14th > February > 2006 Archive
More than 40 per cent of heart attacks go undiagnosed when they occur, Dutch researchers have discovered. The work, published in the European Heart Journal, found rates of unrecognised attacks are higher for women than men, with over half of female myocardial infarctions slipping under the radar. And then just slipping under, presumably. Report co-author Dr Eric Boersma of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam said the explanation for the gender discrepancy was not straightforward. Women feel different symptoms to men – the typical shooting pains down the arms may not present themselves, with shoulder or stomach pains felt instead. He added: "It is also a problem that women and their doctors have traditionally worried more about death from breast and gynaecological cancer, than from heart disease." The authors are recommending greater use of ECG tests for those in at-risk groups. The news comes hot on the heels of research last week which revealed 7 per cent of men in Ireland experiencing a heart attack drive themselves to hospital. ®
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will have to wait a little bit longer for his personal supercomputer. The main company driving such a product - Orion Multisystems - has shut down, The Register can confirm. Orion stood as one of the more interesting Silicon Valley hardware start-ups. It pioneered the market for compact, deskside clusters that give engineers and scientists direct access to supercomputer levels of horsepower. Many saw this approach as an updated take on the computing revolution caused by Sun Microsystems's first workstation some 25 years ago. Chairman Bill was so impressed with the idea that he called for an Orion-style box under every desk at last year's Supercomputing conference. "What we see as a key trend here is that we will have supercomputers of all sizes, including ones that will cost less than $10,000 and be able to sit at your desk or in a department," Gates said. Many of the executives at Orion came from Transmeta, and the company insisted on sticking with Transmeta's low-power chips in its Linux clusters. While questionable to begin with, this strategy proved even tougher to sell as Transmeta pulled away from chip production. In addition, customers seemed to struggle with the idea of having Transmeta chips in their servers, preferring a laptop part from Intel or AMD. Orion enjoyed plenty of favourable press here and elsewhere, and its idea caught on with other hardware makers. Penguin Computing, for example, makes a personal cluster that is similar in theory to Orion's systems. Orion, however, made a sleeker, more refined system that looked and felt like a PC. Last August, Orion canned 30 per cent of its staff and started hunting for more venture funding. Its closure two weeks ago would seem to indicate the funding never arrived. Orion officials declined to return our phone calls seeking comment. We have little doubt that the personal cluster idea will live outside of Orion. Engineers want their horsepower, and someone will give it to them. ®
The British Parliament has kicked out Lords amendments to the ID Card Bill that would have made their use voluntary. The amendments were seen as a defeat for the government when they were made by the House of Lords on January 23. The Lords' attempt to make ID Cards voluntary was defeated by a vote of 310 to 279. But the debate gave an opportunity for concerns to be aired regarding civil liberties, greedy IT suppliers, the inability of the civil service to implement computer systems that work, and the likelihood that the ID Card system would have gaping holes in it that would have serious implications for security and individual privacy. The Lords had attempted to prevent the provision of cards being tied to the provision of passports and residency permits, a method opponents branded "creeping compulsion" and that shadow Home Secretary David Davis said would have the country wake up in 10 years time to discover it had "sleep walked into the surveillance state". As the bill now stands, ID Cards will be compulsory, in spite of the government's manifesto commitment that cards would be introduced on a voluntary basis as people renewed their passports. Cards will now be imposed on anyone renewing their passport - the voluntary element being that people could choose not to carry a passport. The amendments would probably not have warded off compulsion indefinitely. The implementation of the scheme in any shape or form would create a momentum toward compulsion that would be difficult for future governments to resist, not the least in order to justify its estimated £6bn to £20bn costs. Home Secretary Charles Clarke admitted the scheme was "designed to eventually become compulsory". A commitment had also been made to move to biometric identification in a UN security resolution. As it is, Parliament will decide in 10 years whether to enforce an overt compulsion on British citizen's to carry ID Cards. Until then, Clarke said, it would not be possible to exploit some of intended uses of ID Cards, such as securing the use of public services. Nevertheless, it was noted that as 85 per cent of the population carry passports, it is likely that in 10 years a majority would have had to renew and would therefore be carrying ID Cards anyway. The bill will go back to the House of Lords where further amendments may be made. ®
Upcoming Intel-based Mac Minis will not sport an integrated iPod dock, a variety of sources said to be familiar with Apple's plans have claimed. Such a move was predicted late last year, with the precedent of discoveries made in March 2005 that the computer had the internal connections necessary for a built-in dock.
A statistics professor has confirmed what most probably thought anyway: figure skating is rubbish. Or at least the judging process is. Yale's John W Emerson used information available online to test how the new Olympic scoring system performed at the recent 2006 European Women's Figure Skating Championships, held in Lyon, France. Under the new system a panel of 12 judges rates the skaters from 0 to 10. After dropping the highest and lowest scores, a computer calculates the average from nine randomly selected values. Emerson found that in the 'short program' section of the competition, only winner Russian Irena Slutskaya would have kept her position under every combination of judges. Analysis showed the discrepancies between panels could have placed the other skaters in the top five of the closely-fought competition, anywhere between second and fifth. Emerson said: “We can only hope that the podium in Torino on February 23 will be determined by the judging of the skaters on the ice. Not by a computer.” Ironically, the new regime was introduced “to increase fairness” after the old arrangements were repeatedly criticised for allowing bias. ®
AnalysisAnalysis Parliament has scrapped House of Lords amendments that would have demanded strict scrutiny on the proposed ID Cards system.
Windows Vista will give the NAND Flash market a big kick when it ships, Samsung has claimed, thanks to technology integrated into the new Microsoft operating system that will allow USB Flash drives to expand a PC's main memory bank, along with support for Flash caches in hard drives to accelerate boot times.
