17th > February > 2006 Archive

homeless man with sign

IBM finds the strength to make another $1bn pledge

Six years ago it was Linux. Five years ago it was Java tools. Fast-forward to 2006, and it's information management. What are we talking about? IBM's latest spending pledge. IBM has said it will spend $1bn on development of "information management software" during the next three years. Investment will materialize through "closer alignment" between IBM's middleware and consulting businesses, IBM said. The company kicked-off its three-year project announcing the WebSphere Information Server along with the availability of training and guidance for customers through various IBM centers of excellence. WebSphere Information Server will use web services APIs that are being deployed in service oriented architectures (SOAs) to ensure data quality, transformation, movement and federation, plus the management of medadata. This extension to IBM's middleware portfolio is planned for the second quarter of 2006. Steve Mills, senior vice president for IBM's software group, said in a statement that the combination of IBM's software and consulting businesses would help companies unlock value from business information and over-come use of "piece-part products" to manage and search information. IBM's commitment to three years of information management should come as little surprise. The company spent much of 2005 hyping the information management capabilities of announcements around its search, database and collaboration software. The company also regularly makes bold dollar commitments to specific markets. In 2000, former chief executive Lou Gerstner committed IBM to spend $1bn on Linux during 2001. In a bet calculated to ease IBM's reliance on Microsoft's Windows, Gerstner predicted Linux would become "more prevalent than [Windows] NT by 2004." "This is a big issue for every server company," Gerstner said at the time. Later that same year, IBM donated $40m of its own software to help kick-start the Eclipse Java open source tools consortium. Eclipse was originally designed to unlock Sun Microsystems' control over Java and increase the market share for IBM's Java development tools and integrated development environment (IDE).®
Gavin Clarke, 17 Feb 2006
graph up

ActiveState achieves independence

Open source language and development tools specialist ActiveState has squeezed clear of its Sophos' ownership following a $2.25m venture capital deal.
Gavin Clarke, 17 Feb 2006

'Passport' system to make switching telco easier

Ofcom is thinking of introducing a simple "passport" system that would make switching telcos and ISPs easier. Publishing its long-awaited consultation into switching and mis-selling, the communications watchdog wants to ensure the process involved in moving between different firms does not dissuade consumers from opting for new providers. At the same time, Ofcom doesn't want a free-for-all that would expose punters to mis-selling. The reason appears simple enough. Ofcom spent most of last year trying to improve competition in the telecoms sector. And with the advent of broadband-based services such as video on demand and VoIP, consumers are faced with more operators providing more services. But this increased choice is wasted if switching providers is cumbersome and time-consuming. That's why Ofcom wants to ensure there are "no obstacles in the way of customers who choose to move between companies and/or products". "The process for switching behind the scenes should be swift and efficient, and enable customers to move from one company and/or product to another with no interruptions or problems," it said in a consultation document published today. At the same time, consumers need to be protected from "dishonest sales and marketing behaviour" that might see punters switched to rival operators and services without their consent (known as slamming). According to Ofcom, the processes currently in place are inefficient and complicated and the regulator predicts that unless something is done, this situation is likely to get worse. Although Ofcom has kicked off the consultation, it appears to be keen on a "single, uniform process" for switching, similar to one used by other utility operators. If adopted, customers would hold the key to the process. In essence, punters could only be switched once they hand a code to the company to which they're moving to, similar to the current MAC process, which enables broadband punters to switch ISPs. However, the MAC system is flawed. Because punters have to obtain their MAC code from the company, they're leaving it to them to hand it to the company they're joining. Consumers have long complained that some ISPs have been reluctant to hand over these MAC codes, effectively stopping any transfer dead in its tracks. Instead, Ofcom is proposing that customers should have easy access to their "code" (it might have to be printed on all letters and bills, for example) without having to ask their existing provider for it. That way they wouldn't need to contact the company they're leaving to switch providers. While such moves are encouraging, it's clear that adopting a workable system will be no piece of cake. Ofcom points out that switching customers is devilishly complicated. Its own research has found that BT has some 160 possible switching processes in place, which highlights the difficulty of coming up with a single, industry wide solution to the problem. The closing date for responses to the consultation is April 28.®
Tim Richardson, 17 Feb 2006

A new breed of network-aware developer

HP is very much number two in networking after Cisco (which, according to IDC, has over 50 per cent market share), but its market share is growing rather than falling, and Gartner is moving it upwards and rightwards in its magic Quadrant. Some competition for Cisco is healthy. Now, as part of an assault on Cisco, HP has announced new intelligent Layer 2/3/4 LAN switches with Gigabit Ethernet and Power over Ethernet (PoE – electrical power for phones etc available on the socket), in both chassis and stackable form factors, and with programmable ASICs. It is promoting its intelligent applications capability (mainly security and traffic management) and support for voice-data convergence. Its USP is going to be freedom of choice – you can buy chassis or stackable devices (or hybrids) as best fit your environment, without compromising affordability, performance or flexibility, and all using open standards. For developers, however, it’s another indication that “applications aware” networking is on the way – something like the AON (Application Oriented Networking) Tom Welsh looked at here. HP’s vision is perhaps not as advanced, but it’s probably less proprietary too. You can already plug an applications blade (basically, a general purpose Intel PC) into an HP chassis and you can either plug in specialised security or traffic management application blades, or program ASICs on the port itself. But there’s no open SDK or high level API yet – as a customer, you can’t program your HP hub in Java (although that isn’t so unthinkable when you remember that BEA has a “deterministic” near-real time JVM, JRockit, available). However, Paul Congdon, chief technology officer of ProCurve Networking by HP, recognises that an open SDK would help HP service its partners better. At present, his switches ship with preconfigured software, programmed by Procurve. It’s a long way out yet, he agrees, but it's entirely possible that designers of distributed applications will find themselves deciding whether to program RFID data consolidation, say, or quality of service exception reporting, out on a switch at the edge of the network, instead of on a server, where network capacity becomes more of an issue. But we are then probably talking of a new breed of developer, one that develops holistic business applications, with operational as well as functional capabilities built in from the first – according to Congdon, a developer who “designs a process”, not a program. Nevertheless, although it is easy to look into the future and see convergence between traditional distributed applications, the data communications networking infrastructure, and voice and video distribution, there’s a huge inertia in existing IPv4 networks and client-server computing. Perhaps it is still significant that HP handed out its ProCurve materials on a USB data watch that is logically (in data terms) the equivalent of a large floppy disk. Sneakernet is, apparently, still alive and well but its bandwidth has increased – to resurrect an old cliché, never underestimate the bandwidth (or the management/security issues) represented by a pocket full of USP pendrives coming through the door. Luckily, HP (and, for that matter, Cisco) are showing that proper networking can still be sexy too; and that it might just provide an extended platform for general applications developers.®
David Norfolk, 17 Feb 2006

