Judge: bloggers must reveal sources to Apple
Three independent online reporters may have to divulge confidential sources in a lawsuit brought by Apple Computer, with a California judge ruling last Friday that there are no legal protections for those who publish a company's trade secrets.
The Mercury News reports (11 Mar.) that Apple sued 25 employees who allegedly leaked confidential product information to three web publishers. The company said the leaks violated nondisclosure agreements and California's Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Company attorneys demanded that the reporters identify their sources.
The reporters sought a protective order against the subpoenas, saying that identifying sources would create a "chilling effect" that could erode the media's ability to report in the public's interest, reports The Mercury
But Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled in Apple's favor, saying that reporters who published "stolen property" weren't entitled to protections.
"What underlies this decision is the publishing of information that at this early stage of the litigation fits squarely within the definition of trade secret," Kleinberg wrote. "The right to keep and maintain proprietary information as such is a right which the California Legislature and courts have long affirmed and which is essential to the future of technology and innovation generally," reports the pasper.
Free speech advocates and attorneys for the reporters criticised the ruling, insisting that all journalists should enjoy the same legal protections as reporters in mainstream newsrooms. Among those are protections afforded under California's "shield" law, which is meant to protect journalists and encourage the publication of information in the public's interest.
"This opinion should be concerning to reporters of all stripes, especially those who report in the financial or trade press and are routinely reporting about companies and their products," said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kurt Opsahl, who represented the reporters.
The judge's ruling is to be appealed.
An Apple spokesman said the ruling affirmed the company's view that "there is no license conferred on anyone to violate valid criminal laws."
The Mercury says that the case has been widely watched in the fast-growing world of blogs, web sites that contain articles or diary entries and that recently have propelled stories into the mainstream.
Kleinberg, however, ruled that no one has the right to publish trade secrets that only could have been provided by someone breaking the law, says the paper.
In December, Apple sued several unnamed individuals, called "Does", who leaked specifications about a product code-named "Asteroid" to Monish Bhatia, Jason O'Grady and another person who writes under the pseudonym Kasper Jade. Their articles appeared in the online publications Apple Insider and PowerPage.
In a court hearing last week, Apple attorneys said that Bhatia, O'Grady and Jade weren't necessarily journalists -- merely people who disseminated product releases and other data, adding little analysis or journalistic context.
Apple backing Sony DVD format
Apple Computer is backing the Sony Corporation's Blu-ray format for the next generation of digital videodiscs, bolstering Sony's effort to dominate the US$26 billion United States market for DVD's and players.
The New York Times/Bloombergs report (11 Mar.) that Apple, whose computers run software to create DVD's, joined the Blu-ray Disc Association's board, a statement by Blu-ray said yesterday. Sony is fighting to win support for its standard over one called HD-DVD that is backed by Toshiba and NEC.
According to the paper and Bloombergs, Blu-ray said Apple would support the new high-definition DVD format in its iMovie and Final Cut video-editing software programs.
The competing formats promise high-definition pictures, better sound quality, more storage capacity and better copyright protection than standard DVD's. The backing of film studios and computer makers like Apple will help determine the dominant standard. Blu-ray has five times the capacity of current discs and more than the HD-DVD standard.
The NYT/Bloombergs report that Blu-Ray's backers include the two big PC makers, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, in addition to Sony, Walt Disney and Thomson, the largest supplier of recorded DVD's. Film studios including Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema, Universal and Paramount have said they will adopt HD-DVD. The studios may agree later to release movies on Blu-ray discs.
The Blu-ray Disc Association, with more than 100 members, develops specifications, including compatibility, for the format as well as promoting it. Blu-ray refers to a blue laser that reads and records the format, according to the Blu-ray web site, the paper adds.
Music, TV and photos lead at mobile phone show
Cellphones loaded with features such as TV, music and wireless photo printing will abound at this year's biggest US wireless exposition but the key will be to separate the next hit from the gimmicks, reports The New York Times/Reuters (11 Mar.).
The paper reports that industry insiders say the most popular phones will have advanced functions that are simple to customize for individual tastes - imagine a phone screen with both a fertility monitor and share prices for an executive who wants to conceive.
