Author: Matthew Finnegan

ASML buys Cymer to advance EUV lithography

Chip equipment manufacturer ASML has given a boost to extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) development with the €1.95 billion ($2.6 billion) acquisition of Cymer.

The deal will see Dutch ASML take full control of its supplier Cymer, a company responsible for producing lithography light sources used in the manufacturing process for microchips.  

ASML CEO Eric Maurice said that the the transaction, due to go through in the first half of 2013, will accelerate the development of technologies necessary to produce future generations of microchips.  

“We expect the merger  to make EUV technology development significantly more efficient and simplify the supply chain and integration flow of the EUV modules,” Maurice explained.

Cymer boss Bob Akins added that the success of EUV is “critical” to the future of the semiconductor industry, and looks forward to an accelerated time frame as part of the deal.

EUV lithography is vital to produce chips at ever smaller sizes, particularly as manufacturers approach the limits of Moore’s Law.  Essentially, the use of  EUV, will mean faster and more powerful chips will be able to be produced at lower costs over the coming years.

ASML is considered the leader in development of the technology and it hopes to begin selling EUV lithography equipment around 2014.

ASML has already received the backing of major chip manufacturers, with Intel, Samsung and TSMC buying stakes in the firm. ASML is demanding a  significant contribution towards R&D spending to get EUV lithography up and running. 

The acquisition, which will also see ASML snap up Cymer’s DUV division, should help speed along the development of the systems which ASML intends to, ultimately, supply.

McKinnon extradition blocked

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that attempts to extradite Gary McKinnon to the US have been blocked.

Speaking at the House of Commons, May said that McKinnon would no longer face extradition to America after he hacked into US military computer systems in 2001.

“After careful consideration of all of the relevant material I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give to rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights,” May said. 

” I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order against Mr McKinnon.”

May continued: “Since I came into office the sole issue on which I have been required to make a decision is whether Mr McKinnon’s extradition to the United States would breach his human rights,” said May, who described McKinnon’s case as exceptional.

May told MPs that he is accused of “serious crimes” but is also “seriously ill” with Asperger’s Syndrome.

McKinnon has faced ten years waiting to learn of his fate.  It is said that he would face up to 60 years imprisonment.

McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp said told reporters that she was “overwhelmed” at the decision, and thanked the Home Secretary for standing up to America.

Sharp has led a campaign to halt the extradition of her son over the past years, appealing directly to the Prime Minister to intervene.  

MPs also joined in the debate, with controversy over what has been perceived as a one sided extradition treaty between the UK and the US.

McKinnon to hear extradition verdict

Gary McKinnon is set to receive a verdict from the Home Office on his extradition to America on Tuesday afternoon, after a decade long wait.

McKinnon’s lawyer Karen Todner confirmed on Sunday via Twitter that a decision would finally be made over extraditing McKinnon to face charges for hacking into US government networks.

The mother of London resident McKinnon, Janis Sharp, has been fighting attempts to extradite her son for ten years since he was accused of breaking into military and NASA computers.

Sharp has repeatedly claimed that Asperger’s sufferer McKinnon would be at severe risk of suicide if he was subject to prison across the Atlantic.   It is thought that he could face a sentence of up to 60 years.  Sharp contends that McKinnon should indeed stand trial for his actions, but should face a judgement in the UK.

Sharp’s campaign has drawn the backing of prominent MPs in the UK, and has led to an appeal to the Prime Minister to resolve the problem directly with his US counterpart Barack Obama, she previously told TechEye.

McKinnon’s case has been at the forefront of discussion by MPs surrounding the existing extradition treaties between the UK and the US.  Many believe existing rules are one sided in favour of the US, with US residents considered highly unlikely to be extradited to the UK.

Successive Home Secretaries have had to deal with the thorny problem of McKinnon’s extradition. US authorities have been adamant he should stand trial and face imprisonment on American soil, and it now falls on Conservative Theresa May to make a final judgement over whether to acquiesce to those demands.

The Home Secretary has been under the spotlight for a number of extradition rulings in the past weeks. High profile case such as that of radical cleric Abu Hamza resulted in extradition, though another contentious case, that of Abu Qatada, recently ended with the Qatada being allowed to stay in the country.

May is also to announce verdict on demands from the US Justice Department to extradite UK citizen Richard O’Dwyer for piracy offences.

A verdict on McKinnon’s case is expected to be made at noon tomorrow.

Kaspersky Lab uncovers 'miniFlame'

Kapersky has  discovered new malware dubbed ‘miniFlame’, cyber espionage software directly linked to Flame.

The miniFlame program, also referred to as SPE, was originally picked up by security experts in July while analysing the Flame virus, a program responsibly for espionage attacks on Windows based computers in the Middle East.  At the time Kaspersky labelled the Flame malware the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet discovered.  The new discovery shows that the scale of the operation is larger than first imagined.

