10th > October > 2005 Archive

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Mercury suite talks BTO

Mercury Interactive has launched Business Technology Optimisation (BTO) Enterprise, claimed to be the first suite to implement an integrated Enterprise BTO technology blueprint. This is accessed through the Mercury IT Governance Centre, on top of the Mercury Application Change Lifecycle with Mercury Quality Centre, Mercury Performance Centre and Mercury Business Availability Centre underneath it all. And it's all run from a common dashboard. BTO Enterprise represents the culmination of a $500m investment made over three years in BTO, Mercury says. Customers can buy the underlying technology or rent it as a hosted internet service. The technology exploits a trend that Mercury identifies as a shift to optimising business outcomes, instead of managing IT outcomes only. The company also offers services to help companies adopt Best Practice and align IT with business goals - optimising quality, lowering costs and minimising risk. The BTO Enterprise suite is IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) aware, which means that it recognises the accepted Best Practice standards in operational IT management - although it goes beyond ITIL. Mercury is a leader in BTO. In its case this means testing and software quality assurance, in general, and in the widest sense - including performance testing, for example. This is extended to cover monitoring of operational systems and IT governance. It's a powerful message – you can use analysis scenarios as the basis for test scripts and develop these for operational monitoring, increasing re-use and reducing waste. Mercury claims that 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies rely on its software and services for BTO. Mercury has lined up a clutch of analysts to hail the launch of BTO Enterprise. This garland is from Thomas Mendel, research director at Forrester, the IT analyst firm: "Enterprise infrastructure management products are entering an era of major change," he says. "Innovations in change and configuration management promise a more efficient way to manage infrastructures, and Microsoft and Mercury are starting to show real muscle." Interest in aligning operational IT with the business, whether you call it Business Service Management or Business Technology Optimisation, is growing fast, as the business managers who pay IT bills start thinking about the value they get for their money: IT professionals had better take notice. Mercury today announced a couple of acquisitions: BeatBox (formerly ClickCadence), which tracks real user application behaviour and m-Test from Intuwave, used for testing Symbian smart phone applications. ®
David Norfolk, 10 Oct 2005

Ofcom waves through wholesale line rental

Ofcom is to approve a product that should enable rivals to compete with dominant fixed line telco BT. The regulator reckons Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) - which enables telcos to invoice customers for line rental and phone charges on the same bill, as opposed to having to pay for calls and line rental separately - should now be passed "fit for purpose" (FFP). "Ofcom has assessed the proposed WLR product to ensure it is sufficiently robust to enable providers to meet the needs of their customers and to compete effectively," said the regulator in a statement. And about time too. How long has it taken BT to ensure that its WLR product is FFP? Ages, that's how long. BT has dragged its feet over the implementation of a FFP WLR product but now it's settled its regulatory battle with Ofcom, it looks like it's finally prepared to iron out all those niggling issues that riled Ofcom and the industry for so long. Are we being too hard on BT? Not a bit. Here's what Ofcom had to say just a few short months ago. "Oftel's determination that BT must offer WLR as a remedy was taken in August 2002. BT's WLR product has been repeatedly redesigned to resolve problems identified by wholesale customers. Release 14.1 of WLR, which will address many (but not all) of the remaining issues, is expected to be launched in December 2005, nearly three and a half years after the original determination." Which is just in time for the launch of BT's new network access business - openretch. With a total of 100,000 WLR lines being added each month, Ofcom reckons there will be more than one million residential WLR lines by the end of 2005 and as many as three million WLR lines by the end of 2006. ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2005
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Wales sold on online procurement

Millions could be saved by Welsh councils following a successful first eAuction pilot by two local authorities in the Principality. Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils secured potential savings of £650,000 over five years, equivalent to nine per cent of expenditure for the supply of tinned and dried foods for a contract worth around £1.3m per year. The successful bidder will supply foodstuffs to the local authorities schools meals services, social services and council-owned leisure centres and outdoor adventure sites over the next five years. Cmpanies were required to meet a series of non-price criteria before the could take part in the eAuction. Three companies qualified to take part in the procurement. The councils also encouraged more Welsh businesses to participate in the tendering process by providing advice and training to companies that had no experience in bidding for contracts online. Councillor Russell Roberts, Welsh Local Government Association spokesman on procurement, said the collaborative e-procurement approach was a "sign of things to come for Wales," with the two councils benefiting from "substantial savings through high quality contracts at competitive prices". Swansea Council leader Chris Holley said it was the first demonstration of how the local authority's eGovernment programme was saving taxpayers money and delivering better local services. Copyright © eGov monitor Weekly eGov monitor Weekly is a free e-newsletter covering developments in UK eGovernment and public sector IT over the last seven days. To register go here.
eGov Monitor Weekly, 10 Oct 2005
fingers pointing at man

Anti-spam user authentication is 'worse than useless'

Claims that user authentication schemes will reduce spam are not just wrong but "wrongheaded", a security researcher warned on Friday. User authentication schemes such as SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and Sender ID check if machines are allowed to send email from a claimed domain - a kind of caller line identification (more here on email authentication). But "this doesn't tell you who the actual sender was or the spaminess of a message," Nick FitzGerald, of Computer Virus Consulting in New Zealand, said. Worse, botnets - networks of "zombie" PCs controlled by hackers - "screw anti-spam authentication". he noted. "User authentication is worse than nothing at all. For example, SPF is broken before implementation because it's not just breakable but trivial to break," he said. Although current spam bots don't directly beat SPF it would be trivial to add a few lines of code to do just that, according to FitzGerald, who was speaking at the Virus Bulletin conference in Dublin on Friday. Vesselin Bontchev of anti-virus firm FRISK disagreed with FitzGerald's conclusions, arguing that user authentication will at least help ISPs to identify compromised PCs. But FitzGerald said the economics of the ISP business meant that it cost too much to use this data to mount clean-up operations. Dmitri Alperovitch, principal research scientist at security appliance firm CipherTrust, agreed with FitzGerald that user authentication schemes are unlikely to have much impact on spam. Spammers have become early adopters of email authentication technology, he said. "Its backers don't claim it will stop spam but they do hope it will control phishing and even that is questionable," he added. ®
John Leyden, 10 Oct 2005
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Ericsson set to buy Marconi

