Archive for December, 2007


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Netscape logo

Netscape lost ground to Microsoft’s internet Explorer

Web icon set to be discontinued

The browser that helped kick-start the commercial web is to cease development because of lack of users.

Netscape Navigator, now owned by AOL, will no longer be supported after 1 February 2008, the company has said.

In the mid-1990s the browser was used by more than 90% of the web population, but numbers have slipped to just 0.6%.

In particular, the browser has faced competition from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), which is now used by nearly 80% of all web users.

“While internal groups within AOL have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Netscape Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer,” said Tom Drapeau on the company’s blog.

Browser wars

Netscape was developed by Marc Andreessen, co-author of Mosaic, the first popular web browser.

Mosaic was written while Mr Andreessen was a student at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois in 1992.

Firefox logo

Firefox was created by many of the Navigator developers

After graduation he set up Netscape Communications Corporation and began development of the Navigator browser. The first version was released in 1994.

It was quickly a success and dominated the browser market in the mid-1990s.

But other companies followed its success, notably Microsoft, which bundled its Explorer software with its operating systems.

This culminated in a highly-publicised legal battle, which saw Microsoft accused of anti-competitive behaviour.

Although the settlement saw Netscape gain many concessions from Microsoft including the ability to exploit IE code, it has been unable to gain back its market share.

The demise of Navigator was compounded in 2003 when AOL, which bought Netscape in 1998, made redundant most of the staff working on new versions of the browser.

Many of the staff moved to the Mozilla Foundation which develops the popular Firefox browser. This browser has a 16% share of the browser market.

Fade away

Although a core team has continued to work on the secure browser – it is currently on version nine – AOL has decided to finally pull the plug.

“After 1 February, there will be no more active product support for Navigator nine, or any previous Netscape Navigator browser,” wrote Mr Drapeau.

“We feel it’s the right time to end development of Netscape branded browsers, hand the reigns fully to Mozilla and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox,” he said.

Users of the browser will no longer receive security or software updates after the date.

Old versions of the browser will still be available for download, but will no longer be supported.

Microsoft is expected to launch a new version of IE in 2008, whilst the third version of Firefox is currently available as a beta, or test version.

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Don’t be lonely at Christmas time

Social networking sites could eventually eliminate entirely the need for the offline socialising that has become the cornerstone of the festive season. Most people have heard of Facebook but there are plenty of rivals vying for its crown. The BBC News website dips into some of the more interesting alternatives in a bid to make sure that no-one need be lonely this Christmas.


Habbo hotel

Users create avatars and collect furniture

A good one for the teenagers as this virtual environment was created specifically for that age group.

The community was launched back in 2000 and combined the idea of a chatroom with an online game. It has recently had a makeover to improve access to personal pages, friends and groups and bring it more up to date for the generation most at home on social networking sites.

It allows users to create their own personalised Habbo character and dress it with accessories, including hats, belts, jewellery and facial hair, as well as gas masks, paper bags and hairstyles.

Users can also buy furniture to put in the various rooms it creates within the virtual hotel using credits bought with real-life currency

Earlier this month it teamed up with Greenpeace to see what its members thought about global warming.

Some 50,000 teenagers filled in the survey and 74% rated global warming as their biggest concern, ahead of drugs, war or violence.

The site now has, of July this year, more than 82m registered characters. According to Nielsen/NetRatings Habbo attracted an audience of 292,000 from the UK during the month of October.


Screen grab of Perfspot

Perfspot is aimed at university students and young professionals

Perfspot is a social networking site geared toward university students and young professionals, and its ethos is based on the desire to obtain a “perf” life.

It offers most of the usual features of social networking, including newsfeeds, customisable profile options and the option of linking photos to other users’ profiles plus unlimited space to upload images and videos.

It hit the headlines in the late summer, becoming the fastest growing social networking site. In the months April to August 2007 it grew a massive 756%, compared to Facebook’s 541% growth.

