4th November 2005

Dear Reader,

There have been some seismic shifts in the tech industry over the last week. Although end customers are unlikely to feel the many repercussions of the pile-up of multi-billion pound takeovers in the telecoms arena just yet, global financial markets are certainly rocking.

Not to be drowned out in the buyout buzz, Microsoft has decided now is the right time to announce its plans for hosting its Windows OS and popular Office apps live on the Web (generating a bit more ad revenue in the process, naturally). But MS isn't the only OS provider making noises, with Apple sharpening the claws of Tiger, and leading Linux light Red Hat talking up its own future.

Meanwhile Bulldog is practising begging and rolling over after its recent customer support shambles, Sony is in all sorts of trouble over its sneaky backdoor DRM, but potentially even more damaging denial of service attacks are apparently just fine by British law!

We can't help thinking it'd be so much easier to avoid all the cash and lawsuits flying around, and just retreat into a virtual space station nightclub with a few copies of the Sunday Telegraph's new glossies and an O2 handset crammed full of Vogue therapy...

We hope you enjoy this newsletter. If you have any feedback or would like to discuss how we can help you with your technology PR, marketing, copywriting or surveys, please call me on 0208 996 1653 or email me at

Best regards,

Hazel Butters
Prompt Communications

Technology News

Telco takeover trend

By Dave Wilby

The global telecommunications industry is currently rife with rumours of acquisition and consolidation, and it doesn’t take an experienced analyst to see why. A fourth-quarter buy-out bonanza could see three enormous takeover bids finalise over the coming weeks, completely changing the face of the entire marketplace. Firstly, there’s Verizon’s agreement to acquire MCI in a deal valued at $6.7bn (£3.8bn), launching Verizon as a serious player in the enterprise services market, improving its IP offering and broadening its global reach. Next comes SBC Communications’ buyout of AT&T, a potential $15bn (£8.5bn) deal that would see the formation of the largest telco in the US. Although massive in its own right, SBC is still regarded by many as a regional operator, despite the fact those ‘regions’ include California, Texas and Illinois, and that it already owns 60 per cent of cellular carrier Cingular Wireless. If the deal goes through, it’s almost certain the AT&T brand will persist. And finally a deal that’s a little closer to home, with Spanish telco Telefonica making a lot of noise after snapping up O2. Deutsche Telecom faces restructuring after being beaten to the handshake that will see Telefonica swallowing the mobile operator demerged from the BT stable for £17.7bn. According to the Daily Telegraph online, when asked whether O2 expected a counter-offer, O2 chairman Sir David Arculus said "one could never predict
the future".

Microsoft announces ad-supported hosted software

By Sean McManus

Microsoft has announced hosted versions of its applications and operating system called Office Live and Windows Live. The software is intended to generate revenue through subscriptions, and adverts placed at the side of the screen. The first beta of Office Live is planned for the first quarter of 2006. Bill Gates says that live software is about remembering the user’s preferences and delivering data to a variety of devices, instead of the software being tied to a particular device and forcing users to shift data around themselves. Initial users of Windows Live will be MSN subscribers. They will be able to build their own homepages using RSS feeds and audio, and will have access to Windows Live Mail, a new email client that uses asynchronous javascript and XML (Ajax) to give users a smoother experience. There will also be a new instant messenger and a live contacts list.

Office Live is aimed at companies with fewer than ten employees and will provide a set of Web, email, collaboration and customer relationship management tools. Companies will have up to 10GB of free storage space for up to five users, an online meeting and collaboration space and have the ability to set up collaboration spaces for particular projects or customers. CRM data will be exportable to Microsoft Exchange. Microsoft claims it will continue to develop Windows as a platform, but has long been interested in subscription-based services. They’re less prone to losses through piracy and ensure a smoother revenue stream than sales driven by PC sales and software release schedules.

Removing Sony copy protection breaks Windows

By Sean McManus

Sony Music is using a copy protection system that uses malware-like techniques to hide itself on your hard disk, and can damage Windows if you try to remove it, according to Mark Russinovich who has reverse engineered it. Software architect Russinovich was shocked to find evidence of a rootkit, a technology for hiding software from security applications, on his system. He was able to trace it to the anti-piracy software on the album ‘Get Right with the Man’ by the Van Zant brothers, published by Sony BMG. This album plays fine on normal CD players, but can only be played on a PC using the in-built media player. The player limits the CD to being copied three times. The software, which was not mentioned in the user agreement at the time Russinovich used his CD, installed itself uninvited and was consuming system resources even when he wasn’t playing the music. Some observers have expressed concerns that the software creates a new target for hackers looking to compromise a system. When Russinovich tried to remove the software using a standard rootkit removal tool, it broke his Windows system.