Thinking of Ada

You’re not designing software for an aeroplane, so what does a bug or two matter between friends, eh? There are many who should be forgiven for assuming that this is the standard mantra of software developers. Bugs in applications happen, and continue to happen, and the world does keep turning. But as applications have become more significant in businesses, especially for companies that increasingly live and die by the web, a bug can be every bit as fatal as one that shuts down the engines at 38,000 feet. Web-based operations are just one type of business where the reliability of software is fast becoming central to their survival and where the "it’s only a bug", attitude should now be the equivalent of “it’s only bird flu, I expect I’ll live”. So AdaCore's launch of the latest version of GNAT Pro, v5.04, is perhaps timely. The launch itself is hardly earth-shattering stuff, for GNAT is just an open-source Ada applications development environment. And Ada, of course, is an old and rather esoteric language developed specifically for US military applications. In its latest incarnation, Ada 2005, still holds on to the fundamental goal of producing highly reliable applications. And while the defence marketplace is still its primary target, there could well be some mileage in developers looking at the language for the truly `mission critical’ applications that are now becoming common. The 2005 version introduced enhancements that make Ada far more compatible with web-based applications and environments, particularly in terms of interoperability with Java and C++. This should now allow developers to exploit its reliability and capabilities, such as its safe, high level memory management, and some compile-time and run-time checks that are designed to help avoid bugs like buffer overflows or access to unallocated memory. Other factors that help Ada ensure its reliability are its standardisation by ISO, and the fact that this means upgrades to the language only occur in a controlled fashion – and not very often. This may seem heretical in a world where software vendors assume they must be dead if not upgrading all the time, but in the cause of applications reliability, it may not be such a bad idea. The new version of GNAT Pro incorporates enhancements to the installation process, as well as new features such as options for stack usage analysis and a tool that can be used to enforce project-specific rules. It comes with a full Ada compiler, an IDE, and a toolset that includes a visual debugger and a set of supplemental libraries and bindings. It is also available to run on the latest 64-bit platforms such as SGI’s Altix servers and HP’s Integrity servers.®
Martin Banks, 17 Feb 2006

Aping The Apprentice is the name of the game

Geek TVGeek TV Last week's favourite game among the suits who run Britain's telly channels was Pretend Your Show Is Doctor Who. This week, it's Pretend Your Show Is The Apprentice, as channel after channel pluck 'ordinary' folk off the streets and force them to jump through hoops to get gainful employment.
Jane Hoskyn, 17 Feb 2006

Nvidia trumpets record quarter

Nvidia last night posted record sales and net income for the fourth quarter of its 2006 fiscal year. During the three months to January 29, the company earned $98.1m (53 cents a share) on sales of $633.6m.
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006

Call for reform as unlicensed software use rises

There was a 25 per cent increase in the number of companies settling for unlicensed software use in the UK last year, according to the Business Software Alliance. But the sums paid go some way to showing how UK law provides little deterrent to such piracy.
OUT-LAW.COM, 17 Feb 2006

Sony pledges 2006 launch for PS3

Sony has promised to ship the PlayStation 3 in 2006. Sony Computer Entertainment Asia head Tetsuhiko Yasuda told reporters at the Taipei Game Show that the console will launch this year, though no specific date or price point have been decided, he claimed. He also said the company expects the new machine to out-sell the PS2.
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006
homeless man with sign

Auntie outsources outsourcers

UK business IT services giant Capita has won the contract for BBC human resources outsourcing, with 260 jobs set to shift to to the private firm and 180 posts cut altogether. It's certain 100 of these jobs will be based at Capita's Belfast centre, with the rest dotted about other UK offices. The BBC told El Reg that none of the HR services jobs would be taken overseas. The 10-year deal begins this April, and is aimed at saving the BBC over £50m. After fighting off tenders from Accenture and Xchanging, Capita will be taking over recruitment, payroll, staff development and occupational health. The cost-cutting drive will be concurrent with 180 redundancies in BBC People, which it's hoped will be mostly voluntary. Broadcasting union BECTU has fought the plan, which is part of a corporation-wide savings push announced last March. Nearly 4,000 jobs are earmarked for the chop. BBC People director Stephen Dando, the man responsible for brokering the Capita contract, said: “The value created from this deal is a significant step for us in ensuring the BBC is fit for the future.” The outsourcing is thought to be Dando's last major contribution before he spins himself out, to Reuters. ®
Christopher Williams, 17 Feb 2006

