Monday, April 23, 2007

India commercial rocket takes off

India's first commercial rocket has been launched into space.

The rocket, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), took off from the Sriharikota base in southern India at 1530 Indian time (1000 GMT).

It is carrying a 352kg Italian satellite which will gather information about the origins of the universe, the AFP news agency reports.

India's space programme includes an unmanned mission to the Moon which is due to take place next year.

'Twenty-three minutes'

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says that scientists at India's space centre broke out into spontaneous applause as the rocket lifted off into a clear blue sky.

He says that India has been working for some time on developing a low-cost launch system which could take on more established players around the world.

Reports say that India is being paid $11m to launch the Italian satellite.

The rocket was due to send the satellite into orbit 23 minutes after takeoff.

The PSLV model rocket was first launched in 1994. It puts satellites into orbits where they cross above the earth's poles.

At present, the PSLV rocket only has the capability of carrying relatively lighter loads of under 1,000 kilograms.

But officials at India's space programme are hoping that can change with time.

Rocket Technology News by BBC News

More phones can be BlackBerries

The firm behind the popular handheld BlackBerry will make the device's software more widely available.

Research in Motion (RIM) plans to roll out software that will allow multimedia mobile phones running on a Microsoft platform to work like BlackBerries.

The facility will widen the choice of handsets available for Blackberry devotees who want to use its applications, such as wireless e-mail.

But it will only work on mobiles with the latest Windows software.

There are currently few models available running Windows Mobile 6.0, the latest version of Microsoft's platform, but the numbers are expected to increase this year.


The software is designed to broaden access to Blackberry functions, especially to those who do not want to switch devices to get them.

Once the software is installed, the Windows layout and icons are replaced with the BlackBerry interface, customised to the particular handset.

A user would be able to switch back and forth between the two platforms, the company said.

The Canadian firm said it did not know yet whether downloading the software would incur an added charge, or if it would be included with subscription to the BlackBerry service, which generally costs between $30 (£14.90) and $50 a month.

RIM said it was working closely with a number of mobile phone operators, including AT&T, to make the software available on handsets, possibly by September.

BlackBerries Technology News by BBC News

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blackberry says system restored

The maker of the Blackberry wireless e-mail device says it has restored the service to "most" of its North American users following a network failure.

Research In Motion said it was now looking at the cause of the breakdown, which first happened on Tuesday night.

Some US and Canadian users will still experience delays until the backlog of undelivered e-mails clears, it added.

But with eight million global users, some analysts have questioned whether the network has reached capacity.

"The rapid subscriber growth, plus the runaway junk e-mail boom, equals a disaster in the making," said technology expert Jeff Kagan.

"Networks work fine until they reach their capacity, then all sorts of strange things happen."

'Closely monitoring situation'

Canada-based Research In Motion (RIM) said it was "closely monitoring systems in order to maintain normal service levels".

It is estimated that RIM has around 45% of the market for smart phones.

Preliminary figures recently showed that the firm's profits jumped 10-fold to $187m (£94m) in the three months to 3 March.

The network disruption comes as RIM faces a formal probe by the US financial watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, over its stock options.

Mobile Technology News by BBC News

Microsoft aims to double PC base

Microsoft software will sell for just $3 (£1.50) in some parts of the world in an attempt to double the number of global PC users.

The firm wants to bring computing to a further one billion people by 2015.

Governments in developing countries can purchase the cut-price software, if they provide free PCs for schools.

Other companies and organisations are also trying to boost computer literacy in developing countries, notably the One Laptop per Child project.

The OLPC are in the final stages of developing a low cost, durable laptop, designed to work specifically in an educational context.

Five million of the laptops will be start to be delivered to developing nations this summer.

The eventual aim is to sell the machine to developing countries for $100 but the current cost of the machine is about $150.

The first countries to sign up to buying the machine, which is officially dubbed XO, include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Rwanda, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand.

Business drive

The Microsoft initiative was launched by Bill Gates in Beijing under the banner of its Unlimited Potential scheme, a program aimed at bridging the digital divide.

The scheme aims to bring the benefit of computing technology to the remaining five sixths of the world's population, who currently live without it.

"Bringing the benefits of technology to the next five billion people will require new products that meet the needs of underserved communities," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. One of the first products, that is hoped will reach the next billion people is the Microsoft's student Innovation Suite.

The package includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, as well as other educational software.

The $3 package will start to be sold to governments in the second half of 2007.

"This is not a philanthropic effort, this is a business," Orlando Ayala of Microsoft told the Reuter's news agency.

In may developing countries, pirated versions of Microsoft software are sold very cheaply.

Governments will be required to provide free computers to schools, capable of running Windows, to be eligible for the discounted software.

The scheme is one of many launched by organisation and big business to address the digital divide.

Besides the OLPC scheme, chip maker Intel has developed the Classmate PC, while its rival AMD has launched a scheme called 50x15 that aims to put computer technology in the hands of half of the world's population by 2015

Microsoft Technology News by BBC News

Saturday, April 7, 2007

HP unveils plan for gaming future

US computer and printer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard has unveiled plans it hopes will make it a major force in the global video and online gaming market.