3GSM3GSM A group of 15 mobile operators worldwide launched plans to roll out interoperable instant messages to mobiles in a move designed to emulate the success of text messaging in the 1990s. Operators including Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, TeliaSonera, Telefonica and China Mobile plan to roll out services that operate across different networks. Five GSM operators in India have also been on board with the scheme. Mobile operators plan to charge users on a "calling party pays principle", under which consumers pay to send messages but not to receive them. That compares to current IM services which typically operate as single operator silos where users pay both to send and receive messages. The GSM Association said the scheme, dubbed Personal IM, has a potential market of 700m subscribers. Operators omitted to give pricing details when the rollout plans were announced during a press conference at 3GSM conference in Barcelona on Monday. Only recent handsets support IM. Mobile operators downplayed suggestions that mobile IM use would eat into SMS revenues. Personal IM is being positioned as an alternative to PC messaging in developing countries such as India and a different form of communication that will boost data calls in western Europe. T-Mobile chief executive Rene Obermann said "SMS is fire and forget, while IM is more chatty". ®
Virgin Mobile has confirmed it is to unveil a mobile TV service later this year following a tie-up with BT Wholesale. The tie-up comes as little surpise as both firms had already been working together in trials of BT Movio, which piggybacks the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) network, to broadcast pictures to handsets. The story was leaked over the weekend. As part of the offering five TV channels will be made available to punters and BT is currently talking to content providers to nail down what they can tune in to. As well as TV, some 350 digital radio stations will also be available via handsets. As part of the deal, Virgin Mobile will be the sole user of the Movio service in the UK for a limited period. BT wouldn't say how long that exclusive period would last, but a spokeswoman said the telco was in "active discussions with other operators". Confirmation of the deal coincided with the launch of The Trilogy "tellyphone" - a DAB-IP Smartphone that features a 2.2in screen and a range of other features including removable storage and an integrated 1.3 megapixel camera. Virgin Mobile director of sales and marketing Graeme Hutchinson said: "Virgin Mobile customers will be the first people in Europe to watch real broadcast TV over their mobile phones. It's not downloaded, it's not looped, it's real TV just like you get at home, and it's real DAB digital radio - crystal clear sound." Pricing for the service has yet to be announced, although it's understood punters will have to be prepared to fork out around £8 a month to watch telly and listen to radio using their mobile phone. ®
Experts have issued a stark warning alerting news agencies to a potentially life-threatening flood of press releases in which PR agencies desperately seek a link between their client's product and Valentine's Day. The releases - invariably entitled "Track your cheating wife via GPS this Valentine's Day", or the like - attempt to dupe unsuspecting news editors with promises of plausible surveys. Once the bait is taken, the release quickly packs in as many product plugs as possible before the scam is uncovered and editorial order is restored. Press Release Filtration Inc CEO Dr Michael Carmichael, a specialist in filtering unwanted press releases from corporate inboxes, said: "A recent survey showed that 23 per cent of news items carried on February 14 were Valentines-related, PR-generated nonsense. This is costing the UK 2.3bn lost column inches of real news per year - equivalent to 23,000 jobs for up-and-coming journalists." Carmichael added: "Our powerful PRevent software will block Valentine's-related press releases before they even get near an email inbox. Christmas and Easter are also covered as part of the basic package, but for real protection try PRevent Platinum. Last year, its intuitive, self-learning programme successfully intercepted a release ostensibly linked to the Sikh festival of Baisakhi, which was in fact punting 3G mobile content filtering solutions." The Register editor Joe Fay admitted: "In the last week alone we've had 4,236 press releases related to Valentine's Day. These have to be weeded out by hand, putting an intolerable strain on editorial resources. In the circumstances, I think we would be criminally negligent if not certifiably insane not to rush out and buy PRevent as a matter of the utmost urgency." ® Related stories Anti-virus firm warns of Valentine's Day email apocalypse Data protection outfit issues chilling Valentine's day data loss threat analysis Valentine's Day: Are you protected against avian flu armageddon?
Here's one you can file under: "you're pulling my plonker". An Indian film director is considering Paris Hilton for the role of saintly Mother Teresa, IANS news agency suggests. Director T Rajeevnath admitted: "My agents in California have contacted Paris Hilton." He explained that the reason behind this extending of feelers in Hilton's direction was the multi-talented heiress's refusal to get her kit off for Playboy. Rajeevnath continued: "Although there are several actresses willing to play the role of Mother Teresa, the most widely respected and loved person, the history of the actress who is finally chosen for the role would have to be analysed thoroughly before she is chosen." We reckon Mr Rajeevnath is going to get a nasty shock when he finally gets around to analysing Ms Hilton's "history". Regarding her acting credentials, well, she last year appeared in House of Wax, which was pretty well universally kicked to death by the critics. Likewise, her steamy Carl's Jr. Spicy BBQ Burger TV advert cavort did little to demonstrate convincing thespian tendencies. She did, though, give a far more convinving technical performance in One Night in Paris, albeit displaying the sort of skills which we very much doubt will be required to play Mother Teresa. As one critic put it: "In this 37-minute shagfest Hilton literally sucks. And so does her acting." ®
We've heard of designing gadgets for girls, but NEC's latest music and movie player takes the cake. Preferring not to spray the device metallic pink, the technique favoured for other female-friendly toys, the company has instead styled the 30GB hard drive-based VoToL PK-MV300 after a perfume bottle.
Japanese peripherals specialist Elecom has introduced what it claims is the world's smallest external hard drive. Its MF-DU204G packs in 4GB of storage capacity yet is sufficiently small to warrant its own, integrated USB connector.