Russinovich concludes: "While I believe in the media industry’s right to use copy protection mechanisms to prevent illegal copying, I don’t think that we’ve found the right balance of fair use and copy protection, yet. This is a clear case of Sony taking DRM [digital rights management] too far." Sony BMG says it will offer a patch to make the hidden files visible, but will not remove the 'rootkit' DRM.

Tiger still burning bright

By Dave Wilby

Apple has released another update for its Mac OS X ‘Tiger’ operating system, making improvements to a number of key apps including Safari, Mail, iChat and Spotlight, the desktop searching tool. Both client and server versions of the OS are now at version 10.4.3. The Safari browser boasts improved compatibility. It now passes The Web Standards Project Acid2 test, correctly displays more webcam feeds than before, and supports OpenGL-accelerated Macromedia Shockwave 3D content. Apple’s Mail application receives a bunch of updates, but most notably it no longer prompts IMAP users to download attachments more than once, and searches of ‘All Mailboxes’ may now include items from Junk and Trash. Also iChat now lets .Mac members enable encrypted chat sessions. Changes in the Finder include improved responsiveness during Spotlight searches, while Spotlight comments entered in the Finder are now preserved when using iDisk syncing. For more in-depth information about the update, including details of improved protocol and permission support, and wider compatibility with third-party software and devices, check through your OS X Software Update system preference pane, or read the latest report in Macworld. Apple has yet to post information regarding 10.4.3 on its own site.

If the Red Hat fits...

By Dave Wilby

Leading Linux outfit Red Hat has announced a raft of ambitious expansion plans. The open-source systems developer looks set to broaden its product lines, begin regional distribution, embrace mission-critical apps, and develop a more vertical focus. Red Hat is planning to expand into the small business market, improving Red Hat's presence in the distribution channel, but it also wants Enterprise Linux to underpin enterprise-level applications such as SAP and other mission-critical environments. Regional growth will mean moving into territories where the company currently has little presence, such as Russia, China and Latin-America. Market researchers at IDC claim the Linux server market is likely to expand by 26 per cent annually to a value of $12bn (£6.8bn) by 2008, while the Linux client market will grow by 30 per cent to $10 billion (£5.7bn).

Teenager's five million email DoS attack ruled 'not illegal'

By Dave Wilby

A British teenager accused of launching a barrage of five million emails against a former employer has been cleared of breaching the UK Computer Misuse Act (CMA). The ruling could prove a pivotal test case of the effectiveness of the current CMA. Crucially, the defence successfully argued that even if the teenager could be proven to have launched a denial of service (DoS) attack that crashed his ex-employer’s email server, DoS is not specifically illegal under the 1990 CMA. The counsel claimed that sending a flood of unsolicited emails did not constitute ‘unauthorised access or modification’, as the targeted company's email server was obviously intended to receive email messages. Judge Grant told the court that the computer world had considerably changed since the 1990 act and that there was little legal precedent to refer back to. He then confirmed his ruling that denial-of-service attacks were not illegal under the CMA. After the trial, Peter Sommer, an expert witness and a senior research fellow in the London School of Economics' Information Systems department, called for the law to be revised in light of the trial. Because the defendant never entered the witness box, it was never confirmed an attack had
taken place.

DJ gamer turns $100,000 virtual space station into RPG nightclub

By Dave Wilby

Do you ever worry that some of your friends or colleagues might be getting so absorbed into technology that the lines of their virtual world and their real life are getting a little blurred? If so, listen to the plans of gamer / DJ Jon Jacobs, and hopefully your own friends won’t seem nearly as weird as you once thought.

Jon Jacobs, aka 'Neverdies’ shelled out $100,000 (£56,000) in an auction for a virtual space station currently being designed in role-playing game Project Entropia. Now he wants to convert it into an online in-game nightclub and sees 'Club Neverdie' as the perfect vehicle to bridge the gap between reality and virtual reality...

