29th > March > 2006 Archive

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Wither Rational?

I was talking to an ex-Rational manager a week or so ago, who obviously believed that IBM’s enthusiasm for Rational was waning in the face of its success with Eclipse and who also thought that the morale of ex-Rational employees inside IBM was waning.
David Norfolk, 29 Mar 2006
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BizTalk - yet another launch

BizTalk Server 2006 was half-launched last year. Yesterday it had a proper launch (with general availability etc.) at the London Stock Exchange. As it has already been in production use for some time with favoured customers, so why have a launch at all?
David Norfolk, 29 Mar 2006
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Red Hat continues bull run in Q4

Red Hat claimed to beat out an already healthy Linux market as it reported fourth-quarter sales figures that saw net income more than double. The Linux distributor reported a 130 per cent increase in net income to $27.3m on revenue that grew 37 per cent to hit $78.7m during it fourth quarter. Red Hat was also happy to report earnings per diluted share up seven cents to $0.13. Wall St analysts had forecast $78.4m revenue and EPS of $0.12. For the company's full fiscal year 2006, Red Hat's net income grew 75.4 per cent to $79.6m on total revenue of $278.3m, an increase of 41.6 per cent over the previous year. EPS hit $0.41 compared to $0.21. Red Hat's vice president for investor relations Dion Cornett said in a statement: "Fiscal year 2006 was a great year in that we out grew leading industry analysts' estimates for Linux market growth and substantially outpaced rivals." Analyst IDC says Linux is the industry's fastest growing server operating system, growing at more than 20 per cent per quarter. Cornett added that the company's latest quarterly and annual results implied continued market share gains are there for the taking.®
Gavin Clarke, 29 Mar 2006
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JBoss delivers message to IBM and BEA

JBoss is ramping up its challenge to closed-source web servers and messaging middleware with updated editions of its software for enterprise IT infrastructures. The company today announced JBoss Messaging 1.0 - a version of JBoss MQ re-engineered to deliver a modular messaging engine capable of shipping with or without JBoss' application server and delivering a four-fold improvement in throughput. JBoss said JBoss Messaging 1.0 represented the foundation layer for the company's planned Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) due later this year, and has been improved to support enterprise-level Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs). JBoss Messaging 1.0 is also designed to help JBoss continue to close the gap on more mature messaging software from vendors like BEA Systems and IBM. Last year, JBoss bought Arjuna Technologies in a move to take on BEA and IBM. Like BEA's Tuxedo and IBM's MQ, Arjuna allows reliable delivery of messages in distributed environments. JBoss has announced plans to integrate Arjuna with its own middleware and release Arjuna's technology to the open source community. Pierre Fricke, director of product management, told The Register JBoss MQ had required "better performance and high-availability." He believes JBoss Messaging 1.0 will deliver the power users need with the flexibility of being available as a stand-along offering, not tied into the application server "There are some very high-end scenarios and inter-Galactic spaces that IBM MQ serves - we are not there yet. But this takes us from messaging for mid-level workloads and brings us up to workloads that cover most of the space. We are moving up the value chain," Fricke said. JBoss is also tackling closed-source web servers with the JBoss Web Server 1.0 Community Release. The Apache-based server can handle more than 10,000 concurrent clients, Fricke said, making it suited to "high-performance" web sites. JBoss Web Server 1.0 Community Release is built on Apache Tomcat, the Apache Portable Runtime and a native Tomcat layer, with the JK connector and processor hops usually used to execute in multiple tier environments removed. Fricke said JBoss wasn't "forking" the Tomcat server only "adding value" with this configuration. Other features included support for http, https, Apache JServ Protocol, OpenSSL and in- and out- of process of CGI and PHP scripts and Microsoft's ASP.NET. Expanded support for Microsoft is apparently not a result of a technology co-operation agreement signed between Microsoft and JBoss last year.®
Gavin Clarke, 29 Mar 2006

Meet the Jefferson of 'Web 2.0'

If Google's PageRank reflects the "uniquely democratic nature of the web" - and if weblogs are the most empowering technology of our age [**] - then how can we begin to fete a humble entrepreneur based in St Paul, MN? Very probably as the Gutenberg of the digital age. And the Jefferson. All rolled into one. Brian Adams of Blue Diamond Enterprises has announced the newest tool that leverages both weblogs and the "collective intelligence" of Google's algorithms. His new software, Blog Mass Installer, claims it can create 100 Blogger weblogs on your website in just 24 minutes. It's like voting - but voting done properly: early and often. The idea behind tools such as this is to create a network of sites to host contextual advertisements and also to boost the prominence of material in Google's search index. It's only the tip of a vast twilight industry that, by the calculation of SEOs (search engine optimizers) like Adams, results in one third of Google's index being comprised of machine-generated sites. Blog Software Installer takes a lot of the drudgery out of creating the blog network you need to pimp your reputation, plug your wares, or simply earn yourself a little extra Adsense cash. Some manual intervention is needed, according to the press release - "Creating the blogs is easy and fun. You will get a friendly chime when it is time to enter the 'captcha' word verification. The BMI [Blog Mass Installer] tool also gives you a status indicator to know how many of your blogs have been created." BMI also gives you those all-important RSS feeds. Need some content? Just dial up some PLAs, or 'Private Label Articles.' Sites like GoArticles and Article City. Or if you're in a hurry, scrape some Wikipedia content: the keyword-rich online "encyclopedia" is a favorite with SEOs. It's all very Web 2.0. The power of the "Long Tail" put into the hands of the little guy - who needs only $197 to join the digital revolution. But it's also in breach of Google's own Adsense program, which states that no Adsense ad may appear on a page "published specifically for the purpose of showing ads, whether or not the page is relevant". Um, now didn't this - we asked Adams - leave Google in the delicate position of throttling its own cash cow? We only asked, because the Blogger-accelerator was being promoted by - of all things - Google News today. Google owns Blogger. That's not the case, says Adams, who says Google has done a good job weeding out spam sites over the last year. It employs more human operators to identify these, he says, "Google's search index is more relevant than a year ago. It's getting better." But basically it's a Machine vs Machine war. Machines like Adams' BMI create the blogs, and Google's algorithms try and delete them. "It's getting harder to tell if a website was made by a machine or a human," he says. "There are some really grey areas." (We'd noticed) Adams says BMI is more "stable" than rival tools - "stable" means Google is less likely to find it and delete it from its index. Didn't he feel morally responsible for bespoiling the utopian meadow of the World Wide Web, we wondered? Here Adams takes issue with the suggestion that machine-generated axiomatically means junk. "I wouldn't say that the tools are just polluting it. It's the responsibility of the webmaster to put up content that's actually useful. If they don't do that, Google will delete them." So it's like the argument that guns don't kill people - people kill people? "That's a good comparison," he agrees. So Splogs don't kill people. And are less harmful than blogs. ® Bootnotes:[**] "The blog might do more for the emancipation of women than the invention of the birth control pill almost 50 years ago," - Sylvia Paull, who hosts the Berkeley Cybersalon. [*] Thanks to Namebase's Daniel Brandt for spotting this - and for the coining the neologlism "Goobage".
Andrew Orlowski, 29 Mar 2006

Tech bubble banker wins back his badge

Silicon Valley's star banker Frank Quattrone continues his comeback, with the watchdog SEC overturning a lifetime ban on him working in the securities industry. Once again it was on a technicality. In March 2003, the securities regulator NASD suspended the former Credit Suisse First Boston investment banker for a year, and fined him $30,000, with the threat of a lifetime ban if he failed to testify before the regulator within 12 months. Quattrone declined to appear, pleading the Fifth Amendment. So in November 2004, after the banker's second trial on obstruction of justice charges ended with a guilty verdict, NASD extended this to a permanent ban. [PDF, 144kb] Last week the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a partial ruling questioning the automatic extension to a lifetime ban. [PDF, 100kb] A panel found Quattrone raised a legitimate procedural question. Quattrone still faces NASD enforcement proceedings on the central question of whether he was guilty of "spinning" - stuffing CEOs pockets with cash in the form of hot IPO stocks, in the hope of swinging them over to CFSB's brokerage business. Last week, an appeals court overturned Quattrone custodial sentence - also on technicalities. Even though the appeals judges said that, "the evidence is sufficient to support Quattrone's conviction on each count." Which leaves the door open for a third trial - if the Feds still have the appetite. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 29 Mar 2006
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AMD grabs Itanic survivors

