to customer information, Dell believes that questions are best handled through other secure online tools. Even though the Customer Care board has been closed down and posts will no longer be accepted, customers can still access archived posts and information through the DCF search tool or FAQs under the general board. Pre-sales and Dell Financial Services boards have moved and can now be found under the General Support board. Dell constantly evaluates the effectiveness of our support tools and determined that order support and related questions are best addressed through FAQs, and chat. We continue to enhance, reorganise and add boards to make DCF a valuable tool for customers." Annoyingly, Dell has 404'd the link we had to its own announcement. So much for archiving. In fact, researching this article was like being in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (remember?), with multiple messages saying "The Message you are trying to access has been deleted. Please update your bookmarks." Those below were all working at posting time. So what can we infer about why the forums got shut? The key sentence, according to a Delldroid, is "Because many of these non-technical issues can only be addressed by authorised Dell representatives, with access to customer information, Dell believes that questions are best handled through other secure online tools." But we think they're wrong. A quick perusal of the posts remaining there shows that there are plenty of things that Dell's customers told each other on the boards within just the past three months that are unlikely to make it into an FAQ, or online chat with a Dell person, but are very helpful nonetheless. 1) Yes, you can go to lunch leaving your speakerphone on hold waiting for Dell Customer Service to answer. It'll still be ringing when you get back. (Here.) 2) If you are going to be late on one of your bills, better not let it be a Dell bill. You will pay a very high price. You might want to consider paying off your account and closing it. (Here.) 3) Got a problem? Complain to the Better Business Bureau. Maybe by the time you come to buy a new computer, Mr Dell will be living in the cardboard box outside the store where you buy it. (Here.) 4) The quickest way to get help from Customer Service is by posting as you have in this room [forum] Mon-thru Fri, with your customer number, specifics and addressing it to a Dell Rep. (Here.) Obviously, this isn't an option now. 5) If you're a small company, be prepared to wait, wait, wait for your gear to arrive. Not so for the big guys. Deal with it. (Here.) 6) Denny Denham (warning: sunglasses required) is a regular poster with a wealth of information about Dell gear, the forums, and how to get the best out of customer support. But he's not employed by Dell. 7) "Dell doesn't want the input. People can write to the corporate address listed on the About Dell section of the website. And yes, some people are losing jobs. People need to understand that Dell is outsourcing the support of consumers and minimizing the costs in every way possible. They don't want to make it easier to contact them." (Here.) And lastly, Dell's response to those imploring it to keep the boards open. "That train has already left the station. The technical boards will still be thriving for you to post any questions." (Here.) Except, of course, for one particular question... Related stories Want to complain about Dell? Forget it Spanish eBayers in open revolt Fresh twist in nthellworld protest site saga NTL axes nthellworld.com feedback forums
Charles Arthur, 14 Jul 2005

Shuttle grounded

Sadly, Shuttle did not launch yesterday. NASA says that a faulty fuel gauge is to blame - it showed a fuel tank to be nearly empty, when in fact in was nearly full. This could cause the engines to cut out at the wrong point of the Shuttle's ascent, mission controllers explained, which would, clearly, not be a good thing. NASA is working to find out what caused the fault, and to correct it. No new date has been set for a launch, but it is thought unlikely that Shuttle will lift off before Monday. Since this seems to be happening with alarming regularity, we are considering setting up a template "Shuttle hasn't launched" story. Readers will be able to choose from a variety of reasons for the failed launch. For example: "Shuttle launch was delayed for 10 minutes/ten hours/ten days/indefinitely after engineers discovered a pigeon/tile/astronaut had built a nest in the conning tower/got a screw loose/got a screw loose and built a nest in the conning tower".... Our thanks to Charles Arthur for the very witty suggestion. ® Related stories Return to flight: the countdown begins Shuttle is go for launch Hurricane Dennis menaces Shuttle
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Jul 2005
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TransFlash becomes MicroSD

The SD Association (SDA), the organisation that oversees the SD memory card format, has formally taken on board the TransFlash specification and renamed it MicroSD. TransFlash was developed by memory card specialist SanDisk - who, as you can imagine, is cock-a-hoop over the news - and has been adopted by some of the mobile phone world's biggest players, including Samsung, Motorola, LG and Kyocera. Apparently, the postage-stamp sized SD card is too big for such vendors, as presumably is the smaller MiniSD specification, adopted by the SDA in 2003, again from an original SanDisk design. MicroSD cards are 1.5 x 1.1 x 0.1cm, and available to date in capacities of up to 256MB. Not co-incidentally, we suspect, SanDisk yesterday said it will ship "the world's first" 512MB MicroSD card next month. It also promised a 1GB card by the end of the year and a 2GB version early in 2006. The 512MB product will cost $70. MicroSD and TransFlash are fully interoperable, the SDA said, so older TransFlash-branded cards will work in new MicroSD-enabled devices, and vice versa, the organisation pledged. ® Related stories Palm vets put Skype on a thumb drive U3 signs first USB Flash drive makers New SanDisk drive lets your fingers do the storing Toshiba, SanDisk prep 1GB Flash chip SanDisk offers USB-friendly SD flash memory U3 launches USB drive-hosted app 'standard' It's official: storage is the new chips
Tony Smith, 14 Jul 2005

ISPA contacts Bulldog over spike in customer complaints

The UK's ISP trade group has contacted Bulldog over an increased number of complaints about its broadband service, The Register has learned. ISPA contacted Bulldog - the local loop unbundling (LLU) operator owned by telecoms giant Cable & Wireless - a couple of weeks ago to discuss a spike in complaints it had received. The trade body is due to discuss the issue at an industry meeting today. It expects to contact the broadband provider again shortly concerning the complaints. It is understood ISPA intends to escalate its concerns to senior management at Bulldog. A spokesman for ISPA told The Register: "We have noticed a large increase in the number of complaints about Bulldog. We were in touch a couple of weeks ago and we will be in touch again." He declined to reveal the exact nature of the customer complaints but said they involved "customer service issues". No one from Bulldog was available for comment at the time of writing. Last week Bulldog was ticked off by the advertising authority for running misleading radio commercials. ® Related stories Bulldog fingered for misleading radio ad Bulldog airbrushes 'Best Broadband ISP' logo Bulldog blames 'admin error' for poor service
Tim Richardson, 14 Jul 2005

