AMD to let its magic tortoise go

Here at TechEye, we’ve heard whisperings that AMD is planning to deconsolidate fab spin-off GlobalFoundries from its books imminently and is also planning to reduce its ownership share in the firm in the very near future.

It’s widely expected that AMD will discuss the deconsolidation efforts in its upcoming earnings call later this week, which, unlike Intel’s, are not likely to show an 800 plus per cent profit increase.

Indeed, Wall Street has long been anxious for the littler chipper to get Glofo off its books and make its balance sheet more bright and breezy as a result.

Not that Glofo isn’t doing well, but a $4.6 billion fab project on one’s budget tends to look a little top heavy, not to mention the money being pumped into the Dresden fab to keep it all up to date and bleeding edge.

Of course, another reason AMD may be thinking of scaling back its share in GF is that it’s highly unlikely the chipmaker has the cash to match ATIC’s capital spending, what with AMD not having either a kingdom nor an oil-field to drain resources from.

But the move will probably be a good one for GlobalFoundries, which should be able to assert rather a lot more independence in the market and chase other customers more aggressively as AMD moves from its role of partner to more of a punter and minority shareholder.

Germany declares war on Google

The glorious Google empire, upon which the sun never sets, has mightily miffed the reconstituted Germany under  Chancellor Angela Merkel.

There had been mutterings in the rebuilt Reichstag that Google was an “evil Empire” which had been playing monopoly and that the Fatherland needed a new living room in cyber-space.

Now it appears that German publishers VDZ and BDZV are set to follow government complaints by mobilising their forces on the borders of legal action.

They have previously mentioned that Google profits from their online content without offering them a fair share of advertising revenue.  They do not like the way that Google offers “snippets” from media websites and news articles which show up in lists on Google search results.

They will be joining Ciao, a Microsoft-owned social networking site for shoppers, and online map company Euro-Cities which have both muttered darkly about Google’s business practices.

Google’s German spokesman Kay Oberbeck says the company is confident it has done nothing wrong and is currently explaining to the Cartel Office why it is important that it has control of Europe.  It says its monopoly is benign and  its products and business practices to the Cartel Office and show that we are convinced these are in line with German and European law.
 
Oberbeck added the company paid 4.2 billion euros ($6 billion) to publishers worldwide in 2009.  Although this figure is small in comparison to the  1.2 billion euros a year on ads placed next to regular search results.

Chip firms open wallets for Haiti

* UPDATE: Nvidia said it’s at $2,500 in donations from the community. If readers want to get involved in fundraising they can find out how to do so, here. Nvidia is matching up to $50,000 of employee donations, and their donations were more than $50,000 over the weekend.

Evil monkeys changing graphics cards are all well and good, but nothing is as good for PR as a good old fashioned bleeding heart campaign, and Haiti seems to have provided tech firms with just the ticket.

First to publicly step up to the plate was graphics firm Nvidia, with a blog post proclaiming the firm would attempt to raise up to $120,000 for Haiti earthquake relief by matching employee donations to the Red Cross up to $50,000 – although the firm said it would “consider additional matches if donations go over that amount.”

Nvidia said it would “also match up to $10,000 of new donations from our U.S. blog readers.” But at time of writing, Nvidia had not updated TechEye as to the progress of its campaign.

Meanwhile, AMD’s Phil Hughes told TechEye the firm had an employee giving programme in place which would be used to support Haitian earthquake relief efforts.     

“AMD will match 50 cents to the dollar of employee cash contributions of at least $25 to eligible nonprofits and schools,” said Hughes, although unlike Nvidia, he did not specify a limit.

Apparently, AMD’s employee giving programme also spans the firm’s employee volunteer service, meaning AMD will provide a contribution equal to $15 for each hour an employee volunteers with an eligible organisation.     

Meanwhile, Intel, which by all accounts has the most moolah to throw around, says it has pledged a direct grant of $250,000 in support of rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

“That amount is in addition to a matching grant from Intel on a donation from any Intel employee or retiree,” Intel’s Christine Dott’s told us.

In addition to throwing cash at Haiti, Intel says it has also put together a team “with a range of technical expertise” to consult with the US Department of State and a number of aid agencies (such as CHF International and NetHope) “to determine the most effective avenue for non-monetary support, eg IT infrastructure, telecommunications, information security.”

Head honcho for Intel communications, Bill Kircos, told TechEye his firm was also “looking at deploying tech teams there.”