The race to hire Fort Collins chip engineers is on with AMD bulking up its staff in the city by poaching Itanium engineers from Intel. An AMD spokesman confirmed that the company has hired "some Itanium guys," including former Intel fellow and director of Itanium circuits and technology Sam Naffziger. All of the staff come from Intel's Fort Collins, Colorado site. An Itanic brain drain is just about the last thing Intel needs with its struggling 64-bit chip. Just last week, Intel SVP Pat Gelsinger described Itanium's performance in no uncertain terms to CNET. "I'm not happy with our sales figures, I'm not happy with our execution delays, I'm not happy with our killed projects," he said. Intel remains the only major processor maker not to have a high-end dual-core processor on the market. The dual-core Montecito flavor of Itanic should ship in the second half of 2006, after close to a year delay. AMD's Itanic man grab could stall Intel's own effort to increase chip design personnel in Fort Collins. Last month, Intel revealed plans to add a "significant number" of Itanium staff in the next five years. The ever vigilant Real World Technologies grabbed the Naffziger news first and has more on the situation here. ®
Ashlee Vance, 29 Mar 2006
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Microsoft hires EU legal dream team for anti-trust aid - report

Microsoft's legal team has been picking the brains of three former European Union judges in preparation for next month's showdown with the Commission. Having failed to sway the European Commission by invoking the court of public opinion over a potential two-million-a-day euro fine, Microsoft reportedly recruited the judge trio to conduct a mock trial. Microsoft apparently hoped to get its legal team up to speed ahead of this week's grilling. Microsoft must go before the Commission in a final attempt to persuade officials it has complied with a 2004 ruling that ordered it to publish Windows communications protocols as compensation for damage it had caused to competitors. Nearly two-years after that ruling, Microsoft announced earlier this year it was opening the source code behind the Windows communications protocols. Microsoft called this its "ultimate documentation" and was made after the EC had said it was unhappy with the documentation Microsoft had already provided. When it became clear this was not enough to satisfy the EC, Microsoft began to apply a number of more PR-oriented legal tactics that included publishing private documents from the case and accusing the Commission of colluding with the company's competitors.®
Gavin Clarke, 29 Mar 2006

High Court to hear Apple versus Apple on iTunes

Apple Computer will take on Apple Corps in the High Court on Wednesday in a dispute over whether the iTunes music service breaches an agreement with the Beatles' record label and infringes its trademarks. It is the third time the two well-known brands have been to court over the computer company's use of the Apple name. The first dispute was resolved in 1981, when Apple Computer agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to Apple Corps, and Steve Jobs, head of the computer firm, agreed to restrict the use of the brand he founded to computer products only. Jobs is a Beatles fan – but has never had the rights to sell the band's music on iTunes. In 1989, Apple Corps again sued Apple Computer, this time over the company's use and sale of music-related software. The case settled in 1991 with a payment of $27m and another restrictive agreement. However, in September 2003, Apple Corps filed suit again, over "the use by Apple Computer of the word 'Apple' and apple logos in conjunction with its new application for downloading pre-recorded music from the internet". That new application – iTunes – has now sold over a billion downloads. Apple Corps argues that iTunes is in breach of the restrictive agreement between the two companies and infringes upon its trademarks. Apple Computer argues that iTunes is a mechanism allowing "data transmission" and that downloads are permitted in terms of the agreement as they are "data transfers", according to reports. The case begins in the High Court tomorrow before Mr Justice Mann who has admitted to being an iPod owner. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 29 Mar 2006
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Cambridge Consultants restarts VC biz

Cambridge Consultants is reopening its venture capital business. It will raise a fund with an investment partner and aims to have its first new venture up and running by 2007. It will then work towards producing a spin-out company every two years. The fund will be invested exclusively in Cambridge Consultants' own businesses. A spokesman for Cambridge Consultants said: "We are negotiating with three partners at the moment but the fund will raise between $5m and $10m depending on which partner we choose." He added that the firm pulled out of funding in 2002 mainly because it was so hard to raise money. Jamille Jinnah, managing director of placement firm Almeida Capital, said: "It's good to see venture money coming to Europe because so much more goes to Israel and the US. But the question is whether they raise enough money to take firms far enough so that other investors will be interested." The firm has been advising for 45 years and ex-CC companies now employ some 3,000 people and have a total market cap of almost £2bn. Press release available here. ®
John Oates, 29 Mar 2006

Supreme Court to hear eBay's patent challenge

The US Supreme Court will hear eBay’s appeal tomorrow against an injunction imposed in a patent dispute over the auction site's fixed-price 'Buy it Now' service. eBay is challenging the same court practices that nearly shutdown the BlackBerry email service recently. eBay has asked the Court to review the question of whether an injunction should always be imposed in cases where one party is found to infringe the patent of another. At present, US courts may impose an injunction when infringement is proved – but have often taken the view that they must impose an injunction. The rule of the Federal Circuit is that an injunction should follow a finding of infringement unless there are "special circumstances". eBay argues that patent holder MercExchange does not make use of its own patents and exists only to sue others. It says MercExchange should therefore not be entitled to an injunction, and a damages award should suffice. MercExchange denies the claims about its own business model; but regardless of the facts, the issue raised by eBay has divided the business community. Oracle, Microsoft and Intel have supported eBay, filing a joint brief that argues that courts must have discretion to grant or refuse injunctions in patent disputes. The patent may relate to only a tiny part of a company's product or service, they point out; injunctions can be a disproportionate remedy. They say the injunction rule "has transformed patents into a powerful tool for litigation abuse". The recent battle between BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion and patent holder NTP Inc put the issue in focus. Following a patent infringement ruling, an injunction looked likely that would have closed the BlackBerry service for millions of US users; yet NTP makes no rival product and the validity of its patents had already been questioned by the US Patent Office. The risk was averted when RIM agreed to pay $612m to NTP. Critics see such payments as ransom money. MercExchange and its supporters, including the Department of Justice, General Electric, and Proctor and Gamble, argue that too much discretion will chill innovation and drive up costs. They believe the ability to exclude others from using a patented invention is one of the fundamental reasons for patenting that invention. A ruling is not expected for several months. Background The dispute between eBay and MercExchange has been running since October 2001, and hinges on an auction site patent application that was filed a few months before eBay was launched in 1995. It relates to the 'Buy It Now' service on the eBay site, which deals with fixed-price sales, and a facility to search other online auction houses. In May 2003, a jury decided that these services did infringe on the patents, and ordered the online auction leader to pay $35m in damages. The case then went back to the trial judge, who had the option of increasing the damages awarded – up to three times the existing award – and issuing a permanent injunction against the company, preventing eBay from using the patented technology. In the end he did neither, and in August 2004 he reduced the award to $29.5m and refused to grant an injunction. eBay appealed, and in March 2005 the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the comparison shopping patent was invalid. It reduced the damages imposed on eBay to $25m. But it imposed an injunction on the firm finding that, unless there were exceptional circumstances, a district court should issue a permanent injunction after a finding of infringement. The injunction was stayed pending the appeal to the Supreme Court. eBay has previously reported that it changed its 'Buy It Now' service after the ruling in 2003 to avoid future infringement, so the Supreme Court's decision on the injunction may not affect the operation of its business. See: Coverage of this case – with links to all the briefs – at Dennis Crouch's Patently-O Patent Law blog Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 29 Mar 2006
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Patches released for zero-day IE threat