DVLA to review data access

The agency responsible for drivers' personal information is proposing to stop dodgy clamping firms getting access to its databases The Department for Transport wants to update the rules for accessing official vehicle databases after widespread concern that companies that had broken the law were given access to personal information. A range of public and private sector organisations are able to access the registers held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) as long as they can prove they have "reasonable cause" to obtain the information. Data is used for a variety of purposes, including investigation of cars parked illegally, tracing company assets and identifying vehicles which have been driven off without paying for goods or services. As well as the police, some private sector organisations such as parking companies, car dealerships, and finance firms are given access. The DVLA is now looking to change the rules governing access. The move follows investigations by Sunday newspapers revealing that a clamping firm whose bosses had served a jail term for extorting money from motorists had been allowed access to the database. Its consultation, which started on February 16, suggests the rules could be tightened, with one option to allow insurance companies access but to prevent private car parking firms. Another proposal involves increasing the £2.50 fee per enquiry to £6. The DVLA is also looking to introduce a new audit regime for organisations granted access which could involve spot checks on the way information is used, reviews of groups applying for access and cross checking with Companies House. Roads minister Stephen Ladyman said: "We think it's very important to protect privacy and confidentiality, and I understand why many people have serious concerns about the kinds of organisations that receive information from the vehicle register. The rules were put in place a long time ago, but the time is now right to look again at whether these rules are right for today's circumstances. "We want a system that protects people from misuse of their personal details, but that enables organisations and individuals with a good reason to identify the keeper of a vehicle to do so." The consultation closes on March 31, 2006.
Kablenet, 17 Feb 2006

BOFH: Birthday present backfire

Episode 7Episode 7 "I'd like a bit of birthday advice," the Boss asks, after the PFY and I show up to his office in response to a call. "Keep having them?" the PFY chips. "Wa?"
Simon Travaglia, 17 Feb 2006

EDS to stay at CSA

The minister in charge of the Child Support Agency(CSA) has said its redesign will not involve ending the IT contract with EDS. CSA is likely to remain in its contract with EDS but can expect to have the existing £456m IT systems replaced, work and pensions secretary John Hutton said this week. Hutton has commissioned Sir David Henshaw, former leader of Liverpool City Council, to completely redesign the agency by July - but Henshaw is unlikely to recommend getting rid of the IT supplier. "I don't expect by the (parliamentary) recess that he'll have redesigned the IT systems," Hutton told MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee (DWP). "David Henshaw is not looking at operational issues today. He is not going to recommend that we break away from the contract with our suppliers." Henshaw is, however, expected to produce a more "cost effective system" and will look in detail at the IT. "Is it his remit to have a functioning IT system? Yes," Hutton said. "What will that new IT system be? I don't know. Sir David Henshaw is looking at designing a new IT system." Conservative MP Justine Greening pressed Hutton and the CSA chief executive Stephen Geraghty on the contract with EDS. She claimed the supplier had the government "by the short and curlies" and said that CSA policy had been "set in IT concrete". Geraghty revealed that the DWP is withholding £17m to EDS, which does not get paid until the supplier "remediates" the faults with the IT. "Where we are with EDS is that we have an agreed series of software releases, getting us to the position that by 2007 we will get the IT systems to where they were originally specified," said Geraghty. The next major software release is to take place on March 27, he said.
Kablenet, 17 Feb 2006

Nurse attacks colleague with frozen fish

A 55-year-old Tunbridge Wells nurse was today hauled before the Nursing and Midwifery Council's professional conduct committee in London for allegedly slapping a colleague with a frozen trout, the BBC reports. The fish-assisted assault - after which the acccused reportedly said "give us a kiss" while moving the fish's mouth - was one of four charges of professional misconduct levelled at Patricia Jennings. She was also accused of inappropriate conduct, viz: "Reaching inside their [colleagues'] uniforms, asking questions about their private lives, and putting sweet wrappers down a nurse's top. All the incidents took place during 2003 at the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. Now, we at El Reg normally wouldn't give this story shelf space, since frozen fish nurse attack stories are ten a penny, but the penultimate paragraph of the Beeb's report has a delicious, slightly surreal flavour: Jamie Foster, for the Nursing and Midwifery Council, said Ms Jennings also lied about her training record, misled staff about the availability of beds on Ward 8, and bound a clerk's head and mouth with bandages while he was on the phone. Mrs Jennings was neither present nor represented at the proceedings. She was, a spokeswoman for the Nursing and Midwifery Council has confirmed by email, struck off the nursing register earlier today. ® Bootnote Thanks to Gemma Turtle for the heads-up on this one. The trout, btw, was one of several brought to the hospital as a gift by a thoughtful patient. The Health and Safety Executive would have a fit.
Lester Haines, 17 Feb 2006
New Intel logos

Intel trims Pentium D 950 mobo power envelope

Intel is to add its Enhanced SpeedStep Technology (EIST) to its 65nm dual-core Pentium D 950 processor to enable the chip to operate within design guidelines for motherboards, with a maximum power consumption of 95W rather than 130W.
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006
fingers pointing at man

Techies in Microsoft licence reading bombshell

Tech blogs are fizzing with rage at the 'revelation' that Microsoft small print says a new Windows OEM licence must be purchased if a motherboard is changed or upgraded. The software behemoth is quoted as saying that the 'heart and soul' of a PC lies therein, and so changing it - other than in the case of a failure - amounts to creating a new machine. Other licence types do not face such restrictions. Comments about the newly-uncovered atrocity are typically less than complimentary towards Redmond: “They are trully [sic] evil,” fumes one. Several others go for the succinct and to-the-point: “F**k Micro$oft.” For Microsoft's part, it claims this has always been the case. And this document seems to corroborate the assertion. Customers reading their license agreements? Whatever next.®
Christopher Williams, 17 Feb 2006