Ericsson is in talks which could quickly lead to the takeover of Marconi, according to reports just about everywhere. The troubled equipment maker said in August that it was in talks leading to a possible sale. At the time Marconi was valued at around £600m and Chinese firm Huawei Technologies fingered as the likely suitor. But Ericsson could pay as much as £1.3bn for the firm, assuming debt and pension fund obligations. This is twice its current market value, according to documents seen by the Mail on Sunday. The deal could be announced within days. Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Lazard are acting for Marconi and Enskilda for Ericsson. Marconi shares rose nearly ten per cent today but the company told Reuters that it would not comment on rumours. Figures for the first quarter, ended June 30 2005, revealed a loss of £36m - much of it blamed on costs associated with the failure to win any business from building BT's new network. ®
John Oates, 10 Oct 2005

Porn and gore man arrested

The American man behind the website which offered free porn in exchange for pictures of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan has been arrested for obscenity. Christopher Wilson, 27 from Lakeland, Florida, was charged with 300 counts of obscenity over 20 films and 80 still photographs - he is charged with possession, distribution and offering to distribute each item. He was held over the weekend with bail set at $151,000. Wilson's website hosted amateur pornography and pictures of dead and mutilated Afghans and Iraqis apparently provided by US soldiers. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Wilson had been investigated before over a previous website but the new images were "horrific". Judd said he had notified military officials but was not working with them. More on the Orlando Sentinel here. Wilson's lawyer told the paper that his client was exercising his First Amendment rights and described his arrest as political. Wilson claims US soldiers could not access paid-for porn because credit card companies would not authorise payments from Afghanistan or Iraq. He asked for pictures to prove that people were in the war zone - if they sent pictures they got free access to his site. The site itself is still up this morning - it is asking for donations to Mr Wilson's defence fund. It is believed to be hosted in the Netherlands. ®
John Oates, 10 Oct 2005

DDoS by mobile phone: is it a goer?

Mobile phone networks could be swamped by text messages to phones in a denial of service attack by hackers, academics warn. A paper by Enck, Traynor, McDaniel, and La Porta of Pennsylvania State University explains that if too many text messages are sent to phones in the the same cell of a mobile network at the same time the cell's control channel might be monopolised, preventing new calls from being initiated. The academics suggest it might be possible to deny voice service to cities the size of Washington with "little more than a cable modem" by sending hundreds of SMS messages a second from a broadband connected PC. "Moreover, attacks targeting the entire United States are feasible with resources available to medium-sized zombie networks," the Exploiting Open Functionality in SMS-Capable Cellular Networks paper (PDF) states. The Penn researchers suggest that reconnaissance techniques can be used to draw up a "hit list" of numbers needed to target attacks. They suggest a wealth of data on cell phone numbers and geographical location is available for harvesting on the web, though help from an insider would seem to be an easier approach. The closest thing we have to a DDoS event on mobile phone in the UK comes on New Year's Eve. Last year 111m texts were sent between midnight on 31 December and midnight on 1 January 2004 - nearly twice the daily average for 2003 and eight per cent up on the year before. Texts took longer to get through at such times but there's only limited anecdotal evidence (based on limited tests conducted on New Year's Eve 2002/2003) that any texts are lost. US tests by Web performance monitoring outfit Keynote Systems in 2003 suggest that one in 12 (7.5 per cent) text messages, originated by email, are either tardy or lost on their way to US mobile subscribers. Network capacity has increased since then and has moved on by leaps and bounds since the millennium when sheer weight of numbers made it virtually impossible to make calls in central London when 2000 dawned. That took 10,000s of attempted connections from an area around the river of around a square mile so the Penn researchers claim the a mere hundreds of messages a second are enough to degrade performance within a small cell are open to question. Security experts are also doubtful about the feasibility of the attack. According to Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure, hackers would find it difficult to get a list of mobile phones in a particular cell necessary to conduct an attack. But Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said the attack is consuming the resources it needs to succeed. Beyond a certain point, SMS messages would not go through and congestion would not get any worse, he said. Speaking informally at the Virus Bulletin conference in Dublin last week, other security researchers said it was likely that service providers had protective measures in place to thwart this type of attack. ®
John Leyden, 10 Oct 2005

Crack-crazed squirrels terrorise South London

Stop us if you've heard this one: crack-addicted squirrels are terrorising Brixton in Sarf London in a desperate search for a fix, eschewing their traditional nuts and digging up residents' front gardens in what appears to be a credible zoological threat to the Yardies' hard-drug hegemony. Yup, crack dealers and addicts have apparently taken to burying their stashes in people's gardens in the streets around the centre of Brixton after a police clampdown drove them from the thriving commercial heart of the popular London district. Locals have spotted squirrels digging in the same gardens, prompting speculation that they are already addicted to rocks and will in due course take up semi-automatic weapons and launch a violent challenge for the whole trade in illicit narcotics, as is the local custom. One fearful resident, who asked not to be named, told Life Style Extra: "I was chatting with my neighbour who told me that crack users and dealers sometimes use my front garden to hide bits of their stash. An hour earlier I'd seen a squirrel wandering round the garden, digging in the flowerbeds. It looked like it knew what it was looking for. It was ill-looking and its eyes looked bloodshot but it kept on desperately digging. It was almost as if it was trying to find hidden crack rocks." The RSPCA said it had no reports of the "Brixton Crack Squirrel", but did not completely dismiss the idea. A spokeswoman said: "We have not had any dealers reporting the theft of their stash by squirrels but the animal is attracted by smell and if it detects something it likes it will dig it up. If a squirrel did open a bag of crack and start consuming it there is no doubt it would die pretty quickly. I suspect that nobody has reported it because they are a wild animal and when they are found dead no-one cares." That's right - just another junkie off the streets, permanently. But hold a minute: this fearful tale bears an uncanny resemblance to reports knocking about on the internet of similar cocaine-fuelled squirrels menacing New York and Washington DC. Urban myth or chilling portent? After all, it's a small step from crack squirrels to flocks of PCP-demented pigeons descending Hitchcock-style on the World's major centres of population. Consider yourselves warned. ®
Lester Haines, 10 Oct 2005

