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Friday, December 30, 2005

CES 2006: Samsung's Fast-Data-Download Cell Phone

At next week's 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Samsung Electronics plans to demonstrate its first cell phone compatible with a fast data download service that many wireless carriers plan to introduce beginning in 2006.

Vodaphone is developing the cell phone, which is still a prototype and will be compatible with High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), the company said Wednesday. Services can apply HSDPA to third-generation Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) networks to offer significantly faster data downloads. (Go here for an explanation of high-speed wireless networks.)

Vodafone said in September that it planned to begin trials of HSDPA technology in early 2006.

Mega Download Speeds

The Vodaphone service will initially deliver a peak download speed of 1.6 megabits per second, far faster than the maximum of 384 kilobits per second its WCDMA network offers. In time, with future upgrades, the speed will increase to 7 mbps, the carrier said. For users this will translate into a rise in typical data download speed from today's 120 kbps or so to around 425 kbps over HSDPA, according to Vodafone.

The carrier is also considering High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA), which boosts the upload speed from the cell phone to the network, in 2007 or 2008.

Samsung will demonstrate a working prototype of its cell phone at CES, said company spokesperson Sophia Kim in Seoul.

Cingular Has the Service

Samsung has released few details of the handset as yet, though Kim said the company has completed hardware development and is now working on the phone's software. The phone should be available to Vodafone in the first half of 2006; its availability to users will depend on Vodafone's commercialization plans for HSDPA.

Already one carrier has launched an HSDPA service. Cingular Wireless's Broadband Connect service, which went into service in 52 markets across the United States in December, is based on the technology. Cingular's service provides download speeds of 400 kbps to 700 kbps and is accessible via a laptop modem card for a flat rate of $60 per month.


Dressing up your iPod to suit your personality

Within the rich ecosystem of iPod gizmos, the flora and fauna take exotic forms: glowing pink fish from Japan, scratchproof skins from Germany and snowball puffs of mohair from the United States that transform sleek gadgets into instant cuddle buddies.

It is the i-cology of Apple Computer's little white music players, which have spawned a flourishing colony of gear that can make over an iPod into everything from a floating lily pad to a pinpoint laser beam.

Some multimedia firms, like Buongiorno Vitaminic, an Italian company that sells mobile content, services and devices, liken this kind of personalization to retrofitting basic jeans.

These are "mass-produced products that are universal regardless of sex or age," according to a new Buongiorno study of the use of mobile services and digital accessories, "products that are lived and experienced by their users as an expression of their unique individuality long before they are considered as a fashion statement."

IPod mobile players have given instant life to companies like Artwizz, a Berlin start-up that offers high-style white accessories like headphones, scratch-stopper shields and its most popular, but unglamorous, item: USB power plugs for recharging.

"We started with one simple fan light, then headphones, and now we're coming out with more," said Frank Kroug, the company's director of marketing. "It's building up rapidly with the popularity of iPods, but also because Apple is no longer distributing all the accessories with the iPod."

Michael Eden, the product developer for Artwizz, totes around an iPod to study daily wear and tear. To test the company's scratch-stopper shields, he said he ground a key into one iPod that emerged unscathed. Now he's planning on introducing special polish cream - ordinarily used on BMW windows - that can be employed to grind away nicks on iPod nano screeens. More accessories are in development, and the company is counting on cresting for a few years with iPod popularity.

More than 30 million iPods have shipped since the device's introduction four years ago, according to Apple. The company sold 22.5 million iPods in the 12 months that ended in September, an increase of 409 percent from the 4.4 million sold in the previous 12 months.

Net sales of iPod-related products - which include Apple's own accessories and iTunes Music Store downloads - increased $621 million or 223 percent.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sites exploit Windows image flaw

Computer users are being alerted to a new flaw in Microsoft Windows which can be used to attack a PC.

The US net watchdog, the Computer Emergency Response Center (Cert), and security firms have issued warnings about certain types of image files called Windows Metafiles.

Experts said numerous websites were taking advantage of the flaw to sneak into computers and install spyware.

Microsoft has said it is looking into the issue.

Spam bots

The flaw centres on the way Microsoft's operating system handles Windows Metafiles (.wmf). These are image files that can contain both vector and bitmap-based picture information.

The hole means that an attacker can hide malicious code on a webpage or an e-mail containing files with the wmf extension.

"Exploit code has been publicly posted and used to successfully attack fully-patched Windows XP SP2 systems," said Cert. "However, other versions of the Windows operating system may be at risk as well."

Security firm Websense said it had discovered numerous websites that were using the flaw to infect a PC with spyware.

It said the spyware tried to trick people into handing over their credit card details as well as installing software to send thousands of spam e-mails.

The appearance of the exploit on websites has led security firms to raise the level of alert, with Secunia describing the hole as extremely critical.

Experts say there is no patch available for the flaw, which affects computers running Windows XP, ME, 2000 and Windows Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

"Microsoft is investigating new public reports of a possible vulnerability in Windows," said a security advisory on its website.

"Upon completion of this investigation, Microsoft will take the appropriate action to help protect our customers.

"Microsoft encourages users to exercise caution when they open e-mail and links in e-mail from untrusted sources."

It has also provided details of a temporary way around the flaw which involves switching off the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer in Windows XP.


Wi-Fi Reaches the Speed of Ethernet

Wireless networks may be convenient to set up, but wired ethernet has always been faster. Now a new generation of Wi-Fi products is challenging ethernet's superiority for high-bandwidth apps. We sampled some of the first of these Wi-Fi products--Netgear's $180 RangeMax 240 Wireless Router and $100 Notebook Adapter--and found that at close range, even with encryption enabled, data speeds were only a little bit slower than on a standard 10/100 megabits-per-second ethernet network.

The RangeMax 240 line is based on Airgo Networks' new True MIMO Gen3 technology (also used in Linksys's new SRX240 line). Like Airgo's original True MIMO chip set (found in Belkin's Pre-N, Linksys's SRX, and other product lines), True MIMO Gen3 uses two transmitting and three receiving antennae to boost speed and range, while maintaining backward compatibility with standard 54-mbps 802.11g Wi-Fi products.

Ace Technology

But the real key to Gen3's performance is Airgo's new Adaptive Channel Expansion technology, which doubles bandwidth by using two of the three nonoverlapping channels in 802.11g's 2.4-MHz frequency. ACE instantly adapts to interference to find the fastest route for data. Netgear named the router for its theoretical maximum 240-mbps data rate, but Netgear and Airgo peg real-world Gen3 throughput at up to 120 mbps or more without encryption--and up to four times the range of standard 802.11g Wi-Fi.

Our informal tests with preproduction units generally backed up these claims. Without encryption, throughput matched that of 10/100 ethernet, and with WPA2 encryption, it was nearly as fast. (We would expect slower speeds with the software-based WPA-PSK encryption.)

Performance was between one-third and two-thirds faster than that of networks based on the original True MIMO chips, and, even more impressive, the RangeMax 240 network maintained both signal strength and performance over a much greater distance. We even noticed speed increases of about a third using legacy 802.11g adapters with the RangeMax 240 router.

This kind of speed is ideal for homes and offices that want to simultaneously run such bandwidth-gobbling applications as VoIP telephony, network gaming, and streaming audio and video. With RangeMax 240 gear, we streamed flawless DVD-format video from a desktop hard drive to a wireless laptop 100 feet away, while surfing the Net. When we attempted the same tasks using gear based on Airgo's first chips, however, the video broke down.

The technology would be even more useful if it were available for devices other than notebooks: No adapters yet exist for desktops, set-top boxes, or other consumer electronics. And the RangeMax 240 router costs more than twice as much as some of the newer budget Wi-Fi routers, which offer good range and performance if you're only accessing the Internet (broadband speeds typically top out at 1 to 1.5 mbps) or moving an occasional file between computers.

Still, if you want the optimum wireless performance--say, to back up over a network or to maintain good coverage in a large structure--these impressive new products are worth the investment.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mobile games pay off for Ubisoft

Its mobile gaming subsidiary, Gameloft, has sold almost as many games as Ubisoft, said boss Yves Guillemot.

