7th > March > 2006 Archive

Don't wait for Apple - upgrade your Intel Mac

There's an upside to Apple's decision to use bog-standard PC chips. Mac owners don't have to wait for the aftermarket to produce custom boards to rev their machines. And they don't have to sit idling in front of roadblocks set up by Apple, either.
Andrew Orlowski, 07 Mar 2006
fingers pointing at man

Brocade copies HP and Veritas by buying NuView

Brocade Communications strayed from its switching roots on Monday, announcing the acquisition of software maker NuView. With the purchase, Brocade joins HP and Veritas as companies that have also acquired NuView over the years (more on that later). Brocade shelled out $60m for the file virtualization start-up. NuView's main claim to fame arrives via the StorageX product, which provides a global namespace stretching across numerous NAS (network attached storage) boxes. This software will be sold with Brocade's Tapestry family of management products that includes a wide area file services tool, an application resource manager, and a data migration manager. NuView claims NetApp as a prominent and long-standing customer. The two announced a deal back in 2002 to have NetApp offer StorageX with its boxes. Of course, NetApp, EMC and others have been working on similar technology of their own for some time or have purchased start-ups to get the global namespace job done. Brocade hopes to sell NuView to and with the entire cast of NAS storage characters, including NetApp, EMC, Sun Microsystems, HP, IBM and Hitachi. To have a bit of fun, travel over here and do a Ctrl-F for "Track Record". You'll find that the NuView name has been recycled a couple of times in the server and storage industries. HP bought NuView and its ManageX product in 1997, and Veritas bought NuView and its ClusterX product in 1999. It would seem that CEO Rahul Mehta has found a successful formula for attracting large vendors. Just call your company NuView and slap an "X" on the back of a common server/storage term. This strategy helps save on business card, promotional pen and notebook costs. NuView claims about 400 customers. ®
Ashlee Vance, 07 Mar 2006

Borland's Delphi goodbye

StobStob And it came to pass that the Sons of Kahn, who dwelt in the valley of the Scotts, fell yet again upon interesting times. And their fortune did wax and wane, only with not so much of the wax. And they did bring forth a version of Delphi called '2005'. But the users of Delphi looked upon it with scorn, for it was a stinker. And they upgradeth not. And the great and respected leader of the Sons of Kahn, one Daleful Er, spake unto his people saying: I have a great plan to fix our troubles. And the Sons of Kahn spake unto their great and respected leader, saying: Art thou still here? And so Daleful Er departed the valley of the Scotts, with his tail fitted in its groove. Then the remaining Sons of Kahn sat down upon the Dell Yocam Memorial Sofa and parleyed amongst themselves, for they knew in their hearts that they did indeed need a great plan. And then one amongst their number said unto the rest: Let's change our name to Inprise again. That worked brilliantly last time. But the Sons of Kahn heedeth him not, for they perceiveth that the fellow taketh the pitheth. And then another amongst their number spake up, saying: Look, there is a strange mark upon the sofa, upon its very leather. Whosoever can interpret this mark unto us, he must be our leader. And they all gathered around the sofa saying: Eugh, gross; is that a food stain or what? And: Methinks 'tis like a weasel. And: I love the smell of Rorschach in the morning. And they could interpret it not.
Verity Stob, 07 Mar 2006
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Firms 'invisible' to online shoppers

Nearly half of small businesses could be missing out on their share of the growing online market due to poor knowledge of search engines. A new report from Fasthosts shows that 49 per cent of small firms fail to submit their company’s websites to search engines. Two-thirds of internet users told researchers that they only look at the first two pages of their online search results, Fasthosts said, meaning that many companies will never be discovered online. Consumers spent over £19bn online for goods and services last year, and businesses that are not visible online are losing valuable revenue, the report warns. The volume of online sales is expected to grow by 36 per cent this year, according to the Interactive Media Retail Group (IMRG). "No business can afford to be invisible online, yet too many small businesses are," Fasthosts chief executive Andrew Michael said. "I was amazed to see that small firms are not considering how much they personally use search engines when it comes to the importance of ranking for their own company. If you are not listed on Google, your website might as well not be online." The study found that 89 per cent of internet users ranked Google as their search engine of choice. Copyright © 2006,
Startups.co.uk, 07 Mar 2006

