24th > April > 2006 Archive

Death of the apps installer?

One of the great bugbears for developers is the issue of fitting their splendid new applications code to the requirements demanded by applications installers. But could this be about to disappear as a problem? According to David Greschler, co-founder and VP of corporate marketing with Softricity, the answer is a soundly political “maybe”. He would prefer the word 'transformation' to be applied, for he sees a role for installation-oriented technologies for some time to come yet, but it is also possible to see a wall with writing writ large upon it. The writing he has in mind is that the general trend towards virtualisation is helping to create an environment where there is no longer any need to install applications on client workstations. "Virtualised applications can have a greater impact than machine virtualistion," he said. "There are more desktops than servers, and the rate of change is faster, so virtualising applications has greater cost implications in areas such as management and maintenance." The specifics concern the launch of Version 4.0 of Softricity's applications virtualisation environment, SoftGrid. The company has concentrated on three areas of the technology to make additions that could create an environment in which there is no real reason to install applications on individual workstations - certainly for business users. To make it easier to virtualise just about any PC application, the company has virtualised Windows Services. The relationship between several applications and Windows Services has, till now, made them difficult to virtualise. Now a virtual version of the application will be able to turn on the virtual version of Windows Services when needed, and turn it off when not running. The Sequencer, the tool which virtualises and packages up applications, has been accelerated and has also had a batch process added. This allows new or upgraded versions of applications to be grouped together for virtualisation at a convenient moment. Virtualisation is a one-off process for an application and only needs to be repeated if it is upgraded - and quite often now the upgrade can be directly applied to the virtualised version. The streaming capability, which feeds out applications functionality as it is required by clients, has been speeded up and given additional administration management capabilities. In particular, admin can now pre-cache virtualised applications onto client systems where access rights pertain. There is also a remote Help module, which allows IT staff to connect to any SoftGrid client and manage it. The need for installers is specifically reduced with the addition of Active Upgrade, which automatically routes users to the latest version of an application, subject to policy and compliance issues. This bypasses the traditional issues of upgrade roll-out and what Greschler calls "the miserable part of IT". The advantage for users and developers is that each application is installed on the server once only, and only has to test against the operating system in isolation. The recent move to integrate SoftGrid with Microsoft's SMS sees further fruit with the ability to use SMS to push virtual applications to clients. There is no Streaming or Active Upgrade available with this, but it is cheaper and aimed at work places where users have a fixed, regular set of applications to work with.®
Martin Banks, 24 Apr 2006
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Microsoft, EC take positions

MS v EU: Day oneMS v EU: Day one Microsoft is back in court today to try and get the Court of First Instance to overturn the record fine imposed on it by the Competition Commission. At hearings all week it will try and convince judges that it has opened up access to server protocols in a meaningful way and made life easier for makers of rival media players. Monday and Tuesday, well at least til lunchtime, are devoted to tying of the media player to the OS. On Wednesday and Thursday, the court considers issues of interoperability, and on Friday we'll hear the summing up and debate of the fine. Microsoft is facing fines of $2m a day - for every day the EC decides it is not complying with court orders. At stake is not just a slice of Microsoft's European revenues, which is how the fine was decided, but also the future power of such Competion Commission legal action. This will not be the last time Microsoft and the commission meet in court. The commission is looking at other issues and has already started making noises about Microsoft's next big release, Vista. We have a reporter in court so will have more details later. ®
John Oates, 24 Apr 2006

New regulations to make porn sites warn at every page

Every page on a commercial website that contains sexually explicit material will be required to include a warning label to protect web users inadvertently finding it, under proposals announced by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday. A new piece of legislation, the Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006, was sent by the Bush administration to Congress the same day. It primarily seeks to protect children and target those who prey upon them, but other elements were criticised today by an industry body that battles for free speech. In his address to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, Gonzales gave a graphic description of some of the criminal evidence his office has seized to justify the need for tighter laws. "I think it's time to deliver a wake-up call about the true nature and the scope of this criminal activity, the depth of the depravity, and the harm being inflicted upon innocent children," he said. The full details of the new law had not been revealed at the time of writing. Gonzales said it will help ensure that ISPs report the presence of child porn on their systems by strengthening the penalties for failing to report it. But this appears to stop short of requiring ISPs to monitor their systems. Instead, according to an accompanying Department of Justice statement, "the legislation would triple the current criminal fines levied against providers for knowing and wilful failures to report, making the available fines $150,000 for the initial violation and $300,000 for each subsequent violation." Warning labels will be required on every page of legal adult porn sites. The detail of this requirement was not revealed. In addition, the legislation would prohibit such sites "from initially displaying sexually explicit material without further action, such as an additional click, by the viewer". There is some ambiguity in the department's statement: does every page require an additional click – or just the homepage? The legislation will also ban porn sites from hiding innocuous terms in their code or meta tags so that a search for common terms yields links to the porn site. The law would prohibit an individual from knowingly acting with the intent to deceive another into viewing obscene material, and also prohibits an individual from knowingly acting with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material harmful to the minor. The Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), an industry body that works to protect children from objectionable material while preserving free speech on the internet, welcomed the measures to protect children; but "vigorously opposed" the Government-mandated labelling system. "ICRA strongly believes that self-regulation of legal internet content leads to the best balance between the free flow of digital content and the protection of children from potentially harmful material," CEO Stephen Balkam said today. He warned that US-based servers will simply move offshore, "to avoid this well intentioned, but fatally flawed law". ICRA's self-labeling system is applicable in any language. Parents can use filtering software to allow or disallow access to websites based on the information declared in the label. "A nationally mandated system like the one proposed today for sites with sexually explicit material cannot guarantee international compliance." Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 24 Apr 2006

