3rd > October > 2005 Archive

NTL - Telewest merger is go

The long-awaited merger of the UK's two cable companies which has been dragging on for years looks set to be finalised this week. The tie-up between NTL and Telewest could be announced as early as today in a deal worth up to $5.8bn, according to reports. Of course, if all this sounds familiar, you'd be right. NTL and Telewest have been linked as an item for years. However, debt and Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection among other things have kept the pair apart. Until now. High-level talks between both companies kicked off in June with reports suggesting that a deal would be finalised by the end of July. That deadline slipped but both sides kept on talking. Why? Cos with their triple play offering of TV, phone and broadband, the enlarged group would provide a sizeable player in the market against satellite broadcaster Sky and dominant UK telco BT. A merger would also create a cableco with annual revenues of around £3.3bn (£1.9bn) and some five million customers. ®
Tim Richardson, 03 Oct 2005

Telefonica denies KPN merger talks

Telefonica SA today denied it is discussiong a merger with Dutch telco KPN. This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported that Telefonica is making a $24bn bid for the Dutch company. Initially, both KPN and Telefonica declined to comment. Now, a Telefonica spokesman tells the financial news service AFX "that we want to deny that there have been talks with KPN". Five years ago KPN and Telefonica discussed a merger, but Telefonica backed off because of concerns about the Dutch government's stake in KPN. At that time, the Dutch government owned about 43 per cent of KPN. Now it only holds a 20 per cent stake. Also, both companies were hit by the collapse of the tech bubble. Telefonica, however, is clearly on a shopping spree. The company, which has a customer base of over 145 million, recently took a 51 per cent stake in the Czech Republic's Cesky Telecom. ®
Jan Libbenga, 03 Oct 2005
hands waving dollar bills in the air

AMD licenses chip tech, lawsuit dropped

AMD last week acquired a series of technology licences that grant it the right to use patents it was sued for allegedly infringing back in May. The financial terms underpinning the deal were not made public. The agreement was reached with the patents' owner, Computer Cache Coherency Corp., a subsidiary of technology holding company Acacia Research. As the litigant's name suggests, the patents cover memory cache coherence. "By synchronising main memory and main cache memory," the company claims of its patented technique, "the technology enables different memories to communicate and synchronise with each other, allowing peripheral devices to operate at faster speeds." The deal involves the dissolution of a lawsuit brought in the US District Court of Northern California by the Acacia subsidiary last May. Intel was also sued at that time - both chip makers' names were added to an existing complaint made in December 2004 against VIA. All three companies offer system logic components that incorporate its technology, Acacia claimed in May. The cases against Via and Intel are still pending. Acacia also said last week that AMD has entered into a licensing agreement with another of its subsidiaries, VData. The license gives the chip company access to multi-dimensional bar-code technology and puts an end to a patent infringement suit brought before the US District Court of Minnesota. In February this year, AMD licensed a series of technologies which holding company Patriot Scientific claims ownership, backing it up with an investment in the company. Patriot is currently pursuing legal action against Intel and 149 of its customers for allegedly violating its intellectual property ownership rights. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005
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Hynix speeds down NAND Flash roadmap

Hynix last week disclosed an aggressive plan to grow its sales of NAND Flash, the type of memory used in digital music players like the iPod Nano. The South Korean memory giant said it will begin sampling a 70nm 16Gb part, along with 4Gb and 8Gb versions. The company is already shipping 1, 2, 4 and 8Gb chips, all fabbed using a 90nm process. Apple's decision to ditch its hugely popular hard drive-based iPod Mini to make way for the NAND Flash-based Nano has caused a swelling of interest in the memory technology, inflated further by claims Apple acquired big volume discounts from its Flash supplier, Samsung. It is believed to have committed itself to up to 40 per cent of Samsung's NAND Flash output. Last month, Samsung said it would ship a 16Gb device fabbed at 50nm - the part will provide 2GB of storage on a single chip - during H2 2006. Flash chips of this size and process type were not previously expected until 2007. Last week, US memory maker Micron highlighted growing demand for NAND Flash as one of the factors for its Q4 FY2005 return to profitability. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005

Xena moon's Gabrielle

Astronomers at the WM Keck Observatory have identified a moon orbiting Xena, a body they argue is the 10th planet in our solar system. They have called the moon Gabrielle, after Xena's sidekick in the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess. Regular readers may remember that Xena's (formally 2003 UB313) discovery reignited an old debate about what exactly ought to be classified as a planet. There is also some debate over who found the planet first, but we will not revisit that here because for astronomers, the important question has always been whether or not Xena has a moon. The California Institute of Technology's Michael Brown explains that although observations can show that Xena is physically larger than Pluto, without a companion body, it would be impossible to tell whether or not it is more massive. "Finding a moon...allows us to precisely measure the mass of the planet. A more massive planet will pull on the moon tightly and it will circle the planet more quickly," he writes. "A less massive planet will allow the moon to have a slow lazy orbit around the planet. We don't yet know the speed of the moon, but when we do we will suddenly have new insight into the size and even composition of the 10th planet." The discovery could also shed new light on the history of the solar system. Several of the larger Kuiper belt objects, of which Xena is one, have moons, but how they acquired them is an open question. The astronomical community has also yet to settle the question of whether Xena is a planet, and indeed, whether or not Pluto should be given that status. Many astronomers feel that Pluto ought more properly to be classed as a minor planet, or even just as a large Kuiper belt object. Xena's discovery has prompted the International Astronomical Union to reconsider its definition of a planet. Currently it considers both Pluto and Xena to be trans-Neptunian objects, and says that until it has drawn up its new definition, that is what they will remain. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Oct 2005
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Gigabyte reinvents RAMdisk