Neverdies told the BBC: "Gamers want to be entertained while they play, hunt, socialise and craft, and because of the real cash economy aspects of Project Entropia, they can afford to pay for their entertainment. I'm already in talks with some of the world's biggest DJs about spinning live sets inside the nightclub." The 236,000 registered gamers in Entropia regularly buy and sell virtual items using real cash, with an island fetching $26,500 (£13,700) just last year.

Marketing News

Woman bites Dog

By Fiona Blamey

Bulldog Broadband has resumed its marketing activities after a hiatus caused by an Ofcom investigation into its patchy service.

Bulldog customers have been complaining that the provider billed them for services that weren’t delivered, and that the company’s call centre is about as accessible as the lost world of Atlantis. This latter gripe is hardly surprising, since Bulldog only employed 50 call centre agents in the summer, while it was busy signing up 20,000 new customers for its high-speed 4Mb and 8Mb services. It then found itself unable to activate new connections, due to teething troubles installing its equipment in BT’s exchanges. Angry customers turned to BBC Watchdog when they couldn’t get through to anyone at Bulldog’s call centre, and the Ofcom investigation resulted.

Bulldog has now promised to improve customer service, and Ofcom has allowed it to resume marketing. Its new slogan "The Gate is Open" is presumably meant to suggest that its high-speed services open up a broad vista of exciting Internet-based activities. However, if my own experience last weekend is anything to go by, the real meaning may be: "The gate is open and so we’ve wandered off into the lane, leaving you with no connection for SEVEN HOURS and no way of getting through to us, either." Improved customer service? Not from where
I’m sitting.

After the bubble

By Rick Todd

During the dotcom bubble it was standard operating procedure to produce a business plan that had advertising revenue at its core, no matter how ludicrous the product. Silly ideas, like the ill-fated, met a quick and deserved death at the hands of a brutal market. Finally however, it would seem that workable ad revenues are actually becoming a reality for the survivors of the burst tech bubble. The Internet Advertising Bureau found that for the first six months of 2005 internet advertising revenue increased 26 percent in comparison to the first half of 2004. Revenues in the US alone were almost $6bn (£3.4bn) for the same period. Is the rest of the world just catching on, or did find an audience of computer literate dogs?

Media update

By Annie Kasmai

Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers resigned yesterday following a dispute with the newspaper's publisher, Pearson. Mr Gowers had worked for the FT since 1983 and was appointed editor in 2001. Pearson announced that Mr Gowers was leaving his post "because of strategic differences between himself and Pearson".

However, it is well known within the UK media industry that the FT has been struggling with falling circulations for some time. US managing editor Lionel Barber would replace Mr Gowers. Despite the obvious problems in the UK, the Financial Times has been expanding impressively in the United States and continental Europe, and expects to break even in 2005.

O2 will deliver magazine content to its customers through a deal with publisher Condé Nast. As a result of this deal, O2 customers will be given free access to content from Vogue, Easy Living, GQ and Glamour magazines, plus search tools for stock information and shop locations.

However, the agreement won’t be exclusive, as Condé Nast will begin a similar partnership with Vodafone next month. And there’s still further collaboration between mobile phone companies and fashion, with Motorola sponsoring The Vogue List 2005, which promotes one hundred trends, people, places and predictions for the year ahead.

The Sunday Telegraph magazine is set to be replaced by two glossy new supplements entitled Stella and Seven. Stella will be a lifestyle magazine for women, while Seven will be a magazine featuring listings, arts and gadgets.

Editor Sarah Sands said she wants the paper to have: "two really good, durable magazines rather than throwaway sections". Both titles will come with the new revamped Sunday Telegraph as of this Sunday.

The News of the World is regaining husband and wife team Louise Oswald and Brian Roberts after they were persuaded to return the UK from American supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer.

The duo were a part of the brain drain that occurred in April and May seeing 20 British high fliers cross the Atlantic to join former Sun Executive Paul Field, who currently edits the New York based Enquirer. Louise Oswald will join the NoW as editor of the Sunday magazine, while Roberts, who was the former photographer on NoW, will rejoin the tabloid as associate picture editor.

The BBC has had to back down in a dispute with the music industry over free classical downloads. BBC Radio 3 will no longer offer completely free classical music downloads during its ten day
Bach extravaganza.

Complaints from the music industry came after Beethoven downloads had previously proven very successful for Radio 3. They were so popular that Beethoven symphonies were downloaded 1.4m times in just two weeks in June, thoroughly annoying classical music companies who felt that this would affect
their sales.

