Archive for May, 2008

New blow for NHS e-record system

Plans to computerise the NHS in England could face further delays after a contract with a key supplier was terminated, the BBC has learned.

The IT programme, which is already four years late, will create a single electronic records system for patients.

But negotiations have broken down with Fujitsu, who had been due to implement the plan in the south of England.

The Department of Health said an agreement over Fujitsu’s contract could not be reached.

The estimated final overall cost of computerising the NHS in England is currently £12.7bn.

While the NHS’s Connecting for Health programme has overrun, tough contracts have so far kept it broadly within budget.

However, these have caused tensions with the companies tasked with carrying out the work.

As the programme has developed, contracts have been renegotiated to include strict local specifications.

They state that contractors will only be paid when services are delivered and working.

If deadlines are missed, payment is deducted, although it can be earned back.

Fujitsu was one of three main suppliers of the system and had held a contract worth £895m for the south of England from Kent to Cornwall.

But now its involvement has ended after the parties failed to agree on the specifics of its contract.

The DoH told the BBC it terminated Fujitsu’s involvement “with regret” because it had not been possible to reach agreement.

In a statement, Fujitsu said it had withdrawn from negotiations as it did not feel there was any prospect of an acceptable conclusion.

Existing computer programs installed by Fujitsu in the south of England will continue to be supported, but what happens to those not yet up and running may now be the subject of a legal dispute.

A recent National Audit Office report said an unspecified amount had been withheld from the Fujitsu contract.

The NHS IT programme was launched in 2002 and had been due to be completed in 2010.

The Conservative shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said the government’s attempts to “ram through a top-down, centralised, one-size-fits-all central NHS computer system” has come “crashing down around their ears”.
Source: BBC news


Government to announce ID card shortlist

The Government will today announce a shortlist of companies given the go-ahead to bid on the £2 billion UK ID card project.

The bidding process for the system is set to continue to the next phase, despite the fact that the Conservative party has promised to scrap the plans entirely if they gain power.

“We’ve written to the Cabinet Secretary last year, and all the major contractors, putting them on formal notice that we would cancel it. We have asked the Cabinet Secretary to confirm that they have not signed up to any painful cancellation clauses,” says a Tory spokesperson, speaking to the Times.

Only five companies stand a chance to win the contract to develop the infrastructure needed for the ambitious system: IBM, Fujitsu, CSC, Thales and EDS. Accenture, BAE and Steria were all at one time linked to the project, but have since pulled out of the bidding process.

It is expected that today’s announcement will see one further company lose the chance of bidding. Critics have attacked the fact that few of the proposed suppliers are based in the UK, leaving the possibility of biometric and personal data being stored outside the country.

Recent data loss scandals have further undermined public support for what was already an unpopular project, leaving critics worried that their biometric information could be vulnerable.

However, earlier this week it emerged that the Home Office was outlining plans for another massive database, this time to store details of every phone call made, email sent and browsing session within the UK.

The Office claimed that the system would provide help to law enforcement officers in tracking down and prosecuting criminals and terrorists.


Rural Britain takes broadband lead – but what about speeds?

Rural homes in the UK have overtaken their urban counterparts in adoption of broadband for the first time, according to a new Ofcom report.

59% of rural homes now have broadband, compared to 57% in towns and cities, according to Ofcom’s regional communications market report, leading to a predictable breakout of triumphalism at the regulator.

“Our report highlights a closing of the geographical digital divide in the UK,” claims Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

“Rural households are today as well connected to broadband as their urban neighbours”.

That is, of course, complete nonsense. People in rural areas are far more likely to live further from their local telephone exchange than those in inner-cities. Consequently, ADSL connection speeds are often only a fraction of those achieved in urban areas, because the “last mile” of copper cabling drains away the speed.

BT’s own figures show that those living only three or four miles from their local exchange are likely to receive actual throughput speeds in kilobits rather than megabits per second.

Sunderland has become Britain’s broadband capital according to the Ofcom report, with 66% of households in the city now connected to broadband. By contrast, Glasgow is the broadband backwater, with only 32% of homes receiving “high speed” connections.