HP bought specialist gaming computer firm VoodooPC at the end of last year, and said it would now expand the hardware the firm was able to offer.

Ideas on the drawing board are a curved computer screen and a handheld device that let users play on the move.

The global computer gaming business is worth some $35bn (£18bn) a year.

Gloves off

As computer software and hardware becomes more sophisticated, so does the taste of consumers who look for ever more interactive gaming experiences.

A number of the world's biggest electronics firms are already fighting for domination in the video console business, including Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.

However, HP said that it would not go into direct competition with Nintendo's Wii console, Sony's Playstation 3 and Microsoft's X-Box.

Instead the company would focus more on the online, mobile and computer gaming market, where millions of players take part in interactive games such as World of Warcraft.

"When we start playing in that space, the gloves are coming off," said Rahul Sood, chief technical officer of HP's global gaming division and the founder of VoodooPC.

Greater reality

One part of the sales plan will be for HP to offer gaming-specific computers that are more expensive than a normal PC, but less pricey than the custom-built specialized hardware that VoodooPc offers its clients.

HP is not the only company looking to meet the growing needs of gamers, and in March 2006 rival Dell bought computer maker Alienware in an effort to better cater to the profitable if somewhat niche market.

HP also unveiled some prototypes that it hopes will lure consumers.

One idea is a curved computer screen that would allow people playing a driving game to see the road to their left and right, and not just straight ahead.

Another prototype is for a handheld device that would let a users incorporate real landscapes into their games whilst on the move.

HP Technology News by BBC NEWS

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Lenovo tops eco-friendly ranking

Chinese computer maker Lenovo has topped a ranking of the world's most eco-friendly electronics firms.

Compiled by Greenpeace, the quarterly report ranks firms by how green their production processes are and what they do to recycle hardware they sell.

In previous reports Lenovo ranked low for eco-friendliness but in 2007 it scooped the top spot over Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Dell, and Samsung.

Apple came last of the 14 firms Greenpeace profiled in the report.

Action plan

The study, which was first compiled in 2006, looks at how big electronics firms make their hardware to see if they use toxic chemicals in the production process and scrutinises what they do to recycle goods when customers have stopped using them.

The campaigning group said that overall scores for the hi-tech firms it profiled had improved but it shied away from describing any hardware maker as "green".

Despite this, Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace international toxics campaigner, said the industry had made some positive steps in the last 12 months with firms starting to act rather than just issue statements of intent. Of the 14 companies profiled, said Ms Kruszewska, nine now score more than five out of 10.

Top of the table Lenovo, which bought IBM's consumer electronics division in 2005, got 8 out of 10 for offering takeback services in all the nations where its products are sold. This means it will recycle any broken or obsolete own-brand product returned to it.

"Given the growing mountains of e-waste in China - both imported and domestically generated - it is heartening to see a Chinese company taking the lead, and assuming responsibility at least for its own branded waste," said Ms Kruszewska.

However, Lenovo lost marks for still using some of the most toxic substances to make its products.

Other firms in the top five, such as Sony-Ericsson, have already eliminated toxic chemicals including brominated fire retardants, polyvinyl chloride, beryllium and phthalates from their factories.

Greenpeace criticised Apple for not setting a deadline for eliminating some toxic chemicals from its production processes. Apple scored 2.7 out of 10 on Greenpeace's ranking.

In response, Apple said in a statement: "We disagree with Greenpeace's rating and the criteria."

The company added: "Apple has a strong environmental track record and has led the industry in restricting and banning toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, as well as many brominated flame retardants."

Computer Technology News by BBC NEWS

Orange SPV M700 Windows Mobile smart phone

Orange has updated its Windows Mobile PDA phone and whacked another 100 onto its name. At first glance, the only difference is a shinier finish. So what else has been souped up to turn an M600 into an M700?

Well, for starters, the 10.8 x 5.8 x 1.8cm, 150g SPV M700 can now handle 3G connections, as well as the EDGE and GPRS capabilities it had before. That 3G support certainly helps with functions such as downloading email attachments and video clips, making it a bonus for business or pleasure. If that was all that had changed you'd be hearing some pretty stiff words from us, because as much as we loved the M600, there are plenty of improvements available with today's technology.

The lens at the top-right of the screen makes use of one of these, adding video calling to the SPV's repertoire. The lens obviously has to be on the front so you can see the other caller and they can see you. However, you can also choose which of the PDA's cameras to send images from during the call, switching back and forth to show them your face or what the camera on the reverse can see.

The biggest change is still to come, though, and it makes the M700 one of the only devices you need to leave the house with. The M600 included Orange's satnav technology but needed an additional Bluetooth device to pickup GPS satellite signals. The M700 brings that technology under its hood as is increasingly common in PDAs and smart phones.