Hillary Clinton demands GTA smut enquiry

Senator Hillary Clinton has jumped nimbly on the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas rumpy-pumpy outrage bandwagon by demanding an investigation into the game's torrid sex scenes as unlocked by Dutch modder Patrick Wildenborg. To recap, Wildenborg's "Hot Coffee" mod apparently disables the game's "censor flag", thereby allowing access to hidden XXX material. As Wildenborg exlained: "If the censor flag is set, all the sexually explicit scenes are blocked from the normal flow of events. That makes a difference in a game scene when the hero visits his girlfriend's house for a cup of coffee. In the censored version, the game shows the exterior of the house while suggestive sound effects are heard. If, however, the censor flag is cleared, all the explicit scenes are tied into the normal gameplay." So, horror of horrors, kids indulging in a bit of harmless thievery and carnage may be exposed to the beast with two backs. Who cares? Well, the problem is that GTA is rated "M" for mature - that's 17 years and older across the Pond. Throw in a bit of smut and you might be looking at an AO (Adult Only) classification - bad news for the game's manufacturers because it hits them where it hurts, and that's not in the graphically exposed and dangling cojones. Despite the kerfuffle, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) doesn't think there's an issue here. ESRB prez Patricia Vance agreed with GTA producer Take 2's assertion that "Hot Coffee" is a mod and "not an inherent feature of the game". She added: "He [Wildenborg] actually had to change underlying code. It's not a cheat. It's not an Easter egg." Vance concluded: "Game developers have been known to deactivate parts of their code without removing them from the finished products. Oftentimes* changes are made toward the end of development, and they program workarounds." In summary: if Take 2 didn't intend the porn to be "playable content", then "the company may not be at fault when ambitious modders discover it". And that would have been an end to the matter were it not for the outraged intervention of Mrs Clinton, who has written to the Federal Trade Commission demanding to know "the source of this content" and whether the industry "erred in giving the game a rating of M, or mature, for players 17 years and older". According to the New York Times, Clinton claims that "50 per cent of boys between 7 and 14 were able to buy M-rated video games", or at least that's what the National Institute on Media and the Family says. The NYT notes Clinton's intervention comes at a time "when many Democrats were trying to figure out ways their party can match Republicans on the issue of family values". Well, here's a suggestion for the Democrats as to how they can help defend family values: don't accept oral sexual favours from White House interns while you're supposed to be running the country - and keep your cigars firmly to yourself. Indeed, we suspect that Clinton's indignation may have something to do with the fact that an as-yet-unconfirmed mod called "Lewinsky" allows GTA gamers to blast their way into the Oval Office using semi-automatic rifles and then receive the kind attentions of a plump and shameless hussy called Monika who groans: "Oh yeah, you the man! Yeah, give it to me Bill!" while chewing on a big, fat... cigar. ® Bootnote *Thanks to all those readers who wrote in last week to express dismay at Vance's use of the deliciously archaic "oftentimes". Actually, we quite like it, and will henceforthwith use it at any available opportunity. Related stories Gaming rocked by GTA smut revelation Grand Theft Auto firm faces 'murder training' lawsuit Grand Theft Auto in the dock over US road killing
Lester Haines, 14 Jul 2005
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Morse flogs French business for €1 (and then some)

Morse has sold its French subsidiary, Morse France SAS to Opengate for €1 – and maybe €1m in performance-related cash in the period to 30 June 2007. It is taking an non-cash charge of €7m on the disposal. Morse France turned over £11m in the most recent quarter – just under 10 per cent of group revenues. So the sale price looks like a snip, considering that the subsidiary made an operating loss of just £600,000 for the year to end of June. Morse says the French business is no longer core to the group, as it derives most of its revenues from infrastructure – in other words, selling computer hardware. Investment to turn France into a more service-oriented company would cost too much, it says. Yesterday the group issued an upbeat trading update, saying it has surpassed profit estimates. Sales for the year to end of June wer £428m and operating profit before exceptionals and goodwill will come in at “not less than £9.5m”. During the year, the company reduced its UK headcount by 100. It says that the transition from product reseller to full-blown services company is progressing well. More here. ® Related stories Morse shares tumble on channel exposure Morse: UK sales under pressure Morse swoops on Diagonal
Team Register, 14 Jul 2005
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C2000 extends credit lines for SME resellers

Computer 2000 is doubling credit lines to 1000 smaller resellers. And the Tech Data-owned distie is making credit lines of £5000 available to another 1,300 dealers who previously had cash with order or credit accounts. The group comprises resellers which currently do "relatively small amounts of business with the company on a regular basis". The extra credit is worth £11.5m, C2000 says. Alistair Brett, C2000 sales director, says the facility gives these resellers "room to manoeuvre". The extra credit is already in place for most of the 2,300 resellers, but some dealers will need to supply additional information. ®
Team Register, 14 Jul 2005
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PalmOne regains old handle

Palm, ladies and gentlemen, is now Palm again. When the Nasdaq market opens for business later today, the company's stock will be traded under the PALM symbol. While the company's web site had been updated this morning with the new logo, the homepage's title still said "PalmOne, formerly Palm", so presumably it will soon be updated to read "Palm, formerly PalmOne, formerly Palm". Palm retained its name from its foundation in 1995 through its subsequent acquisition by US Robotics and later by 3Com. The name was dropped in favour of PalmOne when the company was split in twain, one part becoming PalmSource and focusing on the operating system, the other bit concerning itself only with the hardware. The October 2003 split followed arose out of Palm's decision to license the Palm OS and the need to make it clear to licensees that their operating system supplier was giving the hardware division no special favours. By and large, it worked. PalmSource is profitable, and PalmOne has retained its place as the lead Palm OS device developer. In May this year, PalmOne acquired PalmSource's share in the holding company both firms co-founded to retain the rights to the Palm name. PalmSource has a licence to use the name for four more years, after which it will have to renegotiate or change its name - it's likely to do the latter, particularly since the Palm OS itself will by then have become Linux with a nice GUI stuck on the front and some proprietary libraries thrown in for good measure. In that timeframe, Palm itself may well be offering Windows Mobile-based devices too, so the connection between the world 'Palm' and the name of operating system will need to be broken. As we noted in May, most people call PalmOne 'Palm' still, so the move reflects reality. Palm wants you to associate the word with the device not the OS. ® Related stories DataViz ships RoadSync for Palm LG throws PalmSource a lifeline HP grabs former palmOne CEO to head PC biz PalmOne to become Palm again PalmSource CEO hands in resignation letter PalmOne promotes Colligan
Tony Smith, 14 Jul 2005