Outsourcing firm Serco Solutions has announced the appointment of Steve Morriss as chief operating officer. He moves from Serco Science, where he was managing director of Serco's Assurance division, and will oversee the further integration of Serco Solutions with the rest of the group. Morriss confirmed: "A key challenge is to manage further investments in people and infrastructure at Serco Solutions and successfully align commercial activities with the wider Serco Group." The restructuring continues from Serco's December 2004 acquisition of long-standing target ITNET. ®
Intel will slash its Pentium D 9xx processor prices by up to 50 per cent on 23 April in a bid to get buyers to make the move to dual-core platforms, it has been claimed. The move will precede the launch of the 3.6GHz Pentium D 960, which recently popped up on the chip giant's latest roadmap update.
Tiscali has cornered one in ten of all broadband lines in the UK, the Italy-based ISP revealed today. Publishing results for 2005, Tiscali revealed that at the end of last year it had 935,000 DSL lines in the UK - more than the combined number of broadband lines in Italy, Holland and Germany. As a result, revenues in the UK were also streets ahead of Tiscali's other operations with Tiscali UK generating revenues of €325m in 2005 - up 28 per cent on 2004. The ISP said this improvement is down to the launch of its 1Mb and 2Mb products, as well as its bundled voice and date services. But the ISP is also looking to speed up its investment in local loop unbundling (LLU) during 2006 after kicking off LLU trials last year. Last May, Tiscali UK began migrating broadband punters in London onto its new unbundled platform as part of a trial to install its kit in some 27 exchanges in London. The ISP had earlier announced plans to invest €90m into unbundled broadband services in the UK over a three year period. Overall, full year consolidated revenues for the Tiscali Group stood at €740m - up 13 per cent on the year before - while EBITDA (earnings before interest etc) grew by 51 per cent over the same period to €117m. "Such improvement was mainly driven by ADSL revenues growth, in particular due to the growth in ADSL users in the UK, confirming the trend of previous quarters," the ISP said in a statement. ®
A Nigerian 419er was last Friday jailed for 376 years by a Lagos court for "stealing, forgery, impersonation and conspiracy to obtain money by false pretences" contrary to the Advance Fee Fraud Act, the Nigerian Daily Independent reports. Harrison Odiawa, 38, aka Abu Belgori, managed to extract $1,939,710 from US national George Robert Blake on the promise of a percentage of a bogus $20.45m Ministry of Health contract. The classic advance fee scam saw a duped Blake transfer the "advance payments" after seeing forged documents - including a certificate of registration with the Corporate Affairs Ministry and the aforementioned forged Ministry contract - which convinced him he was indeed about to get rich. Blake raised the cash from his company, Quest Exploration and Development, and his own personal assets. Odiawa was eventually tracked and arrested in Lagos by Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) operatives. During his trial, Blake appeared as the star witness and identified Odiawa from his voice because "because they had conversations for more than 100 times over the telephone". Odiawa countered that he was not in fact the person who had scammed the American but rather "chanced on the telephone number he found on a computer that was not lodged out from the internet in his cyber café". Judge Joseph Olubumi Oyewale was unimpressed, and in jailing the 419er on 48 of the 58 counts on which he was charged, also ordered him to pay back $1.6m to his victim. He said he hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent to others. Blake has already served a 30-month jail sentence in the US for money laundering and bank wire offences. ®
Seagate yesterday not only pledged to ship a 12GB 1in hard disk drive in Q3, it also promised the drive would ship in a much smaller casing than its current 1in HDD line-up does and consume two-thirds of the power. What's more, the drive incorporates perpendicular recording technology, the company said.
An update to Microsoft anti-spyware incorrectly labeled two versions of Symantec's anti-virus software as Trojan horse malware last week. Users of Windows AntiSpyware beta 1 were mistakenly warned that Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition and Symantec Client Security packages were a password stealing Trojan called Bancos-A. PC users were prompted to remove registry keys, advice that if followed would have disabled Symantec's software, the Washington Post reports. The snafu happened because of a problem with a Windows AntiSpyware beta 1 issued on Thursday. Microsoft has issued new signature files that avoid the same mistake. Symantec is working with affected customers, the number of which is expected to be small, because the mislabeling error only happens when a combination of enterprise software and consumer test software are used together. Users of Symantec's consumer security products were not affected by the issue, which was in any case limited to Windows AntiSpyware beta 1 and not its later Windows Defender beta 2 product. It's not the first time the trial version of Microsoft's anti-spyware software has provoked complaints about false alerts. Soon after the release of the product in January 2005, Romanian anti-virus firm BitDefender cried foul after Microsoft's package wrongly detected a BitDefender ScanOnline object as a piece of spyware called "Brilliant Digital". Problems with false alerts are far from confined to Microsoft's security software and crop up from time to time even with established security products (examples here and here). ®
3GSM3GSM Motorola's would-be BlackBerry-beater, the Q, will ship by the end of the first quarter, the company promised yesterday, before going on to announce a 3G version of the QWERTY keyboard-equipped PDA phone. The wait for the UMTS model will be longer: even the networks won't get their hands on it until "late Q4".
