Telstra (ASX:TLS) has announced that during January it connected its eight millionth mobile phone customer. This follows a busy Christmas period and shows that Australians' love affair with the mobile phone continues, with it taking just 12 months for Telstra's mobile subscriber base to grow from seven million to eight million.

Tuesday, 08 February 2005 18:30

Microsoft releases first major ERP update

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Microsoft Australia has released its updated ERP software, Microsoft Business Solutions Navision 4.0. Developed specifically for small and mid-sized organisations, the software integrates critical financial, manufacturing, distribution, customer management, supply chain, analytics and e-commerce data into a single solution. Navision 4.0 is the first major product release by Microsoft following its acquisition of Navision in 2002.

The ousting of Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina will not result in a change in the strategy she pursued with the controversial merger with Compaq Computer, the company's new chairman said.

Tuesday, 08 February 2005 18:00

News Roundup 8 February 2005

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IBM, Sony, Toshiba: joint microprocessor design

In a new volley in the battle for digital home entertainment, IBM., Sony and Toshiba are just announcing details of their newest microprocessor design, known as Cell, which is expected to offer faster computing performance than microprocessors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

The New York Times reports (7 Feb.) that anticipation of the announcement, to be made at an industry conference in San Fransisco, has touched off widespread industry speculation over the impact of the new chip technology, which promises to enhance video gaming and digital home entertainment.

Sony plans to use the new Cell in its PlayStation 3, likely to be introduced in 2006, and Toshiba plans to use the chip in advanced high-definition televisions, also to be introduced next year.

However, the NYT says many industry executives and analysts say that Cell's impact may ultimately be much broader, staving off the PC industry's efforts to dominate the digital living room and at the same time creating a new digital computing ecosystem that includes Hollywood, the living room and high-performance scientific and engineering markets.

The paper says that Cell's introduction also comes at a time when the computer industry has largely given up investing in fundamentally new processor designs and has instead chosen to use the additional space available on the newest generation of chips to place multiple processors and thus add performance.

The Cell chip, computer experts said, could have a theoretical peak performance of 256 billion mathematical operations per second. With that much processing power, the chip would have placed among the top 500 supercomputers on a list maintained by scientists at the University of Mannheim and the University of Tennessee as recently as June 2002.

According to the NYT, several computer industry executives warned, however, that despite the Cell's impressive specifications, success is not guaranteed for any new design in the computer industry. For example, Intel and Hewlett-Packard have spent more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars on the Itanium and the chip has yet to find a receptive market.

The Cell has a modular design based on a slightly less powerful IBM processor that is currently in G5 64-bit desktop computers from Apple Computer. Additionally, the Cell architecture is distinguished by the fact that it controls an array of eight additional processors that the design team refers to as synergistic processing elements, or S.P.E.'s. Each of the S.P.E.'s is a 128-bit processor in its own right.

One significant risk for Sony and IBM., says the NYT, is that the Sony PlayStation 3 game machine is likely to be introduced later than the next generation of Xbox from Microsoft. The PlayStation 2 beat the Xbox to market and Microsoft was never able to catch up, meaning that it lost hundreds of millions of dollars on its bet on the video game market.

In its next version of the Xbox, Microsoft plans to shift from using Pentium chips from Intel to a PowerPC microprocessor from IBM. The chip will have two PowerPC processor cores, but it will not be as radically new as the IBM Cell design that Sony plans to use, an executive who is familiar with the Microsoft project told the NYT.

The paper concludes the report, commenting that one area of wide speculation is whether Apple might become a partner in the Cell alliance in the future. Apple is already the largest customer for the PowerPC chip, and it would be simple for the company to take advantage of the Cell design. Several people familiar with Apple's strategy, however, said that the computer maker had yet to be convinced that the Cell technology could provide a significant performance advantage.


Google loses another trademark fight

Google has lost another trademark infringement fight in Europe, this time to luxury goods company Louis Vuitton.

The Register reports (7 Feb.) that the Paris District Court has ruled that the search company's practise of selling advertising triggered by searches for trademarked brand names does infringe the Louis Vuitton trademark. It charged Google with trademark counterfeiting, unfair competition and misleading advertising and ordered the company to pay €200,000.

The online publication reports that last month, a court in Nanterre ruled similarly in favour of Le Meridian Hotels. In that case, Google was given a €2000 fine, was ordered to pay costs, and an additional €150 per day for further infringements.

