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Thursday, 27 January 2005 20:00

News Roundup 27 January 2005


Microsoft to launch anti-piracy initiative

Microsoft will combat piracy of its flagship operating system by requiring Windows users to verify that their copy of the software is genuine in order to receive timely updates and security fixes, the world's largest software maker has just announced.

The New York Times/Reuters report (26 Jan.) that under a new verification program, users will have to prove their copy was obtained legitimately to receive ``greater reliability, faster access to updates, and richer user experiences'' from Windows XP, the latest version of the operating system running on over 90 percent of the world's personal computers.

Users of pirated copies of Windows will still be able get some updates, such as security patches, but will not be able to get other add-ons for Windows, the Redmond, Washington-based company said in a statement.

The paper says the the new initiative, called Windows Genuine Advantage, will start in mid-2005.

Microsoft has announced that it will expand in February a trial authentication program it has begun for English-language users to include 20 more languages. In order to attract more users to the trial, Microsoft is also offering downloads of add-on software and discounts on games and online services.

Authentication will become mandatory in mid-2005 for all users seeking to access software updates, downloads and security fixes for Windows, according to Microsoft.

The NYT reports that Microsoft is also targeting software piracy in China, Norway and the Czech Republic, where the use of pirated software is more widespread, by offering discounts to users of pirated copies of Windows, giving a genuine version of Windows at a reduced price.

Microsoft said it was trying to boost the value of Windows, which still fuels a large part of the software giant's revenue. Microsoft said software piracy has cost the company billions of dollars in lost income.


High-tech alliance on base for US digital health network

Eight of America's largest technology companies, including IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, have agreed to embrace open, nonproprietary technology standards as the software building blocks for a US national health information network.

The New York Times reports (26 Jan.) that the Bush administration has said that creating such a network should be a national priority over the next several years. The goal is to improve care and reduce costs by abandoning paper and moving to a digital system for handling patient records, clinical research, claims and payments. Such a network, analysts agree, should save both lives and dollars.

A crucial step, health care specialists say, will be to agree on technology standards for sending health data across the network and sharing information, when appropriate, among doctors, hospitals, insurers and researchers.

The NYT says the eight companies are often rivals, but said they formed an alliance, the Interoperability Consortium, to hasten the development of a digital health network. It submitted its recommendations to the government last week in a 134-page report.

A national health information network, analysts say, would not only improve the efficiency in America's fragmented health care system, but would also create an attractive market for information technology products and services. The eight companies in the consortium are IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, Accenture, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Computer Sciences.

The NYT reports that the group recommended that the government establish a nonprofit company called the National Health Technology Standards Corporation to be the arbiter of technology standards, with members of its board appointed by the Health and Human Services Department. The consortium also said a national health network should not include a centralised database and that patients should control their own health records, deciding whether their information can be used in studies of the effectiveness of drugs and treatments.

The government's role, the report states, should be to provide seed financing and incentives to help doctors and hospitals buy the computer hardware and software to participate in the network. By guiding the standard-setting process, the government will serve as a catalyst in developing a national network, lowering costs and stimulating investment, the report added.

Sun to open up Solaris

Sun Microsystems said yesterday that its Solaris 10 operating system would soon be available on an open-source basis, a move the company hopes will help counter the perception that its technology is too proprietary and more costly than the competition's.

The New York Times reports (26 Jan.) that the decision means the software will be free and that programmers outside of Sun will be able to customise and improve it.

The paper says that the company has lost considerable business in the market for computer servers to companies like Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard, whose low-cost systems run Linux, a free open-source operating system.

By offering its own open-source software for these so-called X86-based systems, Sun is hoping to gain the support of software developers and corporate information managers who dropped Sun products in favor of Linux-based systems.

Sun said the decision to offer a free version of Solaris was intended to help Sun expand the market for its other programs and its servers, with the more people using Solaris, the more opportunities the company says it has to sell other technologies.

Solaris runs on standard servers from Dell, Hewlett and others, as well as those made by Sun.

The paper reports that Sun said the company's technology had never been as closed as its competitors had tried to portray, but with many government agencies and corporations demanding open-source alternatives, the company felt it had to open up even further to compete.

The company said many large companies today preferred open-source software because they did not want to be dependent on a single vendor or source of technical support.

The company also announced that it would allow free use of the technology in 1,600 of its patents related to Solaris, a strategic shift in the way Sun manages its patent portfolio, reported the NYT.

Google and Yahoo extending search ability to TV programs

Google and Yahoo are introducing services that will let users search through television programs based on words spoken on the air. The services will look for keywords in the closed captioning information that is encoded in many programs, mainly as an aid to deaf viewers.

The New York Times/Reuters report (25 Jan.) that Google's service, scheduled to be introduced immediately, does not actually permit people to watch the video on their computers. Instead, it presents them with short excerpts of program transcripts with text matching their search queries and a single image from the program. Google records TV programs for use in the service.