3GSM3GSM Only one in 10 operators rolling out IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) technology expect to make their money back within two years. Operators yet to introduce the technology expect a much faster payback on their investment, according to a new study. IMS merges together internet and mobile technology to create a platform to deliver mobile and fixed multimedia services. The technology uses open standard IP protocols, defined by the IETF. Both packet-switched and circuit-switched systems can be supported. The research, commissioned by core network infrastructure specialist Apertio, found that the need to offer attractive service bundles that drive up data usage is pushing the move towards IMS. By standardising a single infrastructure for message delivery, operators hope to trim both the cost of buying equipment and operational costs. However, the survey (which involved a poll of 57 global operators) suggests IMS implementation currently lacks best practice, with 79 per cent of carriers using a disparate combination of tactics to deliver IMS. The study also points to false expectations of quick returns among operators yet to get to grips with the technology. This suggests that IMS roll outs can be fraught with both technical and operational difficulties. "There is a confused picture around the business case and deployment strategy for IMS," Apertio marketing vice president Andrew Wyatt said. "Operators run the risk of failure in delivering against an IMS strategy if plans for implementation lack the appropriate breadth and clarity. Chasing short term revenues with pseudo IMS 'point solutions' significantly impacts the broader transition towards a true IMS architecture with its benefits of reduced cost and improved time to market for new services." ®
3GSM3GSM Vodafone is adding Google search capabilities to its Vodafone live! service. The deal, announced Tuesday, will allow consumers to search both Vodafone's mobile portal and the wider web. Google has been offering a cut-down version of its search engine to mobile users as a beta service for some time. Users can also get responses to search queries sent via SMS. Last month, Motorola announced a deal to integrate the Google icon onto select devices, allowing consumers to search content on the move at the click of a button. ®
A federal grand jury has indicted a 20-year-old California man on charges that his botnet hijacked thousands of computers and crippled a hospital network, leaving intensive care systems paralysed and doctors' pagers useless, Associated Press reports. Christopher Maxwell, of Vacaville, and two other unidentified juveniles are accused of creating a program to surreptitiously install software that netted them $100,000. Authorities allege that the trio received the money in fraudulent commissions from advertisments their software displayed on machines. A January 2005 attack is said to have caused $150,000 of damage at Seattle's Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, though no patients were harmed. US Attorney John McKay cautioned: “In this case, the impact of the botnet could have been deadly.” Prosecutors have estimated Maxwell's attacks may have affected 50,000 computers over a year, beginning in July 2004. If convicted of the charges, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. ®
A 20-year-old North Dakota State University student has been arrested for "criminal attempt and possession of drug paraphernalia" after trying to score some marijuana at a West Fargo police station, In-Forum News reports. Grace Sium rang the cop shop at 3.15am last Saturday enquiring as to where she might acquire some blow. Despite the dispatcher's repeated protestations that "selling and possessing marijuana was illegal", Sium persisted. Accordingly, the dispatcher admitted the cops had puff in the witness locker, and said if Sium swung by they would "hook her up". Officer Ken Zeeb - who arrived for work at 3.45am - recalled: "The dispatcher got on the intercom and said, 'You know what? She's here. She just handed me $3 for marijuana'." Zeeb quickly moved to cuff the master criminal, and later explained: "She didn't seem like she was really under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She understood what was going on and articulated herself well." Zeeb, who has worked narcotics for over seven years and "and has arrested people for trying to buy drugs at a house as it was being searched by police", admitted the bust was "about the craziest thing I've ever come across". He rightly concluded: "This is something that you couldn't even make up." Sium is now languishing in Cass County Jail. She declined to respond to a phone message left for her on Saturday. ® Bootnote Thanks to reader Chris Winpenny for the heads-up on this one.
Reg readers looking for lurv are being warned about the pitfalls of online dating scams. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) says some unscrupulous characters prey on people looking for a soul mate by pretending to fall head over heels for them. In fact, once these cads and cadesses hook their victim, they then start asking for cash (so, a bit like marriage, ed). These love cheats won't ask for cash immediately, though. Oh no. First, they'll convince you that they love you and that you should meet up. Telltale signs that something's not right is when they start tugging at the heart strings with pleas for money. One approach might be: "Hey bunnykins, I'd love to meet up but I don't have enough cashy-washy to make the trip, so will you be a good fluffy bunny and transfer it over?" Or, they might try this one: "I need a lifesaving operation and you're the only one who can help..." So, you've been warned. By sheer coincidence, today's red flag from the OFT comes on February 14 - St Valentine's Day - when people everywhere spend a fortune on cards, choccies and flowers. Pity no-one's issued a warning about that particular rip-off. ®
IBM has boosted its Power5+ server processor to 2.2GHz from 1.9GHz and added the faster chip to a new p5-series server. Big Blue has also added a trio of p5 servers based on existing Power5+ CPUs, according to its website. The 2.2GHz chip will be installed in the new p5 575 machine, a 60cm-wide server pitched at high performance computing applications. The system contains eight 64-bit of the faster Power5+ processors. Joining it are the mid-range p5 510Q, 520Q and the 560Q. The first two both currently pack in four 1.5GHz Power5+ CPUs, each in a single IBM Quad Core Module (QCM), while the 560Q is equipped with either one, two or four QCMs, each containing four 1.5GHz Power5+ parts. ®
UpdatedUpdated We're very glad to report that the Swiss are taking steps to ensure kids pay attention when crossing the road - by dragging into court a nine-year-old hit by a car on a zebra crossing. The unnamed girl was, according to Ananova, "slightly injured after she was hit by the car while crossing the road with her mum and younger sister". The car driver, however, claimed she'd run out from behind a bus and straight into his car, thereby representing "a danger to him and other motorists". The pre-teen tearaway now faces a possible fine when she appears in Schaffhausen youth court. A public prosecutor's office spokesperson confirmed this was the normal procedure for maintaning order on Schaffhausen's streets since it "shows them what they did wrong and prevents them from being involved in accidents in the future". ® Update Mercifully, the young lady in question was yesterday cleared by the court and will not now be breaking rocks for three months in the local jail. Thanks to those readers who wrote in with the happy news.