Oracle buys Finnish developer

Database giant Oracle has made another acquisition - picking up a small Finnish open source developer. Oracle has bought InnoBase for an undislosed amount. The Finnish firm develops InnoDB which is distributed as part of MySQL.Oracle said it wants to continue developing the product and "expand our committment to open source software". The statement also notes that InnoDB's agreement with MySQL is up for renewal next year - Oracle hopes to extend that contract. Oracle has been snapping up firms all year. Apart from the big buys of PeopleSoft and Siebel the firm has picked up security, retail and business process firms this year. Read the whole press release from Oracle here.
John Oates, 10 Oct 2005

Oz investor swallows €400m slice of Eircom

There's speculation that Eircom could become the focus of a take-over bid after Australian investment outfit Babcock & Brown acquired a 12.5 per cent stake in the Irish incumbent. Babcock has shelled out around €400m for its slice of the dominant Irish telco which it believes it currently undervalued. Said Babcock exec Rex Comb: "We are optimistic about the fundamentals of the Irish economy and the benefits that flow to Eircom's business as a result of this underlying strength. "We see this as a strategic shareholding in a company with robust fundamentals and a positive outlook which is not fully recognised by the market at the present time." Part of Babcock's optimism follows Eircom's summer acquisition of Ireland's third largest mobile operator Meteor for €420m. "In contrast to Telstra in Australia, Eircom has an increasingly superior market position and an outlook for top line growth with its re-entry into mobile. Eircom's market position is more like that of Telecom New Zealand," said Comb. ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2005

Humans prime suspects in lynx extinction

Tests on lynx bones found in a cave in North Yorkshire in the 19th century have overturned the widely held belief that the wild cat went extinct in the UK 4,000 years ago. Radio carbon dating has shown the bones to be a mere 1,500 years old. The findings indicate that the lynx went extinct as a consequence of hunting, or the pressure of losing territory to farm land. According to the Yorkshire Post, the involvement of humans in the lynx's extinction means that the government is obliged to reintroduce the cats to the wild. Previously, the lynx was thought to have gone extinct when the climate changed, becoming cooler and wetter. A lynx skull found in Scotland had previously been carbon dated at 2,000 years old. But scientists concluded it had to have been left by traders because it was so much younger than other lynx remains found in the UK. Aberdeen University ecologist David Hetherington published the results of the research in the Journal of Quaternary Science. He said: "These findings indicate that lynx survived the change in the climate and were most probably driven to extinction when people cut down the forests and effectively destroyed the lynx's habitat." This has important implications, Hetherington explains, because of an EU directive that obliges member states to consider re-introducing species killed off by human action. "One species on the list of possible candidates is the Eurasian lynx." he concludes. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 10 Oct 2005

Japanese supersonic airliner is go

Japan this morning successfully tested an 11.5m-long propotype of its Next Generation Supersonic Transport (SST) at Australia's Woomera range. The SST was carried to around 59,000 feet strapped under a rocket after which it separated and flew for 15 minutes at Mach 1.9-2 before parachuting back to earth. A Japanese space agency (JAXA) spokeswoman told AFP: "It went well, it was successful," which must come as a great relief to the agency after the first model crashed and burned three years ago when the vehicle detached prematurely from the rocket. Back in August, JAXA spokesman Takaaki Akuto confirmed the agency had "made some improvements" to the SST. He admitted: "This is a pretty important test." As we previously noted, the SST's success ultimately depends on tackling two problems which limited Concorde - fuel consumption and noise. JAXA reckons it can address these through the aircraft's shape, improved jet engines and the use of composite materials. It says the SST will fly twice the distance of Concorde and produce just "one quarter of the nitrogen oxide emissions, and having noise levels no greater than today's conventional jumbo jets*". For those of an aeronautical bent, there's a flight analysis (PDF) available here at the JAXA website. You can see an overview of the project here. ® Bootnote *Thanks to those readers who wrote back in August to point out that a Jumbo still makes one hell of a racket. Duly noted.
Lester Haines, 10 Oct 2005

Apple and Samsung could face Korea flash memory probe

Korean regulators could investigate whether Apple broke competition laws by buying memory from Samsung at below market rates. Samsung is widely thought to be Apple's key memory supplier, a lucrative deal given the recent launch of the flash-based iPod Nano. The Korean Fair Trade Commission chairman Kang Chul-kyu said he was considering an investigation into whether Apple and Samsung had behaved improperly, according to Yonhap news here. Observers have questioned how much more Apple would have to pay by switching from mini hard drives to Flash memory for use in the iPod nano. Flash memory costs almost twice as much as the eqivalent storage on a disc.®
John Oates, 10 Oct 2005