Mobile companies are betting consumers will soon use phones for everything from viewing television shows and music videos to serious chores like studying and medical examinations, says the paper and Reuters.
Most US mobile phone operators are already planning or building high-speed networks to deliver services like video and music as well as speedy e-mail and picture downloads, says the paper.
While these networks are still under construction the industry is considering radical redesigns to phones, displays and services to ensure the new features are simple to use.
Examples of phones on show at the exhibition include a phone from Motorola that allows users to customise their cellphone browser for their favorite services, such as sports scores or news.
Handset makers including Nokia, Samsung and LG Electronics will all show phones with cameras and some with video at CTIA.
Nokia will also show off a handset that can receive live TV. It plans to sell such phones in 2006. Qualcomm will also talk up a rival TV technology it plans to unveil next year.
Qwest sweetening US$8 billion MCI offer
Qwest Communications International plans to sweeten its US$8 billion offer for MCI as the long-distance carrier weighs it against a proposal it has already accepted from Verizon Communications, a source told The Associated Press Friday.
Thew Mercury News/AP report that the Denver-based regional Bell is expected to submit a revised offer next week, ahead of a 17 March deadline to conclude negotiations with MCI, said the source, who is close to the negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity. The revised terms were not available.
The paper and AP said that two analysts speculated that Qwest was forced to increase the cash portion to satisfy MCI and its shareholders. Verizon would have five days to match any offer.
MCI, Qwest and Verizon all declined comment.
The Mercury/AP repoprt that the bidding war broke out last month after MCI rejected a Qwest bid in favor of a US$6.8 billion offer from Verizon.
Qwest revised its cash-and-stock bid by offering to speed up the cash payoff to MCI investors and to guarantee the value of the stock portion of the bid.
The Qwest deal values MCI at US$24.60 per share, consisting of US$9.10 in cash and US$15.50 worth of Qwest shares. Verizon is offering US$6 in cash and stock currently worth US$14.70, valuing MCI at US$20.70 per share.
The Mercury says that with Verizon's blessing, MCI agreed to talks with Qwest, setting the 17 March deadline for conclusion. Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert indicated last week that the company may sweeten its offer if the negotiations resumed.
The paper says that MCI and some investors have been concerned about Qwest's financial condition -- it is weighed down by more than US$16.7 billion in long-term debt, does not own a wireless division and faces competition from cable and high-speed data companies.
Qwest has countered that its nationwide fiber-optics network is a good fit with MCI. It also has argued that because Verizon and MCI's operations overlap in the eastern part of the nation, their merger would create a company with too much market share and clout, says the paper and AP.
Verizon has contended a Qwest-MCI merger would hurt the public interest by combining two national data and voice network operators. Because Verizon doesn't have a national network, its purchase of MCI would strengthen a competitor in that market rather than eliminating one, the company has said.
Burst, Microsoft reach tentative agreement in lawsuit
Microsoft will pay US$60 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a California software company that alleged Microsoft stole its multimedia streaming software.
Microsoft and Califortnia-based Burst.com said in a joint that they had reached "an agreement in principle" to resolve all claims against Microsoft. Under the settlement, Microsoft also will receive a non-exclusive license to Burst's patent portfolio.
The paper reports that Burst Chief Executive Richard Lang said in a statement that Microsoft's decision to license the product "validates the innovation of the Burst technology." Resolving the litigation will allow Burst to focus on other opportunities, Lang said.
Microsoft has settled several antitrust lawsuits in recent years, including cases filed by the US government and several states over its use of the Windows operating system to muscle out rivals, including competitors to its web browser, reports the paper.
Over the past two years, Microsoft has spent some US$3 billion to settle private antitrust lawsuits filed by AOL Time Warner, Sun Microsystems, Be Inc. and Novell. It also paid an undisclosed amount to a trade group that had backed antitrust complaints by the US government and the European Union.
The Mercury says the Novell settlement relates to antitrust claims regarding its NetWare product. Less than a week after reaching that deal, Novell filed a lawsuit regarding WordPerfect, a product Novell used to own. Microsoft also faces complaints from RealNetworks and the EU.