Yahoo! has issued a statement ahead of tomorrow's US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations which expresses its deep concerns at "efforts of governments to restrict and control open access to information and communication". The statement continues: "We also firmly believe the continued presence and engagement of companies like Yahoo! is a powerful force in promoting openness and reform. If we are required to restrict search results, we will strive to achieve maximum transparency to the user." The statement, as the BBC notes, makes no reference to China. Tomorrow's hearing will likely raise the issue of Yahoo!'s involvement in the 2003 arrest of dissident Li Zhi who was subsequently jailed for eight years for "inciting subversion" based on data "supplied by Yahoo!'s Hong Kong subsidiary", as we previously reported. Yahoo! has already taken flak for its involvement in the jailing last year of reporter Shi Tao for "divulging state secrets". Yahoo! spokeswoman Mary Osako told AFP that it was "rigorous" in its procedures and "only responded with what we were legally compelled to provide, and nothing more". Yahoo! furthermore insists that it cannot be expected to take on the might of Beijing alone. Its statement adds: "Private industry alone cannot effectively influence foreign government policies on issues like the free exchange of ideas, maximum access to information, and human rights reform, and we believe continued government-to-government dialogue is vital to achieve progress on these complex political issues. "We will work with industry, government, academia and NGOs [non-government organisations] to explore policies to guide industry practices in countries where content is treated more restrictively than in the United States, and to promote the principles of freedom of speech and expression." ®
When it launched the MacBook Pro in January, Apple said it would begin shipping the Intel Core Duo-based notebook this month. Today, it narrowed the timeframe down to this week, but compensated patiently waiting purchasers with a processor upgrade, bumping the original 1.67GHz and 1.83GHz standard models to 1.83GHz and 2.0GHz.
The lure of cold, hard cash will help drive innovation in the 21st century, if a group of American philanthropists has its way. The billionaire-backed X-prize Foundation will offer big money incentives in several fields of science, The Guardian reports. Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne last year became the first manned commercial spacecraft, after competing with 25 other teams to capture the $10m Ansari X-prize. Between them, they spent more than ten times that figure on the endeavour, which with the launch of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has heralded the dawn of space tourism. Now, after that success, the Santa Monica, California-based X-prize Foundation plans to dangle its big carrots in front of other scientific milestones. A prize is set to be offered for cheap mass genome sequencing, which it is hoped will bring about medical advances by giving scientists a more complete picture of the differences, or polymorphisms, of DNA which causes diseases. Also mooted are cash dividends for developing a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine and in pushing the frontiers of nanotechnology, along with a second space jackpot for putting a person in orbit. The group looks for vital or stalled fields where a breakthrough is most needed. The not-for-profit X-prize Foundation was founded in the mid-90s by aerospace scientist and entrepreneur Dr Peter Diamandis to speed up space development. It now has the lofty aim of "enabling radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity". Rather than as a vehicle for tearing down the tradition of selfless toil in the name of science, the X-prize Foundation views itself in the spirit of adventure. It claims a role as a torch-bearer for the $25,000 Orteig Prize, which was claimed by aviator Charles Lindbergh's 1927 nonstop New York to Paris flight. According to the foundation's website, in its early days it drew sponsorship from business leaders and other rich types, including author Tom Clancy. Today, the board of trustees is a coterie of high-tech business leaders, with Google co-founder Larry Page, and genome pioneer Dr Craig Venter both involved. Venter was himself the first to offer a cash prize for technology that can bring the '$1,000 genome' to the public. It emerged after his firm Celera Genomics competed with public collaborations to get the very first complete human genome that Venter, often derided as self-regarding, had indeed sequenced his own DNA. He had planned to offer access to the data on a pay-to-use basis, but abandoned that approach in the face of the free access public databases. Despite much criticism of his methods and attitudes, many have since felt that Venter's competition and dynamism forced the entire field toward more rapid development – the environment the X-prize foundation hopes to foster with its new rewards. When asked about Venter's $1,000 genome dream, Venter's public sector rival in the genome race, Dr Francis Collins, told the Wall Street Journal: "If Dr Venter's involvement can spur new technology, then more power to Dr Venter." The expanded program is certainly a radical departure from more traditional prestige-based awards like the Nobel. Given the level of global public investment in biotechnology – set to rise to £1bn per year by 2008 in the UK by last year's science spending review – some have questioned whether the genome prize will have any effect. Diamandis denied that the X-prize is all about money however: “A lot of the value is not just the cash, it's the heroism that goes along with winning the competition. It's what drives people to work around the clock and take risk to levels required for breakthroughs,” he told the Guardian. ®
3GSM3GSM BenQ Mobile this week took the wraps off what it claims is the first 3G handset equipped with support for the High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) data transfer boosting technology. The BenQ-Siemens EF91 won't ship until the Summer, by which time there should be a number of HSDPA-enabled handsets.