Police warn telcos about phone fraud

Network operators have been warned they might be committing offences if they continue to do business with premium rate service (PRS) operators suspected of ripping off punters. The warning came as officers from the City of London Police Economic Crime Department (COLP ECD) met with network operators at the offices of regulator ICSTIS earlier this month. The operators called for a meeting because of ongoing pressure on the industry to clean up its act. Research published last month by consumer group Which? found that premium rate phone scams that promise punters non existent prizes are the UK's number one con, with 2m adults admitting they've been duped into calling a premium rate phone line charged at up to £1.50 a minute to try and claim a non-existent "prize". Recognising current penalties aren't doing enough to prevent fraudsters from setting up rogue lines, ICSTIS has recently increased the maximum fine for offenders from £100,000 to £250,000. It is against this backdrop that network operators - telcos that lease premium rate service (PRS) numbers to the outfit providing the end service - requested a meeting with police to help them identify telltale signs of criminal activity. The operators were told they had to be more responsible regarding the PRS outfits that use their services. They were reminded that turning a blind eye, or taking money generated as a result of criminal activity, when they knew or suspected it was criminal, could result in them committing an offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The operators were also told if they suspected a PRS operator was ripping off end users, they should inform the regulator. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 Feb 2006

Old Dogs - New Tricks

Over the last month or so we've written about Mumps, which generated a great deal of interest and prompted Lord Norfolk to sharpen his quill to pen a follow-up feature, and now a piece on Ada. OK, so these 'old dogs' will still have their place, but the level of interest poses an issue - is the future for these old languages more than just a slow decline into that final, write-only archive? Is there instead the possibility of a new future? The signs for the latter are in fact encouraging. HP's porting of the old Tandem Non-Stop system to the Itanium processor looks like giving the system a new lease of life - not only giving existing users a current platform for upgrade options but also new applications. It is, for example, finding a new role as the secure back-end transaction database behind the SimDesk system - which runs unlimited numbers of cheap Linux servers and clients that can be anything that is capable of running a browser. This is already finding applications as a web-based environment where the Non-stop back end provides the bomb-proof insurance for the front end, even the front end systems collapse in a great and glorious manner. It seems there could be potential for Ada in a similar role, and as it is on x86 processors it runs on the right hardware. So are there some new tricks that these old languages and environments can learn - and then teach the young whippersnappers how to really do it properly? Given the growing move to online trading etc, having bomb-proof, reliable systems is now important. Views anyone?
Martin Banks, 17 Feb 2006

AMD preps low-power desktop processors

AMD will begin punching out Socket AM2-based processors at the end of April in preparation for a June 6 launch - a date that will also see the introduction of "energy efficient" desktop chips to help the company counter Intel's performance-per-Watt strategy, the latest roadmap leaks suggest.
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006

OSx86 Project forum halted after DMCA violation claim

The OSx86 Project, a website set up to co-ordinate coders' efforts to get the Intel version of Mac OS X to run on any x86-based hardware, has been partially shut down. The project's principals pulled the site's forum after being served with a cease and desist notice alleging violation of the US' Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006

Vodafone to announce big deal with IBM

3GSM3GSM Next week, expect Vodafone to announce the complete outsourcing of its operations - everything except the network itself, sources at the 3GSM Congress in Barcelona said. If it gets a green light, the deal is almost certain to be seen as an attempt to buy "breathing time" for CEO Arun Sarin. How well the deal will work, remains to be seen. If it goes ahead, it is handing full control of the central revenue generation engine - the billing process - to a source which has not covered itself with public glory in its attempts to revitalise the O2 billing setup. The news that O2 is to pass control of its big billing reorganisation to an outside consultant was broken in NewsWireless last November, with the consultant named as Accenture. But Accenture was taking over the project; it was started by IBM, and was moved to Accenture after senior management decided it was stalled. Sarin's position as head of Vodafone will now be regarded by many observers as "in question". One source told NewsWireless: "This gives him another two or three quarters to get out of the position Vodafone has got itself into, and to pre-empt any attempt to replace him in this quarter at least, by someone like Warren Finegold." According to the Telegraph report, "UBS banker Warren Finegold is joining the Vodafone executive committee." He becomes chief executive of global business development responsible for mergers and acquisitions, and partner networks. It isn't any secret that Vodafone's investors are dissatisfied with performance, and observers blame this problem squarely on management policy, which has been to avoid trying to be excellent, and be content with "being 10 per cent better than number two" in the market. Copyright © Newswireless.net Bootnote Vodafone told El Reg that they were still undertaking a feasibility study, and denied that a decision has been made. Any announcement is "way off", they claimed.
Newswireless.net, 17 Feb 2006

Toshiba readies large HD Ready digital LCD TVs

Toshiba has earmarked April for the launch of a new line up of HD Ready LCD TVs. Despite the Picture Frame branding, they're not kitschly kitted out in gilt curlicues, but the four models in the WLT66 range do feature integrated digital TV receivers and a pair of HDMI ports.
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006