Hundreds of malicious websites are attempting to exploit the most critical of two flaws announced last week in Microsoft's browser, convincing two companies to release workarounds late Monday to head off the threat. Security firms Determina and eEye Digital Security each created a standalone patch to protect Windows systems that use Internet Explorer to browse the web. The vulnerability, the most critical of three announced in the last week, is reportedly being actively exploited by more than 200 malicious web sites. "Obviously, these things (fixes) are experimental in nature but considering the options of being vulnerable or at least having a fighting chance - well, I think you get the point," eEye chief hacking officer Marc Maiffret said in a statement announcing that company's fix. "Again, this is just another mitigation option until Microsoft releases their patch, which last was scheduled for 11 April." The third-party patches are the latest fixes to be released by companies other than Microsoft, when the software giant's response is perceived to leave customers at risk. In January, an independent software programmer released a patch for a critical flaw in the Windows Meta File (WMF) format that also affected users of Internet Explorer. The companies, and the researcher that released the WMF patch, do not refer to the fixes as permanent solutions but temporary workarounds. Last week, Microsoft confirmed reports of the latest vulnerability in Internet Explorer. The flaw occurs in the way that the software giant's browser handles certain HTML objects with Internet Explorer's CreateTextRange function. The flaw affects Internet Explorer 6.0 and 5.01. "So far we’re still seeing only limited attacks," Microsoft security program manager Stephen Toulouse said in a blog post. "But our anti-malware team, as always, is on the case and has uploaded removal information for the attacks to date to Windows Live Safety Center." A Microsoft representative was not immediately available to comment on the release of the third-party patches. Another flaw disclosed last week affects Internet Explorer's processing of HTML applications, also known as HTAs. While the researcher that found the flaw created proof-of-concept code to exploit the issue, no publicly available code is known to exist. Earlier in March, a third researcher found a way to use Internet Explorer's Java applet functions to cause a denial-of-service attack. The most critical vulnerability of the three is the CreateTextRange issue, said Dan Hubbard, senior director of research for security firm Websense. The company, which scans 80m web addresses every 24 hours in search of exploits, found 200 URLs that attempted to exploit the CreateTextRange issue. The web pages reside on compromised servers and have likely been created by a single person or a small group, he said. "The code semantics for the websites are almost completely the same. There are a few variants which change the location from where they are downloading the payload. Basically, there are three different versions of the exact same thing." The pages use the flaw to install a download Trojan horse program that fetches another piece of software to scan a victim's machine and grab sensitive data. The programs also log keystrokes, Hubbard said. The threat has largely diminished since the weekend, according to the Internet Storm Centre, the incident response arm of the SANS Institute. "Right now, there is not that much of a threat," SANS Institute chief research officer Johannes Ullrich said. "Most of the sites are down right now, and the payload is removed from the websites from which it was being downloaded." Microsoft advised users to turn off Active Scripting if they do not need the functionality. The problem is the latest issue caused by the support for ActiveX, a programming language supported by Internet Explorer to add interactive functions to websites. The problems have occasionally resulted in calls for users to switch to alternative browsers, such as Mozilla's Firefox, which does not support the Active Scripting function. However, some users may not be technical enough to understand how disable Active Scripting or require the functionality, Determina and eEye said in their advisories. "The workaround does not fully address the problem," Determina director of security research Charles Renert said. "Workarounds turn off functionality...In one way, it's like saying you could always turn off your computer, and you wouldn't be affected, but that is not a good solution in terms of business continuity." For users that need Active Scripting functionality, the third-party patches are the only option, the SANS Institute's Ullrich said. "As long as Microsoft has not developed a patch to protect people, third parties will produce patches," he said. "There are a couple cases where you have to use Internet Explorer with Active Scripting enabled, and in those cases, these (patches) are really the only option." Microsoft has not announced when it plans to release a patch for Internet Explorer. The software giant patched the WMF flaw in eight days, its fastest turnaround time to fix a flaw in Internet Explorer. The company's next scheduled patch date is Tuesday, 11 April. This article originally appeared in Security Focus. Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus
Robert Lemos, 29 Mar 2006

Flash price plunge heralds cheaper MP3 players?

iPods and other MP3 players look set to become much cheaper thanks to a dramatic decline in the price of NAND Flash chips. According to memory industry watcher DRAMeXchange, NAND Flash prices on the spot market have fallen by more than 50 per cent since the start of 2006. It said 2GBb and 4Gb NAND Flash chip prices fell by 63 per cent on average. Other parts saw their prices drop by at least 43 per cent.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006
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Insight pays DoJ to end investigation

US Reseller Insight Enterprises has agreed to pay the Department of Justice $1m to settle charges that it falsely presented itself as a small company to gain advantage in contract negotiations. Comark Government & Education Services, a subsidiary of Insight Enterprises, falsely claimed it was a small business to get itself on a list of government-approved suppliers. Any firm on the General Services Administration list can sell to government agencies using a quicker procurement process. The list is run by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA found that Comark misrepresented its size when it applied to the list in 1996. Insight bought the firm in 2002 and withdrew from the list in 2005. The SBA investigated after receiving complaints. It said, even though Insight admitted no liability, the settlement sends a strong message to companies to be accurate when getting certified. Insight bought UK reseller Action Computer Supplies in 2001 for £27m. More from the press release here. ®
John Oates, 29 Mar 2006

ANC moves Edinburgh depot to Africa

Readers expecting urgent deliveries via courier ANC's Edinburgh office should be aware that - according to a link on the company's website - this could take a little longer than you might expect: That's right. As our correspondent Ian Hapke notes: I'm sure that all those folk wanting to emigrate (legally or otherwise) into the UK would love to know the African location of their local Star Trek/TransMat transporter - instead of doing it the hard and dangerous way and clogging up scarce Spanish and Moroccan resources, all they need to do is to swim out to it, and honest, guv, they'll materialise near a whisky bond... Those of you with a cartographical bent can see what's happened here: the depot in question now lies at 0 degrees of longitude and slap bang on the equator. Nicer weather than Edinburgh, we're sure, but a little inconvenient unless you've got a hovercraft. ®
Lester Haines, 29 Mar 2006
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We're not merging, say MSI and Gigabyte

Motherboard makers MSI and Gigabyte have denied claims they've been talking about a merger - even though, by their own admission, they have discussed the possibility more than once.
Team Register, 29 Mar 2006

Bulldog told to be more upfront about pricing

Bulldog has been told to be more upfront about its charges for its unbundled broadband service after complaints that it buried price information in the smallprint. A nationwide press ad last autumn dangled the tempting offer of "up to eight meg broadband only £9.75* a month fixed for as long as you are with us." The asterisk was linked to small print which informed punters that a Bulldog home phone line costing £10.50 a month was also needed for the service. BT and a member of the public complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) because the headline price of £9.75 didn't reflect the true costs of subscribing to Bulldog's service. But the Cable & Wireless (C&W) owned outfit said the ad did make it clear that a phone line was required and that the vast majority of consumers were aware that broadband services required a phone line. It also argued that most rival broadband providers quoted broadband prices exclusive of the monthly phone line rental charge. But Bulldog isn't like most broadband providers. As a local loop unbundling (LLU) operator it also charges for the phone as well. In its ruling the ASA said that since Bulldog's offer was bundled and "because new customers could not obtain the broadband service for £9.75 a month without also paying £10.50 a month for Bulldog's telephony service" then the ad "was misleading". "We considered that the requirement to take a Bulldog phone line when taking the Bulldog broadband service was a significant condition that was not sufficiently prominent in the footnote," it said. As a result, Bulldog now has to make the cost of line rental and the true cost of its service more prominent in its ads. A separate complaint about the availability of Bulldog's eight meg service - which is restricted to around a third of UK homes and businesses - was dismissed. ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Mar 2006

Enigma machine up for sale on eBay

An Enigma code making machine is up for sale on eBay. Current bids stand at €9,980 but the seller is hoping for a final price of €40,000. The auction is due to end on 3 April. The machine was made in 1941 but the serial numbers have been removed, making it impossible to tell who it was used by. It is in working order and comes with two spare rotors. More details here. The machine is being sold by an "eBay shop" in Munich which uses the online auction house to sell items for customers. A spokesman at the shop told us the machine had been brought in by a customer who got it from his grandfather. He said there had already been a lot of interest in the machine. An Enigma machine was stolen from Bletchley Park, home to UK code breakers during the Second World War, in 2000. It was eventually returned and a man imprisoned on related charges. The machines were first made during the 1920s and were used commercially before becoming synonymous with the Nazis. Thanks to boing boing for bringing this to our attention. ®
John Oates, 29 Mar 2006

Space tourism rockets

Virgin Galactic has announced that it has signed up more than 150 prospective space tourists. Richard Branson's latest venture will haul millionaires into a brief sub-orbital flight using a fleet of SpaceShipTwo craft, the successor to the ship which claimed the Ansari X-Prize for commercial space flight in 2004. Fibrous breakfast cereal hawker William Shatner is said to be interested in the five minutes of weightlessness the £114,000 trips will offer. Dallas megabitch Victoria Principal and Alien actress Sigourney Weaver have already handed over the readies. There are worries about the demands space flight will put on fabulously wealthy bodies, rendered soft by comfortable decades of scoffing organic dodo steaks by money fires, stirring only occasionally to smash Fabergé eggs with diamond encrusted mallets. Such concerns don't deter compulsive sky-botherer Branson, who plans to cart his own octogenarian parents 100km up when Virgin Galactic begins launches from Mexico in 2008. Strapping six-footer Weaver's experience of interplanetary predicaments will surely serve to calm nerves if the Bransons get in a pickle. A spokesman said that once the operation is up and running, they hope to slash the ticket price to a school trip-friendly £42,000. ®
Christopher Williams, 29 Mar 2006

