21st > February > 2006 Archive

BT stubs out smoking

BT is banning its 85,000 staff from smoking in any company building or vehicle. The edict comes into force next month and follows the UK government's decision last week to ban smoking in English and Welsh pubs.
John Oates, 21 Feb 2006

UK SMEs 'penalised' by inflexible licences

The majority (59 per cent) of small and medium sized businesses in the UK are failing to apply security patches in a timely manner because the process is too time consuming and hard to manage. That's according to a recent survey of 449 SME IT managers commissioned by internet security firm intY that found small businesses struggling to test patches and roll them out throughout their organisations. intY founder Mark Herbert said some small businesses live under the false impression that only large firms are subject to security attacks. The IntY survey also found that 61 per cent of UK SMEs are wasting money by failing to use software licences they already paid for. "It is outrageous that SMEs in the UK should be penalised by having to pay for software licences they aren’t using because the software licensing system is inflexible and geared towards bigger businesses with bigger budgets. Ideally, small and medium sized businesses should be looking for a more flexible software licensing model which will allow them to pay for licences on a monthly per person basis, and that will help ease the burden associated with managing applications," Herbert said. ®
John Leyden, 21 Feb 2006
channel

Active cookies aim to thwart cyber-crooks

Boffins have come up with a new technique to protect users against more sophisticated forms of cybercrime. Indiana University School of Informatics and affiliated start-up RavenWhite have developed an "active cookie" as a countermeasure against online scams such as pharming and man-in-the-middle attacks. Phishing involves trying to trick users into handing over security credentials to bogus websites, prompted through spam messages that pose as as emails from online banking or retail outlets. Pharming takes this attack one step further by attempting to intercept communication of personal data between a user and a genuine enterprise website by installing spyware, or by subverting DNS servers to redirect users to bogus websites. The technique is quite cunning because, in both cases, a prospective mark tells users they are at the correct website. "There are no reliable commercial tools currently available to protect users from such attacks," said Jakobsson, associate professor of informatics and associate director of the IU Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. "We believe that active cookies can provide such protection." Active cookies are a "piece of cached and sandboxed executable code, such as a JavaScript object, that help authenticate an internet browser to a server", according to (paper) Active Cookies for Browser Authentication by the researchers on the subject. The technology is promoted as a shield against identity theft and cyber attacks that can protect against pharming attacks as well as techniques used to hijack Wi-Fi connections or modify consumer router settings. The researchers admit, however, the technique has its limitations, such as limited persistence and a lack of support for roaming users. "And they do not offer security against strong attacks like active corruption of routers on the client-server path, as more holistic cryptographic solutions can." Nonetheless, Indiana and RavenWhite think active cookies will be attractive to financial institutions - they complement existing techniques for user authentication, are easy to use, and don't have the potential security implications associated with browser plug-ins. Jakobsson outlined his plans for active cookies and other research results on identity theft and its countermeasures when he moderated a panel discussion on Saturday (February 18) at the annual gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St Louis, Missouri. ®
John Leyden, 21 Feb 2006
channel

RadioShack boss quits for porkies on CV

RadioShack chief executive David Edmonson resigned yesterday after failing to fight off allegations that he lied on his CV. Edmonson claimed two degrees, including one in theology, but local paper the Fort Worth Star and Telegram found that although he had attended the Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College for a couple of terms he never received a degree. Claire Babrowski will take over as acting chief executive while a new chief is found. A firm of headhunters has been hired to find a permanent replacement. Babrowski will run RadioShack's turnaround strategy until that replacement is found - internal and external candidates will be considered. The retailer intends to close one in ten stores in an attempt to stem the 60 per cent fall in earnings it suffered in the fourth quarter. Edmonson said in a statement: "At this time, the board and I have agreed that it is in the best interest of the company for new leadership to step forward so that our turnaround plan has the best possible chance to succeed, as I know it will." More from the Fort Worth Star here.
John Oates, 21 Feb 2006
channel

Intel lines up late May Core Duo price cuts - report

Expect Intel to cut the prices of its Core Duo mobile processor line-up at the end of May, the Chinese-language Commercial Times said today. According to the paper, the prices of the 65nm dual-core successors to the Pentium M will fall by up to 33.1 per cent.
Tony Smith, 21 Feb 2006

