Shareholder meetings look set to become the next battleground in tech and internet companies' fight with US politicians over net neutrality. A self-styled conservative investment group wants Google, Yahoo!, eBay and Amazon to explain to their stock holders why they want the US government to stop broadband service providers from charging different tariffs for using the internet. The Free Enterprise Action Fund (FEAF) is looking at plans to table resolutions at the companies' next shareholder meetings, due in Spring 2007. FEAF has already tabled a similar resolution for Microsoft's next meeting, expected in December, after the company joined Google, Yahoo!, eBay and Amazon asking Senators to back wording in proposed legislation that could stop carriers levying charges for using the internet. What exactly is FEAF's beef? Tom Borelli, FEAF portfolio manager, told The Register FEAF thinks companies that "run" to government - especially Microsoft who has a habit of usually going in the opposite direction when it comes to officials and regulation - are acting against "innovation." They should focus on improving their products not legislation, he said. "Our antenna goes up when big companies seek regulation. In our view that's a sign of weakness. A free market should be out there competing and innovating, rather than running to the government to protect the market. That's a defense strategy." Borelli, who holds 5,000 Microsoft shares, said the software maker should be more specific about the financial implications of net neutrality. FEAF wants a breakdown on the regulatory impact, legal liabilities, product development costs and customers costs that net neutrality would hypothetically cause. FEAF is an investment group whose free-market philosophy could easily be described as pro libertarian and small government. FEAF has a particular problem with "social and political activists" it says threaten business. The group has already used the shareholder resolution tactics over General Electric's policy on global warming, which FEAF believes is damaging shareholders' value, at an annual meeting in April. FEAF believes GE has succumbed to non-government organizations and environment advocates who Borelli calls "looters" interested in using GE's resources to "achieve their social and political agenda." FEAF's actions can be seen in a broader US context. With the argument over net neutrality breaking down along partisan lines, lobbyists and other interested parties are now springing to the fore to shape the issue. These groups include NetCompetition.org, which recently blasted Microsoft and Co. for attempting to protect their economic interests by imposing government regulation on the internet. NetCompetition.org's membership reads like a who's who of companies that ultimately stand to gain from an end to net neutrality. For its part, Microsoft refused to comment on individual shareholder resolutions, but said in a statement: "While current legislation does a commendable job of ensuring that consumers will continue to enjoy internet connections unimpeded, we believe more could be done to preserve fair access for those offering online content and services." Microsoft has reportedly asked the US Securities and Exchange Commission if it can ignore FEAF's proposed motion. As a Microsoft shareholder, FEAF is entitled to put resolutions to the board for shareholders to vote on.®
InterviewInterview Things haven't had turned out as expected, agrees David Wood, executive VP of research at Symbian. Symbian phones dominate the smartphone market, but last week we suggested a number of reasons why the device category hadn't reached the volumes once predicted. And in many cases, where people have one, they really aren't using the features. Was it battery life, usability, or just the fact that converged devices sometimes offered the worst of all worlds? Or is it simply that old technology is sometimes the most appropriate? (See Whatever happened to... the smartphone?) for more, while 'Smart phones' - stupid punters? reveals the extent of the mobile crisis.) David offers compelling evidence that old technology very often is the most optimal - he uses a seven year-old PDA. But we'll get onto that in a moment. "We had an optimistic view, and a naive view in some ways, on how the market would pan out," he told us today. "In some other ways it's panned out better than we expected. When you look at the number of people using Symbian it's approaching 100m users [actually, cumulative devices sold - ed]. And we would have been very happy to settle for that. "But other aspects have been surprising. It's time to acknowledge that and restate how we think it will turn out." The new focus from Symbian is on smartphones as digital organizers. "Some applications are successful, such as mobile email. I won't change phones unless it's got the push email that I've grown accustomed to. That's an application on the point of transitioning into a much larger market." But there are other reasons, he suggests. "Some of them you could call systems things. In theory, browsing, as you pointed out, has been on phones for some time. and more recently, you've been able to use browsers like Opera, if you're patient. "But things keep moving forward, and improving, and the browser is now very powerful. Nokia have now shipped this new browser [for S60 3E, called "Web"], and the reaction to this is often 'gosh, I didn't realize you could have that on a phone!'" "It's still not perfect, but it's going to improve. If you see how far browsing has come in five years, it's come a long way. Those of us close to it wish it could improve faster, but if you look at it over five years and not five months, you'll see it has." Dumb phones not so dumb The continuing strength of phones with the manufacturers' own built-in operating systems has also been a factor, he acknowledged. "We didn't forsee the vitality of the feature phones. The basic idea of Symbian was that built-in operating systems wouldn't be able to scale with more and more technology. That's basically correct. Basic operating systems struggle. But they've manged to stay alive long than we expected, as people found ingenious ways to extend the life of these operating systems, despite the complexity. "But it's only a matter of time, we think, as they have more and more wireless channels in them - Wi-Fi and WiMAX as well as cellular, for example. Manufacturers will switch over more to using an open operating system rather than an in-house operating system." As for digital organizers, was the iPod, and the continuing sales success of Palm PDA (despite neglecting the product category for years), proof that there was a demand for dedicated devices? And wasn't he proof, too? "I use a Series 5 which I have an awful lot of data on, that I don't think would survive a round trip," he says. "I appreciate the large screen and large keyboard. I expect that one of these days someone will produce something like a a 9500 will be good enough. I'm not a terrible hurry," he says. "But brand new users, who don't have that history you and I have, will be more comfortable with a converged device." We ran threw a few things that an "unconverged", or dedicated device could do better. The large screen and keyboard is a good example, but there's also the ability to control and categorize personal data better. Tasks (or "To Do" items) on S60 don't have categories. On UIQ, they don't have priorities. How could the phone guys sell it as a better PDA, we wondered, when it was worse? Tasks were that way because the designers didn't want to burden the new user with complexity, said Wood. But he did hope the eco-system would provide better PIM apps - at which point the phone manufacturers would incorporate it into a phone. (That isn't what you want to hear if you're a software author). "It wouldn't surprise me if it's improved from phone to phone, he said. Nokia isn't a monolith about these things." Symbian had considered a desktop version of its old PsiWin application, something similar to Palm Desktop, but had decided it wasn't a core strength. "It's interesting what might have been," he mused. Overall, he sees convergence as fewer devices, with a few people still having several, and no one having the same one. And the faith remains that like Field of Dreams, if you built it, they'll come. "SMS was in phones before people realized they could use it. Then phones could send multipart messages, and it took some time before people realized they could send longer messages. It will take time for people to discover the features". ®