Toshiba pre-announces next-gen Nvidia mobile GPU

Nvidia hasn't announced its GeForce Go 7900 GS mobile GPU yet, but Toshiba yesterday said it has begun shipping a gaming-oriented notebook which delivers "state-of-the-art graphics" thanks to the new chip, 256MB of graphics memory and a 17in TruBrite display.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Cops slap Asbo on terror cat

Connecticut authorities have slapped a restraining order on a cat which, according to shaken locals in Fairfield, has subjected the residents of a quiet suburban cul-de-sac to a feline reign of terror during which it attacked several people and even had a pop at the Avon lady. The chilling Connecticut Post report into 5-year-old Lewis's antisocial tendencies recounts how the black-and-white longhaired cat - dubbed the "Terrorist of Sunset Circle" - would attack from behind and without warning, as two-time victim Janet Kettman explained: "I was walking along the sidewalk when he sprang at me. I never saw it coming, but that's how it often is. He comes at you from behind, springs and wraps himself around your legs, biting and scratching. "The last time I had three bites and eight scratches and I ended up at the walk-in clinic. The Avon lady was getting out of her car when Lewis attacked her from behind. She ended up going to the hospital." Eyewitnesses describe the beast as looking like Felix the Cat and sporting "six toes on each foot, each with a long claw". Following her ordeal, Kettman called in Fairfield cops' animal control officer Rachel Solveira, who summarised the threat with: "I don't feel the cat could kill anybody, but it could latch onto people's legs and arms and bite and scratch to the point where they could be hospitalised." Accordingly, Solveira slapped a restraining order on Lewis which, rather splendidly, allowed the tearaway limited freedom to leave owner Ruth Cisero's house "if Cisero gave him Prozac". The cat declined to take his medication, and soon after escaped custody and laid into Maureen Bachtig, who recalled: "I felt Lewis's claw on my left leg and I shook him loose, he then lunged and clung to my right leg, leaving one very deep puncture wound, one long deep gash across the top of my knee." As a result, Cisero found herself cuffed and Lewis indefinitively restrained within his domicile. She claims the neighbours have been tormenting the poor creature, spraying him with hoses and chucking eggs at the four-legged ne'er-do-well. Cisero said: "I've tried to tell them to just stay away from Lewis and he will stay away from you; this has caused complete havoc for me. He's a cat's cat, he climbs trees and sits on people's roofs but now he's forced to be in the house all the time." Lewis's incarceration is not the end of the matter. Cisero has applied to the court for "accelerated rehabilitation"* for her moggie, while the Avon lady Donna Greenstein filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against Cisero. Bootnote *No, we have no idea what "accelerated rehabilitation" means in a feline context. Probably like something out of A Clockwork Orange, we suspect. Oh yes, for the benefit of our extra-Blighty readers, Asbo = AntiSocial Behaviour Order - is routinely applied to alcohol-crazed teenagers who find it amusing to steal people's cars or hang around shopping centres hurling abuse at octogenarian decorated war heroes. You get the idea.
Lester Haines, 29 Mar 2006

NZ cops cuff armless 121km/h speed merchant

An NZ man with no driving licence was slapped with a NZ$170 fine and banned from driving after cops caught him doing 121km/h on a state highway, the New Zealand Herald reports. Nothing unusual there, you might think, but a licence wasn't the only thing the Waikato 32-year-old was lacking. As an officer approached the detained vehicle, he noticed the speed merchant was a bit short in the arm department too. Yup, our armless menace had been driving the car "using one foot to steer and the other to operate the pedals". His excuse? He was born without arms - simple as that. Senior Constable Brent Gray, who made the stop on State Highway 2 at Papamoa, was described as "pretty shocked" at the sight of a limbless perp at the wheel - and even more gobsmacked that the man had been "driving for years, without any issues". Senior Sergeant for the road policing unit Deidre Lack explained that she had nothing personally against disabled drivers, but noted: "Obviously driving at a speed like that, arms or not, you're just waiting for an accident. You're asking for an accident at 120km/h, whether you've got arms or not. Look at the risk he was posing." ® Bootnote Readers will doubtless be marvelling at the fact that we managed to get to the end of this story without noting it would have been a lot worse for the armless perp if he been caught speeding while completely legless...oh blast.
Lester Haines, 29 Mar 2006

Palm's low-end Treo spotted on web

Tantalising images that are claimed to show Palm's upcoming low-end Treo smart phone have been posted on the web. The shots show a blue device with a screen and keypad not unlike those featured on the current Treo 650 and - crucially - no external antenna.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Fibernet reports slower than expected progress

Shares in UK-based Fibernet, which provides carrier services to large enterprises, other telcos and ISPs, dipped today as the firm warned that business hasn't been as brisk as hoped. The value of contracts signed in the last quarter (£7.9m) was below expectations and the firm doesn't expect to make up this shortfall in the second half of the year, it said in a trading statement today. And while Fibernet hasn't lost any customers in the last three months, the amount each customer has spent has been "lower than anticipated". As a result the firm - which is still regarded as a possible take-over target - has revised its financial forecast. "While the company expects full year revenues, EBITDA and loss before tax to improve on the prior year," it said. "The rate of progress will be slower than expected. While the loss before tax will be less than last year, it is now expected to be larger than current market expectations for the full year." Despite this, chief exec Charles McGregor said he expects the firm's interim results to be "in line with expectation" and he remains upbeat that the telco is "on course to demonstrate improvement on prior year revenue, EBITDA and loss before tax for the full year". By mid morning shares in Fibernet were down 2.93p (4.5 per cent) at 62.75 p. ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Mar 2006

Katie Holmes to enjoy iPod during birth

Tom Cruise has given pregnant Katie Holmes an iPod packed with her fave tunes - to help her keep schtum during the forthcoming birth of their child, UK tabloid The Sun reports. The thoughtful gift comes after the delivery to the couple's home of six-foot "birthing boards" reminding Holmes to keep her trap shut during the delivery. The Church of Scientology - of which Cruise is a member - believes that mum screaming during the sprog-dropping process is traumatic to the infant. Accordingly, one of the boards reads: "Be silent and make all physical movements slow and understandable." A source close to the couple told the paper: "Tom gave Katie an iPod loaded with 300 of her favourite songs. He wants her to listen to calming music — but to use earphones so there's no noise in the delivery room." ®
Lester Haines, 29 Mar 2006