Gigabyte has launched i-RAM, a hard disk storage alternative based on fast DDR SDRAM chips rather than slow-but-stable Flash memory. There's a catch, of course: the company admitted the product was not suitable for systems that are turned off for long periods of line. Or for anyone who wants more than 4GB of storage capacity. i-RAM is a PCI card containing four DIMM slots ready for up to 4GB of 200, 266, 333 or 400MHz DDR SDRAM. To the host PC, however, it registers as a 1.5Gbps Serial ATA hard drive. The storage connects to the host system via its own SATA cable - the PCI bus is used for power. The board contains a Xilinx Spartan Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chip that converts Serial ATA instructions into memory read and write requests, and vice versa. The card also has a 1700mAh rechargeable battery on board to power the memory when the host system is turned off. Gigabyte said the card's own power source will last for 10-16 hours. After that, of course, the memory is wiped. It's an old idea. Partitioning off a section of a computer's memory and treating it as a virtual hard drive is a technique that a variety of operating systems and standalone utilities have provided for years. However, the trick's usefulness has always been limited by the need to copy the data to a non-volatile medium before the computer is powered down, and by the fact that it's generally been better to devote the RAM to short-term memory rather than temporary storage. Samsung, for one, is already looking at equipping hard drives with Flash memory to boost boot speeds. Indeed, Gigabyte claimed storing Windows XP on the i-RAM rather than the hard drive would allow the OS to start up in one-thirteenth the time it takes to boot off a 7200rpm SATA hard drive. Having an i-RAM doesn't preclude system owners from incorporating a hard drive, so the card's capacity shouldn't be an issue. With the right motherboard, the i-RAM is RAID compatible. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005
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Paramount backs Blu-ray

Paramount Home Entertainment has hopped onto the fence, committing itself this weekend to releasing content on both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc (BD) when the next-generation optical disc formats launch. Paramount was one of three major studios that last January publicly backed HD DVD as their high-definition home entertainment medium of choice. It was joined at an official HD DVD unveiling by Warner Bros. and Universal Studios. At the time, all three companies were quick to state that their affiliation with HD DVD was not an exclusive one, and while it was clear they were keeping their options open should BD ultimately prove the more popular of the two rival formats, they would put their weight behind HD DVD in the short term at least. No longer. According to an AFX report, Paramount will now support BD too. In a statement sent to the news agency, Paramount said it hopes to make sales on the back of the PlayStation 3's BD support. The PS3 is arguably BD's strongest card. HD DVD's is its use of the highly recognisable DVD logo. While the two formats have other advantages - BD's capacity, the relatively lower cost of HD DVD manufacturing - it's really factors like these which will determine the availability of in-demand content, which will decide which format wins consumer acceptance. Paramount's move shows it's no longer confident that pushing one format in the hope of establishing it as the de facto standard is in its best interests. Quite apart from the picture Paramount's move may provide the BD backers of confusion in the HD DVD camp, it's a potentially powerful content win. In pitching for early adopters, content will be key, and Paramount brings with it the Star Trek franchise. Fans of the various series and movies tend to be among the more acquisitive of content buyers. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005
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Political hackers deface Novell SUSE sites

Three Novell OpenSUSE community web site were defaced on Sunday by politically motivated hackers. Defacement archive Zone-H reports that a group called IHS Iran Hackers Sabotage broke into OpenSUSE.org, wiki.novell.com and forge.novell.com to post a message stating that it was Iran's right to develop nuclear power. All three sites were defaced in the same way (archive here). OpenSUSE.org and forge.novell.com have since been restored to normal operation and the offending images removed. The wiki.novell.com site has been taken temporarily offline. Although somewhat embarrassing all early indications are that the attack was not serious. Of greater concern are reports that hackers compromised a gaming-related server maintained by Novell and used it to scan for other vulnerable machines. The hacked system - which ran a mail server for a gaming site called Neticus.com - has been scanning for vulnerable SSH systems since 21 September, Computerworld reports. The rogue behaviour was spotted by net security firm Brandon Internet Security which traced attacks against its clients' systems back to the compromised servers. A Novell spokesman played down that incident by saying the hacked servers were part of test systems located outside Novell's corporate network. ®
John Leyden, 03 Oct 2005
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Toshiba to show slim HD DVD drive for laptops

Toshiba will this week demo a slimline optical drive for notebook computers that will provide an HD DVD playback capability. The TS-L802A measures 12.8 x 12.6 x 1.3cm and weighs 160g, Toshiba said. It has an 8MB buffer and connects across an ATAPI interface. In addition to HD DVD playback, the drive supports 8x DVD-ROM, 24x CD-ROM, 3x DVD-RAM, 4x DVD-R/RW, 4x DVD-R dual-layer, 4x DVD+R/RW, 2.4x DVD+R dual-layer, 16x CD-R and 10x CD-RW - so it's got every format covered except Blu-ray, natch. Last week, new HD DVD supporters Intel and Microsoft claimed HD DVD was the only next-generation optical disc format that will allow drive manufacturers to create slimline units. Nonsense, said Blu-ray backers HP and Dell a few days later in a point-by-point rebuttal of the Intel/Microsoft claims. Toshiba's drive will get its first public outing tomorrow at the CEATEC Japan show, but the company said it expects to ship the product by the end of the year. It didn't say how much the drive is likely to cost, but with all that red-laser and blue-laser technology in there, it's not going to come cheap, we'd say. In October 2004, Toshiba forecast it would ship an HD DVD-enabled notebook PC in Q4 2005. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005