Can BlackBerry stop RedBerry in China?

If Orange launched a push email service called OrangeBerry in the UK, BlackBerry's maker could shut it down. But China Unicom is launching RedBerry this month, and there may be little Research In Motion (RIM) can do.
OUT-LAW.COM, 24 Apr 2006
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MS Word causes academic dust-up

Microsoft Word is causing problems in the catty world of peer reviewing, which ensures research is properly carried out, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Academics are wising up to a relatively inconspicuous feature that allows authors to find out which of their rivals have rubbished their work, raising the possibility of some serious bunfighting at research conferences. Word automatically gives every document an author tag based on information pulled from the computer when the file is saved. It remains in the document's preferences summary, so when journals return reviewed versions of articles, the details of everyone who amended it remain. Because careers, funding, and long standing rivalries are at stake, publishers like to keep reviewers' identities anonymous. The promise of anonymity is also key to the reviewer making honest comments. In the interest of objectivity, the reviewer is often not allowed to know who did the research. Some publishing professionals have apparently been unaware of the author tag feature. One researcher reports a journal's editor being “horrified” when he alerted her after being contacted by the author of an article he'd reviewed. Mur K Muchane, executive director of information technology services at Davidson College, said: “I would guess that the vast majority of folks just don't know that that's there.” The publicising of this feature in the academic community is sure to see washed-up researchers reopening rejected articles to see who put them on the slippery slope to obscurity. Microsoft says the next version of Office will come with a toolkit called Document Inspector which will help users strip out private data. The Chronicle of Higher Education piece is here. ® Bootnote For an extreme example of when peer review goes bad, revisit the Hwang Woo-Suk saga, which got top journal Science in a whole world of trouble.
Christopher Williams, 24 Apr 2006
globalisation

Email authentication gaining steam

A host of software companies, security firms and internet service providers met in Chicago on Wednesday to urge corporations and bulk message senders to adopt email authentication technologies.
Robert Lemos, 24 Apr 2006

Text to speech is getting emotional

In the early days of text to speech (TTS), the requirement was just that the listener could understand. One of the best known examples is Professor Stephen Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who has used a speech synthesiser for many years that sounds Dalek-like. The other well known example, although many fewer people have heard it, is a screen reader, such as Jaws or IBM Home Page reader, used by many people with vision impairments. These basic speech synthesisers provide a very valuable service to people with vision or speech impairments. However, advances in TTS are being driven by new mass-market applications such as mobile phones, in-car communications and sat-nav. If you are sitting in a top of the range Mercedes you would not be impressed by a tinny voice telling you to "fasten your seat belt". The voice becomes part of the Mercedes corporate image and needs to be as smooth, unique, and as well mannered as the car. As more information is provided to the driver through speech, so the quality of the speech has to improve. Not only must the words be pronounced correctly in context for example, "please close (cloze) the door", and "you are too close (clos) to the car in front", must be pronounced differently and correctly; but also the intonation of the sentences and words must match the context. SVOX AG is a Swiss based company that specialises in developing TTS technology. It was founded in 2000 as a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). Its products are therefore the culmination of over 15 years of research and development. Switzerland is a multi-lingual country and this is reflected in the whole architecture and philosophy of the products. Having shown that SVOX can produce high quality voice output the next step is to deal with the greater levels of complexity required in-car. These include: How to deal with multiple languages, firstly to be able to speak in the preferred language of the driver; secondly, and the greater challenge, how should directions be given as the car moves across borders; should it say Munich or Munchen, and in either case, how should it be pronounced (as a local (Mun-chen) or as read by the listener (Munch-en)? Avoiding misleading the on-board computer, which is typically multi-tasking between monitoring the state of the car and other activities (information about a likely engine failure should not be delayed by the TTS engine trying to decipher an SMS). Avoiding over-loading the driver (the command "Wake up" should override information that "the weather is going to get worse in half an hour"). How to add emotion into the voice ("Wake up" should be assertive, while "we are low on fuel but the next services is only 15 kilometres away" should be soothing and calm). The SVOX TTS engine is scalable between mobile, personal and server solutions so that as these new challenges are solved for the mass market they will become available for the specialised accessibility market. Soon we may hear a Professor Hawking talking emotionally about how happy he is that he can speak with passion, or love, or frustration about his latest discoveries; or even just shout at one of his students "Wake up to the possibilities of TTS!" Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com
Peter Abrahams, 24 Apr 2006

