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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Energy-Efficient Chip by A.M.D. delay again

AMD will be forced to delay the ramp of its Barcelona server processor after running into a bug, the company has confirmed.

Barcelona, AMD's first quad-core processor for servers, is shipping to some customers in the high-performance computing market. But the company had hoped to start shipping it to a wider variety of customers this month, as well as introduce a faster model that could better compete with Intel's latest Penryn chips.

The energy-efficient chip that Advanced Micro Devices was counting to win customers away from Intel has been delayed again, the company said yesterday.

The company confirmed that a technical irregularity has delayed widespread availability of its Barcelona chip for servers until early next year. The company had announced in September that it was beginning to ship it to customers.

Technical problems, called errata, are common during chip development, and both A.M.D. and Intel have been plagued by them at various times. The significance of this glitch — in rare instances, the chip could fail to function — has more to do with Barcelona’s further delay than with the glitch itself. The product was originally set for general availability in the middle of 2007.

“We’re continuing to ship it but only to specific customers,” said John Taylor, spokesman for A.M.D., which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. As a result, many server manufacturers have not been able to sell the products they expected based on the new chip.

At the time of Barcelona’s release in September, A.M.D. executives described the processor as one of A.M.D.’s most significant new products in several years. A.M.D.’s first quad-core processor, Barcelona features four processors on one piece of silicon, allowing faster calculating and greater energy efficiency at companies running large data centers and server farms.

After months of delays, the new processor arrived as A.M.D. was struggling to maintain its hard-earned gains from Intel, its far larger rival, and just a week after Intel announced a new version of its own chip for servers, Xeon.

A.M.D. is offering Barcelona customers a workaround that allows them to use the chip until the errata are addressed in a new version of the product in January. The problem also affected the company’s Phenom processor, a desktop version of the chip, but A.M.D.’s workaround solution for that was issued before the product shipped, Mr. Taylor said.

Nathan Brookwood, a chip analyst with Insight64, said that it was not unusual for this kind of problem to appear and that he expected the impact on Barcelona customers to be minimal compared with past errata.

“The effect on customers using the patch will be they lose some performance,” Mr. Brookwood said. “But it won’t force A.M.D. to retrench.”

Dirk Meyer, president of A.M.D., hinted at a problem during a conference call with analysts in October, saying that initial production of Barcelona had been slower than expected. But he insisted that the product would be widely available by November. Company officials said yesterday that the scope of the problem had not become evident until after that call.

Face book - New advertising system sparked with privacy complaints

In a blog post, the 23-year-old founder of the social networking site apologized Wednesday for privacy violations by its controversial Beacon advertising program, which broadcasts users' online purchases to friends in their networks. Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will add a Beacon opt-out button to the site's privacy settings, caving to the demands of a protest group created by called "Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!"

Seeking to keep the peace in its popular online hangout, Facebook Inc. has overhauled a new advertising system that sparked privacy complaints by turning its users into marketing tools for other companies.
Under the changes outlined late Thursday, Facebook's 55 million users will be given greater control over whether they want to participate in a three-week-old program that circulates potentially sensitive information about their online purchases and other activities.

Facebook provided two different opportunities to block the details from being shared, but many users said they never saw the "opt-out" notices before they disappeared from the screen.

With the reforms, Facebook promised its users will now have to give their explicit consent, or "opt-in," before any information is passed along.

The concessions were made after more than 50,000 Facebook users signed an online petition blasting the system, called "Beacon," as a galling intrusion that put the Palo Alto-based startup's pursuit of profit ahead of its members' privacy interests.

More than 40 different Web sites, including, and, had embedded Beacon in their pages to track transactions made by Facebook users.

Unless instructed otherwise, the participating sites alerted Facebook, which then notified a user's friends within the social network about items that had been bought or products that had been reviewed.

Facebook thought the marketing feeds would help its users keep their friends better informed about their interests while also serving as "trusted referrals" that would help drive more sales to the sites using the Beacon system.

But thousands of Facebook users viewed the Beacon referrals as a betrayal of trust. Critics blasted the advertising tool as an unwelcome nuisance with flimsy privacy protections that had already exasperated and embarrassed some users.

Some users have already complained about inadvertently finding out about gifts bought for them for Christmas and Hanukkah after Beacon shared information from Other users say they were unnerved when they discovered their friends had found out what movies they were watching through purchases made on Fandango.

If Facebook adheres to the new "opt-in" standard, "it would be a significant step in the right direction," said Adam Green, a spokesman for, which launched the petition drive to revamp Beacon just nine days ago. "It also says a lot about the ability of Internet user to band together to make a difference."

The backlash against Beacon illustrated the delicate balancing act that Facebook must negotiate as the company tries to cash in on its popularity without alienating the users fueling its success.

Beacon is a key component in Facebook's "Social Ads" program, which is vying to make more money from the rapidly growing audience that uses the social network's free services as a place to flirt, gossip and share personal passions.