Sleuths tangled in NHS-IT can o' worms

CommentComment Official auditors assigned to assess the multi-billion pound National Programme for IT* might have been forgiven for thinking that this one was going to be straightforward. The National Audit Office chose in summer 2004 to "examine the procurement process" for NPfIT, decide whether its supplier contracts would give "good value for money", and determine how well the project had been run. On the face of it, the procurement, contracting and, by definition, the implementation that followed, were about as simple as it could get for a project of this size: NPfIT said, this is how we are going to do it, anyone who disagrees can get lost; those principles were enshrined in contracts, and everything was rushed through by an autocratic central command. Already postponed, the investigation was due to report in March. We won't hear a pip from the NAO now until the summer, a year later than originally planned, if it manages to get it out before Parliament goes into recess. What could be keeping them? One idea being put about is that the NAO underestimated the size of the task. The Department of Health is also reviewing the report, which means it is picking hairs over the findings (negotiating facts and semantics with investigators). It may be that in tackling the underlying complexities of NPfIT, the NAO has unearthed matters that would have been tackled up front in a more transparent project. An unaudited glance at NPfIT suggests it is the exhuming of hidden complexities that has taken the NAO so long. The procurement was hurried and conducted in a secret, some might say blinkered, manner. A lack of transparency characterised the rest of the planning and much else since. The contract writers took their cue from PFI (the Private Finance Initiative), which loaded all the risks for the project onto suppliers. This approach to risk, incidentally, has been proven unreliable and was the reason PFI was subsequently banned for use on IT projects. When the contracts were let, a lack of NHS experience was evident among the handful of suppliers eventually chosen to take on the work. They were forced into an aggressive recruitment drive to find the staff, but there was already a shortage of experienced people in the industry. Further pressure was put on industry to consolidate, as much IT work had been done for the NHS in a piecemeal fashion and was now being funnelled through just five sub-contracting agents. All this must have made it very difficult for the industry to meet NPfIT's high expectations. Having been kept in the dark, suppliers were also unable to plan so they could meet its approval in the future. Those who landed work through NPfIT are a little peeved they still haven't been paid anything. No wonder the project is running late. What are the chances it's given the NHS value for money? * The National Programme for IT, having earned a reputation as an autocracy, was rebranded with a name less likely to conjure up images of Soviet-era style project management, "Connecting for Health". ®
Mark Ballard, 21 Feb 2006

Fiftysomethings' sexual satisfaction high

Men in their thirties and forties are less sexually satisfied than those in their fifties, a study has found. In fact, the baby boom generation are the most sexually satisfied of anyone outside their twenties, according to the research in the British Journal of Urology. On a scale of zero to four – zero presumably being very unsatisfied, and four being Snoop Dogg - pentagenarians scored an average of 2.77, very close to the 2.79 recorded by the whippersnappers of the 20-29 age group. Men in their forties came in with a satisfaction score of 2.72, but thirtysomethings could only muster a limp 2.55. Post-60, the men's sexual satisfaction tailed off. Doubtless they're worn out from the last decade's activities. The survey was carried out on 1,185 men in Norway, hitherto famous for curling, whaling and binge drinking. ®
Christopher Williams, 21 Feb 2006
globalisation

Private identities become a corporate focus

During his keynote during the RSA Conference, Scott McNealy seemed almost apologetic. The Sun Microsystems CEO, infamous for his pronouncement, "You have zero privacy anyway - Get over it," took a conciliatory tone on the stage here, allowing that privacy might be something for which consumers should fight. He warned companies that, unless they protect consumer privacy, they could lose out on significant online growth.
Robert Lemos, 21 Feb 2006
globalisation

Broadband soars ahead in Europe, says EU

Some 20m new broadband lines were wired up in Europe last year taking the total to almost 53m connections, according to a report published by the European Commission (EC). Its eleventh tome exploring Europe's telecoms sector found a "significant increase in broadband take-up in 2005", thanks to lower prices and increased availability. Average EU penetration (the number of broadband lines per 100 people) was 11.5 per cent in October 2005 - compared to 7.3 per cent a year earlier. Indeed, Eurocrats have worked out that the number of broadband lines increased by 52,000 a day last year - up from 38,000 new connections a day the year before - as demand soared. Summarising the overall gist of broadband in Europe, the EC reported that there were more providers in the market, with "prices falling as transmission speeds increase". It also pointed out that new providers had almost half of all retail connections although many were reselling wholesale services from the incumbent telco. That position, though, is likely to change due to a "significant move to unbundled local loops, with increased service quality and differentiation". Indeed, according to the latest figures available for the UK, the number of unbundled lines stands at more than 250,000 and is on target to hit 2m to 3m this year as operators begin the bulk migration of punters to LLU services. ®
Tim Richardson, 21 Feb 2006