Voda eyes Tiscali, Bulldog

Vodafone is looking to snap up a UK ISP as the giant mobile phone company seeks to move into fixed line telecoms. The Sunday Telegraph reported that Vodafone has already popped Tiscali UK (which has a million broadband punters) on its shopping list, alongside Cable & Wireless-owned Bulldog. Vodafone's eagerness to expand its operation comes as the UK's major players embark on a strategy to provide bundled phone, internet, TV and mobile services. To recap, cableco NTL has merged with Telewest and is buying Virgin Mobile; Carphone has launched "free" broadband as part of a cut-price phone combo; pay-TV outfit Sky is due to launch its broadband service later this year; Wanadoo is expected to take on the colour of its sister company Orange as a new enlarged group offers converged services; and BT has pencilled in the autumn for the launch of its broadband TV service. In the face of such shifts, Vodafone is trying to ensure it doesn't get left behind. No one at Vodafone was available for comment at the time of writng because "they were all busy", apparently. However, follow-up reports suggest that Vodafone has played down links with Tiscali and Bulldog. Indeed, the boss of Vodafone isn't convinced the cellco needs to buy an ISP. Four weeks ago Vodafone boss Arun Sarin said the giant cellco was looking to branch out into the fixed line world to offer voice and broadband products alongside its own mobile services. However, in a newspaper interview, he said there was no need to buy up telcos and ISPs since it was just as easy to resell wholesale services. "The question is, as the world evolves with services like VoIP and Wi-Fi and all that, should we expand the services our company provides? I am not sure why one would want to buy a fixed-line asset when one can resell broadband DSL and other bits we may want to bundle," he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 24 Apr 2006
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Earnings down at Insight Enterprise

Insight Enterprise saw earnings slip year-on-year on in its first quarter figures released last week revealed.. Sales for the quarter ending March 31 were $806m, up 3.4 per cent, delivering net earnings of $14.2m, down 8 per cent on the year. The IT direct marketer’s UK operations saw sales rise 1.1 per cent, while operating earnings were down 5 per cent to $3.5m. Insight’s North America arm saw sales rise 4.1 per cent to $669m, but operating earnings slipped 8 per cent to $17.2m, while its Direct Alliance arm’s sales slipped 5.2 per cent to $17.1m, while operating earnings down 41 per cent to $1.5m.
Team Register, 24 Apr 2006
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Intel pins hopes on new business product

Only a week after reporting a drop in quarterly earnings, Intel is today expected to launch a fresh bid to capture market share in the business computing segment.
Maxim Kelly, 24 Apr 2006

Carmoan Warehouse hits out at ad critics

The boss of Carphone Warehouse has hit out at "moaning competitors" who have complained about the firm's ads plugging its "free broadband forever" service. Last week El Reg reported how the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had received more than a dozen complaints about ads promoting the cut-price phone and broadband combo from Carphone's telco TalkTalk. A day later Charles Dunstone used his blog, Competitors moaning already!, to defend the firm's advertising and challenged rivals to "charge fairer prices to your customers instead of wasting your time trying get our advertising changed". Dunstone wrote: "On the subject of our competitors, we understand the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) has received a number of complaints about our advertising (though we have yet to hear from them directly). We feel very comfortable that our advertising clearly and fairly explains the proposition. No doubt we will have to start defending our position from next week. "However you look at it, our offer is so demonstrably cheaper than anything else on the market, I can't help asking our competitors - 'why don't you just charge fairer prices to your customers instead of wasting your time trying get our advertising changed?' I'll keep you posted with developments." According to the latest update, the ASA has now received more than 40 complaints, although just two are from industry rivals. A spokesman for the ASA said dominant UK telco BT and ISP Tiscali had submitted complaints with the rest coming from members of the public. The complaints broadly centre on Carphone's use of the term "free" (how can it be free if we have to pay a £30 connection fee, they say) and "forever" (it's only "forever" as long as users are subscribed to the Carphone service). People have also written to the ad watchdog to question the lack of availability of the service (it will only be available to 70 per cent of the population at that price). The ASA also confirmed that it has now opened a formal investigation into the complaints. A decision on whether the ads breach advertising guidelines is due later in the summer. ®
Tim Richardson, 24 Apr 2006
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PC IQ collapses

