Author: Matthew Finnegan

Shareholder accuses HP of lying about Autonomy write-down

An HP shareholder has accused it of lying about the reasons for the $8.8 billion write-down following its Autonomy buy in a lawsuit filed in a US court.

The lawsuit, filed by Stanley Morrical, who owns 1,200 shares in the computing giant, claims that promises around an integrated platform using Autonomy were not delivered.

The lawsuit states that a Next Generation Information IDOL 10 product was promised when the firm paid $11.7 billion for the British software, combining software with HP’s Vertica technology.  Morrical says that such a product has not yet been delivered.

The case, filed in a San Jose District Court, claims that it is this lack of product development which is to blame for the write-down, rather than the fraudulent accounting practices that HP has alleged.

“The integrated Next Generation Information Platform that HP claimed existed did not exist in the form that was announced,” the court filing claims, “it was a fraud – not accounting fraud as stated by HP – but a more fundamental and foundational fraud because HP did not and does not have the revolutionary product it promised the public, its customers and its shareholders.”

Morrical is also alleging that the board of directors were fully aware of Autonomy’s inability to deliver on “next generation” products, claiming that “HP’s officers and directors know that they wasted $11.7 billion worth of HP’s corporate cash to buy a company with an outdated product with multiple competitors.”

HP has claimed that of the $8.8 billion write-down, around $5 billion has been down to ‘accounting improprieties’ at Autonomy prior to the sale of the company.   This includes ‘channel stuffing’, with allegations that software licences, which were sold to resellers but not to customers, were included in its sales.

Former Autonomy boss Mike Lynch has denied the allegations, countering that the board of directors should have been fully aware of the financial well being of the company.  

Leo Apotheker, HP CEO at the time of the Autonomy purchase, also weighed in to claim that the blame was with the board of directors.

Other investors also filed lawsuits last month after the write-off caused HP’s shares to plummet.

MoD lost over 200 computers in the last year

The Ministry of Defence had 206 computers stolen in the past year, along with a number of BlackBerry phones and other mobile devices, department figures have revealed.

As well as the loss of computers, 34 BlackBerry devices went missing during the financial year 2011-12, as well as 24 other mobile devices.

The number of PCs and laptops being lost or stolen from the department is lower than the previous year, when 371 hardware items went missing.  There was an increase in the number of mobiles that were unaccounted for, including BlackBerry devices used by civil servants and Ministers for departmental business.  

MoD minister Mark Francois said in a statement that the department is looking at new ways to prevent the theft or loss of devices.

“The Ministry of Defence takes any theft of, loss of, attacks on, or misuse of, its information, networks and associated media storage devices very seriously and has robust procedures in place to mitigate against and investigate such occurrences,” the Conservative MP said. 
“Furthermore, new processes, instructions and technological aids are continually being implemented to mitigate human errors and raise the awareness of every individual in the Department.”

TechEye has approached the MoD to find out whether this includes the use of device tracking software, but is yet to receive a reply.   

Francois added that there has been no reason to believe that any sensitive information has been accessed as a result of the theft or loss of IT equipment.

“Following thorough investigations, the Joint Security Co-ordination Centre has not received any evidence that demonstrates that the information has been compromised,”  he said.

“A significant number of the incidents involve information that had been encrypted to government standards and, while the data was lost, the chance of compromise of encrypted information is deemed to be minimal,” Francois said.

Ofcom reveals 4G spectrum bidders

Ofcom has announced the names of the seven operators that have been selected to bid for 4G spectrum.

The communications watchdog revealed that the companies selected to begin the auction process are Everything Everywhere, Telefónica (which owns O2), Vodafone, HKT (a subsidiary of PCCW) , Hutchison 3G (operator of the Three network), MLL Telecom,  and Niche Spectrum Ventures Limited (a subsidiary of BT Group).

The seven companies will start the bidding process in January 2013, with the winners tasked with boosting the spectrum available to customers by 75 percent.

Bidders will be informed if they have been awarded contracts to deliver the high speed mobile broadband in February, before rolling out services in June.