Burst sued Microsoft in June 2002, alleging Microsoft developed its own software for streaming audio and video more quickly over the Internet after discussing the technology for months with Burst, reports the paper, but Microsoft says it did nothing wrong.
In October, Burst filed a motion in Baltimore saying Microsoft developed policies to destroy internal e-mails and other documents crucial to ongoing lawsuits. The company said Microsoft also destroyed e-mails necessary to Burst's lawsuit even after a court ordered the company to retain the documents.
Microsoft said its e-mail destruction policy didn't pertain to workers involved in legal proceedings, reports The Mercury.
Global security sweep nets spammers
A 'comprehensive' sweep of the net by 70 law enforcement organisations from 26 countries should help authorities combat phishers, spammers and scammers, says a leading consumer protection agency.
The Register reports that the co-ordinated trawl last month netted a stack of data and information that authorities plan to use to tackle spammers while helping to protect consumers and legitimate ecommerce operators.
The online IT news service reports that Christine Wade, president of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), said the sweep was the most "comprehensive" carried out so far, ands the organisation would work to enforce the law against scammers and clean up the internet, and to cut off scammers' route to market by helping consumers to protect themselves against fraudulent claims in spam messages.
The Register says that according to recent estimates, spam accounts for more than seven in ten of all emails sent via the net.
UK report: wi-fi security getting worse
London businesses are letting the security of their wireless networks slip, leaving themselves exposed to drive-by hacking, says The Register, in a report revealinbg that more than a third (36 per cent) of London's Wi-Fi networks are fundamentally insecure.
The Register says RSA Security's fourth annual WLAN security survey found that many businesses in the capital had failed to take basic security precautions such as reconfiguring their default network settings. In London 26 per cent of access points still had default settings, making networks easier to attack.
Last year the same survey found 15 per cent of networks were open to attack.
A spokesman for RSA told The Register veep that London's business centres are comparable to a hackers' playground, with the research showing that corporate wireless networks in London are growing at an annual rate of 62 per cent and 36 per cent of these businesses remain unprotected from attack.
The Register alsop reports that researchers found a similar situation in commercial cities in mainland Europe and the US. In all cities surveyed, more than a third of businesses wireless networks were found to be insecure - 36 per cent of businesses in London, 34 per cent in Frankfurt, 38 per cent in New York and 35 per cent in San Francisco.
The research, commissioned by RSA Security, and undertaken by independent information security specialist netSurity, sought to discover the extent to which companies' wireless networks 'leak' data traffic into the street. Using a laptop computers and free scanning software, researchers picked up information from company wireless networks by simply driving around, says The Register
Microsoft security patch beta testers concerns
Microsoft is giving early versions of its software security patches to the US Air Force and other organisations, a practice some experts fear could give rogue hackers important details about how to break into unprotected computers on a massive scale.
The Mercury News reports (11 Mar.) that Microsoft maintains that participants in its security-testing program abide by strict rules to protect these early software patches from leaking into the internet's underground. For added security, it doesn't provide documentation to participants about which Microsoft products might be affected and allows only for limited testing in a computer laboratory.
The paper reports that hackers who study such repairing patches can identify the vulnerable software and build tools to attack it. Microsoft said the program's goal is to more thoroughly test its upcoming security patches for reliability; some repairing patches from Microsoft in previous years have inadvertently disrupted computers.
For years, Microsoft had denied suggestions it privately shared detailed information about vulnerabilities discovered in its software before it's publicly announced, says the paper. quoting a Microsoft spokersman as saying that fears about dangerous leaks compel Microsoft to keep such sensitive information a closely guarded secret.
The Mercury says some security experts challenged Microsoft's year-old practice, which was first disclosed in Friday's Wall Street Journal. They cited the likelihood that even early versions of software patches may leak from participating organisations into the hacker community.
The US-funded CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University suffered such breaches when hackers stole and publicised sensitive details about software vulnerabilities before repairs were available, reports the paper.
Microsoft said its program participants, which it declined to identify except for the Air Force, were carefully selected and sign nondisclosure agreements.
One outside researcher said he was mollified by Microsoft's efforts to enforce secrecy agreements and withhold important details about any future vulnerabilities.