Computer service network PC IQ Ltd went into administration last week after running out of cash. A large number of potential buyers have been sniffing about, however. So many, in fact, that the administrator, James Tickell of Portland Business and Financial Solutions Limited, has not had a chance to count them all since the deadline for interested parties to declare themselves passed on Friday. PC IQ is believed to have operated a network of 91 independent computer service agents around the country. According to an email sent to members of the network, and passed on to El Reg, it had more than five times the number of ex-partners. Each member paid PC IQ a subscription fee of £117 per unit. These 467 former members are apparently part of the attraction to buyers, along with a list of 2,400 other service agents, and a customer database of 75,000 households. The email said PC IQ, of West Wellow, Hants, ran into trouble last month. All six of its staff were made redundant on 31 March. The administrators were called in on 18 April.®
Mark Ballard, 24 Apr 2006
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Sony directs pros to portal

Sony is jacking up its efforts to attract business customers with the launch of a portal aimed at professionals.
Team Register, 24 Apr 2006
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Time up for atomic clocks

Scientists are plotting a new era of hyper-exact timekeeping, spelling the end of the atomic clock in its current form. Very accurate clocks are vital in telecommunications, GPS, and other modern technological applications. Traditional Caesium-based atomic clocks have been around since the mid-50s. They work by detecting microwave emissions from the Caesium atom, which occur at a very steady rate. Since 1967 that rate has been the fundamental frequency on which the international definition of a second is based. Prior to that, seconds had been defined in terms of the Earth's rotation, which is relatively variable. The new clocks will work using optical rather than microwave frequencies, and ions rather than atoms. In timekeeping, the higher the frequency, the more stable the time signal. A team at the National Physics Laboratory (NPL) is using a light emitting Strontium ion trapped and cooled by lasers to push the accuracy of clocks. The positively-charged ion sits in a spinning "saddle" of positive charge either side of it in the device, which is made of a 10cm tube of a glass composite, which is very stable to temperature fluctuations. Normal diode-type lasers hold it in place, cooling it to near-absolute zero and cause it to emit photons at an extraordinarily steady rate. Helen Margolis from NPL says her team's Strontium version of an optical clock has the advantage over other ions like Mercury and Aluminium that the lasers it requires are common commercial types already cheaply produced. Strontium clocks have now reached the point where their only point of reference for accuracy, the old-style Caesium clocks, can't compete. Margolis says the next step will be to have several Strontium clocks to compare against each other. As well as having practical applications in navigation and telecoms, how well we can pin down the length of a second is a fundamental issue in physics. Indeed, basic units of length are defined by how far light travels in various time periods. ®
Christopher Williams, 24 Apr 2006
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How many copies of XP without media player have you seen?

MS v EU: Day oneMS v EU: Day one The first day of "l'affaire Microsoft" started with comedy when the audience stood up with the entry of assorted wigged and gowned figures. An usher told us, with some disgust, to sit because it was "only the lawyers". The panel of fourteen judges* entered next, wig-free but wearing dark robes and strange white cravats that made it look like they'd hurriedly left lunch with their napkins still tucked in. First up, the judges heard from Microsoft why the software giant believes the commission's decision on tying of Media Player was wrong both in respect to the market two years ago (when the decision was made), and now. The 10 men and four women listened in silence to the evidence. Microsoft's barrister, Mr Bellis, said in 2004, when Microsoft was forced to offer an operating system without a media player - Windows XPN - demand for the product was theoretical. Now it is not. Two computer makers, HP and Toshiba, expressed initial interest in the operating system, but neither has shipped machines with it. Since March 2004, only 1,787 copies have been shipped to retail stores, but Microsoft does not know how many were actually sold. Mr Bellis suggested they may have been bought by people wanting souvenirs of the commission's anti-trust action. He said: "It's been market tested and it's failed." Or as he later put it: "Failure to offer a product which no one wants can't be abusive." Microsoft's view is that the commission predicted that tying Media Player to Windows would stop customers choosing other players and that would, over time, mean that content providers would only provide content in one format. But Microsoft sought to show that content providers tend to offer many formats and that the cost of offering different versions is minimal. It says this has not happened. Users continue to use different media players for different functions and two new arrivals, Google Video and Flash, show that the market is still open. Microsoft also noted that Apple had managed to sell 50m iPods without relying on Windows Media Player. It also suggested that both computer manufacturers and end users have rival media players on their machines. The court also heard that the forced removal of code to create XPN actually did more than just stop Media Player working. It also prevented rival media players from working and stopped machines playing CDs as well as other applications such as Napster. The Association for Competitive Technology and the Computing Technology Industry Association said upholding the decision would have serious negative effects on their members. They also denied a media player should be seen as separate from an operating system or that including one such player meant customer choice was restricted - other players can be downloaded easily, are usually free, and don't take up much memory. Independent software vendors, the court was told, expect such media functionality and depend on it to make their own products work. If it were removed, developers would have to write their own code to create the same functions. ISVs also benefit from Windows not being a fragmented platform. The court was even treated to a demo of ProCoder, which successfully encoded a short video into three formats. Before breaking for lunch the court was reminded of the outcome of the US anti-trust trial which eventually decided not to force Microsoft to remove code from its operating systems. A Reg reader corrected us: it should be thirteen judges and one registrar.®
John Oates, 24 Apr 2006
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Futile rally for HCI victims