The seven operators will join the auction for spectrum at 800 MHz range, which will be used for widespread coverage having been freed up by the switch-off of analogue TV signals, and 2.6 GHz, which will provide high speed connections, particularly for urban areas.

“The 4G auction will be a competitive process that will dictate the shape of the UK mobile phone market for the next decade and beyond,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards. “New 4G services will stimulate investment, growth and innovation in the UK and deliver significant benefits to consumers in terms of better, faster and more reliable mobile broadband connections.”

It is expected that the sale of spectrum will generate up to £3.5 billion, a figure which Chancellor George Osborne factored into his latest budget report.  A reserve price of £1.3 billion has been set by Ofcom.

It was also announced this week that the Ministry of Defence will begin selling of parts of its spectrum below the 3.5 GHz range next year, with the possibility of raising up to another £1 billion.   

Boeing replaces humans with sacks of potatoes

Boeing has found a way to test wireless signals onboard its planes, using the pinnacle of aviation technology – a sack of potatoes.

The aircraft manufacturer’s engineers were faced with a quandary when testing inflight radio signal quality. Planes are increasingly making use of in-flight wireless systems, but there is the potential that they can interfere with a plane’s electrical systems.

Ensuring that there is a strong enough signal to meet regulatory standards, while also delivering a usable wireless signal, requires engineers tweaking the systems, and that can take a lot of time, even up to two weeks.    

To accurately replicate flight situations, testing would also require the presence of a cabin full of humans sitting in passenger seats on a dummy flight.

However, Boeing engineers found a way to resolve testing problems was by substituting humans for large sacks of potatoes.

Apparently the vegetables behave in a very similar way to humans on a plane.  This means they are able to block out radio waves as they pass through the cabin, just as a human would, though they are less likely to demand free beer or ask to meet the pilot. 

To speed up wireless signal testing, Boeing staff filled seats on one of its decommissioned aircraft with 20,000 sacks of potatoes.

Aside from doing little to dispel perceptions that modern airlines treat passengers little better than freighted cargo, the test enabled engineers to successfully tweak wireless signals in a fraction of the time, taking just ten hours.

Test data was then validated with non-vegetable passengers, with Boeing claiming that the end result is greater reliability and safety on its flights.

And the name of the tuber testing method put in place by the engineers?  That would be Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution, or, abbreviated, SPUDS – of course.


Dell snaps up data protection specialist

Grey Tin box maker Michael  Dell has written a cheque for data protection outift Credant , as part of a cunning plan to expand his enterprise security portfolio.

Credant’s technology allows customers to protect and encrypt corporate data, securing information sent from endpoints to storage, servers or into the cloud.   The Texan firm, founded in 2001, currently secures more than two million endpoints for customers across a number of verticals, and will add to Dell’s growing enterprise security offerings.  

It is expected that Credant will provide benefits to Dell customers such as simplified security management, faster provisioning of services and “military-grade” protection and encryption.

According to a statement from Dell, the acquisition will help the company to address demands from corporate customers around bring your own device (BYOD), with Credant technology securing data across multiple operating systems.

Dell, which has already snapped up a number of security related companies such as SonicWall this year, did not reveal the financials details of the acquisition.

Jeff Clarke, president of Dell’s End User Computing Solutions division, said that the services offered by Credant will allow enterprise users to cope with the rise in mobility.

“In today’s work environment data is always in-flight – from work being done on a local PC, being sent via email, stored on a USB drive and saved in the cloud,” Clarke said. “Each one of those experiences represents a potential security risk.

He added: “The Credant assets will complement and extend current Dell device security features to make Dell Latitude, OptiPlex and Precision PCs some of the world’s most secure. And when combined with the change in compute behaviors and data in-flight, Dell can now offer a differentiated security proposition based on its own Intellectual Property.”

In other acquisition news, Cisco has agreed to buy BroadHop, a provider of policy control and service management technology for carrier networks.