BRITAIN’S TOP FIVE BROADBAND TOWNS AND CITIES

1. Sunderland 66%
2. Plymouth 64%
3. Aberdeen 64%
4. Highlands 62%
5. London 62%


An Orwellian step too far!

Ministers are to consider plans for a database of electronic information holding details of every phone call and e-mail sent in the UK, it has emerged.

The plans, reported in the Times, are at an early stage and may be included in the draft Communications Bill later this year, the Home Office confirmed.

A Home Office spokesman said the data is a “crucial tool” for protecting national security and preventing crime.

Ministers have not seen the plans which were drawn up by Home Office officials.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Communications Data Bill will help ensure that crucial capabilities in the use of communications data for counter-terrorism and investigation of crime continue to be available.

“These powers will continue to be subject to strict safeguards to ensure the right balance between privacy and protecting the public.”

The spokesman said changes need to be made to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 “to ensure that public authorities can continue to obtain and have access to communications data essential for counter-terrorism and investigation of crime purposes”.

A number of data protection failures in recent months, including the loss of a CD carrying the personal details of every child benefit claimant, have embarrassed the government.

The plans are likely to provoke outrage among civil liberty groups and some political figures.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne called the proposals “an Orwellian step too far”.

He said ministers had “taken leave of their senses if they think that this proposal is compatible with a free country and a free people”.

“Given the appalling track record of data loss, this state is simply not to be trusted with such private information,” said Mr Huhne.


Blackberry ‘moves away from business’

The maker of the Blackberry is launching a new phone with extra multimedia features as it tries to attract more casual users.

The Blackberry Bold retains the same shape and feel as its predecessors with a full QWERTY-style keyboard.

But for the first time there is full support for high speed 3G data transmission as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

It comes with satellite navigation and a bigger, widescreen display. Music can be played over the built-in stereo speakers.

The Blackberry has slowly been moving away from its business roots.

The original model, launched a decade ago, was aimed at corporate executives, lawyers and other professional users.

It was one of the first devices to feature “push” email.

Messages could be instantly sent to and from the Blackberry without the need to manually connect to a company’s IT network.

Since its launch, the Canadian firm behind the device, Research in Motion, has dominated the market for smartphones.

But rival models are now threatening to steal some of that business.

Phones aimed at casual users are becoming more powerful with many of the same features as the Blackberry.

Research in Motion is trying to fight back by appealing to the leisure market itself.

A third of the Blackberry’s 14 million subscribers are now classified as private users.

The Blackberry Bold is expecting to go on sale this summer in the UK.

Source: BBC


The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) sounded an alarm bell yesterday over the rapid depletion of IPv4 internet addresses and gave the IPv6 protocol another push.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) sounded an alarm bell yesterday over the rapid depletion of IPv4 internet addresses and gave the IPv6 protocol another push.

In the new report titled The Future of the Internet Economy, which has been published ahead of the group’s ministerial meeting in Seoul next month, the OECD supports the widely-held view that the currently-used version of the Internet Protocol (IP) will run out of addresses in 2011.

It observed that “beyond building IPv6 skills and applications within governmental bodies, public procurement mandates also lead to a virtuous cycle of adoption by instigating the development of skills within technology partners”.

Network Address Translation (NAT), which makes it possible for several systems to share a single IPv4 address, is already widely used.

But it’s a stop gap system, viewed by some observers as an imperfect and costly work-around. The report claimed that enterprise and application vendors spend as much as 30 per cent of IT-related expenditures on the system’s sub-par communication protocol tweaks.

The report echoes internet search giant Google’s call earlier this week for the wider adoption of IPv6 as a long-term solution to what is becoming a growing concern for the tech industry.

“While technologies such as Network Address Translation can offer temporary respite,” it said, “they complicate the internet’s architecture, pose barriers to the development of new applications, and run contrary to network openness principles.”

Google also took the opportunity to point out that its search facility was now available over IPv6. It even gave Microsoft’s unloved OS a shout-out.

“With current operating systems such as Windows Vista, Mac OS X, and Linux providing high-quality support for IPv6, we hope it’s only a matter of time before IPv6 is widely deployed,” it said.