Supporters of the Home Computer Initiative tax break will tonight stage a last ditch attempt to save those computer suppliers that depended on the scheme. But The Register has learned that neither the Treasury, which scrapped the scheme, and the Department for Trade and Industry, which ran it, has any intention of resuscitating it. Nevertheless, business backers in Parliament will also be seeking answers to questions about the decision during the second reading of the Finance Bill tonight, as it left hundreds of computer sellers high and dry without warning. The demise of the scheme has reportedly sealed the fate of two HCI specialist resellers already, the latest reported in Computer Reseller News today, amid growing fears that many more could go belly up now the government subsidy has been cut. There were 100 firms registered as members of the HCI Alliance, a trade association. About fifty of those were totally dependent on the tax break to sell computers. Yet HCI was scrapped by a Treasury decision taken at the last possible moment before the budget last month. There was no consultation and no warning that would have helped suppliers look for alternative sources of income. One HCI supplier, Bizapp, had spent half a million pounds developing software to help other firms sell computers with HCI tax-breaks. Rob Howes, Bizapp managing director, said he may have to face putting it into administration. "That was my money I put in, earned and paid tax on," said Howes, whose last business selling software to City traders dried up after 9/11. Over 100 MPs have been lobbied to back the firms that face bankruptcy after HCI's demise. One thing they want to know is what communication took place between the DTI and Treasury before HCI was scrapped. The DTI was rumoured to have known nothing of the Treasury's decision to cut the tax break. Yet a DTI source told The Register that there had been high-level agreement; only civil service soldiers knew nothing. An attempt by the Confederation of Business and Industry to persuade the Treasury to keep the tax break in place is unlikely to be given any credence. They have no agenda to promote the interests of the poor, said a source close to the scheme. Indeed the DTI was told by the Treasury that there would "categorically" be no revival of HCI or its tax break. Both departments are instead consulting with industry to find an alternative way to get computers into the homes of people who do not usually have access to them at work - the elderly, those on the minimum wage and the unemployed. Although some low paid workers were benefiting from HCI, those on the minimum wage and those without salaries with the 1,250 participating employers were excluded by laws that protect their income from unscrupulous employers. A Low Pay Commission report released just days before the budget report that announced that HCI would be scrapped suggested there might be better ways to help the poor get computers. HCI suppliers and representatives of the poor and those stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide will be meeting with the DTI next month to discuss alternatives.®
Mark Ballard, 24 Apr 2006

Blackstar: the US space conspiracy that never was?

Those among you who like their skies filled with black helicopters, or indeed secret space launch vehicles, might have already caught a quite remarkable March report in Aviation Week & Space Technology which claims that the US has successfully developed and tested a "two-stage-to-orbit system that could place a small military spaceplane in orbit" (see AWST pic, right).
Lester Haines, 24 Apr 2006

Doncaster West NHS explains meaning of 'clacker'

NSFWNSFW In case you were wondering what the phrase "Rotherham are at home" means up north, then look no further than a handy PDF guide to local slang published by Doncaster West NHS and purportedly aimed at "doctors who do not speak English as a first language". The document notes that while phrases such as "floo", "fluzie" and "number 2" are "in common use locally", out-of-town sawbones should be aware that "some people may find them offensive". And no wonder, meaning as they do "vagina", "vagina" and "vagina", respectively. Our particular favourite is "my husband/partner is good to me", which does not in fact mean he regularly brings home flowers, but rather that he "doesn't expect sex". Oh yes, "Rotherham are at home" is a local euphemism for menstruation, as is "Barnsley's at home", so you can take your pick according to footballing preference. ® Bootnote Ta very much to James Thorpe for the tip-off. We suspect someone is having a laugh at the expense of Doncaster West NHS, and expect the offending PDF to be pulled shortly. Accordingly, if the above link gets the chop, try the copy we've saved for your reading pleasure right here. On the other hand... This just in: apparently the guide appeared in a couple of UK tabloid stories back in 2004 - at that time just in a non-web-based print form. The mind truly boggles.
Lester Haines, 24 Apr 2006

AOL, MS join forces to combat child abuse

AOL and Microsoft have joined together to back a new centre dedicated to tackling child abuse online. They are just two of the companies behind the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre unveiled today, which is drawing together law enforcement officers, specialists from children's charities, and industry to help track down paedophiles. As part of its work CEOP will target paedophiles who buy images using credit cards and other payment systems. It will also attempt to trace victims of child abuse from images that are seized. Explaining the difference between CEOP and the already established Internet Watch Foundation, Sarah Robertson of the IWF said: "Essentially, the Internet Watch Foundation deals with illegal online content, as we have successfully for the last 10 years, and the new CEOP Centre deals with illegal behaviour, such as grooming, in chat rooms. "CEOP will also work to trace and rescue the victims of child abuse while tracking the offenders and educating internet users about staying safe online," she said. And in a stark warning to those who view illegal content online, CEOP chief exec Jim Gamble said: "If you are a sex offender - get help or get caught. The internet will increasingly expose you to new policing powers and will cease to be the anonymous place that it once was." ®
Team Register, 24 Apr 2006