“We did that for New Orleans, 04 Tsunami, et al – flying in with a bunch of computers and setting up a number of Wi-Fi and WIMAX networks,” he said.

“Frankly, the best ‘scheme’ I’ve seen is the simple cell-phone text process,” he said, adding “that is so easy to do!”

We're all mobile cheapskates

It seems most Nokia handset owners are inveterate cheapskates. Over 0.5 million have downloaded SMS preview from Ovi for free, but only a handful appear to have paid the £3 for the Pro version.

While 776 people who downloaded the free version bothered to review the app, a mere 16 have deigned to do so the paid-for, Pro version.

TechEye is not quite sure that SMS Preview’s creator, Numo Solutions, has got its business model right by giving it away for free. Especially as it doesn’t seem to have any other Nokia/Ovi application benefitting from its good name.

Well, at least Nemo has the backing of Nokia which has just carried out a ‘text-shot’ and messaged all its subscribers about the joys of SMS Preview.  Nokia’s forlornly hoping that we’ll all get hooked and pay for some other app on Ovi. No chance.

What does SMS preview do? In a nutshell, it pops up a window the instant your handset reviews an incoming SMS/text and enables you to both read it and see who the sender is.

That’s actually very useful, as it means you don’t have to go to the bother of pressing any buttons (and unlocking the keypad in order to do so). Techeye would give Numo eight out of ten for effort on this one.

Incidentally, it’s not absolutely free. You might have to pay for the international text message it sends in order to ‘activate’ the app.

Apple turns legal screws on Nokia

The spat between Apple and Nokia over phone technology ratched up a knot on Friday when the Cupertino company filed a further complaint with US body the International Trade Commission (ITC).

The fed agency probes unfair trade practices and Nokia had already complained to the ITC in December, claiming Apple breached seven patents it owns, and wanting the body to ban imports of rather important products such as the MacBook, the iPhone, and the iPod.

Although Apple is an Apple pie American company, it uses various ODMs (original design manufacturers) in the Far East to make equipment for it.

Nokia and Apple are already in a bitter and twisted fight in US courts over patents. Nokia claims Apple has infringed a number of patents it owns and wants damages. Apple claims Nokia infringes its patents.

Yet, back at the Etre conference in early October, Oli-Pekka Kallasvuo shrugged off competition from Apple and the iPhone. According to TG Daily, Kallasvuo said that Nokia needed to compete with “new people” like Apple as well.

Nokia, according to the Bloomberg wire, will have a close look at the complaint and alleged Apple was riding on the Finnish firm’s coat tails.

Debenhams gets dubious over ladies' purses

A whole lot of stories focused mid-week on how much lighter a lady’s handbag has become. The culprit seems correct – namely the mobile phone. Nobody seemed to care, however,  that handsets could go further and replace purses and Personal Navigation Devices (GPS), too.

All these stories were based upon some pretty spurious research from Debenhams. “Women began to carry laptop computers in their handbags, peaking at a back-breaking 3.5 kg [7.7 lbs] in 2006 and 2007,” it said.

Come on. Women didn’t put their laptops into handbags, they carried them around in a smart black bag labelled Toshiba or whatever. To show they could use a PC just like everybody else.

Anyway the list of what a handset can do these days (and therefore replace the need to carry loads of separate devices) included no need for an A-Z (London street directory); a camera; a diary; and an addressbook.
 
There were also plenty of other references to the fact that handsets are gradually replacing dedicated MP3s like the Ipod. Given the same people would buy an Iphone, that makes sense,

But what about no necessity to carry a GPS or Personal Navigation Device as they are frequently called? The latest incarnations of GPS enabled handsets give the TomTom a run for its money.

More radically, however, what about dispensing with a purse with its credit cards and small change? Handsets already have the potential to do both.

There’s absolutely no reason why a mobile phone couldn’t completely replace an Oyster card when travelling in London. That’s thanks to technologies like NFC (Near Field Communication) which would replicate an Oyster card’s credit and RF capabilities.

Paying for parking tickets via a mobile phone is becoming an increasingly commonplace facility too. And any NFC trial worth its salt has also provided it can easily be used for making ‘micropayments’ of any kind.

For example, NFC could get you passed the turnstiles at a sporting event and then be used to buy a gin and tonic during the breaks.

Techeye remembers this kind of scenario being possible and advocated some eight years ago by the smart London restaurant, Circus, where you could pay for everything with your mobile – food, drinks and even the cab back home.