Stanford wins the DARPA challenge

Stanford University has won the second $2m DARPA grand challenge, in which robot cars have just ten hours to steer themselves across a 150-odd mile obstacle course in the Mojave desert. Stanford's entry, which is based on a diesel Volkswagen Touareg R5 and is known as Stanley, crossed the line 11 minutes ahead of its nearest rival after just six hours and 53 minutes. Stanley is equipped with seven Pentium-M processors, GPS, a radar system, four laser range finders and stereo camera set-up as well as a single camera system. It has an inertial measurement unit, that along with wheel speed data can estimate how the vehicle is tilted, relative to the ground. Just four of the 23 qualifiers managed to complete the course in the allotted time, with a fifth, Team Terramax, trundling over the finish line in 12 hours 51 minutes. Carnegie Mellon (in a Hummer) snatched second place in seven hours four minutes, Red Team Too (also in a Hummer) came in third just ten minutes later and the Gray Insurance Company's Gray team was the last to finish under 10 hours, posting a time of seven hours and 30 minutes. Race director Tony Tether said: "I knew we would see some excellent competitors, but to have [so many] teams complete a run on the course, well, that shows how far we have come in such a very short time." Last year, none of the robotic vehicles managed to get very far. Carnegie Mellon's Sandstorm soldiered on the further, managing around 7.5 miles, but all the rest broke down shortly after crossing the start line. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 10 Oct 2005
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MS security bundling plan causes waves

European anti-trust regulators have begun investigating Microsoft's plans to market consumer security software. Symantec has been asked to provide information about Microsoft's plans for OneCare - an all-in-one PC health check service targeted at consumers - in order to help investigators decide whether Microsoft might have fallen foul of anti-trust rules. Windows OneCare is a subscription service that will provide automatically updated anti-virus, anti-spyware and two-way firewall protection. The technology, due next year, pitches Microsoft squarely against former partners such as McAfee and Symantec. Symantec spokeswoman Genevieve Haldeman denied that it had made a formal complaint to regulators and explained that it was simply helping regulators with their inquiries. "We have been asked to provide information to the EU, and we have complied with that request. The information was really helping them understand the complexity of the security industry and our role in it." "We have always said, and continue to say, that we'll continue to compete with Microsoft in the market as long as there's a level playing field," she added, Dow Jones Newswire via Computerworld reports. It's not the first time Microsoft's business practices have raised eyebrows at the EU. Last year, European regulators took exception with the bundling of Windows Media Player with the company’s operating systems, arguing that the practice inhibited competition. As part of the settlement agreed in March 2004, Microsoft agreed to pay a fine of €497m ($613m), to offer a version of Windows without a media player and to open up access to its server APIs. Microsoft has since launched a legal action aimed at allowing it to keep its server APIs a secret. Earlier this month, the European Commission appointed an ombudsman to oversee MS's compliance with EC demands. Academic and long serving security consultant Dr Neil Barrett will be act as a watchdog providing "technical advice to the Commission on issues relating to Microsoft’s compliance with the Commission’s 2004 [Media Player] Decision." ®
John Leyden, 10 Oct 2005

We're just getting revved up, Ballmer tells Irish

As the launch of the Xbox 360 nears, Steve Ballmer told Irish journalists that Microsoft is "poised for leadership in the next generation console market". The Microsoft boss was in Dublin on Friday as part of a tour of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) region. In jovial mood, Ballmer said that the software firm had a rich pipeline of products on the way in 2006 including Windows Vista, the latest version of Office, Windows Mobile, new security products as well as new server infrastructure and management products. Looking to the end of this year Ballmer admitted he was feeling "pretty good" about the launch of the Xbox 360 in December. "We have 28 per cent market share here while Sony has around 50 per cent share, but we're launching months before the next generation PlayStation and we have great online play with the Xbox, something Sony doesn't have," said Ballmer. Ballmer was equally unconcerned with competitors such as Google, despite recent moves by the search engine, which have seen it muscle in on a number of Microsoft's areas such as webmail, instant messenger, and recent rumours about the launch of Google Office. When asked what his analysis was of the recent link up between Sun and Google to promote Sun's OpenOffice, Ballmer said that Microsoft had been competing against OpenOffice for years and will continue to do so. "This latest deal doesn't change anything as it stands," he said. "It's not going to have a momentous impact on the market." While admitting that Google is at the top of its game in the advertising world, Ballmer dismissed the firm as a threat to Microsoft. When asked what he would answer if someone were to say to him that Google was Microsoft's biggest ever threat, Ballmer said "that's not true." Ballmer also took the opportunity to re-affirm the company's commitment to Ireland and its operations here. He praised Ireland's talent pool, a factor he said was vital for the success of Microsoft's new Irish research and development centre. "We have 30 employees at the centre currently and that will rise to 100 in the next 12 months," Ballmer said. "We're just getting revved up." Copyright © 2005, ENN
ElectricNews.net, 10 Oct 2005

Ex-subscriber accuses PlusNet of 'paranoia'

A Reading man says he "didn't know whether to laugh or cry" when he received an email from PlusNet's lawyers instructing him to hand over a database containing email addresses of 95,000 PlusNet customers. Snag is, Simon Chapman says he doesn't possess a database of PlusNet's customers. Nor does he have any intention of obtaining one. PlusNet's lawyers wrote: "Our client has received information that you have acquired a database comprising the email addresses of some 95,000 customers of PlusNet (the database). Our client has received further information that you are proposing to use the database to email customers of PlusNet, either directly yourself or through a third party." It then goes on to demand that the database is returned. Mr Chapman is stunned by the nature of the allegations which he describes as "ludicrous, unwarranted and a waste of my time". He believes that PlusNet's heavy-handed tactics are a result of an ongoing dispute he's had with the company which resulted in him being booted off the ISP in August. In reply to PlusNet's lawyers Mr Chapman wrote: "Your client is suffering from paranoia. I do not possess, nor have I ever possessed, a database of PlusNet customers' e-mail addresses." He told The Register: "I have no idea where they got this idea from. I have no database." A spokesman for PlusNet said the ISP sought legal advice concerning written information it had received and that its solicitors "contacted the third party directly as a preventative measure". ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2005

