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Music, Movie Industries Tout Software to Block to File Swapping

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPA), which represents music labels worldwide, have begun offering up Digital File Check, a software program that can block or remove file-sharing programs from a user's computer and delete files from shared folders, which are often used by peer-to-peer (P2P) sites to enable file sharing.

The program is being made available through free download and in CD format starting mainly in Europe and the UK. The IFPI considers the program an "educational tool aimed at making life easier for people who want to enjoy music responsibly and legally on the Internet , or who want their families, friends and colleagues to do so," said CEO John Kennedy.

Kennedy said the technology backs up the efforts by music and movie studios to enforce their intellectual property rights through the hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed against alleged song swappers worldwide and can provide peace of mind for those who are concerned about having unwittingly downloaded protected songs.

Analysts said the technology is unlikely to give hard-core file sharers any reason for pause. Since downloading or installing the software is voluntary, only those concerned about being caught in violation of the law are being targeted. On the other hand, it could be effective in getting two groups to do their part to stop others from sharing files -- namely parents and business owners. In fact, the two groups joined with the International Chamber of Commerce to unveil an educational effort aimed at bringing business owners up to speed on "their responsibilities to clean their computer networks from copyright infringement," said Glickman. That program will also begin with efforts in continental Europe.

Some analysts said that move could be a harbinger of coming legal action against businesses that do not do enough to stop piracy from taking place on their networks. File swappers may favor corporate networks for such activity because they provide a higher degree of anonymity but also because they are often faster than home computers.

Analysts said it would likely be only a matter of time before hackers discover ways to disable or work around such swap-halting programs. And others say the music and film industries need to embrace the opportunity presented by the Web's wide distribution capabilities, rather than trying to continually fight against them.

Jupiter Research analyst Mark Mulligan said any gains the industry makes against swapping, such as the near demise of Kaaza, once the top P2P network, is a temporary victory at best for the music industry. "There's a risk that file sharing might come back stronger," he said.. Mulligan said the music industry might be well served to launch its own free music download sites. Once users began turning to such legitimate free sites, labels can "start marketing not just the paid services at them, but also good old fashioned CDs, videos, DVDs and even ring tones."

Intel Stops Power Leakage

Intel has announced a new chip manufacturing process that it claims could dramatically cut power consumption and boost battery life by up to 1,000 percent. The breakthrough is a result of the miniaturization of the transistor etching process. Intel currently manufactures chips at 90 nanometers (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter), but the new process works at 65 nanometers.

Cutting the physical size of the transistors lowers the amount of power they use. All transistors leak power, even when not in use, but the new process cuts the amount of that wastage dramatically. The chip giant said that the 65 nanometer processors for laptops and mobile phones should be available over the next few years.

"The number of transistors on some chips exceeds one billion, and it is clear that improvements made for individual transistors can multiply into huge benefits for the entire device," said Mark Bohr, senior fellow and director of Intel Process Architecture and Integration. "Test chips made on Intel's ultra-low power 65 nm process technology have shown transistor leakage reduction roughly 1,000 times from our standard process." "This translates into significant power savings for people who will use devices based on this technology."

Intel is also working on other improvements, including a second version of its strained silicon technology. This reduces the interference in the flow of electrons through a chip and significantly boosts performance while only raising production costs by a few percent.

Google Goes for Wireless Gamble

Google is synonymous with Web search, but now the company is continuing its recent multi-directional movement by going ahead with Google Secure Access, a beta WiFi connection program available for free.

Provided to a limited service area, the effort nevertheless marks yet another area in which Google has begun to place its inimitable mark, joining the company's instant messaging (IM), blogging software, and more. Industry observers indicated that the Wall Street darling must further expand its offerings to remain competitive among other technology players that are doing the same.

While few doubt the technical and business savvy -- not to mention resources -- of Google, the company enters one of the most competitive spaces in technology as it seeks to make a name for itself in wireless, where mobile phone operators, telecommunications providers, new Internet protocol (IP) companies offering voice over IP (VoIP), and others are all battling.

Google will also be competing with its typical rivals, including Yahoo, Microsoft and dedicated wireless software providers, Ovum Vice President of wireless telecoms Roger Entner told TechNewsWorld.

"It's the usual suspects -- different party, same guests," he said.

Originally a side project of a company engineer, the new Google Secure Access is intended to be a "more secure connection" for users of Google WiFi hotspots, and will only be available in San Francisco at first, the company said.

Rumored in the industry for months and expected since the Google WiFi trial in San Francisco earlier this year, the new software download allows users to connect to the company's virtual private network (VPN) server, and does not disrupt connection to corporate VPNs, according to Google. Ovum's Entner called Google's wireless endeavors "another expression of their desire to bringing universal communication everywhere."

"It really fits into their vision of universal communication and access to data," he said. "Wireless is a critical component of that." Adding that he would not be surprised to see more wireless partnerships for Google, or perhaps even an acquisition of wireless spectrum, Entner said Google may also come out with a next-generation Wi-Max wireless effort.

"It's just one of many steps we will see from a company like Google going forward," he said.

Opera Orchestrates Free Browsing Strategy

Opera Software today permanently removed the ad banner and licensing fee from its Web browser. The ad-free, full-featured Opera browser is now available for download at no charge. Opera was previously available free of charge with an ad banner. Users had the option of paying a licensing fee to remove the ad banner and receive premium support.

The move comes just two weeks after the Norwegian company celebrated its 10th anniversary: On August 30, Opera gave away complimentary registration codes for its browser for 24 hours.