The French maker of titles such as Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and King Kong is competing with other game giants for a slice of the mobile pie.

Mobile gaming is expected to explode, with analysts predicting that 220 million people will be playing games on mobile phones by 2009.

Small independent companies such as I-Play and In-Fusio, rather than the big publishers, have so far dominated the mobile gaming market.

But this is changing as the big games powerhouses start to push into mobile gaming.

New gamers

Ubisoft has Gameloft; and earlier this month, EA snapped up mobile games firm Jamdat for $680m (£390m).

Although EA makes some mobile titles, the deal boosted its presence in what is becoming a growing part of the gaming

The big games makers see mobile gaming as a way to attract more people into its more serious gaming titles on consoles.

Casual gamers include a large proportion of women, and the games industry is keen to tap into that potential market too.

"I really believe the mobile business is going to extend our business a lot in the future," Mr Guillemot told the BBC News website. "They will bring a lot more people to games."

"It took me a while to consider that it was a great business. But now what I see is that Gameloft almost sells as many games as we do."

At just a few dollars, the price of a mobile game is a fraction of its console equivalent, so revenue is far lower.

But Mr Guillemot said low prices meant Gameloft was able to reach gamers in developing nations.

"They are creating games that are accessible, more the arcade style that we had in the past," he said.

"They can take more risk in terms of design as games are not as expensive and the distribution is broad.

"In a sense, our brands are now known and played by people all over the world."

Retro gaming

Ubisoft games like the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell titles have done well, but not all console games translate well to the small screen.

Instead arcade games such as Tetris and Space Invaders routinely top the charts. Other classic games do well, such as pool and card games, as they are seen as appealing to casual gamers.

"Ubisoft's success with Gameloft and EA's recent purchase of Jamdat reinforces the credibility of what is already an incredibly exciting industry," said I-Play acting CEO David Gosen.

"On a more cautious note, however, traditional video games players and media companies alike trying to enter this space, should not underestimate the complexity in building and delivering quality games.

"Success in the video games business does not equal success in mobile."


Camera Phones To Remain Hot: Study

The camera-enabled cellular phone market is booming, as shipments are expected to reach nearly 1 billion units by the end of this decade, according to a new report.

In total, the market for camera-enabled cellular phones is expected to grow from 225 million units in 2004, to 365 million units in 2005, to 475 million in 2006, to 600 million in 2007, to 780 million by 2008, according to the report from IC Insights Inc. (Scottsdale, Ariz.).

Clearly, camera phones are becoming a bigger part of the overall handset market. In 2005, some 45 percent of all handsets shipped are expected to be camera-enabled products, up from 34 percent in 2004, according to the report.

In 2006, 54 percent of all handsets shipped will be camera-enabled phones, according to the report. In 2007, 62 percent of all handsets shipped will be camera-enabled phones, according to the report. And in 2008, some 68 percent of all handsets shipped will be camera-enabled products, according to the report.

By 2009, camera-equipped cellular phones are forecast to represent almost three-fourths of the total handset market. At that time, camera-enabled handset shipments are expected to reach 910 million units, according to the report.

There are other interesting patterns developing in the marketplace. Historically, Japanese cellular subscribers have been especially receptive to more features added to their handsets.

The cellular handset market in Japan is up 27 percent to 52 million units in 2005, as compared to 2002, according to the report. The Japanese digital-camera-equipped cell phone market has more than doubled, growing from 19 million units in 2002 to 47 million units in 2005, according to the report.

“Although the Japanese market was the ‘early adopter’ of the camera phone, it is estimated that the Japanese market will represent only about 13 percent of the total demand for camera-equipped handsets in 2005, down from 95 percent just three years earlier in 2002,” according to IC Insights. “One of the pleasant surprises in the cellular phone industry over the past couple of years has been the significant popularity of the camera phone outside of Japan.”

Moreover, the quality of the camera in the cellular handset is increasing dramatically. In early 2002, most camera phones offered 300,000-pixel images. Then, in 2004, Japan’s Casio introduced a camera-equipped cellular phone that offered 3.2 million pixel autofocus imaging capability.

Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. began shipping its SCH-770, the world’s first 7.4 million-pixel camera-equipped cell phone in mid-2005. This handset was priced at over $900.

The high-resolution versions of camera phones are forecast to go from representing only about 4 percent of the 2004 camera phone market to almost 95 percent of the market by 2009, according to IC Insights.


Indian Ocean tsunami warning system

When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, the only warning most people in the region had was the sight of a giant wave heading towards them.

Unlike the Pacific, the Indian Ocean did not have a system to alert residents of coastal areas that a tsunami was imminent.

In the aftermath of the disaster, scientists and governments, under the auspices of the UN, began working on an early warning system for the region.

One year on from the tsunami, this is a guide to what is planned and what is already in place.


Seismic gauges can detect the earthquakes or volcanic eruptions which may cause a tsunami.

But as only a small proportion of strong earthquakes produce a tsunami, a warning system based solely on seismic data is prone to producing false alarms.

Other sea-based instruments are needed to help scientists decide if a tsunami has been triggered.

These fall into two main types: pressure recorders in the deep ocean and tide gauges monitoring sea-level at the coast.

The Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (Dart) system uses buoys and sensors stationed far out to sea.

A pressure recorder on the sea bed measures the weight of the water above it - which varies according to wave height - and sends its findings to a buoy on the surface.

The buoy monitors the surface conditions and sends this, plus the data from the sea bed, to a satellite which relays it back to a receiving station.

Germany is working on a joint project with Indonesia to put in place 10 of these buoys, the first two of which were installed in November 2005.

India, Thailand and Australia are also planning to install Dart buoys along the Sunda Trench, the site of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami.

The advantage of the Dart system is that it can detect tsunami far out to sea and give enough time to warn countries in the region. However, the buoys are expensive to install and maintain.

Unesco's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) is also focusing on a network of tide or sea-level gauges.

Unlike Dart buoys, tide gauges in the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS) are sited on land, either on mainland coasts or on islands out to sea.

The most basic form of gauges monitor the surface of the water with a system of tubes and floats (as shown right).

More modern versions "ping" the surface of the water from above with radar or sonar; or use sea-bed pressure sensors attached to the sea-level observing station with a cable.

There are almost 70 GLOSS stations in the Indian Ocean. Before the tsunami, they were used to measure the sea level for longterm climate change studies, and their data was transmitted only periodically.

Now, the stations are being upgraded so they can send real-time data via satellite to newly set up national tsunami centres.

They are also being fitted with solar panels so they can continue to operate even if the mains power supply is interrupted by severe weather.

Twenty-three stations should be fully upgraded by the end of June 2006, according to the IOC, and more will follow in the next few years (see pop up map).


New era heralded for mobile TV

TV on mobiles is being touted as the next big thing, with supporters predicting it will offer a new genre of programmes.

While some have expressed doubts about whether people will want to watch TV on their mobiles, handset giant Nokia and leading independent TV producer Endemol are convinced it will be a winner.

Initial signs, both say, are that mobile TV will be a huge hit with consumers, a big money-spinner for content providers and mobile operators as well as a means of transforming TV as it currently exists.

The next 12 months looks set to be the year mobile TV takes off. While the buzz around it is similar to the hype for 3G services, there is much greater optimism that TV will live up to its promise.

Endemol is an old-hand at offering services to mobile firms as TV via 3G networks is already well established.

It has been pleased with results so far. It sold six million Big Brother minutes since the show went on offer to mobile users in the UK, Italy and Australia.

Mobile quiz

For its part, Nokia is busy testing next-generation mobile TV technology at locations around the world and initial feedback from the trials is that consumers are receptive to the idea of small-screen video.

TV, unlike mobile web browsing, is an easy concept to sell to consumers, says Mark Selby, Nokia's vice president of multimedia sales.

His optimism is backed up by analysts. Technology consultancy Strategy Analytics predicts that mobile firms will have about 50 million users of mobile TV by 2009, generating an estimated £3.5bn in revenue.

Content that feeds off existing shows or offer extra behind-the-scene video is likely to be widely available initially but eventually there will be bespoke made-for-mobile shows.

