12th > December > 2005 Archive

channel

Microsoft updates local search service

Microsoft has expanded its Windows Live Local service, adding enhancements to its local search tools. The new service is powered by the company's Virtual Earth database, adding a new locator and directions tool. Available at http://local.live.com, Windows Live Local uses maps and images from the Virtual Earth database, creating a mapping service that includes online local search functions, directions tools and a bird's eye view of the location. Users will now be able to search Windows Live Local for local businesses and map the results through the service, getting directions to the particular business or viewing its location on an aerial map. The original Virtual Earth service, launched by Microsoft in July, allows users to switch between maps and photos, and includes software to pinpoint your location using nearby Wi-Fi networks to triangulate your position. The new Live Local service replaces Virtual Earth. The Live service, launched in November, comprises a suite of new online tools, including Windows Live Messenger, which integrates e-mail, instant messaging, file-sharing, photo-sharing and VoIP. Live Local includes new 45-degree views of certain US cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Las Vegas. The new viewpoint was gathered by taking images from low-flying planes, and then using road and satellite maps to create panoramic images. However, the service has yet to include European cities, so for the time being Irish users will have to be content with a bird's eye view of their holiday destinations. The new service is a challenge to Yahoo and Google, both of which have their own local services. Yahoo was first out of the gate with the addition of maps to its local search, followed by Google in March. Local search has become a buzz-word in the online business, with more and more companies turning to it as they realise its potential benefits. With an increasing number of people relying on the internet to search for information on products, local search can prove surprisingly lucrative for businesses who incorporate it into their marketing strategy. The mapping services take it one step further, bringing consumers right to the storefront. Copyright © 2005, ENN
ElectricNews.net, 12 Dec 2005

Branson ready to break Virgin Mobile/NTL stalemate

NTL's take-over of Virgin Mobile could be back on track again even though the cellco has "unanimously" rejected the cableco's approach. Last week Virgin Mobile rejected NTL's £817m bid for the business saying it wasn't enough. On Friday NTL responded saying £817m was a fair price representing "better value for all Virgin Mobile shareholders" giving the impression that the deal was deadlocked. But the stalemate looks likely to be broken by Sir Richard Branson, who owns 72 per cent of the cellco. The FT reports that Branson is prepared to take a lower price for his share of the business giving NTL more room to up the amount Virgin Mobile's minority shareholders will receive. The upshot is that NTL is unlikely to pay much more for the business than it's original offer and Virgin Mobile's minority shareholders get the higher price they've been holding out for. And Branson? Well, the paper reports that he is angling for increased licence fee payments for NTL which plans to rebrand under the Virgin livery. And he still gets a share of a massive media business - with some nine million punters that offers TV, phone, broadband and mobile telephony - that is better placed to rival satellite broadcaster Sky. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Dec 2005
globalisation

Tibco unleashes the power of SOA

Except in press release land, the words "unleashed" and SOA – (OK so it is an acronym)- are rarely seen in the same sentence. But conjoined they are in the announcement for Tibco’s latest product "unleashed", Portal Builder 5. This offers a way to build a service-oriented architecture (SOA) for “information assets” using a unified presentation layer, namely a web portal. Now for some company pitch: "PortalBuilder 5 ... consumes services and easily integrates non-SOA applications and content to enable composite applications that efficiently deliver targeted, user-centric views to the right people at the right time." Cost? $200,000 per production server. More press release, more spec here. Last week, Piper Jaffrey, the US investment bank published a bullish note on Tibco. It maintained an “outperform” rating on the company, citing the "company's current upside potential and the possibility of a takeover offer", Forbes.com reports. ®
Team Register, 12 Dec 2005

HP iPaq handset hyped on web

A number of blurry pictures have popped up on the web suggesting HP is about to enter the smart-phone market. The handset appears to be a rebadged version of an HTC phone - some websites have suggested 'Feeler', but that shipped in 2004. It's more likely to be HTC's 'Tornado', or a version of it, as this has yet to go on sale.
Tony Smith, 12 Dec 2005

NTP rejects RIM settlement offer

NTP has described a revised settlement offer made by legal rival Research in Motion (RIM) as "unacceptable" and told the world the two companies are not talking to each other. So said NTP co-founder Don Stout this past Friday, the Reuters news agency reports. According to Stout, RIM put its offer in writing on Thursday. "They have responded yesterday in a manner which is unacceptable so we're not negotiating," Stout said.
Tony Smith, 12 Dec 2005
channel