Airstrike rocks Smurf village

Here's a poser for you: you're trying to knock together a TV ad highlighting the effects of war on children. What's the plan? Well, you could go down the traditional route of earnest voice-over accompanying footage of said kids miserably awaiting a better life or, on the other hand, you could arm up a squadron of attack aircraft and go and raze a Smurf village to the ground. Let's face it, it's a toughie. Not for Unicef Belgium though, which earlier this week reduced an enchanted Smurf hamlet to smouldering rubble - much to the horror of some TV viewers across the Channel - when it aired a 25-second burst of animated warnography on the country's TV screens. The offending cartoon, created with the full approval of the family of the Smurfs' departed creator Peyo, the Daily Telegraph notes, sees the cuddly blue creatures kicking off the action by dancing hand-in-hand round the campfire while singing that catchy Smurf song we all know and love. Death then begins to rain from the sky as bombs spread fiery death through Smurfdom leaving just a "scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs", as the Telegraph puts it. The end caption reads: "Don't let war affect the lives of children." The ad campaign is intended to raise awareness of the plight of Burundi's former child soldiers, and rustle up £70,000 towards their rehabilitation. Unicef Belgium spokesman Philippe Henon explained: "It's controversial. We have never done something like this before but we've learned over the years that the reaction to the more normal type of campaign is very limited." Yes indeed, compassion fatigue now requires charitable organisations to drop napalm on cartoon favourites to shock the public out of its tragedy-saturated torpor. Mind you, it's not as bad as it could have been. The ad agency behind the carnage, Publicis, originally wanted something along the lines of an animated Now That's Fucked Up, complete with severed limbs and decapitations, but Unicef wisely shot that idea down in flames. The ad can only be shown in Belgium after the nine o'clock watershed, which is obviously not late enough for those traumatised kids who caught a glimpse of its premiere during the main evening news. Of course, the Smurfs are a Belgian invention, first appearing in comic form in 1958. This might explain the horrified reaction over there. We reckon, on the other hand, that if the Smurf apocalypse TV ad were shown in Britain, Blair and Bush's approval rating for military action abroad would treble in a flash among adults more than willing to support any initiative which involves dropping munitions on Smurfs. ® Bootnote There's a copy of the video available here, although I admit I haven't got the right plug-in to view it. Ah, that'd be Linux for you. Happy viewing.
Lester Haines, 10 Oct 2005

Shanghai takes big stick to net slang

The powers that be in Shanghai have taken a seat alongside the French on the linguistic shoreline waiting to order back the tide of lexicographical barbarisms which threaten their native tongues, official Chinese news reports confirm. Of course, the French have been at it for years, reserving particular outrage for English words which continue to corrupt their lingo despite heroic efforts to dam the breach through which Satanic vocabulary still floods. More recently, the internet has proved a capacious conduit through which pollution can flow, and it is this particular pipe which Shanghai intends to plug. Xia Xiurong, chair of the Education, Science, Culture and Health Committee of the Shanghai People's Congress, told the Shanghai Morning Post: "On the Web, Internet slang is convenient and satisfying, but the mainstream media have a responsibility to guide proper and standard language usage." The problem is apparently that wild youth has taken to using terms such as "PK" (literally "player killer" = "one-to-one [gaming] competition"), the abbrevation "MM" for "girl" and the delicious "konglong" (literally "dinosaur") for unattractive woman. Phrases are taking a pasting too, with "bu yao" (don't want) reduced to the shocking "biao" in net parlance. It all seems pretty innocent, but the media too has warmed to these neologisms which have even appeared in newspaper headlines - not a big deal except in France and now Shanghai. The Chinese take their "Putonghua" - aka Chinese Mandarin - pretty seriously. Accordingly, draft "Regulations of Shanghai on Implementing the Law on the National Use of Language and Script" are currently before the Standing Committee of the Shanghai People's Congress for scrutiny. If passed they will restrict the civil service, public bodies and the media to using just Putonghua and Chinese characters. Furthermore, net slang will be purged from classrooms and official publications. Xia explained: "Our nation's language needs to develop, but it also needs to be regulated. Not everyone understands these popular slang terms. When they appear in the mainstream media without explanation, many older people have a hard time understanding the true meaning." Back in April, Nanjing launched a similar clampdown on web argot, including "PLMM" ("piao liang mei mei" = "beautiful girl") and "GG" (boy). The annual conference of the Nanjing's Working Committee of Spoken and Written Language pronounced that these abbrevations, among others would be forbidden in written schoolwork. The end result of all this? Well, as we all know, if the linguistic hardliners don't shift themselves off the beach before the tide comes in, they're going to drown in their own indignation. As the kids in China say: "886" (bye-bye). ®
Lester Haines, 10 Oct 2005
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Google Sun (Office) not a threat, says MS