Orange UK launches smart phones

Mobile phone network Orange this week launched its much-anticipated SPV C550 and SPV M500 smart phones, a week after the company posted details of the handsets on its website. The C550 will be promoted under Orange's Great for Music label - no surprise given the HTC-developed handset's focus on music playback, with separate Play/Pause and track-skip controls. The phone comes pre-loaded with Orange's own Music Player application, which links through to the network's 300,000-track music download store, part of its Orange World WAP portal. The songs are encoded in the iTunes-like but more efficient AAC Plus format, but the C550 can also play MP3 and WAV tracks, along with MPEG 4 video. The device contains a 1.3 megapixel digicam with 4x digital zoom. The screen is a 64,000-colour job. Orange is bundling a 128MB MiniSD card for extra data storage - the phone contains 32MB of RAM. It also offers Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and is a tri-band (900/1800/1900) GSM/GPRS device. The M500 uses the same camera, but ships with 64MB of RAM. In place of the C550's candybar phone form-factor, the M500 is styled like a compact PDA - it's HTC's 'Magician' device - with a 2.8in, 240 x 320, 64,000-colour display. It too is a tri-band product, and incorporates Bluetooth. It runs Windows Mobile 2003 on a 416MHz Intel XScale PXA270 processor. The C550 goes on sale later this month, though Orange is already taking orders for the product. It's free of charge on a monthly subscription tariff, Orange said. The company did not announce pricing or availability for the M500, which remains listed as "coming soon" on the Orange website. ® Related stories Motorola 'to debut' iTunes phone at UK's V Festival Orange UK touts SPV M500 music phone Orange kills Wildfire - finally Wanadoo to blow €200m on Orange name change HTC 'Universal' 3G, Wi-Fi phone to ship 'late Q3' Carphone Warehouse confirms Orange SPV C550 Orange touts 'Great for Music' handsets Orange next-gen smart phone details leak Orange to offer 3G, Wi-Fi palmtop smart phone
Tony Smith, 14 Jul 2005

Michael J. Fox makes stem cell plea

Michael J. Fox has thrown his weight behind a campaign to persuade US president Bush to drop his opposition to an embryonic stem cell bill seeking to allow an expanded research programme, Reuters reports. The bill would quash limits Bush imposed in August 2001 (a stop on any further federal-funded stem cell research outside that on the already-existing stem cell 78 lines) and allow research utilizing 400,000 frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization treatment, most of which face destruction. Fox - who suffers from Parkinson's disease - said that Bush "has an opportunity to do something fantastic for the world," and called the proposed legislation a "pro-living bill". Bush has already vowed to veto the bill which was passed in May by the House of Representatives. Bush said at the time: "I've made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life - I'm against that. And therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it." As we reported back in May, Bush's stance dismayed the bill's bipartisan supporters, who sought to assure its opponents thus: "Under no circumstances does this legislation allow for the creation of embryos for research nor does it fund the destruction of embryos." That was how Republican Representative Mike Castle of Delaware put it. Castle was - along with Democratic Representative Diane DeGette of Colorado - co-sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives. DeGette chipped in that she was "disappointed at Bush's veto threat against a bill that holds promise for cures to diseases that affect millions of Americans," a sentiment echoed by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada who said: "President Bush has made the wrong choice, putting politics ahead of safe, responsible science." The bill now faces the Senate, possibly as early as next week. Tennessee Republican Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, has been trying to draft legislation focusing on alternative research methodologies, although scientists earlier this week told a Senate hearing earlier this week that this line of attack was "speculative, and would likely take much longer to yield any therapies or cures for crippling human diseases". California Democrat Dianne Feinstein described some of the the bill's opponents as "people who want to obfuscate this issue". She added that they were motivated "more by ideological concerns related to abortion". While the US stem cell controversy rumbles on, Europe is getting down to business. The UK has already made it plain it will proceed with therapeutic stem cell research, and Spain this week announced it would do the same. ® Related stories Spain greenlights therapeutic cloning Britain talks tough on stem cell research Bush pledges to veto stem cell bill
Lester Haines, 14 Jul 2005
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VeriSign snags iDefense for $40m

Net infrastructure firm VeriSign has bought security intelligence firm iDefense for $40m in cash. iDefense's 45 employees will join VeriSign in a move designed to bolster its managed security services offering with proactive threat warning and security remediation advice. iDefense is best known for its controversial vulnerability contributor program, which rewards hackers for advance notification of unpublished vulnerabilities or exploit code. It's not immediately clear if the program will continue post acquisition. VeriSign's rivals in the managed security market include Symantec and Cybertrust, both of which came into the market niche through acquisitions, and Counterpane. In a statement, VeriSign said revenue and earnings contribution from the acquisition wouldn't affect its financial results in 2005. ® Related stories Merger creates world's biggest IT security services firm 'Doomsday nerds' defend cyberspace Mozilla to pay bounty on bugs IT security to go offshore. Maybe UK trojan siege has been running over a year
John Leyden, 14 Jul 2005

Ebbers weeps as sentence handed down

Bernie Ebbers wept in court as he was told he faced 25 years in chokey for orchestrating the world's biggest securities fraud at WorldCom. The man behind the $11bn (£5.8bn) con that helped make WorldCom "become synonymous with fraud" was visibly shaken when the sentence was handed down yesterday, according to those in court. For Ebbers, 63, the jail term means he could spend the rest of his life behind bars, reports the BBC. He is due to start his prison sentence on October 12 at a federal jail in Yazoo City, Mississippi, which is near his home. Handing down the sentence Judge Barbara Jones told the court: "A sentence of anything less would not reflect the seriousness of the crime." In March, Bernard J Ebbers, the former chief exec of WorldCom (now renamed MCI), was found guilty of orchestrating the $11bn (£5.8bn) accounting fraud that led to the collapse of the US telecoms giant, the loss of 20,000 jobs and wiped out more than $100bn in stock value. Not bad for a man who made much of his humble roots as an ex-milkman and basketball coach whose grasp of accounting and technology were limited. Throughout the six week trial the former chief exec maintained he knew nothing of the book fiddling that brought the telecoms giant to its knees. Instead, he told the court he left all the financial matters to his bean counters. The jury didn't agree. Following eight days of deliberation, the Manhattan federal jury returned guilty verdicts on charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, and seven counts of filing false reports. Speaking yesterday Judge Jones said that Ebbers "was clearly a leader of criminal activity in this case". ® Related stories Ebbers jailed for 25 years Ebbers faces jail for WorldCom fraud Ebbers could face life for WorldCom fraud Ebbers conviction - 'victory for individual responsibility' Ebbers guilty on all counts Ebbers guilty of WorldCom fraud Ebbers was 'leader of the con' Ebbers denies knowledge of WorldCom fraud Ebbers recalls shock of discovering WorldCom fraud Ebbers in the dark over accounting scandal - witness Ebbers was 'intimidating' boss
Tim Richardson, 14 Jul 2005