Gaining Popularit y

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox told TechNewsWorld that the company had a fairly good response to its anniversary promotion. "The response to Opera's free offer was probably a catalyst in this position," he said. "It may have confirmed a strategy that the Opera folks were already thinking about."

Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera Software, is personally inviting the entire Internet community to use Opera and experience the browser firsthand: "Removing the ad banner and licensing fee will encourage many new users to discover the speed, security and unmatched usability of the Opera browser." Opera's browser, available in 20 languages, features navigation through intuitive mouse gestures and browser tabs and allows users to start from where their last browsing session ended or save the entire session.

Opera also touts quick access to downloaded files with its transfer manager and includes integrated security features designed to protect against identity theft and phishing. Opera users can also use a function called "Speak up" for hands-free Web surfing using voice commands, and a notes feature allows users to set reminders for Web pages they visit. The Opera browser also allows users to shop Amazon , browse Ebay and search the Web with Google from the address bar. Analysts said Opera has reached a threshold of popularity that allows it to unshackle the browser from fees and ad support and recoup the revenues through paid search, marketing relationships and other avenues.

"There are a number of ways Opera can make money off the browser, but all that requires volume," Wilcox said. "Removing the price tag and the banner ads increases the likelihood that more people will use the browser. More eyeballs means more revenue off the browser without charging for or putting banner ads in people's faces."

One question that arises is whether competing browser makers such as Microsoft and the Mozilla Foundation should be concerned that Opera's new strategy will allow it to gain market share. Analysts said, however, that it is not about how much market share Opera grabs. It's more about how much money can be made with its offerings.

A new card from American Express

IS THE prospect of rising petrol prices making you consider walking to work? Relax. There are options out there to ease the pressure on your wallet.

The latest card from American Express promises to save you up to 10 per cent on fuel expenses. That's not all. It also packs in a cashless insurance feature, not to mention the option of paying your motor insurance premium in installments. Of course, all this comes at a steep annual fee of Rs 2,000. What's more, you must have a gross taxable income of Rs 4 lakh to avail yourself of the card.

The credit card comes with all the regular features. The interest rate on the card is 2.79 per cent per month, which is slightly lower than the 2.95 per cent charged by most other cards. Any spends above Rs 3,000 can be converted into a loan at 1.49 per cent per month. The card is issued in association with HPCL and ICICI Lombard. If you choose to tank up at HPCL outlets and pay by this credit card, you could save on your fuel expenses.

The card waives the surcharge of 2.5 per cent that is normally charged on other cards. Some loyalty cards tend to specify a minimum amount of fuel purchase. In this case, there is no such restriction. The rest of the savings, which the bank claims can be up to 10 per cent, comes from the accumulation of reward points. The reward point programme is quite elaborate: 1,250 reward points can be exchanged for a fuel voucher worth Rs 250. For fuel purchases below Rs 750, you earn 1.25 reward points for every Rs 100 spent. For purchases above Rs 750, you get 2.5 reward points for every Rs 100 spent. You can also accumulate reward points quickly by paying your utility bills through the card. In that case, you get 50 per cent more reward points on your spends. Besides, free fuel, you can also redeem your points for gifts, dinners and the like.

Cashless motor insurance

This feature is useful only to ICICI Lombard policyholders. The card-holders can choose to pay their motor insurance premium in interest-free installments over a three, six, nine or 12 months.

If you repair your vehicle at any one of the 480 garages that ICICI Lombard has tie-ups with, you can just submit your documents and let the insurance agency take care of the expenses. This saves you the hassle of claiming re-imbursements for your expenses from the agency.

If you have an insurance policy with ICICI Lombard, this may be a good option. If you don't, then the main advantage of the card would be the saving on fuel. There are however, several other petro-and co-branded cards that help save fuel expenses at specific petrol stations. Petro-cards automatically waive surcharge and typically involve a one-time charge. These may be worth evaluating, especially given the steep annual fee of Rs 2,000 on this card.

Repair, servicing of computer software to attract service tax

THE Finance Ministry has said that maintenance, repair or servicing of all computer software would be subjected to service tax. It has issued a draft circular to this effect.

The draft circular was issued following the decision of the Supreme Court in the Tata Consultancy Services vs State of Andhra Pradesh case. In this case, the Supreme Court had said that sale of computer software falls within the scope of sale of goods. As far as branded software (canned software) sold off the shelf is concerned, the draft circular highlighted that the Supreme Court had categorically decided that such cases fell within the definition of goods.

As regards unbranded/customised software, the draft circular said the supplier develops the programs and generally transfers them into a media, and thereafter it is taken to the customer's premises and loaded in their system. The revenue department noted that in this case too the software is incorporated in a media for use. It also highlighted that the Supreme Court had held that computer software in a media should be categorised as goods.

Toshiba Develops High-Capacity Recordable HD-DVD

Toshiba said yesterday it has developed a write-once next-generation HD-DVD that has double the capacity of existing HD-DVD-R products. The recordable disc is based on the High-Definition DVD format proposed by a group led by Toshiba. Because it is based on a dual-layer disc structure, it allows a storage capacity of 30 GB, or twice that of HD-DVD-R discs developed so far.

Toshiba plans to launch an HD-DVD recorder that supports the new disc next spring.

In next-generation optical disc technologies, the Toshiba-led group is locking horns with the consortium backing the Blu-ray Disc format, led by Sony (NYSE: SNE) and Matsushita Electric Industrial (NYSE: MC). By commercializing a next-generation version of the popular low-cost dual-layer DVD-R, Toshiba hopes to gain an advantage over the rival group in the standard-setting race.