3GSM3GSM It's small, it's boring and won't turn any heads - but it probably spells the end of the road for Skype, Vonage and any other hopeful independent VoIP companies. It's Nokia's 6136 phone, which allows you to make calls over your home or office Wi-Fi network, as well as on a regular cellular network. UMA, or unlicensed mobile access, is the mobile operators' answer to the threat of VoIP - and now it's reality. Many of Nokia's mid-range and high-end phones will feature Wi-Fi, and UMA allows the user to keep one phone number, one handset, and receive one bill at the end of every month. "In three years," says Ken Kolderup of Kineto Wireless, which shepherded the technology through the standards process, "mobile minutes at home will be free". A win for the customer, no doubt, but surely it's the death of the very utopian notion that a few guys in a garage would overcome the telecommunications incumbents - thanks to a "people powered" network. Curiously, for a technology that was devised as a defensive weapon for the mobile carriers, it's the large former state-owned telcos who've been first to seize the UMA opportunity, with BT and France Telecom leading the way. But Kolderup is quick to acknowledge the catalytic effect of Skype and Vonage. "Vonage forced the cable guys to do VoIP, and both forced the service providers to do what they needed to do. If VoIP didn't occur, would they have done it? It was a kick in the pants for them." Even Nokia acknowledges the risk of its traditional carrier customers losing revenues from home minutes going over the public internet, rather than their cellular networks. But John Barry, who's involved in product development at Nokia for phones including the 6136, says it's an opportunity too. "It maximizes their investment in ADSL, and allows them to bundle mobile minutes." There are also capital expenditure savings, he says, because home Wi-Fi will mean they don't have to spend so much improving indoor call quality - notoriously poor in the United States, and on the higher frequencies used by 3G networks. Kolderup agrees there are opportunities for mobile networks with free voice minutes at home. "The number of minutes being used will go up - even as the revenue per minute will go down. So the deployment of UMA means you'll do revenue retention or revenue increase. If you don't do something these minutes will go someplace else. Do nothing, and you'll lose the indoor minutes too." So what would Kolderup advise Skype and Vonage to do next? "If you'd asked me a year ago I'd have advised Vonage to go public - which they have - and Skype to get bought - which they have too." How about the VoIP guys bypassing their incumbents by building their own network? "The cost is phenomenal," he points out. "And in any developed market I can't see it. It means acquiring the sites, building the towers, and providing the backhaul. In developing markets perhaps." "The VoIP guys tend to be 10 guys in a garage. Owning and managing and operating an outdoor network is a different deal. It's hard and very expensive." Even with WiMax or OFDM, which Kolderup describes as great "fill-in" technology, the incumbents have all the advantages. "VoIP will never go mobile without the co-operation of the mobile operators." Doubtless, there will be some people who don't mind having two handsets or phone numbers, but it isn't a market likely to excite the capital investment people. So long then VoIP, and thanks for the free calls. ®
France Telecom is axing 22,000 jobs - between eight and ten per cent of its workforce - in a bid to cut costs as it is hit by a decline in traditional telephone services. Most of the job cuts are to be made in France, although around 1,000 look set for the chop outside the telco's home territory. Whether that includes the UK, where Orange and Wanadoo operate, has yet to be disclosed. No one from France Telecom was available for comment at the time of writing although some press reports have suggested that the UK could be spared. Although 22,000 jobs are to be lost, the firm also intends to hire some more workers between now and 2008, taking the net reduction in headcount down to 17,000. The giant telco blamed a decline in revenues on home soil - due in part to lower cost of phone calls and lower call volumes - for the cull. This decline "intensified" over the last three months of 2005 as France Telecom came under increasing pressure from a growth in VoIP services, it said today. Publishing its results, France Telecom reported that revenues grew by 2.5 per cent year-on-year to €49bn and that EBITDA (earnings before interest etc) was up a smidgen at €18.4bn from €17.9bn. Snag is, the telco is lumbered with a whopping net debt mountain of €47.8bn. Analysts at Ovum say it is becoming "increasingly difficult for the group to generate revenue growth, and profitability is suffering as a result of increased expenditure in a highly-competitive environment". "It is in this context that the announcement to cut a further 8 to 10 per cent of its workforce by 2008 needs to be seen," Ovum said. ®
Motorola is to produce a line of Windows Media Audio-based music phones, the company said this week, as an alternative to the iTunes-equipped handsets it already offers in partnership with Apple. The two product lines will remain separate, Motorola claimed.
Sony has admitted a faulty batch of Bravia-branded LCD and rear-projection TVs has made it into the wild. Around 400,000 sets may carry a software bug that could prevent them from being turned off after a cumulative 1,200 hours in stand-by mode. The TVs won't switch out of stand-by mode at that point, either.
3GSM3GSM PalmSource today unveiled its future OS as the Access Linux Platform (ALP), and this time it really means it. It's been a tumultuous year. At the last 3GSM, PalmSource was talking about moving PalmOS 6.0, aka Cobalt, to a Linux kernel. But a change in strategy, which led to the abrupt departure of CEO Dave Nagel last May, saw a shift in focus to a pure-play Linux OS, details of which were finally disclosed today. In the meantime, Japanese browser company Access acquired PalmSource, fending off a bid from Motorola which thought it had sealed the deal.
3GSM3GSM Symbian took time out to explain its lower royalty structure - and admitted it will add a few 'kinks' to its revenue stream. The lower tariffs make Symbian OS available for as little as $2.50 per phone, with a ceiling of $4.65. Alternatively, licensees can opt for paying two per cent of the trade price. Currently licensees pay $7.25 per unit for the first 2m handsets, and $5 per unit thereafter, and this deal remains. On average, Symbian takes home $5.14 for each unit sold. It's really an unbundling arrangement. The two new price structures don't include a bundled JVM. Licensees have to have their own arrangements for Java, and under the original tariff were paying for it twice. Symbian is clearly expecting the OS to move into the mid-range 'feature phone' market, which accounts for around 200m handsets per year, with its 'single chip'-capable OS, based on a new, real-time kernel. Actually, Symbian is careful to distinguish between single-chip and single-core phones. Single-chip phones feature separate baseband processors and application processors, but put them on the same die. A single-core phone runs the signalling stack as well as the smart-phone OS, Jorgen Behrens, Symbian's VP of product management and strategy told The Register. Back to the financials. Symbian can certainly afford to introduce lower prices. The company disclosed to its Q4 earnings today, and CFO Thomas Chambers said the company was now comfortably in the black, with £114.8m in revenue in 2005, more than the £80m he said was required to run the 1,000-strong company. Revenues grew 73 per cent over 2004, and shipments rose 136 per cent year on year. In Q4, Symbian sold 10.89m licences, up from 8.54m in Q3. Royalties brought home £30.7m of the £34.6m of revenue booked. Nine licensees have products in development, down from 12 a year ago. ®
3GSM3GSM Once a year, whether it needs it or not (but oh boy, it does...) Microsoft shows up at 3GSM with the latest release of its explanation of why its mobile business is not totalled. No, not at all totalled, honest. It's nice (no, actually, really nice), because it's weirdly refreshing to find there is a part of the world, or the industry, where you can wonder in a curiously detached way what the point of Microsoft is.