Privately held Facebook already is believed to generate more than $150 million in annual revenue after just three years in business, but it's under pressure to accelerate its growth.

Microsoft Corp. raised the stakes last month by paying $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake. The investment valued Facebook at $15 billion — an assessment that will require the company to become a lot more profitable in the next few years.

Skeptics have questioned Facebook's market value, given the company's brief existence and the inexperience of its 23-year-old chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who started the social network in 2004 while he was still a Harvard University student.

This isn't the first time that Facebook has done an about-face after introducing a feature that raised privacy concerns. Last year, Facebook rolled out a "news feeds" tool that tracked changes to users' profiles. After thousands of users rebelled, Zuckerberg issued a contrite apology and added a way to turn off the news feeds.

This time around, a customer support representative expressed Facebook's regrets in a Wednesday night note that foreshadowed the changes made Thursday.

"We're sorry if we spoiled some of your holiday gift-giving plans," Facebook's Paul Janzer wrote in a posting addressed to Beacon's critics. "We are really trying to provide you with new meaningful ways, like Beacon, to help you connect and share information with your friends." Janzer also acknowledged Beacon "can be kind of confusing."

Zuckerberg, whose stake in Facebook is worth $3 billion, thought Beacon's referral system would be seen as friendly product endorsements that generated more sales than traditional advertising. He hailed the distribution of peer recommendations as advertising's "holy grail" when Beacon was introduced earlier this month.

But Beacon may lose some of its luster with the tougher privacy controls. That's because fewer people typically participate in services with opt-in provisions.

iPhone home with new Interface

Google on Wednesday announced the release of a new interface to enable iPhone users to navigate Google's various services through a unified interface.

When iPhone users visit the Google site using the Safari browser on their iPhone, they'll find a navigation bar that lets them switch between Google Search, Gmail, Calendar, Reader and other services.

Google says they're using browser technologies like Asynchronous Javascript and XML (AJAX) to accomplish the feat. iPhone users are redirected to a different URL -- -- when they first visit the site. Users can opt for the new interface or for the "classic" view using a hyperlink on the home page

Google's iPhone home screen makes services such as Gmail, Calendar, and Reader more accessible through the use of Ajax menu tabs.
In another of many recent mobile-oriented announcements, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) on Wednesday rolled out a new interface that provides iPhone users with a more intuitive way to access Google's online services.
In a blog post, Steve Kanefsky, a software engineer for Google's mobile team, explains that he began to redesign Google's home page for iPhone users after the iPhone launched to make better use of its touch screen, Wi-Fi, and Safari browser.

"I started thinking about how to use Ajax technology to improve Google on the iPhone," Kanefsky said. "I set out to create an application that would preload my favorite Google products and allow me to switch between them instantly. I wanted Web results as well as image, local, and news results without having to repeat my search. I wanted to check Gmail and my news feeds in Google Reader without having to load a new page every time. I also wanted Google Suggest to save me time typing queries on the virtual keyboard."

Following internal testing at Google, the new interface now appears to iPhone users who visit

Beyond a design better suited to the iPhone's screen, the new interface makes Google services like Gmail, Calendar, and Reader more accessible and responsive through the use of Ajax menu tabs.

There's also a More tab that leads to other Google services such as Docs, GOOG-411, SMS, News, Photos, Blogger, and Notebook.

Judging by the supportive nature of the comments posted on the Official Google Mobile Blog about the new changes, the net result of the redesign appears likely to be happier users and greater use of Google services through mobile phones.

OLPC initiative for developing contries

Microsoft Corp. said that it will field test an inexpensive laptop PC for developing nations being championed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas plans to conduct field trials in January of Windows XP running on the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop.

The XO laptop ships with a Linux operating system and is meant to be a low-cost machine available to people who live in countries with developing economies. Earlier this year, Microsoft launched its Unlimited Potential program, which allows governments to buy a US$3 software bundle designed for students, a move that some observers said would compete with the OLPC initiative.

Looking beyond the OLPC to other small PCs that use flash storage, Microsoft said it plans to publish design guidelines early in 2008 to assist flash-based device makers in building machines that will support Windows.

Microsoft's plans mark a step closer by the software company to a project initially billed as an alternative to computers based on Microsoft's technology. Mr. Negroponte had originally envisioned his One Laptop Per Child project to populate the world with $100 computers that ran Linux software, a rival to Microsoft's Windows.

But Mr. Negroponte's project has fallen far below his initial expectations, in part because of higher costs of the laptop and cheap machines from Intel Corp and Microsoft.

Microsoft in a statement said it is trying to rework Windows XP to run on Mr. Negroponte's computer, called the XO laptop. The company for the first time outlined challenges it says it faces in making the software work on the machine. Included in those challenges is that XO for uses a small amount of semiconductor-based memory for storage instead of a hard drive. Windows is designed for computers with hard drives.