The Microsoft exec in charge of Office has dismissed last week's tie-up between Sun and Google as illusion rather than substance. "That announcement didn't have anything," Chris Capossela, corporate vice president,Information Worker Product Management Group of Microsoft, told a crowd of Dutch reporters last week. "It had something about a toolbar and Java Runtime, and it alluded to a potential thing some time in the future. OpenOffice isn’t hard to get, just go to their website and download the software." "Of course we pay attention to what is going on elsewhere, but there was no substance to that announcement," Capossela said. "It is not that there is a distribution problem with OpenOffice. The product is right there. I didn't see anything that causes any change. Sun makes very expensive proprietary hardware, while Google offers free software for the masses. Is that a marriage made in heaven? I don't know." Last week it became apparent that Sun and Google are not creating an anti-Microsoft alliance, at least for now. The companies have agreed only to explore opportunities to promote and enhance Sun technologies, like the Java Runtime Environment and the OpenOffice productivity suite. Google co-founder Sergey Brin last week flatly denied that there are plans for a web-based productivity suite under the name Google Office. Microsoft has no plans for a web-based Office suite either. "We see Office as a front end to business processes," Capossela says. "There is an opportunity to take the unstructured world of MS Office, and the very structured world of ERP and CRM systems and integrate them more deeply. The best example is MS CRM, which we will release shortly as version 3.0. It is build directly into MS Outlook." He also referred to Office Communicator, an integrated communications client, which even federates AOL, MSN and Yahoo users. "You can turn an instant message into a video conversation, rather than using a separate video application. We also integrate it with your PBX system, and with Exchange and Outlook, so that when you are in a meeting, you can go to voice mail. We do a better job now of integrating these functions." Capossela added that Microsoft is making an effort to cut down the volume of email people are getting. "People often collaborate through email. They send each other attachments, which is a very inefficient way to work together on projects. We believe that innovations in the new Office 12 - such as Sharepoint and Groove - will ease the pain dramatically. Groove makes it easy to create team spaces, where people can work on projects." Groove, of course, is the provider of tools for ad-hoc workgroups, which was recently taken over by Microsoft. Founder Ray Ozzie is the man behind Lotus Notes. Is Microsoft perhaps moving away from email and conceptually going back to Lotus Notes? Well, yes and no. "The thing that Lotus Notes did not well at all was to solve inter-company problems," Capossela says. "With Notes you could easily build applications within the company, but it was extremely hard to expand that out. We now see that people are moving away from Notes, and start using Groove instead.” ®
Jan Libbenga, 10 Oct 2005

Wanted: new chairman of incumbent telco

BT is sniffing around for a new chairman, according to a report by The Observer. The monster telco has put out "informal feelers" for someone to replace Sir Christopher Bland who is due to step down from the company in 2007. However, reports the Sunday newspaper, if the right person could be found to take over sooner then Bland would be happy to leave next year. If the report is true, then anybody stepping into Bland's shoes would have to oversee the early development of Openreach, BT's new network access division. And his successor would also have to begin the task of finding a replacement for chief exec Ben Verwaayen, who could be on his way in 2008. A spokesman for BT declined to comment on the story but confirmed that "the chairman is due to leave BT in 2007". ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2005

SMS kettle: best invention ever?

Do you ever find yourself gasping for a cup of tea, but you just can't summon the strength to switch the kettle on? Does it all seem too much? Is all hope for the afternoon tea break fading away? Fear not, for PG Tips have invented the SMS kettle. You can now put the water on to boil at the flick of a switch.,..oh, sorry, touch of a button. Just text "switch on" to your kettle's phone number (there are so many things wrong with this...do you want your kettle to have a phone number?) and it will oblige. A spokeswoman for PG told Ananova: "It could revolutionise tea-time. Now there is no excuse for not putting the kettle on." But why exactly you would want this function is something of a mystery to us. After all, it isn't going to fetch your favourite mug from the cupboard, rummage around for the last teabag and combine all the relevant ingredients once the water is boiled, is it? It won't text you when its boiled, either. Nor, according to reports, does it have a whistle. If this is the best attack on the British Way of LifeTM the Lizard Army can muster, we can probably sleep easy for a little longer. The kettle, dubbed ReadyWhenUR, goes on sale next year. ® Bootnote From John Leyden, our Hot Beverage correspondant: "In the unlikely event England reach the World Cup semi-final next year, an SMS kettle may allow footy fans to turn on their kettle's slightly earlier than everyone else, thus marginally reducing a power surge that might otherwise strain the national grid. "That's if the SMS gets through faster than it takes to walk to the kitchen, of course. Other than this I can think of no useful application of the technology."
Lucy Sherriff, 10 Oct 2005
channel

Chip and PIN gets loved up

UK credit and debit card holders will have to remember their PIN in order to be sure of being able to pay by plastic after Valentine's Day 2006, the banking industry announced Monday. If shoppers don’t use a PIN, their Chip and PIN card may be declined and the option of signing will no longer be guaranteed except for cards that have not been upgraded to chip and PIN or for purchases outside the UK or by disabled people. Lost, stolen and counterfeit card fraud is down £36m (29 per cent) to £89.9m in the six months January to June 2005 compared to £126.6m in the same period last year. Backers of Chip and PIN say this drop is down to the introduction of Chip and PIN hence the decision to mandate the use of Chip and PIN (where available) from next February. Credit card fraud on the net isn't addressed by Chip and PIN, nor (in fairness) was it meant to be. Let's just not run away with the idea the Chip and PIN will eliminate all kinds of plastic fraud, even though it might help in certain cases. Sandra Quinn of the Chip and PIN Programme said more than nine out of ten people have a chip and PIN card. "Using Chip and PIN has already cut fraud – and now we want to close off even more opportunities for the fraudster," she said. "This announcement is targeted at the minority of consumers who have chip and PIN cards but are not yet using PIN. There are four months left to ensure they find out, remember and use their PINs." A recent poll of 2,000 consumers by RSGB Omnibus found that 87 per cent of chip and PIN cardholders find the system easy to use. In order to convert the few hold-outs the Chip and PIN Programme has launched a I ♥ PIN consumer awareness programme focusing on the 14 February changeover date. The scheme aims to encourage people to use their PIN more regularly (as if they had much of a choice). Let's hope the use of a construction borrowed from the unmemorable existential comedy I ♥ Huckabees does not doom this PIN promotion scheme to similar lacklustre reviews. ®
John Leyden, 10 Oct 2005