RSARSA A lesser publication might suggest it fitting that Microsoft’s Chairman Bill Gates began his speech today at the RSA security conference with a joke. “I am really happy to be here at RSA,” Gates said. “My other invitation was to go quail hunting with Dick Cheney. I’m feeling very safe right now.” (An interesting crack for a man who hands out tons of money to Republican politicians.) This quip garnered a fair amount of applause from the RSA crowd here in San Jose. Gates, however, spent the next hour trying to avoid the usual rounds of snickers and giggles that accompany any Microsoft security presentation. It was Gates the straight man all the way. “I think we are making progress, but it is a very big challenge to make sure security is not the thing that holds us back,” Gates said. Much of Gates’ security pitch centered on advances customers should see in the upcoming Windows Vista operating system and complementary “Longhorn” Server. In addition, Microsoft plans to go after the multi-factor authentication market with force by making its OS, database and identity management packages work well with technology such as smart cards and trusted web sites. For example, Microsoft presented one demo in which a poor chap – Howard Ting in the Windows Server Group – lost his laptop, smart card and cell phone at the same time. Instead of being defeated by his incompetence, Ting turned to Microsoft’s tools for help. In the make believe demo world, Ting’s manager tossed him a one-time password, which the employee used to set up his own smart card at a Microsoft campus kiosk. Ting entered the password and had Microsoft’s Certificate Lifecycle Manager, which is in beta today, retrieve certificates from Active Directory and place them on the card. “In the past, you had to wait for an hour or even several hours while someone manually provisioned the card,” Ting said. Next, Ting popped the smart card into an old laptop. Security tools in Vista communicated with Longhorn Server, notifying Ting that his laptop did not have the software updates needed to bring the system in line with Microsoft's network security standards. (The laptop must have been at least a week old.) Using Microsoft’s NAP (Network Access Protection), the laptop automatically retrieved the updates in a quarantine mode and gave Ting access to the network. This allowed Ting to start working again without needing to bother an administrator. BoFHs everywhere rejoiced. In the last step, Ting visited a cell phone seller’s web site, which recognized his identity automatically. (More on how this was done later.) Without entering a user name or password, the site authenticated Ting and picked out a phone that matches Microsoft’s spending policy for such a device. Presto! Ting was back in action. “Thanks to Microsoft my day just got a little bit better,” he said. We’ve all had the same thought so many times. This heartwarming tale highlighted how Microsoft’s upcoming technology can help out the average user. Even if you are a total dolt, you can just keep clicking and recover from total catastrophe. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of, although Gates insisted such technology is just around the corner. Another major item Microsoft pushed is the concept code-named InfoCards. These online profiles should provide easier log-ons to various kinds of web sites. You can think of an InfoCard as a type of virtual business card. Each card contains basic information about you such as your name and contact information. Thing is, you have more than one InfoCard, and each one contains different levels of data. When, for example, you travel to Amazon.com, an InfoCard window will pop up to ask if you’d like to log-on to the site. If you’ve already created a username and password in the past, you simply click “OK.” The InfoCard handles the log-on without requiring you to reenter the information. This no doubt sounds familiar to anyone who lets their browsers manage usernames and passwords on certain sites. Higher-level InfoCards then handle more important tasks. One of your InfoCards might have your social security number stored, and this card might require a PIN before being using on banking sites, for example. This seems to be Microsoft’s Passport replacement. Instead of storing everything in one place, Microsoft has used a divide and conquer approach to make you feel safer. And your data is stored by an identity broker or "in the cloud" instead of on a Microsoft server. The InfoCard software runs in a separate, secure compartment from the main operating system, meaning it should be inaccessible to most malicious web sites and script kiddies. “InfoCard will be delivered as part of WinFX, Microsoft's managed code programming model, and will support Windows Internet Explorer 7 on Windows Vista, Windows XP Service Pack 2, and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and R2,” Microsoft said. With Vista, users should find that Microsoft has taken security to “another level,” Gates said. He pointed to a type of multi-tiered browsing scenario where users can set what types of functions they want t work in certain surfing modes. The safe mode might, for example, not allow Active X. Microsoft will also finally turn off admin mode for most functions in Vista. Users will be able to perform basic tasks in a “standard user” or “protected” mode. Anyone not using a Microsoft operating system will already be well acquainted with this idea. Vista will also include smart card support and have tools for preventing people from accessing your data if you lose a laptop. Lastly, Microsoft announced the “availability of the second beta of Windows Defender for existing Windows systems, which includes several enhancements and new functionality that reflects ongoing input from customers. The free beta download is now available for customers running Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003.” Of course, the security panacea Microsoft presents at these shindigs never seems to materialize. Anyone watching the demos could see a future full of even more annoying queries and requests doled out by Windows. Clippy may be welcomed back with open arms after you’ve faced InfoCard hell. ®
