June 2001

Real World
Web-wide World
Wired World
Wireless World
Hard World
Soft World

Real World

  • This was a good month for Microsoft. Previously, a US district court run by Judge Thomas Penfield had ruled that Microsoft was guilty of various antitrust abuses, and must therefore be split up. Following Microsoft's appeal, however, a number of the findings have been thrown out, and Judge Penfield has been removed from the case for apparent bias against Microsoft.

    Commentators on the case note that Microsoft still has serious points to answer, but suggest that the new Bush administration may be less likely to press the Dept. of Justice to exert all its power. There is more talk now of settlement.
  • The Australian government has passed a bill aimed at curbing online 'interactive gambling' by Australian users. The law doesn't cover the kind of bets that an Aussie punter might put on down at the bookies on horse races, etc; instead, the prohibition relates to gambling sites with casino-like gaming.

    There are some interesting - not to mention peturbing - aspects to the bill. The law prohibits Australian gambling sites serving Australian clients. But such Australian sites can still have non-Australian clients (for whom gambling is apparently ok).

    Furthermore, in order to stop Australians gambling on non-Australian sites, the law reportedly prohibits Australian banks from honouring any credit card debts run up on these sites. So unless non-Australian gaming sites block Aussie users, these punters will be in the happy position of being able to collect their winnings but ignore any losses.

Web-Wide World

  • In a previous newsletter we reported that ICANN, the arbiter of domain extensions (.com, .net, etc) had agreed to make available seven further extensions (.info, .name, etc.). The most sought-after of these seven, .biz, is now becoming available, with the registration process in the hands of a company called NeuLevel (www.neulevel.com).

    Unfortunately, the registration process is overly complicated and contentious. What is clear is that there are three steps involved, the first of which involves 'registering an interest' in a domain (at a cost of 90 dollars). But is this the same as applying for a domain or not? And how do the three different domain dispute procedures fit together? Only the truly desperate would trawl through all the small print to find out, and we're not there quite yet.
  • If you're tired of waiting for ICANN to introduce new domain extensions, however, then you may be interested in what the company New.net (www.new.net) is offering. New.net allows people to register domains with further extensions, like smith.family, or grocers.shop. But since ICANN hasn't sanctioned these extensions, how is this possible? To explain this, let's go through how domains work (but very simplistically).

    Suppose that you want to have a website at the URL www.hello.com and thus buy the domain hello.com. Your actual web pages will be placed on some webserver, and this webserver will have an Internet Protocol (IP) address (something like

    The company from which you bought your domain name maintains Domain Name System (DNS) servers. Their job is to map your URL www.hello.com to the IP address of your web pages. When someone puts the address www.hello.com in their browser window, then, a search runs which finds these DNS servers, and retrieves the correct IP address.

    But now, suppose that you buy the domain smith.family from New.net. For most people on the web, if they put in www.smith.family into their browsers they will get an error because the search will fail to find the right IP address. This is because the DNS system is managed by ICANN, who don't allow the .family extension.

    Actually, if you buy the domain smith.family from New.net, your web pages will be available via standard DNS servers at www.smith.family.new.net. But here's the clever bit. New.net maintains DNS servers which don't conform to the ICANN standards. And on these DNS servers, the URL www.smith.family does produce the IP address of your webserver.

    So if a browser is set up to search the New.net DNS servers, therefore, it will recognise all of the New.net extensions. Hence New.net's strategy is to persuade Internet Service Providers and users to configure their software to search their DNS servers. According to New.net's website (which we have no way of verifying) a third of all people are now set up in this way.

    ICANN, of course, is not happy about this at all. What happens, for instance, if they decide to allow the .family extension? This could lead to contradictory DNS entries, and well, just a whole big can of worms.

Wired World

  • It looks like the profitable pie of music distribution over the Internet may soon be divided into just two great slices. One of the two platforms will be provided by 'MusicNet' (www.musicnet.com), run by AOL, Time Warner, EMI and Bertlesmann. The other will be provided by 'Duet', to be run by Sony and Vivendi.

    What, though, of Napster, the once great flagship of music swapping anarchism? It was recently announced that Napster's future role is to be a distributer for MusicNet, thus completing Napster's subsumption into the corporate mainstream.
  • According to a Which? Online survey, email is getting less popular and face-to-face meetings are getting more popular. Or at least that was the spin all the newspaper reports put on it. But the survey also found that lots more people were online, so maybe the number of email-junkies was just diluted by all the newbies who can't use it properly. In any case, the true Internet geek, armed with his mobile computer, is quite capable of having a face-to-face meeting with someone at which all the communication is via email.
  • Two surveys reported this month present interesting stats about the demand for broadband Internet access in the UK. The Which? Online survey held that currently 4 in 10 Internet users are keen for broadband access, and that more still would be interested if they knew what it was (we assume that they didn't just ask respondants the question 'would you be more interested in broadband if you knew what it was?'.)

    On the other hand, a MORI poll of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) found that 8 out of 10 managers doubted that that broadband Internet access would make their companies more successful. So (at least assuming that managers don't want broadband for other reasons), this suggests that SMEs are less enthusiastic about broadband than the average net user. Which is perhaps surprising, given the amount of energy the Government is supposedly putting into its e-business vision.
  • According to recent reports, an Australian online-marketing company has developed an application allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to place advertising into their users' emails. Since spam, or Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE) is already one of the world's greatest evils, this would seem to be something all right-minded folk should fear. A source at the Australian Consumers Association has sought to play down concerns, claiming that "There's not many successful business models based on annoying people". Which may be true, but some always seem inexplicably to prosper, as shown by the successful career of Jim Davidson.

    And talking of spam, it is interesting to note that the UK is standing up for spammers' rights in European. Most of the other European countries favour legislation whereby users can 'opt in' to commercial emails; we, apparently, favour the 'opt out' approach.

Wireless World

  • Mobile phone companies currently have the ability to locate the rough position of your phone, perhaps to within about 100m. The police can take out a court order requiring the network operator to hand over such information if a court decides it may be useful in relation to a crime.

    According to a report in online IT newspaper 'The Register' (www.theregister.co.uk), however, legislation soon to be passed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act will allow the police to access this location information without a court order, under 'internal authorisation'. Furthermore, with the next generation of mobile phones (so-called 3G phones), the precision of the location information will be much higher perhaps to within 10m.

    Big Brother may or may not be watching you. But if he is, and you carry a mobile phone, then he'll know where you are.

Hard World

  • Apparently lots of exciting things have been happening recently in the world of computer chip science, suggesting that the steady escalator of chip speeds extends well into the future. We don't really understand the physics of these things, but they fill us with hope and confidence nevertheless. For instance, IBM has 'refined its silicon-germanium chip-manufacturing technology' allowing chips with a theoretical maximum speed of 210Ghz. It has also announced a technique involving 'stretching the bond between each silicon atom', allowing electrons to move up to 70 percent more quickly. Intel has also got in on the act, claiming to have created silicon-based transistors a tenth of the size of those currently used, potentially allowing it to manufacture 20GHz chips by the year 2007.

Soft World

  • The MP3 digital audio format was updated this month with the launch of 'MP3 Pro'. MP3 Pro files, which split the audio stream into two parts for some no-doubt compelling propellor-headed reason, reportedly give twice the sound quality as MP3 files of the same size (or, alternatively, are of half the size of MP3 files of the same quality). The word, however, is that the quality is not quite up to that of Microsoft's new alternative, Windows Media Audio (WMA).

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