"I can imagine an interactive quiz show just for mobile phones," said Peter Cowley, Endemol's head of interactive.

The company is concentrating its mobile effort on quizzes, comedy and reality shows.

Sport is also going to be a huge area for mobile technology and operators are keen for services to be rolled out in time for next year's football World Cup in Germany.

Alongside these more traditional areas, there will also be a whole new genre of made-for-mobile content, and glimpses of what will be possible are already in evidence.

Time and money

Operator 3 has already begun experimenting with user-generated content, offering subscribers of its 3G TV service the chance to upload their own shows and profit from them, albeit in a very small way with each download of a show earning the maker just one pence.

In Italy the firm is also offering full soap operas via mobile.

Endemol's UK chairman Peter Bazalgette sees exciting times ahead.

"This year is the first in a career of 27 years in television that I've been able to entertain people anywhere. A new era for those in the content business is starting," he said.

He identified two issues that would be crucial to solve if the brave new world of mobile TV is to get off to a good start - time and money.

"The duration of 3G usage is a maximum of three minutes and we have to increase that. Also people downloading video need to know what they are paying for and that it is offered at a fair price," he said.

TV "snacking" seems to be most popular at the moment.

Orange, which launched its 3G mobile TV service in May, found that 36% watching its service during lunch and other breaks.

Some 18% watched TV while travelling to and from work, 12% while queuing or waiting for friends and 10% watched it at home.

The idea of paying for content has been questioned by some but indications from trials which Nokia has been involved in suggest that people will be prepared to put their hands in their wallets.

Following a trial in Helsinki, 41% said they would be willing to purchase mobile TV services. Half thought that a monthly payment of around £7 was a reasonable pricing model.

Questions about money are not limited to consumers though and rows over media rights have dominated discussions about how to roll out mobile TV services.


Hybrid cars race ahead in 2005

Hybrid engines powered by electricity and petrol have been around for years. But it took a kick from rocketing gasoline prices to encourage large numbers of Americans to see their fuel-efficient appeal.

Toyota began selling the Prius in North America in 2000. It is now the best-selling hybrid in the United States, helped in no small part by the sight of Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz behind the wheel of one.

Up to the end of November, Toyota said it had sold 99,000 Prius cars this year compared to 47,700 over the same period of 2004.

According to research firm Global Insight, total US sales of hybrids are set to more than double to 200,000 this year and mushroom to 500,000 a year by 2010.

Toyota has led the way with the Prius and the four-by-four Highlander, designed to appeal to Americans' taste for sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Its Japanese rival Honda has three hybrid models and lies second in sales.

US giants General Motors and Ford are now ramping up their own hybrid production but came late to the game. The Ford Escape Hybrid made its debut in mid-2004 as the first US-made example of the genre.

GM and Ford remained wedded for too long to petrol SUVs and pick-up trucks, whose sales have slumped this year as Americans shun gas-guzzlers.

An average SUV consumes about 20 litres (five gallons) of petrol over a 100 kilometre (62 mile) trip, compared to a hybrid which will sip just four to five litres (1.1 to 1.3 gallons) of gasoline.

Ford's chairman blames Japanese government intervention for the sales advantage enjoyed by Toyota and Honda.

"Nearly a decade ago, the government offered subsidies to their domestic auto suppliers to build hybrid batteries, which are one of the most expensive components of today's hybrid vehicles," Bill Ford said in late November.


Blu-ray Launch Set for January

Pioneer Electronics said Tuesday it will unveil the Blu-ray DVD format in January—far ahead of expectations—dealing a blow to the rival HD-DVD format whose backers had once hoped for a head-start in the $40-billion market for next-generation DVD systems.

Pioneer will display a Blu-ray drive for personal computers at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which starts January 5. The drive will start shipping in Japan by the end of January 2006, said the company. The North American launch will come in the first quarter of 2006.

Pioneer is one of the founders of the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), an organization of consumer electronics, entertainment, and computer companies engaged in the research and development of Blu-ray hardware and software. Sony is the leading supporter of the Blu-ray format.

HD-DVD has the backing of only three major consumer electronics companies—Toshiba, Sanyo, and NEC. However, two big tech giants, Intel and Microsoft, are siding with the HD-DVD format because of the inclusion of two important features: iHD and Mandatory Managed Copy (see Microsoft, Intel Vote HD-DVD).

The HD-DVD camp’s initial plan was to launch at the end of 2005, but the unveiling was later pushed back to spring 2006 (see HD-DVD Delayed Until 2006). Thus far, the HD-DVD camp has not yet shown any indication of launching products during CES, the largest consumer electronics trade show in North America.

Both standards are based on blue laser technology, which will replace the red laser used in the current generation of DVDs. Both new standards offer high-definition pictures, superior sound quality, more storage, and interactive features that current-generation DVDs do not offer.

The Pioneer drive will be able to write and read single-layer BD-R (Blu-ray Disc Recordable) and BD-RE (Blu-ray Disc Rewritable) discs without a cartridge, and read single-layer and double-layer ROM (Read-Only Memory) discs without a cartridge.

Pending Issues

The launch of Panasonic’s drive depends on two licensing issues.

Pioneer has to wait for the start date of the Blu-ray Disc format logo and copyright protection technology license before it can launch the drives. The Advanced Access Content System (AACS), which provides copy protection on next-generation DVDs to prevent piracy, has also delayed the launch of HD-DVD.

Blu-ray has a clear edge over the rival format in terms of the clout of its hardware and software supporters. Some of the world’s largest and most influential companies—including Samsung, Hitachi, Philips, Apple, and Dell, and movie studios such as Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Walt Disney—are giving their exclusive support to Blu-ray.

Computer giant Hewlett-Packard, which was an exclusive supporter of Blu-ray, recently said it would support both Blu-ray and HD-DVD (see HP Adds HD-DVD Format).

In a recent report, Forrester Research predicted Blu-ray will eventually emerge as the victorious format. The report noted that unless the HD-DVD group abandons the field, it will be another two years before consumers gain enough confidence in Blu-ray and think about buying a new-format DVD player.

“In the meantime, they will expand their video-on-demand, downloadable video, and Internet video habits,” said the report.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Scientists Take Step Toward Faster Communication

By using electromagnetic waves instead of electrical current for switching, researchers have operated an optical modulator at terahertz frequencies – an accomplishment that could one day facilitate data transmission rates in the trillions of bits per second.

The work represents a key step toward a new generation of optical communication systems that would be as much as 100 times faster than current technology, bringing closer such applications as real-time telemedicine and movies on demand. While operating their terahertz modulator, the research team observed an effect that is well known in atomic physics – but until now hadn’t been seen in the semiconductor materials that make up optical modulators.

“This is just one piece, but potentially a very important piece, of a very high bit-rate optical communication system for telecommunications and other applications,” said David Citrin, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “The point of the experiment was to show that we can operate a modulator at terahertz frequencies, though we are still a long way from a practical device.”

Supported by the National Science Foundation, the research was reported in the October 28, 2005 issue of the journal Science.

Existing telecommunication systems depend on modulators to encode data onto beams of light that then can be carried long distances by optical fibers. Modulators work by rapidly changing their reflectivity, which varies the intensity of light beams passing through them. These variations correspond to the ones and zeroes that are the language of digital communication.

Modulators are also used as switches to reroute data streams by alternately reflecting light or allowing it to pass.

But most current modulators have a drawback – they cannot operate faster than the electronic circuitry used to control them. To boost data speeds, researchers have been seeking alternative control technologies.

“Conventional optical modulators use a voltage change to alter the properties of a material which changes the reflectivity,” Citrin explained. “Electrically switched systems are just too slow to go much beyond where we are now. But by using very high frequency electromagnetic energy to modulate the signal, the hope is that we can generate signals that have much higher data rates than what we can achieve with today’s electrical circuits.”

To gain those higher rates, Citrin and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the NASA Ames Research Center used very high-frequency waves from a free-electron laser to control the modulator. These electromagnetic waves consist of an oscillating electric field and have the advantage of being able to move through free space without the need for circuitry.