Further findings have now shown that while miniFlame is based on the same architecture as Flame, it can also be used both independently as a malicious program, as well as acting as a plug-in for Flame and Gauss.  The intention for the program is to be used as a cyber espionage tool, Kaspersky Lab says, operating as a backdoor for data theft, allowing the creators direct access to the infected computer.

The number of computers infected by miniFlame is lower than its counterparts however, with Kaspersky Lab claiming that noting that between 10-20 machines have fallen victim to the virus. The total figure is estimated to be up 60 worldwide.  Those infected were most likely already infected with the Flame virus, forming the “second wave” of a targeted cyber espionage attack aimed at stealing information.

According to Kaspersky, versions of miniFlame were created in 2010 and 2011, and some of the six variants are still considered active.  It is expected that development of the malicious program could have started as far back as 2007.

“MiniFlame is a high precision attack tool,” said Alexander Gostev, Chief Security Expert, Kaspersky Lab, describing the malware. “Most likely it is a targeted cyber weapon used in what can be defined as the second wave of a cyberattack.”

“First, Flame or Gauss are used to infect as many victims as possible to collect large quantities of information,” he said. “After data is collected and reviewed, a potentially interesting victim is defined and identified, and miniFlame is installed in order to conduct more in-depth surveillance and cyber-espionage.”

This could involve taking screenshots of infected computers, or a USB drive could be controlled to store data collected from infected machines without an internet connection.

The analysis of miniFlame also highlighted the cooperation between the creators of Flame and another virus, Gauss, with miniFlame designed to operate alongside both malware programs.

Furthermore Kaspersky contends that with links already established between the creators of Flame and Stuxnet, the viruses are all likely to have originated from the same source.   

The US government has so far been widely linked to both Flame and Stuxnet, which was responsible for attacks on Iranian infrastructure and nuclear facilities.

AMD to slash staff numbers as revenues fall

AMD could be set to cut staff by up to 20 percent following a larger drop in third quarter revenues than had been expected.

Sources close to AMD told Reuters the chip maker is preparing to lay off between 10 and 20 percent of its workforce of 11,705 employees.  Others sites have claimed staff cuts could reach up to 30 percent.

The rumours, which AMD has not confirmed, come after the company forecast a 10 percent revenue drop from the previous quarter in its financial results. 

Just like its rival Intel, AMD has suffered from a tough PC market.  Analysts warned last week that the industry could see a whole-year sales decline for the first time in a decade, with IHS iSuppli forecasting worldwide shipments will fall by 1.2 percent in 2012.  

Analysts have also signalled a poor third quarter, with shipments falling around eight percent from the second quarter.

'Nervous' Microsoft dodges EMEA channel event

Microsoft has ducked out of attendance at channel analysts Canalys’ major EMEA conference, with the vendor apparently “nervous” about rubbing shoulders with its partners.

Speaking at the annual Canalys forum, ChannelBiz UK reported CEO Steve Brazier had highlighted Microsoft’s conspicuous absence in his keynote presentation:  “Microsoft isn’t here, we have done everything we can to get them here,” he said, adding that “for some reason, they are nervous [about] participating at a cross industry event”

With Microsoft making inroads into the tablet market with Surface, the software firm has caused some waves in the channel, with recent rumours of a move into smartphone development likely to further annoy its partners.  Brazier said that the Windows-maker had “upset” its partners by releasing its own device.

HP also spoke at the event, highlighting its plans to invest in further growth in the EMEA region, and announcing the launch of a number of mobile PC products in October, including tablet/laptop hybrid devices.

Canalys claims the outlook for the channel is relatively strong, with Apple helping to boost revenues through a tough 2012 market in Europe.  However, although the top vendors grew their profits by 10 percent as a group, the wider market is still awaiting a return to solid growth in the channel, with Q2 the worst quarter since the 2008 crash.

Juniper, also present at the forum, told ChannelBiz UK that it had enjoyed a strong year in the region despite the overriding concerns around the economy. Keep an eye out on ChannelBiz UK as there is more to follow.

Intel electrocutes David Blaine

Intel has found a truly compelling use for its Ultrabooks – electrocuting TV wizard David Blaine.

The latest stunt from the self-styled ‘master magician’ sees Blaine surrounded by a tesla coil sending a million volts running through his chainmail suit, as he stands on top of a 72 foot podium in New York.   

Intel says that a number of Ultrabook users were able to crank up the volts pulsing through the bizarre sorcerer, allowing fans to control the intensity and direction of the surrounding tesla coils.   

Whether Blaine’s latest PR stunt will be able to work some magic with Ultrabook sales, which have so far fallen short of Intel’s initial targets, is another thing.   The most real and present jeopardy Blaine appears to have been in was whether his perspex box would hold out against the barrage of golf balls and beer cans thrown at him by UK fans as he dangled above the River Thames during his 2003 Above the Below shows.