MP3 is ten years old today

Happy Birthday, MP3 - today, you are ten years old. Yes, on 14 July 1995 Germany's Fraunhofer Institute chose to use the .mp3 extension for files holding audio data encoded using the MPEG standard's Audio Layer 3 specification. The MPEG Audio Layer 3 codec was standardised in 1992. Fraunhofer researcher Juergen Zeller broke the news ten years ago in the following email, provided by the Institute today: Date: Fri, 14 July 1995 12:29:49 +0200 Reference: Endings for Layer3: mp3 Hello,_according to the overwhelming opinion of all asking: the ending for ISO MPEG audio Layer 3 is mp3. i.e. we should for coming www sides, Shareware,_Demos, etc. on it respect that no more bit endings rausgehen. It has a reason, believes me : -) Juergen Zeller Since then those three characters have become synonymous with free music, and the format remains the most popular and most widely known kind of digital music. Fraunhofer researchers may have gone on to develop the upgraded MP3 Plus format, and to attempt to add DRM support to the format, but the original, vanilla MP3 format is still the most commonly encountered form of the technology. Apple last night said it had shipped more than 6.5m MP3-compatible iPods during the three months to 30 June 2005, all of which will have generated a small royalty payment to the Fraunhofer Institute. So too do MP3 encoding programs like iTunes. The German research operation has done very nicely, thank you, out of its creation - probably more than it ever anticipated. Despite the arrival of more advanced codecs, most with some level of DRM support built in, there's no sign that MP3 is going to go away any time soon. It may not be a common format for legally acquired music downloads - though it's by no means ignored in that sector - but it remains probably the most popular format for ripping CDs music player owners have already purchased and continue to purchase. Certainly, MP3 has survived all attacks so far, including the notorious, failed Strategic Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), formed to devise a DRM-enabled standard the music industry hoped to impose upon player makers and end-users. The Register's first MP3 story goes back to 14 September 1998 when we covered Diamond Multimedia's decision to bundle tracks from MP3.com with its first portable music player, the Rio PMP300 - a device that got it into hot water with the music industry the following month. MP3.com was sued for alleged copyright infringement the following year, and was ultimately acquired by major label Universal. MP3.com Founder and CEO Michael Robertson when on to form Lindows/Linspire, from which stepped back last month. ® Related stories Music publishers allege MP3.com copyright infringement Secure Digital Music Initiative launched to kill MP3 Diamond dogged by music law suit Diamond bundles Internet music with RIO
Tony Smith, 14 Jul 2005

UK ministers push for data retention

UK ministers have gone on the offensive in Europe in a bid to persuade MEPs to push through laws on data retention. The draft legislation in question was put forward by individual member states, rather than the commission, in the wake of the Madrid bombings. It would require communications service providers to keep rather loosely defined user and traffic data for a minimum of a year, and possibly indefinitely. Regular readers might remember that the proposal is widely considered to be unworkable, expensive to implement, invasive, and unnecessary, as well as possibly being illegal. The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to back calls for the draft to be abandoned. Setting details like these aside, Jack Straw (Foreign Secretary) and Charles Clarke (Home Secretary) have used visits to Brussels to urge MEPs to overcome industry fears about costs, and concerns about civil liberties, and pass the necessary laws. According to a Guardian report Charles Clarke said yesterday: "The question of civil liberties has to be treated in a proportionate way. It is a different civil liberty question whether you have CCTV or not, or whether you retain telecommunications data, or whether you have biometrics on an ID card, to whether somebody is tortured in a country to which they are sent." Addressing the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament, he said that he wanted was data retention legislation as quickly as possible, even if it meant reviving the original draft. Sources close to the EU tell us that Clarke did not respond directly when Dutch MEP, Kathalijne Buitenweg, asked whether it was wise, when the directive has been declared illegal, to set the Council of Ministers on a collission course with Parliament and possibly the Commission. Meanwhile, Jack Straw said that fears about the costs of implementing data retention laws were overstated, and added that ISPs, telcos and mobile operators are not the "most impoverished" of firms. "There may be some costs but it is surely a cost we ought to pay for the preservation of human life," he said, according to the BBC. The Labour government, both at home in the UK and in its activities in Europe, certainly has a distinguished track record of trying to keep tabs on people in cyberspace. Let's not forget RIPA, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which gives authorities the power to force a person to disclose encrypted information, and in some cases, relinquish encryption keys. Then in 2001, the UK government negotiated and then signed the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention (still not ratified); it held up agreement on the telecom-specific data protection directive insisting on text being put in article 15 to say that nothing in the directive prevented Member States from implementing data retention; supported and voted for Danish Presidency Conclusions which included Conclusion no. 6: Member States consider possible and appropriate means of identifying the users of prepaid mobile telephone cards with a view to facilitating the application of the interception measures recognized by the Council As to whether the original draft will be re-animated, the jury is still out. "I think everyone knows that rushed legislation is rarely good legislation," says Joe McNamee, EU policy director at Political Intelligence. "Whenever there is an attack, the political - but not the practical and technical - reality changes somewhat, making certain arguments more easy to accept," he added. "When you see headlines like the Observer "Email spying 'could have stopped killers', you can see this quite clearly." ® Related stories UK police chase pics, email, phone records in bomber hunt Europe's data retention laws: dead or alive? MEPs to vote on 'invasive' data retention plans EC wants to cap data retention laws EU's data retention laws could be illegal
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Jul 2005
channel