National gun database backfires

Further delays have plagued the project to create the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS). Two forces that have been piloting the database, Lancashire Police and the Metropolitan Police, will now have to run further tests. They have been forced to do so by the need to cleanse data so that information can be shared, and to configure different networks that have so far proved incompatible. The next pilot involving the two forces is due to start in May 2006, to be followed by a nine month roll out across the country should it prove successful. A roll out schedule is yet to be agreed, but it is hoped the system will be installed across all forces by March next year. "The forces operate on different systems, and it's not possible to mandate them to run off the same network," a spokesperson for the Police IT Organisation told Government Computing News. "We are now working on procedures to get around this issue." Legislation for the database was in place almost 10 years ago, but the project has been repeatedly delayed due to difficulties in implementing the necessary standardised IT systems across 43 police forces. Initially, the budget for the NFLMS was set at £5.5m, but following delays this has expanded by £1.5m. Ministers have received much criticism for failing to set up the register. Ahead of the 10 year anniversary of the Dunblane shooting, the chief constable of Merseyside Police Bernard Hogan-Howe spoke out against the delay. "I understand they've had two pilots and we're told that there are IT problems to actually resolving it but...this is too long," he said. "We want it, there's certainly no resistance from the police service to have it and clearly what we do need is a register of all the people with a licence." Prime minister Tony Blair promised parents of children killed in the Dunblane massacre that a national register would be created during their visit to Downing Street a decade ago. This article was originally published at Kablenet.
Kablenet, 07 Mar 2006
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Cisco captures video surveillance firm

Networking giant Cisco has agreed to acquire video surveillance firm SyPixx Networks for $51m in cash and stock. SyPixx markets hardware and software technology that allows analogue video surveillance systems to plug into IP networks. The deal positions Cisco to offer video surveillance technology and enter the physical security market. The deal is subject to various standard closing conditions, including regulatory approval, and is expected to close by the end of April. SyPixx, which was founded in 2004, employs 27 people in Connecticut, California and Arizona. Its portfolio includes analogue to digital video camera encoders, digital to analogue video monitor decoders, analogue video transmission equipment, video recording and management software and servers. Once the deal closes, SyPixx video surveillance products will become part of Cisco's Emerging Markets Technology Group. ®
John Leyden, 07 Mar 2006

China touts environmental benefits of plastic trees

China has sought to demonstrate its environmental credentials and play down US fears over its economic muscle by pointing out that without it, the traditional American Christmas just wouldn’t happen. Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, listing the benefits of US-China trade in Beijing today, said that an ever-growing forest of Chinese-made plastic Christmas trees not only brought joy to the world, but were preventing deforestation in the US itself, Reuters reports. China isn't the first country to spring to mind when considering green policies. Apart from the somewhat smoggy impact of its rapid industrialisation, its factories have recently developed a nasty habit of releasing toxic waste into major rivers. Still, it clearly excels in the recycling of one commodity – justifications for its trade surplus with the US. Today’s comments sounded eerily like a similar statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, back in Februay. According to Xhinua, Qin said "According to the documents I've read, the vast majority of Christmas gifts and trees are made by China.” The sub-text is clear. “Back off, or your (made in Shanghai) stockings will be empty next year.”®
Joe Fay, 07 Mar 2006
cloud

No fault with over half consumer returns

Over half of electronic kit returned to stores is in full working order, a Dutch researcher has found. The report says the average US consumer gives a new toy 20 minutes to work out, then gives up. Elke den Ouden carried out the studies for her thesis at the Eindhoven University of Technology, Reuters reports. She found that many of the problems consumers encounter are caused by poor design. What's more, product developers were unaware of the difficulties they created for users. Embarrassingly, when den Ouden gave new tech products to a group of managers from Dutch electronics giant Philips, they were unable to get the gear working. ®
Christopher Williams, 07 Mar 2006

Sony to ship blank Blu-ray Discs this month

Sony's blank-disc division will this month begin shipping rewriteable Blu-ray Discs in Europe. Recordable discs will appear in April, the company said. However, dual-layer versions will not surface until later in the year, it added.
Tony Smith, 07 Mar 2006

Council wins computer monitoring lawsuit

Harlow Council has won a High Court action brought against it by a former councillor who claimed that its monitoring of a laptop used by him was unlawful. Lib-Dem Councillor Matthew Shepherd sued after being criticised for allegedly downloading pornographic images. Seeking damages of £35,000, the former councillor claimed breaches of the Human Rights Act, the Data Protection Act, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. But the judge ruled last month that the monitoring was legitimate, according to a report by Herts and Essex News Online. Mr Shepherd had argued that the offending images were downloaded as legitimate research into condom sizes, pursuant to his role as a health spokesman. But the court considered this implausible, according to the news report, and accepted that the council's monitoring was lawful to prevent breaches of its code of conduct which prohibits accessing pornography. The judge awarded legal costs against Mr Shepherd – which the council estimates at around £20,000 – and refused his request for an appeal. "As a publicly-funded organisation, the council has a duty to ensure that councillors and staff use council funded IT equipment appropriately," the council said in a statement. "The council has robust policies in place to ensure use of computer equipment is monitored and action taken when misuse occurs. These policies were correctly enforced by our staff." Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 07 Mar 2006