Northgate, Dixons rocked by oil depot blast

The HQ of IT services outfit Northgate Information Solutions has been seriously damaged following yesterday's massive blast at the Buncefield oil depot in Hemel Hempstead. Four Northgate employees were on-site at the time of the explosion which happened shortly after 6.00am Sunday morning, blowing out windows for miles around and sending a massive plume of black acrid smoke into the air. All four are safe. Three of the four were taken to hospital but have since been discharged. In a statement the IT company, which provides software and IT services for HR and public sector groups, said: "The fabric of the building and the fixtures and equipment inside have been badly damaged. "The back-up systems that were in place have also been rendered inoperable. Northgate's ability to service its customers has therefore been temporarily affected. "As a result, its well developed and previously rehearsed business continuity plan has been initiated. This will allow Northgate to restore its services using remote data centres and the other offices that Northgate has around the country." Elsewhere, electronics retailer DSG International - which trades as Dixons, Currys and PC World - has also closed its Hemel Hempstead HQ following yesterday's blast. It reports that all staff are safe and that there has been "no disruption to trading" with "all stores and business systems operational". "DSGi runs its central UK administrative functions from offices adjacent to the Hemel Hempstead oil refinery. These offices have been closed on the instructions of the authorities and under the company's contingency plans central business functions are being run from alternative sites," it said in a statement. 3Com - the voice and data networking outfit - also has its European HQ in Hemel Hempstead and has "no report of any employee casualties or injuries". It has already activated back-up systems and "anticipates minimal impact on its customers as it works to restore full business operations". Some 300 people work at the site, which is just a quarter of a mile from the oil depot. Fashion e-tailer ASOS's warehouse was damaged by the fire, the company said today. Trading in ASOS's shares has been suspended and the company has suspended its website until it ascertains the extent of the damage. 24 hours after the initial explosions fire crews have now been given the thumbs up to start tackling the giant inferno. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Dec 2005
channel

Small security bug in Firefox, users unscathed

Mozilla has warned of a flaw in the latest version of its open source web browser software, Firefox 1.5. The security bug is liable to cause a browser to freeze up under certain conditions but all indications are that it fails to expose systems to more invasive hacker attacks. The medium to low risk vulnerability is the first to affect Firefox 1.5 and comes days after the release of the much heralded update. The flaw stems from errors in processing history information. That means a surfer who strays onto a maliciously constructed website may get a Firefox history file filed with junk. After this Firefox will crash every time the browser is started up until a user removes the "history.dat" file. The weakness has been confirmed in Firefox version 1.5. Advice from Mozilla on dealing with the issue can be found here. Users may want to configure Firefox to clear history information when closing the browser. This workaround, which isn't ideal because it affects functionality, is explained in an advisory by Secunia here. ®
John Leyden, 12 Dec 2005

Music downloader loses appeal

The US Court of Appeals has rejected a Chicago woman's claim that she only downloaded music tracks to see whether she wanted to buy them. The Court told Cecilia Gonzalez, 29, she must pay the $22,500 damages won by the music industry at an earlier District Court hearing. At her appeal, Gonzalez' lawyers argued that her activities were permitted by copyright law. However, the court rejected such claims on the grounds that she had kept the downloaded copies of songs she did not intend to buy.
Tony Smith, 12 Dec 2005
channel

IT Suppliers: who rocks and who sucks?

Reg Reader StudiesReg Reader Studies Yup, it's that time of the month once again when we ask you - our beloved and IT-savvy readership - for your two bits' worth on a matter of import. However, this time around we have a real treat: your chance to really give it some stick about IT suppliers who really have their act together and those who've totally lost the plot. Oh yes indeed. Unlike our standard survey format, you can express yourself freely on this one, so just go for it. Colourful language and whatever else it takes to vent your spleen is more than welcome - but remember we're after the positive stuff too. You can highlight up to three suppliers of your choice (no pre-defined list) and tell us whether you are impressed or unimpressed and why. At the end, we'll tally everything up, look for recurring comments and themes, and report back to you, picking some of the more creative quotes - language permitting obviously. Feeling frisky? Go to it right here. ®
Team Register, 12 Dec 2005
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Avecho Group in administration