Source: The Register


HP issues XP SP3 warning

Hewlett-Packard has admitted that some users of its AMD-based desktops have experienced problems after installing the latest Service Pack for XP, and has asked users to hold off installing it until the problem is resolved.

The confirmation follows a week of recriminations, after it was discovered that Microsoft’s latest Service Pack for XP was sending some machines into an endless reboot cycle.

Both AMD and HP swiftly found themselves in the spotlight, before Microsoft pointed the finger at OEMs for “placing a Windows XP image created for an Intel-based computer onto machines with non-Intel chipsets.”

However, in its response HP denied this: “The affected HP systems do not have an Intel driver loaded onto them, but there is a services registry entry that SP3 appears to be recognising as an instruction to load the Intel driver, subsequently causing the failure,” says HP in a statement.

“HP is working diligently with Microsoft on a software update and will be proactively distributing a patch this week through HP Update that will prevent this error from occurring,” the statement continues.

“HP recommends consumers with AMD-based desktops wait until after HP’s or Microsoft’s updates have been deployed on their systems to install Service Pack 3.”

HP says the patch will be available within the next week, with Microsoft also confirming that it’s working on a hotfix for affected customers.

Source: PC Pro


NHS IT will arrive “four years late”

The £12.7 billion National Health Service IT overhaul will arrive four years late, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) says.

Launched in 2002, the National Programme for IT in the NHS was hoped to be completed by 2010, but a more realistic date is 2014/15 according to the report.

The system is hugely ambitious and will allow care professionals across England to access a patient’s medical records. However, in order to make the system work, the programme must first standardise equipment across the NHS – a huge undertaking. So huge in fact, the NAO claims the original timescale was unachievable.

Chairman of the committee of public accounts Edward Leigh MP admitted that rolling out the programme would be “challenging” and that the delivery expectations have already damaged its standing: “Over time, the Department of Health (DoH) has had its eyes opened to its enormous scale. And by building unrealistic expectations for delivery, confidence in the whole programme has been damaged.”

However, Leigh pointed out that positive changes have been made in the deployment of the programme: “My Committee reported on the programme last year and our recommendations have given the Department and the NHS a push in the right direction.”

“The scale of the challenge involved in delivering the National Programme for IT has proved to be far greater than envisaged at the start, with serious delays in delivering the new care records systems,” says NAO chief Tim Burr.

“Progress is being made, however, and financial savings and other benefits are beginning to emerge. The priority now is to finish developing and deploying care records systems that will help NHS Trusts to achieve the Programme’s intended benefits of improved services and better patient care.”

So far the estimated cost of the programme is £12.7 billion, but due to the delay in deployments, actual expenditure to date stands at £3.6 billion, lower than expected.

Source: PC Pro


Windows XP SP3

Verdict: A solid enough round-up of the last few years’ updates, but there’s little to excite unless you’re an IT manager with a Server 2008 setup.

Amazingly, it’s been almost four years since the last Windows XP service pack. The near-legendary XP SP2 appeared with huge fanfare in late 2004: it was a big change and shored up an OS looking increasingly insecure in a world moving towards always-on internet connections.

The arrival of SP3 is much quieter. After one false start, systems running Windows XP should automatically be offered it via Windows Update as of a few days ago. It’s also available as a standalone executable, coming in at 314MB in total.

The standalone installer is cumulative, so if you have an ancient pre-SP1 copy of XP you can still reinstall your OS from that, and then simply apply SP3 to update everything in one go. It works with any variation of XP too, including XP Home and Media Center editions.

The installation process itself is standard Windows Update fare. On a well-used and fairly fragmented Core 2-based PC in the PC Pro office, the process took 18 mins 30 secs. After restart there’s none of the fanfare of SP2 that brought with it the new shield icon and the full-screen reminder about turning on automatic updates. The system simply reboots as normal and you’ll be hard-pressed to see any difference.