Gay flamingos strike long-term relationship

Regular readers will know that we have an occassional thread running regarding homosexuality in animals - purely, of course, in the interests of informed scientific debate. We're obliged then, to our old mate Rose Humphrey for alerting us to a pair of gay flamingos who have successfully raised three generations of "adopted" chicks at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's Slimbridge site. According to the WWT report, greater flamingos Carlos and Fernando have been hitched for five years. Twice a year they strut their stuff in an "elaborate courtship dance" before "stealing eggs from their heterosexual neighbours to bring up as their own". WWT aviculture manager Nigel Jarrett elaborates: "Their parental instincts are very strong prompting them to raid the nests of other couples in the flock. They have been known to fight the heterosexual birds and there is usually a 'handbags at dawn' moment where they will fight with another couple before stealing their egg. They are both large adult males so as a partnership they are quite formidable and are afforded more respect from the other birds. They are also very good parents and behave just as the heterosexual birds do when rearing their young." In case you're wondering how the lads provide for their kidnapped charges, for the first three or four weeks "young flamingos are fed on crop milk, a pink nutritious liquid produced by both parents so Carlos and Fernando have no problem feeding their adopted young". Since said adopted young presumably come from heterosexual couples, it will be interesting to see how many of them later show homosexual tendencies. Their eventual sexuality will doubtless further fuel the nature/nurture debate, and provides us with the perfect scientific justification for running this story in the first place. ®
Lester Haines, 24 Apr 2006

Sonos ZonePlayer ZP80 and digital music system

ReviewReview Sonos wasn't the first company to tempt consumers with a wireless audio system designed to stream a computer-stored music archive to living room hi-fi equipment, but it was the first to figure out an easy way to get songs into all the other spaces in your home too...
Tony Smith, 24 Apr 2006

Apple's MacBook gets bigger and bigger

Apple launched its 17 inch screen dual core MacBook Pro today, claiming the new machine bests the performance of its PowerBook G4 by a factor of five.
Team Register, 24 Apr 2006

eBay buys Swedish auction outfit

eBay is spending around $48m on Swedish online auction outfit Tradera.com as part of a move to expand its business in Scandinavia. Tradera.com began life in 1999 as a marketplace for auctions on items such as watches and jewellery, computers, electronics, and leisure gear. eBay, on the other hand, has only been in Sweden for 12 months. By joining forces the two companies reckon they can cash in on the increasing popularity of online trading in Sweden. The latest stats show that business-to-consumer e-commerce in Sweden reached $4.8bn in 2005 and is expected to hit $15.7bn in 2009. News that eBay (which owns VoIP outfit Skype) has expanded in Sweden comes amid reports that the online auction outfit is holding talks with Yahoo! and Microsoft over a possible alliance. It seems eBay is worried by the threat of Google, which with the launch of a VoIP service for instance, is trampling all over its territory. Talks about a possible way forward kicked off last autumn, although there's no indication whether or when any deal might proceed. ®
Team Register, 24 Apr 2006

Docs find 12 nails in man's skull

Doctors in a Portland hospital were rather surprised when they examined a man who turned up on their doorstep complaining of a headache, only to find he had twelve nails embedded in his skull courtesy of a failed suicide attempt with a nail gun, AP reports. The unnamed 33-year-old was "suicidal and high on methamphetamine" when he attempted to nail himself into the grave last year. Docs didn't at first spot any outward signs of the extra metal, but a subsequent X-ray revealed "six nails clustered between his right eye and ear, two below his right ear and four on the left side of his head". Although the nails - up to two inches long - skirted dangerously close to major blood vessels and brain stem, the patient was in "remarkably good condition when he was transferred to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland" where surgeons appropriately used needle-nosed pliers and a drill for the extraction. Lead neurosurgeon on the case, Dr G Alexander West, admitted in a report in the Journal of Neurosurgery that "no-one before is known to have survived after intentionally firing so many foreign objects into the head". Unsurprisingly, the post-op human nail-cushion found himself in involuntary psychiatric care. He left after a month, against doctors' orders. ® Bootnote Thanks to Roger Hutchings for spotting this DIY suicide shocker.
Lester Haines, 24 Apr 2006
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Cybercops and zero day vulns

Infosec blogInfosec blog The start of the Infosec conference tomorrow will witness one of the first public appearances of the new Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Dubbed the UK's FBI by Britain's tabloids, SOCA will tackle drug trafficking, immigration crime, money laundering and identity fraud by developing intelligence on organised crime and pursuing key suspects while disrupting criminal activity.
John Leyden, 24 Apr 2006
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Toshiba maps quantum future

