November 2002

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

Real World

  • After the US Department of Justice (DoJ) made its ruling over the Microsoft antitrust trial (see newsletters passim), nine of the states involved in the trial launched an appeal. With Microsoft judged guilty of engaging in anti-competitive practices, these nine states wanted stronger punitive measures than the fairly supine response of the DoJ. This month, however, the appeal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the DoJ's response would stand in (just about) its entirety.

    With this lawsuit over in its favour, however, two further clouds darken Microsoft's horizon. On the one hand, there are suits pending from the individual companies (Sun, Netscape, etc.) which were identified in the antitrust trial as suffering from Microsoft's activities. On the other hand, the European Commission (EC) is still to decide how it is going to respond to Microsoft's shenanigans. This is in the hands of Competition Commissioner Mario Monti, who has promised a decision by the end of the year.
  • Microsoft's accounts were published this month, and for the first time were organised by division (ie. relating to the different types of product). The differences in profitability between the divisions were striking. The various different flavours of Windows, and the Office suite, both made huge profits (a good 85 percent of what you pay for Windows, for example, is pure profit). But no other division was even near profitability: Microsoft's portal service MSN, its mobile offerings, and the new XBox business were all far from paying their way. It all brings home just how loathsome Microsoft must view the prospect of John Q. Public deciding to use Open Office on top of Linux.
  • The WorldCom fiasco continues to amuse. The initial story, you may recall, was that the company ("the pre-eminent global communications company for the digital generation") had overstated its accounts by a small matter of 3.5 billion dollars. And this figure quickly got revised upwards to 7 billion dollars. But now it seems that even this revision was optimistic - according to an initial court-ordered report into WorldCom, as it slides into bankruptcy:

    "...but we believe our investigation will reveal that there were improper and unsupported adjustments that go beyond the more than $7bn in adjustments already restated by the company."

Web-Wide World

  • More on US software patent nonsense. According to reports, a company called PanIP is trying to use several of the patents it holds to squeeze money out of a variety of US e-commerce sites. Its chosen method seems to be to target small companies who don't have the funds to fight a drawn-out court case, in order to generate out-of-court settlements. Basically, any company that engages in e-commerce is seen as falling foul of PanIP's patents, since these are taken to cover generic methods of making commercial orders using electronic equipment.

    A group of the companies targeted by PanIP are now trying to band together, however, to fight the parasite. You can read more about them and their fight at:
  • According to a report in The Register, four major US retailers have informed bargain-hunting site that it is no longer to carry their sales prices. Their slightly ridiculous claim is that their sales prices are covered by copyright law, and are thus protected by the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Supposedly, these retailers don't like the FatWallet site because it encourages people to snap up the loss leaders and other bargains offered by a store, without then spending loads more at the store to make up the difference. The report notes that FatWallet have agreed to the censorship, after being cowed by their opponents' Fat Chequebook (although, you'd think that the site should be able to lay its hands on coupons entitling the bearer to an introductory free lawsuit).
  • Those of you who develop in HTML may be interested to know that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) XForms 1.0 specification has just been made a Release Candidate (ie. is now a stable document). On the other hand, those of you who don't develop in HTML are probably just looking blank. So for the sake of the less than obsessively geeky (and shame on you) let's take some time to go through some background on this.

    The W3C is the organisation that sets the standards for web-related stuff. When browsers are described as 'standards compliant', it is the W3C standards they comply to. Now, although you probably wouldn't know it by looking at the state of the web, the W3C has already written the obituary for HTML. The markup that is to take its place is XHTML, which is basically what you'd get if you sat down to refactor HTML in XML (background on XML located at

    The XForms specification is designed as an XML-based replacement for HTML forms (the elements that take in user data, using text-boxes, radio-buttons, etc). It offers certain advantages over HTML forms, including a much stronger dissociation between style and content, simple client-side validation and data submission in XML. More information can be found at
  • The US Senate has approved a 'kid-friendly' section of the Internet, which will be protected from violence, pornography, etc. by legal sanction. The certifiably acceptable sites will be identified by their URL, which will end with "". At the time of writing, the bill still has to be accepted by the House of Representatives.
  • We have just received notification of an important article explaining how one fries an egg using an Intel 1500+XP CPU. This article is posted on a mirror site (the original receiving the popularity that it deserves) at:
  • Oh, and this one's for people who have working speakers and far too much time on their hands. Click on the horses, people. Click on the horses.

Wired World

  • Don't know about you, but we couldn't but help feel a certain amount of national pride over the case of Gary McKinnon, the British hacker alleged to be responsible for what was described in the US as the "biggest hack of military computers ever detected". The US authorities are currently trying to indict McKinnon on charges relating to the penetration of 92 networks, including those belonging to NASA, the Pentagon and twelve other military installations.
  • An interesting paper has been published recently looking at the question of why people are attracted to broadband connections. The two features of broadband generally promoted are i) the speed of downloads and ii) the 'always on' nature of the connection. But the paper's findings suggest that most users focus on a subtly differerent feature. What seems to be important is the way that many worries about a 'connection' disappear with broadband - applications which make use of the Internet do so seamlessly, and without costing more the more they are used. True, this feature is implied by unmetered, packet-switched connections, but the perceived benefit is more personal than baldly technical.
  • With BT's Internet Service Provider (ISP) divisions starting to offer spam and virus-filtering for all emails passing through its servers, PC Pro is touting the idea that all ISPs will soon need to do likewise. Which is indeed a cheering thought - raise the defences sufficiently high against spammers, and it may get to the point where the game stops paying off. But on the other hand, a report out this month warned that all current spam filters produce 'false positives' - emails that wrongly get rejected as spam. So the price of spam-free in-boxes may have to be a slightly degraded email service.