IDC's storage winners and losers: CeBIT report
EMC overtook its rivals to become the largest supplier of disk arrays in Western Europe in the last three months of 2004, as more and more storage became networked, but Europeans don't give a stuff for regulatory compliance, according to IDC analysts at the research company's annual CeBIT conference.
The Register reports (11 Mar.) that IDC's said that alongside EMC, other winners last year included Dell and NetApp, while IBM and HP both saw their market shares decline.
The publication reports that IDC has said that Western Europe buys 50 per cent more Petabytes of disk storage every year, but pays slightly less for it - a decline of 0.3 per cent a year in Euros, even though a higher proportion is networked storage.
IDD also said that SAN prices will fall further as more cheap servers get connected, predicting that by 2008, 80 percent of the devices connected to Fibre Channel will be low-cost blade or commodity servers, and the number of Terabytes shipped in 2008 will be 500 per cent greater than in 2004.
The Register says that IDC also listed a number of important technologies to watch: 4Gbit Fibre Channel, which is now coming onto the market; Serial Attached SCSI, both on 2.5" drives in servers and within arrays; PCI Express for faster HBAs; and 10Gig Ethernet which will finally make iSCSI competitive.
IDC also reported research with end users which revealed that, despite all the talk of SANs, most networked storage is put in to host specific applications or solve specific problems, The Register reports.
Lotus Notes software creator joining Microsoft
Microsoft has just announced that it is buying collaborative software pioneer Groove Networks, acquiring a top technical mind in the process: software legend Ray Ozzie, Groove's founder.
The Mercury News reports (11 Mar.) that Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, is known as the father of collaboration technology. His development work has been aimed at creating software that lets people scattered across different locations and organisations work together on documents and projects shared through computer networks or the internet. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, long an admirer of Ozzie's work, has been pushing his company further into software for work groups.
The software giant has twice invested in Groove since Ozzie founded it in 1997. Now, Ozzie, 49, will join Microsoft as the chief technical officer overseeing collaborative communication. He will report directly to Gates. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
The Mercury reports that Microsoft said Groove's technology will enhance the Microsoft Office suite of software. Groove's 200 employees will join Microsoft, which plans to recruit more talent at Groove's campus in Massachusetts.
Microsoft has been looking for ways to infuse new interest in its enormously profitable Office product line, which includes Microsoft Word and Excel, by shifting the programs from an individual-user model to one that accommodates group access.
Microsoft has also just announced that it will release a new version of its Live Meeting Web conferencing software, and update its instant messaging program for businesses.
The Mercury says Ozzie developed Notes for Lotus in the 1980s at his software development start-up, Iris Associates. It became the blockbuster product that pioneered workgroup computing. Lotus acquired Iris in 1994 and IBM bought Lotus the next year.
Gates said Thursday that he was pleased Ozzie will join Microsoft's technology brain trust, which also includes two other chief technology officers: Craig Mundie and David Vaskevitch, reports the paper.
US regulator extends 'truth in billing' guidelines to cellphones
US regulators voted late last week to extend "truth in billing" guidelines to cellphone bills in hopes of promoting clearer, shorter statements devoid of confusing add-on fees.
The New York Times/AP report (11 Mar.) that all five members of the Federal Communications Commission gave their support to a measure requiring cellphone bills to be "brief, clear, nonmisleading and in plain language." The guidelines already cover bills for traditional phone service.
The FCC said it was misleading to suggest that any fees in addition to the base rate for cellphone service were caused by taxes or government-mandated charges. Such charges must be folded into the base rate so consumers can more accurately compare costs when shopping for cellphone service, said the departing FCC chairman, Michael K. Powell, who presided over his last commission meeting, reports the NYT/AP.
One commissioner noted that the FCC had received thousands of complaints about cellphone billing, but that it rarely issued warnings or fines against wireless companies.
He said the FCC action could threaten the states' abilities to collect fees that help finance 911 service or service for poor and rural customers, reported the NYT.
Buyers waive hearing on software deal
Microsoft and Time Warner have waived their right to a hearing in the continuing European Commission investigation into their plan to take over ContentGuard, which makes software for digital rights management, a person involved in the case said Thursday.
