Friday, 04 March 2005 18:00

News Roundup 4 Mar 2005


Virtual laser keyboards for mobile phones

The New York Times reports (3 March) that VKB, a virtual interface company in California, is bringing out a full-size keyboard made from a beam of light for use with small gadgets such as mobile phones and personal organisers.

The paper says the keyboard is projected by a red laser onto any flat surface from a battery-powered device about the size of a jumbo pack of chewing gum. The device uses infrared and a CMOS sensor to detect keystrokes.

Whatever is typed is beamed wirelessly by Bluetooth technology to any of a range of Bluetooth-enabled cellphones and personal organisers, said Mario VKB's marketing and sales spokesman told the paper.

The NYT says the keyboard, with the brand name iTech, is expected to cost US$150 to US$200 and will be available at Radio Shack stores later this month. VKB sAid it was working with other companies to incorporate virtual keyboard technology into portable devices like cellphones, personal organisers, laptops, television set-top boxes and video-game consoles.

Intel:new chip-making technology on target

Intel, the world's largest chip maker, is seeing good results with an advanced manufacturing technology it plans to use in products next year, an executive said on Wednesday.

The New York Times/Reuters report (2 March) that the California-based company today produces chips with features as small as 90 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Its plants in Oregon, Arizona and Ireland are currently being upgraded to handle 65-nanometer production, improving efficiency and cutting per-unit production costs.

The paper says notebook computer chips to be introduced early next year will be the first to be made with the technology.

Intel, which will spend about $5 billion on factories and equipment this year, will probably be the first chip maker to reach high-volume production with 65-nanometer technology, according to a market research firm, reports the NYT/Reuters.

IBM and Texas Instruments will follow quickly thereafter with 65-nanometer production, sdaid the rsearch firm.

The NYT says Intel stumbled through several product introductions last year, with at least one delay caused by a manufacturing glitch. The company has tried to put those missteps behind it, and executives have reiterated repeatedly at the conference here that its product introduction plans are on target.

The paper and Reuters say that Intel has historically moved to smaller chip features every two years, helping to sustain Moore's Law, the 40-year-old industry maxim named after Intel founder Gordon Moore that calls for the continuous shrinking of chip features.

Home networks increase in US

As more Americans introduce second computers into their homes, many are also adding home networks to allow these machines to talk to each another, according to a survey conducted in January by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The New York Times reports (3 March) that 46 percent of US households with more than one computer now have a home network, up from 29 percent in October 2002, the last time the survey was conducted. Among those households equipped with networks, 52 percent now use wireless technology, according to the survey.

The paper says the number of homes with more than one computer grew as well, from 27 percent of all households in October 2002 to 32 percent in January 2005.

A spokesman for the project told the NYT that the increase in home networks was driven largely by faster internet connections (50 percent of home users in January had high-speed internet service, compared with 24 percent in 2002) and the surging popularity of laptops.

Court overturns ruling against Microsoft

In the US, a federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a US$521 million patent infringement ruling against Microsoft and ordered a lower court to retry the case against the world's largest software maker.

The New York Times/Reuters report (2 March) that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said the original verdict, which found that parts of Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser had infringed on technology developed by privately held firm Eolas Technologies and the University of California, had ignored two of Microsoft's key arguments.

The paper says that the case sparked concerns that Microsoft would have to alter its internet browser, making it unable to run certain applets, or mini-applications, that run on Web pages. Microsoft's browser is used by 9 of every 10 Web surfers.

But a year ago, Microsoft won a ruling by the US Patent and Trademark Office, says the paper, which invalidated a claim by the plaintiffs to the browser technology that allows other mini-applications to work with Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

In 2003, an Illinois jury delivered a US$521 million verdict against Microsoft, saying it infringed on technology developed by Eolas and the University of California. That ruling was later upheld in early 2004 by the U. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

In response, Microsoft said it would prepare a version of Internet Explorer without the technology in question, but held off on making key changes after the patent office said it would reexamine the Eolas patent.

Yahoo renaming overture services brand

Internet powerhouse Yahoo has announced that it is stamping its well-known brand on Overture Services, an online advertising pioneer that it bought for US$1.7 billion nearly 17 months ago.

The New York Times/AP report that Sunnyvale-based Yahoo said it is renaming Overture as Yahoo Search Marketing Solutions in the United States and most international markets. The change, to be made early in the second quarter, is part of an overhaul designed to make it easier to find Yahoo's different advertising options, the paper says.

The paper says Yahoo plans to retain Overture's name in Japan and Korea.