Directors of secretive anti-virus vendor Avecho Group Ltd put the firm into administration on 2 December, barely three years since the business was founded. The Essex-based firm had caused a stir by claiming its email virus-checking system was 100 per cent proof. But its methods where a closely guarded secret. A spokesperson for Stephen Cork, the official administrator of Avecho at Smith & Williamson, confirmed that the security software vendor had gone into administration on 2 December. The directors filed their administration report with Companies House on 8 December. It is expected to be published this week. Bob Tarzey of Quocirca, one of few industry analysts who took an interest in Avecho, believed its secrecy might have had something to do with its demise. "People don't like magic. They want to know how it works. If [someone] says, 'trust me, I'm a salesman,' then you don't trust them," said Tarzey. Reports have suggested Avecho has no patents for its technology and used this to explain the firm's secrecy. Avecho's founders have also claimed (in 2003) that though they have patents, they do not have the resources to defend their intellectual property in court. Yet a former strategic advisor to the firm said that as late as December last year it was still official policy not to file for patents because it did not have the money to defend them. It had been reviewing the policy, however, as its financial fortunes were allegedly looking up. People claiming to be Avecho employees believe there are intellectual assets that can be sold by the administrators. On Friday they issued a statement in the hope of drawing the attention of any potential buyers. They remained anonymous because they were "frightened". "[We] still have claims against Avecho for unpaid salaries, notice pay, expenses and so on. We must therefore declare a vested interest in seeing the best value achieved for Avecho in administration, so that these and many trade debts can be paid off," they said. A former spokesperson for Avecho claimed it had over 500 SME customers who bought its software as a managed service. As of Friday the service appeared to be uninterrupted.®
Mark Ballard, 12 Dec 2005

Philips launches DVB-H chip at US market

Royal Philips Electronics today introduced a DVB-H chipset that enables mobile handhelds to receive digital TV broadcasting over the air. The chipset is specifically designed for the network Crown Castle Mobile Media is building in the US. Crown Castle has acquired terrestrial rights to 5 megahertz of L band spectrum and is expected to wholesale the network to cellular network operators in 2006. The company will show its technology at the coming Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. A competing technology to DVB-H is already available in some Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea. In Europe most mobile operators are still experimenting with the standard. Although both Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics have announced plans to launch DVB-H-based TV-on-mobile chips, Philips is still the only vendor with a single package solution. The only other product on the market is a combined TV tuner from Freescale and DVB-H demodulator from France-based DiBcom.®
Jan Libbenga, 12 Dec 2005

World Cup ticket scramble kicks off - again

The last major phase of World Cup ticket sales opens on Monday (12 December), with 250,000 seats up for grabs. Previous sales rounds have been massively oversubscribed (only one in five applicants got tickets in the first sale, where 812,000 seats were sold) and with the draw for matches now complete the scramble for tickets is likely to be even more intense. Applicants have until the end of the third sales phase on 15 January to apply via FIFAworldcup.com for the latest tranche of tickets. As with the first sales period, the tickets will be distributed after a ballot. The timing of applications made before the deadline will have no bearing on the outcome, organisers promise. "The final draw on 9 December in Leipzig saw the match schedule finalised and the individual ties drawn for the various stadia. Fans from around the world now have a chance to order specific tickets. Since we also assume that demand will far outweigh the available allocation of tickets, we will perform a ballot on 31 January 2006 of all orders received. There is no fairer way of distributing the tickets than by drawing lots," explains organising committee vice president Horst R. Schmidt. Except for the opening match, tickets will be available for all games, including Germany’s games, the semi-finals and final. Competition for tickets for the most attractive ties is likely to be intense. Compared with the first two sales periods, in which more than 80 per cent of orders came from Europe, with 90 per cent of those from Germany, organisers expect a rise in orders from outside the host country. Prices run from € 40 (£25) for the cheapest seats at group games to € 600 (£400) for the best seats at the World Cup final on July 9. Around 100,000 tickets in the third sales period have come from the hospitality program. Added to these are returns from sponsors as well as national associations from the first two sales periods. Further blocks have also been released from safety reserve seats. Unsold tickets will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis from February 15. A limited number of returned tickets will be available in a last-hope phase running from May 1 until the end of the competition on July 9. Separately, individual countries will get an allocation of around 8 per cent of tickets available to distribute among fans. Many England fans can be expected to travel without tickets. In preparation for next year's festival of football, the British Embassy in Berlin has launched its dedicated world cup site here. The website contains up to date information including locations for next year's World Cup games, information on German football culture and top tips on do's and don'ts for fans and travelers. ®
John Leyden, 12 Dec 2005
cloud