Greengrocer gets lethal injection of Pherotones

LettersLetters Before kicking of this Friday's dip into the Vulture Central mail bag here's some breaking news for Tom Cruise fans: the Trapped in the Closet episode of South Park in which the celebrated heterosexual locks himself in said closet will "air in Australia on Monday night on SBS Feb 20", as Ed Taylor explains. This is very good news for Cruise fans and also "for anyone who missed it and cant get it off the net". The net? You mean the episode they can't show in the US for fear of Top Gun legal airstrike is available on the net? Good Lord! In case you've forgotten already, Tuesday was Valentine's Day, which we treated with the contempt it deserves: What, you mean you haven't changed the Vulture logo to a heart and made your whole website pink? What's wrong with you. Anyone would think you were not getting into the spirit of Valentines Day, otherwise known as "Yet another excuse to gouge people for their hard earned cash Day". I bought the girlfriend a card and inserted an IOU for a huge bunch of flowers to be bought once the prices return to something approaching normality. George Garratt Dear Lester, Very nice ironic touch to this article. If only there was a product that massacre those who released Valentine's Day PR stunts, Valentine's Day would then be complete. Regards, Sean. p.s. On a different topic, el Reg should create a 419 letter generator. The format is well known now and is ripe for parody. Sean Redmond Hmmm. An interesting idea... A Valentines day themed product plug disguised as an article about a product that prevents Valentines day themed product plugs from being sucessful.... I like it :D Er, are you sure about that? Maybe I'm wrong, but isn't this article also a shameless Valentines related plug for several filtering products???? Ian Ahem. Moving swiftly on, let's get down to the meat of it. Cisco, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! took a bit of a hammering on Wednesday over their activities in China: So will those companies also take a beating after they divulge vast amounts of personal data to the US government? Or do such things only apply when it's happening outside the USA? Guy Fraser It's funny how when it comes to technology (businesses which apparently don't offer enough in the way of kickbacks and bribes - sorry I mean lobbying - to the senators doing the questioning) they get all righteous, but at the same time are apparently willing to allow companies like Walmart (who probably have larger financial returns than most European countries), GE, Phillips, et all to profit from cheap Chinese labour and poor working conditions in order to offer $30 DVD players and otherwise flood the market with low-priced electronics. Let's not forget Nike and other clothing manufacturers that not only profit from these beleaguered workers, but then take the piss by selling shoes worth 2p to mugs like us who are apparently willing to pay over $100 for trainers. If there's a hypocrite in the house please raise your hand, as we need additional condemnation of various internet based businesses. Obviously I'm not condoning the actions of these businesses, particularly Yahoo who apparently have a habit of giving up Chinese dissidents to anyone who asks, but it seems only right that if we're going to ban imports from places like Cuba and North Korea on the grounds of basic decency and human rights violations, we should also ban all US businesses from dealing with China. Andy Bright So, it's alright for Americans to dress in clothes which are made in sweat-shops in China, where there are little or no workers rights, but it's not alright for other companies to deal with the Chineese? Maybe being worked to death for a pittence is alright, but being locked up for political views isn't? A double standard for political gain? Shurely Shome Mishtake? PS. I'd just like to point out that any dealing with China worries me, but it is entirely possible that the growing use of the Internet will actually help to bring down the current regime. You can't censor everything. Fraser MacIntosh Hi, You quoted an interesting comment at the very end of your article: "The bill, Smith explained, would include "export controls on certain types of hardware and software and prohibit putting email servers and other assets in countries that lack US-style due process laws." " Such a law, were it to ever be created, and actually have some teeth as opposed to many other wonderful laws created by the Republican government, could have some interesting effects. For one I can't see Microsoft continuing to extend favours to a government that just stuck a big pointy needle in its latest profit source. That might mean all of the "sure you can look at the source code" and "hey.. how's about a knock 20% off .. hell take a couple of extra free licenses.." gets held back and in turn allows the government to look towards "Alternatives". Unlikely, but possibile. However what did strike me as a major bonus to a law like that is another weapon against spammers. Many statistics suggest that the largest percentage of spammers live in the US. Many anti-spam places also indicate that many spammers host their spamming and web sites in China with those so called "bullet proof" hosting companies. Were a law to be passed that said that you couldn't host servers in China because its evil, it would probably be another nice weapon in the arsenal of those suing spammers. Admittedly you still have to catch them first, but it does happen, so being locked away for being a supporter of evil regimes as well as a spammer has to be considered an added bonus for the rest of us :-) Thanks, Colin Keith It was all just an amusing spectacle of Congressional posturing and corporate weasling until your last paragraph: The bill, Smith explained, would include "export controls on certain types of hardware and software and prohibit putting email servers and other assets in countries that lack US-style due process laws." Putting aside for the moment just how "export controls" could deprive China/Iran/Burma of email servers, that last bit is chilling in the unwritten possibility that it may be illegal for a U.S. firm to place its own email server in a country that lacks US-style due process laws such as those that allow the president to ignore FISA. So it may be more sinister than just posturing... Mike Albaugh Most people can't read between the lines on this issue. The truth is much more simple. The U.S. government wants control of the internet. That means they need to get control and leverage over big search engines. How do you get control of search engines that are abiding by U.S. law. Simple, draft laws that they are not abiding by. Currently Sen. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) is drafting legislation that will put search engines in hot water. This is all orchestrated so that the government can get leverage over the search industry. Let's also get one thing straight. Since when has the government cared what U.S. companies are doing in China? And why just Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft search? There are dozens of Fortune 500 companies that have been conforming to Chinese regulations for years. What about them? Conclusion: Google and other search engines will lose this fight and evenutually be forced to hand over key information about how they operate. Once the government has reverse engineered search ranking algorithims, they will be able to manipulate search results at their pleasure. People will then see the results that the U.S. government wants them to see. Welcome to the new world order that is controlled so that people never know the truth. Don't believe me? Read all about it: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4655196.stm Sincerely, Dan Peterson Funny how Tom Lantos didn't have any problems voting for the original "Patriot Act", nor for the invasion of Iraq. Now he gets on his high horse about Google, Yahoo!, and company in China. Let's see him change the law so these companies are able to avoid revealing customer information to the government in the U.S. first, then take on China. Dennis Sosnoski Democrat Tom Lantos summed up the mood with: "Your abhorrent activities in China are a disgrace. I simply do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night." Probably the same way the US president does... Or congress... John Robson 'Rohrabacher told the assembled executives: "You have to choose between Mr Lee [sic] and a gangster regime."' Presumably she meant the Chinese gangsters, rather than the White House gangsters, but obviously, Yahoo, Google, Wal-Mart, and the rest of Corporate America have already made the decision: Profits at any cost, and human rights have no place in capitalism. I can only hope my bunk in Gitmo is deloused before I am spirited away on Air Rendition. Morely Dotes Poor old Sony - if it's not one thing it's another. The latest tale of woe from the Japanese electronics monolith is regarding 400,000 Bravia TVs suffering from a software fault which "could prevent them from being turned off after a cumulative 1,200 hours in stand-by mode". Crikey. 