November 2001

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

Real World

  • At the beginning of this month, the US Department of Justice unveiled its proposed settlement in the antitrust suit against Microsoft. As expected, the DoJ showed itself to be significantly more lenient than the original trial court judge, whose original ruling that Microsoft should be split in two was quashed on appeal. The settlement has attracted opprobrium from the usual suspects - for example Sun Microsystems - and nine of the eighteen US states involved in the action have so far refused to ratify the settlement.

    At the heart of the antitrust case against Microsoft have been the various unfair tactics it has employed against its opponents, using the market dominance of the Windows operating systems as leverage. Firstly, it has applied pressure on OEMs (computer retailers like Dell, Tiny, etc.) to install Windows operating systems on their machines exclusively. Secondly, it has sought in various ways to ensure that these Windows machines carry primarily Microsoft applications, rather than those produced by its competitors.

    The DoJ settlement seeks to address these concerns by making it easier for OEMs to offer packages which include non-Microsoft software. Firstly, it acts to stop Microsoft applying pressure on OEMs by way of either inducements or penalties. Secondly, it requires Microsoft to make it easier to remove or add non-Microsoft applications to Windows operating systems. The settlement also requires a three-person technical committee to be set up, to work within Microsoft in an enforcement role.

    Criticisms of the settlement have been of two kinds. Firstly, there are criticisms of its scope. For example, some commentators have complained that the proposal does not punish Microsoft for its past transgressions, and that it does little to restrict Microsoft tightly integrating its products in the new .NET world of distributed applications.

    Secondly, there are criticisms of the settlement's wording. Critics have pointed to numerous instances of vague wording, and explicit loopholes that Microsoft could well use to carry on its dubious operating practices.

    Time will tell if any of the criticisms of the DoJ's proposed settlement lead to serious changes, or - as seems more likely - they get drowned out by the current economic problems facing the US. Note, however, that the European Commission, which one would think less susceptible to political influence from Microsoft and concerns about the US economy, is also currently examining certain anti-trust claims against the company. Spokespersons for the EC have been flying flags in the media over the few months, pointing out that it is theoretically capable of fining Microsoft up to 10 percent of its turnover.
  • Citing the September 11th bombings as justification, the UK Government has rushed through the Commons an anti-terrorism bill containing a number of new measures. One of these is the requirement for 'communication service providers' (eg Internet Service Providers) to retain data about the use people make of them. The details of exactly what data is to be retained is to be agreed following consultation with the relevant industries, but it is stressed that it will comprise data about the communication, rather than the content of the communication itself.

    At present, this part of the anti-terrorism bill is facing strong criticism in the House of Lords. One critic complains that the bill allows 'mass domestic surveillance', which may be used not just in cases of suspected terrorism, but also in the most trivial of criminal cases.

Web-Wide World

  • The recently popular 'Friends Reunited' site ( came under some fire this month. The site, which provides a way for old schoolfriends to become reacquainted, has reportedly been used by alumni to post scurrilous stories about their old teachers. Various teachers' unions have been suffering humour failures about this, and have been issuing (fairly impotent) threats about having the site closed down.
  • The 'Ireland Offline' site ( is heading a campaign for more unmetered and broadband Internet access in Ireland. On November 16th it ran a 'blackout' day, when the Irish were urged to boycott their phones and the Internet. We have absolutely no idea how successful it was.

Wired World

  • The Virus of the Month award this month goes to the BadTrans virus. Two things swayed the panel of judges. Firstly, it has quite a cool name. Secondly, we ourselves received a copy from a respected IT consultant who had in turn been infected by a well-known multi-national corporation. Clearly our own levels of paranoid suspicion about email attachments aren't ubiquitous.

    The effect of the BadTrans virus is not particular fearsome, however. Its main threat, on top of the hassle it causes by emailing itself out to one's correspondents, is that it installs a trojan to capture keystrokes. Since it can email out the captured keystrokes, it can compromise password security.