From JAWS to Dolphins: IT for Nairobi's blind students

Case studyCase study Lawrence Momanyji, 10 sits at the front of class with a Brailler at his desk. Lawrence is a bright boy – he came fifth out of 52 in the recent class exams. He is a pupil at Kilimani Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya, one of 32 blind and visually impaired children on the school roll. Kilimani is, according to its headmistress Salome Kariuki, "a very big and old school – the buildings are falling apart. The parents do not have the means to repair it, and the city council has other things to spend its money on. But despite that, the performance is good". The school has 1,200 children aged between five and 14, most of whom come from very poor families – it is near one of Nairobi’s biggest slums. The average class size is 50. Kilimani’s Integrated Education programme for blind and visually impaired has run since 1983 and some of its ‘graduates’ have completed university courses. The programme is supported by the charity Sight Savers International, a strong advocate of inclusive education. In all, 220 blind and visually impaired children are being taught in Nairobi's mainstream public schools - a specialist peripatetic teacher, Anthony Mwangani, based at Kilimani, also services so-called sub resource centres in other schools in the city. At Kilimani, the blind and visually impaired children start off in a beginner’s class, currently 19 strong. They join a mainstream class as soon as they can read Braille unaided. Typically, it takes two years to make the switch, but there is a wide range of abilities and differing ages within the beginners’ class – the current intake has children aged between three and 11. All the blind children in the mainstream classes are supplied with their own Braillers, but the problem is “they are owned by children”, the school says and are often broken. Braillers are expensive too – around K Sch 40,000 (£320), as are Braille books and Braille paper. And Braille is clunky.The Braille version of the Bible occupies 49 large-format books. The blind and visually impaired children follow the normal curriculum, but when changes are made it takes four to six months for updated Braille versions to arrive, Kenyan Union of the Blind executive officer Martin Kieti says. This is where computers would come in useful. But it is early days yet. A year ago, the school got its first computer for the blind students - a refurbished Pentium III funded by Sight Savers and supplied by Computer Aid International, the UK-based PC recycling charity. The children are taught in ones and twos, away from their classes. First thing on the agenda is mastering the keyboard as the children can’t use the mouse. They start with Microsoft software and learn the keyboard layout and then how to format a document. This takes about a year, though the length is determined partly by the rationing of access to the computer. “We have only one computer and the children are many,” says Mr Mwangani. But the school is also keen that children do not miss out on their mainstream courses. Kilimani's lone PC has some software called JAWS - Job Access with Speech. This is a voice output facility which enables students to play back what they have written. But it is only a trial version: the computer must be rebooted after 40 minutes. From JAWS to Dolphins JAWS is limited because it deals with speech only, Martin Kieti says. Partially-sighted, Mr Kieti is a keen advocate of the Dolphin Project, Sight Savers’ latest project for education. He carries a 256KB USB flash drive in his pocket, containing all the software configuration he needs. He can put this into any PC running Windows XP or Windows 2000 and with a USB port. "If I go to a cybercafe, I can simply plug it in," he says. On the flash drive is Supernova software supplied by Dolphin Computer Access. There are three facilities, or consoles, covering magnification, speech, voice input, and Braille. Using Supernova, the keyboard can be configured as a Brailler and a specialist printer prints out raised dots in Braille. Sight Savers is to roll-out the Dolphin Project with 45 refurbished laptops supplied by ComputerAid and flash drives containing SuperNova to support blind students at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. At a cost of US$250 each, for the laptop and the flash drive, the prices compare very well with Braillers and Braille books. Using the PC, lecturers who are not conversant in Braille can input normal text which translates into Braille. Kieti hopes that technology will opens up job prospects. Most blind undergraduates go on to become teachers, a few go into law. But job prospects are seriously limited in a country that has an effective unemployment rate of 45 per cent. However, Kieti is hopeful that technology will make it easier for young blind adults to find work. The Supernova software, already configured, will remove employers’ expense of having to set up dedicated workstations for visually impaired staff. ®
Drew Cullen, 29 Mar 2006
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It's springtime for Computerland

Computerland issued an upbeat trading statement today saying that business in the second half is running ahead of its expectations. The Nottingham-based reselling and services firm said it was seeing strong growth in its managed services business and now expects profits for the year to come in ahead of the market’s expectations. The bullish forecast follows a disappointing first half for Computerland. Back in December, it reported half-year revenues slipped on the back of lower product sales. Turnover for the six months to 31 October was down 10 per cent to £26.9m and profit before tax was £0.8m.®
Team Register, 29 Mar 2006

Dell unveils D820, D620 'super 3G'-ready notebooks

Dell has begun taking orders for its anticipated Latitude D620 and D820 business-oriented notebooks - and has said the higher-end machine will sport an Nvidia graphics chip as yet unannounced by the GPU maker. It also said the machine will be offered with an HSDPA 3G data card - but not yet.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

German downloaders face two years' prison

The German justice minister has defended changes to German law which will increase sentences for consumers caught downloading copyrighted material to two years. Anyone caught downloading songs or films for commercial purposes could get up to five years in prison. The changes come into force on 1 January 2007. Justice minister Brigitte Zypries said consumers would still be allowed to make copies of legitimately bought DVDs, but she said people downloading copies of films before they were released in cinemas were clearly breaking the law. German consumer groups were less impressed, saying the law sends the wrong message and criminalises consumers. The changes follow sustained lobbying by the film industry in Germany, which claims that piracy is a particular problem in the country and has led to falling sales. It claims Germans download more than 20m films a year. Critics say falling cinema attendance and DVD sales have more to do with the quality of Hollywood products than the impact of piracy. More from the Times here. ®
John Oates, 29 Mar 2006
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DNS hackers target domain registrars

Hackers have launched distributed denial of service attacks against the Domain Name System (DNS) servers of a brace of domain name registrars over recent days. The motive for the separate attacks against Network Solutions and Joker.com remains unclear. Network Solutions said the attack on its name servers caused a "brief degradation" in the quality of its service to customers for around 25 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, Computerworld reports. Domain registrar Joker.com is recovering from an attack on its name servers last week that lasted for six days up until last Sunday. Joker.com, which is based in Germany, handles the registration of approximately 550,000 domains. Some of these domains, as well as Joker's own website, were blighted by the attack. In a statement, Joker.com explained that around 15 per cent of its domains were affected by reduced name server performance and availability during the attack. Joker.com fought the DDoS attack by adding more name servers. The firm has apologised for the inconvenience to some of its customers caused by the attack which it described as the fiercest assault it has ever faced. ®
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2006

iPod Nano gets slimline stand

US iPod accessory maker Marware has unveiled a docking cradle that's almost as minimalist as the player it's designed to support. The iPod Nano Stand is sculpted to fit the player perfectly, with a dock connector and a back plane to make fitting and removal painless.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006
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MPs botch HCI rescue

The tax break for people who buy home computers through their wage packet was scrapped last night, despite protests from businesses endangered by the short notice of its termination. The Home Computing Initiative, which since its revision last year has provided home computers to half a million people through the payrolls of 1,250 firms, had enticed roughly 50 entrepreneurs to build businesses entirely round the scheme. Last Wednesday's budget stated that the scheme would be axed on 6 April, giving business just 10 days to prepare for the shock. The House of Commons was divided over whether to ratify the idea, but did so after a vote by a majority of 66. Arguments made in HCI's defence included the benefit it brought the economy by helping increase the computer skills of the work force. "If one wanted a justification of the accusation that the Chancellor was an analogue politician in a digital age, the withdrawal of that form of relief would be it," Sir George Young, Conservative MP for Hampshire North West, told the house. He summed up the frustration of the many businesses who had exploited the tax break and now faced the prospect of returning to the combative PC market, unaided. "I cannot understand why, at two weeks' notice, against a background of the Department of Trade and Industry promoting the scheme on its website, it is suddenly to be withdrawn," he said. "I hope that there might be second thoughts, and perhaps a postponement of the scheme for two years to allow the benefit to filter through," he added. But it was not to be, even though many Conservative MPs stood with him after the order went out from shadow Chancellor George Osbourne yesterday to vote to keep the scheme. Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Vincent Cable had a quick round of spot the hypocrisy, which is so much more fun in the age of the internet, public relations and misinformation. He noted a statement the Chancellor made in support of the home computer tax break in 1999, when he introduced it: "We hope [it] will encourage businesses to loan computers to their employees... there are real benefits to businesses, employees and the wider community." That doesn't score any points though - it was like a lazy swing that sends the tennis ball into the net. There was not any great support for HCI as a means of encouraging people to buy home computers and, while a couple of MP's quoted irate constituents who ran businesses that had become reliant on the tax break, there was no campaign of any note in their support. But the tax break was not designed for the benefit of entrepreneurs, it was intended to help poor families buy computers so they did not get left the wrong side of the digital divide. It was left to Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, to present the defence for HCI as a means of bridging the digital divide, which he couldn't do without name-dropping his old man, Don Horwood, who helped build the Colossus code-breaking computer during World War II, However, families least likely to be afford to buy home computers were excluded from the scheme. The same laws that protect their income with a minimum wage prevent their employers from deducting payments from their wage packets for "benefits in kind", such as home computers bought through HCI. The government, said Des Browne, chief secretary to the Treasury, repeated the government's assertion that its tax resources could "better target" poorer people. "The home computer initiative was never intended to subsidise those who can already afford computers," he said, adding that people had begun abusing the scheme by buying second computers and games consoles. Now that's just greedy.®
Mark Ballard, 29 Mar 2006

Motorola changes mind on Q ship date

When will Motorola ship its Q smart phone? Last week, the company's website added a page promoting the slimline would-be Blackberry beater. It said the 1.2cm-thick, keyboard-equipped handset will be "available April 2006". Now Moto has changed the page to read "shipping soon". Is it simply being cautious or is it signalling a serious delay?
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Events, dear boy... a view from Apache