RSARSA Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy’s newfound love for Microsoft evaporated Tuesday, as he dished out one barb after another against Redmond here at the RSA security conference. The jabs came as part of a larger pitch from McNealy that diversity in the data center and homogeneity on the desktop give rise to insecure networks. Ever since Sun and Microsoft signed their $2bn peace accord, McNealy has done his best to retire years of comic material bashing Windows (a hairball), IE (internet exploder) and C# (C flat). Such restraint vanished when McNealy took the stage just about an hour after Gates’ opening keynote at the RSA event. It seems the security-focused setting proved too temping for Sun’s brash CEO. One of the items on McNealy’s top ten list of security nightmares was: You just got a new job, and it’s an all Microsoft shop. Another item was “being told you have a patch to patch” and another was a jab at any company that would give “superuser, root level access to all.” Ah, but that was just the beginning. McNealy then encountered a series of problems with his PowerPoint StarOffice Presentation, er, presentation. “This isn’t Windows, is it?” McNealy asked. “I take it back, Bill. I take it all back.” McNealy launched a few more quips at “Wintel space heaters” and made a crack about taking Gates on a Dick Cheney-style hunting trip. “Kaboom!” he said. Laughs aside, McNealy insists that security is a pressing matter – a fact which became more real for the chief recently. He received an e-mail from a partner saying that an employee’s laptop had been stolen containing McNealy’s social security number and name. “This (note) comes from an organization that we spend enormous amounts of money with to determine that we’re (Sarbanes-Oxley) compliant . . . I wish you could see the e-mail I sent back.” McNealy sees data centers as being hopelessly insecure beasts. Customers buy servers, storage, networking gear and other hardware components from various vendors. Then, they layer on different operating systems, databases, middleware and management applications from even more vendors. Administrators must manage the mess of patches, upgrades and updates that pour in on a daily basis – an impossible task, according to McNealy. To fix this problem, customers should buy standardized data centers from – you guessed it – Sun. The company builds most of its own hardware and has OS, middleware, database and management software tuned for its kit. McNealy likes to call this the “you can buy any car as long as it’s black” approach to data centers. Where variety is the spice of insecurity in the data center, similarity is killing the desktop. “On the desktop, everybody is using the same thing,” McNealy said. “A really effective virus can knock out every desktop in the government. . . . There isn’t enough genetic diversity on the desktop.” This problem is driven by the “desktop monopoly that will go unnamed because we are partners now.” To fix the desktop crisis, customers should pick up Sun’s thin client. How’s that for an original message? Yes, Sun has been plugging the venerable thin client for longer than we care to remember. These terminals connect into back-end servers, placing the administration burden on, well, administrators instead of the average PC user. In addition, they consume less power and have no moving parts, making the products quiet and reliable. Users simply slide a smart card into the thin client terminal to pull up their files. Few argue that this seems to be a smarter, safer, more pleasant mode of computing, especially in a business setting. Thin clients, however, never seem to sell well. Although, McNealy claims they are currently one of the fastest growing products in Sun’s portfolio. (Please send your Sun portfolio jokes to Scott.) McNealy also revealed a couple of new security products from Sun. In the coming weeks, Sun plans to ship the Crypto Accelerator 6000, which is a hardware security module (HSM) that slots into x86 and UltraSPARC servers. The product starts at $1,350 and includes support for IPsec, IKE and SSL protocols, a set of public key and symmetric crypto algorithms; Secure remote key management as well as a local, direct key management interface, split-key quorum key management and Financial service PIN and credit card validation. The product will work first with Solaris boxes and then Linux boxes by the summer. Sun also plans to start shipping its Trusted Extensions pack for Solaris 10 in the summer. This software gives standard Solaris users some of the security features found on Sun’s version of the operating system built for high-security government customers. Last but not least, Sun announced that its Web Server 7.0 will support Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC). And to leave you with a joke, here’s McNealy's take on the expense of fixing damage done by viruses. “The cost of viruses is higher than the revenue generated by the company that sells the Petri dish.” ®
SugarCRM has become the second open source software company challenging proprietary client/server ISVs to land a technology partnership with Microsoft. The start-up and Microsoft have announced plans to improve interoperability between Windows Servers and SugarCRM's hosted customer relationship management (CRM) suite. SugarCRM additionally plans to release a distribution of its Sugar Suite under Microsoft's Community License, part of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative. The Shared Source Initiative is Microsoft's program that allows customers to view Windows source code, launched in response to concerns over the security of its software. The SugarCRM partnership follows last year's announcement Microsoft would integrate its Windows Server system with open source Java middleware from JBoss. Both deals are a recognition by Microsoft of the potential market opportunities the company can exploit by working with open source and of the dangers it faces by ignoring open source in terms of disatisfied developers and business lost to server rivals. Some 35 per cent of SugarCRM's customers and more than half of JBoss customers run their open source software on Microsoft's closed-source Windows Server products. Bill Hiff, director of Microsoft's technology platform strategy, said Microsoft looked on these deals from the perspective of opportunity. Hiff announced the SugarCRM partnership at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in San Francisco. "When we look at JBoss and SugarCRM... we look at opportunity. We can go and capitalize on that," Hiff said. "The idea of an open source application server might seem orthogonal. But more than 50 per cent of JBoss customers are our customers too. We were interested from an opportunity perspective, not because we like Java," Hiff said. Microsoft is working with SugarCRM to improve the hosted CRM provider's support for Microsoft's Internet Information Services (IIS), and to provide optimization of Active Directory and Microsoft SQL Server, including SQL Express, SQL Server Workgroup and SQL Server Enterprise. SugarCRM will also use Microsoft's Windows Installer XML (WiX) tools to build its planned products as a Microsoft Software Installer (MSI) package for Windows Server 2003.®