The ‘Electrified: An Intel Ultrabook Experience’ stunt is the latest attempt by Intel to grab attention for its Ultrabook platform, with a number of ad campaigns aimed at raising awareness among consumers.  Intel told ChannelBiz UK earlier this year that its advertising push for the devices would be the biggest “in a long, long time”, as the firm fights back against the rise of other mobile devices.  

As well as a ‘smash and grab’ themed advert, which we imagine would have boosted uptake in the UK circa August 2011, Intel has also roped in big name directors and actors such as Roman Coppola and Chloe Sevigny as it seeks alterative methods for its marketing push.

Researchers to push OS into the cloud

With computer users increasingly relying on the cloud, a group of researchers are planning on the next step – a fully cloud based operating system, TransOS.

Cloud computing has been a buzzword for some time, with many businesses utilising some form of computing ‘as a service’.  In fact most PC, laptop and smartphone users are likely to have made use of simple cloud storage services such as Dropbox or Sky Drive at some point.

Now researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing are hoping that developing TransOS could persuade users to entrust their entire operating system software, which ties hardware and software applications into one interface, to the cloud.  

The system would require only a minimal amount of code to enable a connection to servers hosting the OS, allowing connections from a “dummy terminal”.

This would have a number of benefits, according to the researchers.  For example, software would be automatically updated externally, while the hardware demands would be lower as much of the computing would be performed off-site. Processing power would not be drained by an inactive operating system either. Of course, consistent access to an internet connection would be critical for TransOS, and would require an even higher level of trust in an external service provider.

As well as performing OS functions on PCs and notebooks, the researchers claim that the system could be used to support all manner of hardware, from smartphones and tablets, to home appliances such as fridges or washing machines. However, such widespread use would require architecture and interface standards to be established.

Microsoft to face EC antitrust charges

Microsoft is set to feel the wrath of the European Commission over its failure to provide browser choice in Windows.

European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia has indicated that Microsoft will be subject to formal charges after the company appeared to breach a 2009 antitrust agreement with the EC.

In a statement, Almunia claimed that Microsoft had “failed to keep its promise” by allowing a number of products to be shipped without a browser choice screen for customers.

“To meet one of our concerns, the company pledged to let consumers choose which web browser they would use with its Windows operating system,” he said. “By its own admission, Microsoft has failed to keep its promise. I take compliance very seriously and we are now considering the next steps.”

Almunia confirmed that the “next step is to open a formal proceeding” against the company, Reuters reported.

Microsoft has claimed that shipping software without a browser choice was due to a computer glitch.  It is likely that the EC will argue that at the very least, the company should have taken more care to ensure that Microsoft upheld its end of the bargain, struck in 2009.

The EC recently indicated that Microsoft had agreed to comply with antitrust rulings. Competition chief Almunia confirmed he had met with CEO Steve Ballmer, who made assurances that Microsoft would immediately address any concerns.

However, with formal proceedings beginning, the EC could now take stronger action, as Microsoft’s previous offer to extend its antitrust agreement by 15 months is unlikely to carry much weight.   

One legal expert claimed that Microsoft’s negligence could lead to “significant fines” running into the hundreds of millions of euros.

TalkTalk wins 'most complained about' accolade, again

TalkTalk has again been labelled the most complained internet service provider in an Ofcom survey.

The data, compiled by Ofcom, looks at phone, broadband and pay TV complaints for each quarter.  For fixed broadband service complaints TalkTalk was ranked highest, with 0.42 complaints per 1,000 customers over its services. Most of these complaints were regarding line faults or other service problems, Ofcom said.  

Although TalkTalk complaints were down from the previous quarter, which reached 0.56 per 1,000, the figure is almost double the national average of 0.24, and ahead of BT Retail with 0.31 per 1,000 customers. Sky Broadband has the fewest complaints, at 0.10 per 1,000.

Talk Talk also received more than double the national average number of complaints for its phone services, 0.53 per 1,000, compared to the average of 0.24, and second placed BT with 0.19.

It is not the first time that Talk Talk has been shown up by Ofcom.  Last year’s results were even worse, and the company has also been on the receiving end of a hefty fine from the watchdog for misleading customers.

However, Talk Talk promises that it is working to ensure its service improves, making headway in reducing the number of complaints.

“TalkTalk received its lowest ever number of complaints about landline and broadband services,” Talk Talk said in a statement to TechEye. “There were 35 percent fewer landline complaints compared with the same quarter last year, while broadband complaints fell 28 percent.”  

“We recognise that there is still work to do and we are continually pushing through improvements.

“Technical faults are fixed faster, more support is being offered when customers move house, and our online support system, which now accounts for 70 percent of customer contacts, is being further enhanced. We’ll strive to continually offer great value to our five million customers.”