1200 hours? Hmm... let's see. 2^32 milliseconds == 1193 hours (and change). Sound about right? I guess someone at Sony forgot that integers could overflow. Maybe they could get a job making the next Ariane rocket? Dave Cuthbert you guys got it wrong.. its not that it cant shut down, it's just busy, scanning every piece of hardware it can find for ripped music and/or videos.. The problem comes from timeouts trying to talk to the fridge (who's bluetooth is obviously switched off) to see if you have any of those cheap rip-off cola's in stock... and the washing machine checking for those imported not-quite levis... Paul "over-the-air fix"? Does this mean that such TVs can be automagically updated by the content providers without the owner knowing it? So, taking this a little further, the DVD players -and whatever other piece of home entertainment system- can sometime also be updated and possibly rendered useless as some greedy BOFH sees fit?... That doesn't sound good to the paranoid in me... regards varver p.s. No offence to Simon's BOFH! He rules! :-) None taken, we're sure. I was actually thinking these tv were quite good after the glossy advert with all the balls. So now we have the root kit issue, no more aibo robot dogs and now their tvs ARE made to last a fixed time before you need to replace them... Is it just that they have been caught this time so they are calling it a software bug? Jeremy Manser After the recent commercial, would it be fair to say that this is another Bravia (bouncy) balls-up? I'll get my coat. Nezza Yes, we think you should. I've recently seen a hilarious Sony TV software bug (unrelated to the Bravia units you mention) It was a friends TV set and I don't know the model number. He told me jokingly that his TV automatically censors 'crap programs' and said it would not let you watch Big Brother or Trisha. As big brother was on at the time he handed me the remote and told me to try and watch Big Brother. So I switched over to channel 4 and a few seconds later the TV changed channel on its own to some other random channel. I tried again, and it did the same. Once Big Brother had finished the TV seemed quite happy for you to watch channel 4 without doing the random channel change. The problem was reported to Sony and an engineer came out and upgraded the software. This cured the fault (fault? I would call it a feature) Every TV should have this software! Simon Wells Agreed - Sony take note. Talking of Big Brother and human suffering, California has been ordered to make its executions a more comfortable experience for customers. You have to love US justice. The victims always suffer while the criminals go to the end in protected comfort. B If this man's crimes are any example of the "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," then any pain he endures in the last few moments of his life is quite humane. Jennifer Fast deaths: - canon fired in face - 500 Ton metalpress - collision with car at high speed - Slow deaths: - trusting the US system of being able to kill - being in a deathcell for 20 years Either way, humane is neither. You kill someone, or you keep him alive. Frustrating the person with delays and uncertainty is severe torture. -- Greetings, Bertho Stultiens Prostitutes are demanding a clampdown on Grand Theft Auto. As the old saying goes - you're havin' a laugh, aintcha? Read your article on "Prostitutes demand GTA ban" a little while ago and just now finally stopped laughing!! Come on! A web site run by prostitutes, who want to legalize the sale of sex, are asking for a ban on the sale of violence? Yeah... Someone in that organization needs to get a dictionary and look up the meaning behind the following two words: "hypocrite" and "contradiction". What a crock! Altough it was nice to finaly get the chance to cast my YES vote (on their web site) for the decriminalization of prostitution. Once that happens I can get one of their hookers to come over and spank me while I play some GTA!! :) -Greg- Now, as is the local custom, we'll have a few more fun-sized snippets to cheer us on this chilly winter's day: If the "Ebuyer in laptop search result outrage" amuses you, try going to the HM Revenue and Customs (Inland Revenue as was) website at www.hmrc.gov.uk and do a search for "teleworking". Personally, I thought that searching for what the tax implications on working from home were, was a perfectly reasonably request. But the system suggests that perhaps I meant "teleporting". Now I'm dying to know what the tax implications are with regard to teleporting, but that search doesn't return anything. The mind boggles though... If you teleport to a meeting instead of driving, can you still claim a mileage allowance...? Enjoy, Peter Hoare Lovely. Should cut down commuting times. Oh dear. We're old, and out of touch, man: You outed yourself as unhip, daddy-o. ;-) "Blow" is not weed/grass/pot/marijuana/green/puff/etc, it's cocaine, by universal consensus.. Rich Well, not where I come from it isn't, but the Urban Dictionary backs you up on this one. More linguistic shenanigans now, this time from the Ebuyer search outrage piece. Anyone for greengrocer's apostrophe? --begin quote-- then try in "PC's/Displays" [sic]. Yes that's right, not only is Ebuyer punting filth to unsuspecting computer buyers, but it also has a nasty case of greengrocer's apostrophe --end quote-- Actually, they're entirely correct in using an apostrophe here, being as it's a plural of an abbreviation. At least, the chappies at the OED think so: http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutspelling/pizza?view=uk Cheers Euan Robertson Actually, up until around recently, this was quite correct and indeed acceptable use of the apostrophe. It's ("it is"!) only recently that the apostrophe has been dropped from the plural forms of abbreviations, acronyms, and dates, and indeed across the Atlantic, it's still quite common. Just don't ("do not"!) use it in possessive determiners (my, your, his, her, its, etc.) or possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers, its, etc.). I commend "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" by Lynne Truss for the grammatically challenged... :-) Interesting, but we're having none of it. PCs it is, just like CDs and DVDs. A man menaced police with a didgeridoo. Nothing unusual about that. But one police officer's eyewitness report? “wild animal that had been caged, pacing around while watching the officers with his weapon raised in anticipation of striking out" RANDOM COPPER FOR POET LAUREATE!!! He'd get my vote. Normally poets are so poncy, this one comes with his own pepper spray, he'd wow them down the palace. Steve Agreed. Beats Philip Larkin any day. Penultimately, the amazing Pherotones mate-attracting ringtone: breakthrough "Pherotones were discovered by Myra Vanderhood, a world-traveled intimacy expert. Vanderhood studied human sexuality, sexual physiology and interpersonal psychology at the university level for over 12 years. During that time, Vanderhood also conducted rigorous fieldwork, observing and experiencing first hand the sexual practices of cultures around the world." Im not to sure weather I'd trust the word of this woman. 'World-traveled intimacy expert' just sounds like a fancy way of saying globetrotting hussy..... and her rigorous fieldwork?!? she's just spent alot of time watching people get to 'know' (probably in the more biblical sense of the word) eachother whilst sitting in various brothels around the world, I could do that at home with a few special import DVDs or a broadband connection.... and not to mention 12 years in university, if thats not taking the piss i dont know what is!? freeloading, skiving little !! Name supplied Well, there's always one, isn't there? And finally... Always been curious how one gets one's letters printed in the 'Letters' column at The Register. There's no obvious link, the two letters I sent to the editor's email address never got printed (perhaps they were too boring?), and none of the letters I've ever sent to individual authors seem to get printed, though they do frequently get responded to. --Adam Lang I think your question has just been answered. Have a top-notch weekend. ®
Lester Haines, 17 Feb 2006