As the UK’s fastest growing brand this year it is a good illustration of how social networks can come out of nowhere if they hit the right note with users.


Freecycle logo

Freecycle aims to reduce rubbish in landfill

If you have an interest in the environment and like the idea of reusing other people’s junk, or have unwanted Christmas presents that you want to recycle then Freecycle could be for you.

The non-profit network is based on the premise that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and is about harnessing the power of the internet to connect communities and ‘gift’ each other everyday objects that they no longer want.

It is a global network made up of over 4,000 groups. It now has in excess of four million members, and is adding 25,000 new members each week.

Each group is moderated by a local volunteer and the main thrust of it is to “reuse and keep good stuff out of landfills”.

Each city has a unique e-mail group and anyone living in the area is welcome to post items to be given away or seek items that they want.


Screen shot of Webjam site

Webjam chief executive believes one-stop shops are way forward

A UK site that allows users to aggregate the best of the web in one central location.

A cross between a blog and a social networking site, Webjam allows novices to create webpages for a particular interest or hobby – say a bookclub.

It also allows people to keep all their social media, from Flickr photos to newsfeeds, in one place. This blend of aggregating, blogging and social networking has led to it being described as “the Swiss Army knife of the internet user”.

It is particularly useful for those who want to create a webpage for a society, club or hobby but don’t know how to do it as it allows you to ‘copy’ an existing group and personalise it.

According to chief executive Yann Motte, one-stop shops like Webjam are the way forward.

“Going forward it won’t be possible for people to manage lots of different accounts,” he said.


Screen shot of Capazoo site

Will the idea of paying users catch on?

This is a Canadian site which is interesting because of its business model.

Like other social networking sites it includes a variety of functions, including blogging and photo and video uploads but it also offers something unique – it pays users for the time spent on the site and the activities they do.

So for example members can get points for inviting friends and posting content.

Users can offer the points – known as Zoops – as gifts to other members.

The points accumulated by users can be redeemed for cash although to do this users must sign up to a membership program which costs either $24.95 or $34.95 per year.

It is a service that more social networking sites are likely to experiment with although the jury remains out on whether it will be a selling point for customers.


Screen shot of WAYN site

WAYN is aimed at those interested in travel

WAYN networking sites catering for a specialised audience – in this case travellers from around the world.

It was the brainchild of three friends – Pete Ward, Jerome Touze and Mike Lines, who came up with the idea to connect people based on their location.

Since its inception in 2002 it has grown and is now the UK’s 10th most popular social network, growing from 45,000 users in March 2005 to over 10 million today.

It has recently announced partnerships with Lastminute.com to integrate their hotel content and booking service and with Hostelworld.com to search for and book budget accommodation.

WAYN was initially launched as a paid service but in April 2007, it became free, though some functions remain available only to those willing to pay – for example, turning off advertising.

Like Capazoo it has begun offering users the chance to earn money. Members use a wizard to create wish lists of products they would like to own or recommend to others which are then displayed in their profile. When contacts or random browsers buy from their web shop the members receive commission from WAYN.

Alex Burmaster, analyst at research firm Nielsen Online believes that sites catering to specialist interests could be the future of social networking as they seek to distinguish themselves from the competition.


Screen shot of Realbuzz site

Realbuzz wants to have offline presence too

Realbuzz is a social networking site aimed at those interested in sports and outdoor pursuits. It is keen not to operate entirely in the online world and encourages members to meet up offline at sporting events.

“Realbuzz is not about people sitting behind their computers, it’s all about them getting out into the physical world and experiencing something new,” said a spokesman for the firm.

It has around 100,000 active users in the UK and has strong links to the London Marathon.

Chief executive Tim Rogers is himself a veteran of more than 60 marathons.

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NHS hospital sign

Computer discs containing patient details have gone missing.

