4th > April > 2006 Archive

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Joe public wary of trusting organisations online

More needs to be done to convince the British public that their personal details are adequately protected online. A YouGov survey of 2,000 UK punters found that two in three (65 per cent) were uncomfortable with the idea of allowing organisations to share personal details in order to offer federated services. For consumers, federated services would offer the convenience of carrying out online transactions with different sales and service organisations after logging in only once to a trusted entity, for example their bank. Nine in 10 (91 per cent) of those quizzed said organisations offering online services ought to do more to protect customers' personal details. Around three in four (72 per cent) indicated that online identity theft had already led to changes in their behaviour. When asked who they trusted most with their personal details, banks came top with 70 per cent of the vote. Government was more trusted (23 per cent) than retailers (21 per cent) to keep sensitive details safely. ISPs got the confidence vote from only 11 per cent of the survey's respondents. Trust, according to the survey, was based on a number of factors, but the most frequently cited fact was that organisations displayed security certifications on their site (chosen by 75 per cent of respondents). Perceived reputation was also an important factor in the survey, which was sponsored by systems management firm CA. Respondents were also asked whether they would be more comfortable for their personal details to be submitted via a specialist third party, an independent "identity service provider", who'd validate an individual's identity to a chosen online organisation. Reaction to this idea among the public was lukewarm (39 per cent). Twenty per cent of respondents said it would make no difference to their comfort levels, and 31 per cent said they would feel more uncomfortable with trusting a third party to handle their credentials. "Organisations starting large technology projects to launch federated services need to consider how to establish trust," said Simon Perry, VP Security Strategy EMEA, CA. "Banks and credit card companies appear to be in a good position, and that may be because we are used to conducting sensitive transactions with them and because many of them are already tackling concerns about identity theft through advertising. For government, online retailers, and ISPs that means finding ways to demonstrate they can be trusted to manage an individual's personal details before they launch federated services." ®
John Leyden, 04 Apr 2006

'Mysterious green goo' discovery halts phone repair

More than 400 homes and businesses in Aldershot are without phone services after BT engineers refused to repair a faulty cable after finding "mysterious green goo" down a manhole. The "suspicious substance" was discovered last Friday after engineers were sent to the Hampshire town to investigate a phone fault. But they refused to carry out the repair amid concerns that the goo might be toxic. Samples of the stuff have been sent to labs for examination. The results of those tests are expected today (Tuesday). In the meantime, around 420 homes and businesses have been without phone or broadband services since last week. Bank ATMs in the area are also offline, according to eye witnesses. If boffins in white coats give the all-clear and declare the green stuff safe, engineers will be able to start work today to fix the fault. However, since the repair is likely to take at least a couple of days, it won't be until the end of the week before services are resumed. A spokeswoman for the giant telco confirmed that a "suspicious substance was found in a manhole" in Aldershot which has been sent to labs for testing. ®
Tim Richardson, 04 Apr 2006

Sony unveils latest Walkman Flash MP3 players

Sony has confirmed the debut of its latest Flash-based E-series Walkman music players, announcing this morning that the multi-coloured line-up for 512MB, 1GB and 2GB devices will ship across Europe at the end of the month.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

Customer database dispute continues

The Court of Appeal last week allowed an appeal brought over the way a card index containing a customer database was valued for the purposes of assessing damages in a partnership dispute. The index should have been valued as at the time the partnership dissolved and not in light of its subsequent successful use, the court said. The case relates to the dissolution of a business known as Seeds Direct, formerly run by Mrs Jane Gorne and her partners Alec Scales and Philip Taylor. The firm kept detailed records about its customers – contact details, amounts and types of seeds processed, and fees charged – in a card index that by the time of the dissolution was over 10 years old. However, the firm ran into financial difficulties when a business partner, Seeds Processing International, collapsed, and Mr Scales and Mr Taylor became unwilling to provide further investment. As a result, Seeds Direct was dissolved in May 1993. Shortly afterwards, Mr Scales and Mr Taylor formed a new company, TGS Seeds, with a third man, Jonathon Bill, and took the card index for use in the new firm. TGS also managed to buy Seeds Direct's old computer, which still had some business information on it. Mrs Gorne filed suit in May 1999, seeking damages for misuse of confidential information held on the index, or an account of profits resulting from its use. A 2002 High Court ruling found that Mrs Gorne, Mr Scales and Mr Taylor were equal partners in Seeds Direct. It also ruled that the card index, and the information contained in it, together with the information contained on Seeds Direct's old computer, were all assets of the partnership. They had been wrongfully taken and used by Mr Scales and Mr Taylor for their own purposes, Deputy Judge Kevin Garnett QC said. He therefore ordered an inquiry as to the loss and damage suffered by Mrs Gorne. The issue came before High Court Master Bragge in November 2004 (a High Court Master is a district court judge sitting in the High Court.) Master Bragge noted that the index itself was worthless; it was the information contained in it that was of importance. Also, the information contained on the computer was of little value. So, for the purposes of assessing damages, the case focused on the value of the information contained in the index. Master Bragge adopted the approach of Mrs Gorne's expert, who advised that the card index accounted for most of Seeds Direct's goodwill, but as Seeds Direct's accounts in the run up to the dissolution were not representative, TGS[s accounts should also be considered. Accordingly, he ruled that the index should be valued as part of a going concern, entitling Mrs Gorne to £152,341. Interest of £106,638.70 brought the entire award to £258,979.70. The partners of TGS appealed, arguing that Master Bragge should have assessed the value of the index on the basis of the price at which it could have been sold on the open market in May 1993. Giving the majority opinion last week, Lord Justice Moore-Bick agreed, advising that the method used by Mrs Gorne's expert was "liable to lead to an unsound conclusion". The businesses of TGS and Seeds Direct were distinct, he said. Seeds Direct had not handed its business over to TGS as a going concern; it had collapsed. In addition, the method used by the expert introduced "a substantial measure of hindsight", with the result that it did not consider the position as at May 1993. "In my view, the exercise that a potential purchaser would have had to carry out in order to decide how much to pay for the card index in May 1993 is an exercise of a fundamentally different kind from that undertaken by Mr Land who set out to value it as an asset forming part of a business that was a going concern," the Judge said. "It would have been based on different information and would necessarily have involved a large element of judgment, even an element of speculation." He ordered a further inquiry as to damages. See: The ruling Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 04 Apr 2006
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Employment law is too complex, says FSB