Sony touts 'thrills'n'stills' HD camcorder

Sony today unveiled the compact HD camcorder it hopes will bring high definition video mainstream when it goes on sale across the world in April. That's thanks to the machine's compact size, picture resolution and ability to take stills while shooting video, Sony claimed.
Tony Smith, 21 Feb 2006
SGI logo hardware close-up

IBM scientists claim chip breakthrough

Scientists at IBM say they have figured out how to produce smaller and more powerful microchips than previously thought possible. It is hoped IBM's announcement at San Jose on Monday will mean the creation of miniscule microprocessors which will save the IT manufacturing sector billions of dollars.
ElectricNews.net, 21 Feb 2006

Creationists want your children

The Royal Society has spoken out against the increasingly vocal UK creationism lobby, which it says seems to be gaining a foothold amongst university and college students. Apparently, “the vast majority” of students at one London sixth-form centre are now fully paid-up members of the Adam and Eve club. Royal Society vice-president Professor David Read told The Guardian: “Our education system should withstand attempts to withhold or misrepresent this knowledge in order to promote particular beliefs, religious or otherwise.” Leaflets distributed at London's King's College medical school during Islamic Awareness Week recently denounced evolution, saying God created mankind and everything else in six days. “It's not six Earth days,” explained one unnamed student to the Guardian reporter. God lives on Venus, perhaps, where a day is 243 Earth days, giving the Almighty about four years - plenty of time. Geneticist and popular science author Professor Steve Jones will deliver a public lecture at the Royal Society in April entitled: “Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right”. Professor Jones is quoted in the Guardian piece: "It's a step back from rationality. Irrationality is a very infectious disease, as we see from the United States." El Reg will be there, of course.®
Christopher Williams, 21 Feb 2006

Nikon puts Wi-Fi, anti-blur digicams in the frame

Nikon today unveiled its latest assault on the digital compact camera market: seven new Coolpix models, including the 8.1 megapixel, shake-resistant and Wi-Fi enabled P3, and the slimline S5 and S6 with their "wave-surface design" - it's curved, in other words - and a supercharged slideshow facility.
Tony Smith, 21 Feb 2006

Logitech Wireless Headphones for iPod

ReviewReview Logitech's wireless headphone set is more iPod-specific than the company's Wireless Music System (WMS), which Reg Hardware reviewed last week, though the underlying technology is the same: Bluetooth with its optional Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) protocol to allow stereo music to be beamed from a compact transmitter to the 'phones...
Tony Smith, 21 Feb 2006

Man reports crap dope to cops

In briefIn brief A German pothead was cuffed after reporting his dealer to cops for supplying seven ounces of "completely unenjoyable" weed. Darmstadt resident Hans-Juergen Bendt, 52, complained of the "fraud" after the retailer refused to refund him the £270 he'd shelled out for "absolutely mediocre quality" toke. The police decided to ignore the serious allegation against the dealer and charge Bendt instead with buying and possession of drugs. ®
Lester Haines, 21 Feb 2006

City of London gets Wi-Fi

The Corporation of the City of London has chosen The Cloud to install a Wi-Fi network to cover the Square Mile. The project will go live within the next few months with full coverage within six months. Equipment will be installed in lamp posts and street signs in the Square Mile, giving City workers and visitors wireless internet access wherever they are. The network is to be open for other operators to use - users can sign up directly through The Cloud website, but most customers will get access through their own providers. Michael Snyder, chairman of the City of London's policy committee, said: "The City is a fast-moving and dynamic environment and we are responding to the increasing time pressures faced by City workers by providing the technology for them to stay up to date." Read the whole press release here.®
John Oates, 21 Feb 2006

AOL to launch AIM for business

AOL is to launch an instant messaging (IM) service aimed at business users, the internet giant confirmed today. Teaming up with WebEx Communications, the new service is due to be unveiled before June, although pricing has yet to be confirmed. Currently knows as "AIM Pro", the IM service will come in two flavours - a professional edition for home workers and SMEs, and one geared for large corporations. Both promise secure chat, conference calls, online meetings and oodles of other stuff. According to research from the Radicati Group, instant messaging is used by some 135m workers with numbers expected to 477m by 2009. Which is nice. ®
Tim Richardson, 21 Feb 2006