Computacenter MBO team says no new bid

The leaders of an MBO bid for Computacenter have rejected reports they are considering raising their bid for the struggling reseller. Sunday newspaper The Business reported yesterday that a group led by Computacenter’s founders Peter Ogden and Philip Hulme were preparing to raise their offer for the company to 270p to 275p per share, after their initial 255p bid was rejected by a committee of independent shareholders. However, Reuters reports that a spokesman for the directors have denied they plan to raise their bid. The spokesmen said the two sides were still talking, but that “current business” makes it difficult to justify a bigger offer. Computacenter has been forced to issue a string of profit warnings this year. Ogden and Hulme’s group also includes current senior executives from Computacenter.®
Team Register, 12 Dec 2005

Intel Viiv, 'Centrino 3' launch dates leak

Intel key Q1 2006 product launches will come on 6 and 9 January, respectively, it has been claimed. First comes the debut of 'Yonah', the 65nm dual-core Pentium M processor, to be launched alongside the next incarnation of Intel's Centrino platform. So claim "a few Intel partners", cited by CoolTechZone. The following Monday will see Intel launch its Viiv home media centre platform, according to moles from with Taiwan's hardware manufacturer community by way of a DigiTimes report.
Tony Smith, 12 Dec 2005
channel

Samsung serves up 8GB memory modules

Samsung has built an 8GB fully buffered memory module for servers - said to be the highest capacity DIMM designed for server use. The monster module packs in 32 80nm 2Gb DDR 2 SDRAM devices - 16 on each side - along with the Advanced Memory Buffer (AMB) chip that allows the FB-DIMMs to be daisy-chained together across a two-way, point-to-point serial bus developed by Intel. All instructions sent to a given FB-DIMM's memory chips to read or write data are stored and then forwarded by each DIMM ahead of it in the chain. The memory addresses and the clock timings are buffered too. Data is sent back and forth in packets, co-ordinated by the DIMMs' AMB chips, eliminating errors and signal interference. Samsung didn't say when the 8GB modules would go on sale. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Dec 2005

Richer Sounds site downed by oil depot blaze

The web site of retailer Richer Sounds - which flogs sound systems, amps, home cinema systems and the like - has been floored following the fire at the Buncefield fuel depot in Hemel Hempstead. Richer Sounds' site is hosted by Northgate Information Solutions whose buildings adjacent to the oil depot have been seriously damaged by the blast. As a result, Richer Sounds' site is down along with some IT systems at the firm including email. A spokeswoman for the retailer told El Reg: "Richer Sounds' web site is temporarily off line due to the Buncefield fuel depot explosion. "Northgate Information Solutions Data Centre, which hosts our network, is unfortunately situated next to the scene of this major incident. "Richer Sounds are doing everything we can to restore the web site and network, and hope to be operational as soon as humanly possible." Although the web site has been hit, its 44 stores across the country are open for business although some processes are having to be done manually, she said. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Dec 2005

There's no Wikipedia entry for 'moral responsibility'

No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood - Despair.com
Andrew Orlowski, 12 Dec 2005

Asus MyPal A636 GPS PDA

ReviewReview Low-end GPS satellite navigation systems fall into two categories: PDAs with bundled route-planning kit, and dedicated navigation devices. Asus' MyPal A636 falls between the two: it's a Windows Mobile 5.0 device, incorporating Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so it has all the hallmarks of an up-to-date PDA. But the hardware has clearly been designed with GPS in mind rather than accessing personal information, so it looks like a dedicated unit.
Tony Smith, 12 Dec 2005

AT&T strikes new deal with 11k workers

US telco AT&T Inc. looks to have headed off strike action by more than 11,000 workers following a "tentative agreement" with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). An existing deal between the unions and AT&T was due to expire at the weekend amid concerns that staff might lose out on certain health benefits. Had an agreement not been reached the unions were ready to take industrial action. However, agreement was reached at the eleventh hour. As part of the deal, workers are to get annual pay rises over the next four years and increased pension contributions plus all-important safeguards on healthcare. The deal still needs the approval of members but Ralph Maly, CWA VP, has already described the settlement as "fair and equitable". Last month SBC Communications completed its $16bn merger with AT&T Corp, announced in January, to create an enlarged telco AT&T Inc. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Dec 2005