It would seem, to the casual observer, a relatively simple thing to keep track of something with a mass millions of times that of our sun, but astronomers are having trouble locating supermassive black holes in neighbouring galaxies. The researchers, from the US and Europe, suggest that either black holes are better hidden than scientists have thought, or they are only to be found on the outskirts of the universe. Hidden supermassive black holes have been used to explain the universe's background X-ray radiation. The theory is that black holes are hiding behind huge clouds of dust capable of absorbing all but the highest energy X-ray radiation. Once these X-Rays make it out from behind the shrouds of dust, they combine to form the high energy peaks in the radiation that permeates the universe. However, researchers working on a high energy census of our skies have not been able to find enough of the hidden black holes to account for all the observed radiation. In January this year Italian astronomers used the European Space Agency's International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory, Integral, to show that the fraction of black holes in the nearby universe that are hidden behind these clouds of dust is around 15 percent. Now a team of US and Swiss astronomers from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Integral Science Data Centre near Geneva, have analysed two years of continuous data from Integral and concluded that the proportion of hidden black holes could be as low as one in ten. "Naturally, it is difficult to find something we know is hiding well and which has eluded detection so far," says Volker Beckmann of NASA Goddard. "Integral is a telescope that should see nearby hidden black holes, but we have come up short." There are a few possible explanations. First, that if hidden black holes are responsible for the observed energy, that they are hidden further away. It could be that nearby supermassive black holes have had time to consume all the dust that would have shrouded them. Since the X-rays are produced by matter falling into the black holes, these naked black holes would not produce any. Another possibility is that the black holes are just more hidden than astronomers realised, and are below the detection capabilities even of Integral. NASA says more work is planned, and that the Swift satellite, in orbit to detect Gamma Ray Bursters, should be able to provide useful data. ®
Intel has taken a sharp knife to its price list, slashing what it charges for its microprocessors by up to 61 per cent as the company makes way for its Core 2 Duo desktop and mobile CPUs. The chip maker also introduced some old-style Pentium D parts.
In a meeting that will go down in internet history, the United States government last night conceded that it can no longer expect to maintain its position as the ultimate authority over the internet. Having been the internet's instigator and, since 1998, its voluntary taskmaster, the US government finally agreed to transition its control over not-for-profit internet overseeing organisation ICANN, making the organisation a more international body. However, assistant commerce secretary John Kneuer, the US official in charge of such matters, also made clear that the US was still determined to keep control of the net's root zone file - at least in the medium-term. "The historic role that we announced that we were going to preserve is fairly clearly articulated: the technical verification and authorisation of changes to the authoritative root," Kneuer explained following an afternoon of explicit statements from US-friendly organisations and individuals that it was no longer viable for one government to retain such power over the future of a global resource. Despite the sentiments, however, it was apparent from the carefully selected panel and audience members that the internet - despite its global reach - remains an English-speaking possession. Not one of the 11 panel members, nor any of the 22 people that spoke during the meeting, had anything but English as their first language. While talk centered on the future of the internet and its tremendous global influence, the people that sat there discussing it represented only a tiny minority of those that now use the internet every day. Reflections on the difficulty of expanding the current internet governance mechanisms to encompass the global audience inadvertently highlighted the very parochialism of those that currently form the ICANN in-crowd. When historians come to review events in Washington on 26 July 2006, they will no doubt be reminded of discussions in previous centuries over why individual citizens should be given a vote. Or, perhaps, why landowners or the educated classes shouldn't be given more votes than the masses. There was talk of voting rights, or what the point was of including more people in ICANN processes, and even how people could be educated sufficiently before they were allowed to interact with the existing processes. Ironically, it was ICANN CEO Paul Twomey who most accurately put his finger on what had to be done. One of the most valuable realisations that ICANN has ever come to, he noted, was that when it revamped itself last time, it recognised it hadn't got it right. Even more importantly, Twomey noted, was the fact the organisation recognised that "it would never get it right. And so ICANN put a review mechanism into its bylaws". The reason Twomey's observations are particularly noteworthy is that it is Paul Twomey himself who has consistently - and deliberately - failed to open ICANN up, keeping meetings secret, and refusing to release information about discussions either before a meeting and, in some cases, after the meeting. A stark warning came from the Canadian government - the only government except for the US government invited to speak. Recent arrival, but highly knowledgeable representative, Bill Graham was extraordinarily clear. "It is time for ICANN to recognise that it is in many ways a quasi-judicial body and it must begin to behave that way," he said. "The ICANN board needs to provide adequate minutes of all its meetings. There needs to be a notice of what issues will be considered, and the timeframe when a decision is made. A written document needs to be posted setting out the background and context of the issues. There needs to be an acknowledgment and a summary of the positions put forward by various interested parties; there needs to be an analysis of the issues; there needs to be an explanation of the decisions and the reasons for it; and ultimately there needs to be a mechanism for the board to be held accountable by its community." Everyone recognised the meeting as an historic turning point in the future of the internet, causing a strange amount of one-upmanship among those taking part, most of it covering how long they had been involved with ICANN. Paul Twomey referred to the Berlin meeting (1999); an irregular ICANN contributor (on the panel thanks to US governmental influence) spoke of "being there before ICANN was even created". The swagger got so bad that several well-informed contributors were forced to apologise because they had only been to three ICANN meetings. Ultimately, what came out of a gathering of the (English-speaking) great and the good regarding the internet was two things: That the US government recognises it has to transition its role if it wants to keep the internet in one piece (and it then has to sell that decision to a mindlessly patriotic electorate) That ICANN has to open up and allow more people to decide its course if it is going to be allowed to become the internet's main overseeing organisation If you ignore the fact that the conversation only happened within a tiny subset of the people that actually use the internet, everyone can feel quite content in walking away feeling that at least people now understand their point of view. As a rare non-US contributor, Emily Taylor, Nominet's lawyer, UK citizen, and a member of the IGF Advisory Group told us she felt that "the fact that the meeting took place was as valuable as anything that was discussed". That much is certainly true. The US has recognised that it can no longer hope to control the internet. The next step is for everyone invited into the party this time to recognise that they too play only a small role in the global revolution that is this jumble of interconnected computer networks. ®
Intel has published the details of the first 'Merom' mobile Core 2 Duo processors, though the chips will not ship in notebooks until toward the end of August, the chip giant revealed this morning.