Google has said offering still images was somewhat limited but was a first step toward a broader service.

The paper reports that Google has said that the long-term business model is complicated and will evolve over time, but eventually Google may offer video programming on its site or direct people to video on other web sites.

A Google spokesman said the service would include most of the major US networks, including ABC, PBS, Fox News and C-Span, and the company did not think it needed the permission of network and program owners to include them in the index but would remove any program or network if the owner requested it.

Yahoo introduced a test version of a different sort of video search last year, available from a section of its site, that lets users comb through video clips from various Web sites.

Now, Yahoo will move the video search to its home page. In the next few weeks, it will introduce the ability to search the closed-captioning text for programs from some networks, including Bloomberg and the BBC. Unlike the Google service, Yahoo's offering will let users watch 60-second video clips.

Kodak bets old strategy can go digital

The New York Times reports (26 Jan.) that for decades, Eastman Kodak thrived on a classic business model: sell lots of cameras at low prices to chalk up outsize profits on the inks, chemicals and papers used for making prints. That strategy collapsed, says the paper, as the digital revolution and foreign competitors pretty much destroyed Kodak's longstanding control of the photography business.

But now, says the NYT, with the success of its easy-to-use digital cameras, Kodak is showing signs of making the old model work again.

Analysts say tha in a sense, Kodak has recreated the old relationship between cameras and film - they no longer get profits from capturing images, but the plan is still to sell supplies and services.

Many analysts, however, are skeptical says the paper, observing that Kodak will ever be a healthy profit machine again, with thermal printer ribbons, coated papers and inks not offering the 60 percent margins that film commanded.

But Kodak's supporters on Wall Street say that the consensus view is missing an important element of the company's turnaround: profit margins for the supplies it is offering consumers and the industrial market can hit, or even top, a comfortable 30 percent.

The paper quotes anaylsts as saying that Kodak cameras and software are selling well, encouraging consumers to take another look at the brand. Its EasyShare digital cameras are neck-and-neck competitors with Sony's models at about 20 percent of the market each.

As consumers turn to preserving digital images in familiar ways, Kodak has 55,000 self-service kiosks doing brisk business in retail stores, far more than rivals like Fuji and Sony. Kodak's printing docks and other devices for simplifying the making of prints at home are best sellers as well.

Indeed, says the NYT, Kodak commands nearly 57 percent of the market for snapshot printers - those that make 4-by-6 prints - virtually guaranteeing a healthy share of the market for the coated papers and thermal ribbons such printers use. And even though Kodak does not even make a consumer inkjet printer yet, it is a solid second to Hewlett-Packard in sales of inkjet papers.

The paper also reports that Kodak spent $US817 million to buy Sun Chemical's 50 percent of Kodak Polychrome Graphics, which sells film-based and digital products to the graphic arts industry. And it has taken over Heidelberger's share of NexPress Solutions, which makes large digital printers. Those two operations, added to other acquisitions, gives Kodak a full line of commercial printing products.

Kodak, which has long sold X-ray systems to hospitals, is also acquiring companies that serve other health care niches. Just last week it bought Orex Computed Radiography, an Israeli company that sells digital radiography systems to dentists, orthopedists and diagnostic centers, adds the NYT.

EarthLink in phone deal with Koreans

EarthLink, one of the Unites State's largest internet service providers, plans to announce today a $US400 million joint venture with SK Telecom of South Korea to offer mobile phone service in the United States.

The New York Times reports (26 Jan.) that EarthLink will sell phone service using the networks of Sprint and Verizon Wireless. SK Telecom, one of Korea's largest cellphone carriers, will be a technical partner in the venture. EarthLink and SK Telecom will each contribute $200 million to the deal, the executive said.

Gates charity is doubling vaccination gift

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doubling its contribution to increase access to basic childhood vaccinations in the world's poorest nations, bringing its total commitment to $US1.5 billion.

The New York Tmes reports (27 Jan.) that over the next decade, the foundation will donate $750 million more to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, a partnership of private donors, companies and multilateral organisations, known as G.A.V.I.

Melinda Gates said that the foundation was doubling the $750 million donation it made in 1999 to establish the alliance because that donation was "the best investment we've made."

She said that more than 42 million children had been vaccinated against hepatitis B, that more than 670,000 premature deaths had been prevented from 2001 through 2003 and that 991 million syringes had been used to improve vaccine safety, since they could only be used once. "It's clear that vaccines are the best investment the world can make in children's health," Mrs. Gates said during a conference call last week that was conducted under an agreement that the announcement would be made today.

Among governments, Norway gave $US150 million in the immunisation alliance's start-up phase and said during the conference call that it would contribute $290 million more over the next five years. Only the United States has given more, $219 million in the first five years.

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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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