The New York Times reports that the move is seen as a sign of confidence that the regulator will approve the deal, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the NYT.,the commission must conclude its investigation into the proposed deal by 7 April. In most such cases, companies request a hearing and it is held a month before the deadline. The commission then decides whether or not to prohibit the deal, and consults national competition authorities for their views on its draft decision.
AT&T execs to get $31 million as part of sale to SBC
In the US., top executives of AT&T would receive US$31 million in severance pay if the long-distance company's deal to be acquired by SBC Communications goes through as planned.
The Mercury Newws reports (11 Mar.) that the company would have paid an additional SD$10.3 million to chairman and chief executive David Dorman if he was not slated to become president of SBC after the merger, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
AT&T President William Hannigan stands to receive the biggest cash severance, nearly US$6.5 million.
Separately on Friday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the start of a 180-day period for public comment on the proposed merger, which could take until mid-2006 to gain all the regulatory approvals needed from federal and state officials.
The Mercury reports that the SEC filing also said AT&T might create a pool of up to US$100 million for cash retention bonuses to keep top executives from leaving earlier than six months after the SBC deal is completed.
SBC agreed in January to a US$16 billion cash-and-stock acquisition of its former parent AT&T, a storied company in US telecommunications before the federal government ended its telephone monopoly in 1984.
AT&T, has about 24 million residential subscribers and 3 million business customers, down from more than 60 million at its peak. Its customers and revenues from long-distance phone calls have been siphoned by rising competition from its former Baby Bell subsidiaries and newer technologies such as cell phones and the internet, reports The Mercury.
FTC says US anti-spyware vendor shut down
A software vendor that tried to drum up sales by offering to clean up nonexistent computer "spyware" has been temporarily shut down, US regulators said on Friday.
The New York Times/Reuters report (11 Mar.) that the makers of Spyware Assassin tried to scare consumers into buying software through pop-up ads and e-mail that warned their computers had been infected with malicious monitoring software, the Federal Trade Commission said.
The paper reports that free spyware scans offered by Spokane, Washington-based MaxTheater turned up evidence of spyware even on machines that were entirely clean, and its US$29.95 Spyware Assassin program did not actually remove spyware, the FTC said.
A US court has ordered the company and its owner, Thomas Delanoy, to suspend its activities until a court hearing on Tuesday. The company could be required to give back all the money it made from selling Spyware Assassin, the NYT reports.
IBM renting supercomputers
IBM has boldly made its Blue Gene supercomputer - the fastest system on the planet - available for rent, says The Register (11 Mar.), reporting that customers can pay close to US$10,000 per week to use a small chunk of a Blue Gene system. The idea being that drug designers, protein hunters and scientists can tap unprecedented compute power without needing to buy an entire Blue Gene system, which costs a minimum of US$2m per rack.
The Register says the standard Blue Gene model squashes together 1,024 of IBM's dual-core Power processors into one rack.
The Register adds that despite its renting hype, IBM only has one Blue Gene rack actually up for use by customers. Researchers and businesses can send workloads to the rack via a "highly secure" VPN. IBM will then crank through the software and send data back to the customer.
The online publication quotes IBM as saying that working with its business partners, it is making Blue Gene applicable for workloads across a variety of disciplines. IBM has 5,200 processors available to rent.
Corporates tackle security in-house
Eighty per cent of UK businesses concentrate on managing all security risks in-house, but 34 per cent are concerned that access to resources and IT skills affect on their ability to plan effectively. Half of the 300 UK IT managers quizzed in a Unisys-sponsored survey are concerned about issues such as their "capacity to manage" security updates and integrate systems.
The Register reports that the research found the corporate security agenda is still driven by the threat of viruses (64 per cent), and unauthorised systems access (53 per cent). Unisys's survey found a desire to retain control (cited by 88 per cent of respondents) outweighed a lack of access to skills and resources that might encourage firms to seek third party help in managing security alerts and remediation.
According to The Register,although the issues raised by Unisys research are somewhat self-serving, its observations on trying on sell security services to corporates cast a fresh perspective on corporate security. In many cases, security procedures are in such a bad state of repair they can't be turned over to a third party, according to Unisys.
The Register says a Unisys partner in charge of its security services business in Europe, says that firms must patch management regimes in place and establish a preferred escalation procedure before they can outsource elements of their security. These steps are necessary for managed security service firms, such as Unisys, to develop service level agreements with clients.