A new satellite survey of coral reefs has shown that less than two per cent of them are within environmentally protected areas. A team of international researchers compiled the data using a collection of NASA satellite images of Earth. The goal was to update the Millennium Project, an inventory of so-called "marine protected areas" - places where human activity is limited by law in order to protect the ocean environment. Coral reefs have been described as the rainforests of the oceans. They play a vital role in the health of the sea, supporting a huge variety of species. They are, however, extremely fragile, and are sensitive to tiny enviromental changes. The study revealed that although overall the number of protected areas has increased since 2003, the protection afforded to coral reefs is still very small. In addition, most of the protected zones are too small to offer meaningful shelter to many species of fish, whose natural ranges regularly take them outside the safe zone. "This research points out how much still needs to be done to protect coral reef ecosystems," said Frank Muller-Karger, one of the developers of the Millennium Project at the University of South Florida's Institute for Marine Remote Sensing. "Creating large reserves such as the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is just such a step in the right direction." This zone, which was created in June this year, is the largest marine protected environment in the world. It includes approximately 4,500 square miles of relatively undisturbed reef habitat. ®
A UK organisation is to lead an EU project on the long term preservation of digital data on culture and science The Council for the Central Laboratory for the Research Council (CCLRC) will lead the Caspar project (Cultural, Artistic and Scientific knowledge for Preservation, Access and Retrieval), it has been announced. Funded by the EU's Information Society Technologies programme, it is aimed at ensuring that the digital assets of cultural and scientific institutions remain accessible as hardware and software changes. A consortium of organisations from around the EU will be involved in the project. They include the European Space Agency and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. CCLRC will lead the effort to develop a framework to support the end-to-end preservation lifecycle for information. This will be tested against a wide range of user communities and types of digital information. The organisation said it will have to develop flexible techniques because of the variety of material. Project co-ordinator Dr David Giaretta said: "Caspar will address the issue of how digitally encoded information can still be understood and used in the future when the software, systems and everyday knowledge will have changed. Things we take for granted now would otherwise be completely unfamiliar, something to be guessed at, even if we preserve the bits and bytes. "In addition to benefiting future generations, immediate benefits result from doing the preservation right by supporting interoperability and use of unfamiliar current data." The project reflects a growing concern over the need for the preservation of digital information in the face of rapid changes in technology. The government's Chief Technical Officers Council is currently working with the National Archives on an electronic document and records management system that will preserve the long term value of public sector information. This article was originally published at Kablenet. Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.
Apple has acknowledged problems with its Intel-based portables that buyers have been banging on about for some time. In two support documents, the company informs suffering users to contact its AppleCare customer service team.
BT brought in revenues of £4.8bn in the first quarter ended 30 June 2006 - up three per cent on the same period last year and in line with analysts' expectations. Profit before tax and after specific items was £615m, up from £499m in the first quarter of 2005. Profit before specific items and leaver costs was £1.386bn, up from £1.363bn for the first quarter of 2005. BT increased "new wave revenue" by 18 per cent to £1.641bn. "New wave revenue" is from networked IT services, mobility and broadband services. Networked services grew by nine per cent to £981m, broadband revenues grew to £454m - an increase of 45 per cent. Mobility revenues grew eight per cent to £71m. The telco had 8.7m wholesale broadband connections on 30 June 2006 and made 535,000 connections in the quarter. It had 580,000 local loop unbundled lines. More than 40 per cent of UK homes now have broadband services. Revenue from traditional activities declined by four per cent due to regulator intervention, competition, and price reductions. The yearly average revenue per consumer household increased by £2 on last quarter to £253. Staff costs increased by £100m in the period due to extra staff needed for networked services and for building BT's new network - 21CN. BT has been talking to the rest of the industry about 21CN and presented detailed proposals in May. The network will make BT the first incumbent to switch off PSTN and switch all calls to an IP-based network. Twenty-three m illion calls have been carried this way since May. In November this year, BT will migrate the first end user lines to 21CN in the Cardiff area. Migration will continue until June 2007 followed by industry review ahead of national migration beginning January 2008. The acquistion of dabs.com closed 28 April and will improve BT's online retail sales and increase services aimed at small and medium businesses. BT's traditional retail revenues fell by eight per cent but new wave revenues grew by 31 per cent, making up 19 per cent of total revenue for the period. ®
Every few years, we hear a surge in the talk about "the SMB opportunity" and what IT vendors can do to exploit it. Yet smaller organisations have been using IT for a long time now, and there is a well established community of suppliers that has been servicing their needs for many years.
Another day, another Samsung slimline slider phone. This one - it's just 1.4cm thick - also extends the company's long line of handsets capable of picking up satellite-sent Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) television pictures.