NO2ID: the big t-shirt restock

Cash'n'CarrionCash'n'Carrion Battling anti-ID-card outfit No2ID, recently seen causing a bit of a kerfuffle at a government ID card roadshow and getting themselves ejected from the Gateshead Metro Centre for their trouble, have just restocked all of their campaigning shirts in all sizes. Accordingly, there's no excuse for those readers opposed to Chaz "Database State" Clarke and his plan to ditch all civil liberties in favour of national security not to get kitted out in the latest togs. No2ID has two shirts on offer - the classic No2ID seen here (also available in white) and the Labour's Identity Tax alternative, all of which can be seen here. The 100 per cent cotton shirts are available in comrades' sizes from small to XXL and comradette-fit sizes from medium to XL. Of course, since No2ID is packed to the gunwales with pinko agitators and anarchist ne'er-do-wells, they can't just price the shirts at 15 quid and be done with it. Nope, this lot is going out at a bargain £11.05, or £12.98 inc VAT, which - despite the unorthodox priceology - is considerably less than you'd be charged for your voluntary identity card. Enough said. ®
Cash'n'Carrion, 10 Oct 2005

Governments make net grab - Podcast Exclusive

Who should have control of the Internet? Last month's United Nations meeting in Geneva saw the United States pitched against the EU as well as old foes China, Iran and Cuba in a fight for overall control of the Internet. Stalking the corridors in Geneva last month, Kieren McCarthy collared the great and good at the heart of the issue. Here then is his two-part report featuring clips from the actual session as well as exclusive interviews with the US Ambassador David Gross, UK/EU representative David Hendon, UN special advisor Nitin Desai, Brazilian Ambassador Antonino Porto and CEO of ICANN Paul Twomey. Part one covers the shock announcement by the EU for a new body to run the Internet, with American comment. Get it here. Part two, here, reflects on why others want US control removed and features the most in-depth report yet on how the EU sees the future of the Internet working.®
Team Register, 10 Oct 2005

Ballmer to bid for GOO61E licence plate?

Here's the perfect gift for the man who has everything, except Google: the GOO61E licence plate currently up for grabs on eBay for a cool £20,000. Described as the "only 'GOOGLE' Plate possible", it's being punted as "ideal for anyone associated with 'Google' or the computing industry". That'd be Steve "Ballistic" Ballmer we reckon. Anyone interested in chipping in for the whip-round we're having to buy GOO61E as a birthday present for Steve should send their contributions to the usual address. The current total stands at £5.71 - that being the entire contents of today's Vulture Central swear jar (mostly Lucy Sherriff: "Hey, my organic tofu and sea urchin salad hasn't got any f**king virgin-thigh-rubbed wheat grass extract in it, for f**k's sake...") - but we calculate that if Ballmer emptied the contents of his office swear jar, he could snap up the plate instantly and still have plenty left over to by some new office furniture. ® Bootnote Ok, that's enough. We promise no more references to Steve Ballmer's swearing and chair-chucking escapades. Except this one, and the three links below...
Lester Haines, 10 Oct 2005

Mobile phone insurance 'waste of money'

Forking out for mobile phone insurance could be a waste of money according to industry group BIBA. It's warned consumers that the small print on some policies means that insurers won't pay out even if phones are nicked. It also points out that with premiums of more than £100 a year, punters should consider pocketing the cash instead. Especially since standard handsets can be replaced for around £40. Of course, should punters have really expensive top-of-the-range gadgets, then insuring them may well be the safe option. Said Peter Staddon of the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA): "The main reason for insuring a mobile phone is to cover replacement costs if the phone is lost or stolen and the potential cost of calls on the phone when it is lost or stolen. "However many policies say that if the owner leaves their phone unattended in a public place and it is stolen or damaged then the provider can refuse replacement or payout. Some 2,000 handsets are stolen each day. But since most handsets are relatively cheap, insuring them for the wrong reason "can be a waste of money", said Staddon. ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2005

We'll index the world by 2310, says Google

Good news for people who like making lists: Google's Eric Schmidt says that it will take another three hundred years before all the information in the world is neatly indexed and searchable. Schmidt was speaking at the US' Association of National Advertisers' annual conference in Phoenix when a member of the audience asked how long it is likely to take before Google fulfilled its mission. "We did a math exercise and the answer was 300 years," CNet quotes Schmidt as saying. "The answer is it's going to be a very long time." He estimated that out of the five million terabytes of information (no, we don't know how he counted it all up, either) in the world, a mere 170 terabytes have been indexed so far. Schmidt did not elaborate on what kind of maths had been deployed to answer this riddle, so we can't say for sure whether the calculation only accounts for information that exists right now, or whether it includes new information that will be generated over the next three hundred years. Presumably, however, by the time these questions are closer to being resolved, we puny humans will have ascended to become beings of pure information, all happily indexing and searching ourselves into digital oblivion. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 10 Oct 2005