In similar cases in the US, courts have sided with the search company, saying that the practice is in line with competitive advertising, and breaks no federal laws.

The Register says that Google generates around 98 per cent of its income by selling keyword-linked advertising, although not all of this is generated by competitor-linked searchers.


Skype-Hutchison delivering VoIP to Hong Kong

Skype, the Global Internet Telephony Company and Hutchison Global Communications
Limited, the operator of the largest fibre-to-the-building
network in Hong Kong, have just announced a partnership to promote and
deliver Skype software to the Hong Kong market.

HGC is the first Fixed Telecommunications Network Services
("FTNS") operator in the world to have reached a co-branding agreement
with Luxembourg-based Skype Technologies.

Under the agreement, the two partners will bring Skype to Hong Kong through a co-branded
"HGC-Skype" portal, which is scheduled to be in service next month.

The Skype deal is an initiative by HGC to realise its
partnership strategy, following the company's recent broadband/pay TV
collaboration announcement. HGC said that in delivering "multi-play" applications
and content, the company selects to partner with leading service providers.

Skype says it takes communications to a new and global era with its free,
multi-faceted and rich communication tools, enabling users to make
free voice calls and rich messaging connections via the internet.

The company is the leading VoIP-category product worldwide, with more than
24 million registered users, and more than 130,000 new users joining
per day.

EBay alters sellers' fees and adds support

EBay, the online auction site, has altered a recent decision to increase fees.

The New York Times says in a 7 February report that in a letter posted on its web site yesterday, eBay North America, said that the company would reduce certain minimum listing fees by 5 cents, to 25 cents, on its United States and Canadian web sites.

The reduction, which took effect at midnight (US time), applies to several categories of sales: auction-style listings, fixed price, motors.

The paper says that separately, within the next 90 days, the company plans to eliminate most of its automated e-mail responses and instead provide e-mail responses from customer service representatives.

Also, starting 1 April, all eBay store owners will have access to phone support, which has been available only to its biggest sellers, which it classifies as silver, gold, platinum and titanium power sellers.


Acer's Australian security breach

A security breach uncovered last week left customers of Acer's Australian store able to see other user's order histories, complete with contact details, reports The Register in the UK (7 Feb.).

The Register says that credit card details were not disclosed but complete contact information (email and phone addresses) and detailed order information was left exposed. This data, samples of which have been seen by The Register, might be used by fraudsters posing as Acer to trick users into handing over sensitive bank or credit card payment details.

Acer said it has fixed the security bug, which it described as a one-off. It notified customers by email of the breach warning users to contact Acer directly if they are phoned by anyone seeking their order or credit card details.


Intel's dual-core Itanium

Intel will this week discuss the creation of the 90nm dual-core Itanium 2 processor and detail 'Foxton', the chip maker's energy conservation system for server processors, reports The Register (7 Feb.)

The Register says that the dualie Itanium, codenamed 'Montecito', has been on Intel's roadmap for some time, but the company will use the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), being held in San Francisco this week, to detail its development.

Montecito contains 1.72bn transistors, many of which are dedicated to the CPU's 24MB L3 cache. That, plus the extra core and other refinements, yield an almost threefold increase in performance over the first Itanium 2s running at the same 1.6GHz clock frequency, Intel claimed.

At the same time, the chip consumes 23 per cent less power than the single core version: 100W to 130W, the chip maker said.

Enter Foxton, says the Register -- essentially a tweaked version of SpeedStep, scaling back core voltage and clock frequency according to processor load. Unlike SpeedStep, Foxton is able to raise them too, the better to deliver higher performance when it's needed, and Foxton can provide an above-the-line boost of ten per cent, Intel said.

The Register says Foxton will debut in Montecito, itself due to ship in limited numbers in Q4, but in volume in 2006. Intel also plans to add Foxton to its Xeon line.


Semicoductor companies form new advisory council

In the US, a group of leading semiconductor companies has just announced the
launch of the PISMO(TM) Advisory Council, the industry's first
organisation focused on streamlining system-level memory validation
and test.

The group will define a single, board-level interface
standard that allows designers to use a variety of memory devices on
development platforms from multiple vendors in a plug-and-play
fashion.

The PISMO Advisory Council is spearheaded by Spansion, one of
the world's leading suppliers of NOR Flash memory, and ARM(R), the
industry's leading supplier of 16- and 32-bit embedded RISC
microprocessors.