Wireless World

  • I don't know, you look away from the wireless networking world for a second, and the swines invent a whole load of new abbreviations. It really doesn't make things easy for those of us who just want to retain a shallow and simplistic overview of the field with little or no effort.

    In any case, as far as we can tell things are pretty much as follow (and we're not going to expand the abbreviations). On the one hand, there is the GSM family of standards. The most basic of these is the simple GSM network, which is a 2G standard (ie. digital, rather than analogue). Then, next up the GSM family tree is GPRS, which with its property of packet-switching provides that 'always on' feeling. GPRS is generally described as 2.5G, except by marketing types.

    Next there is EDGE, which is better again in some way that we're not entirely clear about. Finally there is 3GSM, which is the all-singing, all-dancing 3G uber-network, and which uses the W-CDMA protocol to do all the fancy stuff it does. If you come across something called UMTS, put it in the same mental bag as 3GSM and W-CDMA.

    With the exception of W-CDMA, which does something different, the GSM family of standards share the defining technical feature that they employ 'time-slicing'. This involves splitting a single frequency channel into multiple channels by giving each new channel a rotating time slot in the original. In addition, all these GSM networks are primarily Europe based, and don't appear much in the US.

    In the US, the alternative to 2G GSM is CDMA, which is essentially the monopoly property of the company Qualcomm, which also has the 3G technology CDMA2000. Apparently, Qualcomm has patents that cover CDMA technology generally, and thus also impinge upon GSM's W-CDMA. But there seems to be some kind of cross-licencing deal here which limits Qualcomm's control over W-CDMA.

    And then, finally there is TD-SCDMA. This is another 3G version of CDMA which has been developed by the Chinese in conjunction with Siemens. But the stories coming out about TD-SCDMA (and this, finally, is the newsy bit) are suggesting that China is looking to waive all royalties on TD-SCDMA, ignoring the claims of any patent holders like Qualcomm. So there's probably a good old-fashioned row brewing.

Hard World

  • Robert X. Cringely, online IT guru, published an interesting article this month ( about the current economic slump in IT hardware. According to Cringely, IT hardware is usually replaced every three years, at which point the same amount of money generally buys four times the computing power. But currently this cycle - which should currently be giving us a boom in IT hardware spending - is out of kilter. And the suggested reason for this is the Year 2000 scare, which artificially inflated hardware spending around that time. Cringely goes on to predict, on the basis of this analysis, that the normal boom in IT hardware spending will kick in around the year 2004.
  • In the meantime, do you know what's happening to your old, obsolete hardware? According to a recent Guardian article, much of it has until recently been shipped for 'recycling' in deprived areas of countries like India, Pakistan, Vietnam and China. With sad predictability, the industrial methods employed in these places have been the cheapest, with no consideration for the health of the workers. Commenting on a recent film about the Chinese province of Guiyu, where around 100,000 people are employed in this business, the article states:

    "Leftover plastics are either burned, creating piles of contaminated ash, or dumped along with other processing residues in rivers, along irrigation canals or in fields... Poisonous waste creeps into skin and lungs and seeps in to the land and water; Guiyu's soil contains 200 times the level of lead considered hazardous; the drinking water is 2,400 times over the World Health Organisation (WHO) lead threshold."

    It is hoped that a European Directive due to come into law in the year 2004 will improve things somewhat, with some of the responsibility for adequate waste disposal being passed onto the equipment producer. But no doubt this will also increase the trade in illegal waste disposal. And the US, of course, is happy to remain the world's most prolific polluter.

Soft World

  • This month saw the inaugural event of the newest Dot Net Users Group (DNUG), serving the North of England (and presumably Scotland too). See for more details of this excellent new organisation.

    Two of the architects of ASP.NET - Alex Homer and Dave Sussman - were served up to give a demonstration of its power. This they subsequently did, to a backdrop of appreciative ooh and ahhs from the audience. Annoyingly, they also dealt with the anti-Microsoft stuff thrown at them with humour and style, and never once showed signs of eating human flesh or boiling babies. The main take-home message, at least for this attendant, was that the Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) for ASP.NET allow genuinely rapid development of common web features. Particularly impressive in this area was the free (as in money) application 'Web Matrix', available for download at:
  • Eric S. Raymond is one of the most high profile spokespersons for Open Source software, with his 'Cathedral and the Bazaar' ( being required reading for all students of the movement. It is something of a shock, therefore, to learn (from "weekly high-tech sarcastic update for the uk" Need To Know) that his weblog reveals him to be - at least from the wooly liberal perspective of the current writer - something of a political fruitcake.. Consider, for instance:

    "Supposing a policeman ... had been ordered under an act of government to round up all the Jews in the neighborhood, or confiscate all the pornography or computers or guns. Under those circumstances, it would be not merely my right but my duty to shoot the policeman."

    Perhaps it's our sheltered UK upbringing, but we're not used to people suggesting that gun control is so evil that those trying to enforce it should be shot. Nor are we at home to most of the other loony and selective uber-libertarianism that Raymond perpetrates on his weblog at

    So now we're worrying about whether we need to review Raymond's articles on Open Source. To a great extent, of course, these articles stand by themselves, but all polemical pieces ask the reader to take things on trust, on the basis that the author is an informed rational agent. And now this just doesn't seem quite as likely as we thought.

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