iRiver T30 1GB digital music player

ReviewReview Despite it's higher model number, the T30 actually sits between iRiver's T10 and T20 players (reviewed here and here). Like the T20, it's intended to be a compact fashion statement, but with space for a AAA battery, it's designed to offer a very long play duration, as per the T10. Features-wise, the T30 is more akin to the T20. It's got voice and line-in recording, with the latter's microphone-jack socket placed right alongside the earphone socket - make sure you use the right one. Nearby is a bung-covered mini USB port and the obligatory necklace connector. The USB cover is attached to the player so you shouldn't lose it. The T30 is roughly triangular in cross-section - the corners are well rounded - with the display the key feature of its face, next to the voice microphone. Above and below it, on two of said corners, are the controls. They're the same Menu, volume up and down, and Play/Stop and track skip controls as the T20 sports, but here they're sensibly rounded off and raised above the casing, making them far easier to use, particularly if you're reaching in to your jacket pocket to do so. The rear corner slides off to reveal the AAA battery bay, alongside of which as the Hold slider, again textured to make it easy to use by touch. A single AAA alkaline battery won't give you as much play time as the T10's AA cell, but it's still enough for 20 hours' playback, says iRiver - six hours more than the T20's rechargeable power source can provide. Like its two stable-mates, the T30 comes in 512MB and 1GB versions - I tested the latter - though here they're respectively "lawn green" and "rose red" in colour. Both, likewise, offer nine EQ pre-sets, a custom equaliser control and SRS sound enhancement. Again, enabling any of these will eat into the player's battery life thanks to the extra processing power they require. Their benefits are entirely subjective, so I left them off during testing. The T30 provides the sound quality that its stable-mates do, and on that score I have no complaints. Like the other models, it'll pump out the volume for noisy environments. Just watch those ear-drums, OK? The player can handle MP3, Ogg, and DRM and non-DRM WMA files. Again, it communicates with a host PC using Microsoft's Media Transfer Protocol, so it doesn't appear to Windows XP as a USB mass-storage device. Unsurprisingly, Mac OS X couldn't see it at all. The T30 isn't as attractive as the T10, but better looking than the T20. That's perhaps the key hurdle iRiver needs to leap: all other things being equal, its players don't look as good as Creative's and certainly not Apple's. Verdict Of the three iRiver Flash-based players I've been looking at over the past week or so, the T30 is my favourite. It's smaller yet more feature-filled than the T10, but not so small as to be a pain to use on my daily bus ride into work, which was certainly the case with the T20. It's also cheaper, since you're not paying for the smart USB connector on the latter model, or the T10's unnecessary colour display. ®   iRiver T30   Rating 90%   Pros Good sound quality; uses standard AAA batteries; easy to use 'blind'   Cons There are better looking players out there.   Price £65 (512MB), £99 (1GB)   More info The iRiver T30 site
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005

ESA turns satellites to watch for droughts

The European Space Agency (ESA) is putting near real-time information about water levels of lakes and rivers in Africa up on the web, thanks to a collaboration with DeMonfort University (DMU). The researchers at DMU say the news system could change the way nations respond to droughts, and could even affect conflict over water supply around the world. The Envisat radar altimeters, originally designed to measure ocean height and ice cap topography, can measure the heights of inland water directly from space. Researchers at the university have developed a new method of analysing this data and turning it into useful information about water levels within three days. Professor Philippa Berry, head of the Earth and Planetary Remote Sensory lab at DMU in Leicester commented: The system may even be pushed further to deliver the water levels in less than six hours, by using near real time data from the precision orbital positioning system on board the ENVISAT DORIS satellite, in order to better satisfy the actual need of users." She says that monitoring water resources in Africa is vital, but "until now reliable information has been difficult to access because of the high cost in equipment, manpower and communications." Although work is starting on mapping the water levels in Africa, over the next year the system will be rolled out to gather and publish water level data for the whole planet. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Oct 2005
Cat 5 cable

Cisco finds Nemo

In briefIn brief Cisco Systems has signed a deal to acquire network memory start-up Nemo Systems for $12.5m in cash. The acquisition is subject to various standard closing conditions, including regulatory approvals, and expected to close by the end of October. Nemo's technology will be used to turbocharge the performance of Cisco's core switching platforms and service modules. Inclusion of the technology will allow users to scale network systems and line card bandwidth while reducing the overall cost of high-performance networking systems, according to Cisco. Upon close of the transaction, Nemo will become part of Cisco's Data Center, Switching and Security Technology Group (DSSTG). ®
John Leyden, 03 Oct 2005