Sadly, it can take quite a while to connect to the GPS signal, especially if you're in a large building or on a moving train. But once it has connected, regular updates of your position and the necessary maps download without any break in service. Audible instructions and a choice of top-down or 3D map functions make it usable whether you're driving or walking. It's just a shame there's no holder to attach it to your car's dashboard.

Mobile phone Technology by

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

EU price probe into Apple iTunes

The EU has launched an inquiry into what Apple's online music store iTunes charges users across Europe, accusing it of restricting customer choice.

Brussels believes agreements between Apple and record companies violate EU laws by preventing users in one country buying music from a site elsewhere.

The move follows a complaint by UK body Which? that British users have to pay more to download songs than others.

Apple said it wanted to offer a single European service but faced obstacles.

Different pricing

The Commission's move is unrelated to an agreement, announced on Monday, between iTunes and EMI to make the latter's music available online without piracy protection.

Brussels has written to Apple and a number of unnamed record companies to notify them of their objections to the way music is sold, the first step in formal proceedings.

Media reports speculated that it had contacted each of the "big four" record companies - EMI, Sony BMG, Warner Music and Universal Music.

The Commission said Apple established customers' country of residence through their credit card details and only allowed people to buy tracks from the website for that country.

"Consumers can only buy music from the iTunes online stores in their country of residence and are therefore restricted in their choice of where to buy music," said EU competition spokesman Jonathan Todd.

Research by Which? in 2005 found that UK users paid 79p (1.16 euros) to download a song, compared with 66p (99 euro cents) in France and Germany.

Apple said it had always wanted to offer a fully pan-European service, but was restricted by the demands of its music partners.

"We were advised by the music labels and publishers that there were certain legal limits to the rights they could grant us," it said in a statement.

'Restricting competition'

The companies targeted by Brussels have two months in which to respond to the charges.

Which? welcomed the investigation, saying the benefits of the European single market should be available to music lovers in all member states.

"This investigation proves that iTunes is overcharging its UK customers, who are paying substantially more for their music," said Alena Kozakova, its principal economist.

"The announcement means that companies can no longer hide behind intellectual property rights to restrict competition for consumers."

Apple iTunes News by BBC NEWS

UK hacker loses extradition fight

A British man has lost his High Court fight against extradition to the US for allegedly carrying out the "biggest military computer hack of all time".

Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon, of north London, is accused of gaining access to 97 US military and Nasa computers.

Home Secretary John Reid granted the US request to extradite him for trial.

At the High Court in London, his lawyers argued the 41-year-old had been subjected to "improper threats" and the move would breach his human rights.

His lawyers had argued that, if extradited, he would face an unknown length of time in pre-trial detention, with no likelihood of bail.

He would also face a long prison sentence - "in the region of 45 years" - and may not be allowed to serve part of the sentence at home in the UK, his lawyers had said.

But, on Tuesday, Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Goldring dismissed his legal challenge, saying they could not find any grounds for appeal.

Ben Cooper, for Mr McKinnon, said his client would now seek to make an appeal against his extradition at the House of Lords.

Alleged threats by US authorities, including one from New Jersey prosecutors that "he would fry", would be among issues raised, Mr Cooper said.

"We will certainly be applying for this court to certify a point of law of public importance and to grant leave," he said.

Mr McKinnon had been suffering from ill health during recent court hearings, he added.

Mr McKinnon has never denied that he accessed the computer networks of a wide number of US military institutions between February 2001 and March 2002.

Mr McKinnon, arrested in November 2002, has always maintained that he was motivated by curiosity and that he only managed to get into the networks because of lax security.

Technology News by BBC NEWS

Monday, April 2, 2007

Quick fix for Windows cursor flaw

Microsoft is moving to close a security loophole in Windows that lets attackers hijack a PC via animated cursors.

Malicious hackers are already known to be exploiting the flaw via booby-trapped and compromised websites.

Microsoft usually issues security patches once a month to help users keep their PC safe.

However, the seriousness of the bug has prompted the software company to act early and stifle attempts to exploit the flaw.

Cursor cure

The problem started to receive public attention in late March when security firms realised that the way Windows handles animated cursors could be used as a route to take over a PC.

Microsoft said it had decided to issue a patch early because attacks using the vulnerability had increased in intensity and code to exploit the flaw was known to be circulating widely.

McAfee warned that attackers could booby-trap websites with the exploit code and "silently" compromise vulnerable PCs.

On its Security Response Center blog Microsoft said it had been notified about the flaw in December 2006 and had been working on a fix since then.

The fix was scheduled to be released on 10 April - the next date for Microsoft's regular monthly security update.

"Due to the increased risk to customers from these latest attacks, we were able to expedite our testing to ensure an update is ready for broad distribution sooner than April 10," noted the blog.
PC users will be able to get the fix via Windows automatic update or visit Microsoft itself to download the patch manually.

Users of Windows Vista, XP, 2000 and Server 2003 are potentially vulnerable to the cursor vulnerability.

Microsoft Windows Technology News by BBC NEWS