The new PISMO (Platform Independent Storage Module) standard
is expected to enable the more rapid deployment of increasingly
powerful and affordable mobile telecommunications, computing and
consumer products.

Significant growth in the wireless and embedded markets has given
rise to hundreds of new processors, chip sets and memory types that
must be tested for compatibility. Without a standard interface, system
designers must develop and use a variety of device-specific
development boards to ensure compatibility.

The PISMO interface standard will define mechanical and electrical specifications for
small form-factor memory modules.

"Memory suppliers have a responsibility to help solve the tough
development challenges that have arisen due to increased
differentiation in the memory and logic markets," said Stephen
Lapinski, vice president of systems engineering and strategic
alliances for Spansion.

"That's why we are spearheading this effort to
lead the industry in putting PISMO compliant memory modules into the
hands of customers. We are very encouraged by this strong showing of
support from industry leaders, and are confident that the council's
efforts will not only streamline development, but lead to more
feature-rich systems at affordable price points."

A variety of semiconductor companies have joined Spansion and ARM
as charter members. They include NanoAmp Solutions, a provider of
low-voltage and ultra low-power memory solutions for the wireless
communication, industrial control, automotive and medical markets;
SMedia, a supplier of innovative and high-performance 3D graphics and
multimedia ICs for handhelds; Spreadtrum, a provider of wireless
Integrated Circuits (IC) and software solutions to wireless equipment
manufacturers; and Toshiba Toshiba, a global semiconductor
company and one of the world's leading suppliers of memory products.

Friday, 04 February 2005 18:00

News Roundup 4 February 2005

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Google hits new high as analysts set lofty price targets

Google's high-flying stock has hit a new peak, propelled by the widening belief that the online search engine leader can continue to grow as major advertisers shift more spending from traditional media to the internet.

The New York Times/AP report (2 Feb.) that after underestimating Google's robust earnings growth in its latest quarter, industry analysts substantially raised their future estimates in enthusiastic reviews that underscored Wall Street's deepening adulation for the company, though some injected a note of caution.

Investors appeared to agree after digesting Tuesday's news that Google's fourth-quarter profit was seven times higher than the previous year.

The NYT reported that Google's shares surged US$14.06, or 7.3 percent, Wednesday to close at US$205.96 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Earlier in the day, the shares traded at US$216.80 -- the highest price since Google went public at US$85 per share less than six months ago.

The paper also said that the feverish run-up in Google's market value -- now standing at US$59 billion -- is reminiscent of the dot-com heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000 when investors bid up the prices of young internet companies on the premise that they were about to change the world.

The biggest difference between now and then, though, is that Google is generating genuine profits, says tghe paper, which are multiplying at a dazzling rate. With few exceptions, the prized internet stocks of yesteryear belonged to companies that weren't making money.

The advertising formula that Google has built around its popular search engine is the main reason investors are betting the company will continue to click on all cylinders. Google delivers advertising links tied to the requests entered into the main search box -- a system that businesses like because they only pay when a prospective customer clicks on the link.

While Google has been selling the ads for several years, many of the elite companies in the Fortune 500 just recently began to buy into the concept. Analysts believe a steady steam of new advertising dollars will pour into the internet during the next five years and Google will be one of the biggest beneficiaries, along with Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN, the rerport said.


Microsoft offers early security alerts to governments

Microsoft yesterday offered to begin alerting the world's governments early to cyberthreats and security flaws in its attack-prone software.

According to The New York Times (2 Feb.) Microsoft also wants to work with governments to help prevent and mitigate the damage from hacker attacks.

The announcement, in Prague on Wednesday by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, coincides with a mounting threat to the company's global dominance from ``open source'' software alternatives such as the Linux operating system.

The NYT reported that proponents say open-source software is cheaper to run and less vulnerable to security threats because the underlying code is freely shared and government agencies and municipalities from China and Japan to Germany and France are embracing or investing in developing it.

Microsoft already provides the US government with early warnings.
The paper said that the new program intends to complement Microsoft's existing Government Security Program, in which governments and agencies may review Microsoft's proprietary source code for Windows operating systems and Office business software and evaluate for themselves the software's security and ability to withstand attacks.

It supplements the advance but often vague warnings that Microsoft gives the general public on the severity of threats and which particular products are affected.

Governments, for instance, will be able to get information about publicly known vulnerabilities that Microsoft is investigating.

The government program will also provide data on security incidents and foster collaboration such as joint response in emergencies, Microsoft said.