James Utzschneider, general manager of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential Group said the company will test the Windows-based XO laptops starting January 2008 in the U.S., India and possibly Romania. Depending on the outcome of the trials, Windows XP for the computers could be available as early as the second half of 2008, he said.

"We want Windows to run on the XO and we are investing significant energy and talent," Mr. Utzschneider said. Still, he said the Windows XO machine will have to pass muster before Microsoft supports it for volume use. "We really want to make sure we have a quality experience before we make commitment to governments."

Such programs are tricky ground for Microsoft, which depends on sales of Windows for the bulk of its revenue and profits. Growth of cheap PCs that run lower-priced software or cut-rate versions of Windows could one day hamper sales of the latest, and pricier, version of Windows. Microsoft Wednesday said it had no plans to offer a version of Windows for the XO for retail purchase in North America.

Microsoft in recent years has created its own programs for bring inexpensive Windows PCs to developing countries, offering stripped-down versions of the machines that can be sold cheaply. Intel meanwhile, is promoting its own low-cost PC called the Classmate.

Space station shaping multinational

Though no stranger to human spaceflight, Europe's astronauts were eager on Wednesday to leap ahead with the launch of the continent's first permanent home in Earth orbit.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center, ground crews readied the shuttle Atlantis to lift off at 3:31 p.m. Thursday, Houston time, with the European Space Agency's school bus-sized science module Columbus.

The lab, named for 15th century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, will be installed at the international space station using robot-arm operations and three spacewalks.

"We are very excited and extremely proud of what is happening," said Alan Thirkettle, manager of the ESA's nearly quarter-century space station effort.

The new module gives the European alliance an unprecedented foothold in space.

The International Space Station, which NASA has long touted as a model of global cooperation, is finally about to become multinational.
Space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to blast off today on an 11-day mission to drop off the station's first European room, a laboratory called Columbus. The lab will add diversity to an orbital center that, though funded by 14 countries, has been strictly binational.

The 9-year-old station's nine rooms are owned by two countries, Russia and the United States. Thirty-seven of the 38 astronauts who have lived there are Russian or American.

For Europeans, Columbus "is the start of manned spaceflight," says Atlantis crewmember Hans Schlegel of Germany. "All of a sudden we have a module of our own, which is available to us 24 hours (a day), 365 days a year."
On Wednesday, NASA reported no glitches with Atlantis and a 90% chance of good weather for launch.

Also being delivered to the station by Atlantis: French astronaut LĂ©opold Eyharts, who's expected to stay two months and will do the first experiments inside Columbus. He'll be the station's second European Union resident, after Thomas Reiter of Germany, who lived on the station last year.

Columbus is just the beginning. In February, a robotic European spaceship will make its debut stop at the station. In the spring, shuttles are scheduled to deliver two Japanese labs to the station.

The changes "will finally allow us to realize the full benefit of this international partnership," says Kenny Todd, the station's integration manager. "That's something we've looked forward to for a very, very long time."

It's also something NASA has worried about for a long time. A more international station also means multiple Mission Control Centers in multiple time zones. It means an onslaught of Earth-to-space chatter and more chances for cross-cultural misunderstandings.

The risk is that "your words are not coming across as you mean them," Schlegel says, because of "limited knowledge of that language, with (no) eye-to-eye contact."

"It was easy when it was just us talking to Houston," Atlantis commander Stephen Frick says. "Now we have a much larger conversation going on. … It's been an interesting dance to choreograph."

The $2.1 billion laboratory, named after explorer Christopher Columbus, was built by the Paris-based European Space Agency and set to launch in 2002. It was delayed in part by the 2003 disintegration of shuttle Columbia, which grounded the shuttle fleet.

"The scientists were on our case," recalls the European Space Agency's Daniele Laurini, an Italian based at NASA's Houston campus. "We had to keep our politicians together, and that's not an easy task."

The lab that will finally launch on Atlantis is roughly as big inside as an RV and holds gear for experiments in biology, the behavior of fluids in space and other subjects. It will be operated by engineers at a Mission Control near Munich, Germany, who will use English to communicate with the engineers in Mission Control in Houston.

The station's crew, which includes Eyharts, the USA's Peggy Whitson and Russia's Yuri Malenchenko, will have to be in radio contact with Munich, Houston and Russia's Mission Control in Moscow, all at once. The airwaves are divided, so crewmembers can talk to different control centers without drowning one another out.

"When you have more and more people … responsible for the task at hand, coordination gets to be a real challenge," Frick says. He hopes the rules they've worked out will ensure that "we don't talk over each other."

It's going to get even more complex. The European robotic spaceship that will start flying to the station next year will be run from a Mission Control in France. The Japanese labs to be added in 2008 will have a Mission Control in Japan.

"They'll figure out a way to do it," says Clayton Anderson, whose station stay ended in October. Still, he says, cacophony in space "is one of the concerns I have. You can't have too many people driving the train."

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