Small businesses are finding it very difficult to cope with increasing amounts of employment legislation, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). The trade group says calls to its free legal helpline on employment issues grew by 30 per cent last year. There were 70,943 calls to the helpline in 2005, up from 55,036 in 2004. Most calls related to disciplinary procedures. Of these, the largest increases were seen in calls on dismissal, up to 7,583 calls from 2,771 (an increase of 174 per cent) and grievances, which were up 118 per cent to 2,442. Queries on paternity and adoption leave grew 100 per cent in 2005, while calls on employers' liability were up 96 per cent to 736 and calls on flexible working grew 93 per cent. Conversely, calls concerning unfair dismissal dropped 71 per cent between 2004 and 2005, while calls on wrongful dismissal fell 76 per cent. "There are at least 26 Acts of Parliament on employment issues and it is tough for small firms to deal with all their requirements, as these figures show," FSB Members' Services chairman Sandy Harris said. He continued: "We do not want to repeal or reduce all legal safeguards for employees. But without a simplification of employment law small firms' growth will continue to be stifled. If the government wishes to achieve its aims for future economic prosperity then it should take its foot off the pedal on employment legislation." Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 04 Apr 2006

Apple releases Mac OS X 10.4.6 update

Apple has posted Mac OS X 10.4.6, the latest update to its 'Tiger' operating system. Released as both PowerPC and Intel versions, the new software incorporates the customary array of tweaks and fixes, but most notably incorporates a major revision of the OS' iSync tool. Indeed, Apple warned iSync users to synchronise their PDAs and/or mobile phones before installing the new release.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

Online betting addict gets suspended sentence

A woman has received a suspended sentence for stealing half a million quid from her employer, because the judge accepted that her addiction to online betting sites was an illness. Sharna Baker, 26, blew £90,000 of her own savings and sold her flat to feed her addiction to betting on horses and football matches. She used her job as a clerk for an international bank to transfer money into five different accounts she held. The money went to various online betting websites where she made bets of up to £10,000. Despite earning just £32,000 from her job at bank UFJ International she pinched nearly £500,000 to back her bets, the court heard. Baker admitted nine specimen charges of deception and taking £30,000. Judge Peter Beaumont sentenced her to 51 weeks in jail but suspended the sentence because she was a victim of a "disease". More from the Sun here. ®
John Oates, 04 Apr 2006

NTL confirms Virgin Mobile buy-out

NTL has finally confirmed that it is to acquire Virgin Mobile as part of a master plan to create a giant communications company to take on pay TV outfit Sky and incumbent telco BT. The deal values Virgin Mobile at £962.4m - almost £150m more than was originally rejected by the Virgin Mobile board in December last year. As part of the deal, NTL (which is already merging its operations with Telewest) has entered into a 30 year exclusive brand licence with Virgin Enterprises Limited to use the Virgin brand for the cableco's consumer business. Not only does NTL reckon the deal is good news for shareholders, it predicts that it will help transform the operations from a triple-play cable provider into "a national entertainment and communications company, harnessing the powerful Virgin consumer champion brand". This increase in size will also enable the business to "compete more effectively with the large incumbents in the UK telecommunications market" as it looks to develop "converged fixed and mobile telephony devices, and video and voice services". And with a shiny new brand with Virgin's appeal, the group is hoping it will be able to increase consumer numbers and reduce churn. NTL chief exec James Mooney said: "Central to today's announcement is our strong belief that offering a quad-play underpins true media convergence, and offering high quality communications services will, we believe, appeal to existing subscribers of the enlarged business, as well as new customers. There is a natural appeal for mobile, telephony, broadband and television content and ntl is now truly unique in its mass market product offering." ®
Tim Richardson, 04 Apr 2006
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AMD's K8L 65nm core due H1 07

RoadmapRoadmap AMD's next-generation AMD64 core, codenamed 'K8L', has begun appearing on the company's roadmap under that name, kicking off with a H1 2007 appearance, according to documentation leaked on the web. So has upcoming CPUs' support for 800MHz DDR 2 SDRAM.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006
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Cisco and Dimension Data straddle the world

Dimension Data is extending its up close alliance with Cisco beyond North America. The solutions and services vendor and the networking giant will roll out their Global Services Alliance across Europe, Asia and Australia. The North America program covers “planning, design, implementation and management of IT infrastructures”. It kicked off in late 2004 and now covers 50 customers.®
Team Register, 04 Apr 2006
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Samsung re-schedules Blu-ray player debut

