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Wednesday, 12 January 2005 21:00

News Roundup 12 January 2005

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Apple unveils cheap Mac Mini and Ipod

Apple Computer, long criticised for making elegant but expensive technology, has just unveiled two products aimed at the mass market: a low-cost Macintosh computer and a cheap iPod digital music player.

The Mercury News reports (11 Jan) that in a keynote speech at the Macworld conference in San Francisco, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled the Mac mini, a tiny, square computer that comes without a monitor or keyboard. The machine, two inches tall and weighing 2.9 pounds, is smaller than a one-pound box of chocolate. Two models, differing in hard-drive capacity, will sell for $US499 and $US599.

The paper says the computer comes with Apple's latest operating system, Mac OS X Panther, as well as the newest version of its iLife suite of digital media software program which was also unveiled yesterday.

The wraps were also taken off the iPod Shuffle, a budget version of Apple's wildly popular digital music player. The Shuffle, smaller than a stick of gum and weighing less than an ounce, contains flash memory, rather than disk memory, and will sell for $US99 with 512 megabytes of memory and $US149 for the 1-gigabyte model.

The Mercury says Apple hopes the cheap Mac will help it lure users from the Windows PC platform, and the decision to add an entry-level Mac signals a major direction shift for Apple, which has been able to command a premium for its elegant design and eschew the mass market.

Analysts expect the new iPods will help Apple hold its lead in the MP3 market, while With the Mac mini, Apple is reportedly setting out to expand its 3 percent share of the US computer market.


ID thief in US sent to prison

A computer technician who prosecutors say touched off the largest identity theft in US history has been sentenced to 14 years in prison by a judge who said the damage he caused was ``almost unimaginable.''

The Mercury News reports (11 Jan) that Philip A. Cummings, 35, a former help-desk worker for a Long Island software company, apologised before a US District Judge imposed the sentence in Manhattan.

The paper says the US government has estimated that the identity theft scheme involved tens of thousands of victims and caused losses of between $US50 million and $US100 million.

In September, Cummings pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and fraud in connection with identification documents.

The scheme unfolded while Cummings worked from mid-1999 through August 2000 as a help-desk worker at Teledata Communications, a Long Island computer software company that provides banks with computerised access to credit information databases.

Cummings had agreed to sell to an unidentified co-conspirator the passwords and codes for downloading consumer credit reports. Tens of thousands of credit reports were stolen using passwords from companies, prosecutors said.


Russia to foster high-tech business development

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has just announced a plan to diversify the country's economy and develop its high technology sector by creating special zones where high-tech companies will enjoy tax breaks and other incentives.

The Mercury News reports (11 Jan) that Putin has ordered the government to draft legislation by 1 March for the creation of zones meant to foster the development of Russian information technology and other high-tech industries.

Russia has enjoyed five years of oil-fueled economic growth during Putin's presidency, but economists repeatedly have warned of the need to diversify, prompting Putin to say that Russia must ``create conditions for speeding up the development'' of manufacturing and technology.


Chip slowdown expected in 2005

The semiconductor industry is headed for a slowdown, but a relatively soft and short one before it bounces back in 2006, according to most analysts speaking at an industry event in the US.

According to The Mercury News report (11 Jan) analysts have said that the industry is headed for a fall this year after peaking in 2004 mainly because of big increases in chip-factory capacity that overshot market demand. The downturn is expected to come even if the industry is out of step with the growing worldwide economy, according to speakers at a conference sponsored by Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International, an industry trade group.

Meanwhile, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has just reported that it will miss its financial targets for the quarter ended 26 December, saying that its flash-memory business, supplying chips used in everything from cars to cell phones, generated less revenue than expected.

Most analysts believe chip-industry growth will slow due to overcapacity, causing prices to fall and revenue to slacken.

Semiconductors are chips that are the core of the electronics industry, serving as the brains in everything from computers to cell phones to digital cameras and handheld music players.

The paper says the Semiconductor Industry Association's official forecast in November estimated that industry sales in 2005 would be flat at $US214 billion after growing 28.5 percent in 2004.


IBM giving free access to software patents

IBM is set to announce that it is making 500 of its software patents freely available to anyone working on open-source projects, like the popular Linux operating system, on which programmers collaborate and share code.

The New York Times reports (11 Jan) that the new model for IBM., acc ording to analysts, represents a shift away from the traditional corporate approach to protecting ownership of ideas through patents, copyrights, trademark and trade-secret laws. The conventional practice is to amass as many patents as possible and then charge anyone who wants access to them. IBM has long been the champion of that formula. The company, analysts estimate, collected $US1 billion or more last year from licensing its inventions.

The paper says the move comes after a lengthy internal review by IBM., the world's largest patent holder, of its strategy toward intellectual property, with the company saying the patent donation would be the first of several such steps and "the beginning of a new era in how IBM will manage intellectual property."

However, The NYT says that although IBM may be redefining its intellectual property strategy,it apparently has no intention of slowing the pace of its patent activity, having been granted 3,248 patents in 2004, far more than any other company, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. IBM collected 1,300 more patents last year than the second-ranked company, Matsushita Electric Industrial of Japan. The other American companies among the top 10 patent recipients were Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technology and Intel.

IBM has emphasised the need for more open technology standards and collaboration as a way to stimulate economic growth and job creation.

The paper says a growing number of academics and industry analysts regard open-source software projects as early evidence of the wide collaboration and innovation made possible by the internet, providing opportunities for economies, companies and individuals who can exploit the new model.

The move by IBM is not aimed at a specific project, but opens access to 14 categories of technology, including those that manage electronic commerce, storage, image processing, data handling and Internet communications. The 500 patents are a small slice of its corporate patent trove of more than 40,000 worldwide and 25,000 in the United States.


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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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