DVD+RW 8x drives to ship soon
The DVD+RW Alliance has forecast the widespread introduction of 8x DVD+RW hardware and media in quarter 2and held out the prospect of 16x speeds in the northern hemisphere autumn.
The Register reports that the same timeframe could see the arrival of 16x DVD+R dual-layer (DL) drives and media, the organisation announced this week at CeBIT in an update of its roadmap.
The online publication reports that all PC DVD recorder and rewriter drives now support DVD+R/RW, but nearly all of them support DVD-R/RW too. Some 58 per cent of consumer DVD recorders support DVD+RW, the Alliance claimed, citing a variety of third-party market watchers, compared to around 33 per cent for -RW, though of course many cater for both.
The Register says that, interestingly, researcher Understanding and Solutions separately noted that DVD-R/RW is supported by 65 per cent of the consumer DVD recorders that shipped in 2004, with DVD+R/RW supported by 51 per cent.
The Register says that it's worth noting that DVD+R media account for 41 per cent of the market to DVD-R's 42 per cent, suggesting that usage is balanced between the two formats, even though +RW offers some benefits over -RW, such as playback without finalising the disc's data structure, as does DVD-RAM.
Of the remaining 17 per cent of the media market, +RW accounts for nine per cent of sales, -RW for five per cent and DVD-RAM three per cent, reports The Register.
Yahoo! - Xfire in legal wrangle
Online gaming platform and community Xfire has counterattacked in a IM patent punch-up which saw Yahoo! last month file suit against the company, reports The Register.
The Register says that Yahoo! claims that Xfire - founded by Quake world champion Dennis Fong and former Direct Hit CEO Mike Cassidy - has infringed Patent No. 6,699,125, which describes technologies for a game-specific variant of Yahoo! Messenger, namely GameProwler.
The online IT news service says that the original complaint - filed in February in the US District Court describes Yahoo!'s GameProwler IM application as one that "allows users to use a game server in connection with a messenger server to permit 'buddies' to know when other 'buddies' are playing games online, and easily join such games".
The Register reports that Yahoo! says that Xfire offers a similar application that allows gamers to chat with each other online. The complaint reads: "Like the Yahoo! invention, this capability allows a user to see other users identified as 'friends' or 'buddies' designated on the user's computer in an instant messenger window. Also, like the Yahoo! invention, this product allows a user to see if a 'friend' or 'buddy' is online with her instant messenger program activated and also to see whether that 'friend' or 'buddy' is playing a game online... The defendant has no license or permission from Yahoo! to offer this capability, says The Register.
Xfire yesterday filed a countersuit in the same US District Court, which strenuously denies any infringement of Yahoo!'s patent. It states that Yahoo!'s lawsuit is an an attempt to "drive Xfire out of business (and therefore avoid direct competition in the marketplace) or to force Xfire to sell or license its proprietary technology to Yahoo for far less than fair market value to settle the expensive litigation", says The Register.
The Register says that Xfire is demanding "dismissal with prejudice of Yahoo's complaint, an order enjoining Yahoo's unfair business practices, and damages resulting from Yahoo's unfair business practices."
Muslim workers walk out at Dell plant
Thirty Muslims walked off the job at a Dell plant after alleging the company refused to let them pray at sunset -- the latest dispute over prayer between an American business and its Islamic employees.
The Mercury News/AP report (11 Mar.) that the Muslim workers, who were packaging Dell computers through a temporary labor agency, are taking the dispute to mediation, both sides said Friday. Most of the employees are from Somalia.
The question of how to integrate Islamic prayers into the American workplace is becoming far more common, with many companies using a "tag out'' system to accommodate the prayers, said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The policy allows workers to step away a few at a time for sunset prayers, reportrs The Mercury/AP.
Muslims are required by their faith to pray five times a day. Most of the prayer times are flexible, but the sunset prayers must be said at dusk.
Dell employs about 3,000 workers at two of its US facilities and "a number of contract workers on top of that.
There have been similar disputes in Minnesota, which has an estimated 20,000 Somalis -- the largest concentration in the United States, the paper reports.