ATI hires US XGI staffers

ATI hasn't acquired XGI, but it did say yesterday it has bought some of the Taiwanese graphics chip company's US-based staff. It also said it has snapped up Microsynergy, an XGI partner based in Shanghai.
Tony Smith, 07 Mar 2006
chart

BT gets on the FirstGroup bus

A BT-led consortium has signed a deal to provide bus and train operator FirstGroup with IT services. The £46.9m five year deal will make-over First's communications systems at its 700 UK and 300 North American sites. Together with partners HP and MegaPath Networks, BT will manage First's current data services and oversee two new data centres and a central service desk. The big idea is, "enhancing the efficiency, consistency and quality of the current service." The contract is the first salvo of FirstGroup's IT services transformation programme "Project Maxim". FirstGroup corporate finance director Steve McPhail said the award was a "milestone" for the company, representing "a key element in delivering further service improvements and other benefits to all our customers". But will the peasant wagons run on time? Hmmm. ®
Christopher Williams, 07 Mar 2006

EU privacy experts slam email tracking services

Services that track whether an email has been opened will breach EU data protection laws unless the recipient has given unambiguous consent to the service, according to an opinion from the Article 29 EU Working Party on Data Protection. Did they read it? The EU Working Party singled out the Did they read it? service as an example of a new type of service. For avoidance of doubt, this is not the 'read receipt' service with which users of popular email software like Microsoft Outlook will be familiar, which gives an external email recipient the opportunity to accept or refuse the sender's request for an acknowledgement that the email has been read. Instead, the service at didtheyreadit.com, from Florida-based Rampell Software, LLC, offers no opportunity to accept or refuse the tracking. It also provides additional details to senders: the date and time when the email was opened, where, geographically, the email was opened, for how long, and whether it was forwarded. Subscribers who use Yahoo!, Hotmail or AOL email services can simply add ".didtheyreadit.com" to the end of a recipient's e-mail address to have an email tracked. Users of Outlook simply download a piece of software to add the secret tracking ability. The independent working party, whose opinions are influential but not binding, expressed "the strongest opposition" to such services in a wider report on privacy issues related to the provision of email screening services, describing the secret data processing as “contradictory to the data protection principles requiring loyalty and transparency in the collection of personal data”. Consent must be given. "No other legal grounds justify this processing," the working party warns. The report also considers how virus detection, spam filtering and processes used by ISPs and email service providers (ESPs) to pre-determine content are impacted by rules such as the European Convention on Human Rights, the Data Protection Directive and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive. Virus scanning In general, the working party finds that the ISP practice of scanning emails to ensure that they do not contain known viruses is justified by an obligation to take measures to safeguard the security of services and to protect systems. However, it says that ISPs must still make sure: That the content of emails and attachments are kept secret and only disclosed to the intended recipient; That where a virus is found, there are sufficient confidentiality guarantees on the installed software; That virus scans only analyse the content of emails for the purpose of detecting viruses; and That they provide information on the screening. Spam filtering Similarly, the working party finds that the practice of blacklisting or filtering spam is generally justified because without it spam would jeopardise the ability of an ESP to provide the email service at all. However, it expresses concern that legitimate messages are sometimes filtered out along with the spam - so called "false positives". This might be a breach of the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of communications, according to the opinion. It recommends that ESPs: Give subscribers the chance to opt out of spam filtering and the ability to both check whether the filtered emails were spam and to decide what should constitute spam for their purposes; Develop filtering tools that can be used by subscribers to control spam filtering; Develop other spam-fighting tools that may be less privacy-intrusive; Keep subscribers informed of their spam policy; and Ensure the confidentiality of filtered emails. Detecting content The working party was less convinced of the legality of techniques allowing ESPs to screen and remove emails that contain predetermined content, such as pornography. It cited Yahoo!'s terms of service as an example of a provider that reserves a right to pre-screen for objectionable content. "The email service provider is not under threat of being harmed and communications stopped because of the material contained in emails," explains the opinion. "Therefore, the scanning for the purpose of detecting this material is not legitimised on the email provider's need to safeguard the security of the service." It was also concerned that such filtering gives ESPs the ability to censor private email communications - "raising fundamental questions of freedom of speech, expression and information." To avoid breaching data protection rules in this area, said the working party, ESPs must either be authorised to screen content by national laws, or have the consent of service users. But while a service provider like Yahoo! can obtain the consent of its own customers in its terms and conditions, it will struggle to obtain consent from others who email its customers. See: Working Party Opinion (10-page/ 64KB PDF) Didtheyreadit.com  Slashdot commentary on didtheyreadit.com  Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 07 Mar 2006