Physicists at Toshiba's Cambridge research labs have mapped out their vision of the next three generations of IT security. Speaking at an event put together by the Cambridge-MIT partnership, Toshiba scientist Andrew Shields described how current quantum key distribution systems like MagiQ will be superseded. Though it apparently produces unbreakable encrypted optical comms, the current generation, which has been sold to a few defence agencies and telco R&D departments, relies on a variety of fudges to run. The weak laser light source cannot produce the individual photons an ideal quantum crypto solution would have. Shields said his team are well on the way to solving this problem, which cuts down both the bit rate that quantum-encrypted fibre can run at, and the distance the signal can travel, limited to around 120km. Once that mountain has been climbed, further down the line will be to use quantum entanglement, which will become a future-proof, gold standard in cryptography. Advances in "quantum teleportation" will mean keys can be sent anwhere in the world with complete security. Before a full-blown quantum crypto industry can emerge, he added, standards will have to be developed so that customers know what they're getting. He said: "[Currently] there's no way [for customers] of telling what's in the box does any of this."®
Christopher Williams, 24 Apr 2006
Broken CD with wrench

AMD, NetLogic get together for deep sniffing

AMD and NetLogic have announced a partnership to target that old corporate bugbear, network security, by combining the two firm’s silicon. The firms will work together on products which Netlogic will pitch to vendors such as Cisco, Juniper and Foundry, according to Investors Business Daily. Their initial production will be a reference board, the NLS1000HDK. The collaboration will team AMD’s Opteron processor family, with NetLogic’s NetL7 knowledge-based processor. The NetLogic part handles layer 7 content processing at 10Gbps, and uses a “highly optimized architecture” to hook into the Opteron via Hypertransport. The upshot, says NetLogic, is quicker time to market for its OEM customers and the opportunity to exploit the IT world’s predilection for x86 architectures. Network managers, meanwhile, will be able to deep packet inspect every speck of content crossing their networks at wire speed.®
Team Register, 24 Apr 2006
channel

Commission solves Windows XPN mystery

MS v EU:MS v EU: The afternoon began with a robust defence of the commission's position. The commission barrister solved one mystery - who bought those copies of XPN - Windows without Media Player. The court was shown a high definition video trailer for Harry Potter played using Real Player running on Windows XPN - despite Microsoft's claim this morning that the programme did not work, the commission's barrister noted: "It seems to work like magic..." The court heard that Microsoft's Media Player could not be considered a separate product. It started as NetShow which was sold separately and Microsoft recognises the competive relationship with other players and markets and promotes it on that basis. To prove it was different the court was shown how the compartmentalised nature of Windows Embedded enables developers to select which media components to use. This is separated into infrastructure and application components. Further evidence was provided by Microsoft offering different licenses for Windows and Media Player and different upgrade cycles. Microsoft also offers Media Player for other platforms - like Media Player for Macs, which is an application not an operating system. The commission questioned how relevant sales figures were for an unbundled product released now, rather than six years ago. A parallel was drawn between Microsoft's actions in bundling Internet Explorer to fight off Netscape and similar behaviour with its media player. Before Microsoft bundled IE, Netscape had a 90 per cent market share. Now IE has a 90 per cent share. The commission also quoted Microsoft emails which said Microsoft needed to "reposition" the battle from NetShow versus Real Networks to Windows versus Real Networks. After a short break the court heard from supporters of the commission case - ECIS and the Software and Information Industry Association. First, they pointed at they would have more visible support from the likes of Sun, Novell and Real Networks if Microsoft had not spent €3bn in settling with them. The court heard that after the launch of Real Networks in 1995, in June 1997, Bill Gates said streaming media players was an area of strategic importance which Microsoft must win. The court was told that between the second quarter of 1998 and the second quarter of 1999 Windows Media Player users fell 15 per cent. There were 0.3 Windows MP users for every one Real user. Three months later that ratio had gone to 0.8 Windows MP users for every one Real user, to 2:1 by the time of the decision, to 3:1 now. Speaking to reporters after the session Microsoft's general counsel, Brad Smith, said: "Three things have emerged clearly: every operating system has some media player function now, there is no demand, whether theoretical or actual, for an operating system without such a player and new players are continuing to enter the market like iTunes, Flash and Google." We'll have more from the court tomorrow. ®
John Oates, 24 Apr 2006

Libel lawyers descend on Usenet

CommentComment Tony Blair is, he says, concerned about the failure of the legal system to deal with the real, everyday problems faced by citizens. Tony Blair should start posting on Usenet. Even his budget would struggle to fund all the libel cases that would result.
Guy Kewney, 24 Apr 2006