Novel anti-virus for handhelds from India

It may sound too good to be true, but that's a new anti-virus product, an Indian software company based in Madras called Sanrasoft claims to have developed, which will hit the U.S. markets in 2006.

Sanrasoft, which announced last week a breakthrough anti-virus technology christened Rudra that right now is available only for Windows-based PCs, told UPI that a handheld version is already under development in its lab that will be launched in the United States a few months after Sanrasoft launches the PC version in April 2006.

"The R&D is already working on an application for handhelds and it will be so small that you wouldn't even know that it is there," said MS Bhaskar, the managing director of Sanrasoft and the inventor of this technology.

Rudra, according to Bhaskar, "is a breakthrough anti-virus technology based on the intention of malicious codes."

"This technology not only protects a device from known viruses but also from any unknown malicious codes (malware) which includes viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, keyloggers and hackers. Thus the technology offers a holistic solution."

The beauty of this technology, claims Bhaskar, is not only the fact that it is thin and that it can protect a handheld device from virus intrusions through any medium -- including Bluetooth -- "but since the technology protects a device even from future unknown viruses, the need for regular updates -- which increasingly encroaches on the limited memory space of handhelds -- as well as the need for yearly subscription, is removed."

"Current anti-virus products are based on older technologies, but virus writers are constantly inventing newer methods to transmit their malware," added Bhaskar. "Rudra protects a device from all methods that are unknown."


Friday, December 23, 2005

Santa Worm Hits Messaging Networks

With the holidays upon us, the name of Santa Claus is being used for evil rather than good by worm developers, who have targeted major instant-messaging systems with a holiday-themed virus.

The IM.GiftCom.All worm has made an appearance on several messaging networks, including America Online, Microsoft MSN, and Yahoo.

The worm attempts to dupe you into believing that a friend has sent you a link to a harmless file. If you click on the file, you see an image of Santa. While viewing it, the worm attempts to install a rootkit on your system.

Rootkits are frequently used to circumvent security software and give an attacker remote control of a machine. Once the attacker is inside your system, the worm harvests your instant-message contact lists for subsequent infections.

Not Surprising

The new worm is not surprising to many security researchers because holiday-themed threats often occur just as people are swapping online cards and forwarding holiday messages to each other.

The fact that the threat appears in instant-messaging systems also does not come as a shock, considering the phenomenal growth rate in the number of innovative new worms and viruses over the past year.

Since the start of 2005, messaging-related security threats have been growing each month, according to messaging-security firm IMlogic.

Track Down

"The difficulty is that worm developers are using tactics that have been successful in e-mail campaigns," said IMlogic chief technology officer Jon Sakoda. "They're able to mutate earlier worms and try different strategies, and that's giving them a level of sophistication."

Another problem is that users still are not fully aware that worms and viruses can move through messaging systems, Sakoda added.

In corporate environments, threats like the recent Santa Claus worm can be especially nasty because some employees use instant-messaging applications on the sly, without the knowledge of the I.T. staff.

"CIOs should definitely know what's on their network, and what users are doing," said Sakoda. "If they think employees aren't using instant messaging just because it's not allowed, then they better think again."


ATI CrossFire to be available in Radeon X1000 PCIe GPU line

ATI Technologies announced yesterday that all of the graphics processing units (GPUs) in its Radeon X1000 PCIe family will integrate its CrossFire dual-card graphics technology, according to Edward Chou, the marketing director of ATI’s Asia-Pacific division.

Besides ATI’s Radeon Xpress 200 chipset series, Intel’s high-end 975X series is the only other chipset that supports ATI’s CrossFire, Chou noted, adding that ATI presently has no plans to grant the dual-card graphics technology to other chipset makers.

In 2006, when markets for Microsoft’s Vista operating system (OS), HD-DVD, and Blu-ray discs kick off, demand for PCI Express (PCIe) graphics cards are expected to grow significantly, Chou stated. The shipment contribution of AGP8X graphics cards in the channel market will slide to 50% by the middle of next year, down from 65% at present, Chou believes. By year-end, the proportion will go down further to only 20%, according to Chou.

Taiwan motherboard makers indicated that the supply of ATI’s CrossFire GPUs will be limited in the channel market until the middle of the first quarter of 2006 because most supplies have been grabbed by OEM vendors, the makers said.

In response to rival Nvidia recently acquiring Taiwan-based ULi Electronics, the maker of southbridges that run with ATI’s northbridge chips, Chou noted that ATI is ramping up production of its own southbridge chips. ULi’s southbridge supply accounts for less than 10% of ATI’s total southbridge shipments, said Chou, adding that losing ULi’s contribution will not affect overall shipment performance.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Japanese Government Looks To Develop Own Search Engine

Japan will look into launching its own Internet search engine, a government official said Monday, signaling the country's interest in a market dominated by powerhouses Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will kick off a study group consisting of about 20 Japanese electronics companies and universities on Internet search engines, said Fumihiro Kajikawa, a ministry official in charge of information policies.

The group will hold the first meeting Friday and plans to put together an interim report by March and a final report by July, he said.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., NTT Corp. and Tokyo University are among the participants, according to Kajikawa. Electronics makers Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC will also join.

"The group will look into issues including whether Japan will start its own search engine," he said.

The group plans to look into developing a search engine for pictures, the official added.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper reported Monday that the government plans to spend several billions of yen (tens of millions of dollars and euros) for a three-to-five year project to develop a search engine beginning in fiscal 2007. Japan's fiscal year starts in April.

The report said that Japan wants to come up with its own version of search engine to catch up with the American companies that receive high profits from online ad revenues.

Kajikawa could not confirm the report.

"It is not that we want to play against (Google and Yahoo). We are thinking of something that's unique to Japan," he said.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Windows Vista December CTP

It's always fascinating when the world's most popular (and unpopular) software company, along with the world's richest man, decide to let you peek into what they have planned for the future of personal computing. With the release of Windows Vista (beta 1)'s December CTP, we get another glimpse at what many of us will buy with our next computer, whether we want it or not.

Code-named Longhorn early in its infancy, Microsoft started out with plenty of lofty goals for its new OS. Since then many of those plans have been scrapped or scaled back. More recently, Windows Vista has appeared to be playing catch-up, touting features, such as 64-bit computing, that are already available in Mac OS 10.4 Tiger and Linux.

Vista promises better search that will hopefully match or exceed the search functionality already available through Mac OS Tiger's Spotlight and SUSE Linux's Beagle, not to mention the free Google Desktop Search utility that you can use with existing versions of Windows. In our earlier Vista coverage, we told you about the improved search functionality, 64-bit support and other features, such as the new version of Internet Explorer that Vista will include (which will boast tabbed browsing and RSS support -- features already available in Firefox and Safari).

December's CTP offers us a preview of a few features we haven't seen yet, such as Windows Defender, BitLocker, single-button on/off and Media Player 11.

Windows Defender

Formerly known as Microsoft AntiSpyware, Windows Defender is Microsoft's spyware and malware scanner and removal tool. The version of Windows Defender built into the December CTP of Vista is based on a new engine that Microsoft claims can detect and remove more 'potentially unwanted programs', or PUPs, than before. This version of Windows Defender also offers real-time protection that catches PUPs in the act, before they can be installed onto your computer.

BitLocker drive encryption

BitLocker is Vista's attempt to protect notebook users from having both their data and their computer stolen. In essence, BitLocker is a hardware-based encryption scheme capable of encrypting your entire hard drive or any volume in your computer. The trick with BitLocker is that the encryption key can be stored directly on the motherboard, in a chip called a TPM, or Trusted Platform Module. This gives IT professionals a valuable tool to lock down even lost or stolen computers. BitLocker is currently slated for the Enterprise edition of Vista only, and is best thought of as a power tool for IT pros.

Device-driver locking

Another power tool targeted at IT pros is Vista's ability to block the installation of removable storage devices based on group policy. Basically, this feature lets IT administrators control who is permitted to install storage devices on the computers and who is not. In certain circumstances, allowing a user to install a removable storage device could pose a security risk, since it creates a convenient means of moving sensitive data on or off the network. For more on this type of functionality, read our review of DeviceLock.