A rationale for Brazil's inglorious exit from the World Cup has emerged. England's arguably even more inglorious exit in Germany was variously blamed on a combination of manager Sven Goran Eriksson's tactical ineptitude, the side's continued inability to take penalties, and Portuguese winker Cristiano Ronaldo1. Brazil's malaise, meanwhile, can be traced back to the all-night sex and video game sessions of star player Ronaldinho, if an article in The Sun is anything to go by. Ronaldinho broke team curfew orders for some off-pitch action with his girlfriend, the French model Alexandra Paressant. She relates how the passionate Samba ace would "make love all night", before sitting down to play 2006 FIFA World Cup on the PlayStation 2. She implies that the time he spent playing video games, rather than energy sapping sex sessions, might have knocked his form. Ronaldinho failed to hit the back of the net or live up to his star billing during the tournament before Brazil was eliminated by France in the quarter-finals. Is it too mischievous to speculate that Paressant might have done her patriotic duty in sapping the Brazilian ace's strength? That's a tough one to answer since the Brazilians, unlike beaten 1994 finalists Italy, were allowed conjugal visits when they won the World Cup in the US. This time around, the Azzuri emerged victorious on penalties. There's an irony for those who see the striker's fondness of PlayStation 2 games to blame for his run of indifferent form in Germany. As Eurogamer notes, Ronaldinho is the "face" of EA's 2006 FIFA World Cup game... ® 1England's traditional inglorious exit from the World Cup is never attributed to coming up against a superior side or poor form. Oh no. Previous excuses have included high humidity (Japan 2002), David Beckham (France 1998), inability to take penalties (Italia '90), cheating Argentinians (Mexico '86) and tight fitting football shorts (Spain '82).
A predictable new MySpace-alike has been launched, this time targeting the adult market. The company behind Utherverse.com is trumpeting that only those over 18 will be allowed to sign up, side-stepping increasing concerns from parents about their offspring being exposed to lurking paedophiles on the popular Murdoch-owned social network. Purely in the cause of investigation, we checked out the sign up process for Utherverse. The T&Cs check-box links to a page which says you should be 18+ - and that's it. Chief executive Brian Shuster said the firm would use credit card age verification for its paid services - although the social networking side of the site is free. He said the company employs site monitors who scour the site for posts from minors. The owners hope to have one million signed up by the end of the year, Reuters reports. ®
A Russian rocket carrying 18 satellites crashed on launch in Kazakhstan late Wednesday. Mission contollers reported the rocket's engines shut down 86 seconds into the flight. The Russian-built Dnepr vehicle - a converted ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) - then piled into the ground 25km away. There were no injuries. All of the 18 satellites on board were destroyed in the crash. International customers included Italy and the US, and Belarus' first foray into space since the break up of the Soviet Union. Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko had travelled to the Kazakh steppes to witness the launch, Reuters reports. Igor Panarin, spokesman for the Russian space agency Roskosmos said: "A special emergency team has been formed to probe into the causes of the failed launch," Itar-Tass news agency reports. "According to preliminary findings, problems in the first stage of the booster rocket in the 74th second of the flight was the main reason," he added. Last October, a Russian launch plunged the European Space Agency's €135m Cryosat climate project into the Arctic Sea. ®
Memorex is preparing an iPod accessory that converts the diminutive digital music player into one of those portable DVD display machines - minus the optical drive, of course. Dubbed the iFlip, the unit connects a stowed video-capable iPod to an 8.4in, 480 x 234 widescreen LCD.
The Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) is close to agreeing on a legal settlement with file-sharing network Kazaa. If reports are correct, a deal could be announced today. The peer-to-peer network (founded by Skype creators Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom) and its parent company Sharman Networks have been bogged down in legal battles around the world. The Kazaa homepage currently warns users in Australia not to download its products because of a recent court decision. A Dutch court has ruled that Kazaa users should not be identified by their IP addresses. Neither Kazaa nor the RIAA were talking on the record yesterday. Kazaa has been a particular target of the recording industry because it is supported by advertising and appears to have a viable business model. The two founders of Kazaa announced plans for a similar system to distribute TV and video content. The scheme, code-named "the Venice Project" is currently in negotiations with content owners. ®
Microsoft has announced plans to offer Internet Explorer 7 as a high-priority update to customers as soon as the long-awaited browser update becomes available. IE7 will be distributed via Microsoft's automatic update service in a bid to offer customers improved protection against security threats. The final version of the Windows XP version of the IE 7 release is scheduled for Q4 2006. Microsoft said the release contains significant security improvements, such as improved anti-phishing technology and improved ActiveX control, that qualify the release for delivery as a security update. The upgrade won't happen automatically. Automatic updates will first notify users when Internet Explorer 7 is ready to install and then show a welcome screen that presents key features and the choices to 'Install', 'Don't Install' or 'Ask Me Later'. Microsoft is also providing a IE7 Blocker Toolkit for businesses that want to block the automatic delivery of the updated browser. The blocker toolkit, which will not expire and is already available, includes a group policy template and an executable script. ®
Reg Reader StudiesReg Reader Studies When we asked about Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) in the last big reader research study, we weren't sure what kind of response we would get. We knew that in some quarters SOA had been discussed as mostly vendor hype, and we also suspected that stories of widespread adoption were probably a little exaggerated.
There are two primary concepts that are used extensively within Java (and indeed other OO languages) to promote reuse - inheritance and componentisation.
ReviewReview Although Reg Hardware published benchmarks for the new Intel Core 2 Duo and Extreme chips almost two weeks ago, it has taken that long for Intel to launch the product formally. If you've got the cash, you should be able to pick one up today. But the question many folk - particularly those with a preference for AMD's processors - are still asking is, why? There's no doubt that Intel has produced an impressive successor to the Pentium D, but can it beat AMD's latest offerings?