Apple argues that blogger can't protect source

A US appeals court has been hearing arguments in a case that tests the right of a blogger to protect his sources. Apple Computer wants to know who leaked details of a product called 'Asteroid' and expects bloggers to reveal the names. ADetails of Asteroid, a music device, were leaked two years ago by PowerPage.org and other blogs. The blog owners say they are journalists and should be protected from revealing their confidential sources. ZDNet reports that, on Thursday, Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing questioned whether the leaked information even amounted to a trade secret. "You don't really claim this is a new technology?," he asked. "This is plugging a guitar into a computer." But Apple's lawyer characterised the leak as "a very serious theft". The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing the online journalists. It contends that Apple has no right to force the bloggers to reveal their sources. Apple has sued several unnamed individuals, called "Does" (as in "John Doe" and "Jane Doe"), for allegedly leaking the information. According to the EFF, as part of the lawsuit, Apple has subpoenaed Nfox, the ISP for PowerPage publisher Jason O'Grady, demanding that the ISP turn over the communications and unpublished materials O'Grady obtained while he was gathering information for his articles. Apple was also granted permission to issue subpoenas directly to PowerPage and AppleInsider for similar information. A trial court ruled last year that if a journalist publishes information that a business claims to be a trade secret, this act destroys constitutional protection for the journalist's confidential sources and unpublished materials. EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl told the appeals court on Thursday that the subpoena to Nfox violated the federal Stored Communications Act, which prohibits direct subpoenas of email communications held by email service providers. Opsahl also argued that O'Grady and other journalists are entitled to protect their confidential source information under both the California constitution and the US constitution. A ruling is expected within 90 days. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 24 Apr 2006

Scott McNealy steps down

Scott McNealy is stepping down as Sun Microsystems' CEO after 22 years at the helm. McNealy will retain the role of chairman, and described his new role as one of "chief evangelist". Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and Chief Operating Officer, assumes the chief executive's responsibilities. Schwartz had been tipped for the role for years, but rumors circulating last week that his hour had finally come were denied by Sun and McNealy. McNealy who had seen former lieutenants become successful CEOs at other large technology companies including Ed Zander at Motorola and Eric Schmidt at Google, said he'd been working hard to get Schwartz into the post for a decade. McNealy pre-empted questions of timing by saying that he didn't wish to handover until the company was stabilized after the dot.com crash, and that it had been growing too fast to think about a handover during the boom. Schwartz joined Sun in 1996 when it acquired a small NeXT software house Lighthouse Design, and moved into strategy and M&A. He hit the spotlight in 2001 by assembling the rapid industry response to Microsoft's Passport sign-on initiative, the Liberty Alliance. Schwartz then spent two years as EVP of software. However, Schwartz's talent for capturing the headlines - he's a Mellotron of sound bytes - has created a few hostages to fortune. A boast that Sun had captured a contract worth a billion desktops in China is so far around a billion desktops short of it target. And Schwartz's fingerprints are on the "Participation Age" campaign, a sloppy and uninspiring concept excoriated by The Economist recently, that's eaten up Sun's ad budget for the year. McNealy's persistence and belief grew Sun from its roots as a scrappy workstation start-up into one of the last three remaining enterprise systems companies. Four years ago, McNealy told us he'd been the only vote in the room against a decision to license Microsoft Windows NT in the early 90s. Sun settled its long-running dispute with Microsoft last year. The development of Java, and the inspired purchase of SGI's E10000 systems allowed Sun to escape the collapsing workstation market, and become the flavour of the dot com boom. But McNealy has been honest about the missed opportunities, too. Because of its workstation focus, Sun passed up the chance to develop and market a new idea developed on its SUN workstation, for a dedicated network router. Today Cisco has a market capitalization of $124bn, eight times larger than Sun. Wall Street had long waged war against McNealy's insistence on Sun as a vertically integrated systems company: one that produces a finished widget. Financial markets prefer to see horizontal vendors, exemplified by Wintel and Dell, because they squeeze the costs out of a business. In reality, the costs are simply transferred elsewhere, usually to the customer in the form of integration woes, shorter buying cycles, and lower reliability. McNealy had long advocated that Sun produce its own microprocessors and systems software, and the success of Java prompted Sun to add application stacks. The recent success of Apple with its iPod, and Wintel's own problems, cast McNealy's vision in a more favorable light. Both McNealy and Schwartz, in an interview with The Register, said Sun plans to follow a similar path under the new leadership. "Shame on me if I need to put someone in who needs to change the direction of the company," McNealy said. Schwartz added one item by saying, "The big thing that is not going to change is our reliance and focus upon innovation as a competitive weapon. What will change going forward is financial performance." McNealy plans to spend the first three months of the regime switch traveling around the globe and talking to customers. The company looks to put a particular focus on Opteron-based systems, which it admits that not enough people know about at this time. "Jonathan is actually just strapping my butt to an airplane seat for the next 90 days," McNealy said. "There is a huge story to tell here, and I know the story, and I am not bad at telling it. "I just have to buck up and get myself geared up here to go and do a jetlag for the next couple of months. "There is nothing more important to me than fours years from now people absolutely forgetting this whole day and just thinking, 'Wow, they never skipped a beat, and all that stuff they said was going to happen has happened.'" Sun stock rose 8.6per cent in after hours trading, at $5.41. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 24 Apr 2006