Samsung has put back the release of its Blu-ray Disc player by a month, the company has revealed. However, in compensation, it has apparently upped the player's output to a maximum HD resolution of 1080p. The BD-P1000 will now ship on 25 June, not 23 May as originally planned.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

A Vista with no view of an EU sunset

CommentComment The European Union's competition regulator has warned Microsoft it will not be allowed to sell the new Vista operating system in Europe if it comes pre-loaded with certain features. The anti-trust commissioner's office has stated that it is concerned with Microsoft's plans for Vista's integrated internet search, DRM and document management software. Separately Google, Symantec, IBM, Sun, and Oracle have stated that they are concerned Microsoft could use its Internet Explorer 7 web browser to unfairly direct computer users to Microsoft's own search service or use DRM to lock up documents in such a fashion that non-Microsoft office productivity applications would not be able to read the files. The genesis of the letter from the commissioner was that Microsoft had asked EU regulators to set out any Vista concerns it may have (some advice to Microsoft, be careful what you ask for, may just get it). These days it seems whenever Microsoft twitches, the industry perceives the quaking steps of a giant, and EU regulators swing into action to protect their political base from the software malfeasance they see being perpetrated by the Redmond Goliath. Regulators' phones and email boxes quickly fill up with inbound messages from industry competitors almost always too happy to assist regulators in understanding the gravity of the situation. Although much of the discussion will entail how regulators are just looking out for the best interest of consumers and the market as a whole, after nearly a decade of this lost battle of the marketplace being replayed in the courtroom, it at times becomes difficult to understand how this is really going to help the bulk of the non-geek, non-ABM, non-I-have-an-axe-to-grind-daily crowd. Note that this previous sentence segregated out the digital literati, vendors not named Microsoft, and those with serious cash flow envy. With Windows 95, the first consumer-based internet oriented operating system along with Office 97, the first internet oriented office productivity suite, Microsoft made the conscious decision to make it easy to access the internet and share information, in part due to customers' demands that software be easier to use. Remember DOS 5 or Windows 2.1? In some respects, this is where much of the trouble started. Microsoft obliged its customers, unfortunately, this ease of use came at the price of social reprobates exploiting this ease of sharing to develop a cornucopia of viruses, bug exploits, Trojan horses, and other just plain bad stuff. Anti-bad guy companies such as Symantec, McAfee, and others came to the rescue with the malicious code police and Microsoft tightened up the ease of use to point where seemingly receiving an email required clicking OK multiple times if it had any images, code, links, or any of what makes it easy to share information stuff in the email. What a great solution this is for end users. Consolidation of the once very disparate worlds of the LAN and the internet through integration of Explorer and Internet Explorer gave users a unified view of the information resources that they were trying to share. Of course Navigator and HotJava aficionados didn't like that, but Grandma, techno-phobes, and mere mortals largely did. Yes, let's not forget to complain about all that unfair competition against Netscape. That competition started prior to Netscape's commercial existence when Microsoft indicated it would build a browser into its OS back in 1994; back when Mr Andreesen was busy creating his browser over at NCSA. That unfair competition that took the form of Microsoft helping Netscape along as an ISV until such time as Andreesen and company started bashing Windows publicly as an irrelevant collection of device drivers. Is it at all odd that the Redmond crew decided to be less than helpful to Netscape going forward? And just who is irrelevant today? But, I digress... Now desktop users are crying out for stronger security in their OS to protect them. Pontificate as you will about Windows' security flaws, but also note that Microsoft has responded with firewalls, software updates, and a future with anti-spyware and DRM to enhance security. Of course, this torques off the competition who want all of this security to be third party. It seems that some will only be placated if courts dictate that Microsoft must deliver software that is sufficiently unprotected so that third parties can malign it and then sell fixes and protection for it. "Hey that's a nice operating system youse got dere, it would be shame if it was to be infected with viruses and malware and we brokes in and stole youse files." Businesses have long complained that they are required to become an IT centre of excellence in order to use technology, thus diverting them from their business core competencies. Why should consumers be forced to do the same? Some will claim that this integration comes at the price of third party software having a harder time getting sold since Microsoft will bundle everything. In many cases this has been true, but it is also what many in the marketplace have been asking for, something easier and safer to use. We have heard endless harping about how open source will change all of this and stop this travesty known as Windows, or Office from being perpetrated on the marketplace. Well, until Novell announced SLED 10, the thought of mere mortals dumping commercially integrated and supported software for a collection of do it yourself technologies was laughable. SLED 10, by the way, is offered by one of those evil commercial software vendors who are trying to make some money in the marketplace. From what we can tell, they have done a damn good job of creating the first potentially competitive Linux desktop for the non-geek. But this is another digression. There is more than enough blame to go around on how we as an industry and user base have arrived to where we are at. But many, including the EU regulators, are missing the point. Huh? We are fixating on a platform with diminishing importance. No way you say! Well, consider this. The arguments about Vista are predicated on a platform (desktops and laptops) that will continue to diminish in proportion to the totality of information access devices (PDAs, phones, iPods, game consoles, to name just a few) deployed by consumers going forward. Further, the hardware requirements to run Vista will eliminate all but the most recently purchased systems or require substantial upgrades just to boot (Microsoft is creating a great opportunity for Novell here, Jack Messman should send Steve Ballmer a bouquet of flowers and a thank you card for this one). We don't see equal outrage that most telephones cannot be taken from one mobile supplier to another in North America. Where is the demand for ease of third party software installation on the iPod, PDAs, phones, game consoles? Yes, France is complaining that iTunes should sell music in different formats to spur competition (this is coming from the only western country using SECAM TV standards). Nevertheless, these other devices are the consumer platforms of the early 21th century. So while regulators seem hell bent on defining what Vista will be, the true growth area of the market seems to be overlooked in the process. To us they are saying: "Let's try to fix the past while ignoring the future." This way we can repeat the cycle and maintain perpetual employment for those with nothing better to do. Is this really the best we can do for and as an industry? Sigh. So, I have vented my spleen. No, I don't own any Microsoft stock, it is not a big customer pumping gadzillions of dollars into my company, nor have we even received a free copy of Vista. Many of you will think we are representing the devil, others will think we are just nuts. If we have prompted you to think, that's good enough for me. Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com Clay Ryder is president of analyst and consulting firm The Sageza Group. Prior to founding The Sageza Group, Clay was vice president and chief analyst at Zona Research.
Clay Ryder, 04 Apr 2006