The European Commission is investigating the harm that mobile phones do to children. A public consultation began yesterday that will look at protecting minors who use mobiles against inappropriate content, expense, bullying and sexual predators. Almost three-quarters of 12 to 13 year olds own a mobile phone, according to the commission, which launched the consultation as part of its Safer Internet Forum for child welfare. "The growth in mobile use clearly helps people link up in an information society," a commission statement said. "But it also gives rise to concerns about the safety of children." The dangers to which children can be exposed include: grooming, whereby sexual predators make friends via phones with children; privacy violation; and unexpectedly high expense from phone use. Modern mobile internet access technologies can also expose children to harmful and illegal internet content, the commission said. "Mobile phones are part of our daily lives, not only for adults but also for teenagers and increasingly for younger children," said Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "Mobile communication is a great opportunity for the development of Europe's economies and societies. However, at the same time, the protection of minors needs to be guaranteed." Another danger of mobiles, said the commission, is that of bullying through the distribution of abusive or compromising messages and photos among children. The UK government has just announced an expansion of school guidelines to cover cyber-bullying, including the use of mobile phones to bully children. "Unlike other forms of bullying, cyber bullying can follow children and young people into their private spaces and outside school hours," said schools minister Jim Knight. "This is why it is essential that parents and young people themselves should understand how to use technologies safely to protect themselves at home and outside school hours, as well as supporting their schools in dealing with incidents. "The education bill will give teachers a legal right to discipline pupils, strengthening their authority to take firm action on bullying. It will also send a strong message to parents and pupils that bullying will not be tolerated with court-imposed parenting orders to compel parents of bullies to attend parenting classes or face £1,000 fines." The commission found that in May of this year 70 per cent of European children aged 12 to 13 had mobile phones, while 23 per cent of children aged eight to nine owned mobiles. The commission will investigate what regulatory action is needed to protect children in a move which will be closely watched by network operators. "The more efficient self-regulation can become, the less the need for state intervention," Reding said. The consultation does not explore the health risks of mobile usage. In January 2005, the UK's National Radiological Protection Board published a report suggesting that children would be especially vulnerable to any health risks that may exist in mobile phone use because their nervous systems are still developing. In January 2006, a study published in the British Medical Journal cast doubt on concerns that mobile phone use increases the risk of brain tumours. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
That old cliché – the trouble with standards is that there are so many of them – could also be applied to the world of Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) with real justification. There are many software vendors out there claiming to offer SOA solutions so the coming together of some leading players, towards the end of last year, in an attempt to generate some specifications (if not yet official "standards") to which they could all work arguably fell into the bracket of being "a good thing". Now that original group, which consisted of BEA Systems, IBM, IONA, Oracle, SAP, Sybase, Xcalia and Zend has grown with the addition of Cape Clear, Interface21, Primeton Technologies, Progress Software (Sonic Software as was), Red Hat, Rogue Wave Software, Software AG, Sun Microsystems and TIBCO Software. In addition, the group – they are so far declining the sobriquet "Consortium" – has sprouted a website which gives details of the specifications it is working on. These are expected to form the basis of future standards. The group’s work falls into two main categories - Service Component Architecture (SCA) and Service Data Objects (SDO). The former describes a model for building applications, while the latter is designed to simplify and unify the way in which applications handle data. The latest SCA specifications can be found here , while SDO specifications can be found here. Two significant names are missing from the group – Microsoft and HP. As SOA is all about the potential for users to build their own services from composites of loosely-coupled applications that may come from a variety of sources, and the specifications seem aimed at making that an easier task, it will be interesting to see how long they stand outside.®
Sony will tomorrow launch its PlayStation Portable-oriented Wi-Fi hotspot network, though with only 11 sites, perhaps 'network' isn't the right word, particularly given the 7,500 hotspots that are part of rival Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection for the DS.
The very early stages of planet formation could be responsible for putting the brakes on fast-spinning young stars, according to astronomers using the Spitzer infrared space telescope. The researchers have found that slow spinning stars are five times more likely than their speedier cousins to be encircled by a disk of proto-planetary dust. Dr Luisa Rebull of NASA's Spitzer Science Centre, lead author on the study, commented: "We knew that something must be keeping the stars' speed in check. Disks were the most logical answer, but we had to wait for Spitzer to see the disks." Young stars spin around incredibly fast, some making a complete revolution in less than half a day. This is because of how they form: clouds of spinning gas collapse in on themselves, spinning faster and faster, just as an ice skater will when he pulls his arms in as he spins. As it spins, excess dust and gas will flatten and form disks around the newly ignited star. The disk rotates much more slowly, and astronomers had suggested that the disk might interact with the star's magnetic field somehow and act as a brake. We know something has to. Left to itself, a star spinning at a rate of a revolution every half day will not form planets. In addition, every single star that has been observed with planets so far, has been a relatively slow spinner, like our sun. To test the idea that the disks do slow stars down, Rebull trained the Spitzer telescope on a region of the Orion Nebula, and surveyed 500 young stars. She split the stars into fast spinners and slow spinners, and then used Spitzer to determine which were surrounded by disks. Slower stars turned out to be five times more likely to have disks than their faster colleagues. Rebull concedes that this is not conclusive evidence for the exact mechanism of braking, but stresses that at least: "We can now say that disks play some kind of role in slowing down stars in at least one region." She adds that other factors could be operating in tandem with the braking effect of a disk, and that different stars in different environments could behave differently. The research is published in the 20 July issue of the Astrophysical Journal. ®
Samsung will ship 1, 2, 4 and 8GB MMC memory cards later this year, the South Korean giant pledged today. It claimed they will not only be the biggest capacity MMCs on the market. Others in the line-up will offer the fastest data transfers, it said.
Kazaa and the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) have settled out of court in a deal which will see the P2P operation hand over $100m to the industry. It'll now join fellow former industry pariah Napster as a fully paid-up digital music distributor.