Internet Explorer 7

Microsoft released its beta version of Internet Explorer Vista in its last CTP, but since then the company has added support for international domain names. This should not only create a better user experience for those who frequently visit international Web sites, but it also will add a key component to the anti-phishing technology built into Internet Explorer 7, which detects spoofed URLs.

Parental controls

With recent concerns about the effect of in-game violence on children, it's not surprising that Microsoft would build parental controls into Windows Vista. Some of the features in December's CTP release allow parents to view reports of their children's computer usage, although of course it will be possible to use this feature to spy on spouses and employees, as well. You'll also be able to control the Web sites a user can visit and restrict access to games based on title and ratings issued by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB.

Firewall filtering

In a rather surprising move, December's CTP release of Vista includes both inbound and outbound firewall filtering. We've long pointed out that the lack of outbound filtering in Windows XP's firewall gives users a false sense of security. Vista's new firewall may make it unnecessary for you to add a third-party firewall to your system. We'll let you know after we've had a chance to test the final version.

Single-button on and off control

As part of its effort to bridge the gap between PCs and TVs, Microsoft has built a single-button on and off control into its December CTP release of Windows Vista. The button will also be programmed for a new fast-off mode that will essentially cycle the computer through sleep and into hibernation automatically.


SuperFetch is an algorithm that automatically loads your most commonly used programs into memory for a faster computing experience. In December's CTP release of Windows Vista, SuperFetch has added the ability to reach into external storage devices as part of its memory cache.

Windows Media Center and Media Player 11

Microsoft has included a new version of Windows Media Center in the December CTP of Windows Vista, as well as a new version of Windows Media Player. However, the company has chosen to shroud these topics in mystery, preferring instead to unveil the new operating system features and media-player functionality at CES during the first week of January.

It's easier to understand Vista's long development cycle when you look at the full range of change that Microsoft is targeting. Let's not forget that Microsoft is also a dominant force in server software and is probably designing Vista to take full advantage of its server offerings -- perhaps expanding browsing and messaging capabilities in ways we may not even see until well after Vista is officially launched in late 2006. With Microsoft's new push for hosted services, we expect the software giant's Live offerings, such as Live Meeting and Windows Live Local, to grow substantially, both in number and in functionality, over the next few years. Vista will play a key role in bringing these services to your desktop, including entertainment-related services through Vista's incarnation of Microsoft's Media Center OS.

One of the questions the long development cycle of Vista raises is whether it's smart for an operating system to be quite so smart. Given the fact that software applications already exist that can do most of what Microsoft is painstakingly building into Vista, might it not make more sense for Microsoft to focus on the operating system itself, and not weigh it down with such a barrage of applications and utilities?


World of Warcraft Tops Five Million Players

World of Warcraft, a multiplayer role-playing game, has reached a major milestone. According to game developer Blizzard Entertainment, the game now has over five million players worldwide.

The subscription-based offering launched about a year ago in North America, Australia, and New Zealand, and also has been introduced in Europe and Asia.

Building on the success of the first version, Blizzard is poised to deliver a World of Warcraft expansion called "World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade," designed to extend the boundaries of the game with more content and features, including new lands and creatures.

Well Built

World of Warcraft's popularity can be attributed in large part to the effort put into its development by Blizzard, said Jason Della Rocca, director of the International Game Developers Association. "They have a very good track record, and they spent three or four years creating this game, which is about twice as long as most developers put into their products," he said.

Della Rocca also noted that World of Warcraft has a relatively easy learning curve compared to other online multiplayer games. "Players can get involved quickly without experiencing frustration," he said. "And the graphics and audio are very high quality."

Yankee Group analyst Michael Goodman said World of Warcraft took the online gaming market by storm in a short time. "It has global appeal, unlike most games that do well in either Asia or the U.S. but typically not in both regions," he said.

Fun and Games

Interest in online gaming is strong, with an estimated 20 to 30 million players in Asia and about four million players in the U.S., said Goodman. It's a lucrative business as well, with each player paying $40 to $50 for the box set and a subscription fee of $5 to $10 per month.

"Some of these games also include free access to basic levels that are supported by advertisements that are integrated into the games themselves," said Goodman.

Demand for multiplayer online gaming should grow, the analyst said, citing new titles based on the popular Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and the Lord of the Rings books.

Still, Della Rocca pointed out that the number of online players pales in comparison to those having their fun on gaming consoles such as Xbox, PlayStation, and Game Cube, which number in the tens of millions.

World of Warcraft defines customers as those who have paid a subscription fee or purchased a prepaid card to play the game, as well as those who have purchased the installation box bundled with one free month of access.

Players who have accessed the game in the past week also are counted as customers. To arrive at the five-million figure, Blizzard did not include players using free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards.


Gel battery boost for radio tags

Japanese company NEC has developed a lightweight, flexible battery that is less than a millimetre thick and can be recharged in half a minute.

It is called the Organic Radical Battery (ORB) and is based on a type of plastic that exists in a gel state.

The gel allows the battery to be extremely pliant, with a thickness of 300 microns.

ORBs could eventually be embedded into devices such as smart cards, wearable computers and intelligent paper.

Currently the battery, when in card form, can be recharged with a card reader device in 30 seconds.

The absence of harmful chemicals typically used in rechargeable batteries also makes it quite environmentally friendly, according to NEC.

Radio tags

The ORB has huge potential when combined with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags - tiny microchips that hold unique identifier information attached to a small antenna.

RFID tags are now finding wide use to keep track of items in the business supply chain - from the manufacturing floor to the retail outlet.

RFID tags fall into two categories - the more commonly found "passive" devices only respond to signals sent to it by a tag reader and have a shorter range.

"Active" tags on the other hand can transmit signals and can be read at greater distances but are larger and more expensive since they need a power source.

"If you can create a 'smart active label' - a thin label that broadcasts a signal as opposed to passively reflecting back energy from the reader - you could solve many of the readability problems people are struggling with now," said Mark Roberti, editor of RFID Journal.

"You could potentially put one of these labels on a case of coke in the middle of a pallet of coke and read it. That is not possible with passive tags because the energy from the reader is blocked by the metal."


IBM launches Unix software development center

IBM has opened a development center to support companies building software for AIX, its version of Unix. The company will invest $200 million in the center over two years.

The AIX Collaboration Center, based in Austin, Texas, gives IBM customers, partners and academics the tools to develop, test and fine-tune programs for AIX, a data center operating system. In addition to IBM pSeries servers and 64-bit Power systems, the center provides access to technical experts, training and remote testing capabilities.

The center will house IBM's best Unix software engineers and Power chip designers and provide a place to showcase AIX developments to customers, partners, and independent software vendors.

"The AIX Collaboration Center will provide customers and partners with new programs and tools as well as early access to new technologies to refine the capabilities and features of the AIX operating system prior to each release," IBM said in a statement. "(It) will draw on the experience and expertise of IBM Research, Global Services, Software Group as well as multiple external resources."

Overseeing the center is Satya Sharma, an IBM engineer and chief AIX architect. Symantec and SAS are among the first software makers to participate in the center's activities.


Microsoft bids Internet Explorer for Mac farewell

Microsoft plans to discontinue support for its Internet Explorer browser on Mac OS X at the end of this year.

The software developer mothballed the browser, which is currently on version 5.2, in June 2003 after Apple released Safari. Development ever since has been limited to the release of security patches.

Microsoft's website as recent as last November touted Internet Explorer as an "award winning" browser that "makes it easy to view and find information on the internet." That webpage was changed last week and is now informing visitors that: "In accordance with published support lifecycle policies, Microsoft will end support for Internet Explorer for Mac on December 31st, 2005, and will provide no further security or performance updates."

Microsoft plans to pull the download from its website on 31 January.

Internet Explorer was once the dominant web browser on the Mac platform and was bundled with the OS X operating system as the default browser. But after Apple released its Safari web browser, the vendor has slowly phased out support for the Microsoft browser.

The OS X operating system initially shipped with both IE and Safari, the latter being set as the default browser. Safari become the only browser included with the system when Apple released OS X 10.4 Tiger last April.