Fujitsu exhibits fold-out keyboard UMPC

Fujitsu has put on show a pair of conceptual PC designs, one intended to show how an "ultra-mobile" machine might operate, the other a home computer system which looks funky enough but probably won't give Apple's industrial designers any sleepless nights.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

Passport rule change anticipates ID refusenik sabotage efforts

UpdatedUpdated The new UK Identity and Passport Service, spawned out of the Passport Service after the ID Cards Act became law on Saturday, celebrated its birth by trying to stop people renewing their passports whenever they want to, whether or not the passport is about to expire. The change in terms and conditions were slipped into the website without announcement, and were quite clearly ID card related. And then, spookily close to the publication of The Register's first version of this story drawing attention to the change, they changed it back again. Fortunately, we have witnesses and while, no, we can't fathom precisely what they're up to, it's probably reasonable to guess that they know they have a potential problem, and they're going to have to figure out how to deal with it before ID cards go live. Earlier today the Passport Service's (N.B, the website logo refresh is apparently still pending) renewal guidance said that you can renew your passport if "it will run out within the next nine months". But the following section, present until a couple of days ago, and back again today, had disappeared: "You do not have to wait until your passport is nearly expired to renew it, but we can add no more than nine months unexpired validity from the old passport to the new one. You can renew your passport whenever you wish, but you must pay the full fee and no refund can be given on the unexpired validity in the old passport." Although it came back pretty quickly after we'd written about it, before we did it had been gone for sufficiently long for the change to have fed through Google's cache. According to the current rollout schedule, compulsory ID card registration is set to commence on passport renewal from 2008. By the terms of last week's absurd "compromise", passport applicants will be allowed to decline the bit of plastic, but as they'll take your biometrics (including, spookily, iris, which is currently needed for neither passport nor ID card) and shove you on the register anyway, effectively they're just hanging on to your card for you until they pass another law forcing you to accept it. Well, stuff that for a game of passive resistance, as many would-be refuseniks are no doubt currently thinking. Far better, surely, to keep an eye on the likely ETA of the full scale system (this probably will be some time, possibly considerable time, after 2008) with biometric induction centres and a live ID register. Then renew your passport just before this happens. From the perspective of the individual, this buys up to 10 years card-free existence, although the 10 isn't guaranteed, because we don't know what other dumb stuff they might get up to during the period. And from the point of view of organised opposition, a huge spike of early renewals just before the off would likely paralyse the system. So it doesn't take much to visualise dim awareness evolving to acute anxiety round at the new Stasi and Passports Service. Why on earth they think this might work on its own, however, is entirely unclear. Dogs have been eating homework, key presentations and, yes, passports for years, and if one's passport were to cease to exist for some mysterious reason shortly ahead of ID card deployment, even if they have forbidden overly-early renewal, what is that they can do apart from give you a new one? They could crack down on people suspected of deliberately destroying their passports, and stamp hard on anything that looked like an organised campaign to encourage co-ordinated passport destruction, but how the hell do they prove it? We'd guess tough new penalties (70 per cent probability) coupled with high profile but symbolic police action intended to scare people into not trying it on. But trying to interrogate everybody just moves the paralysing spike somewhere else. The Passport Service (as was) certainly has experience of seasonal spikes and ones related to price hikes, and it may already have some data on biometric-related spikes. The first stage of "biometric" passports shipped last autumn with the introduction of the new photo types, so people trying to avoid (sensibly, it turned out, considering the hoops the new photo regime puts people through) hassle may have renewed early. There was one Pledgebank group committed to early renewal to avoid this, but on its own (106 people) it wouldn't have made a serious impact on the system. The next stage of the biometric rollout was intended to be happening around about now. This involves the addition of the chip to the passport, which will make UK passports fully compliant with ICAO and US passport requirements. It may still be possible to avoid this (but careful planners should have renewed in Q1 to guarantee it), but the chip itself isn't a major worry compared to registry entry and the card. Besides, if you're worried about the chip you could always train your dog to work a biometric chip zapper. Mysterious chip failures, in any event, may show some promise as a passive resistance route immediately prior to the introduction of the ID register. Obviously, if you discover your chip is broken, then as a conscientious citizen you should tell them and get it replaced. Nor does it seem reasonable, seeing it's their kit that's failed, for them to charge you for it. So how do the smartarses wriggle their way out of that one? ® * Doggedly (ahem) pursuing an FOIA request The Scotsman tells us that the Home Office's claim of 69 per cent enthusiasm for ID cards in Scotland was based on a sample size of 158 people. Impressive, no? No. The paper might also have added that the Home Office document in question, Identity Cards Trade Off Research - Final Report wasn't actually a survey of whether or not people wanted ID cards, but was conducted in order to assess awareness and demand for a scheme which was happening anyway, and to identity 'sweet spots' the Home Office could use to sell the scheme better to people. Have a look yourself - it's clearly a piece of marketing research geared to figuring out how best to sell you the soap, not about whether or not you wanted it.
John Lettice, 04 Apr 2006