New institute eyes 4G and beyond

A new multi-million euro Irish institute is aiming to help develop new wireless technologies, including the next generation of mobile phones. The Institute of Microelectronics and Wireless Systems, launched by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, will carry out research into wireless technologies and microelectronics, such as RFID tags and motes (self-contained sensor devices). While many Irish people are busy getting to grips with 3G technology, the institute will be developing 4G phones, which will be able to adapt to any standard or band throughout the world. Director of the Institute, Dr Ronan Farrell, explained that the new organisation will have a practical role, helping companies develop products in the wireless and microelectronics arena. "We build real systems, which is unique in Ireland," Dr Farrell told ElectricNews.net. "We are exploring the technology and prototyping the radio systems we are inventing." Dr Farrell explained that most of the work carried out at the institute will be related to the industry in some way, adding that it was relevant to companies. The centre also plans to help to reduce costs associated with the development of new products, and costs connected with maintaining the systems. Although the emphasis is on developing the technology, the institute will also look at the software that works with the prototypes. And the new organisation also plans to have its experts work on the design of microchips. The institute will have 26 researchers on board, with eight senior researchers and 18 post graduate students in its state-of-the-art facilities. It is being funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Enterprise Ireland with EUR4.5 million in grants over the next four years, in addition to working with a number of Dublin-based companies. The institute has already formed some key partnerships with smaller firms and large enterprises, including an alliance with Bell Labs. There are currently 15 research projects taking place; some of the "headline" projects include the next generation of mobile phones and reconfigurable radio, which are single radios that can capture a range of bands. Copyright © 2005, ENN
ElectricNews.net, 12 Dec 2005

Apple readies '13.3in widescreen Intel iBook'

Another day, another Intel-based Mac launch progress rumour. The latest points to a widescreen iBook, to surface "early next year". So suggest sources cited by Apple-watching website Think Secret. Their take on the situation: Apple will deliver a widescreen iBook with a 13.3in, 1280 x 720 display.
Tony Smith, 12 Dec 2005

EasyGroup refused entry to easyhotel.ch

EasyGroup has lost an attempt to eject the resident of easyhotel.ch, the director of a Swiss technology firm who was using the domain name to promote his firm's services to Swiss hotels. EasyGroup was accused of trying to monopolise the word "easy". EasyGroup IP Licensing Ltd, the brand police for Stelios Haji-Ioannou's easyGroup empire, argued that the name infringes its easyHotel trade marks. It took action before the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), arguing that Pascal de Vries of Basel-based Dexion AG should be stripped of the domain name. It cited trade mark and unfair competition laws to support its claim. De Vries registered easyhotel.ch in June 2005. His company applied for the Swiss trade mark EASYHOTEL the same month in classes relevant to telecoms and IT services. There are 45 trade mark classes in total, and easyGroup said it had applied for the same mark in the class relevant to hotel accommodation. But easyGroup had not secured a trade mark registration – and Swiss trade mark law does not recognise rights in pending applications. Accordingly, easyGroup failed to convince the panellist that it has any rights in Switzerland over the marks EASY HOTEL and EASYHOTEL. Even if it had established trade mark rights, easyGroup's claim was doomed because De Vries convinced the panellist that he was acting in good faith when he registered the domain name. At the time, easyhotel was not a well-known trade mark in Switzerland and De Vries said he did not know that an easyHotel was opening in Basel. The panellist also felt that confusion among customers was unlikely, given the different nature of the services on offer and the appearance of Dexion AG's website – which makes no mention of easyGroup and does not use its distinctive orange and white colouring. De Vries accused easyGroup of trying to monopolise the name "easy" in the same way as a cybersquatter, by registering a high number of "easy" domain names without using them. He also criticised easyGroup for not trying to resolve the matter amicably. In another WIPO decision announced today, easyGroup had more success: it won a transfer of the domain name easyhote.com from an apparent typo-squatter in the Republic of Korea. See: Easyhotel.ch decision Easyhotel.ch website Easyhote.com decision Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 12 Dec 2005
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Hackers target Christian charity

The Charity Commission has warned charities to protect themselves against internet risks after hackers attacked the online security systems of a Christian charity, Aid to the Church in Need, and stole details of over 2,000 online donors. In some cases, the fraudsters have used these details to contact benefactors directly, trying to extract more money. The charity closed its website temporarily, warned those affected and reported the breach to the police. "We are all in a state of shock,” said Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director at Aid to the Church in Need UK. “Apart from the obvious distress to benefactors, we're concerned that our charity identity has been stolen. However it's the beneficiaries, those who need the money the most, who will ultimately suffer. I urge all charities to regularly review their website security and make sure all software is up-to-date." According to Andrew Hind, Chief Executive at the Commission: "This charity already used a secure encrypted connection to transfer and store data and the organisation's website should have been safe. However it's a sad fact of modern times that charities, like businesses, have to make sure their websites are protected. All charities need to regularly review website security and make sure they stay ahead of the hackers and fraudsters." See: Department of Trade and Industry guidance on web security Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 12 Dec 2005