Intel spills beans on UMPC

The products are coming on Thursday, 9 March, but Intel is already telling us how we're all going to be using its new ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) platform, now revealed to be "designed to access online media and content on the go".
Tony Smith, 07 Mar 2006
channel

ICM Computer refit will hit figures

ICM Computer Group said that earnings for the current year will take a hit as it refits a business continuity centre. The statement came as it released results for the six months to December 31, which showed revenues of £37.4m, compared to £38.7m a year ago. Pre tax profits were £2.1m, compared to £2.5m previously. Excluding one off charges of £582,000, adjusted operating profit was up 5 per cent to £3.1m. ICM saw strong growth in its business continuity business, and marginally lower activity in IT support. Revenue from IT solutions slipped 14 per cent, though profit contribution remained the same as business shifted towards professional services. The firm said the rapid refit of its London Essex Business Continuity Centre, but the centre’s startup costs will hold back earnings for the year. It said it has already secured two significant contracts for the centre.®
Joe Fay, 07 Mar 2006
channel

Fujitsu sets eyes on HCI prize

Fujitsu-Seimens computers and Computacenter are launching a new portal for small and medium sized businesses to enable them to implement the government's Home Computing Initiative (HCI). The service will reduce costs by helping managers run HCI schemes online, apparently. HCI allows employees to apply for a tax-exempt loan of a desktop PC or laptop. Employers will now be able to manage HCI finances online and arrange employees’ payments against the loan through a tax-free contribution from their salary, if they want a Fujitsu. Computacenter's HCI Sales Director Roger Smith waxed lyrical: "We are confident that it will be a great success and, by providing Fujitsu Siemens Computers equipment, employees applying via the portal will be able to get some of the best technology equipment available." For his part, Fujitsu HCI Business Manager Jeff Kirkham uttered: "The SMB market is very important to us and we believe it is vital that they too have the necessary tools to offer the scheme to their employees. By offering HCI as a benefit it can help SMBs to improve staff retention, whilst improving their ICT skills and creating more flexible working methods." More on HCI here.®
Christopher Williams, 07 Mar 2006

Jamba puts a frog in Napster

Jamba, the Verisign-owned ringtone vendor, best known for its torturous Crazy Frog tune, is starting an all-you-can-eat download music service in Europe, similar to Napster. The Berlin-based company will start its new service from 1 May in Germany. Other European countries will follow shortly thereafter, a spokesperson for Jamba told The Register. Initially 250,000 songs will be offered, including titles from all major record companies, but the idea is to have 1 million songs by year's end. Subscribers pay €15 per month for unlimited downloads. Whether Jamba's Crazy Frog, which now has its own Wikipedia entry, will play any role in the new campaign remains to be seen. Details of the service, which will be available through UMTS and regular internet, will be revealed at a press conference at this week's CeBIT in Hannover. Earlier this week Jamba CEO Markus Berger-de León downplayed the success of the heavily promoted character. "Contrary to popular belief, it isn't successful in all parts of the world," he told German weekly Wirtschaftswoche.®
Jan Libbenga, 07 Mar 2006

Five days closer to a Kazaa resolution ... or not?

Well, five days have passed and the appeal by the record companies and Kazaa has been heard. We await a judgment. In the meantime, here are some observations from the appeal.
Alex Malik, 07 Mar 2006

LaCie Rugged 80GB portable hard drive

Exclusive ReviewExclusive Review LaCie was one of the first hard drive vendors to offer truly mobile products: compact external drives powered by the host computer so the only accessory you need is the connector cable. The down sides have always been a higher price than desktop, mains-powered parts, and usually lower capacities and speeds. But for many users - and not just notebook owners - the minimalism of mobile drives has proved compelling...
Tony Smith, 07 Mar 2006

ATI unveils Mobility Radeon X1800, X1800 XT

ATI has just unveiled its new Mobility Radeon X1800 and X1800 XT notebook-oriented graphics chips, both fabbed at 90nm and incorporating more than 312m transistors, used to provided respectively 12 and 16 Shader Model 3.0 pixel shaders and eight vertex shaders.
Tony Smith, 07 Mar 2006

LearnDirect 'could do better'