Job risk sours NTL/Telewest tie-up

NTL and Telewest have confirmed that they are to merge. But while the companies are "bigging up" the deal as creating a "new competitive force in the UK's communications and entertainment sectors", there are fears that thousands of jobs will be lost as part of the tie-up. Bloomberg quotes financial outfit UBS as saying that as many as one in four of the 19,000 or so people employed by both companies could lose their jobs once the deal is completed next year. Indeed, Telewest's acting chief exec Barry Elson and COO Eric Tveter are already set to leave once the deal is finalised. While in today's announcement both companies noted that the deal would generate around £1.5bn in "synergies" which would be "realised through optimising networks, systems and applications, implementing best practices and eliminating duplicated activities". It is the "elimination of duplicated activities" that is likely to cause concern within both companies' workforces. Asked to elaborate, a spokesman for NTL declined to comment on future employment plans for the company. However, a spokeswoman for Telewest was more up-front: "While rationalisation is likely it is really too early to get into the specifics as it's early days. "The best people will be needed for the new company - the integration process will be rigorous and there will be opportunities for employees from both sides." NTL's decision to acquire the UK's second largest cableco values Telewest at around $6bn and follows a flurry of reports at the weekend trailing the deal. The pair - whose cable networks do not overlap - will be able to provide TV, phone and broadband to more than half of UK homes. Once merged, the combined group will have almost five million residential punters and is set to be the largest provider of domestic broadband services in the UK with 2.5m subscribers. It will also be the second largest pay TV outfit with 3.3m punters and the number two fixed telephony provider with 4.3m subscribers. The enlarged group will also generate revenues of around £3.4bn and operating income of £1.2bn. Said NTL chief exec Simon Duffy, who will also head the new organisation: "This is a transforming transaction for the UK cable industry. It marks not just the culmination of a decade of consolidation but, more importantly, the creation of a new competitive force in the communications and entertainment sectors in the UK." ®
Tim Richardson, 03 Oct 2005

US bill heralds end of walled gardens

AnalysisAnalysis The draft telecomns reform bill released by the House Commerce Committee last week would ban fixed or wireless carriers from limiting access to content and applications, which would make it difficult for wireless carriers to keep their walled gardens.
Wireless Watch, 03 Oct 2005

How to dress like Darth Vader for less than $800

We've always had a sneaking admiration for the Empire. Yes, it may be a dictatorship, but its abolition of slavery is a plus and, frankly, it has the all best kit. And who better to exemplify that than the man voted Mister Personification of Evil for the last 28 years running, the original Man in Black, Darth 'Annie' Vader himself. And how better to show our appreciation than forking out $799 ($1246 retail) to dress up just like our favourite anti-hero? Now we all can, courtesy of BuyCostumes.com's Star Wars Darth Vader Collector's (Supreme) Edition Costume, complete with cloak, greaves, gloves, helmet, padded pants and life-support system. Alas, a lightsabre is not included, nor the ability to chuck scenery at people by the power of thought alone. If Darth's not your daddy, the site also offers a wonderfully hairy Chewbacca outfit - a rug anyone can dive into - along with a full Clone Trooper kit, Leia, Padme Amidala, Obi-Wan, Emperor Palpatine and even a Yoda - no, you don't have to be under a metre in height and lack a basic command of English syntax to wear it Alas, there's no Death Squad Commander, Stormtrooper or Imperial Officer rig as yet, so our bid to supress democracy and reorganise our nation upon Imperial lines will have to wait a while just yet... ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005

NeuStar agreement makes mobile roaming easier

The GSM Association last week silently created a whole new mobile internet, on the back of an agreement with American company NeuStar. It will offer Root Domain Name System (DNS) services to more than 680 global GSM mobile operators. NeuStar, which in the past managed local number portability throughout North America, can now register domain names under the suffixes "gprs" and "3gppnetwork.org". The DNS directory - a white pages of IP-numbers, shared among global operators - aims to become the definitive source for GSM operators to access shared DNS services. The agreement will make it easier for operators to provide roaming IP data services from GSM phones, making separate peering agreements between carriers obsolete. Basically, NeuStar will act as a clearinghouse for these peering agreements. In the future, consumers can more easily instant-message each other or make "push-to-talk" walkie-talkie-like calls across networks from their phones. At present, interoperability is still a problem in the mobile space. Non GSMA members, however, can’t register the suffixes "gprs" and "3gppnetwork.org", as NeuStar operates a private DNS server. NeuStar will also not use the ENUM protocol, which was designed to marry DNS and regular phone numbers.®
Jan Libbenga, 03 Oct 2005

BT calls for closure of BTIrelandsucks.com

Lawyers representing BT Ireland have called on the owner of BTIrelandsucks.com to pull the plug on the site claiming it has been registered in "bad faith". In a letter to site owner Adam Beecher, BT Ireland said: "You have no right, title or interest in respect of the name BT Ireland and we require that you remove the website and cancel the domain name without delay." The telco is also submitting a complaint under ICANN's dispute resolution service because BT reckons the name has been "registered in bad faith". But Beecher shows little sign of giving up the domain without fight. He set up the site to highlight customer service problems he's experienced at the hands of BT Ireland. "The main problem with BT Ireland, in my opinion, is their billing system. It doesn't work," he writes, explaining how he wasn't billed for three months and the matter only came to light when he contacted the telco. Or as he puts it so eloquently at the top of the page: "Fix your f*cking billing system you muppets!" Then there's his gripe about having to pay a €125 deposit for his broadband service and not receiving a receipt to acknowledge that he's coughed up. "I don't have a problem with being asked for a deposit...however BT don't issue receipts for this deposit, and despite being told that a letter is sent out to customers explaining the deposit, I've never received one. That's just bad business," he says. Not content with shining a light on what he believes are BT Ireland's failings, he then turns his attention to the letter from the telco's legal team. "I have as much right to say that 'BT Ireland sucks' as you or anyone else in the country, or the world; and until the law is changed to make criticism a civil or criminal offense, I'm afraid there's bog all BT Ireland can do about it." He also details exactly why he believes BT Ireland's dispute resolution request will fail. A spokeswoman for BT Ireland declined to discuss the matter since it was in the hands of lawyers. However she told us: "We're doing what we can to protect our brand." ®
Tim Richardson, 03 Oct 2005