This SMS will self-destruct in 40 seconds

A UK developer has come up with a "self-destruct" text messaging service it hopes will prove a hit with both businessmen dealing with sensitive information and celebrity love cheats. StealthText from Staellium UK is positioned as a means to give a sender control over text messages they send instead of relying on a recipient to delete it, something Rebecca Loos conspicuously failed to do with messages from David Beckham, resulting in much embarrassment for the metrosexual football icon last year. StealthText deletes SMS messages 40 seconds after they are read, a technology Staellium compares to the destruction of instructions played by agents in the Mission Impossible TV series and movies. Users of the service need to have a WAP-enabled mobile phone though only those sending texts need to download a StealthText applet. Message bundles cost £5 for 10 secure messages and the service is only available to users of UK SIM cards. Users can sign-up by texting STEALTH to 80880. Once a message has been sent, the recipient receives a text notification showing the sender’s name and providing a link to the message. Once opened, the message will disappear after around 40 seconds. To comply with legal requirements, even after a message is deleted from the recipient's phone, the 'paper trail' and log stays on a secure server. To prevent abuse, the recipient has no access to the server. Recipients can reply with StealthTexts (after signing up to the service themselves), creating a private channel of two-way communication. Carole Barnum, chief exec and co-founder of Staellium UK comments, "The ability to send a self-destruct message has massive benefits for people from all walks of life, from everyday mobile users, through to celebrities and business people, but this is just the start. In spring 2006 we will be launching new services such as self-destruct email, voice and picture messages, so ultimately no one will ever have to worry about their messages or pictures ending up in the wrong hands ever again." Staellium UK plans to make its StealthText service available across Europe, in the US and Asia early next year. ®
John Leyden, 12 Dec 2005

Ajax In Action

Book reviewBook review There's no denying the Ajax buzz at the moment. All of a sudden the future of programming, the next generation web and just about everything in between are going to be down to the Ajax combination of JavaScript, DOM, XML, CSS and backend datastores. Who would have thought it that JavaScript was going to save the world? And for those who are wondering what the fuss is about, 'Ajax In Action' is an ideal initiation and introduction to this brave new world.
Dr Pan Pantziarka, 12 Dec 2005
channel

Insight glitch hangs up customers' credit cards

A glitch in Insight UK's accounting system has charged customers multiple times for the same order and eaten up their credit limits in the run up to Christmas. The reseller played down the error, saying that some of its customers had merely had orders authorised more than once. But credit card authorisations are treated as completed orders, according to credit card firms. The director of an Insight customer said the problem had caused his credit card to be maxed out. Insight kept re-authorising an order he placed with them using a credit card last Wednesday, he said. He only found out about it after Insight's system automatically sent him a message to say he did not have insufficient funds in his account to complete a transaction. It appeared that Insight's glitch had repeated the order until it had used up all his available funds. His bank confirmed his suspicions, he said. The source, who did not want to be named because he still wanted to do business with Insight, said the supplier's finance team told him the problem had affected all customers who bought goods from Insight using a credit or debit card from Wednesday through Thursday lunchtime last week. "Thousands of customers have credit card and bank accounts frozen and at Christmas," he said. "I've been appalled by the way we have been treated," he added. Stuart Fenton, Insight UK managing director, said: "What you have described as the problem would be an inaccurate interpretation of what happened." He would comment no further, bar clarifying that the problem had nothing to do with Insight UK's migration to Maximus, the SAP system that its US parent already switched to in 2004. The migration will occur late in 2006, he said. Insight later issued a statement in which it denied any customers had been charged more than once for the same order. "Although a minor systems glitch occurred on Tuesday night, this did no more than result in an error message in electronic communications with some merchant providers," said the statement. However, it went on: "A few customers had funds authorised on their cards more than once, but the funds were never debited and the affected transactions are being processed as normal." A spokesman for MBNA said that banking systems completed authorisations as complete orders. A customer who reported an erroneous authorisation early could have his credit balance returned to normal after completing an official disclaimer form and returning it to the provider, he added.®
Mark Ballard, 12 Dec 2005