Azlan puts planets into orbit

Azlan has reorganized its business development programme around a series of “planets” which it says will help any reseller become a master of the universe. Each planet will encompass all the distributors’ resources - marketing materials, training, education, pre-sales support – for a given technology area. Azlan stretches the metaphor further by saying the interdependency between technology areas mirrors the way real planets co-exist within an ordered, stable universe. The first planet set spinning will concentrate on IP telephony, with a security planet creeping over the horizon later this summer, while a world of mobility is due to come into view some time in the autumn. Mark Stancombe, programme manager at Azlan, said one of the problems resellers face when moving into new technology areas was the commitment to training and support, both in terms of investment and time. Resellers do not have to pay to enroll in the planet programme, and Stancombe said it should allow resellers to get up and running in new markets, and start generating revenues, before they have to make a major investment. Related stories Azlan teams up with Nortel for SMB IP telephony push Azlan goes a bundle on security services EC clears Azlan takeover
Joe Fay, 14 Jul 2005

Kiwi punts pornographic citrus fruit

Those readers old enough to remember UK TV show That's Life - a strange melange of consumer rights investigations and "hilarious" off-the-wall items fronted by an enormous set of teeth operated by someone called Esther Rantzen - will doubtless recall the programme's penchant for "comedy vegetables" shaped in suggestive forms to the delight of the sniggering audience. Well, these things continue to pop up from time to time on the good old internet: potatoes resembling a bloke's wedding tackle; aubergines bearing a spooky likeness to Jordan's heaving mams; a carrot looking like an enormous erect penis with a spray-on tan job, etc etc. It's fair to say that most of these genital simulacra don't merit a second glance. Occasionally, though, Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom decides to cheer us all up with something truly wonderful. Cue then the "Flangello" - recently sold for a mouthwatering 20 bucks on NZ auction site trademe.co.nz. We don't think we need to make any further comment, but will leave the last word to to seller jobas who responded to the query "How juicy can the flangello get?" with the magnificent: "The flangello will provide more juice when hot." ® Related stories Paris Hilton burger cavort crashes website Nude eBayer flashes 19in monitor eBayers demand money for old rope
Lester Haines, 14 Jul 2005

easyMobile wins 'bad faith' domain case against Carphone

The Carphone Warehouse (CPW) has been accused of setting up a web site in "bad faith" against rival no-frills cellco easyMobile.com. CPW - which is behind discount mobilephoneco Fresh - registered the domain easiermobile.com as part of its response to the launch of easyMobile.com back in March. But easyMobile.com - backed by no-frills airline entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou - complained to the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) which arbitrates on commercial disputes involving intellectual property rights. Now, WIPO has ordered CPW to hand-over the domain to easyMobile. "WIPO has based its ruling on the fact that CPW has registered and used the domain in bad faith and that CPW did not have a legitimate interest in the domain name," said eayMobile.com in a statement. The site features a picture of a jet plane painted green and decked out in Fresh livery - mimicking the distinctive orange of easyJet. Having a dig at easyMobile.com the site says: "The Carphone Warehouse doesn't try to run airlines, it sells mobile phones." Said easyMobile.com boss Frank Rasmussen: "We are very happy WIPO has ordered CPW to hand over the domain and that there will be one less thing to confuse British mobile users. "Even though it's laughable the way CPW is going to extremes to defend their market share, it points to the more serious issue that British mobile users in both obvious and less obvious ways suffer from the many convoluted practices of many players in the market." A spokeswoman for CPW declined to comment on the case. ® Related stories easyMobile puts up prices Bright future for Europe's MVNOs Voda inks Extreme youth phone deal No-frills MVNOs to steal market share easyMobile.com takes aim at easymobile Easymobile denies it's a 'flop' Carphone slips in 'stealth' price rise Fresh undercuts discounted easyMobile tariffs Virgin Mobile slags off easyMobile... easyMobile launches - finally CPW halves cost of mobile phone calls
Tim Richardson, 14 Jul 2005

In case of emergency, dial 'ICE'

In view of the recent events in London, East Anglian Ambulance Service have launched a national "In case of Emergency (ICE)" campaign, with the support of Falklands war hero Simon Weston and in association with Vodafone's annual life savers award. The idea is that you store the word "ICE" in your mobile phone address book, and against it enter the number of the person you would want to be contacted "In Case of Emergency". In an emergency situation, ambulance and hospital staff will then be able to quickly find out who your next of kin are and be able to contact them. It's as simple as that, and for more than one contact name you can use ICE1, ICE2, ICE3 etc. There's more info on the East Anglian Ambulance website. © IT-analysis.com
Peter Abrahams, 14 Jul 2005

One in three medical studies is dodgy

A major review of medical research has revealed that in nearly one-third of cases, research results were found to be potentially exaggerated, or were totally contradicted by later studies. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined research findings published in three medical journals between 1990 and 2003. The sample included 45 high profile studies of drugs that claimed a particular treatment or drug was effective. The Associated Press reports that studies found to be unreliable included indications that Vitamin E could prevent heart attacks; that hormone pills provided protection against heart disease in menopausal women, when the reverse was later shown to be the case; and that nitric oxide boosted survival chances in cases of respiratory failure. In almost all cases, the research that cast doubt on or overturned findings, was a larger, better organised project than the original. Study author and researcher at the University of Ioannina in Greece, Dr. John Ioannidis, told AP: "Contradicted and potentially exaggerated findings are not uncommon in the most visible and most influential original clinical research." He added: "There's no proof that the subsequent studies ... were necessarily correct." However, since none of the treatments later challenged has been adopted as the standard medical recommendation, it is probably a little early to panic. However, as the Editors of the JAMA stress, it is a reminder that one study does not constitute proof that a treatment works. And as Ioannidis adds: "We all need to start thinking more critically." ® Related stories Doctors and technology: do they mix? Diabetics get 'Intel Inside' New guidelines complicate US stem cell research
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Jul 2005