Doctors pull plug on California execution

California: The planned execution of convicted rapist and murderer Michael Morales has been halted after two court-appointed doctors refused to participate, the BBC reports. The anaesthesiologists were scheduled to be present at the termination at the behest of a US federal judge who agreed with defence arguments that the cocktail of lethal chemicals used might cause extreme pain if the initial dose of barbiturates proved inadequate. Accordingly, the judge ordered two doctors to attend and intervene, "in the event that Morales woke up or appeared to be in pain". However, the two doctors declared any such intervention "medically unethical", adding: "As a result, we have withdrawn from participation in this current process... What is being asked of us is ethically unacceptable." San Quentin prison has now rescheduled the execution for 19:30 local (03:30 GMT) on Wednesday, and will now use a lethal dose of barbiturates instead of the usual blend. Morales is on Death Row for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell. ®
Lester Haines, 21 Feb 2006

Thwart burglars with sticky DNA

Police in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames have launched a burglary-reduction scheme using DNA to trap light-fingered ne'er-do-wells. Kits will be distributed later this month to allow householders to mark property with synthetic sequences that last for up to 30 years. The unique DNA stretches are suspended in an adhesive, and can be compared to sequences held in a database when stolen goods are recovered for easy identification. As a backup, the glue also contains spy-style microdots that carry more identifying info. The SelectaDNA system chosen for the Community Safety Partnership project is one of several vying for a slice of the potentially lucrative market. Chief Superintendent Ian Edwards explained: “Richmond upon Thames suffers from domestic burglary because it is seen as an affluent area offering rich pickings. Unfortunately our residents sometimes add to the problem with an over relaxed approach to security.” ®
Christopher Williams, 21 Feb 2006

Nominet faces rebellion over rule changes

Nominet, the company in charge of the .uk registry, is facing a grassroots rebellion over proposed changes to company rules that will see it enter a more commercial phase. Last week, Nominet announced an extraordinary general meeting on March 16, where members would be invited to vote in favour of changes to its Articles of Association. Those changes will see the board expanded to nine members and given far greater power. The aim, company chairman Bob Gilbert stated in a letter, is to make the company more flexible and capable of dealing with rapid changes in the internet market. That aim has been warmly greeted by most Nominet members, however a review of the exact changes has caused widespread concern that the not-for-profit company has gone too far and will end up competing with its own members. Most vocal in opposition has been Hazel Pegg, member of Nominet's Public Advisory Board (PAB), who has set up her own website - NotNominet.org.uk - in order to outline the actual changes and the reason for her opposition. "This is a deliberate move by the board to move influence away from the membership," Pegg told us. "And to some extent I agree with that, we do need to remove some of the restrictions. But this is a step too far - it is opening up all sorts of doors. I don't like it at all." Over half of the eight elected PAB members are also known to be against the changes. Many of the remainder privately possess reservations about some of the changes. The opposition is worrying Gilbert and Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley, who need 90 percent of votes cast at the March meeting for the changes to go ahead. Nominet has an unusual history - it was set up to act as a benign not-for-profit company that would be as a quasi-governmental body and serve only its members. The idea was that administration of the .uk registry would be kept safe from commercial pressures and so act in the best faith for the community as a whole. As a result, the company's rules were designed to make members, made up of companies that sell .uk domains, the most powerful force. No changes in price, membership, or business could be made without 90 percent of members behind them. However, the enormous changes in the internet - the most significant being the rapid rise of search engines - plus the huge expansion in Nominet members has meant the original rules are making it extremely difficult for Nominet to function. A simple price rise can take anything up to six months for the company to approve. A review of the company's governance structure was set in motion by Nominet founder Willie Black, but this was scrapped when he resigned in September 2004 and the new chairman embarked on a new process following his appointment in May 2005. Bob Gilbert is an experienced businessman and lawyer and was brought in with a clear remit to use Nominet's good name and experience to expand commercially into other parts of the internet market. The concern is that Gilbert does not understand Nominet's unique history and that the changes suggested will end up turning the organisation against its own members. Included in the changes is room to charge members differently, to pay dividends, and to pay bonuses to board members. While the company says its intention is to remain not-for-profit, the main fear is that the changes are no more than the first in a two-step process to Nominet becoming an entirely commercial enterprise, with one eye on going public. Nominet's claims that it needs to make the changes in order to bid for contracts outside the .uk domain registry are also in question, as the company needs only to create subsidiary companies for particular contracts - something it already did in 2001 when it created three Nominet companies in order to bid for the .eu, .org and Enum registries. ® Related links Nominet EGM information NotNominet.org.uk
Kieren McCarthy, 21 Feb 2006