So, why hasn’t it happened? Techeye reckons the banks are to blame because it could potentially cut out the middlemen – them.

In Kenya, for example, people are using a system called M-PRESA to pay for all kinds of things. About nine million Africans have signed up for such schemes.

And why are the banks afraid? Easy – such schemes are P2P (person-to-person). You buy something by sending money from your mobile to the vendor’s phone. Simples.

All such transactions never go anywhere near a banking system. Which is why they’ve been stomped on. That is, until the mobile operators get brave

Germany says "no" to Microsoft Internet Explorer

The Federal Office for Information Security in Germany has said that it would be wiser if users avoided Internet Exploder and used an alternative browser when smurfing the web.

That’s because a vulnerability in Internet Explorer has been linked to a wave of attacks on American sites including Adobe, Google and Yahoo.

According to the BBC, the German government reckons that following Microsoft’s advisory is insufficient to turn IE into a browser that’s safe to use.

Microsoft developers are working day and night to solve the problem, the BBC said.

However, no browser is safe to use, according to malware experts. If Microsoft decides this vulnerability is really a problem, it will repair it in its next scheduled fix, set to arrive in early February.

The BBC story is here.

IT online journalism can't stop begatting

SEFER HA ZOHAR: 12, 1 And lo, Mike Magee and John Lettice begat the Register. And it was good as an email newsletter started in 1994 for some years, although racks of coins did not fall on their heads. And then a Drew Cullen also became a begat, and before we knew where we were, Linus Birtles in 1998 begatted a rack of coins and made it so.

Then there was a parting of the seas and Mike was cast out into the infernal darkness and went and begatted the Inquirer.

And lo,  it was good in the land of milk and honey for five years.

Then Castle Despair put Mike into Black Jail for a full two years and he despaired, not having a multi-coloured cloak to wear. And he left the Castle, laughing all the way to the Bank and not looking back in case he was turned into a veritable Pillar of Salt (POS).  Begorrah. Sod em.

Then Metaplume begatted the IT Examiner and Instant News and Mike was in the Land of Pearls for a year, verily a year, before he was cast back into the veritable Sodom called Oxford, a Vale of Tears for a while.

And then the begatting really really started at Castle Despair. First Fuad Abazovic begatted fudzilla.com and the begatting continued apace. Lo, before you knew where you were, Charlie Demerjian begatted semiaccurate.com and then Theo Valich did a begatting all by himself called the Bright Side of News.

Then Castle Despair begatted Paul Hales onto the street and he thought he’d do a bit of begatting himself. And before Paul Hales begats thinq.co.uk in a few days time, Mike Magee begatted techeye.net.

And lo. The fragmented journalists went a weeping and wailing in their Despair to the advertisers and vendors and a dark cast was put upon them by the Agencies and by the agents.  Now there was much gnashing of teeth but the Vendors, laughing out loud said: “The ball is now in our court.com”. [That’s surely enough begatting? Ed.]

Austrians make pigs ears out of avalanche

Austrian animal rights activists have been squealing over a proposed experiment to bury 29 pigs alive under a manmade avalanche, supposedly in the interests of science.

 

The Charlotte’s web of controversy kicked off when boffins from the medical faculty of Innsbruck University in Tyrol’s Oetz valley and an emergency medical centre across the hill in Bolzano, Italy, had proposed to sedate the sacrificial snouts.

 

That’s  before dynamiting layers of snow over them to study the effects air pockets could have on saving human lives in case of real avalanches.

 

But activists snorted at the idea that burying pigs in snow blankets would be able to offer any kind of insight into how humans survived avalanches, despite protests by the head honchos in charge of the experiment that the pig protectors were being “naïve.”

 

Now, now, no need to get in a strop [shurely, Slop? – Ed].

 

Apparently there is as good as a one in five chance of finding yourself in an avalanche airpocket, if you’re unlucky enough to be the one person in millions who managed to get stuck in one in the first place.

 

According to the great wisdom of Wikipedia, 92 per cent of people hit by an avalanche can supposedly be rescued if help comes within 15 minutes. This number drops to 30 per cent after 35 minutes and near zero after two hours, mainly as a consequence of hyperthermia.

 

Perhaps the Austrian scientists’ rationale was that by scattering frozen ham throughout the mountain, any human avalanche survivor might find something tasty to eat whilst sitting in their airpocket as they awaited rescue.