As with Vista SP1, which adds very little in the way of new features, XP SP3 is a return to the old days when service packs were just that. Windows XP SP2, with its raft of new extras, was an anomaly on the service-pack landscape. If you’re expecting features from Vista to have trickled down you’ll be disappointed too: unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s stance is that it’s “not adding significant functionality from newer versions of Windows”.

With SP3, the primary focus is rolling up the hundreds of hotfixes and security patches that have been released in the years since SP2, giving a more secure baseline installation.

In fact, SP3 is so determined not to give you anything new it won’t even install the latest version of Internet Explorer. If you have IE6, that’s what you’ll still have after the update, albeit fully patched. If you’ve installed IE7 manually, that will be updated too.

There’s a further change you won’t see if you’re updating an existing installation; it’ll only be apparent when you install XP from a CD with SP3 already integrated. You should find you no longer need to enter a product key. As with Vista, you can now install the OS without one and you’ll be prompted to provide it later.

Microsoft is keen to point out that this isn’t a move to the same activation system used in Vista, whereby keys expire if they’re re-used. The official Microsoft line is that, “This update affects the installation media only and is not a change to how activation works in Windows XP”.

A primary focus of Vista SP1 was improving the laggardly performance of Vista. There are no claims about improved speed with XP SP3, and our tests bear this out. Running our application benchmarks on a clean installation of XP SP2 and then updating to SP3, the performance results are near enough identical.

Remember though that XP remains faster than Vista in almost every area: our test PC scored 1.46 overall in Vista against 1.58 running XP SP3. We installed the service pack on several machine and experienced no nasty problems with corrupt installations or unbootable PCs.

New features can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and you’ll still have a couple left over. The headline is the Network Access Protection (NAP) client. NAP is a system introduced with Windows Server 2008 that blocks or restricts network access to client machines that aren’t recognised or don’t pass a minimum configuration level.

The configuration criteria can include up-to-date virus definition files and an OS with the latest patches installed, allowing the server to be reasonably sure that a new client isn’t going to contaminate the network before it grants access.

The NAP client is only being released via SP3, so sys admins wanting to take advantage of NAP without having to move all their client machines to Vista will have to install the new service pack. On a more esoteric front, SP3 includes the CredSSP security provider.

Introduced with Vista – which contradicts Microsoft’s claim that it’s not bringing any features from the new OS – it’s mainly used with Terminal Services to provide authentication of remote sessions. The final small enhancement is black-hole router detection, allowing the OS to detect rogue routers ignoring packets. SP3 turns it on by default.

So, XP SP3 doesn’t really change much, but then it doesn’t really need to. Few would disagree that XP is a stable, effective operating system, and after seven years there was never much chance of any radical changes. It’s still XP, and the legions of people who still aren’t convinced by Vista won’t get any nasty surprises with SP3.

Source – PC Pro


PC World and Currys shares slump

DSG International (DSGi) shares fell nine per cent this morning following the retail giant’s second profit warning in under four months.

The firm’s CEO John Browett issued a statement today in which he admitted that customer demand in the UK and Ireland has been “lower than expected, with a negative impact on margins”.

He told the City that like-for-like sales in its Currys and PC World stores were down one per cent for the six months to 5 April 2008.

The slump has also blown a massive £30m hole in the electrical retail giant’s pre-tax profits. DSGi said it now expects to see between £200m and £210m for the year – consensus forecasts had initially been set at £242m.

Browett added that sales had been “challenging” across the UK, Italy and Spain in the “prevailing difficult economic environment”.

Customer spending has also hit DSGi hard with computer sales from PC World down ten per cent in the six month period. “It is clear that customers have become increasingly promotion- and deal-driven,” said Browett.

Trading at the firm’s Italian chain UniEuro was even more disappointing, with like-for-like sales tumbling 14 per cent in DSGi’s second half period.

In January the company was forced to put out a profit warning to investors in which it admitted that trading in the run-up to Christmas had been below par, and fingered “generally weaker consumer environments” for its sluggish profit performance.

Browett, who was parachuted in by DSGi as the retailer’s new boss from Tesco in June last year, will announce the first phase of his biz review on 15 May.

Shares in DSGi are currently trading at 60.00 pence on the London Stock Exchange. ®