The NYT days so far three countries, Canada, Chile and Norway, as well as the US state of Delaware, have been engaged in the new project, and
Microsoft said it is currently in discussions with a number of countries about their possible participation in the program.

Governments currently under a trade embargo with the United States are not eligible to sign up to the program, which is provided free of charge.


Amazon shares plunge on earnings miss

Amazon.com has reported that earnings for its all-important fourth quarter rose more than fourfold, but the internet retailing giant was helped by a big one-time tax benefit and missed Wall Street expectations.

The New York Times reports (2 Feb.) that the results sent Amazon shares plunging 12.8 percent, or US$5.34 to US$36.54 in after-hours trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market, having fallen 60 cents or 1.4 percent to close at US$41.88 in regular trading Wednesday. The company reported results after the markets closed.

For the fourth quarter ended 31 December, Amazon.com reported earnings of US$346.7 million or 82 cents per share, compared with earnings of US$73.1 million or 17 cents per share in the same period a year earlier.

The company benefited from a US$244 million one-time tax gain. Without that benefit, it would have earned just 24 cents per share.

The paper said Amazon's chief financial officer had said the tax gain was from losses that it incurred in previous years, and he expected the company to continue to take such one-time benefits in coming quarters.

Revenue was US$2.54 billion, up 30 percent from US$1.95 billion in the same period last year. But the revenue figure included an US$85 million benefit from favorable foreign exchange rates. Without that gain, revenue would have risen just 26 percent.

Amazon also announced that it would begin offering its customers the option of paying a flat annual fee of US$79 for unlimited free two-day shipping on orders. The deal also would let customers pay just US$3.99 for overnight shipping.

Mergers narrow telecom choices for US consumers

SBC's proposed US$16 billion purchase of AT&T is another reminder of the dramatic technological and regulatory changes sweeping the telecommunications industry and reshaping the choices consumers face when they shop for communications services, says The Mercury News in a 2 February report.

The paper says that the notion of phone companies battling one another for local customers is all but dead. Instead, the emerging competition is between phone giants, such as SBC Communications and Verizon Communications, and cable behemoths such as Comcast.

Both are encroaching on each other's turf, hoping to entice consumers by bundling internet access and phone and television services into all-in-one packages, according to The Mercury, and also suggests that mobile phone companies and internet phone start-ups such as Vonage will try to steal away slices of the telephone market. But experts predict the lion's share of the phone market will go to the regional Bell phone companies and cable companies.

The Mercury says the remaining four Baby Bells dominate most US phone markets for now, and SBC is believed to control about 90 percent of the local residential market in California.

The report says that the number of cable internet phone users in North America jumped tenfold last year, from less than 50,000 to close to half a million, according to a study being released today by Infonetics Research.

According to the paper,the cable and phone companies in the US will try to attract customers by bundling their array of services into competitively priced packages.

SBC already bundles local and long-distance phone service with internet access, mobile phone service and satellite television, and the cable companies are countering by bundling television, high-speed internet access and phone service into one package.

Rivals challenging IPod with rented music

Is music something you own or something you rent? - how music fans answer that question in coming months will help determine the viability of a new slate of online music services that offer to fill portable music players with an unlimited number of songs for a monthly fee, reports The New York Times/AP (3 Feb.).

The paper says that while the music subscription approach has grown in recent years, far more music fans have opted to buy songs by the track, a business model popularised by Apple's iTunes Music Store and its hugely successful iPod portable player.

But, reports the NYT, the release late last year of new copy-protection software from Microsoft Corp. may begin to change that. The software frees subscribers to move their rented tracks from their computers to certain portable music players.

The report says the system works by essentially putting a timer on the tracks loaded on the player. Every time the user connects the player to the PC and the music service, the player automatically checks whether the user's subscription is still in effect. Songs stop playing if the subscription has lapsed. If the user doesn't regularly synch up the player with the service, the songs go dead as well.

Several online music purveyors see portability as selling point that can lure consumers to their subscription services, and Forrester Research projects music subscription revenues will more than double this year to US$240 million, largely because of portability.

And, the paper says marketing will be crucial to persuading consumers accustomed to buying CDs or owning digital music tracks purchased online to switch to paying a monthly fee for music, like they might do for cable television programming.

Apple has said it has no plans to offer a music subscription service. The iPod players don't support the Janus format. Microsoft's own music service, MSN Music, has yet to offer any services beyond pay-per-track downloads.