The company established by the government to deliver e-learning is making some progress, but is still failing to reach groups with the lowest skills levels, according to MPs. A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee found the Learndirect service, operated by Ufi, has in seven years provided courses to 1.7m people, two-thirds of whom had not done any learning in the previous three years. It also said that relatively few of the participants on the programme are taking up the level two courses aimed at tackling the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy skills. The report noted that while 37 per cent of small businesses realise that Learndirect is intended to support them and their employees and only one-in-twenty-five are using it. Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: "The economic competitiveness of the UK is being damaged by relatively low levels of skills, literacy and numeracy among adults. A large proportion (about 40 per cent) of employers do not provide their staff with any training at all. "These employers could take advantage of the extensive e-learning network established by Ufi. It is essential that this service is promoted more widely among employers and that it offers more business-oriented training." The report recommended that Ufi should develop a strategy over the next two years to work more closely with employers. This should include a campaign to highlight how Learndirect services could raise the productivity of businesses, MPs said. The report also found that access to Learndirect was often limited in rural areas, but said that provision could be enhanced by providing services through online tutoring and within existing local amenities such as schools and community centres. MPs were also concerned that Learndirect was still putting a heavy strain on public funding. Ultimately, Ufi should be self-funded, but by July last year it had recovered only £12m of commercial income compared with the £930m it has received in public funding. One of the reasons for this, MPs said, was because up until last year, Ufi was spending one third of its budget on management and marketing costs. "Ufi should accelerate moves to cut these costs and channel the money towards learners," Leigh said. Responding to the report, Ufi said it had introduced annual revenue of 44 per cent from the private sector between now and 2011. Report: Extending access to learning through technology: Ufi and the Learndirect service (PDF: 413KB) 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, 07 Mar 2006
homeless man with sign

Zombie PCs menace mankind

Cybercrooks are developing more sophisticated techniques to steal confidential data. According to the latest edition of Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report, malicious hackers are increasingly using bot-networks, modular malicious code and targeted attacks on web applications and web browsers to carry out cyber raids. The report also revealed that bot-infected computers are increasingly being used for criminal activities such as denial of service-based extortion attempts. On average, Symantec monitored 1,402 DoS attacks per day in the last six months of 2005, a 51 per cent increase over that recorded in the first half of 2005. China experienced the largest increase of bot-infected computers, with 37 per cent growth, putting the Asian country behind only the US in numbers of compromised PCs under the control of hackers. Symantec predicts a boom in the use of zombie clients, as attackers exploit an increasing number of vulnerabilities in web-based applications and web browsers to plant malicious code. "Gone are the days when script-kiddies used to develop attacks which would cause maximum damage and attract as much attention as possible. The people behind today's cybercrime are using silent and more targeted methods to steal data and other sensitive information undetected," Symantec spokesman Richard Archdeacon said. "The increased use of bot networks is coupled with the emergence of an online 'mafia' which sees a few 'Mr Bigs' controlling massive parts of the internet for financial gain." In addition to the use of botnets, phishing attacks continue to plague net users. Between July and December 2005, phishing attempts made up one in every 119 emails, an increase from one in every 125 messages in the first half of the year. Symantec recorded the largest documented number of new vulnerabilities since it set up its database in 1998. During 2H2005 1,896 new vulnerabilities were recorded by Symantec - about 10 new security bugs per day. Four out of five of these bugs were said to be easy to exploit, and 97 per cent of the vulnerabilities were considered moderately or highly severe. Also in this period, an average of 6.8 days elapsed between the announcement of a vulnerability and the release of associated exploit code, an increase from the six "days to exploit" figure recorded in the first half of 2005. An average of 49 days elapsed between the disclosure of a vulnerability and the release of a vendor-supplied patch. Symantec says hackers are establishing a black market in the trade of vulnerability data to assist them in developing more potent criminal attacks. "Updating and patching security systems is still the most effective way of staying protected from these threats. Despite the increasingly sophisticated methods being employed by cyber criminals, the methods used still predominantly rely on email and internet downloads to spread," Archdeacon added. ®
John Leyden, 07 Mar 2006

Hearst Group calls the NetDoctor

Media mammoth Hearst Group is buying UK consumer health site NetDoctor. Since launching in 2000, NetDoctor has become the leading private UK site for information on topics such as diet, erectile dysfunction, and bladder weakness. It claims 2m readers a month. NetDoctor will be incorporated into Hearst's UK arm, the National Magazine Company. Chief exec Duncan Edwards explained the move: "We have been watching the digital publishing sector very closely over the last few years and have now decided it is time to ramp up our activity. We intend to throw our full weight behind the development of a scale digital publishing business. NetDoctor is a very good business in a sector where consumer interest is only likely to grow." The firm plans to cross-promote the site in its other media properties, which include lady-Bible Cosmopolitan and jock-porn Men's Health. As financial details have not been disclosed, it's unknown if Hearst paid top whack for the online quack-shack. ®
Christopher Williams, 07 Mar 2006
globalisation