BBC Dragon hails UK start-ups

Start-up businesses in the UK offer better investment prospects than those in the United States, a panelist from the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme has told a London conference on innovation. Doug Richard, chairman of Library House and the keynote speaker at yesterday’s UK Technology Innovation and Growth Forum, told an audience of investors, industry experts and new entrepreneurs that the huge choice of start-ups available for investment in the UK gives British entrepreneurs an edge over their American rivals. "Venture capitalists who want to invest in innovative start-ups should focus their attention on the United Kingdom," Richard said. "Right now, there are more opportunities for investment in the UK than in the US, and they're better priced as well." For technology companies, in particular, he said there are many more advantages to being based in the UK than in the United States. "It’s a more mobile market and there is access to lower development costs through outsourcing," Richard said. He cited the success of London-based Skype, recently bought by eBay for $2.6bn, as evidence that technology start-ups don’t need to be based in America to be successful. Some 500 people attended the conference, which opened yesterday with company presentations and culminates today. Copyright © 2006,
Startups.co.uk, 21 Feb 2006

MS avoids Oz PC time shift catastrophe

Now, we at El Reg have been known to have a go at Microsoft for not issuing patches for humanity-threatening vulnerabilities with sufficient alacrity, so we are absolutely delighted to report that Redmond has acted with panther-like speed to plug a Commonwealth Games-related doomsday scenario. Here's the background: The Commonwealth Games are scheduled to be held during March 2006 in Melbourne Australia. Several Australian states including New South Wales, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania, have changed the Daylight Savings transition end dates to the first Sunday of April 2006. That's right. Australian users in the affected territories should note that your PC is at serious risk risk from premature clock-resetting. Act now to prevent temporal anarchy. ® Bootnote Thanks to Ewan Nisbet for the tip off. He notes: "You've gotta laugh really." Well, yes you do.
Lester Haines, 21 Feb 2006
channel

Google concedes desktop security risk

Cross-computer file searching features in the latest version of Google desktop search tool represent an "unacceptable security risk" to large enterprises, analyst Gartner warns. Google concedes the analysts' concerns are valid but argues that large firms are free to control the application of the technology. Google Desktop 3 beta introduces the ability to search the contents of one computer from another. Previous versions of the tool indexed files on users' PCs, but using the optional "Search Across Computers" facility in Google Desktop 3 temporarily stores text copies of searchable items on Google's own servers for up to 30 days - a move Gartner describes as "inauspicious". While the technology might make life easier for "technically adept personal users" it's fraught with difficulties for larger firms. Transporting potentially sensitive data outside corporate boundaries onto Google's servers gives Gartner the fear, even though Google is promising that the data will be encrypted. Also workers can't be relied upon to identify what documents are too sensitive to share. For these reasons the Search Across Computers option "should be disabled or heavily managed by enterprises". Gartner advises firms that permit workers to use Google's desktop search application should switch over to the enterprise edition. The analyst's misgivings about in Search Across Computers" facility in Google Desktop 3 parallel those of privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and security experts. Google concedes that the technology is a potential security risk - if improperly managed - but points out that enterprises can disable the "Search Across Computers" feature. "Yes, it's a risk, and we understand that businesses may be concerned," Andy Ku, European marketing manager for Google told ZDNet. "Theoretically any intellectual property can be transferred outside of a company. We understand that there are a lot of security concerns about the Search Across Computers feature, but Google won't hold information unless the user or enterprise opts in (to the feature)," he added. ®
John Leyden, 21 Feb 2006