 

Either way, now that the whole experiment has been called off, it looks like the poor beasts have had their bacon saved.

 

All’s fine that ends Schwein, eh?   

Software GUI design going to Hell in a basket

In the early days of graphical user interfaces, there were no common standards on user interface design and every vendor placed buttons and menu options in the places they saw fit. Eventually, standards and GUI design guidelines appeared, thanks in part to IBM. Sadly, Google´s Chrome browser throws years of standardisation work down the toilet, all in the name of “simplicity”.

“Masqueraders paintin pictures flip the scriptures
Dont even know his name” –
Ian Brown, “All Ablaze”

The new generations don’t know what “CUA” means, but any of us whom used the early Amiga computer graphical user interfaces know very well what kind of application-Hell lack of standards can bring. The whackypedia describes the mess as follows: “There were also no obliged user interface design guidelines regarding fixed menu options for software in general (i.e. the user must learn the various orderings of basic commands like Load, Save, Open, Close, Quit, etc.). This fact was more than once argued as a diminishing feature of Amiga by its detractors”. After AmigaOS 2.0 Commodore released a guide book and made a lot of emphasis on a set of “user interface guidelines” that developers should follow and the UI situation somewhat improved.

On the PC side, the mess was also present in the world of DOS based applications, where every vendor defined hotkeys and placement of menu options as they saw fit -if in doubt just ask any user of Wordperfect for DOS, the Wordstar word processor or Lotus 1-2-3 what it was like to jump from one application you’re familiar with to another. The learning curve was as steep as climbing Mt. Everest.

cua

It was Big Blue which worked on CUA -Common User Access-, a set of guidelines for designing graphical interfaces in software applications. Among other issues, CUA included definitions for the menu structure of applications, the familiar “File”, “Edit”, “View” structure of menus that ends with “Help” as the last option. Power users, regardless of operating system used (be it Windows, Linux, or graphical flavours of Unix like OpenSolaris) can count on Ctrl-O to bring the “File open” menu, and Alt-F to bring the file menu, and the familiar Alt-F, x to exit.

cua - jimmy

Widget-like applets – the early offenders
One of the most popular Windows applications not to feature a menu bar was Winamp. However, Winamp does to this day implement many of the CUA keystrokes, so the pop-up menu that is called with a right click of the mouse can also be called by pressing Alt-F, so in a sense it’s a “hidden” File menu, including the “x” keystroke for exit, so Alt-F, followed by ‘x’ exits the program. In a sense, music players are like widgets: designed to be as visually small as possible, and their function is not so much user interaction but to function in the background doing its work -in this case, play music-. The second most popular offender was ironically Windows Media Player. Microsoft, in the name of “maximizing screen real state” made the menu bar hidden. But it’s there, it’s just hidden from plain view depending on the skin used until you press any of the menu hotkeys. When you do, the full array of menu options appear (File, edit, view, etc.)

Netscape 8.1, a creative solution.
When AOL released version 8.1 of its Netscape browser for Windows a few years ago -a browser which used Firefox as its underlying web engine-, it did something clever: it recovered screen real state by moving the CUA menu bar up and into the window´s title bar. That way, you could read the web page title along with browser name, and still have full access to the CUA-compliant menus like File, Edit, and the like. Why can´t Google do the same with Chrome?. Good question.

dearie me

Google follows, then breaks CUA. Right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing?
Ironically, Google´s “GDocs” -Google Docs- team is fully aware of what CUA is, and implements a CUA-style menu bar in Google Docs. So the question comes to mind: if Google is aware that users are used to CUA-style menus, and implemented such menus in its Google Docs user interface, why subject Chrome users to a CUA-less user interface?. Can´t they do auto-hide of the menu bar like Microsoft´s Windows Media Player does? Can´t they replicate Netscape 8.1´s “Menu bar in the title bar” design?. The industry has copied good user interface designs from each other after the Borland-Lotus lawsuit -where Lotus sued Borland for copying its spreadsheet user interface, and Borland won, in a landmark legal case of the IT industry, around two decades and a half ago. Microsoft, it should be noted, has patented its ribbon UI, which could allow them to use it as a weapon against OpenOffice.org, proving the evil nature of software patents.