Horizon delays results

Horizon Technology Group is knocking back its 2005 earnings announcement by a week. It will now spill the bean(counter)s on 16 March. The reseller group blames the short delay on "senior management time devoted to acquisition and integration activity delayed the preparation of the financial statements", it said today in a statement to the London Stock Exchange. Last month, it bought Equip, a networking distribution business owned by Matrix Communications, for £10.6m.®
Team Register, 07 Mar 2006

Russian pensioner set to take bonk mags to the grave

A pensioner with a dicky ticker has made plans to be buried with his collection of top-shelf filth, Russian daily newspaper Utro has reported. After a heart attack scare, 65-year-old Vladimir Villisov decided he could not bear to part with his cherished jazz hoard, even in the afterlife. The Mramorskoe man had a customised coffin made to house it, together with his rotting carcass. He explained: "The girls in those magazines have been my companions for years, and I want them to accompany me to the next life." The report gets slightly creepier as Mr Villisov, unmarried, reveals he sometimes lies in the red-satin-lined coffin to - ahem - read his antique Soviet smut. ®
Christopher Williams, 07 Mar 2006

MS denies helping Beijing nail cyberdissident

Microsoft has denied helping Chinese authorities obtain evidence against a local journalist charged with sending "subversive" emails from a Hotmail account. Li Yuanlong, 45, is accused of sending opinion pieces that "fabricated, distorted and exaggerated facts, incited to subvert the state and sought to overthrow the socialist system" under the pseudonyms "Night Wolf" or "Wolf Howling in the Night", and using MSN Hotmail accounts. The case has similarities with those of two cyberdissidents - Li Zhi and Shi Tao - who were imprisoned after Yahoo! provided evidence that helped Chinese authorities secure a conviction. Microsoft disavows any suggestion that it might have helped Beijing to finger Li Yuanlong. "Based on an internal review of the information available, we have no involvement in this matter," Brian Zhou, an official with Microsoft China's public relations agency, told Reuters. Zhou was unable to shed any light on how the Chinese authorities might have identified Yuanlong, who faces trial as early as this week, without the help of the software giant. IT companies hoping to tap into the lucrative Chinese net market are coming under increase pressure from human rights groups not to comply with Beijing in censoring the internet. Last year, Microsoft was taken to task by critics for censoring its MSN blog service in China, preventing use of words such as "freedom" and "democracy" on some areas of its Chinese portal, along with a host of other politically sensitive terms such as "Taiwan independence" and "demonstration". Other IT giants, including Google and Cisco, have also been criticised over their business practices in China. ®
John Leyden, 07 Mar 2006

Loch Ness monster actually circus elephant

The good burghers of Loch Ness and its environs will doubtless be delighted to learn that the legendary monster on which the region's entire economy is based was probably nothing more than a circus elephant taking a dip. That's according to palaeontologist Neil Clark of Glasgow University, who has spent the last two years working towards this stunning conclusion. The explanation? Well, Clark told the BBC that sightings of Nessie "could have been circus elephants, as fairs visiting Inverness would often stop on the banks of Loch Ness to give the animals a rest. "It's quite possible that the people around Loch Ness saw some of these animals. When their elephants were allowed to swim in the loch, only the trunk and two humps could be seen - the first hump being the top of the head and the second being the back of the animal." Clark did, however, concede that his elephant theory "would not explain some of the later sightings", adding: "I do believe there is something alive in Loch Ness." This is presumably to save him from a lynching by representatives of the Nessie Souvenir and Memorabilia Manufacturers' and Retailers' Association. His findings are published this month in the Open University Geological Society journal. ®
Lester Haines, 07 Mar 2006
channel

Citibank reissues cards after fraudulent withdrawals

Fraudulent cash withdrawls have prompted Citibank to re-issue an unspecified number of credit and debit cards. The bank has also blocked PIN-based transactions of Citi-branded MasterCard cards in the UK, Russia and Canada to protect customer accounts. The issue came to light after US Citibank customer Jacob Appelbaum posted on popular blog site Boing Boing details of problems he had with his cards after using a Canadian ATM This fuelled speculation that a widespread ATM fraud issue might be in play. In response, Citibank has issued a statement designed to quell rumours. "Recently, we became aware of fraudulent ATM cash withdrawls on Citi-branded MasterCard credit and debit cards used in the UK, Russia and Canada on customer accounts that had been possibly compromised in previous retailer breaches in the US. To protect customer accounts that were affected, we placed a special transaction block in those three countries on PIN based transactions. We are currently reissuing cards, as appropriate, to affected customers," it said, Security Focus reports. The bank ihas yet to respond to our questions about the number of customer card accounts affected or the identity of the US retailer responsible for earlier breaches that Citibank blames for the security flap. ®
John Leyden, 07 Mar 2006