Plans for a national health database of should be reconsidered after it emerged nine NHS trusts lost patients’ confidential records, the Tories say. It comes after the Department of Health admitted 168,000 people had been affected by the data losses.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley says the planned single database of 50 million patient details would be less secure than a network of local ones.

But the DoH says the new database would help avoid data security breaches.

‘High security’

The NHS losses emerged after checks across government departments were ordered after the details of 25 million child benefit claimants were lost.

BBC political correspondent Carole Walker says the latest revelation is an embarrassment for the government.

But the DoH has indicated the episode will not prevent its plans for a national patient database from going ahead.

A spokesperson said: “These breaches are in no way related to the National Programme for IT (NPfIT); indeed the NPfIT will help avoid such incidents, as it has particularly strong data protection rules and the highest standards of security control.”

Encrypted data

The DoH has confirmed that one of the breaches involved the loss of names and addresses of 160,000 children by City and Hackney Primary Care Trust, after a disc failed to arrive at its destination at St Leonards Hospital in east London.

But it said the data had been encrypted to an “extremely high level of security”.

A DoH spokesperson said: “We believe that an additional 8,000 patients in total may have been affected but even amongst these only a small proportion involves some clinical data, and there is no evidence that this has fallen into the wrong hands.”

City and Hackney
Bolton Royal Hospital
Sutton and Merton
Sefton Merseyside
Mid-Essex Care Trust
Norfolk and Norwich
Gloucester Partnership Foundation Trust
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells
East and North Hertfordshire

It said investigations were under way and action would be taken against anyone who had failed to fulfil their responsibilities under data protection laws.

The other data trusts involved are Bolton Royal Hospital, Sutton and Merton PCT, Sefton Merseyside PCT, Mid-Essex Care Trust, and Norfolk and Norwich.

The East and North Hertfordshire Trust reported a loss but has since found its missing data.

A further disc, lost by Gloucester Partnership Foundation Trust, consisted of archive records relating to patients treated 40 years ago – none of whom is still alive.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has reported two breaches – meaning that 10 cases have occurred in total.

The losses involved data stored on laptop computers and data sticks.

Michael Summers, of the Patients’ Association, said the security breaches were “very serious”.

He told BBC News: “Patients provide confidential information to their GPs and to hospital doctors – information that no-one else has – on the basis that it will always remain confidential.

“And suddenly we discover that it’s not confidential after all. It gets leaked in one form or another and is lost.”

Losses ‘unacceptable’

Roy Lilley, a former NHS trust chairman, said the losses were unacceptable: “The NHS has a very good encrypted secure system for sending data around the system and I can’t see why sub-sets of data are being carted round on a memory stick.”

But health minister Dawn Primarolo said: “What it is really important to stress is how important patient security and confidentiality is and how each of these trusts is moving to deal with this.

“And given we have hundreds and hundreds of trusts I think that patients should be confident that their information is being held appropriately.”

Police are still searching for two computer discs containing the names, addresses, dates of birth and bank account details of every child benefit claimant after it emerged they had been lost in the post by HM Revenue and Customs in November.

Then a week ago it was revealed the details of three million learner drivers had also been lost after being sent to Iowa in America’s mid-west.

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The UK is looking to address a shortfall in workplace skills

Computer skills are still undervalued in the UK board room, according to software giant Microsoft. It surveyed 500 UK business leaders and found that a knowledge of information technology (IT) was seen as the seventh most important workplace skill.

Instead, team working and interpersonal skills were seen as the core factors, followed by initiative.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said IT skills were needed from the shop floor to the chief executive.

‘Share ideas’

“One of the most important changes of the last 30 years is that digital technology has transformed almost everyone into an information worker,” said Mr Gates.

A solid working knowledge of productivity software has become a basic foundation for success in virtually any career
Bill Gates

“In almost every job now, people use software and work with information to enable their organisation to operate more effectively.”

Yet in an article written for the BBC News website, he added that team work was also a core requisite for success in the software industry.

“Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs,” he said.

In third place in the survey behind team working and initiative, came analysing and problem solving.