RIM refused rehearing in BlackBerry case

A US Federal Court of Appeals on Friday refused to rehear an appeal by RIM in respect of a dispute over the BlackBerry-maker's alleged infringements of patents relating to radio frequency wireless communications in email systems. RIM had been hoping that a 12-judge panel would rehear the case, after an August ruling by three judges of the same court found that the Canadian company had violated seven of the patents under consideration. The case will now return to the District Court for further arguments on the merits of some of the patent claims and a decision on whether to impose an injunction prohibiting RIM from selling the BlackBerry and any other products, software or services using the disputed technology, in the US. RIM plans to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, according to reports, arguing that the “case raises significant national and international issues warranting further appellate review." In particular, says RIM, US patent law should not apply in this case because the controlling BlackBerry software is found on computers in Canada – beyond the jurisdiction of US courts. Background RIM was found guilty of patent infringement in November 2002, when a jury awarded holding company NTP Inc damages of $53.7m and imposed an injunction – which was then stayed pending an appeal. The injunction was lifted by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington in August this year, after the court found that the BlackBerry did infringe on some of NTP’s patents, but that one of the lower court’s key definitions, relating to the term “originating processor," was too wide. The Court of Appeals therefore returned the case to the District Court for further arguments over the claims that may have been affected by the flawed definition. RIM appealed, asking that the full Appeals Court re-consider the case, but the Appeals Court on Friday refused to take the case further. Separately, the US Patent and Trademark Office last week cast doubt on all of the patents involved in the dispute, issuing a preliminary rejection of a key patent in the case. The USPTO has now cast doubt on all eight of the patents relevant to the dispute. RIM hopes that the USPTO rulings, which are independent of the litigation process, will boost its arguments before the District Court. Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 10 Oct 2005

IXEurope buys German datacentre

IXEurope has snapped up its third datacentre in Germany, the firm announced today. And although the datacentre specialist was happy to disclose that the centre is north of Frankfurt and cost "in excess of €14m", it refused to name the company that sold the site. Instead, IXEurope said that the deal includes "two existing financial services customers and one global internet company with total forward contract revenues of €17m over the next five years". The datacentre - which was originally opened in 2001 - has recently completed a "very substantial refit". ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2005

Supermicro begins 'Ask, Don't Tell' Opteron drive

AMD has dragged supplier Supermicro kicking and screaming out of the Opteron processor closet. The chip maker today put out a press release on Supermicro's behalf, announcing that three suppliers have picked up Supermicro's AMD-based gear. Long an Intel-only shop, Supermicro remains shy about its Opteron ambitions. So it took AMD itself to spread the news that ASI, Ingram Micro and Tech Data will all sell Supermicro's motherboards and related server products. Supermicro covertly began shipping Opteron-based server systems in May. ASI appeared in the AMD statement as well, touting a new line of Nspire motherboards and barebones servers. Ingram Micro and Tech Data already sell Supermicro-built gear with the Opteron chip. Last week, AMD named Supermicro in a filing related to its anti-trust lawsuit against Intel. Supermicro and Dell were once the lone, major Intel-only shops remaining. Dell is now the only vendor to accept that fate. Still, Supermicro doesn't do a ton to promote its Opteron gear. At the time of writing, not a single mention of Opteron or AMD appeared on Supermicro's web homepage versus many Intel mentions. In addition, Supermicro was quick to put out a press release touting its use of dual-core Intel server chips, but, as stated above, said nothing about today's supplier news. ®
Ashlee Vance, 10 Oct 2005
channel

Intel emerges from innovation sabbatical with a case of Paxville

Nothing says, "Please forgive me" like a Hot Carl. Er, sorry, a Carl Reiner. Yes, Intel pulled out the old Carl for its launch today of the "Paxville DP" processor - aka Intel's first real dual-core server chip - aka its long-awaited answer to AMD's Opteron. Intel picked the comic legend to appear at a San Francisco launch event because of his role as director of "The Man with Two Brains." Got the metaphor? (We'll pause while some of the slower readers catch up.) Good. Vendors like Intel only bring out the celebrity showpieces when they've done something really bad or think they've done something quite spectacular. Intel tried to pass the Reiner showing as more of the latter, but everyone knows it's totally the former. The world's largest chipmaker has sat by and watched for months as AMD sold dual-core Opteron chips to companies such as IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems. Intel originally planned to answer AMD's technology challenge in 2006 but then realized it couldn't take much more of the bad PR or lost sales and rushed this Paxville thing out the door today.So it dangled a Reiner in front of reporters, hoping they'd spend more time on him than the lateness of the chips. The chip arrives at 2.80GHz with an 800MHz bus and 2MB of Level 2 cache per core. The 64-bit bad boy also has hyperthreading to help certain software loads and demand based switching to improve performance per watt. Customers should see up to a 50 per cent performance boost when comparing systems running on this chip versus current dual-processor boxes, Intel said. In the next 60 days, Intel plans to deliver a comparable flavor of Paxville for larger, multiprocessor servers. Those chips, called the Xeon Processor 7000, will run up to 3GHz and use a new E8501 chipset. Don't forget the dual-core Montecito version of Itanium as well, which is still set to ship in the fourth quarter and hit volume in 2006. Despite being giddy over Paxville, Intel officials spent an awful lot of time talking up the "Bensley" dual-core Xeon DP refresh that will arrive in the first quarter of 2006. It's this chip line that many analysts peg as the real competitor to the high-performing Opteron. Intel also asked reporters to remind you guys that it has the low-power Sossaman server chip coming in the first half of 2006 and the Merom, Conroe and Woodcrest chips due out for notebooks, desktops and servers in the second half of 2006. Dual-cores everywhere, don't ya know. Carl Reiner did little to provide perspective on any of this. During a long-winded speech, he kept insisting that Intel should make potato chips as well as processors, thinking that would be really funny. We also heard him mention something about a hot Asian woman and a man who couldn't fart. In between all of this, Reiner managed to mispronounce lots of Intel products, find a way to get a reporter to plug AMD and generally drive anyone listening mental. Eventually, an Intel staffer had to pour ice on Hot Carl and give him the heave ho. With the release of Paxville for DP systems, AMD will now face its most major test in a long time. The vendor has been happy to take whatever market share it could during Intel's innovation sabbatical. Even if Opteron still outperforms Xeon, AMD has a head-to-head battle on its hands again, and that hasn't boded well for it historically. All of the major server makers, excluding Sun, have lined up to support Intel's new chip. What's new? ®
Ashlee Vance, 10 Oct 2005