Le Misancalculation: A one act Itanium tragedy by IDC

Scene I. The Itanic Oracle
Ashlee Vance, 17 Feb 2006

Don't be scared of Sky

CommentComment Wherever you go and whoever you talk to in any of the media, telecoms and television industries, people are absolutely terrified of Sky. Not just scared, absolutely terrified. Not that they'd ever admit it, of course.
Alex Cameron, 17 Feb 2006

Slow start for Choose and Book

Take-up of the NHS' Choose and Book system by GPs is off to an extremely slow start. A report by the membership magazine of the British Medical Association, BMA News says only 67,820 referrals have been made by GPs in England out of an estimated yearly total of 10 million. The figures are from data collected by the Department of Health (DoH) from Strategic Health Authorities (SHA) across England by December 23, 2005. They indicate that "Choose and Book had barely registered in some parts of the country" and even when patients are offered a menu of choices for booking treatment, it is still being done manually. The Counties of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire registered a combined 46 referrals before Christmas. This compares with figures of 288 in Cumbria and Lancashire, and 374 in Essex. Efforts by the DoH to boost usage of Choose and Book have seemingly had little effect. NHS director of access Margaret Edwards wrote to all SHA chief executives over a year ago calling for them to push Choose and Book as the primary channel, "in preference" to interim manual solutions. Financial incentives have also had minimal impact. Primary Care Trusts were offered £100,000 if they could demonstrate that 50 per cent of its GP referrals had been made through Choose and Book by October 2005. Durham Dales was the only successful PCT. A number of issues have compounded the problem. VK Singh, chairman of Leicestershire and Rutland LMC (local medical committee), says low staffing levels in city-based GP offices, where referral levels tend to be higher, is the main cause preventing implementation. Avon LMC chief executive Steve Mercer says his LMC has been "vigorously opposing" both Choose and Book, and manual choice, "while there remain appreciable unknowns about workload, financing, systems and functionality." GPs have also experienced delays in making the referrals with one Liverpool GP taking 57 minutes to refer three patients. According to Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMCs Chief Executive Peter Graves many GPs are ambivalent about Choose and Book, saying that "it has barely registered." Choose and Book is a service that for the first time offers doctors and patients the opportunity to choose which hospitals they are referred to and to select convenient appointment times. It is one of the key systems that will help the government deliver its patient choice agenda. The latest implementation goal is for 90 per cent of GP referral to be made through the system by March 2007. Copyright © eGov monitor Weekly eGov monitor Weekly is a free e-newsletter covering developments in UK eGovernment and public sector IT over the last seven days. To register go here.
eGov Monitor Weekly, 17 Feb 2006

LaCie Little Big Disk 200GB

Exclusive ReviewExclusive Review When is a mobile hard drive not a mobile hard drive? When it's LaCie's Little Big Disk, it seems. While the product is certainly portable and - crucially for a mobile unit - doesn't need a separate mains power supply, anyone who's used one of LaCie's compact Pocket Drives will surely look at the chunky, metal-cased LBD and wonder if the company isn't a few platters short of a drive...
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006
iTablet Mac tablet

Apple after handwriting recognition coder for Mac OS X

Apple is still keen to recruit a full-time software engineer who's up for "advancing gesture and handwriting recognition on Mac OS X" and who believes "using a stylus and a tablet is the way to interact with computers", Reg Hardware has learned. The job posting is sure to further kindle claims the company is developing a tablet Mac.
Tony Smith, 17 Feb 2006
For Sale sign detail

Homeland security urges DRM rootkit ban

US government officials took Sony BMG to task over its controversial use of rootkit-style copy protection at a security conference this week. If the technology proves harmful to consumers, tougher laws and regulations might be proposed, a senior Department of Homeland Security exec warned. "Legislation or regulation may not be appropriate in all cases, but it may be warranted in some circumstances," said Jonathan Frenkel, director of law enforcement policy with the DHS's Border and Transportation Security Directorate, PC World reports. Sony BMG's flawed approach to Digital Rights Management technology was exposed after security researchers discovered XCP anti-piracy software, that shipped with some of Sony BMG's music CDs, masked its presence and introduced a vulnerability that 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 yet more criticism 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 the SunnComm MediaMax version 5 software had a flaw of its own. Security researchers are currently reviewing a second patch. DHS officials had a meeting with Sony BMG shortly after the story broke during which the entertainment reps were read the riot act. "The message was certainly delivered in forceful terms that this was certainly not a useful thing," Frenkel said. Government officials are concerned that the rootkit tactic, if repeated, could leave consumers' systems open to hacker attack. The DHS lacks the power to push through laws itself, but it does have the ears of legislators, if not all the elements of the entertainment industry. Despite the adverse publicity provoked by the Sony BMG incident, the entertainment industry is still experimenting with the use of rootkit-style copy protection technology. For example, it emerged earlier this week that the German language DVD release of Mr and Mrs Smith, which stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a married couple who hide their jobs as assassins from each other, contained a rootkit. The Settec Alpha-DISC copy protection system used on the DVD incorporates rootkit-like features to hide itself, according to an analysis by anti-virus firm F-Secure. "The recent Sony experience shows us that we need to be thinking about how to ensure consumers aren't surprised by what their software is programmed to do," Frenkel said during a panel discussion at the RSA 2006 security conference in San Jose this week. ®
John Leyden, 17 Feb 2006