Star Wars tops movie music poll

It's all go in the wonderful world of movie polls, and hot on the butt-naked heels of last week's revelation that the pool romp scene between Elizabeth Berkley and Kyle MacLachlan was the worst screen rumpy-pumpy ever, we have the news that Star Wars has claimed the best film music crown. That's according to the American Film Institute, which gives John Williams no less than three spots in the top twenty, with Jaws and E.T. also getting a round of applause. The 500 film artists, composers, musicians, critics, pundits and historians polled placed Gone With The Wind in second, closely followed by the rather marvellous Lawrence Of Arabia. The full listing is: Star Wars - John Williams Gone With The Wind - Max Steiner Lawrence Of Arabia - Maurice Jarre Psycho - Bernard Herrmann The Godfather - Nino Rota Jaws - John Williams Laura - David Raksin The Magnificent Seven - Elmer Bernstein Chinatown - Jerry Goldsmith High Noon - Dimitri Tiomkin The Adventures Of Robin Hood - Erich Wolfgang Korngold Vertigo - Bernard Herrmann King Kong - Max Steiner E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial - John Williams Out Of Africa - John Barry Sunset Blvd. - Franz Waxman To Kill A Mockingbird - Elmer Bernstein Planet Of The Apes - Jerry Goldsmith A Streetcar Named Desire - Alex North The Pink Panther - Henry Mancini. Sadly, no gong for Showgirls on this occasion, despite its heady mix of full-frontal nudity and cracking dialogue set to a throbbing backbeat of Las Vegas production numbers. For shame. ®
Lester Haines, 03 Oct 2005
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Backdoor Trojan targets Microsoft Access

Virus writers have created a Trojan which uses an unpatched vulnerability in Microsoft Office to take over Windows PCs. The Hesive Trojan can be disguised as a Microsoft Access file. Once opened in Access, infected .mdb files take advantage of a five-month old buffer overflow flaw in Microsoft's Jet Database Engine software to seize control of vulnerable machines. Incidents of the Trojan are rare but the creation of the first malware to target this unfixed security bug shows VXers are broadening the range of their attacks beyond targeting IE and Windows operating systems flaw to begin looking at Office applications. In this way skills associated more typically with targeted hacking attacks are being rolled into malware creation. Microsoft is yet to fix the Database Engine glitch but the creation of malware specifically targeting a security bug with a core component of Office ought to speed the creation of a fix. ®
John Leyden, 03 Oct 2005

EU inks airline data deal with Canada

The EU has signed a deal with Canada that will allow European airlines to provide Canadian authorities with details of who is scheduled to fly on planes headed for the country. After 11 September, the Canadian government authorised its border control agency to collect this information, but the EU said Canada had to change the way it handled the data, to comply with European data protection laws. The agreement will not come into effect until those changes have been made. The Commission says that the deal involves a higher level of data protection than a similar one signed with the US last year, and fewer sets of data will be involved. Commission vice president Franco Frattini commented: "It is important that we show the world we are able to maintain our human rights standards which form such a crucial part of our societies. The EU will continue to play its full part in securing data protection standards while at the same time stepping up joint action against terrorism." ®
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Oct 2005

BenQ-Siemens phone firm readies dual brand

BenQ Mobile, the company formed from the Taiwanese consumer electronics firm's phone division and the handset business it bought from Siemens, began operations this weekend. The new company was formally incorporated on 1 October, but it will be Spring 2006 before it combines its two handset line-ups under a single brand. Based in Munich, the firm is run by Clemens J Joos, CEO and Jerry Wang, chairman. Overall, the phone company has 7,000 employees worldwide, it said. BenQ Mobile can use the Siemens name in conjunction with its own until 30 September 2010, but the company indicated it sees that time as a "transition period" while it establishes the BenQ brand. It can only brand handsets as plain Siemens for the next 18 months, but it expects to introduce a combined brand next Spring. Until then, phones will be sold as BenQ or Siemens handsets. Taiwan's BenQ announced its plan to buy Siemens' loss-making handset division in June. At the time, a Nokia executive pointedly denounced the move by stating: "Two turkeys won't make an eagle." With a combined H1 2005 market share of 5.2 per cent, according to market watcher Gartner Dataquest, BenQ Mobile is certainly no threat to the Finns. It's not likely to worry second- and third-placed Motorola and Samsung, either. But the likes of LG and SonyEricsson, with 6.4 per cent and 6.3 per cent in Q2 2005, according to IDC, should be looking over their shoulders. Siemens had been looking to offload its mobile phone business since late 2004, when rumoured buyers and potential merger buyers included LG and China's Ningbo Bird. Siemens' mobile phone business lost €236m ($284m) the third quarter, which ended 30 June, of its current fiscal year. BenQ hopes to leverage Siemens' design and R&D skills - well, what's left of them after the parent company's attempt to cut €1bn of costs at the division's costs - to make its own products more acceptable to a worldwide audience. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005