NEC to shutter Co. Meath chip plant

UpdatedUpdated NEC has confirmed it is to close its Ballivor, Co. Meath semiconductor plant at the end of September with the loss of 350 jobs. The chip maker blamed the move on the plant's "high operating costs". As reported earlier today by The Register, staff at the facility were alerted to the possibility of redundancies this afternoon when management called a surprise mass meeting. All staff - including workers on shift in the factory and employees on sick leave - were called to the crunch meeting at 4pm today, to discuss the future of the business. NEC's Ballivor operation opened in 1976 with backing from the Irish Development Agency. It was one of the county's largest employers, making chips for the European car industry. The Japanese giant has been stepping-up cost-cutting measures in the wake of last year's profits slump. The company has initiated discussions with employee representatives and state agencies on compensation packages. NEC Ireland MD Kenji Yamashiro said: "Our immediate concern is the welfare of our employees, and we will do everything we can to make this transition as easy as possible for them." ®
Christopher Williams, 21 Feb 2006

Commodore rises from the dead

CommentComment The Chickenhead company, Commodore, chose 3GSM to launch into the mobile games business as a distributor. So, what is a Chickenhead? It's the popular name for the Commodore logo. And why is that a "mobile media provider"? Ah, that's quite a story! - it goes like this...
Guy Kewney, 21 Feb 2006

Eircom confirms takeover talks - again

Eircom is once again at the centre of a takeover bid after confirming it has received a preliminary approach from Australian investors Babcock & Brown. In a statement issued this afternoon, the Irish telco said: "The board of Eircom confirms that the company has received a preliminary approach from Babcock & Brown Capital, which may or may not lead to an offer being made for the company. A further announcement may be made in due course as and when the need arises." Last October, Babcock splashed out €400m for a 12.5 per cent stake in the Irish incumbent claiming the firm was undervalued. At the time Babcock exec Rex Comb said the investment outfit was "optimistic about the fundamentals of the Irish economy and the benefits that flow to Eircom's business as a result of this underlying strength". He went on: "We see this as a strategic shareholding in a company with robust fundamentals and a positive outlook which is not fully recognised by the market at the present time." But any speculation that Babcock might make a formal approach was squished when Swisscom confirmed four weeks later that it was in talks to buy the Irish carrier. But that deal was torpedoed when the Swiss Government (which owns 66 per cent of Swisscom) said it would vote against any plans for the telco to invest overseas. ®
Tim Richardson, 21 Feb 2006
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BT flogs ID theft insurance

BT has hooked up with Card Protection Plan Limited (CPP) to flog insurance to protect punters against ID theft. For £50 a year, users are covered for up to £50,000 to help meet the cost of restoring their identity if it's nicked via online fraud, "bin raiders" looking for statements and receipts, or by skimming credit cards. If needed, the £50,000 can be used for expenses such as legal fees, lost wages and costs for rejected loan fees. The insurance cover also includes BT/CPP keeping an eye on individual credit reports and alerting punters to anything suspicious. Last week, the National Consumer Council (NCC) called for the creation of dedicated ID fraud customer helpdesks to help victims of ID theft. It wants businesses - especially banks, insurance companies, credit providers, phone and utility companies - to give ID fraud victims more help and to set up dedicated ID fraud customer helpdesks. Crucially, the NCC believes it is firms that should bear the cost of these helpdesks - not the consumer. ®
Team Register, 21 Feb 2006
For Sale sign detail

An answer to spreadsheet hell

Since I wrote my white paper (available for free download) on the problems of spreadsheets last year, a number of vendors have come up with a variety of solutions, not least Microsoft, which has substantially improved the security and auditability of Excel in Office 12, though it still lacks facilities like cell level locking. However, the best solution I have seen to-date comes from Mobius. Mobius is a long-time player (25 years) in the content and records management space, specialising in very high volume and very highly scalable solutions. On top of this solution it has a product line called ABS: audit and balancing systems. What this does is to check across databases and content repositories to ensure that balance is maintained. Thus it can check, for example, that a remittance statement ties up with an appropriate sales ledger entry and, if it does not, then the software can kick off an appropriate process to restore the system to balance. What has this got to do with spreadsheets? Well, nothing as yet but bear with me. Mobius has a stand-alone part of the ABS suite called ABS Spreadsheet for Compliance, which was released towards the end of last year. In effect, this allows you to run Excel within the Mobius environment. Except for the fact that identity management is applied when you open up Excel (that is, you have to log in) end users will see no change in the way they use it. However, there is a lot of extra stuff under the covers. To begin with, there is full security (including cell level locking) and auditability. There is also version control, which applies not just to data but also to formulae and macros. There is also a built-in review and approval process (actually, this is one other area where users may see a change) which is itself auditable and you can append comments, notes and so forth to spreadsheets, all of which are similarly captured. So far, so good. But it gets better. In June this year, Mobius will be introducing its next release of this product. This will provide two major enhancements. First, it will integrate with ABS itself (it already integrates with ViewDirect, which is the company’s content management solution). What this will mean is that you will be able to balance and reconcile data between spreadsheets and source applications – in other words, you will actually be able to check that the data is still valid and hasn't been overwritten. Secondly, and this is the real kicker: in the June release, Mobius will be introducing automated spreadsheet consolidation. That is, you will be able to roll up figures from lower-level spreadsheets into higher ones. Now, consider the implications of that for a moment. There are lots of times companies want to roll-up figures in spreadsheets. But what is the most common? Probably planning, budgeting and consolidation. Every CPM (corporate performance management) vendor will tell you horror stores about companies using Excel for this purpose, who take weeks to perform consolidations, for example. Well, with the June release of ABS Spreadsheet for Compliance it becomes a much more plausible option to stay with Excel. I'm not saying that it might not still be a good idea to move to Cartesis, Cognos or whoever, but Mobius' solution certainly poses the question and I expect a significant number of companies will look on it favourably. Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com
Philip Howard, 21 Feb 2006