Capita has appointed an insider to its group board, and reshuffled the boardroom to create a new joint role. As of 1 August, Simon Pilling will take up a post as joint chief operating officer, the firm said in a statement, joining Paddy Doyle, one of the firm's founders, who previously held the role of group operating director. Pilling joined the firm in 1999. As a member of Capita's executive management board, he has brought in some juicy contracts, such as the congestion charge system for London Transport, and was a "driving force" in developing the firm's offshore base in India. The firm said it was pleased to have Pilling on board: "Simon has already made a significant contribution to Capita and will be an asset to the board...," the statement said. The shuffle was announced a week after chairman Rod Aldridge stood down. He announced his resignation in March after being caught up by New Labour's peerages for loans scandal. Capita was unable to explain the decision. ®
Headset specialist Plantronics has unveiled its autumn collection of Bluetooth earphones and mics, including an iPod Shuffle-like dongle designed to provide wireless stereo audio in a way that's still phone friendly.
Carphone Warehouse's overall Q1 revenues were up a tasty 42.1 per cent on 2005, painting a fairly rosy picture for the ever-diversifying group. Its businesses brought in £857.64m in the early part of this year compared to £605.66m for the same period a year ago. Carphone's telecoms outfit TalkTalk enjoyed a whopping 227.7 per cent sales boost to £150.39m, mostly thanks to the acquisitions of OneTel and Tele2. Excluding customers who were switched in the buy-ups, TalkTalk itself grew sales 39.5 per cent. Despite much criticism, the heavily-promoted "free" forever offer did score big, attracting 476,000 punters - the vast majority of Carphone's 596,000 broadband customers. So far just over half, 247,000, are connected. Chairman Charles Dunstone conceded that despite a "spectacular" launch, the company's broadband service could have been better planned. He said: "We still have some some way to go, however, to reach the leading service levels we target." The trading statement says the firm is attempting to speed migration of punters to LLU lines, and call centre hiring has been accelerated. The target will now be to join the "millionaire's club" of the top six players. More details at ISP Review here. All areas of the business were up. The core retail and distribution operation, including flogging insurance and online phone sales jumped 28.1 per cent from £344.65m in Q1 2005 to £441.55m in 2006. Average profit per connection fell slightly though, with a greater proportion of customers opting for pre-pay plans. The mobile operator business grew, up 12.4 per cent year-on-year to £117.70m. ®
Record temperatures have been recorded in California and Europe over the past week, with power outages returning to the Golden State for the first time since the Enron era. But it isn't only the electricity supply that's failing. A commodity that's as rare online as water in the desert, irony, appears to be suffering severe shortages too. Here are two examples. Are they a trend? Our first example is a witty prank by John Graham-Cumming, chief scientist at Electric Cloud. He mimicked a programming technique known as recursion to post the same entry to two news aggregators at the same time, each referencing the other. Recursion is when a function calls itself. If the "stop condition" isn't met, the function calls itself indefinitely - until the computer runs out of stack space. So a submission headlined "Recursion defined - see Reddit" was posted to Digg, while one headlined "Recursion defined - see Digg" was posted to Reddit. Digg claims to harness "the collective wisdom" of the crowd, but in this case it appears men behind the curtain intervened to hide the post, which was one of the most "Dugg", or popular, of the day. Graham-Cumming then discovered that his Digg user account had been cancelled. He was barred. On his blog, John describes it as sense of humor failure, but it's more than that. Inadvertently, it's a delightful satire of the Digg groupthink that we've encountered before. A crowd with one mind has no room for self-awareness, humour or irony - and can be remarkably thin-skinned. But groupthink isn't just an accidental by-product of the "Web 2.0" sites, it's designed into the system. As one Reddit poster noted: "When the latest Digg redesign launched, it started spiralling down towards the farthest depths of idiocy. Digg commenters were always on the juvenile side, but the final straw for me was forty-odd comments just sniggering about the number sixty-nine. "With Slashdot, maybe a joke like that would get +5, Funny, but the rest of the people making the same stupid joke would be at -1 where I don't see them. With Digg, some kid sees a stupid joke, mods it up, sees the same joke underneath, and mods that up too, and carries on modding up dozens more." Now, to our concern, the condition of humorlessness has even affected some of you. Yesterday we reported on Wikipedia, the comic institution. A school in Nebraska has filed suit to identify who made disparaging remarks about it on Wikipedia. Elite administrators swiftly deleted the old entry, and replaced it with a new, fault-free entry which only registered users could edit. After only six days, the clean entry already contained a seriously howler - placing Nebraska in Canada. Which prompted us to run this infographic:. It wasn't long before sharp-eyed readers spotted something was amiss. "You screwed up the map in your Skutt article," Christopher Bowen advised us. "The red is labeled as 'Canada', and green as the 'USA'. Only one problem:" he said, before smacking the Enter key twice for added emphasis: "You have them reversed." The corrections continued to pour in. "Is your 'handy reference' an obscure joke?" asked reader Teemu Leisti. "If so, I certainly don't get it." He had similar advice: "In reality, Canada is the country you've coloured in green, and USA the one coloured in red." A Wikipedian discovers a geographical discrepency [click for link] "Whoops. Where's Canada again?" asks Chris Noble, who continues - "Unfortunately there appears to be some confusion in the labelling. Of course, if this error had occurred in Wkipedia I would have been able to nip straight in there and fix it up. Since it is in a publication controlled by professionals, I guess we'll have to wait for the correction." Yes indeed. But doubt creeps in seconds later. "I full [sic] acknowledge that there may have been some über-ironic intent here, but if so, you hide it well." That, Chris, is the core of the problem. Irony shouldn't be hidden - it should be standing in the middle of an open cornfield, on top of a large step ladder, with large purple flares attached to each ironic arm. Then no one could miss it. We had high hopes for an idea suggested by former journalist Dan Gillmor, who mooted the idea of an "honor tag" for online writing. An honor tag could prove everything the writer wrote could be taken at face value, free of all those messy ambiguities. See Are you trying to be funny? If so check [ ] this box. This, we believe, was inspired by our earlier suggestion of marking different attempts at humor in different colours, which we suggested more than five years ago. See The Color of Irony. Alas, it was never implemented, and like Gillmor's honor tags, lies sadly neglected in the exciting world of Web 2.0. In the intervening years, there have been some tragic misunderstandings. Have you experienced sudden sense of humour failures in your online neighbourhood? They're usually accompanied by equally sudden surges of self-righteousness. Let us know. And stay cool out there.®
AnalysisAnalysis Rather than conforming to rivals' software licensing schemes, IBM has decided to go it alone and price software that runs on multi-core chips in a proprietary fashion. IBM argues that its scheme provides a more accurate picture of how different chips perform, although one could claim that IBM is adding extra confusion to an already complex problem.