One third of Americans believe in ghosts

A Gallup poll has revealed that 32 per cent of all adult Americans believe in ghosts. Nineteen per cent aren't so sure, while a level-headed 48 per cent dismissed the idea outright. Mildly interesting, we're sure you'll agree. The poll did, however, discover that 37 per cent of our American cousins say houses can be haunted (16 per cent not sure, 46 per cent don't be ridiculous). Which seems to suggest that five per cent of those polled reckon otherworldly domestic activity can happen even though ghosts don't exist. Or may not exist. Possibly. Anyway, the real interest in the survey comes with the political allegiance/paranormal credulity stats. Forty-two per cent of liberals say yes to ghosts, but that drops to a, er, conservative 25 per cent for conservatives. Moderates - damn their sitting-on-the-fence asses - position themselves comfortably between the two with 35 per cent. Why pinko liberals should be more receptive to the Other Side is anyone's guess - unless they're hoping to contact a dead Kennedy via Ouija board for practical guidance on exactly how you wrest power from the Bush dynasty. And finally, perhaps the most provocative figures of all - that belief in ghosts declines with age. Forty-five per cent of those between 18 and 29 vote yes to spirits, but this is just 22 per cent in the over-65s. Strange, we think, because surely the rapidly-approaching footsteps of the Grim Reaper would provoke the hope that there must, surely, be something after we shrug off this mortal coil. Not in 70-year-old conservatives, though, obviously. ® And the IT angle? We tried, God alone knows we tried, to dredge up some spurious IT angle for this supernatural silliness. Then we gave up, as the above demonstrates. Related stories eBayer seeks to exorcise voodoo cuddly toy New Yorker punts haunted Nintendo NES Smells like Teen Spiritualism
Lester Haines, 14 Jul 2005

Slot machines in 3D?

Are Philips' 3D multiview displays going to end up in Vegas? Casino mogul Steve Wynn - the man behind luxurious casinos such as The Mirage, Bellagio and Treasure Island - has apparently expressed an interest in using the Dutch company's 3D colour displays in slot machines, all the better for his customers to watch their money disappear, presumably. The 3D multiview lenticular display technology, showcased earlier this year at the SID International Symposium 2005, can be used without special glasses. It consists of an array of transparent glasses, fixated on a standard LCD panel. The principle is akin to 3D greeting cards, where the lenses run vertically top to bottom. There are a couple of drawbacks, including the rather limited viewing angle - you have to face the screen directly to see real depth. Also, complex display signal processing is needed to convert video footage in 'real time' to 3D. That's not easy, Philips admitted this week during its Summer Technology Press Event in its home town of Eindhoven. All images shown on the display are currently computer generated. For this reason, 3D TV won't enter the home any time soon. However, Philips says user interfaces, and possibly photographs, can benefit from the technology. Philips believes 3D displays will push the boundaries of games, enabling the most immersive experience possible. The first multiview 3D displays will already be available this autumn. Related stories Sharp's 3D LCD: how's that work, then? New fangled weather haters labelled Luddites UK prof pioneers new LCD screen system
Jan Libbenga, 14 Jul 2005

US legal music downloads up 187%

US music downloaders paid for 158m songs during the first six months of 2005, almost three times the number acquired legally in H1 2004. However, the figures, from Nielsen SoundScan, reveal that the growth in legal downloads has yet to compensate the music industry for falling CD sales. Sales of albums were down seven per cent year on year, to 282.6m units, the researcher said. Factor in downloads and the decline is down to 2.5 per cent, falling from 309m units in H1 2004 to 301.2m in H1 2005, SoundScan's numbers show. It puts the number of downloaded albums at the equivalent of 17.6m units, up from 6m in H1 2004. During the first half of 2004, US music buyers downloaded 55m songs. UK-based listeners downloaded 10m songs in H1 2005, the UK music industry body the BPI said earlier this week. The 187 per cent year-on-year increase in US download activity comes as no great surprise given the music industry's high-profile legal campaign against music sharers, but the ongoing growth in portable music player sales has probably had a greater effect. Adecdotal evidence suggests digital-music player owners are moving beyond ripping their existing CD collection and starting to buy more songs online. Others are doing so to acquire favoured songs from albums without having to buy the entire package. Growing online song catalogs are helping too. The recent defeat of the P2P industry in the US Supreme Court is going to have an effect too, but it won't have impacted the H1 2005 figures at all. ® Related stories MP3 is ten years old today Motorola 'to debut' iTunes phone at UK's V Festival Napster, Dell cash-in on student DRM tax Apple pushes Podcasts through iTunes Supremes down P2P software makers in unanimous decision
Tony Smith, 14 Jul 2005

One third of surveyees lie in surveys: survey

It's official: the El Reg silly season has officially begun, meaning that hard-core tech news and stuff about fabs knocking out chips must give way to rehashed surveys distributed by over-excited PR bunnies - as today's front page demonstrates. A quick survey of Vulture Central reveals that 30 per cent of all Reg staff reckon that 90 per cent of all survey respondents are PR bunnies' mates, while a chilling 30 per cent of these lie in order to get back to the job of ringing their own mates to survey them about some matter of national import. A further 30 per cent of El Reg hacks refused to participate in the survey and went instead to the pub where around one-third of the punters agreed that surveys were a complete and utter waste of everyone's time. Please look out for a forthcoming survey in which we will ask readers whether or not they believe we should conduct a survey into demand for more survey coverage on the Register. Thank you. ® Today's surveys in full One third of Americans believe in ghosts One in three medical studies is dodgy
Lester Haines, 14 Jul 2005

Lawyer pegged for key role in Homeland Security revamp

George W. Bush has picked a technology lawyer to serve as assistant secretary of Homeland Security (DHS). Stewart A. Baker, of Virginia, currently a partner with Washington legal firm Steptoe & Johnson, has been nominated to take charge of policy formulation at the department. Baker's career spans periods as general counsel (chief lawyer) for the National Security Agency during the period in the early 1990s when issues such as the export of strong\encryption technology and building snooping backdoors for law enforcement into communication networks (AKA key escrow) were hot political issues. More recently he served as the general counsel for the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the US Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. The president also intends to nominate Tracy A. Henke, of Missouri, to oversee state and local government response to emergencies at the Department of Homeland Security. Henke currently serves as deputy associate attorney general at the DoJ. The nominations, both of which need to be ratified by the US Senate, are part of a widespread reorganisation of the department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday. The plans propose that information analysis and infrastructure protection functions be handled by separate teams within the department along with a six point action plan designed to increase the department's state of preparedness in combating terrorist threats. ® Related stories Watching us through the Sorting Door GAO gives US.gov D- for security US postpones biometric passport plan - again Homeland Security blows $16m prepping for apocalypse DHS comes clean on CAPPS, lets self off hook DHS network vulnerable to attack Proposed Homeland Security Czar scratched
John Leyden, 14 Jul 2005