The NYT report also says that although its brand has never been conspicuous, Pasadena-based Overture became one of the internet's most important companies by developing an advertising system that has turned online search engines into moneymaking machines.

The paper adds that the name change won't affect how Overture's popular service works. The system auctions off the right to have text-based advertising links displayed after specific words are entered into a search engine's query box. The approach has become a powerful sales magnet, prompting advertisers to spend an estimated US$3.8 billion on search engine marketing last year, reports the NYT

According to the NYT, Overture's popularity helped boost Yahoo's 2004 sales to US$3.6 billion last year, more than doubling the company's revenue from the previous year.

Online search engine leader Google also gave Yahoo 2.7 million shares of its high-flying stock to settle allegations that Google had illegally copied Overture's patented system for selling search engine ads. The Google shares are worth about US$500 million, reprts the NYT

US video game ratings system adds new category

The video game ratings system will add a new category to protect children under 10 from seeing certain kinds of violence, the board that administers the system in the US this week.

The New York Timers reports (2 March) that the Entertainment Software Rating Board said "E10+" would mark games that might contain "moderate amounts of cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes."

The E10+ rating will reside on the scale between "E," meaning a game is appropriate for all ages, and "T," meaning a game for teenagers. The ratings system also includes "M" ratings for those over 17 and the rarely-used "AO" for adult audiences only.

Dell CEO's opposition to internet limits on movies

Congress and federal regulators should avoid imposing restrictions on ways consumers use computers and other devices to listen to digital music and watch movies, the chief executive of the largest US computer-maker - Dell - has said.

The New York Times/AP report (3 March) that the head of Texas-based Dell, Kevin Rollins, also said entertainment companies should work closely with technology firms to build new businesses delivering music and movies to consumers.

Rollins, who took over from Michael Dell as chief executive last summer, was careful to say the company opposes illegal trafficking of digital files.

The Dell CEO said there are many new ways to deliver content to users without having to bar them from access to content or entertainment that generally stifles growth, reports the paper.

The NYT/AP report said that the Dell CEO also disclosed that the company almost certainly will use about US$100 million of US$4.1 billion it earned overseas to pay for construction at its new US$115 million manufacturing plant in North Carolina.

India's cyber cafes log customers' details

Hundreds of internet cafes in India's technology hub of Bangalore have started to record personal details of their visitors to comply with a new rule aimed at tracking perpetrators of online fraud, virus attacks and terrorism, reports The New York Times/AP (2 March).

The paper and AP repprt that internet users expressed concern that the law would lead to invasion of privacy and police harassment, while cafe owners feared a drop in customers.

The report adds that the Karnataka state government, where Bangalore is the capital, passed the law last year requiring internet cafe patrons to provide proof of identity and details such as name, age and address before using the Internet. However, police only began enforcing it this week.

Bangalore is home to about 1,000 of India's 11,000 internet cafes, and the city worries that terrorists and criminals could use the web to commit crimes such as online credit card fraud or using e-mail to plan a crime, a terrorist attack or send obscene messages.

US scientists back file-sharing firms

Some of the America's leading computer scientists are siding with file-swapping companies against the music and movie industries, says the New York Times/AP in a 1 March report.

The paper says they were joined by tech firms and consumer groups, among others, in urging the US Supreme Court on Tuesday to side with two online file-sharing firms in their high-stakes battle with Hollywood and the recording industry.

According to the paper and AP, the recording companies and movie studios are appealing to the high court to reverse lower court decisions that absolved Grokster and StreamCast Networks, which distributes the Morpheus file-sharing software, of responsibility when their customers illegally swap songs and movies.

The justices are scheduled to hear arguments in the 29 March case.

The paper reports that a group of 17 computer science and engineering professors at nine universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton and Carnegie Mellon, stressed in their brief that they feared if the court sided with the entertainment companies it could chill technological progress in computers and the internet.

The NYT says that the group asserted in their brief that if the court should announce a more restrictive rule, those who create the latest advances in technology will halt or significantly scale back their work, for fear of massive copyright infringement damages.

Others who filed briefs in support of Grokster and StreamCast included a group of law professors, the National Association of Shareholder and Consumer Attorneys, the National Venture Capital Association, Creative Commons and trade groups representing technology companies such as Intel , Verizon Communications and Apple.

The NYT says Intel also submitted a separate brief, where it argues that any changes to the Sony Betamax decision would put the onus on it and other companies to "anticipate the potential uses of their innovations ..." and then redesign their technology to make sure it doesn't violate copyright laws.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.



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