Mac OS X malware latches onto Bluetooth vulnerability

A second strain of malware targeting Mac OS X has been discovered days after a Mac OS X Trojan appeared on the scene. The latest malware, Inqtana-A, is a proof-of-concept worm that attempts to spread using a Bluetooth vulnerability.
John Leyden, 17 Feb 2006
arrow pointing up

Panic spreads over Windows Vista 'back door' that never was

Who'd be a Microsoft? There you are, strolling along minding your own business and the next thing you know you're in a top level conspiracy with the UK security forces to put a back door into Windows Vista. Or so, anyway, the web bush telegraph would have us believe. But disorientating as we find it to be leaping to Microsoft's defence twice in one day, we at The Register feel compelled to point out that the story is somewhat exaggerated, going on entirely untrue. The Vista back door story originated at (tut) the BBC, with a report claiming that Professor Ross Anderson was urging the government "to look at establishing 'back door' ways of getting around encryptions", and quoting a Home Office spokesman as saying: "The Home Office has already been in touch with Microsoft concerning this matter and is working closely with them." Which we do accept sounds a bit suspicious - particularly if you haven't checked what it was that Prof Anderson originally said, and why. Anderson was giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's enquiry on terrorism detention powers earlier this week, and was covering the challenge posed to police forensic investigations by hard disk encryption. He pointed out that "from later this year the encryption landscape is going to change with the release of Microsoft Vista, the next generation of Windows operating system which will support the use of a chip called a TPM which manufacturers are putting on PC motherboards. What this means is that by default your hard disc will be encrypted using a key that you cannot physically get at... An unfortunate side effect of this from the point of view of law enforcement is that it is going to be technically fairly seriously difficult to dig encrypted material out of systems if people have set it up competently. One issue that was in fact discussed at IPEC here a couple of weeks ago is whether there might in the medium term be some kind of obligation placed on computer vendors, hardware vendors like Intel or software vendors like Microsoft, to see to it that 'back door' keys be made available. Certainly if I were running the appropriate department in the Home Office I would be getting into conversations with Microsoft about this issue now rather than in November when the product is shipped." The notion of Ross Anderson, more commonly found on the other side of the barricades, running a Home Office department is pleasantly surreal, but it's fairly clear that he was talking about a general issue here, and it becomes clearer within the context of the rest of his evidence. Essentially Anderson is pointing out that encryption poses a growing challenge to law enforcement, that the arrival of widespread hardware-based encryption will make the problem far greater, and that under the circumstances sensible governments should be talking to the industry about what to do about it. Which you might reckon is possible not big news, given that governments have been talking to industry about issues of this kind for decades - key escrow, anyone? Anderson, incidentally, seems to view the problem for law enforcement as being considerably broader than just encryption. In the future, he says, encryption will be pretty much an either/or in the sense that if you've got the key, you get in, and if you haven't, you give up. Most effort is therefore likely to go into analysing the vast amount of data within which evidence might be found: "I would think that in ten years' time when the police raid someone's home they might find dozens or perhaps hundreds of computing gadgets on which data can be stored. It is common nowadays, for example, for people to back up their data on devices like an iPod and so in future when you raid somebody's house you will seize their iPod and see if there are data files on it" ('Police to seize iPods' stories are imminent, we predict). What, then, might Microsoft have been talking to the Home Office about? Most assuredly not about putting back doors in Vista: "We are committed to working with law enforcement to help them understand Vista security features and will continue to partner with governments, law enforcement and industry to help make the Internet a safer place", a spokeswoman told The Register. "Windows Vista is engineered to be the most secure version of Windows yet. It is our goal to ensure enterprise users have full control over information on their PCs Microsoft has not and will not put 'backdoors' into Windows, its BitLocker feature, or any other Microsoft Products." She declined, as one might expect, to be specific about the security-related discussions Microsoft may or may not have had with the Home Office, but the areas Microsoft (and other major IT companies) are likely to be covering are fairly obvious, and in some senses (obviously not all) we can perhaps consider Microsoft as being on the side of the forces of light here. Consider, for example, hardware encryption that is intended to be beyond the control of the user, in order to stop the user stealing videos and music - the notion of this being legislated at the behest of the entertainment industry is by no means incredible, and it's clearly something the IT industry will want to have an input on. Or, consider how legislators react when (as so often happens) they discover that encryption that is controlled by the user effectively cannot be cracked by the security services. So they consider placing legal limits on the strength of encryption, and their thoughts turn, yes, to back doors, to whether "some kind of obligation placed on computer vendors" could allow the security forces to read encrypted data. To some extent Microsoft and TPM face both ways here. TPM will certainly be used as a mechanism for restricting users rights, to some extent by the music industry in order to protect its content, and by businesses (the "enterprise users" Microsoft refers to) wishing to protect their data from both intruders and employee abuse. It will be generally available in Vista and in future generations of hardware, but legislation aside people will not be compelled to use it. It's in Microsoft's interests for it to be available for people to use, but it's most certainly not in Microsoft's interests for Vista to either be or to be seen as the OS that restricts your rights. Nor is it in Microsoft's interests for legislators to restrict the strength of encryption, or for legislators to require back doors. It wouldn't work anyway, because lawbreakers and terrorists by definition do not obey the law, so whenever legislators start talking about such things, one of the things Microsoft will be doing is quietly trying to talk them out of it. Not because it's a nice company or anything, but because commercial suicide lies along this road. What, Microsoft is going to sell an OS as 'slightly weakened by design' or 'rock - solid security for your stuff... up to a point'? Yeah, right... ®
John Lettice, 17 Feb 2006