Oz music hyperlinker guilty of copyright infringement

An Australian man has been found guilty of copyright infringement for posting links from his website to other websites offering illegal music downloads. Stephen Cooper, who ran a site called mp3s4free, was ordered to pay costs, as were fellow defendants Chris Takoushis, of ISP Comcen, and Liam Bal, a director of E-Talk Communications, Comcen's parent company, ZDNet reports. Federal Court Justice Brian Tamberlin said he was "satisfied there has been infringement of copyright". Cooper's legal representative said the verdict was "extremely disappointing". But a music industry spokesman said it was "a very significant blow in the war against piracy". A group of major record labels, including Sony, Warner, EMI and Universal, began proceedings against Cooper and co. in October 2003 through Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI), an organisation affiliated with ARIA, the Australian equivalent of the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA). Takoushis and Bal were accused of aiding and abetting Cooper to increase advertising revenues. Cooper's legal representative had argued that the Queenslander had not committed copyright infringement since he had not hosted the illegal copies himself. However, in Australia's first judgment against hyperlinking, the judge is believed to have ruled that by pinpointing the location of the tracks, Cooper was aiding their illegal distribution. ® Related stories MP3 is ten years old today Dutch file-swapper case collapses Students refuse to buy a single song from Napster Opera bakes in BitTorrent Supremes down P2P software makers in unanimous decision BitTorrent inventor lambasts Avalanche 'vaporware' StreamCast updates Morpheus P2P with BitTorrent Snocap opens P2P music tracker to all
Tony Smith, 14 Jul 2005

Ditch the remote, get a robot

Philips wants to ditch the remote control. Instead, you have to talk to a dialogue system, or Smart Companion, as the Dutch consumer electronics giant calls its newest invention. The Smart Companion will act as a friend in the home and, according to Philips, provide an easy-to-use interface to the digital world. During its Summer Technology Press Event this week Philips showed two home robots. The first one, Dimi, looks like a modern lamp with a rotating head. The other iCat has all the characteristics of a Japanese robot toy, and comes equipped with 13 servos that control different parts of the face, such as the eyebrows, eyes, eyelids, mouth and head position. iCat can look happy, surprised, angry and sad. Both robots understand voice commands as well as recognise faces and gestures. They can select music or movies on an LCD screen, make appointments or read the weather to you. Ok, that's more than a remote can do. Despite all the hoopla, Philips is still fine-tuning the technology, which at this moment fails to invoke an emotional bond with the user and exhibit a "personality". During demonstrations, iCat didn't always listen, or began to repeat itself, all things remotes won't luckily do. For the time being, Philips only sells these platforms to universities and research labs. ® Related stories Boffins unleash robotic cockroach Farting robot wins toy of the year Scot develops dust-busting hovercraft
Jan Libbenga, 14 Jul 2005

Samsung SPP-2040 dye-sub photo printer

ReviewReview Better known for its laser printers, Samsung is the second major manufacturer to produce a photo-printer based on dye-sublimation technology. Its SPP-2040 is a direct competitor to Canon's Selphy CP-500 and even appears to use the same print engine and consumables, writes Simon Williams.
Trusted Reviews, 14 Jul 2005

Planetary three-sun baffles boffins

A Caltech researcher has identified a planet that has three suns. We wondered immediately if it was in a galaxy far, far away, but sadly for headline writers everywhere, the four-body system lies a mere 149 light-years hence, well within our own Milky Way. The system, known as HD 188753, is located in the constellation Cygnus. The planet, whose existence was indirectly determined by measuring tiny Doppler shifts in the spectra of the stars, is thought to be slightly larger than Jupiter. A relatively large central star holds court. The planet orbits just eight million kilometres away from it, whipping around roughly once every 80 hours. Further out, at about the distance from our Sun to Saturn, the other two stars are locked in a binary orbit of each other, and whirl around the main stellar body. It transpires that in this region of our galaxy, binary and multiple star systems are more common than singletons like our Sun. But the presence of a planet in this triple system has foxed astronomers, causing some to suggest that we need to rethink theories of planetary formation. Author of the research, Caltech's Dr Maciej Konacki, said that working out how a planet formed in this setting was "very puzzling". What is agreed on is that the planet is unlikely to have formed in the "normal" (as we understand it) way. Conventional theories of planet formation hold that gas giants form far away from their star, with gases coalescing around an icy core. Astronomers speculate that some then migrate inwards, dragged by the remaining material in the accretion disk around the star. This would account for the many gas giants discovered in very close orbits around their stars. But in this system, the two smaller stars orbit in exactly the gas giant-forming zone, and would have demolished any potential planet-forming material. Dr. Konacki suggests that it might be better to think of the planet as a failed fourth star that just didn't have the mass needed to get going. Meanwhile, Artie Hatzes, an astronomer at the Thuringia State Observatory in Germany told Nature.com: "You shouldn't see it, but you do see it. Maybe nature found a way." Konacki's paper is published in the current issue of Nature. ® Related stories Astronomers spot fun-sized solar system Jupiter and Saturn: chalk and cheese Smudgy blur is an exoplanet Exoplanet 'more likely to be brown dwarf'
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Jul 2005

Voda's Scottish 3G network wobbles

Vodafone's 3G voice service has been floored in certain parts of Scotland today following some sort of technical glitch. Details of the problem are still sketchy but it's understood that punters have been unable to make voice calls on parts of Voda's 3G network in Scotland for much of the day. A spokeswoman for Vodafone told El Reg that seven in ten of punters in these areas are affected by the problem. However, she added that a majority of people would be unaware of today's outage because Voda's 3G network automatically switched to the bog standard GPRS service if there's a problem. Engineers are currently working to restore the network, which could take 24 hours to fix. ® Related stories Engineers repair Pakistan net connection Pakistan cable break still not found Norway mobile service floored - report Vodafone 3G is go
Tim Richardson, 14 Jul 2005

Oz ISP, employee and principal held liable for copyright breaches

AnalysisAnalysis Another day another copyright battle! Australia’s Federal Court has handed down its decision in Universal Music Australia v Cooper (the ComCen case). While no final orders has been made, Justice Brian Tamberlin found for the recording industry applicants on all counts, in what has been described by the recording industry as a “major blow against piracy".
Alex Malik, 14 Jul 2005