The current number of Internet Explorer users is expected to be minimal. In November Safari claimed a 2.78 per cent share of overall browser market, according to data from Net Applications. The firm didn't split out users of Internet Explorer for the Mac from the Microsoft browser's overall share.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Microsoft Swahili speakers launch

The Swahili Windows and Office programmes are a product of two years of work by language experts from East and Central Africa.

They had to work on the standardisation of the language which is spoken in different dialects across the region.

The software giant says this software is intended to bridge a digital divide between developed and emerging markets.

Language experts from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar as well as the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of Congo had to come up with a common glossary.

Some 650,000 words have already been translated for the Windows and Office programmes, while another 70,000 words have been translated for the help menus.

There are more than 100 million Swahili-speakers in the region - in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and parts of the Horn of Africa, Great Lakes, Malawi, Mozambique and the Indian Ocean islands.

The company argues that in a region with few computer users and high illiteracy rates, the Swahili version of Windows will inspire East African governments to expand their IT economies, encourage literacy campaigns and attract more computer users.


Amazon puts the web up for rent

Via its subsidiary Alexa, the e-commerce firm is letting people get at a regularly updated copy of much of the information found on the web.

Via the Alexa service, anyone with a basic knowledge of programming will be able to search 4.5 billion web pages from more than 16 million websites for whatever they want.

Prices for the service start at $1 per processor per hour to crunch the data.

Net gains

Those signing up for the service get access to the copy of the web that Alexa refreshes every month, which comprises up to 300 terabytes of data. Users also get at the infrastructure Alexa maintains to crunch through the data for interesting information.

In a statement Alexa said that it expected a lot of interest from entrepreneurs keen to use web search systems for their own applications or services.

As examples of what can be done with a copy of the web Alexa showed off an image search application and a service called Musipedia.

The image search allows people to query all the metadata that digital cameras attach to snapshots which record when a picture was taken, which model and make of camera was used and the image's size.

The Musipedia service lets people search for song melodies and lets them whistle a query and submit it to the database.

Industry experts said Alexa's move could change the search industry because the cost of setting up a global infrastructure to scan and index the web was prohibitive.

By contrast Alexa said that running searches via a copy of the entire web should cost a few thousand dollars.

Users pay for the amount of computer processors they use to crunch through data, by gigabyte of storage they need and how much data they have processed.

The move comes as a challenge to search giants such as Google and Yahoo which do let coders get at their net data but only via closely controlled programming interfaces.


Wikipedia survives research test

The British journal Nature examined a range of scientific entries on both works of reference and found few differences in accuracy.

Wikipedia is produced by volunteers, who add entries and edit any page.

But it has been criticised for the correctness of entries, most recently over the biography of prominent US journalist John Seigenthaler.

Open approach

Wikipedia was founded in 2001 and has since grown to more than 1.8 million articles in 200 languages. Some 800,000 entries are in English.

It is based on wikis, open-source software which lets anyone fiddle with a webpage, anyone reading a subject entry can disagree, edit, add, delete, or replace the entry.

It relies on 13,000 volunteer contributors, many of whom are experts in a particular field, to edit previously submitted articles.

In order to test its reliability, Nature conducted a peer review of scientific entries on Wikipedia and the well-established Encyclopedia Britannica.

The reviewers were asked to check for errors, but were not told about the source of the information.

"Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopedia," reported Nature.

"But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively."

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales welcomed the study.

"We're hoping it will focus people's attention on the overall level of our work, which is pretty good," he said.

Writing style

Nature said its reviewers found that Wikipedia entries were often poorly structured and confused.

The Encyclopedia Britannica declined to comment directly on the findings.

But a spokesman highlighted the quality of the entries on the free resource.

"But it is not the case that errors creep in on an occasional basis or that a couple of articles are poorly written," Tom Panelas, director of corporate communications is quoted as saying in Nature.

"There are lots of articles in that condition. They need a good editor."

Wikipedia came under fire earlier this month from prominent US journalist John Seigenthaler.

The founding editorial director of USA Today attacked a Wikipedia entry that incorrectly named him as a suspect in the assassinations of president John F Kennedy and his brother, Robert.

The false information was the work of Tennessean Brian Chase, who said he was trying to trick a co-worker.

Wikipedia has responded to the criticisms by tightening up procedures.

Next month it plans to begin testing a new mechanism for reviewing the accuracy of its articles.


Google to Launch Music Content Feature

Online search engine leader Google Inc. will begin giving some musical artists the star treatment by spotlighting links to their songs, lyrics and other related material at the top of the results page.

The music section, scheduled to debut Thursday, is designed to provide a more direct route to the content that most music fans want to see when they inquire about a singer or band, said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of Web products. "We are addressing a deficiency in our Web search," she said.

The music section is similar in concept and placement to other special sections Google has created to make it easier to find information about airline flights, express freight shipments, news stories, movies and weather.

Among other things, Google's music section will provide lists of all the songs recorded on a specific album and also will point to places where the music can be legally downloaded. Google is working with several online libraries to make sure its song list remains up to date.

Unlike Yahoo Inc., Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has no plans to create a music library of its own, Mayer said. Google also won't collect a referral fee if its visitors click on the new music section and go on to buy songs from one of the linked libraries.

But Google does stand to profit if the new section spurs more search requests about music because that gives its search engine more opportunities to display ads about the same subject. The advertising displayed alongside Google's main search results accounted for a substantial chunk of the company's $4.2 billion in revenue through the first nine months of 2005.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ships power into faster future

The current expansion in world trade, particularly trade with China, is causing a rethink of the way goods are transported across the world's oceans.

Almost all goods traded worldwide travel by sea, and experts predict that trade will triple by the year 2020. This will require bigger ships, faster ships and greener ships.

Professor Chris Hodge, chairman of next year's World Maritime Technology Conference in London, explained the driving forces behind the search for new shipping technologies.

"Shipping is already huge. Perhaps 90% of the world's trade goes by sea and it's only going to increase," he said.

"Perhaps we'll see doubling of world shipping in our lifetime. The needs of the environment, the need to reduce manpower and costs, all present technological challenges."

Too big

The world's largest container ship, the MSC Pamela, launched earlier this year. It carries 9,200 container boxes between China and Western Europe

Ships this big would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, according to David Tozer of the Lloyds Register, which keeps records of all merchant shipping

But ultra-large container ships are rapidly becoming the norm. By the year 2020, 30% of the world's shipping fleet will be too big to pass through the Panama Canal.

Mr Tozer predicted a maximum ship capacity of 12,500 boxes per ship. Beyond that, he said, even the biggest container ports would be unable to load and unload them.

But perhaps size is not everything. Transporting goods by container is cheap, around a dollar for a refrigerator, but slow at just 25km/hr.

At the moment, a European car ordered in the US could take up to 25 days to be delivered. This includes the time taken to cross the Atlantic and the time it takes to unload and distribute the cargo from today's giant container ships in port.

The naval architect Nigel Gee believes there is a gap in the market for an ocean-going courier service that fits somewhere between air freight and conventional shipping.

His patented Pentamaran design would be a much smaller craft, travelling much faster, so he predicts that the same car could be delivered to the same customer within a week.

Pentamarans would carry around 1,000 boxes at a maximum speed of around 85km/hr. They would achieve such speeds without vastly increasing fuel consumption thanks to a long, thin torpedo-shaped main hull. Such a design is naturally unstable in the water and requires side hulls to stop it sinking - in this case, four are used.

Its designers claim great interest among ship builders worldwide.

Electric ships

But shipping is notoriously cost-conscious. As oil prices rise, so ships will need to find ways of minimising their fuel consumption.

In an anonymous-looking test hall in the heart of England where, back in the 1930s, Frank Whittle tested the concept of a jet engine to power aircraft, engineers are testing similar techniques to power ships.

In the absence of ocean, the All Electric Ship Demonstrator project needs no hull or rudder to show the benefits of propelling a ship electrically rather than mechanically.

The programme is jointly funded by the British and French defence ministries to test the operation of an advanced naval electric propulsion system before applying the technology to a warship.

A gas turbine produces electricity to drive the system's virtual propeller via a vastly shortened propeller shaft.

It goes like a rocket and yet handles like a dream, the propeller changing direction with the click of a computer mouse in the test facility's virtual bridge or control room.