Bird flu menaces British monarchy

The Tower of London's famous ravens have been locked up in a bid to isolate them from the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza that is sweeping the world. Rest assured though, the ravens enjoy an immune boosting diet of blood-soaked biscuits, boiled eggs and cod liver oil. Legend has it that when none of the birds are left, the kingdom is in peril - at one point during the Blitz all but one died "of fright". Now Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle has been forced to quarantine his six royal charges in specially built aviaries within the Norman fortress. The ravens shouldn't mind much. Coyle told the BBC last year: "I have a great relationship with the birds." Bird flu has yet to be confirmed in either wild or captive species in the UK - the nine suspicious swans reported across Britain over the weekend have all tested negative for the disease. Edgar Allen Poe clearly foresaw the whole interminable bird flu crisis in the classic poem 'The Raven': "'Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! - Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted - On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore - Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!' Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'" ®
Christopher Williams, 21 Feb 2006

The ugly face of crime

There might be some truth in caricatures from films such as Dick Tracy after all. Ugly teens are more likely to grow up to commit crime, according to study by a pair of US economists who tracked the life history of youngsters through to early adulthood. "We find that unattractive individuals commit more crime in comparison to average-looking ones, and very attractive individuals commit less crime in comparison to those who are average-looking," Naci Mocan of the University of Colorado and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University conclude, as reported in The Washington Post. The study is based on data from a federally-sponsored survey of 15,000 school kids that started in 1994, which asked youngsters to rate the attractiveness of their peers, among other things. Ten years down the line, these results were then cross-matched with criminal records. They found that attractive males were consistently less likely to go on to be convicted of crimes ranging from burglary to drug dealing. Ugly (or would that be less self-confident?) blokes were far more likely to be convicted of these crimes. Similarly, female stunners were less likely than their plain Jane counterparts to commit crimes. The research fails to adequately explain why convicted criminals tend to be ugly. However, separate studies suggest employers are more likely to hire attractive people and that good lookers are more successful in climbing the corporate ladder. Inferior job prospects might make it more likely for less attractive people to turn to crime, the study suggests. Cute people also tend to do better at school and have better social skills, attributes that might sway the verdict of juries in favour of winsome defendants, it's tempting to speculate. ®
John Leyden, 21 Feb 2006
channel

Chinese hackers allegedly make a game of ID theft

Names and national identity numbers of 2,000 South Koreans have been stolen by sneak thieves who used the information to play the popular online computer game Lineage for free. Seoul-base game developer NCSoft issued a warning after getting numerous, and rising, reports of unauthorised players last week. It reckons the purloined data "leaked" from internet shopping malls, the Korea Times reports. Lineage is offered with a three day free pass for each new registration in Korea. Normally the game costs 29,700 Won ($31) per month. NCSoft maintains victims of the identity theft were not hit financially. Local reports speculate that Chinese hackers obtained the personal data on Koreans in order to resell game access on the black market. Local police are investigating the case. Korean websites commonly ask users to submit their identity numbers but the practice is frowned on by the Korean government as a security risk. It wants firms to adopt alternative registration schemes. US users of Lineage, for example, need only to validate their email address in order to play. ®
John Leyden, 21 Feb 2006