Epson unveils 'Windows Vista Capable' PC

It's official - the blurry 'Windows Vista-capable' logo that appeared on the web last week is real, as Epson demonstrated today when it launched a desktop system for the Japanese market that conforms to the certification process centred on Microsoft's next generation of Windows.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

Thousands more file sharers sued

Recording industry watchdog IFPI is taking legal action against 2,000 people in 10 countries across Europe accused of sharing music files. There is a mixture of civil and criminal cases, depending on the country. In Portugal, one country in which the IFPI is taking action, it blames a 40 per cent fall in album and single sales in the last four years on illegal sharing. The latest action brings the total number of people in Europe facing charges to 5,500. On average, those settling with the IFPI pay €2,633. IFPI general counsel and executive vice president Geoff Taylor told the Reg: "It's important to get the message out to parents that they're responsible for what their kids do online." Taylor said the action was aimed at uploaders, but downloaders should remember their actions are also illegal. Taylor also predicted that copyright holders would increasingly go after ISPs as well as users - 130 people in France recently had their internet access cut off because they were uploading music. More from IFPI press release here. The figures contrast with those from XTN Data, which surveyed 1,000 UK music fans. The survey found that 28 per cent of them had downloaded tracks without paying, compared to 25 per cent last year. It found iTunes still on top, with AllofMP3.com - a quasi-legal Russian site - in second place. The Russian site sells albums for £1, compared to iTunes' 79 pence per track charge. The IFPI tried to take action against AllofMP3, but failed. XTN also found only 12 per cent of respondents think legal action is the way to stop filesharing. Unsurprisingly, they found cheaper pricing and easier to use services were more likely to get them using legal sites. XTN Data founder Grieg Harper told the Reg: "We're the only big, anonymous UK survey - I'd be surprised if people were so honest to an organisation interested in suing them. There are probably seven million people in the UK file sharing to some extent, even if it's just picking up a track once a month, so legal action against so many people isn't really a realistic option."
John Oates, 04 Apr 2006

Raver chomps through 40,000 disco biscuits

Doctors have described what is thought to be the worst recorded case of ecstasy abuse. During his four-year peak, Mr A, the subject of the report appearing in the journal Psychosomatics, was consuming 25 pills a day. Now 37, Mr A ended his mammoth bender seven years ago, after three episodes where his body simply collapsed under the pressure of his constant happy pill snaffling. During the Mother of All Comedowns, Mr A was bedridden with hallucinations and paranoia for several months. He is still suffering the physical and psychological consequences. He is gripped by long-term depression and anxiety. His jaw and neck muscles have seized up thanks to the characterisic "gurning" the drug induces. During brain function assessments, the team at the University of London say Mr A was unable to even remember the sequence of tasks he was asked to perform. His performance was in the bottom 10 per cent for every measure. The researchers reckon Mr A's "polydrug misuse" - he supplemented his ecstasy habit with solvents, cannabis, anti-depressants, speed, LSD, cocaine and heroin - didn't help either. Surprisingly though, scans of Mr A's drug-addled brain did not show any major abnormalities.®
Christopher Williams, 04 Apr 2006
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EDS buys into India

Services behemoth EDS is buying MphasiS, an Indian outsourcing firm for $380m. Although the price of MphasiS shares, about $4.58 per share, represents a 30 per cent increase on their six month average price, investors were not impressed. MphasiS shares on the Bombay stock exchange fell 1.8 per cent to 212 rupees. The deal depends on EDS getting 83m shares, or 52 per cent of the firm. MphasiS employs 11,000 people in India, and another 1,000 elsewhere, and has customers in airlines, banking, brokerage, insurance, retail and technology firms. "This offer is complementary to our overall strategy to enhance EDS' presence and capabilities in India," EDS chairman and chief executive officer Mike Jordan said. EDS expects the deal to close in the third quarter. More details from the EDS press release here. ®
John Oates, 04 Apr 2006

Hitachi preps quad-tuner HDD-equipped TVs

Hitachi has unveiled a set of big-screen plasma and LCD TVs boasting not only four integrated tuners - two digital, two analogue - but also built-in hard disks with PVR functionality. The wonderfully named Wooo 9000 series contains six models offering 32in, 37in and 42in screen sizes.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