That is just one of the features of the all-electric ship that makes it so appealing, according to Professor Chris Hodge, also a chief engineer with the marine engineering consultancy BMT.

"One of the biggest problems with a mechanical engine is it can't turn backwards very easily," he said.

"An electric motor really doesn't know which way it's turning, once it's started. It's much more flexible, much more versatile and because of all of that much cheaper to run."

Nigel Gee believes that in the short term, the all electric ship will be limited to certain shipping sectors that may change in the future.

"Cruise liners have an enormous demand for electricity for services to their passengers, be it heating, water for baths, cooking or entertainment.

"And these occur at certain times of the day. At other times of the day, when the passengers are all asleep, they need to propel the ship fast.

"If you produce a lot of electricity you can choose where you divert it to, for services or weaponry, depending on need.

"In the longer term, when the oil runs out, the all electric ship may play a wider role in shipping as, indeed, may nuclear power."


Friday, December 09, 2005

Creative Launches Zen Vision:M

Creative Technology has introduced the Zen Vision: M, its premier 30 GB video player, photo viewer and MP3 player.

Designed with a 2.5-inch, high-resolution 262,144 color LCD screen, the Zen Vision: M displays digital video and photos, full-color menus and album art and will be available in high-gloss black, white, blue, green or pink this month for about US$330 at

"We designed the Zen Vision:M with its mesmerizing 262,144 color screen to display four times the color of the 30 GB iPod that plays video, and to provide twice the battery life for video playback. Plus, we offer people the freedom to choose their video in a variety of different formats, and to get subscription music or download tracks from a number of different sites to their player", said Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of Creative.

The Zen Vision:M can carry up to 15,000 songs, and supports music subscription services including Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Napster To Go and Rhapsody To Go. The Zen Vision:M also supports downloads from online music stores like Yahoo! Music, Napster, MSN Music and AOL Music Now.

The Zen Vision:M can deliver four hours of video playback and video format support includes MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and Simple Profile formats such as Xvid, WMV, and MJPEG for up to 120 hours of movies downloaded from the Internet. The Zen Vision:M also supports TiVoToGo for free viewing of TV shows recorded on a TiVo personal video recorder, digitized home movies transferred from the PC, and video blogs from companies such as RocketBoom. The rechargeable battery provides up to 15 hours of music playback.

The player displays full-color image output on any size TV screen through an optional composite video-out connector and users can watch slideshows set to music and select individual digital photos as display backgrounders.

Other features include FM radio and recording with 32 preset options, Intuitive Vertical Touch Pad and Tactile Buttons on the face of the player, Content password protection, Built-in Microphone, Selectable themes and an Organizer.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cingular offers super speed

Cingular Wireless yesterday rolled out a new “super-charged” broadband service in Boston and other cities, bragging it was a groundbreaking technological first in the nation.

But Verizon Wireless and Sprint-Nextel immediately accused Cingular of hype and simply copying their own high-speed broadband services — right down to the $59.99 monthly price for unlimited minutes.

"It’s one of many firsts,” said Ralph de la Vega, chief operating officer of Cingular, which unveiled its new use of so-called “High Speed Downlink Packet Access” technology. The service, an upgrade of its current wireless broadband offerings, allows people with laptop computers to use a card to access broadband data services. Users can make data connections between 400-700 kilobits per second on downloads and bursts to more than a megabit per second.

The new service can only be used with laptops right now, though Cingular plans to employ the technology for cell phones next year. De la Vega said the new service was “making history.” More like repeating history, Verizon and Sprint-Nextel asserted. “We’ve had it for three years,” said John Redman, a Sprint-Nextel spokesman. Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Wendy Bulawa said Cingular’s plan is “very similar in everything” to what Verizon’s now offers.


Google takes the bus

Google's transit trip planner, launched Wednesday, is currently limited to Portland, Ore., but may eventually launch on a global scale, according to its Web site.

Although Google's transit trip planner is not integrated into its local-search feature, it provides people with information that could dovetail into its local-search efforts. Google and competitors, such as Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN, are jumping into local search and mining the lucrative local-advertising market.

The Google trip planner asks people to enter their preferred itinerary, such as location of departure and arrival, as well as dates and time of travel. The site then gleans all available information on public-transportation schedules to produce a trip planner.

The trip planner provides an estimated walking time to catch the nearest form of transportation on the desired route, which transit line to catch, as well as estimated traveling time. The trip planner also provides the estimated cost for using public transportation.


Yahoo Has New Answers

Yahoo launched a service called Answers on Thursday that invites people to ask questions, and then lets other visitors answer them.

This isn’t explicit search—it’s Yahoo’s attempt at tapping into a community’s collective knowledge to dig out information.

Yahoo has been taking aggressive steps to expand its base of user-generated content over the past few months, in keeping with CEO Terry Semel’s strategy of using such content to retain and drive traffic across its sites (see Yahoo Searching for Content).

Yahoo’s not alone. Most of the larger Internet companies want to offer services that are personalized and customized, giving users a reason to stay on their sites for long periods of time (see Yahoo Adds a Personal Touch).

The number of users and the duration they stay on the sites are factors that in turn can be used to draw advertisers. Yahoo obviously has taken more than a page from the success of projects that use the community to grow and expand, such as Wikipedia.

“It’s consistent with the company’s larger social media strategy,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group. “In a weird sort of way, it’s a cousin of Google Base, because it’s a content acquisition tool” (see Google Expands Search All Over).

There are other services out there that essentially do the same thing, such as, but none of them have the reach of Yahoo. The Sunnyvale, California-based Internet company gets more than a 100 million unique readers a month in the United States alone.

Google also has a service with the same name. But Google Answers works differently. People can ask questions, but experts provide answers, not the community. And it isn’t free.

Yahoo’s service is in beta, which means that it is still being tested and will not run ads. Eventually, however, Yahoo expects to make money with it through online advertising, much as it does on other sites.

Killer Ops

Mr. Sterling said the service provides great opportunities for targeted advertising. For starters, it requires people to register before they start using the service. This adds to Yahoo’s huge database of information on its users, and allows it to better track their behavior. But the biggest opportunity comes when people ask others for reviews as they make purchasing decisions.

“Wouldn’t an advertiser love to get access to people as they’re making that decision?” said Mr. Sterling. “‘What’s the best laptop under $1,000?’ Boom. There’s a targeting opportunity [for an advertiser].”

Yahoo plans to integrate the content it collects on this site with its other sites, such as local, travel, and shopping—essentially any site where groups can exist. For now, the company will encourage self-policing on the community’s part on the Answers site, but based on feedback, could rope in librarians and academic experts.


Windows Live Local

A beta version of Microsoft Corp.'s new online local search and mapping service goes live Thursday morning. Windows Live Local, powered by Microsoft's mapping and location platform, Virtual Earth, combines bird's-eye imagery with driving directions, Yellow Pages and other local search tools. It will be available at (but not until 9:01 am PST).

Among the intriguing features available in the new service is a 45-degree bird's-eye view of major U.S. cities that currently include Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, which ends up representing about 25 percent of the U.S. by population according to Microsoft. These images, fascinatingly enough, recall the sort of low-level aerial photography captured during World War II reconnaissance flights rather than the satellite images we've come to commonly associate with these service over the last year or so. The images were taken by Pictometry International Corp. using low-altitude overflights and then melded with satellite imagery and road maps. This gives you a 360-degree panorama from the four cardinal compass directions and you'll also be able to zoom in on a given location. A yellow indicator informs you during a search whether a birds-eye view is available for that area.

Some very clever navigational aids in the product really enhance productivity. One that really impressed us is the ability to merely click on a point on the map and have the system immediately calculate directions for you, rather than having to start from a search bar asking for a street address. Suppose, for instance, you have a general idea where the ball park is on the map but not the street address or even necessarily the actual street. You just click on the map and directions are generated from that.

You can also get step-by-step directions using bird's-eye or satellite views and identify construction areas along a specific route. And there are several print options, such as print-only directions, the adding notes to printed directions, or even having thumbnail pictures print along with each turn in the route.