Watchdog blocks $330 million component company acquisition deal

US authorities have blocked a proposed $330 million acquisition deal, with the buy out of PLX Technology creating a “near-monopoly” for Integrated Device Technology (IDT).
The Federal Trade Commission has put an end to the deal which it ruled would create an unfair advantage in the production and sale of PCIe switches, components which perform connectivity functions in electronic devices.
According to US authorities, IDT and PLX are the two biggest players in the PCIe market, worth $100 million a year globally.
The FTC said that the two companies are currently each other’s closest and most direct competitors. By joining together in a $330 million merger deal agreed in April 2012, the resultant company would own 85 percent of the PCIe market.
In the past customers have capitalised on the rivalry between the two component firms to drive down prices, but the proposed deal would eliminate this competition, potentially affecting value and quality. The rivalry has also resulted in more innovative features and better customer service.
“PCIe switches are important components in many computing, communications and consumer products,” said Richard Feinstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.
“The combination of IDT and PLX would hurt competition and lead to higher switch prices, lower innovation in the marketplace, and reduced customer service.”

Sprint snaps up the rest of Clearwire for $2.2 billion

US telecoms provider Sprint has purchased the remainder of Clearwire in a deal worth $2.2 billion.

Sprint announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the remaining 50 percent of the firm, following its previous investment in the mobile broadband company.  

The deal saw Sprint pay $2.97 per share, valuing the firm at a total of $10 billion, including net debt and spectrum lease obligations of $5.5 billion.   This meant an increase on the $2.60 per share that Sprint originally offered in its first bid last month.

The deal will see $800 million of additional financing available to Clearwire in the form of exchangeable notes, according to a Sprint statement.

The transaction was unanimously approved by Clearwire’s board, with shareholding companies such as Comcast and Intel indicating their support for the deal.  

Softbank, which has acquired 70 percent of Sprint, also gave the thumbs up to the deal.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who recently took a paycut, said that the deal will enable the firm to make the most of ClearWire’s wireless spectrum, adding it to its own network capacity.

“Today’s transaction marks yet another significant step in Sprint’s improved competitive position and ability to offer customers better products, more choices and better services,” Hesse said.  “Sprint is uniquely positioned to maximise the value of Clearwire’s spectrum and efficiently deploy it to increase Sprint’s network capacity.” 

He added: “We believe this transaction, particularly when leveraged with our SoftBank relationship, is further validation of our strategy and allows Sprint to control its network destiny.”

The deal is expected to be finalised in during the middle of 2013, coinciding with SoftBank’s investment in Sprint.

UK gov rejects web porn ban

The government has rejected demands that internet service providers place automatic filters on pornographic content online to protect children.

Following a joint consultation conducted by the Department and Education and Home Office, ministers have agreed that ISPs will not be required to put default blocks on pornography, with the responbility lying with parents.  

There have been calls for a process whereby adults would have to ‘opt in’ to see certain content, rather than being freely available for any users to access, including from UK PM  David ‘Dave’ Cameron himself.

According to the report outlining the government’s response to the consultation, ISPs will continue to use an ‘active choice’ system being put in place by ISPs such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.   This involves encouraging and allowing parents to set controls on content, rather than being putting it under the remit of the ISP.

A consultation showed that only around a third of parents would back the placement of default blocks to be put in place by ISPs, but this was not deemed high enough by the government to warrant blocking of data for all users.

The report stated: “There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP: only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that approach.”

The report also highlighted the difficulties in actually putting blocks in place, with an overzealous approach also filtering out content pertaining to other topics such as as sexual health, for example, yet failing to block all the pornographic content on the web.

The proposals also came under fire from privacy advocates. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, one of the campaign groups opposing the filtering, commented that the government has taken measured approach to the situation. 

“This is a positive step that strikes the right balance between child safety and parentalresponsibility without infringing on civil liberties and freedom of speech,” Pickles said.

“The policy recognises it is parents, not Government, who are responsible for controlling what their children see online and rightly avoids any kind of state-mandated blocking of legal conten,” he said.

He added: “Companies are already responding to demand from some parents for filters and emphasising that choice is rightly the focus of Government policy.”

IBM: You'll be able to 'feel' through your smartphone in five years

Smartphones will be able to ‘touch’ materials through their handset within five years, IBM has predicted.

Researchers at Big Blue are already developing applications for retail, healthcare and other areas using a variety of sensors to give tactile feedback through a touchscreen, simulating the feel of materials.