CommentComment After last month's somewhat lightweight piece, I had in mind a solid programmer article for March. But like Harold Macmillan, I'm not just going to ignore events. So here instead is something topical. Open source advocates have been getting very worked up about an article in The Economist entitled Open source business. Open, but not as usual. The journalist is, as usual, wrong, misinformed, spreading FUD. Sigh. Dear Editor, ... Do the slashdotters and groklawyers have a point? Yes, certainly. But do they make it? Not really: it's quite hard to find the valid criticisms amid the noise. And who do they speak for? A proportion (probably rather small) of the open source community (whatever that is). And, not least, am I misrepresenting them? Guilty: of course I'm generalising! Much of the criticism focuses on some "conventional wisdom" about open source: it's chaotic, uncontrolled, unaccountable. Another point that attracted fury was the apparent credibility given to the SCO lawsuits (why do articles like this never mention, for example, Timeline's successful multi-million lawsuits against Windows end-users)? But these criticisms are, in my view, misplaced: in fact the article proceeds to explain why this conventional wisdom isn't true of the significant open source projects such as Apache. Some genuine - and indeed fundamental - factual errors such as equating open source with the GPL have largely been missed, and are in any case peripheral to the article. This is certainly an advance on the days when an article in the mainstream press could be expected to confuse Free Software with the crap on a typical magazine cover disc. In my view, a stronger criticism is the characterisation of Wikipedia's troubles as a failure of open source. It cannot be that, because it's not an open source project in the first place (open contents?). Alas, it's hard to give the article benefit of any doubt there. But then again, the article's very thesis is that concepts originating with open source software are being adopted in other fields of human activity. Wikipedia is indeed an example of the perils of inadequately thought through adoption of something that looks beguilingly like open source and Eric Raymond's "bazaar". The Economist is usually well-informed, but at the level of the boardroom executive, not the backroom geek. The most interesting thing about the article is that it appeared at all: this is far more testament to the success of open source than any sound and fury from Microsoft and SCO, or from slashdot and groklaw. So, how does Apache work in reality to ensure quality and accountability? Well, any technology company will tell you its greatest asset is its people. Apache is no different, though the brand is worth something too! It has a major advantage over commercial companies: it's not scrabbling for vaguely-competent developers in a competitive marketplace. It's under no pressure to recruit, and it can afford to restrict itself to people with a proven track record of contributions. And its pool of prospective developers is worldwide, limited only when a developer - or his/her employer - is unwilling or unable to sign the relevant Contributor License Agreement (CLA), the document that guarantees Apache and its users the legal right to use the intellectual property in the developer's contributions. So, Apache has the talent. How does it make best use of it? Formally, the project is managed by the Project Management Committee (PMC), which reports to the ASF board. But although the PMC has a private mailing list and ultimate responsibility, all technical discussion happens openly and in public, with the possible exception of security issues. The primary resources are the subversion (formerly CVS) repository, and the developer mailinglist. Other important “fora” include the Bugzilla database, IRC chat, and the ApacheCon conference - the latter being the only time significant numbers of developers are likely to meet face-to-face. The subversion repository is Apache's codebase, and encompasses all ASF projects - not just the webserver and associated APR library (which I, rather loosely, describe as "Apache"). The codebase comprises several parallel versions: Trunk is the current development branch, containing all the latest developments. This is designated as Commit-Then-Review, so new ideas can get tested without bureaucracy and hassle. Release branches (2.2, 2.0, 1.3) are designated stable, and are subject to much stricter rules. Any change to a stable branch must be reviewed and approved by at least three developers, and both source and binary back-compatibility is mandatory. This is coordinated through a file called STATUS in each branch, documenting proposed changes and developer comments. Normally patches to stable branches are tried in trunk first and backported. Experimental branches may be created ad-hoc, to develop new ideas likely to cause significant disruption. A recent example is fully asynchronous client I/O. A successful experiment will be merged into trunk when it's stabilised. A developer may also veto a proposed change. However, a veto must be accompanied by a detailed explanation and/or an alternative proposal. This then stimulates a discussion on the mailing list to resolve the issues. This works a good deal better than traditional management to impose checks and balances. Apache's bugzilla database is also fully public and unmoderated, and can be chaotic. It combines real bugs, enhancement and feature requests with non-bugs entered by users, a few of whom refuse to let their pet 'bug' be closed. Some bugs may also be left permanently open to document features and provide patches, where some users may have specific needs that would not be appropriate to the standard Apache. Intellectual Property is of course highly topical. Apache has robust measures in place to protect itself and its users from incorporating third-party IP, based on holding written consent from both individual and corporate contributors, and rejecting contributions where adequate guarantees are not available. In summary, Apache's success is backed by strong organisation and effective processes. It is indeed disorganised in the sense that individual developers have much more freedom than in a commercial environment. That's nothing but good: a free developer is a motivated and productive developer, and peer review provides ample checks and balances - even leaving time for the tedious bits such as bugfixes! The bottom line - three times the market share of its nearest competitor. Next time you hear the argument that a market leader will be the product to suffer security exploits, just cite Apache's track record!
Nick Kew, 29 Mar 2006

Blair's answer to climate change: the internet

Tony Blair has responded to his government's failure to hit its CO2 emissions target by calling for “a technological revolution comparable to the internet”. He promised to push for a new global consensus on climate change to replace the mostly impotent Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto is set to run until 2012. The government yesterday published its climate change school report, conceding it is unlikely to hit a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 by 2010. Instead, a cut of 15 to 18 per cent is achievable under the current carbon regime. Either figure is more ambitious than the 12.5 per cent the UK is obliged to eliminate under Kyoto. Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told the BBC: "We are putting forward fresh proposals and I think people will find that these are quite tough proposals, and there is more to come later in the year." Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth described Labour's climate change review as “totally inadequate”, accusing minsters of lacking the political will to tackle the issue. They say CO2 emissions have risen by three per cent since the 1997 elections. There have been rumours of cabinet bickering over future targets. Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper said: “The ship is heading for the rocks, but rather than changing direction, Captain Blair has simply reduced speed while his crew continues to squabble.” David Cameron's nascent touchy-feely Conservative Party view the environment as a potential vote winner. Trying to catch the hot potato, shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth said: “The government's efforts to tackle climate change remain piecemeal, timid and half-hearted.” The Tories called for the introduction of enforceable and independently-audited annual reductions goals. Blair's comments sought to bat away criticism of the report during a marathon tour of Australasia. For some UK scientists the PM's summons for scientific advancements to avert the crisis will sound rather hollow. Representatives of government scientist's union Prospect yesterday lobbied Parliament to fight planned cuts at key labs which monitor markers of climate change. One union man described recent Labour rhetoric on science investment as “bullshit”. Labour backbencher and former academic Ian Gibson said ministers' science strategy was “wimpish” Blair's Auckland, New Zealand, speech was also a signal from the PM that he has given up hope of gas-guzzling America, or energy-hungry developing giants China and India ever signing up to Kyoto. He said any new agreement would have to include those countries. One of Bush's first acts after coming to power was to pull out of Kyoto. A new climate change consensus may have a better chance of getting America on board. The President seems to have gradually begun to accept the reality of changing global climate. In his 2006 State of the Union Address Bush called for an reduction in US reliance on oil. He said: “To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.” The emphasis was on a break from Middle Eastern oil however. Reports from across the pond that the administration has been taking advice from bestselling author Michael Crichton, whose climate change-denial polemic State of Fear is said to be a Whitehouse favourite, do not bode well. Some Senators continue to disregard the groaning weight of evidence from labs the world over, apparently suspecting some form of liberal conspiracy. Congress has been caught up lately with just one strand of evidence – the 'hockey stick' graph of global temperature change. Texas Republican Joe Barton has been accused of intimidation by fellow Republican Sherwood Boehlert after the launched investigations into the work of scientists who contributed. Despite the nay-sayers, climate scientists continue to toil to understand what is happening to weather patterns. The latest issue of the journal Science was a special on a trio of new data which together painted a pretty grim picture: Glacial earthquakes in Greenland increasing in frequency - an indication of faster melting. Calculations showing the Antarctic ice sheet may collapse by 2100, raising sea level by several metres. Increased discharge of cold glacial meltwaters at both poles, threatening ocean currents. ®
Christopher Williams, 29 Mar 2006