US school succumbs to paperless madness

An Arizona school has dispensed entirely with textbooks and has spunked its entire book budget on student laptops, the BBC reports. Empire High School used to spend around $500 per head on text books. Instead, it spent roughly $800 a pop on Apple iBooks. Mercifully, it still has some books lying around, as Vail School district chief superintendent, Calvin Baker, explains: "There are no text books other than a couple on the shelf for teachers to use as resource. We still have a library - we are not anti-books. We have a library and we encourage students to use it, but the primary delivery of instruction materials is being done through the laptops." Baker continues: "Every class is a little bit different. Some classes are relying primarily on a service, where you need a password to get to it. Some classes' teachers are using electronic text books as a resource - not as a primary tool but as a resource and then a lot of our classes are relying very heavily on simply free material that is available on the internet." And here's the crunch: "When you are using or selecting a text book, it is an all or nothing package. The beauty of the internet is that it allows teachers for every unit to go out and pick the material that they believe is absolutely relevant for that particular topic," enthuses Baker. Marvellous. Any downsides to the plan? Not according to Baker, who reckons that students will treat their kit with the utmost respect because they're allowed to keep their (legally obtained we have no doubt) music collections on the laptops: "That's a very valuable part of their life, and that is where their collection is, and so they take pretty good care of it just because it is something that is personally important to them." Hmmm. What about the old "dog ate my laptop" ploy. No good, says Baker: "That's a hard one to use because everything is backed up continually on our server at school." Well, we can all see where this is going. Server crashes, laptops trashed, chequebook out, budget takes a nosedive... Fair enough; tech-savvy kids, surfing their way to educational redemption, yihaa! But what the hell is wrong with books, bits of paper and pencils? It's low-tech, it's cheaper and it's proven technology. Mind you, they've still got the library for when the server gets hacked by some ne'er-do-well looking to improve his grades the easy way, if the students can find their way there without consulting Google Maps. ®
Lester Haines, 03 Oct 2005

Legend ISP is takeover target

Lancaster-based ISP Legend Communications has confirmed that it is holding talks to flog the company. In a statement the ISP said it was "engaged in preliminary talks, which may or may not lead to an offer being made for the company". It went on: "The talks are at a very early stage and there is no certainty that any offer will be made." According to rumours bouncing around Legend, favourites to acquire the ISP are Pipex and Scottish Telco Thus. No one from Pipex was available for comment while a spokeswoman for Thus - which last week confirmed it had money to spend on new businesses - declined to add anything further. In the Summer Legend - which used to be known as Business Serve - cut its work force after issuing a trading statement warning that its broadband business was being squeezed and that it had been hit by "two bad debts" amounting to some £200,000. At this stage it's still not known how many people lost their jobs although insiders have told us that most of the sales staff got the push. In August the company said: "Although trading at the beginning of the financial year was in line with management expectations the last few weeks have proved to be particularly challenging. "The downturn in trading is attributable to continuing margin pressure on the ADSL business line and an unexpected decrease in customer renewal rates." ®
Tim Richardson, 03 Oct 2005

Artists' managers, royalty collectors turn on iTunes

Having lauded the arrival of legal music download services likes Apple's iTunes for saving it from online piracy, the music industry is now complaining that the digital domain is not sufficiently recompensing artists. According to a report in today's Times newspaper, the Music Managers Forum (MMF), a trade body of artists' representatives, are bemoaning the 4.5p performers make out of every 79p iTunes download. That figure, which translates into a rate of six per cent is half the rate they get from physical singles. “Sale prices and royalties have gradually been eroded to the point where an artist needs to sell in excess of 1.5m units before they can show a profit, after paying for recording time and tour support," Jazz Summers, MMF chairman and manager of Snow Patrol, told the paper. Separately, the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and the Performing Rights Society (PRS) both want to up the writer's royalty to 12 per cent from today's 8.5 per cent rate, though they have said they are willing to knock it down to eight per cent cent for the next two years for new services. Summers' comment echoes a point made recently by Tim Clark, co-founder of ie:music, the company that represents Robbie Williams and others. Clark told a meeting convened by industry networking organisation MusicTank that iTunes was giving most artists just 3-4p per download. For all his complaints about iTunes and Steve Jobs, Clark's problem really lies with the labels. iTunes, Napster, Virgin Digital, Wippit and co. are all retailers - performance royalties are negotiated by the labels and artists' managers, not by the retailers. That's something Summers appears to appreciate: he said recording companies had been "caught with their pants down" by the legal download services. Fearing the illegal download arena, they quickly accepted the pricing dictated to them by Apple and co. Now they're beginning to feel short-changed - witness last month's comment from Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman that Apple's uniform pricing policy is unfair, and should be replaced with a differential pricing plan, typically with new material costing more than older, back-catalogue songs. Of course, that's still not going to benefit the artists, many of whom are awaiting the end of their current recording contracts with labels so they can negotiate better download royalties. In some cases, it can be argued that if managers were more astute, many artists would already have better royalty arrangements than they do today. Market size It's also worth mentioning at this point that while Apple is singled out for most of the blame - after all, it owns more than 80 per cent of the UK, if not global, digital music download market - the segment in which it's a player only accounts for a few percentage points of the overall music market. Factor in all the products sold that have a music connection - including hi-fi kit, media and, yes, iPods - its an even smaller percentage. Again, that puts the emphasis on getting ready for the time when it's a much more important part of the business. Clark said he believes that stage is going to come much sooner than most people believe. Indeed, he let slip that Robbie Williams' £80m four-album recording contract with EMI, signed in 2002, is timed to come to end just as the download market really starts to take off. How good Clark's timing is will determine how successfully Williams can leverage the digital music market. It's up to other artists' managers to similarly plan ahead. Given how easy it is for indies to partner directly with iTunes and so on, that could lead to significant trouble for the labels, certainly if the established acts, who largely bankroll everything else the labels do, choose to cut their own download deals. Worse, newer acts may choose the direct route too. Paying for recording is the same whether the result is a download or a physical single, said Alun Taylor, MD of indie label Roots Music Group, but a download is a lot cheaper to offer and far less risky than putting out a potentially unsuccessful physical single. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005