In the company’s set of five annual predictions, IBM is claiming that within five years smartphones will see advances that heighten the sensory ability of handsets to see, hear, taste and smell, as well as simulating touch.

With regards to touch, it is claimed that smartphones will be able to replicate the feel of a material using haptic, infrared and pressure sensitive technologies as a phone user brushes their finger over a material onscreen.  

Haptic feedback is already used in the gaming industry, providing feedback in accordance with on screen action. With smartphones this could be applied to a handset’s vibration capabilities, producing a unique vibration that is, the scientists claim, able to replicate the feel of materials, differentiating between silk, linen and cotton, for example.

One aspect of the advances necessary to enable tactile feedback is to build up a ‘language’ of vibrations relating to materials. IBM says that using digital image processing and image correlation, it will be possible to access a lexicon of data on texture qualities, allowing a phone user to automatically upload the ‘feel’ of an object through a picture.

As well as allowing designers and fashionistas to touch materials in different parts of the world, or shoppers to feel a wicker basket on the other side of the planet, this could enable farmers to determine the health of a crop by comparing it to a database of healthy crops. This could also mean improvements to tactile feedback on touchscreen keyboards.

In future the technology could even be used to send a doctor a picture of an injury, allowing them to feel and detect any damage that has been caused as a result of an injury.

Although some applications may err towards sounding like science fiction at the moment, IBM points out the advances that have been in the previous five years with smartphone technology, and the multitude of applications that are already possible.

Bernie Meyerson, IBM Fellow and VP of Innovation said that advances in the ability to replicate or detect touch, sound, sight, taste and smell  will increase the ability of technology to make sense of the world around us. 

“Just as the human brain relies on interacting with the world using multiple senses, by bringing combinations of these breakthroughs together, cognitive systems will bring even greater value and insights, helping us solve some of the most complicated challenges,” Meyerson said.

McKinnon charges dropped after ten year battle

Charges against Gary McKinnon for breaching US government IT systems have been dropped by UK authorities, bringing a decade long battle to an end.

In a statement from the Crown Prosecution Court and Metropolitan Police it was announced that a case against McKinnon would not proceed in the UK, following the decision to block his extradition to the US.

The joint statement highlighted the difficulties in bring a case against McKinnon in England, in part due to the logistics of transferring sensitive information prepared for US courts over to London, and need for US witnesses in a trial based in London.

The chances of bringing charges against McKinnon are also relatively low, the CPS contended.

“The prospects of a conviction against Mr McKinnon, which reflects the full extent of his alleged criminality, are not high,” the statement read.

“Against this background, the joint CPS/police panel recommended to the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police that he should not commence a new criminal investigation into Mr McKinnon. The Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has accepted that advice.”

Since 2002, McKinnon has been embroiled in a fight to remain in the country, with the Asperger’s sufferer demanding the right to stay in the country on medical grounds.  It had been suggested by doctors that there would be a high chance of suicide if the Enfield resident was to face a sentence in US prisons. 

McKinnon is accused of gaining access to 97 US government computers between 2001 and 2002. He maintains that he was looking for evidence of UFOs on Nasa servers, rather than attempting to cause damage to any computer networks.

Following a lengthy legal battle, and an awareness campaign from his mother Janis Sharp, Home Secretary Theresa May announced in October that McKinnon would no longer face extradition to the US, although it would have been political suicide for May.

Sharp spoke to TechEye earlier this year about her appeal to Prime Minister David Cameron, who she hoped would resolve her son’s extradition battle directly with President Obama.   

Sharp appealed for a full pardon from the US government.

“I would love more than anything for President Obama to give Gary a Christmas pardon,” she told the BBC.  “A pardon would mean that it is completely finished in everyone’s head”.

The proposed extradition of McKinnon, along with another British citizen, Richard O’Dwyer, accused of copyright infringement, generated strong opposition from some MPs. The existing extradition agreement had been labelled one sided in Parliament.   

Open Rights Group Director Jim Killock recently told TechEye that despite the success in the legal battles for both McKinnon and O’Dwyer, under current legislation similar cases could still arise.