'Fascist' ID database worries Lords

The House of Lords called upon the ancient liberties enshrined in British common law last night when it ping-ponged the ID Cards bill back to the House of Commons. The Lords stood by its previous amendment to the bill, rejected last month by MPs, that prevents the cards from being introduced by "creeping compulsion". But it accepted the Dobson amendment, endorsed by MPs last month, that watered down powers of scrutiny it had previously tried to impose on the ID Cards project - 227 to 166 Much of the Lords' concern about ID Cards has focused on the national identity register, a proposed database of every British citizen. Baroness Park of Monmouth said the database constituted a threat to the freedoms enjoyed by British people: "We must be very, very careful not to bring on ourselves a system that cannot but be fascist, in the end." Lord Phillips of Sudbury agreed, and said ID Cards "could create an insidious chemistry between the citizen and the state," characterised by "intrusive, all-knowing state [and a] culture of complacency" among the people. Details of the register that emerged during the last ID Cards debate in the House of Commons showed that it is a more extensive scheme than the government liked to admit. The register itself would contain only basic information, but it would also have keys to 13 other government databases, making it a one stop-shop for information about individuals. Many critics says that this makes the information less secure. Ultimately, last night's talk was over a single line from Labour's election manifesto that stated ID Cards would be introduced voluntarily when someone applied for a passport. The government subsequently maintained that the voluntary aspect of the application was in the choice of whether to get a passport or not - a person applying for a passport "must" also get an ID Card, said the bill. Although compulsion appears inevitable, explicit compulsion will have to be enforced by primary legislation after debate in both houses, probably in about 10 years. However, the "creeping compulsion" that would be introduced by tying ID Cards to passports would make any future legislation over compulsion academic. ®
Mark Ballard, 07 Mar 2006