Having alarmed Wall Street with its $2bn spending plans, Microsoft mounted a charm offensive at its annual financial analyst summit Thursday to try and convince stockholders that investments in search, internet advertising and search will pay off. Kevin Johnson, co-president of platforms and services, led a parade of execs trotting out key growth indicators and previews of forthcoming technology while the heads of server and tools and Microsoft Office outlined opportunities against Linux and open source. Investors looking for something to assuage earlier concerns, though, will have been heartily disappointed, as Microsoft offered nothing fresh or distinct from the competition, and indicated that - despite its plan to spend millions of dollars - the internet and paid-search strategy is still being worked out. Microsoft last week outlined its spending plans for fiscal 2007. The company will this year spend $450m on marketing and launches, $450m on sales force and general market growth, $1bn on "development of high-growth products and new products and services," $500m on online services such as adCenter, Office Live, CRM Live, Live.com and search, and $300m on costs and acquisitions. It was during the previous, third-quarter results call that Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell shocked Wall Street by outlining an unexpected $2bn spending plan. The amount led one analyst to deduce Microsoft "must" be building some kind of Google killer - a conclusion denied by Microsoft. Johnson claimed Thursday Microsoft's experience in building and running platforms, its ability to deliver "compelling" user interface "experiences", and its networks of partnerships with developers and "thousands and thousands and thousands" of partners mean it will unleash a "disruptive" change upon the industry, despite coming shockingly late to the internet, search, and software as a service. Chief technology officer Ray Ozzie, meanwhile, picked up the mantra of business growth from software, services, subscriptions and licensing. Microsoft is placing its faith in an ability to monetize PCs, servers and cell phones running Windows plus its Hotmail, MSN Messenger and MSN Spaces properties. To that end, Microsoft claims 850m PCs, 24m Xboxes, 325m "Live IDs" - people who singed in to a Microsoft service during the last 30 days - 260 users of its online mail, 240m users of messenger and 220m on Spaces. Johnson, the former group vice president of Microsoft's worldwide sales, marketing and services appointed to his new role last September, put some dates on when Microsoft expects payback. Between 90 and 180 days on planned new content for MSN, six to 18 months for Windows Live and 12 to 24 months for adCenter, Microsoft's internet ad search engine. Demos of Microsoft offerings elicited tepid applause from analysts gathered at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, campus. On display were Widgets - sorry, that's Apple's technology that came out last year, we mean "Gadgets" - that will run streams of information like stock results on a web site or on the Windows Vista desktop. Users can filter searches of stock data from Yahoo Finance, CNN Money and MSNBC. Ok, but what about search and advertising? Microsoft will have to get back to Wall Street on that. "We are looking at the operating metrics every day. Our R&D teams are innovating and tuning the algorithms every day," Johnson said. "We have a list of ideas and things we are going to build into adExpert to continue to build and advance that. That's at the heart and soul of unleashing that disruptive business model." Turns out this disruptive business model will be measured using the same time honored practices and metrics employed by Microsoft's rivals. These include paid views, per page views, live accounts that are not duplicates, service usage, click-through rates, usage, revenue per search and number of advertisers. Analysts sifting for tangibles in this potpourri would also have been unsettled by Microsoft's forecast for its core Office businesses. Jeff Raikes, business division president, predicted seven per cent CAGR during the next three years. The caveat is that Office faces three challenges: the tendency for Office users to stay on older versions and not to upgrade, the presence of open source - OpenOffice, StarOffice and IBM's Workplace - and the specter of online writing and collaborative services. So stepped up Bob Muglia, senior vice president for server and tools, to set a more upbeat tone on the struggle between Windows and Linux. Having been trounced by Linux on growth rates, Muglia predicted Windows would make its comeback in the next 18 months. Muglia said Windows had lagged Linux in high performance computing, the web and security, but Microsoft is taking steps to address these markets. Measures taken include the launch of Windows Compute Cluster Server for HPC, deals with a series of OEMs to build small form factor edge-of-network security devices on Windows, and changes in Windows and IIS to address the combined power of Linux and Apache. Muglia expects a turn around in HPC and the web this year, but security will take 18 months. But, hey, who's counting?®
CommentComment "Because my background is physics and economics, I tend to go for data rather than speculation and hand waving," Chris Anderson told an interviewer recently. [ * ] Anderson's Long Tail looks like a hit - and has already achieved the first stage of glory that buzzword-based marketing book authors aspire to - being mentioned on daytime TV. Many authors dream of this, but few achieve it, and the "long tail" is on its way to becoming this year's "surface area" or "tipping point". Or so we thought. But now that the book is out, and Anderson's figures are under some critical scrutiny, he's engaging in quite a flurry of speculation and hand waving. The subtitle of The Long Tail is "How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand", but his numbers don't appear to justify such hyperbole. There's a knack to getting the buzzword book formula right. The idea can't be false - but it shouldn't be falsifiable either. The idea should be simple enough to be explained by the subtitle, but vague enough to suggest applicability to all kinds of different markets - like a bland, all-occasions scent. And it must flatter the reader into thinking they are cleverer, and much more special than they were when they began reading the book. And for the most part, Anderson succeeds. There is a Tail. But it's over the beguiling idea that misses can be profitably aggregated, where it begins to falter. And as for justifying the subtitle, as Anderson tells it, he's wildly overstated his case. Slow selling products have always been successfully aggregated, and in an era when distribution or storage costs can be lowered because the stock no longer consists of physical product, or these costs can be passed on to the consumer, it's even more true. The internet, we've known for some time, allows buyers to find sellers much more easily. For music lovers, this has resulted in a resurgence of the independent labels (who pulled off a historic antitrust victory two weeks ago, by thwarting the EMI merger in a European Court), and a golden era for small label reissues. It's also a boom time for purveyors of specialist pornography - and how much more interesting The Long Tail would have been if it had tackled the economics of digital filth. The real question raised by Anderson's 2004 essay for Wired magazine, but not answered by his book, is not whether the "tail" exists, or even how big it is, but "where can it be profitably mined?" But now economists suggest that Anderson's more dramatic extrapolations - for example, "hits matter less" - are barely supported by the evidence he cites, and for this we have the Wall Street Journal's Lee Gomes to thank. Anderson's initial Long Tail essay claimed that 57 per cent of Amazon.com's sales lie beyond the 100,000 books that make up a typical book store's physical inventory. This startling claim was revised downward, because the data was "funky". The published book now states "about a quarter of Amazon's book sales come from outside its top 100,000 titles." Lee Gomes' piece entitled It May Be a Long Time Before the Long Tail Is Wagging the Web shows there are other examples that demonstrate power tipping in the wrong direction, wrong if you're a Long Tail true believer, to the best-sellers. eCast, quoted by Anderson, told Gomes that the number of songs that never get played is increasing. And, as the cost of carrying unplayed inventory rises as a proportion of total costs, the potential profitability declines. Where there's a tail, it may not be worth mining. The Long Tail, then, isn't snake oil. Rather its restorative properties have been exaggerated. Who wants to let facts get in the way of a buzzword bestseller good thesis? Anderson's response to Gomes' analysis has been surprisingly brittle, and quite possibly dishonest, Gomes replies. For Harvard professor Anita Elberse, who consulted on the book, there's little more evidence than a "slight shift". "MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson, who told me that there indeed is a shift occurring as things move online, but it's on the order of an 80/20 distribution moving to a 70/30 one," notes Gomes. So the Long Tail doesn't, as Trackback #1 on Anderson's response echoes, show that "supply and demand have been turned upside down." As usual, much more interesting evidence has been ignored in the bid to invert conventional economics. And the author has become a prisoner of his own metaphor. Take digital music. As we noted last week, what may be profitable for one model doesn't necessarily apply to another model in the same market, subtleties that Anderson saw, but ignored in his eagerness to sell us his paradigm shift. For example, eMusic CEO David Pakman again pointed out last week that Apple's iTunes Music increases the importance of the hit: 90 per cent of revenues come from 10 per cent of the catalog. "It's made the music industry more reliant on hits. ... If iTunes was the sole model, it would wildly exacerbate the problem," he said. By comparison, eMusic is a subscription service, which invests heavily in editorial expertise, by employing 120 writers. Profits from the Long Tail don't just fall out of trees, and attracting subscribers to the niches and obscurities requires care and attention. Rhapsody, which is correctly cited by Anderson as an example, is a subscription service like eMusic. But stressing these important points may ruin the Panglossian thesis. As much of the music business now acknowledges, a bundle, or subscription, is the best way forward. In Anderson's defence, he may argue that he's merely satisfying a demand for feelgood marketing books, and the true purpose of "The Long Tail" is perhaps as a psychological prop. "The teenager who spends his weekends updating a blog that nobody reads and shooting silly videos to post on YouTube.com ... He is, as Anderson’s chapter on 'The New Producers' tells us, a valiant citizen of the long tail," the New Yorker's John Cassidy observed. And that's who needs the comfort blanket the most. Metaphors of heads and tails can also lead us in foolish directions. Segmenting the market into two leaves no room for a "middle", and yet it's from the midlists and indies that much of our cultural richness flows. Despite the success of the indies mentioned above, it's far from clear that the net is creating as many small, sustainable businesses here as it is destroying. For the Long Tail and its true believers, who have a tendency to devalue expertise and creativity, this is heresy - amateurs will surely fill the gap. Here's an economics question we'd love to see tackled in the successor to "The Long Tail", for there must surely be one. Do False Hopes have an opportunity cost? Do Bad Metaphors, too?® Bootnote: For a facts and figures man who is wary of speculation, Anderson can be quite reckless. The Wired editor lost a wager with your reporter recently, which he made three years ago. Anderson bet that by spring of 2006 the sales of WLAN chipsets would exceed sales of cellular (GSM and CDMA) chipsets. He fell short by around a billion units. Related links Gomes Anderson Gomes (via Carr)
Microsoft's chief operating officer has preached the virtues of corporate-wide score cards as a tool to maintain customer satisfaction levels and thrash the competition. Kevin Turner told financial analysts it's "no longer enough" for Microsoft to just hit the numbers and added it must focus on "the little things" to keep partners and customers happy. In one of his few public speaking engagements since joining Microsoft 11 months ago, Turner - who served for 20 years with retail giant Wal-Mart - evangelized his agenda and outlined his priorities for driving success, during Microsoft's annual analyst's summit held today in Redmond. According to Turner, Microsoft is "zeroing in on the art of selling." "You haven't heard that before at a Microsoft annual meeting. We are becoming experts at the art of selling," Turner said. "Our goal is to have the best partner and customer satisfaction level for every market. Four to five years ago, that was hard to get our hands around. That's the next flag - that someone isn't going to out hustle us in relation to customer satisfaction." Microsoft will focus on operational excellence - reducing the size of licensing agreements from 92 pages to 26 in the next year - and on making fewer discounts. It will also aim to get a return on marketing investments by aligning them across product groups. Touching on a broad gamut of competitors and markets, Turner summed up: "We must out run, out think and out execute our competition every day. We are going to compete to win in the Linux and the open source area. It's about winning in enterprise search, taking Windows Vista on the top, SharePoint Portal, making sure there are live services, to make sure we get the market share on enterprise search... acquire Notes customers and compete with Oracle and IBM on SQL. It's about getting aggressive. Making sure we compete respectfully but compete and compete hard each day." Grr.®