Leeds airline whippet into frenzy over French strike

A budget airline boss has dubbed French air traffic controllers "lazy frogs" for taking industrial action against their government's plan to make it easier to sack young staff. He said: "Get back to work or get another job." Demonstrating the true spirit of European fraternité, Jet2's Philip Meeson fumed at the strikers: "You choose to do the job you do and it's appalling that you are taking advantage of your dominant position by neglecting the responsibility you have to your customers." He condescended: "Yes that’s right, holidaymakers pay your wages." Yorkshire-based Jet2, headquartered in jewel of the north Leeds, is part of the Dart Group. It entered the crowded peasant freight market in 2002, flying out of LeedsBradford and Manchester airports. For anyone confused about the line Meeson is taking on the walkout, the Jet2 PR team have helpfully posted a reconstruction of events at French control towers on the firm's website to illustrate their boss' comments (pictured right). Monsieur Meeson's ferocious Gaul-baiting got backing from the Yorkshire Tourist Board this morning. Chief exec David Andrews said: "I agree with Philip Meeson's sentiments, if not the words he uses to express them. The strike action hits holidaymakers hard...they'll think twice about coming again." Meeson also fumed at students who staged a blockade of one of his planes in the alpine resort of Chambery. The firm reports one passenger's diplomatic version of events at the two hour stand-off: "We kept on shouting to them "roast beefs want to go home" and after two hours they packed their satchels and headed off into the alpine sunset!"®
Christopher Williams, 04 Apr 2006

Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1536

ReviewReview It hasn’t been three months since Intel launched the Centrino Duo platform, and you can already find much-better-than-base specification machines for quite a bit less than £1,000. The Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1536 is one such laptop, and it has a very well-rounded feature set and utilises some of the latest technology...
Lars-Göran Nilsson, 04 Apr 2006

Tech sector recruitment to rise in 2006

The job prospects in Europe's tech sector are looking bright, a new survey has revealed. Almost two-thirds of European tech firms are expecting to increase recruitment in the coming 12 months, according to a new IT confidence survey by Eurocom Worldwide in association with its UK partner Six Degrees. A mere eight percent believed they would reduce their staff numbers, while a third of firms are actually finding it more difficult to recruit staff than last year. As the most in demand, software engineers are reaping the benefits of the current boom. Project management specialists and international sales staff are also in great demand. "The IT recovery is reflected in the fact that a skills shortage is now seen as the third most likely threat to growth in the sector," Six Degrees managing director Jennifer Janson said. "A slowdown in the global economy and further oil price increases are seen as the major threats." However, the survey has also predicted a growing number of technology jobs in low-cost labour markets such as China. As a result, Europe and the US are losing their lead as technology manufacturing centres, with 76 percent of the survey agreeing with the statement. This effect has already been seen in Ireland, with NEC deciding to shift its production of semiconductors to Asia, losing 350 jobs in the process. In 2005, data storage hardware firm Quantum Corporation announced it was to cut 250 jobs with the closure of its manufacturing facility. The firm said it was moving production from Dundalk to Eastern Europe. As part of the survey, 71 percent of respondents said China would record the biggest growth in IT manufacturing jobs over the next three years, with India in second place. Seventy-nine percent of firms said they are expecting to increase revenues, with only 3 percent anticipating a downturn. More than half are more confident than last year; only 3 percent admitted being less confident. The survey asked the opinions of almost 300 executives in 20 European countries. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Ciara O'Brien, 04 Apr 2006

Sony Ericsson announces eighth Walkman phone

Sony Ericsson today Liberacéd up its Walkman music phone line, adding a new W700 candybar model kitted out in a "titanium gold"-coloured casing. Sony Ericsson maintains the new hue is "subtle" and the phone's look "discreet", but we'd say it's more Nescafé Gold Blend than Lavazza espresso.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

Fujitsu touts four-way slider phone

Fancy a phone with a large enough screen to surf the web as well as you would on a desktop? Fujitsu may have the answer. Well, its industrial designers do, and they'll this week show off their ideas at a special exhibition taking place in Milan.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006
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AMD Fab 36 'generating revenue'

AMD's Fab 36 has begun making the company money, the chip maker announced today. Processors rolling off the plant's production lines last month became the first parts to be shipped to paying customers, the company said.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006

Demon chases overdue accounts

Demon has admitted that a "very small number" of its customers might have been invoiced incorrectly, after it carried out a sweep on overdue accounts recently. It seems some invoices may have been sent out in error and, as a result, it's set up an email address for people to contact if they think they may be affected by the snafu.
Tim Richardson, 04 Apr 2006
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PC IQ stops trading

Reseller network PC IQ has stopped trading. The Hampshire-based reseller group offered buying discounts, marketing and advertising help, and recycling of old IT kit. We've failed to get hold of someone to talk to, but the firm did send us an email: "In response to your request, I can confirm that PC IQ Ltd ceased trading on 31 March 2006. The company was formed in March 2004 and it is a sad day. I am pursuing the use of an Insolvency Practitioner and the contact details will be forwarded to all concerned as soon as we know. There are parties interested in possibly purchasing a part of or the whole of the company." We'll have more on this as we receive it. Or, visit the PC IQ website for updates. ®
John Oates, 04 Apr 2006
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Birmingham Council signs 'unique' deal