Lala - a P2P NetFlix for swapping CDs

ExclusiveExclusive A new Valley-based start up is updating the old idea of a swap meet for music fans. LaLa.com provides a site where you can find and trade legitimate CDs with other members. LaLa gives you a stack of cases and envelopes, and each CD you acquire from other members costs you $1, plus postage. That's as much, the company points out, as a single DRM-encumbered, low bitrate song from Apple's online music "store". And somewhat less than the price of a ringtone. LaLa says it will set aside 20 per cent of trading revenues to create a fund to compensate artists - who because of the 'first sale doctrine' in US law, currently don't receive a penny from second hand trades. LaLa's CEO is serial entrepreneur Bill Nguyen, whose last venture was launching the mobile email software company Seven. LaLa also boasts Yahoo!'s erstwhile chief product guy Geoff Ralston. Anselm Baird-Smith, who helped devise the http 1.1 spec and was a Distinguished Engineer on eBay's search engine - he designed its recommendation system - heads up a strong technical team. It's backed by a $9 million investment from Bain Capital and Ignition Partners. Nguyen wants it to be "eBay meets a great record store", he told us, and said he was fed up with the cold and soulless experience of services like iTunes, which he compared to Walmart. He didn't mean it as a compliment. "It breaks my heart. Steve Jobs could have saved music," Nguyen told us. "We want to grow the music market - not just take a tiny percentage." Intriguingly, LaLa has set out to build relationships with the labels, and also operate as a marketplace for bricks and mortar records stores. That's going to be interesting, because LaLa and second hand stores could be really bad for each other. If LaLa is as successful as eBay, LaLa will decimate the used record store. And stores dumping unwanted inventory on LaLa will ruin the personal aspect of what makes LaLa good. We'll see. So, what's it like? Using LaLa.com We've been on the closed beta for a little while now, and have found the experience both fascinating and troubling. LaLa has set out to build a great website which makes finding music, and browsing people's "trade" lists really easy - and succeeded. Browsing people's collections is slick and fun. You can send messages to other members, add a blog, and download a plug-in which shows what you're listening to. It's fast, and manages to be both minimal and rich at the same time - something very few contemporary AJAX websites (uh, Yahoo! Mail beta - we're looking at you) manage to achieve. The home page looks like this When we first checked in, with only a hundred beta testers active, there was a lot of music available. It was astonishing what showed up in searches. The benefit to LaLa of course is that it doesn't have to stock this physical inventory - merely keep track of it. Adding your own CDs was painless if they were already in the system - but some kind of filter that takes your MP3 collection could help here. After a few minutes it became as addictive as perusing people's home collections on the old Napster used to be. (You can do this on today's illicit P2P networks of course, but you have to browse past video clips of tramps kicking each other, which are depressingly ubiquituous). Like Bittorrent and Weed, or peer moderated boards, LaLa rewards participation - the more you trade, the more you get. But like NetFlix, it also encourages apathy. If you don't trade, you lose the habit. The recommendation system could use some work (apparently, I'm really going to like The Beatles) as could the classification system. For example, there's tons of soul music to be found on LaLa, but there's no "Soul" section - and we found both Lenny Kravitz and the Beastie Boys in the nearest equivalent, the "R&B" section. That boy Lenny may have a lot of mirrors in his house - but he doesn't have soul. Are we getting physical? There are two aspects to LaLa that are really strange. Firstly, you don't trade the jewel case and insert from your CD. This is by design: the plastic flip case that LaLa provides along with the flat cardboard prepaid envelope just don't have room for it. If you don't think these are important parts of the experience, there's a chance you might soon realize just how important they are. For receiving a CD without the dressing that makes it a physical artifact is very odd indeed. Digital culture is very bland, and the more we're urged into a world of bits, the more important these tokens become. If someone wants a CD, don't you really, really want to send them the whole package? So initially, LaLa looks like a great way of getting rid of the never-listened-to CDs that are taking up valuable shelf space or gathering dust in a closet. Only hundreds of trades later, you'll still have the jewel cases and original artwork just where they were. It then seems a criminal act of destruction to throw these away. When we put these concerns to LaLa, the company said it might consider allowing people to print off their own artwork or liner notes, but this was "gravy" - the USP being you were getting a CD for a buck. Throwing an empty jewel case with liner notes into the bin seems to embody the destruction of value for which the internet so often criticized - and that's something the company is keenly aware of. So we very much hope Lala offers a "ship the Full Monty" option. The other curious aspect is that unlike eBay, you're not obliged to ship what's requested. This leads to a lot of showboating, as people advertise CDs they like but have no intention of ever swapping. It's too early to tell what effects this will have down the line, but intuitively, it doesn't feel right. Care to swap? LaLa is such an intriguing idea it's weird to think it hasn't been thought of before. You'll almost certainly get better value from taking your unwanted CDs down to the used record store - but different channels have always co-existed, and if you don't live near a used store, or don't care at all about the integrity of the packaging, then LaLa might be for you. I t has the addictive quality of successful music sharing sites, and it's legitimate. It also raises profound questions about what the value of physical goods. A public launch is a few weeks away, but if you live in the United States and want to get in on the closed beta, mail us - LaLa is making a limited number of free trials available to Reg readers. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 07 Mar 2006

Indians lament UK border controls

The British government's proposed immigration controls could restrict international trade, India's IT trade lobby has warned.
Mark Ballard, 07 Mar 2006

AT&T 'overpaying' for BellSouth - S&P

Standard and Poor's has downgraded its rating of AT&T to 'sell', following the US telecom firm's proposed $67bn acquisition of BellSouth. The credit rating agency says the deal has its merits - but AT&T is paying too much. S&P analyst Todd Rosenbluth also thinks that the "regulatory approval process will be lengthy given the size of the deal… In addition, AT&T is still in the early stages of integrating two large acquisitions that we think will pressure its margins". Still, AT&T has given an early indication of how it intends to cut costs. It aims to cut 10,000 jobs post-merger, according to wire reports. ®
Drew Cullen, 07 Mar 2006
channel

Intel's new 'Core' could gore AMD

IDFIDF Intel today worked hard to convince anyone who would listen that AMD's performance advantage has come to an end. A new processor architecture stretching across its mobile, desktop and server lines will deliver better overall performance and better performance per watt than AMD's rival products. And this performance edge is coming "sooner than you think."
Ashlee Vance, 07 Mar 2006
fingers pointing at man

Intel puts on multi-core peep show

IDFIDF Intel's main revelation of a new chip architecture stole the show on the first day of IDF. The chip beasty, however, did dish out a couple more tidbits that will interest the enterprise crowd. On the more immediate front, Intel will start shipping its "Sossaman" low voltage version of Xeon next week. IBM announced plans to pick up this chip in its blade products.
Ashlee Vance, 07 Mar 2006