The BBC has decided that they can’t risk the wrath of the music industry further in the ten uninterrupted days of Bach running from December 16 to December 25. As a compromise, the BBC is contemplating only offering parts of Bach’s music as downloads as opposed to the whole works.

Steve Case, one of the architects of the merger between AOL and Time Warner back in 2000, resigned from his position on the company’s board this week.

He had been regarded on Wall Street as a visionary for building one of the biggest brands in the emerging digital media sector. However, opinions have changed as performance has faltered at AOL, bringing the company’s share price down.

Former Time Warner chief Gerald Levin and former senior AOL executive Bob Pittman have already fallen on their swords. Steve Case said that he has left to spend more time on a new venture he set up in April - healthcare investment firm Revolution.

Networking Plus Editor Ian Chard has left after working for Kadium Publishing for seven years. Ian is replaced by Rahiel Nasir (Naz).

Prompt Guide to Corporate Doublespeak

With Lance Concannon

Brainstorming Meetings

Whoever said 'there are no stupid ideas' had clearly never spent a long Friday afternoon locked in a brainstorming session.

Most brainstorms are largely made up of an excruciatingly long period of mind-drizzle, with only very occasional lightning strikes
of inspiration.

Managers usually decide to hold brainstorming sessions when it becomes clear that nobody on their team has any good ideas for solving a particular problem. It is a fundamental principle of people-management that locking your staff into a stuffy meeting room for hours on end is a sure fire way to make them suddenly have all those brilliant ideas which have so far eluded them.

It is traditional in brainstorming meetings that simpletons who are unable to fully grasp the complexity of the problem at hand will be the ones who do the
most talking.

It's also important to note that if you don't have any of your own ideas, you can still make a useful contribution to the meeting by ruthlessly shooting down other people's suggestions, no matter how sensible they seem. The more reasonable the idea, the more rabid you must be in insisting that it can't
possibly work.

Remember, when your colleagues succeed, it means you've failed.

Nanotech Corner

International Congress of Nanotechnology 2005

By Max McConnell

While we're putting together this newsletter, the world's pre-eminent nanoscientists are quietly gathering in San Francisco at the annual International Congress of Nanotechnology (ICNT).

The congress itself is a non-profit organisation that aims to foster scientific research and business development in the areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology for the benefit of society as a whole. It was created to meet the needs of researchers, engineers, social scientists, business professionals and corporate executives actively involved or interested in nanotechnology. ICNT is the premier international conference on the global nano calendar, covering a wide spectrum of topics in the
emerging field.

This year's conference is expected to showcase the latest research and development in nanomaterials, nanoelectronics, nanophotonics, nanobiotechnology, nanomedicine, and nanoethics, as well as discussing education, environmental, societal, health and safety implications, and providing a networking arena for nanotech venture capital investment and technology joint venture.

For five days from 31st October to 4th November, more than a hundred distinguished speakers from 33 countries will have talked at ICNT. Likewise, many scientists and researchers will have presented their latest findings, social scientists will have discussed possible long-term impact, universities and colleges promoted courses, government officials demonstrated economic development plans based upon nanotech, entrepreneurs and startups will have sold their business plans, venture capitalists evaluated new technologies, and the biggest nanotech players in the world will have been proudly showing off their wares.

Never let it be said it isn't a small world...

Website of the Week

With Sean McManus


This is a strangely addictive two-player guessing game. Don't worry about finding a partner - just turn up at the website and it will match you anonymously with other waiting players.

It works like this: one person is shown an image taken at random from the internet, and a word that goes with it. That person (known as the boomer) clicks on bits of the image to try to communicate the associated word. So if you're looking at a photo of a face, and the word is hair, you'd click all over the hair.

The other person (the peeker) can only see those bits of the image that the boomer highlights. Using these, the peeker has to guess the associated word. The boomer can give feedback on whether a guess is hot or cold, and can click on hint cards to say whether it's a noun or verb. Players take it in turns to be peekers and boomers and must try to guess as many as they can in the time allowed. Like all the best games, it's simple to understand but hard to master. Our puny scores are nothing compared to the lowliest worthy of the high score table.

The game has been developed by Carnegie Mellon University. Peekaboom is apparently being used to help refine image search, as the integrated image search demonstrates. In the search results, you'll see the search engine has boxed the most important part of the picture for your keyword, presumably based on what players clicked on most during the game to communicate that same word.


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