Navy waves goodbye to Sea Harriers

The Royal Navy yesterday waved a fond farewell to the Sea Harriers, which played such a vital role in the 1982 Falklands conflict. The final five aircraft from 801 Squadron performed a last aerial display at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, prompting Commander Henry Mitchell to comment: "It hasn't quite hit me yet that this is the last time I will fly this amazing jet." Mitchell has, according to the Telegraph, being flying Sea Harriers for 21 years - making him the longest serving pilot of the type. Twenty-nine Sea Harriers served in the Falklands, with two lost to ground fire and four in accidents. They are being replaced with GR7 and GR9 (an upgraded model of the GR7) ground attack versions - GR7s in the case of 801 and 800 squadrons which are being reformed at RAF Cottesmore while retaining their "naval traditions". Second Sea Lord vice-admiral Adrian Johns said: "It is a very emotional day and it is very sad to say farewell to the Sea Harriers, which have contributed so much, especially in the Falklands." ®
Lester Haines, 29 Mar 2006

Dell extends Precision portable workstation line

Dell has upgraded its Precision family of mobile workstations, adding a pair of new models to the line-up, both equipped with mobile-oriented Nvidia Quadro FX GPUs and Intel dual-core microprocessors.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

First Brazilian cosmonaut makes World Cup boast

Brazil's first cosmonaut has boasted he will take the national shirt aboard the International Space Station to 'commemorate' the country's 'victory' in this year's football World Cup. He'll blast off from Kazakstan on Thursday at 02:30GMT aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. Planet-headed airforce pilot Marcos Pontes, 43, puffed: “To commemorate the six times champions of the world that the Brazilian football team will become this year, I'm taking the Brazilian soccer team shirt.” His cocksure comments were made at a news conference from behind a hermetically sealed glass panel, in place to protect him from the grubby reporter's lurgie. Pontes will spend two days on the station, before returning with six month inmates American Bill McArthur and Russian Valery Tokarev. ®
Christopher Williams, 29 Mar 2006

BT managers chilled by pay freeze

BT managers who take on new jobs or are promoted over the next few months will have their pay frozen until July. According to documents seen by El Reg, BT is introducing the pay freeze for BT Retail managers in order to comply with corporate governance rules. As a result, any BT Retail manager awarded a pay rise between 2 April and 30 June won't receive a penny until July. What's worse, "any pay increase awarded...during the lock-down period and deferred for processing until the July pay roll, will not be backdated". A spokeswoman for Connect, the trade union that represents managers and professionals in the communications industry, said officials were "unhappy" about BT's decision not to backdate any pay. The union will be holding talks with BT concerning the matter and has asked for "common sense to prevail". One shocked insider told El Reg: "I've never known a pay freeze that means that if you get promoted at any point between April and the end of June, you don't get paid the new rate until the end of July - and it is not backdated to take account of when you started the new job." ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Mar 2006

PwC settles dotcom fraud case

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has made an out-of-court settlement with shareholders of e-district who alleged the accountancy giant had failed to discharge its legal responsibilities. The case had been due in court in June, and all details of the settlement are remaining secret. E-district was the last bubble on board the dotcom bandwagon. It claimed one million users and raised almost £30m selling shares to institutions before it floated on AIM. PwC was the firm's accountant. But it all came falling down in 2001 when the CEO was suspended over gaps between real and claimed revenues, page impressions and number of users. At the end of 2000 it claimed 2.6m active users but an investigation in early 2001 found just over 50,000 registered users. The company blamed the ex-CEO Steven Laitman. He was accused of bringing money into the company and falsely labelling it as revenue from sales agencies. PwC was being sued by 110 shareholders because it was the company accountant and auditor. A statement for the accountants said the firm was happy to draw a line under the matter. More from the Independent here. ®
John Oates, 29 Mar 2006
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Ulead yanks Blu-ray support from week-old app

Media software maker Ulead has dropped Blu-ray Disc support from the latest release of its DVD MovieFactory video capture and disk-mastering application - even though the software has only been shipping for just over a week.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006
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SUSE CTO exits Novell

Juergen Geck, chief technology officer of SUSE Linux at Novell, will leave the firm at the end of the week, CRN reports. His departure is the latest of a string of departures by senior executives as SUSE since Novell acquired the open source software distributor two years ago. Geck worked with SUSE for more than 10 years, during which time he was closely involved in developing a server-based version of the product and its YaST desktop configuration tool. Geck said his break from Novell was amicable, adding that he wanted to work for a smaller firm. "After nearly 10 years at SUSE and now Novell, I think it was time for a change. Novell has been very good to me, and there would have been plenty of good opportunities within the company," he said. In response, Novell carried out a mini-reorganisation focused on shaking up its open source business, marketing and regional operations. David Patrick was replaced as general manager of Novell's open platform solutions business by Lucent Technologies veteran Roger Levy after less than two years in the job. Last November, SUSE Linux founder Hubert Mantel resigned from Novell during another phase of restructuring. Novell vice president Chris Stone, the chief architect of the SUSE Linux acquisition, left the vendor in November 2004 amid rumours of a disagreement with Novell CEO Jack Messman on corporate strategy. ®
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2006

WD unveils 6GB pocket drive

Western Digital (WD) has announced its take on the USB-driven external microdrive, launching a bus-powered 6GB hard disk drive under its Passport Pocket brand. The 6 x 4.5 x 0.9cm, 45g unit contains a 1in, 3,600rpm HDD with a 2MB cache. It has a mean read seek time of 11ms, WD said, and a nominal average latency of 8.3ms.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Rollerskating coppers defeated by turf

A top-notch UK crimebusting initiative - which saw London's Royal Parks Constabulary issued with in-line rollerskates - has ground to a halt after crims realised they could escape simply by scarpering across grass, the Telegraph reports. Four Royal Parks officers were issued with the pursuit shoewear six years ago after some bright spark noted the success of similar schemes in Florida, Paris and the Netherlands*. However, Supt Derek Pollock, of London's Royal Parks operational command unit admitted: "It just didn't work. The moment people realised they were being chased they would switch to a soft surface. "If the criminal went on to the grass, the officer giving chase had to stop, take off his skates then follow him without proper footwear while carrying his skates." Pollock, whose officers have returned to their traditional perp-hunting bikes, further confessed: "Not an awful lot of officers were interested because it hurts when you fall over." ® Bootnote *It's evident that the London criminal mind is simply more highly evolved than those of Dutch, French and US miscreants. If they ever get wind of this grass idea abroad, law and order could quickly collapse, make no mistake.
Lester Haines, 29 Mar 2006
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Panasonic Blu-ray player to cost 'under $1,500'

Panasonic's Blu-ray Disc player, the DMP-BD10, will set consumers back a whopping $1,500 when it ships in the US in September - up to $500 more than Sony's offering. Actually, Panasonic said the DMP-BD10's price will be "less than $1,500" - so our money's on a $1499.99 price tag...
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Asus to ship Ageia PhysX add-in boards

Asus will begin shipping a dedicated physics processing board based on Ageia's PhysX PPU in May, the company said today. The card contains 256MB of memory dedicated to environment calculations designed to make virtual worlds feel more real to game players.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