    If you are using Outlook Express as your mail client, and have an old, unpatched version of Internet Explorer, then you can catch the BadTrans virus simply by previewing an infected mail. Otherwise you have to physically click on the attachment

    If you do find yourself with the BadTrans virus, then Symantec provides a tool to delete it from your system - see for more details.
  • If you're interested in making sure that your activities on the Internet leave absolutely no fingerprints, then the following article in The Register on anonymous web-surfing provides an extensive 'how-to' guide just for you:

Wireless World

  • 'Bridge Broadband' is now offering a satellite-based broadband service, which will be of particular interest to those waiting for the ADSL roll-out to get going. The most basic service (SoHo) is described as providing 512 K/s download and 128 K/s upload, at 159 GBP per month (which includes installation and maintenance). More expensive services can provide much higher bandwidths. For more information, see their site at: (and marvel at the entirely pointless splash page and the annoying pop-ups).

Hard World

  • AMD model numbers is something that we've been meaning to write about for a few months now, but haven't got round to. So anyway, here it is.

    The description of processor chips has typically been based upon their 'clock speed' - the frequency of the electrical pulses that go through the chips. For instance, a Pentium P4 1.2 GHz chip has a clock speed of 1.2 GHz (which, if we've done the maths right, means that the frequency of pulses is 1,200,000,000 per second).

    Other things being equal, a chip with a higher clock speed is one that can run your applications faster. But the clock speed of your CPU is just one factor amongst those that bear upon the execution speed of your applications. As well as factors relating to the external environment of a CPU chip - the system's memory, the speed of the hard drive, the chipset, etc. - there are factors relating to the chip itself. To take the major example: chips differ on the number of instructions they can perform per clock cycle.

    Now, the top AMD chips typically run at lower clock speeds than the top Intel chips. But other factors mean that they give more oomph in relation to their clock speed. This has proved rather frustrating to the AMD marketing people, however, who see that computer buyers tend to be overly impressed by clock speed. So AMD has come up with a new way of numbering their chips.

    We can't find details of exactly how AMD comes up with the new numbers for their chips. But it seems clear that the numbers are designed to suggest which Intel chip gives similar performance to the particular AMD chip. So the Athlon 1.3GHz is called 'Athlon 1500+', and the Athlon 1.5 GHz is called 'Athlon 1800+'. In a way this seems fair. But you do have to worry about the potential for abuse, given that the AMD numbering scheme seems to be capable of being tweaked arbitrarily.
  • This month saw the launch (in the US) of the Microsoft XBox, a games console set to challenge the market currently occupied by the Sony Playstation 2, the Nintendo GameCube, and the Sega Dreamcast. The XBox is the currently most powerful of the games consoles, and contains a hard-drive allowing the storage of game data (giving it more scope in the types of games it is able to support). Its main weakness, though, is the limited number of games currently available for it.

    If you're interested in picking up an XBox, UK customers should be able to get one sometime in March 2002, at an expected price of 299 GBP.

Soft World

  • The Business Software Alliance (BSA - homepage at: is a self-appointed guardian of software intellectual property rights, funded by many of the big players in the software industry. It has recently sent out 'Software Audit Return' forms to UK businesses with 20 or more employees, urging them to treat the audit 'as seriously as a tax return'. Businesses are required to provide details of the software that they use, so that they can be helped to make sure that they are not using any unlicenced products.

    The BSA has no official status, however. Its 'software audit' is just a fairly transparent attempt to persuade companies to incriminate themselves (or, as the BSA puts it: 'to help them in checking and clarifying their business software situation'). And whilst we agree that it's fair that software developers have the right to be compensated for their work, there's something rather unpleasant about the self-righteous and misleading way the BSA is going about its job of enriching its backers.
  • If you've spent as much time as us playing the PC game Civilisation (you haven't) then the news that Civilization 3 has just come out will be enough to make you fear for your social lives. In Civilization you have to build up your empire until it is strong enough to defeat all opposition (a certain amount of cat-strokingly manic laughter is usually appropriate at this point). In Civ 3 the gameplay has been made more sophisticated, with more of an emphasis upon trade and diplomacy. Read all about it at:

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