Birmingham City Council has signed a £475m deal with support services giant Capita - but, rather than merely signing an outsourcing agreement on 1 April, the unusual collaboration has been called a "transformation" agreement, and operates more like a lease. Birmingham hopes the Capita deal will find it £500m of savings, while creating 800 jobs and "improving the prosperity of the city". "We are trying to create a world leading centre of excellence in the transfer of government services," said former council head of service delivery Bob Carter, who at the weekend legally became an employee of Service Birmingham, the joint venture firm. The deal is unique in a number of ways. The 500 council IT staff now employed by Service Birmingham have not been moved under protections provided by TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings - Protection of Employment Regulations) - rather they have been "seconded". The council was not available to explain the difference today. The joint venture which will service the council has been called a strategic partnership, but it's 65 per cent owned by Capita. It is also thought to be the largest "lease" of local government services in Europe, according to Kablenet director of research Paul Smith. This is the sort of deal Birmingham's firebrand MP Claire Short and 21 others said should be frozen. They called for a moratorium on outsourcing last week, while they figured out if it was working for the public sector. Interestingly, Short was the only one of Birmingham's seven MPs to sign up. Yet, this is also the kind of deal Cabinet Office golden boy Ian Watmore will be shoehorning into local government as part of the 2007 comprehensive spending review (effective 2008-09). It is "likely" council funding will depend on their adherence to his transformation agenda, he said in February. No public authority in the world could give Birmingham a lead on transformation, Carter said. "We wanted to do something unique in the way we were transforming." And it's just what Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council had been hoping to do, in a proposed £500m deal with Fujitsu, which never came off. Birmingham had been watching closely as the Walsall deal came a cropper in February. Walsall had been hoping it could rely on the private sector to do the same that councillors are hoping Capita will do for Birmingham: cut costs, improve services, and create jobs. ®
Mark Ballard, 04 Apr 2006

Virgin to improve customer service at NTL

Staff at Virgin Mobile are to spruce up NTL's lack lustre customer service following the merger of the companies. Much of the chit-chat surrounding NTL's £962m take-over of Virgin mobile today has been about "quad-play" services and rebranding. But one of the consequences of the merger is the decision to export Virgin's "keep punters happy" approach into the larger company. At the analysts' briefing this afternoon, it was revelaed that there would be "significant participation from the Virgin Group and Virgin Management to secure Virgin culture and ideals throughout the organisation", which would lead to "significant operational improvements with increase in broadband sales and improvement in customer care". Execs also talked of "Virgin know-how [to be employed] to enhance customer facing functions". Indeed, Sir Richard Branson is so passionate about his brand that he told Bloomberg that the renaming of NTL would only get the go-ahead once customer service issues had been resolved. This is good news for NTL punters. In the 2005 UK Residential Broadband Internet Service Providers Satisfaction Study by JD Power and Associates, NTL came bottom out of the UK's top six ISPs. Telewest, which has already been snapped up by NTL, came top. Two months ago, the BBC's flagship consumer affairs programme Watchdog featured NTL's customer service operation after receiving a whopping 1,700 complaints about the company, despite assurances from the cableco last year that it planned to invest £100m in customer service. In a statement, NTL accepted that the billing and account problems featured on the programme were "unacceptable". And let's not forget the NTL recorded recorded message that told callers to "f**k off". The message said: "Hello. You are through to NTL customer services. We don't give a f**k about you. We are never here. We just will f**k you about, basically, and we are not going to handle any of your complaints. Just f**k off and leave us alone. Get a life." It emerged that the message was left by a hacked off customer who had been left on hold for an hour while he tried to order broadband from the firm. Magistrates dismissed a court case against him, which could have seen the poor chap banged up for six months, saying the message wasn't offensive enough. ®
Tim Richardson, 04 Apr 2006
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Unofficial zero-day patches gain corporate support

Organisations are deploying unofficial patches in the absence of officially sanctioned security fixes from vendors, a new survey suggests. Around one in eight (13 per cent) customers quizzed by security vendor PatchLink deployed an unofficial third party patch when the zero-day Microsoft WMF (windows Meta File) exploit was discovered in January. Three quarters of the 300 IT managers and network administrators worldwide questioned believe that patch cycles, like Microsoft's patch Tuesday, have improved their overall security patch and vulnerability processes. Forty-two per cent quantified the improvement as reducing the time they spent on patching, while 18 per cent reckon they've been able to reduce the number of employees they assign to patching thanks to greater certainty in the timing of patch releases. However, many respondents in the survey want vendors to issue out-of-sequence security fixes in response to hacker attacks against unpatched flaws, rather than sticking to any pre-defined schedule. More than 50 percent of IT administrators want vendors to take a more flexible approach to releasing patches for zero-day exploits and maintain a monthly patch release date for unexploited vulnerabilities. 0-day third-party patches gaining favour Zero-day exploits, which have been with us for years, have increased in profile over recent months. January's WMF exploit has been followed by an unpatched Internet Explorer security flaw, an official fix for which is not expected until 11 April (next Patch Tuesday, which falls on the second Tuesday each month). The issue is far from confined to Microsoft, but the firm's software remains a high-profile target. This, together with the chance of some favourable publicity, encourages independent developers to release unofficial security fixes in response in unfixed Windows or IE flaws that become the subject of malicious hacking attacks. PatchLink's survey reveals the release and deployment of third-party patches is becoming more accepted, even though many IT professionals still express reservations about this approach. According to the survey, 45 per cent of global respondents would consider using a third party patch, while the majority, 55 per cent, would not. In the UK, 69 per cent of respondents rejected third party patches as a sensible response to zero day threats. Strategy boutique With an ever increasing number of web-based applications and browser vulnerabilities, IT professionals are under increased pressure to deploy patches on tight deadlines. In the case of critical patches, 14 per cent of organisations surveyed plan to execute the patch roll out to all work stations within two hours, while 39 per cent of organisations ensure the patches are applied within eight hours. Two-thirds of organisations quizzed have set up an internal deadline for non-critical patch deployment - ranging from two days to two months. The survey also identified strategies IT professionals find most helpful for mitigating the risk posed by unpatched vulnerabilities. Around 44 per cent of IT professionals find an established process to identify critical systems impacting all business applications most helpful, while 27 per cent said prioritising risk by asset classification was useful, and 22 per cent found that grouping patches by device helped them ward off zero day threats. ®
John Leyden, 04 Apr 2006
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Microsoft buys intelligence