Mistral axes 20 in shake-up

Brighton-based ISP Mistral Internet is closing two offices in Basingstoke and Cambridge with the loss of around 20 jobs. The job cuts and office closures follow a review of the business after the recent acquisitions of Basingstoke-based Netkonect and Cambridge-based Drakken. A handful of other jobs also look likely to be cut as part of the restructuring. "Where possible, the company will provide opportunities for internal transfer with relocation allowances to those staff affected in an effort to minimise any mandatory redundancies," said Mistral in a statement. The company - which also has offices in Cardiff, Southampton and London - currently employs around 130 people. ®
Tim Richardson, 03 Oct 2005

Symantec buys compliance firm BindView

Symantec continued its seemingly relentless acquisition spree on Monday with the purchase of security compliance firm BindView for $209m. The all-cash transaction, which is subject to regulatory and BindView shareholder approvals, is expected to close in the first calendar quarter of 2006. Post-acquisition, BindView's technology will be used to deliver policy compliance and vulnerability management products and services without the need to install software agents. BindView's agent-less technology is positioned as suitable for smaller firms and those with multiple branch offices to consider whereas Symantec’s existing agent-based technology architecture is a better fit for enterprises with a large central headquarters. Enterprises are faced with meeting an increasing list of regulatory mandates, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and Basel II. BindView’s IT security compliance software aims to help simplify the management overhead associated with demonstrating regulatory compliance by automating three critical functions: policy and compliance management, vulnerability and configuration management, and directory and access management. Its technology also helps firms manage security policies. The BindView deal comes weeks after Symantec completed its $13.5bn mega-merger with storage giant Veritas and follows a string of smaller purchases by it over recent months. These acquisitions include TurnTide, anti-spam specialist Brightmail, SafeWeb and others. In August Symantec made its first post-merger acquisition when it snapped up compliance specialist Sygate Technologies, rapidly following that up with the acquisition of behaviour-based security and anti-phishing developer WholeSecurity last month. ®
John Leyden, 03 Oct 2005
For Sale sign detail

MessageLabs branches out into web security

Net security firm MessageLabs is extending its services beyond email filtering with the launch of a trio of web scanning products on Monday. The UK-based firm is selling web anti-virus, anti-spyware and censorware (URL filtering) products in order to differentiate its offerings from managed service competitors such as BlackSpider and Postini. Delivery of these services follows an August partnership between MessageLabs and developer ScanSafe, whose technology MessageLabs is effectively re-badging and selling as MessageLabs Web Protect, Web Anti-Spyware and Web Control. These products add the "missing piece" to MessageLabs' existing anti-spam and anti-virus email filtering service, according to MessageLabs CTO Mark Sunner. Trojan downloaders commonly spread by spamvertised email that attempts to trick users into visiting hacker websites harbouring hostile code. The growth in the tactic means users need combined web and email-based viral defences, prompting MessageLabs to package together a combined service. Combined email and web filtering service bundles from MessageLabs will sell for around £4 per user per month. Longer term, MessageLabs aims to widen its portfolio still further with archiving, IM scanning and VOIP security products. ®
John Leyden, 03 Oct 2005

Digital music revenues soar

The music industry made $440m out of digital music during the first half of 2005, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) trade group said today. The retailers made $350m, IFPI's numbers show - much of it, we'd say, going into Apple's coffers. According to the trade organisation, $790m was spent on digital music during H1 2005, up 259 per cent from H1 2004's $220m. On that basis, digital accounts for six per cent of record industry sales during the period. That said, that covers not only a la carte downloads and subscription-based rentals but from mobile phone ringtones too, though only those that are complete or partial songs - monophonic and polyphonic ringtones are not included, IFPI said. IFPI did not provide a break-down between mobile sales and computer-downloaded sales. Excluding "retail margins", digital sales totalled $440m, IFPI said. On that basis, around 44 cents in every dollar spent on digital downloads went to the retailers, more than the 33 per cent Apple was originally exposed to be making. But if digital sales were on the up, physical media revenues continued to slide, down 6.3 per cent year on year to $12.4bn worldwide. Unit sales fell 6.6 per cent. Singling out CDs for further attention, sales were down 6.7 per cent by value, 3.4 per cent by units. Overall, the global recorded music market fell 1.5 per cent to $13.2bn from $13.4bn. Russia was one of the few territories to see increases in CD sales. Given the experience of Western and Asian markets, it's no surprise to see that the 21.2 per cent increase in market value arises from a shift from cassette sales to CDs - essentially, Russian music fans are going through a process we went through in the late 1980s and early 1990s: buying music again, this time on CD. This is particularly interesting because you might expect the Russian market to be more affected by illegal downloads. The fact is, however strong music piracy is here, it's outweighed by demand for CDs. Mirroring the Russian example, the Indian market saw a continuing shift from cassette to CD, leading to a 15 per cent increase in CD units, though the market was down 2.4 per cent in value. France too saw album sales rise, up 9.5 per cent in units, but only 1.2 per cent by value. Overall physical sales were up 2.7 per cent by value, 7.5 per cent by volume. Canadian unit sales were up "slightly", but value-wise the market shrank, "primarily due to retail discounts", IFPI said. In the UK, physical sales fell four per cent by value, 1.7 by units in H1 2005, IFPI said. Germany's physical sales figure fell 7.7 per cent year on year. The US saw a drop in physical sales of 5.3 per cent in value and 5.7 per cent in units. All these markets experienced strong year-on-year growth in the download sector. ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005
channel