Sesame Software: going against the flow

CommentComment Is the accepted way of doing things always the best way to do things? Intuitively, one would have to answer 'no' to that question. One company that certainly thinks so is Sesame Software. Sesame offers two products: 'Relational Junction for Salesforce' and 'Relational Junction ETL Manager'. Neither of these products fits the common mould but both are worth serious consideration. To start with the ETL (extract, transform and load) product first, the most immediate and obvious difference between this product and every other offering you have seen for a very long time is that it does not have a drag-and-drop, palette-based environment. Why not? Because the product is targeted at experienced SQL programmers. Do such people need drag-and-drop? Or is a tabular, automated environment enough? There is certainly a good argument to be made in favour of the latter, particularly given the relative price point of Relational Junction ETL Manager. Of course, it means that the interface is not much use for sharing information with end users but then, how many data movement projects actually require such interaction? Certainly some do but many do not. And even where such collaboration is required, is it actually necessary to have that functionality built in to the system, or could you do it just as easily with Visio? Probably the best way to describe Relational Junction ETL Manager is as a lean, mean machine. It doesn't have all the sorts of bells and whistles that some other tools do (and which you hardly ever use) it just focuses on doing the basics as well as possible. Put simply, the idea behind the product is that if you can do it in SQL then you can do it in Relational Junction ETL Manager. From an architectural perspective, metadata is stored in XML files so no database is required and you can execute transforms on the source, target or an intermediate platform, as required. Source and target support, however, is relatively limited, to Oracle, DB2, SQL Server, MySQL, Sybase and XML files (for input); though the company says that it can deliver a new integration within a week. It is currently planning support for Foxpro (for a customer) and CSV files. It is also planning to add further validation functions to the software as these are relatively limited at present. Relational Junction for Salesforce is a tool designed to support the population and use of Salesforce.com. Again, Sesame has not taken the conventional approach. Rather than provide a spreadsheet-based solution which will have limited scalability, in this case it creates a database (it works with Oracle, SQLServer, MySQL, and Sybase) that mirrors your Salesforce.com data and then provides replication to keep the two synchronised. There is a case of contrarianism in a wide variety of fields, not least when investing in the stock market. When it comes to software tools, sticking to what you believe (not being seduced by hype) and targeting your products at specific users has a lot to commend it. Copyright © 2005, IT-Analysis.com
Philip Howard, 12 Dec 2005

Linux zealots proud to be as miserable as planes

Stern responseStern response What's the difference between an open source zealot and a 747?
Otto Z. Stern, 12 Dec 2005
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Sony BMG 'diligently re-evaluates' CD anti-piracy tech

Music label Sony BMG is to reconsider its approach to copy protection technology following weeks of negative publicity over flaws with its anti-piracy software. Thomas Hesse, head of Sony BMG's global digital business, said the firm planed to "diligently re-evaluate" how it protects music on CDs, the BBC reports. Hesse declined to say where this re-evaluation might go beyond saying the company was taking the issue very seriously. The concession to common sense follows widespread criticism over Sony BMG's flawed approach to Digital Rights Management technology. Phase one of this long-running debacle began after security researchers discovered XCP anti-piracy software that shipped with some Sony BMG's music CDs masked its presence and introduced a vulnerability which hackers and virus writers began to target. Under pressure, Sony was forced to recall discs loaded with the technology and create an exchange program for consumers. Sony came in for more criticism last week after it emerged that SunComm's MediaMax anti-piracy software used as an alternative to First4Internet's XCP program on Sony BMG CDs shipped in the US and Canada also created a security risk. The first version of the patch released to address SunnComm MediaMax version 5 software had a flaw of its own. Security researchers are currently reviewing a second patch. ®
John Leyden, 12 Dec 2005

Replacing 'rip and replace'