Sun recycles CFO

In BriefIn Brief Once a Sun Microsystems CFO, always a Sun Microsystems CFO. Or so seems to be the case with Mike Lehman. Lehman has emerged from retirement to take back the CFO post he held between 1998 and 2002. Lehman's return allows current CFO Steve McGowan to go through with his own retirement plans. It's unclear why Lehman decided to accept the job now, since McGowan announced his own plans to depart last October. Sun has been searching for a new CFO for the last four months. "The board did a very thorough internal and external search," a Sun spokeswoman told El Reg. Lehman has been working as a consultant at Sun since his "retirement". McGowan will stay on at Sun as EVP of finance, helping with the transition. "Having now tried retirement briefly, I find that I like being involved in leading change and driving the business more directly," Lehman said. Both McGowan and Lehamn have solid reputations with Wall Street analysts - not that they're the most discerning bunch. Sun has long produced clear financial reports during both boom and bust times. ®
Ashlee Vance, 21 Feb 2006
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Microsoft leak shows Vista eight-pack

Microsoft's next desktop operating system will ship in eight flavors, according to a company leak. The eight flavors of Windows Vista will range from versions aimed at home and business tastes to two versions designed to comply with the European Commission's (EC) ruling against the bundling of Media Player. The EC-friendly editions come as Microsoft continues to argue whether it has complied with the terms of the commission's anti-trust ruling in its bid to avoid paying a daily penalty of $2.4m for failure to comply. Of course, you weren't supposed to know about Windows Vista packaging until a time deemed more appropriate by Microsoft's engineering team and marketing department. The information only came to light after Microsoft accidentally posted product details to a web page that Microsoft said was designed to test the Windows Vista help system, and which has since been removed. Rather than fess up and confirm details, Microsoft said the site included "incomplete information" about the Windows Vista line up. The Windows Vista family will feature three editions targeting consumers, three for business users, a basic edition (called Windows Starter 2007) that will probably target small and medium businesses and specific deployment scenarios, and Windows Vista Ultimate that combines features from the home and business editions. Included in the home range is Windows Vista Home Basic N, while the business line features Windows Vista Business N - both of which will ship without Windows Media Player for markets covered by the EC. Microsoft of course landed in hot water with the EC for bundling Media Player with Windows, and has been ordered to de-couple the two. ®
Gavin Clarke, 21 Feb 2006
For Sale sign detail

Microsoft Office Snaps into back office

Microsoft has released code for developers and ISVs that continues its strategy of turning Office into the window on customers' back-end business data. Microsoft has shipped four programs, collectively called Dynamics Snap, that integrate calendar data in the Office 2003 edition of Outlook with business processes in Microsoft's Dynamics AX 3.0 and Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) 3.0. According to Microsoft, integration will make it easier to use Outlook calendar data as part of a business process managed by Dynamics or to pull data managed by Dynamics into collaboration, email and documents managed by Office 2003. The goal is not just to make sharing of data easier for end-users but to also simplify the process of integrating the two separate pieces of Microsoft software, creating a broader market and potential business opportunities for partners. Last year, Microsoft tried to rally partners to the Office 2003 flag by highlighting a $140bn market building applications and services around messaging, collaboration, portal and enterprise content management for the suite. Microsoft hopes to excite partners about Office 2003 after last year, admitting just 15 per cent of PCs are running the suite, while many customers still remain on Office 2007. The company is trying to attract interest around Office to attain $9.2bn in revenue from the suite by 2010. One tactic used to increase the appeal of Office is to drive integration between Microsoft's server-side software. Dynamics Snap parallels Mendocino, Microsoft's project with enterprise resource planning (ERP) giant SAP to integrate Office and SAP data and workflows. Mendocino will potentially make SAP data accessible to Office users, helping boost the value of Office as a tool for use in business analytics and data processing. Mendocino also helps SAP, who needs Windows developers to get away from the historical dead end that is SAP's own proprietary ABAP architecture. Microsoft said, while both Dynamics Snap and Mendocino provide time and vacation management, Dynamics Snap differed because Microsoft has made code available under its shared source initiative as a further fillip to partners targeting Office 2007, the successor to Office 2003 announced last week. "Going forward, we are looking at rich collaborative applications that we plan to ship with Microsoft Dynamics and 2007 Microsoft Office System," Microsoft said in a statement. ®
Gavin Clarke, 21 Feb 2006