Flaws in BT chat sites expose users

A third party website allowing unrestricted access to Oceanfree and IOL chat sites could enable visitors to view the IP address and domain names of the sites' 'chatters.' Through the use of a third party website, industry experts have discovered a method for logging into BT Ireland's Oceanfree or IOL chat sites without registering on the system, giving them the ability to impersonate other visitors to the site. What's more, experts have found a vulnerability on the BT Ireland chat sites which reveal not only the IP addresses of other active visitors, but also host names which could be used to pinpoint the physical location of certain visitors. Responding to questions about the vulnerability of the system, a spokesperson from BT Ireland said efforts would be made to repair the defect. However if a solution cannot be found, "we will need to review the chat servers as a viable entity," the spokesperson told ElectricNews.Net. Registration systems are commonplace on chat sites and provide chatters with a certain degree of confidence that the people they are talking to are who they say they are. But by logging on to the Oceanfree and IOL chat sites through this third party website, unscrupulous "chatters" can essentially assume any identity they wish. Another more worrying problem also exists. One industry watcher told ElectricNews.Net that once logged on via this third party site, users can view the IP address and domain (host) name of any other person in the chat room. In these cases, the revealing of the domain name could have quite "terrifying consequences," according to the individual who was among the first to spot the flaw. "Only last (Tuesday) night I logged into Oceanfree chat to see if this vulnerability had been fixed, the first person I chatted to in the room was a young female. The domain name she was logged in from was clearly accessible. She was working late for a company that only has one office in Dublin, from my home I could have arrived on the doorstep of her office in less than 10 minutes. I'm sure the potential consequences here need absolutely no explanation," said the source. Generally, people chatting online tend to do so from their home PCs, in which case their domain name would be fairly generic and not location specific. However, if people log on to Oceanfree and IOL chat sites from their workplace or university the domain name could potentially pinpoint their location to a single office, building, or room on a university campus. Update: On Thursday just before noon BT Ireland informed ElectricNews.Net that it had rectified the security problem by removing the ability for third party websites to link to its chat rooms. "It is important to note that this third party website did not have permission to link to the chatrooms provided by IOL and Oceanfree," a BT Ireland spokesperson said. "The privacy of users of these chatrooms is important to BT Ireland and as such we will deny any forbidden access through third party sites," the spokesperson added. © ENN
Team Register, 14 Jul 2005

Desktop port proliferation a security risk?

Software maker Opera's decision to support BitTorrent has added to some security experts' worries that applications which require open connections through firewalls are becoming increasingly popular. Last week, the Norwegian company revealed that its latest technical preview adds support for downloading BitTorrent files, or torrents. BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer protocol that speeds files sharing by allowing every client to serve up pieces of a large file, requires that firewalls allow connections to the client software. With the adoption, the alternative Internet browser is the latest application to ask users to open ports, the numerical addresses that software applications use for communication. Some voice-over-Internet applications also require a direct connection to the Internet and need ports to be open if the hardware is placed behind a firewall. If such applications grow more popular, security may suffer, said Johannes Ullrich, chief research officer for the Internet Storm Center, a network-threat monitoring service hosted by the SANS Institute. "Opening more ports is never a good idea," he said. "Adding more functionality to heavily attacked applications like Web browsers isn't that great (of an idea) either." BitTorrent is the latest peer-to-peer application to gain general popularity beyond its core group of file sharers. While many security experts worry about Trojan horses spreading through file sharing networks, the fact that voice-over-IP and BitTorrent protocols can require exceptions to firewall protections has worried others. "At this point, we see almost no malicious activity in this space, but I think it's the big underdeveloped malware market," Ullrich said. Opening ports in network or personal firewall protections increases reliance on the security of the program that receives the data. Yet, in many cases, unsophisticated users are placing peer-to-peer software on their computers, without considering whether the programs have made security a priority, said Rick Robinson, senior security architect for voice-over-IP security provider Avaya. "There are the hobbyist applications, such as games and file sharing, where your concern is not about reliably or security, but achieving the execution of the application," he said. "With such unsophisticated software, you are running the risk of weak security." The creator of BitTorrent, Bram Cohen, argues that such concerns are overstated. To date, no major flaw in the main BitTorrent clients has been publicly disclosed. Moreover, even though a random list of Internet addresses downloading a particular file can be easily obtained, the protocol uses hashes to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. "The BitTorrent protocol is designed to be very simple and clean, so the chance that there is a flaw in there is much less than, say, an HTML parser," said Cohen, who also founded BitTorrent.com. "Moreover, if you are using the main BitTorrent client, the chance of being exploited by a peer is very small." Cohen acknowledges, however, that much of the security of BitTorrent--and other programs that allow incoming connections--rely on the peer-to-peer client software's security. "If you are accepting incoming connections, then that opens up the possibility that you could be exploited if there are flaws in your code," he said. Cohen has not seen Opera's implementation of BitTorrent. While Opera has added a warning dialog box to the process of downloading torrent files, adding BitTorrent support to the browser does not increase risk, said Christen Krogh, vice president of engineering for Opera. "When you leave a program open for downloading things from the Net or leaving ports open, you should always consider security," he said. "But having support for the BitTorrent protocol for the browser, doesn't skew the security picture very much." Other peer-to-peer software makers have managed to avoid the issue altogether. Voice-over-IP software provider Skype, for example, allows incoming connections through firewall software without explicitly opening ports. Hardware-based services, such as Vonage, typically call for the VoIP gateway to be placed in front of the firewall. Only when the hardware is placed inside a local network does the user need to open ports. Blizzard Entertainment uses the BitTorrent protocol for updating its massively multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft. While updates can still be downloaded from behind a firewall, the transfer rate is much slower. However, the software only opens up communication for a very short time, the company said in a statement. "This does not present any additional security risk compared to any other standard Internet-based network communication," the company said. "The port is opened by the Blizzard Downloader, is used for patch up/downloads, and it remains closed otherwise." Such peer-to-peer software should still undergo increased scrutiny for security holes, said Brian Martin, a moderator for the Open Source Vulnerability Database. "Just because of their deployment and popularity, the programs should definitely be audited more heavily," he said. "If a popular (peer-to-peer) client did have a vulnerability, you are probably talking about tens to hundreds of thousands of people who might be vulnerable." Copyright © 2005, Related stories Opera bakes in BitTorrent BitTorrent inventor lambasts Avalanche 'vaporware' StreamCast updates Morpheus P2P with BitTorrent
Robert Lemos, 14 Jul 2005