Microsoft is buying a business intelligence firm based in Boise, Idaho. ProClarity has been an MS partner for some time and makes analysis and visualisation software to sit on top of other MS business intelligence products. The price of the purchase was not revealed. According to MS's press release, this fits in with the company's strategy to get biz intel software used by "decision-makers at all levels". Analyst house Ovum described the move as very significant, saying: "Microsoft is very much back in the BI (business intelligence) race, but it hasn't won by any means." More from Ovum here. More from Microsoft's press release here. ProClarity was founded in 1995 and is an MS Gold partner. It has 1,200 customers using its products on Microsoft platforms. ®
John Oates, 04 Apr 2006

Your friendly Imagine Cup team mentor

Mentor's blogMentor's blog My name is Rob Miles. I’m the mentor for the Team 3 Pair entry for their Imagine Cup entry. I’ve just looked up mentor at wordreference.com and it says “wise and trusted guided and advisor”. That works for me. I hope it works for the students….
Mentor, 04 Apr 2006

Scientists solve reproductive riddle

For the first time, a research paper describes how the switch between producing a woman's single batch of eggs or a man's lifetime of sperm is flicked. The discovery, due to be published in the journal Science, could have important applications in fertility treatment. It makes an interesting aside to a California biotech firm's announcement of a method to produce stem cells from testes. For women, the meiosis process, which both sexes must carry out to halve their DNA so that a full complement can be regained at fertilisation, all goes on before they're born. Testes don't start producing sperm until years after birth, but go on making fresh ones throughout life. A team at the University of Queensland has solved the fundamental riddle of how developing foetuses decide which fork in the road to take. Professor Peter Koopman's group found that a vitamin A derivative triggers the start of meiosis. But in males an enzyme mops up the compound before it can act, suppressing meiosis until after birth. Professor Koopman said: "It is textbook science and it should provide the basis for a number of practical applications." As well as the obvious fertility angle, the knowledge could be used to interfere with pest reproduction, or add to the options available to cancer researchers working to beat germ cell tumours, such as testicular cancer. ®
Christopher Williams, 04 Apr 2006

Mesh seeks to net gamers with ATI CrossFire rigs

Mesh has launched two new gamer-oriented desktop PC families, each based on AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core and equipped with ATI's Radeon Xpress 3200 chipset - on an Asus A8R32-MVP Deluxe motherboard - to enable CrossFire multi-GPU graphics.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006
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CSC prepares for takeover bids

The board of CSC are mulling approaches for a sell off. A restructuring plan was also announced, with 5,000 jobs set to be shed, mostly in Europe. Shares in the IT services company rose more than four and a half per cent on the news. CEO Van B Honeycutt said: "For some time it has been apparent to us, and to other companies in our industry, that there is excess capacity in certain geographies. This action is designed to enhance shareholder value regardless of any strategic alternatives we may explore." CSC posted a profit of $810m from revenues of $14.06bn in 2005. The board expects the cuts to save them $150m in 2007 and double that the following year. A takeover bid has for CSC has been rumoured for some time. It has faced increased competition from Indian and Chinese providers who can undercut it. The board has not named their suitors, but Lockheed-Martin, HP, and private equity firms all have reportedly shown interest in an acquisition which the Wall Street Journal has valued at $10.6bn. Analysts say the sale will attract close federal scrutiny because of CSC's billions of sensitive defence contracts. CSC has employed investment banking giant Goldman Sachs to advise on any deal. ®
Christopher Williams, 04 Apr 2006

Reg Hardware's Critical Mass

Review Round-upReview Round-up This week's no-holds-barred product assessments from around the web...
Team Register, 04 Apr 2006
cloud

Network Solutions glitch hits customers

Network Solutions' website and some of its DNS services were knocked out for around two hours on Tuesday, 4 April because of an outage involving its co-location provider, Savvis. The exact cause of the outage between 07:56 EST and 10:02 EST remains unclear. Services have largely been restored, and Network Solutions apoligised for any inconvenience caused. The domain registrar is due to go over events with Savvis in a post-mortem designed to make lessons away from the incident, it said. A spokeswoman for the firm explained that the outage impacted customer access to systems. "Services have been restored but customers may still experience some latency in receiving emails," she said. Hackers have launched distributed denial of service attacks against Network Solutions' DNS servers last week in what is reckoned to be an unrelated incident. ®
John Leyden, 04 Apr 2006

Asus to make 13.3in widescreen MacBook - report

Asus has reportedly won the contract to manufacture Apple's upcoming Intel-based iBook - aka the MacBook - which will be the first consumer-oriented notebook from the vendor to incorporate a widescreen display.
Tony Smith, 04 Apr 2006