This was followed by verbal communication, personal planning and organising and flexibility.

Skills gap

Microsoft’s survey was conducted to mark the first anniversary of the Leitch report into overcoming the skills gap in the UK economy.

1. Team working and interpersonal skills
2. Initiative
3. Analysing and problem solving
4. Verbal communication
5. Personal planning and organising
6. Flexibility
7. IT skills
Source: Microsoft

Lord Leitch’s review in December 2006 set out recommendations to help the UK become a world leader in skills by 2020, and overcome a skills shortage that has threatened to undermine its credentials as an economic powerhouse.

The review suggested the establishment of a new Commission for Employment & Skills, and said that employers should have a greater say in training schemes and more responsibility for improving skills in the workplace.

According to some estimates, as many as 6.8 million adults in the UK lack basic qualifications, and have skills needs in numeracy, literacy and information technology.

The government is taking steps to redress the situation and has started an advertising campaign that is aimed at encouraging people to upgrade their skills through education and training.

It plans to spend £20m over three years on TV, print and poster adverts aimed at persuading people of their natural ability to succeed.

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Wed Dec 19, 2007 4:11pm GMT

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Advertisements placed by Google in Web pages are being hijacked by so-called trojan software that replaces the intended text with ads from a different provider, Romanian antivirus company BitDefender says. The trojan redirects queries meant to be sent to Google servers to a rogue server, which displays ads from a third party instead of ads from Google, BitDefender said in a statement. Google said on Wednesday: “We have cancelled customer accounts that display ads redirecting users to malicious sites or that advertise a product violating our software principles.”

“We actively work to detect and remove sites that serve malware in both our ad network and in our search results. We have manual and automated processes in place to detect and enforce these policies.”

The trojan, named after the mythic Trojan Horse because of its ability to enter computer systems undetected, attacks Google’s AdSense service, which targets advertisements to match Web page content.

“This is a serious situation that damages users and Webmasters alike,” said BitDefender virus analyst Attila Balazs.

“Users are affected because the advertisements and/or the linked sites may contain malicious code,” he said. “Webmasters are affected because the trojan takes away viewers and thus a possible money source from their Websites.”

BitDefender on its Web site (www.bitdefender.com) describes the trojan, which it identifies as Trojan.Qhost.WU, as spreading at a “low” level and causing “medium” damage.

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan)

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Wed Dec 19, 2007 8:04pm GMT


By Luke Baker

LONDON (Reuters) – An MP has had his Facebook account suspended after the site decided he wasn’t real.

Steve Webb, a member of the Liberal Democrat party, tried to log on on Monday but received a message saying his account had been disabled following complaints he didn’t really exist.

The news was particularly disconcerting to the 42-year-old politician as not only has he been an MP for 10 years but he is also one of the keenest promoters of online networking, using it to keep in touch with constituents.

“I sent them an email asking what the problem was and got a response a day later saying they had concluded that my profile was a fake, that I wasn’t really Steve Webb,” he told Reuters.

“I was essentially accused of impersonating a member of parliament.”

Within a few hours friends set up a Facebook group called “Steve Webb is real!” which attracted more than 200 members.

He and others then contacted anyone they knew who worked at the site to see if they could get the ban overturned.

A few hours later he received an apology and his profile was reactivated. But the nearly 36 hours he was suspended left him questioning his own existence.

“You realise the power these organisations really have,” he said. “If they’d been really determined, they could have deactivated me completely and then you kind of don’t know where you stand.“It’s actually hard for a genuine person to prove they exist.”

Webb, who has been on Facebook for nearly a year, has around 2,500 friends on the social networking site — a huge number largely because he invites members of his constituency in Northavon, Gloucestershire, to sign up so that they can contact him if they need to.

Asked if he might have been suspended because he had a suspiciously high number of friends, particularly for a Member of Parliament, he laughed.

“The thought did cross my mind,” he said.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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