CommentComment There is a major problem with building an agile business model – agility demands the ability to change and adapt the IT systems not just rapidly, but also safely. That means being able to upgrade hardware and software resources with ease, and more importantly, without damaging IT’s primary job - running the existing business processes efficiently and reliably. Sadly, IT folklore is littered with stories of companies brought to their knees by major upgrades that have gone horribly wrong. Then there are the stories, quite often seeming to involve major Government departments, of systems that never quite make it through to production status because it has not proved possible to keep pace with the rate at which the specification and operational demands have changed. Mind the gap Traditionally, the word "upgrade" has meant a time of "rip and replace" in the IT Department. As individual servers have become too slow or applications and operating systems too limited in capability users have faced the traumas associated with the replacement process. Though there is usually a period of running applications and servers in parallel to shake down obvious problems, these handovers are inevitably tricky and full of risk to the business. It is often the case that the new systems only get to handle the full workload after the handover, and it is not unknown for some companies to fall down the gap that they discover, too late, still exists between old and new environments. Equally traditionally, the major dislocations that upgrading brings means that companies have tried hard to limit the number of times they attempt it. But if creating an agile business is the target then "upgrading" has to become an integral part of the IT department’s culture, for it will become an ongoing process. It must, therefore, become a process that is easy to manage and implement, and one that can be conducted reliably while maintaining full integrity for both the systems infrastructure and the business processes. Developments in server platforms, and in particular hardware platforms, have now made the upgrade process a great deal easier and far less traumatic. Rack-based Blade Servers, for example, make it possible to upgrade or scale-up a server environment without any downtime to the service that is provided to users. The Blade approach has at its heart, a standardised architecture and form factor. The two leading architectures these days come from IBM and HP, both of which have opened up the design to third parties. This means that companies making specialist servers or devices can piggyback on the architecture and all its standardised interconnections and interfaces. In this way, third party products simply slot in to the rack and are automatically interfaced into the infrastructure in a managed way that does not interrupt any other operations running at the time. Don't rip, flip With the recent announcement by HP of a Blade Server running the company’s HP-UX flavour of Unix on Intel’s Itanium processor, users now have before them two hardware infrastructure families that can service most of the processing requirements large enterprises will require. Both now have Blade Servers ranging from single x86-based processors through to the most powerful processor lines they offer – HP with Itanium and IBM with its Power 5 Risc chips – plus a growing range of specialist servers from third parties such as communications servers from Cisco and Nortel. This approach highlights a new trend in the process of upgrading or upscaling the hardware environment. "Rip and replace" is itself being replaced by a process of osmosis. Instead of replacing a complete system, the task can be undertaken in simple stages, a Blade at a time if necessary. Each addition or change can be tested and validated without bringing the rest of the system to a halt. The far finer granularity of growth in the infrastructure also maps more closely to the real needs of an agile business to change, adapt or add only those business processes that are required to meet business needs. The two most important aspects of this are that these changes can be made not only rapidly and safely but also incrementally. Servers – and these days some significantly powerful ones – can be added to a rack with their arrival and integration into the infrastructure resource pool fully and safely managed. For the agile business, this means that a single business process can be added or upgraded as an entity and in a timely fashion, rather than having to wait along with a list of other modifications, updates and upgrades until it is large enough to warrant the risks of pulling the whole system down.®
Martin Banks, 12 Dec 2005
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Intel's CSI to outperform AMD's Hypertransport

Intel has an answer for AMD's Hypertransport and thinks its technology stacks up pretty well. In fact, Intel is telling customers that it has AMD beat, starting in 2008. Intel's CSI high-speed serial interconnect was first meant to appear in a Xeon chip code-named Whitefield. That processor, however, met an untimely death as Intel India mucked up the CSI implementation and forced Intel to rework its plans. As of last check, Intel will now introduce CSI in the Tukwila version of Itanium due out in 2008. Our sources indicate that an inexperienced Indian staff and not the technology itself was to blame for the Whitefield CSI miss. Intel has been telling customers that CSI will deliver all of the benefits of Hypertransport. And it will be found on chips with integrated memory controllers, putting Intel back on par with AMD. But Intel isn't shooting for par. It's looking to reclaim the performance lead from AMD and has told one of its largest customers that CSI "has a lot lower latency" than Hypertransport. Still, the customer expects Xeon versus Opteron performance to end up pretty even come 2008. One of the biggest perks about CSI for Itanium and Xeon backers is that it will allow them to slot either processor in the same server. This should save the brave few Itanic backers on system development costs and finally bring Itanium prices down. Intel won't publicly say for sure, but it now looks like it will have a CSI-ready Xeon by 2008 that will complement Tukwila. At least that's what its telling customers on the down low. ®
Ashlee Vance, 12 Dec 2005

A Quirky Dinner

Met Mark Quirk of Microsoft today for lunch today. Good to remind oneself that there are many good technicians at MS who aren't just marketroids - and that in the triumvirate of sales, macketing and engineerin, all three are important if everyone is going to get paid. But I'd hope that the marketing people always pass their brochures past the engineers before publishing them (and that the engineers have the veto)! How's that for optimism? A couple of possible ideas for Reg Developer came out of this.
David Norfolk, 12 Dec 2005