BT, uSwitch clash over transparency of switching sites

BT has called on uSwitch to come clean about commission charges following concerns about the transparency of the online price comparison service. uSwitch - which was snapped up by US outfit EW Scripps for £210m ($366m) earlier this month - describes itself as a "free, impartial...comparison and switching service that helps customers compare prices on a range of services including gas, electricity, home phone, broadband providers and personal finance products". It claims to be able to save consumers money on their bills and generates its own revenue by a "small commission payment [from the gaining provider] when a customer chooses to switch or apply for a product through us". But documents obtained by the Mirror suggest uSwitch was prepared to offer BT the chance to recruit more punters for a fee - something that is strenuously denied by uSwitch. Quoting from the letters, the Mirror reports that uSwitch wanted a £40,000 a month "advertising" fee to add BT and its logo to the uSwitch website. It also proposed a commission of £50 for each new punter it signs up to BT. The story has prompted John Robertson MP, chairman of the all-party telecoms group, to contact regulator Ofcom about the allegations amid concerns that switching sites should be more open about the fees they charge. "It is vital the advice given by switching companies is totally impartial," he told the paper. "It would be highly improper if the advice they give is determined by financial incentives." Now BT has hit back at what it calls "a lack of full transparency" and is demanding changes be introduced to ensure that consumer confidence is not undermined. BT Retail chief operating officer John Petter said consumers "may be surprised to know the huge commissions involved for the switching companies". "There is obviously nothing wrong in competition and choice - both of which are great for consumers. But customers also clearly deserve open and transparent information about the levels of commission-based selling and the potential savings that can be made from switching. We would welcome the size of commissions being made public to a customer - just as they usually are when advice is given in the financial services sector." "We would also welcome clarification from uSwitch on what information they use to underpin product comparisons. BT recently worked with a leading accountancy firm to examine what we know about uSwitch's data and we don't recognise the amounts of potential savings being claimed," he said. But uSwitch has rejected the allegations claiming that the "context in which uSwitch has been cited is wholly inappropriate and there have been serious misrepresentations made in these articles". A spokeswoman for uSwitch told us: "The allegations that form the basis of the articles in question, whereby uSwitch is accused of industry failings and 'murky money making methods' are completely unfounded. Consumers can be assured that our service is accurate and impartial. uSwitch is transparent about the fact that it has commercial relationships in place and is independent of all the companies it represents, these relationships are in place to help us maintain a free service and to make the switching process as convenient as possible for our customers." A spokesman for Ofcom declined to comment on the story insisting it was a matter for BT and uSwitch. ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Mar 2006
homeless man with sign

Barclays denies online confusion

Barclays Bank customers have complained they can no longer set up new payments through the website. Barclays' call centre is telling customers that an increase in fraud, especially phishing, has forced them to stop customers setting up payments to new people - existing standing orders are not affected. Customers are advised to make payment by cheque. Call centre staff say the service is being "revamped". But a spokeswoman for Barclays denied this. She told the Register that customers who had not used the online service in the last 14 months would be asked to reconfirm their details but there was no restriction on people setting up new payments. But she said: "We now hold all new payments for 24 hours while we sift them for fraud." She confirmed there had a been an industry-wide increase in phishing and trojans but this was not peculiar to Barclays: "We certainly get our share of fraud but no more than anyone else."®
John Oates, 29 Mar 2006

NTT DoCoMo preps army-style music phone

NTT DoCoMo will next month ship a music player capable of downloading songs from its 3G FOMA mobile phone network. Yes, it's a phone too, but unlike music-friendly mobiles like Motorola's Slvr and Rokr, the Music Porter X is designed to spend as much time hooked up to a hi-fi as placed in a pocket.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Blue Peter badge privileges suspended

Turn on your TV set and reach for the consolatory home-made sweets. The BBC has given up trying to protect the sanctity of the Blue Peter badge against rotters who sell them for their privileges to the highest bidder on eBay. And it's about to be announced to the nation's children. Kids win their badges by performing or relaying commendable acts for TV cameras on the hit TV show, Blue Peter. The highest accolade, the Gold Blue Peter badge, is awarded to children who save lives. Until today, the badges conferred on their proud owners privileges such as free entry to museums. But they were being sold on eBay for up to £50 a time, according to the BBC. In a statement* issued today, Blue Peter editor Richard Marson said kids would be told on the show today that all badge holders have had their privileges suspended until further notice. "This is a sad but necessary short-term step to safeguard the future of the Blue Peter badge scheme and to protect children who have earnt (sic) their badges and who are feeling very let down by this cynical trade," he said. The badges would be taken off ice as soon as a solution was found to the eBay conundrum, he said.® * Thanks to loyal reader, Iian, for bringing this to our attention
Mark Ballard, 29 Mar 2006

Apple adds noise limit to iPod firmware

Worried Junior may be listening to his or her iPod too loudly? Apple has added a user-definable volume limit to its latest iPod Nano and 5G iPod firmware. iPods sold in France and other EU countries have a mandatory volume limit, so it will interesting to see whether the update allows Euro users to turn their iPod 'up to eleven'. The updates also fixes some unspecified bugs. The new firmware is available here. ®
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Apple, Beatles spat about logos not music, says lawyer

Apple vs AppleApple vs Apple It's the logo, stupid. That, at least, is what the Apple vs Apple case centres on if opening arguments made by Apple Corp. lawyer Geoffrey Vos QC are anything to go by. It's not about Apple Comp. selling recorded music, it's about the Mac maker promoting the business with its logo, Vos said.
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2006

Microsoft adds Virtual Server to delay parade

Microsoft's delay culture has carried over to the Virtual Server team with an update to the server slicing product being pushed back to "early 2007." The Redmond beast now plans to ship a beta of the service pack 1 (SP1) for Virtual Server 2005 R2 in the next 90 days and deliver the final take of the update next year. Microsoft had been looking to have the update done and dusted by the fourth quarter of this year. Virtual Server joins Windows Vista and Office 2007 in the pantheon of major software projects delayed by Microsoft. The Virtual Server delay won't please Microsoft customers looking to tap into new virtualization hardware tools in Intel and AMD chips. Such hardware support is the key addition with the update. Microsoft will also ship its Volume Shadow Services in the update. Storage pros use VSS for backing up data and should see the technology work with virtual operating systems. "With the service pack, Microsoft customers will be provided with better interoperability, strengthened isolation to help prevent corruption of one virtual machine from affecting others on the same system, and improved performance for non-Windows guest operating systems," a Microsoft spokesperson added. Customers will still have to wait until 2008 or 2009 to see Micrososft catch up with rivals VMware and Xen and deliver a hypervisor-based Virtual Server product. Unlike the competition, Microsoft runs Virtual Server on top of a standard operating system, while a hypervisor sits underneath the OS. ®
Ashlee Vance, 29 Mar 2006
channel

Windows Vista under EC spotlight

Microsoft has moved to re-assure European regulators there's nothing anti-competitive going on with its delayed Windows Vista operating system. The company told the European Commission Wednesday it's working hard with partners and competitors to build products and services capable of working with Windows Vista. Microsoft said it was a "priority" to keep outsiders informed about product plans. "We have worked hard to include partners and competitors in our planning so they can build products and services that work with Windows Vista," Microsoft said. Microsoft was responding after it emerged European competition commissioner Neelie Kroes has taken what could turn into the first steps in an official investigation into Windows Vista. Kroes is reported to have written to Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer expressing worries about Windows Vista's bundling of features. Concerns specifically appear to center on packaging of internet search functions and software, and the ability to create fixed document formats. Kroes told the Wall St Journal Europe he expects Microsoft will design Windows Vista "in a way which is in line with European competition laws." "It would be rather stupid to design something that is not," Kroes said. The warning comes as Microsoft prepares for two days of hearings into whether it should pay a 200-million-a-day euro fine for allegedly failing to comply with the terms of a 2004 EC ruling that found Microsoft had hurt the competition in low-end servers and media players through its established practice of bundling software. Microsoft does at least appear to have taken some steps to satisfy regulators in Windows Vista. The company plans SKUs of the home and business edition without the Media Player, which helped originally land the company in hot water with Europe's competition chiefs. As is Microsoft's way, though, the latest planned version of its operating system promises integration in other areas that were bound to concern regulators. Aside from search and document formats, there is also tighter integration at an architectural level with Office. Pressure, or even a probe, from Europe is unlikely to get in the way of Microsoft's already delayed development and delivery plans for Windows Vista. Microsoft pressed on with Windows XP in 2001 despite the fact its long-running case with the US Department of Justice hadn't wrapped-up.®
Gavin Clarke, 29 Mar 2006

OSDL fires up open source welfare program

Are you an open source developer whose project is a little strapped for cash? Then Linus Torvalds' Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has good news for you. OSDL has announced the creation of a Fellowship Fund that will provide financial support for software developers working on Linux and open source projects lacking the financial resources to get their job done. Allocations will be determined by OSDL's board of directors, who OSDL said will judge priorities and levels of financial commitment. There's no word yet on the fund size, which is still being determined, although a spokesperson told The Register the Fellowship Fund has received backing from "major software companies" who wished to remain anonymous. Stuart Cohen, OSDL chief executive, said in a statement the Fellowship Fund would help spur adoption of Linux and open source software. He said OSDL's "neutrality" put it in a position to fill "specific gaps in open source development." Creation of the fund is OSDL's latest attempt to put money behind projects and developers. OSDL last year established the IP Support Fund providing Linux and open source developers with legal services while the Linux Legal Defense Fund was founded in 2003 to defend Linus Torvalds during SCO's lawsuit.®
Gavin Clarke, 29 Mar 2006