Due to the lack of a CUA style menu structure, at the time of the Chrome browser release, user confusion was evident, with one user for instance asking in the Chrome blog: “Yeah, I don’t really like the Chrome UI either. I haven’t even found out how to print something, for example.” -the answer was “press Ctrl-P”, ironically a CUA standard for printing, only that nobody can tell because there´s no “File” menu. Actually, what would be the File menu, is invoked in Chrome by clicking on the “Monkey Wrench” graphical button that has no text. Will Google replace all of its software to use a Monkey Wrench icon for the File menu?. If not, why break user interface guidelines and CUA standards in the browser UI?.  Just because?. That´s not a good explanation. The point is that if every software developer starts replacing easy-to-understand text menus for its own graphical buttons located anywhere they please, the Pandora´s box would be open by then.

CUA-style menus are however alive and kicking in Google Docs.
Perhaps users do prefer text menus to graphic Egyptian hieroglyphs?

CUA style menus is the “single common denominator” of user interfaces. Of course you can innovate with ribbon bars, tabbed toolbars and the like. But replacing basic CUA menus with graphics buttons can only lead to UI-confusion, and ditches years of hard work -voluntary or not- to make CUA menus the de-facto standard.

This isn´t an anti-Chrome rant
We can anticipate an avalanche of hate mail on this news story, from rabid Google Chrome fans -or its GUI designers- saying that this is “a storm in a tea pot”, and that this scribbler makes much ado about nothing. Believe me, this is not an anti-Chrome rant. This scribbler uses Chrome -4.0.249.43 says the about box, for the record-, and I have little trouble hitting Alt-F to bring the “Monkey Wrench” menu. But it´s not Chrome what we are talking about.  The point is that fiddling with the user interface and ditching CUA style menus for good under the false pretense of saving screen vertical space -all 23 pixels of it!- as if it would somehow improve productivity is ridiculous. Yet, we get some in the IT press drooling over the “improved screen real state”. The only way to prevent vertical scrolling would be to have 10-feet long vertical screens. Saving 23 vertical pixels does _not_ prevent anyone from scrolling down on a document. Any web page that is not a splash screen and contains meaningful information will have to be scrolled at some point. Otherwise the scroll wheel on mice wouldn´t exist. Get a grip, GUI designers!.

Conclusion – Text is better than egyptian hieroglyphics
The killing of CUA style menus in the name of “innovation” is wrong. It’s a level playing field that has simplified user interfaces and made jumping from one application to another easier for users of different levels of computing experience. The whackypedia agrees: ” Most of the standard keystrokes and basic GUI widgets specified by the CUA remain a feature of Windows. The newest major Unix/Linux environments —GNOME and KDE also feature extensive CUA compatibility. The subset of CUA implemented in Microsoft Windows or OSF/Motif is generally considered a de-facto standard to be followed by any new Unix GUI environment.”

If every software vendor stars replacing text menus with custom icons of a monkey wrench for File, a donkey for tools – I am making this up, but “why not?”, if standards do not matter, there´s no limit- and shuffling locations of these until-now basic standards, soon we´ll be left in a world where switching from one application to another won´t be intuitive at all, and we´ll have to learn whatever “egyptian hieroglyphics” the software designers choose to use for its application.

“Some say that´s progress, I say that´s cruel” -Midnight Oil
One last comment: if Google´s user interface rocket scientists are _so_ obsessed with “screen real state”, they can make the menus auto-hide, or move them to the title bar, as Netscape 8.1 did. Curiously, these designers seem to have no say in the biggest waster of screen vertical space: Google Toolbar, which the company flogs left and right to users of the Firefox and Internet Explorer web browsers. I guess vertical space doesn´t bother IE and Firefox users, then?. Then why cripple the Chrome UI?. User interface standards and guidelines were not agreed upon to restrict user interface creativity -Windows Media Player with its multiple “skins”, Real Player with its round borders, and other applications like Mozilla SeaMonkey show that you can innovate while keeping CUA menus in place.

Ditching those guidelines in the name of innovation is akin to car manufacturers suddenly deciding to place the steering wheel in a different place, so new drivers would need to re-learn to drive every brand of car. The placement of basic UI items is a standard, you can innovate everywhere else, but changing the shape of the steering wheel or its placement “just because” would only hurt the consumer.

Sadly Firefox seems to be going the same way. And of course, eveyone is doing things any way they please, without consulting each other on agreeing on new standards. Watch out for the GUI mess to continue “improving” in the 21th century, where bold new software developers suddenly feel the established standards nad user interface guidelines don´t matter anymore. In the words of E.L:O. “Fly across the city
Rise above the land. You can do most anything. Now you’re a 21st century man.”