Windows Live Local also includes an updated version of Location Finder to help people using a Wi-Fi-enabled PC easily determine their current location as a starting point. Keep in mind that this requires an ActiveX download, which pulls in the names of access points your machine can see and their signal strengths and then calculates your location based on Microsoft's database. The folks at Microsoft told us to expect accuracy of within a few hundred feet.

User-customizable pushpins are another feature that should prove useful. You can use them to annotate directions or an itinerary with specifics (say the time you want to meet, specific street corner, and so forth) and then share them with others via e-mail, Web logs, MSN Spaces or MSN Messenger.

Expect to see a steady stream of information available on other countries as well as additions, updates and improvements to what is currently available.


Friday, December 02, 2005

New Microsoft Tool Helps Manage Your E-mail

Microsoft's research arm today released a free tool to help users slog through e-mail messages in their inbox in the order of importance, according to one of the researchers who developed the software.

Created within Microsoft Research, the Social Relationship and Network Finder, or SNARF, is an application that uses the same database as a user's e-mail client to count the number of times users send and receive messages from people, says A.J. Brush, a researcher in the community technologies group at Microsoft Research.

Calling this kind of e-mail triage process "social sorting," researchers worked with graduate students, at least one of whom is studying sociology, to come up with the tool so that it will help users prioritize the e-mail in their inbox based on how often they send and receive messages from contacts, she says.

More Intelligent Software?

"One of the core SNARF notions is that it's about people," Brush says. "We're really trying to remember information about the people in e-mail rather than on a per-message basis. SNARF will know [for example] that it's a message from Julie, I talk to her all the time, so it will put that [message] higher in order of importance."

In an e-mail message, Bernie Hogan, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Toronto who worked with Brush as an intern during SNARF's development, said that modern e-mail clients don't take into consideration aspects of face-to-face interpersonal contact that people use to organize their daily interaction with others. Tools like SNARF will help researchers develop more intelligent software that streamlines e-mail communication, he said.


Google's Gmail gains virus scanning capability

Google Inc. has added a virus scanning feature to its Gmail Web mail service, complementing the existing virus protection based on blocking certain types of file attachments, such as executables.

Google informed users of the new feature on a Web page where the company announces new Gmail features.

Now, Gmail will automatically scan all attachments users send and receive, according to a frequently asked questions section devoted specifically to this new functionality.

Gmail will attempt to clean or remove viruses from infected attachments so that users can access the attachment’s information; otherwise, users will not be able to download the attachment. Gmail will also prevent users from sending messages with infected attachments.

Until now, Google has protected Gmail users by blocking messages that carry attachments commonly associated with virus attacks.

Google began rolling out the virus scanning feature this week, so not all users have it yet, a Google spokeswoman said Thursday. However, by the end of this week, all users will have it, she said.

Lacking this functionality put Gmail at a competitive disadvantage in the market, an analyst said. “This was one of the main features they didn’t have that other providers did,” said Marcel Nienhuis, an analyst with The Radicati Group Inc.

A little over a year ago, a Google official told IDG News Service that the company was working on giving Gmail virus scanning capabilities, possibly by licensing technology from a third party.

The Google spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that Google is licensing the virus-scanning technology from a third party, but she declined to disclose the company’s name.

Google launched Gmail in April 2004. It is still in beta, or test, mode. To open an account, users must either request the service from Google by sending the company a text message from a mobile phone or be invited via e-mail by an existing Gmail user.

Despite the absence of virus scanning capabilities and the hurdles users need to clear to get an account, Gmail seems to have attracted many people to its ranks, Nienhuis said. Now, it will become even more appealing to current and future users, he said.

The lack of virus scanning is probably one key reason why Gmail is still in beta, so it’s possible that the service may exit its beta phase now, he said. The other major feature Gmail is missing is a companion calendaring application, he said.


Thee New 3G Phones from Nokia

Nokia has shown off three new phones, one specially designed for Vodafone and two general 3G handsets, including the first designed to operate at the USA's 1900Mhz 3G band. "With the introduction of the Nokia 6282 phone, we are helping to make the promise of high-speed UMTS services in the Americas a reality," said Kai Oistamo, senior vice president, Mobile Phones, Nokia. "Although it weighs barely 4 ounces, the Nokia 6282 phone is among the most advanced wireless devices available in this market. Without sacrificing size, style or performance, this sleek new device puts a world of possibilities into the hands of consumers in the Americas."

The Nokia 6233 weighs 110-gram, 81-cc and offers a 2 megapixel camera, a 320 x 240 QVGA color screen, digital music player, stereo speakers and a wide array of features and applications which take advantage of WCDMA services. Featuring a stainless steel frame and an improved, intuitive menu structure, the Nokia 6233 (WCDMA 2100 / GSM 900/1800/1900) is expected to begin shipping in the 2nd quarter of 2006, and is expected to retail for approximately �325, before applicable taxes or subsidies.

The latest Nokia model phone to feature the Series 40 Platform 3rd Edition, the Nokia 6233 ensures that 3G services and applications can be accessed easily and intuitively. Supporting the latest messaging, browsing, music and video standards, the Nokia 6233 features a brilliant 320 x 240 QVGA display, with an 'Active Standby Mode' that gives immediate access to the most-used applications.

The Nokia 6282 is their first 3G handset that supports UMTS at the 1900Mhz band. This band is expected to be offered in the USA next year for UMTS coverage. In addition to enabling 3G services, the new Nokia 6282 phone features a 2.2 inch, 320x240 pixel QVGA display, a 1 megapixel camera, FM radio, digital music player with hot-swappable miniSD card support and Bluetooth technology. The Nokia 6282 phone (GSM 850/1900/1800/UMTS 1900 MHz) is expected to be available during the first quarter of 2006 in markets offering 1900MHz UMTS service.

Featuring the Series 40 Platform 3rd Edition, the Nokia 6282 phone offers users an intuitive way to access the power of this new device. While supporting the latest messaging, browsing, music and video standards, this new interface also takes full advantage of the Nokia 6282 phone's QVGA display by using an 'Active Standby Mode', which allows the idle screen to keep owners informed of calendar and to-do items and to provide quick access to the most-used applications.

The Nokia 6282 phone keeps the extra-large display in sight at all times, yet allows it to remain ultra-compact while in the closed position. Additionally, by positioning the imaging controls on the exterior, the Nokia 6282 quickly converts to a conventionally-oriented imaging device that allows 1 megapixel still images and 15 frame-per-second VGA video content to be captured by using the screen as a horizontal viewfinder.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Firefox is rekindled with faster, slicker revamp

he non-profit Mozilla Foundation hopes to up the heat on Microsoft after launching a faster, revamped version of its popular Firefox internet browser.

Firefox 1.5, which is available as a free download from, will aim to build on the success of last year’s Firefox 1.0, which won a cult following among users who say the software is slicker and more secure than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), the market leader.

Improvements included in Firefox 1.5 include automatic updates, faster surfing speeds and drag-and-drop page tabs designed to make the product more user friendly. An in depth catalogue of the alterations is available

The new product is also being marketed as more secure than its predecessor and rivals such as IE.

In the past year Mozilla itself has highlighted advice it claims came from the United States Department of Homeland Security's Computer Emergency Readiness Team "to recommend that consumers stop using Internet Explorer and switch to other browsers".

Though IE still dominates the browser market. Firefox – which has been built by an army of thousands of volunteers and is available to download for free, is now used by at least one in ten surfers. Mozilla claims that word-of-mouth recommendations and volunteer-led marketing drives have helped Firefox claim 50 million active users over the past year.

The latest Firefox includes a keyboard shortcut that will allow users to wipe personal details, such as passwords or browsing histories, from the browser.

Mozilla already held a commercial deal with Google, where it gets income for pre-setting Google as the browser's homepage in America and Europe. Today it revealed a deal with Yahoo!, with whom it begins "a new search relationship" in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Times Online reported earlier this month that Mozilla Corporation, the software house that is wholly owned by the non-profit Mozilla foundation, is also to unveil further commercial partnerships, including deals with eBay, the online auction house, which also owns PayPal, the online payments company, and Skype, the internet telephony company.