The NYT says doubts also linger over whether consumers will be happy with the crop of portable music players that can support portable subscription services.


Report: PDA shipments drop for third Year

Worldwide shipments of personal digital assistants declined for the third straight year, according to a new report.

The New York Times/AP report(3 Feb.) that shipments of basic handheld PDAs lacking telephone capabilities shrank to 9.2 million units in 2004, down 13 percent from 10.6 million units in 2003, according to research firm IDC. It's the first time in five years that sales dropped below 10 million units.

The paper says the digital gadgets first popularised by the original PalmPilot in 1996 have been facing increasing competition in recent years from the so-called smart phone, which combines organiser functions with cell phone capabilities.

PDA shipments from palmOne, the industry's pioneer and top seller, fell by 9 percent to 3.7 million units in 2004, from 4 million units in 2003.

Sony, which pulled out of the market during the year to sell its PDAs only in Japan, saw its shipments drop dramatically from 1.4 million in 2003 to about 419,000 in 2004.

The paper reports that shipments from other leading PDA makers, such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Medion, increased, but not enough to offset the overall market's downward spiral. Those three companies all make PDAs that run Microsoft operating systems.


Study: Deleting spam costs billions

Time wasted deleting junk e-mail costs American businesses nearly US$22 billion a year, according to a new study from the University of Maryland.

The New York Times/AP report (2 Feb.) that a telephone-based survey of adults who use the internet found that more than three-quarters receive spam daily. The average spam messages per day is 18.5 and the average time spent per day deleting them is 2.8 minutes.

The loss in productivity is equivalent to US$21.6 billion per year at average US wages, according to the National Technology Readiness Survey produced by Rockbridge Associates and the Center for Excellence in Service at Maryland's business school.

The paper says the study also found that 14 percent of spam recipients actually read messages to see what they say, and 4 percent of the recipients have bought something advertised through spam within the past year.

The random survey of 1,000 US adults was conducted in November and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Symbian unveils more powerful smartphone software

British mobile phone software maker Symbian, part-owned by Psion, has just unveiled a new version of its operating system that supports high resolution cameras and three-dimensional games graphics.

The software, which runs on faster processors based on designs from British chip developer ARM, comes with reference designs and other tools to help mobile phone producers save time and cut costs when developing new models, reports The New York Times/Reuters (2 Feb.).

The software can process pictures of two million pixels and more, it can send stereo music to a wirelessly connected headset and can import MP3 songs from a desktop computer without the need for additional synchronization software.

The first phones with Symbian ``operating system version 9'' will be introduced in the second half of 2005, with volume sales expected by Christmas.

Symbian is the world's biggest producer of software for so-called smartphones, a new category of versatile phones that can have built-in music players and video recorders, and which run computer-like applications such as enterprise customer relationship software, car navigation programs and e-mail.

The NYT reports that today its software is the engine of some 20 million phones, available through 200 mobile operators around the world.

Symbian was set up with financial backing from the world's biggest mobile phone vendors, including Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, who wanted a strong alternative supplier to Microsoft. While Microsoft aims for corporate clients looking to supply smartphones that work well with other Microsoft software on office computers, Symbian is looking for big volume sales in the mass consumer markets where multimedia and video phones are becoming more popular with the advent of faster networks.

The paper reports that market research group IDC forecasts 130 million smartphones will be sold in 2008 alone. Symbian receives between US$5 and US$7.25 for every phone that contains its software, depending on sales volumes.

Tuesday, 08 February 2005 17:30

Acer's Australian security breach

By

A security breach uncovered last week left customers of Acer's Australian store able to see other user's order histories, complete with contact details, reports The Register in the UK (7 Feb.).

Software management solutions provider, ManageSoft, has launched a new product that automates the software ordering process for new and replacement computers.

Tuesday, 08 February 2005 09:30

Redflex scores another $1.7m of US deals

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Electronics systems provider, Redflex Group (ASX:RDF)  continues on its merry way, scoring deal after deal in the US.

Tuesday, 08 February 2005 08:00

LongReach wins $5.5m government order

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Wireless switches provider, LongReach Group Limited (ASX:LRX) has won an order for a range of multi-service switches with a Federal Government department estimated to be worth approximately $5.5 million.

Monday, 07 February 2005 22:30

Local management buyout of Realtech

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SAP support and technology partner,Realtech Australia, is now 100 per cent locally owned following a management buyout of the German company led by Stephen Lloyd-Jones, who is now majority owner and managing director.

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