Judge sets AMD, Intel disclosure date

AMD vs IntelAMD vs Intel Judge Joseph J Farnan Jr of the Delaware District Court has told lawyers representing AMD and Intel to exchange disclosures this coming Thursday. The procedure usually allows both parties to see what the other is holding in evidence to back up their claims, what witnesses they will call to support that evidence and so on. However, both AMD and Intel have agreed to delay that poart of the disclosure process, AMD told us. The disclosure this Thursday will be only of individuals "likely to have discoverable information that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defense", according to the court documents. AMD launched its legal action against Intel in June this year, and subsequently issued subpoenas against quite a few computer companies' US offices. Many firms have accepted the requests enshrined in the subpoenas, most notably Dell, which announced its willingness to comply last month. NEC, on the other hand, filed a whole series of complaints with AMD's demands. Intel last month formally rejected AMD's allegations that it attached anti-AMD conditions to marketing funds offered to customers. “The decision whether to purchase from AMD, and in what quantity, is made by these customers without coercion or anticompetitive conditions,” the chip giant said. AMD is seeking "millions of dollars" in damages from Intel for various anticompetitive acts which "also had the effect of interfering with AMD's right to engage in normal business and marketing activities". ®
Tony Smith, 03 Oct 2005
arrow pointing up

MS promises PDF support in Office 12

Microsoft says it is adding PDF support to Office 12, meaning users will be able to create pdf format documents from within Microsoft's next Office suite. Users of the forthcoming version of Office will now have an option to "save to PDF", the company says. The facility will be added to Word, Excel, Publisher and PowerPoint, among other applications. Microsoft says it is adding the feature because its customers want to be able to share documents with people, even with people who don't have Office. It makes no mention of a deal with the government of Massachusetts that fell through because Microsoft did not support document formats other than its own. Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of the Microsoft Office product development group noted that pdf support within Office is the second most common support request. "Every month we receive over 120,000 queries worldwide for "PDF" through Microsoft Office Online. And of course, our MVPs have expressed strongly their desire to see this functionality integrated with Microsoft Office," he added. Read more about the decision here. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Oct 2005

HP buys bladeless blade server pioneer RLX

Troubled blade server veteran RLX Technologies has been snatched up by HP for an undisclosed sum. The two companies announced the deal Monday morning, saying HP plans to use RLX's software for Linux blade server management. This deal must be a huge relief for RLX's current management, which has struggled to find a successful niche for the company's gear. HP expects the transaction to close within 30 days. "With Linux's expansion into blade server environments, customers want tools that deliver simpler and more robust management," said Rick Becker, a vice president and general manager at HP. "Following our recently announced acquisitions of AppIQ and Peregrine Systems, RLX represents another step in HP's expanding enterprise management capabilities to help enterprise and small and medium business customers simplify their IT environments and cut costs." RLX pioneered the blade server market, offering compact systems well before any of the Tier 1 vendors. In fact, RLX's strategy was so aggressive that Compaq sued the start-up, claiming it had gained access to trade secrets by raiding Compaq's executive staff. The two companies settled this lawsuit in 2001. After years peddling its blade systems, RLX in 2004 gave up on the hardware business and decided to focus only on selling its highly-regarded management software. At the time, it laid off most of its staff, leaving it with 36 employees. The shift to software reflected RLX's inability to defeat HP and IBM in the blade server market and its troubles making use of well over $100m in venture funding. RLX tried time and again to develop a niche, focusing at points on high performance computing, government clients and later bio-tech firms. In the end, it couldn't survive, and, as many expected would happen long ago, a big boy bought it out. ®
Ashlee Vance, 03 Oct 2005
DVD it in many colours

Dell's Anti-Solaris site no longer on Solaris

Dell's direct model has paid big dividends once again as the company decided to host an anti-Sun Microsystems campaign directly on its own servers instead of Sun systems. It's either crow or dog food, but something unwholesome is being eaten this week in Round Rock. Last week, we reported on Dell's quite well-done web advertisements that attack "the leviathans of Big Iron". The cartoons give a playful edge to Dell's ongoing battle against Unix sellers Sun, IBM and HP. A problem, however, cropped up when one of Dell's partners picked Sun servers to host the commercials. The ever-helpful Netcraft revealed that the cartoons done by Maverick Productions were being hosted on Solaris 9 servers. Since our story ran detailing this information, Dell has set up a redirect to shift surfers from www.delltechforce.com to this site hosted on Dell's own domain. As we understand it, Dell would have moved the site sooner but was put on hold for five days as a technician in Bangalore tried to contact the ISP.®
Ashlee Vance, 03 Oct 2005