News & Current Affairs

August 14, 2008

Spending on communications falls

Spending on communications falls

Person using mobile phone, PA

Mobile use has doubled in five years, Ofcom says

Britons are spending more time using communications services but paying less for them, says an Ofcom report.

Every day in 2007, the average consumer spent 7 hours and 9 minutes watching TV, on the phone, using the internet or using other services, it says.

Since 2002, mobile use has doubled and PC and laptop use has grown fourfold, says the watchdog’s annual review.

But the average UK household spend on communications in 2007 was £93.63 a month – a fall of £1.53 on 2006.

TV remains the most popular pastime, with the average person watching for 3 hours and 38 minutes a day last year.

In 2007 the average person in the UK spent 24 minutes per day on their computer and 10 minutes using their mobile.

Graph showing household spend on communications services between 2002and 2007

Ofcom’s annual communications market review notes that monthly spend on communications has fallen for three years in a row.

Ofcom says consumers are getting increasingly canny about the way they buy services, switching providers or paying one fee for a bundle of services.

COMMUNICATIONS FACTS
Communications industry revenue topped £51.2bn in 2007
Average households spend £93.63 per month on communications services
87.2% have digital television
80% of new TV sales are high-definition sets
40% buy communications services in a bundled package
44% of adults use text messaging every day
36% of adults use the net every day
Source: Ofcom market review

Lower prices for broadband are one factor, with the average household spending £9.45 for an internet connection in 2007 compared with £9.87 in 2006.

Fierce competition between broadband providers is causing some concern that it may be difficult for the industry to raise the investment needed for faster networks.

But the report shows that broadband take-up is continuing to grow both at home and on the move.

By the end of 2007, Ofcom found, 58% of homes had broadband, compared with 52% a year earlier.

Dongle surge

The real surge, though, came in the use of mobile broadband after a big marketing push by mobile phone companies selling so-called “dongles”.

Between February and June this year, monthly sales of these devices, which give internet access to laptop users, rose from 69,000 to 133,000 a month.

According to Ofcom figures, two million people say they have used mobile broadband via a dongle or similar device and three-quarters of them say they use it at home as well as on the move – evidence that the mobile operators are beginning to compete with fixed-line businesses for broadband customers.

Children watching TV, BBC

TV retains its popularity despite booming net, mobile and computer use

British consumers are also spending more time on the phone than ever before, with a 21% increase in minutes spent on mobile calls.

Even fixed-line calls are holding up with Ofcom seeing just a 2% fall in minutes spent calling.

The Ofcom report paints a picture of a country where consumers are making more and more use of modern media services – from YouTube to personal video recorders – while still retaining an interest in the traditional services.

Digital television is now in use in 87% of British homes, with many having hundreds of channels to choose from. Despite the variety, 57% of viewing in these multi-channel homes is of the five main channels.

Ofcom also noted that while the amount of TV viewing is up on 2006, the longer term trend shows a slight decline in viewing.

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August 5, 2008

Microsoft sees end of Windows era

Microsoft has kicked off a research project to create software that will take over when it retires Windows.

Called Midori, the cut-down operating system is radically different to Microsoft’s older programs.

It is centred on the internet and does away with the dependencies that tie Windows to a single PC.

It is seen as Microsoft’s answer to rivals’ use of “virtualisation” as a way to solve many of the problems of modern-day computing.

Tie breaking

Although Midori has been heard about before now, more details have now been published by Software Development Times after viewing internal Microsoft documents describing the technology.

Midori is believed to be under development because Windows is unlikely to be able to cope with the pace of change in future technology and the way people use it.

Windows worked well in an age when most people used one machine to do all their work. The operating system acted as the holder for the common elements Windows programs needed to call on.

“If you think about how an operating system is loaded,” said Dave Austin, European director of products at Citrix, “it’s loaded onto a hard disk physically located on that machine.

“The operating system is tied very tightly to that hardware,” he said.

That, he said, created all kinds of dependencies that arose out of the collection of hardware in a particular machine.

This means, he said, that Windows can struggle with more modern ways of working in which people are very mobile and very promiscuous in the devices they use to get at their data – be that pictures, spreadsheets or e-mail.

Equally, he said, when people worked or played now, they did it using a combination of data and processes held locally or in any of a number of other places online.

When asked about Midori by BBC News, Microsoft issued a statement that said: “Midori is one of many incubation projects underway at Microsoft. It’s simply a matter of being too early in the incubation to talk about it.”

Virtual machines

Midori is widely seen as an ambitious attempt by Microsoft to catch up on the work on virtualisation being undertaken in the wider computer industry.

Darren Brown, data centre lead at consulting firm Avanade, said virtualisation had first established itself in data centres among companies with huge numbers of servers to manage.

Putting applications, such as an e-mail engine or a database, on one machine brought up all kinds of problems when those machines had to undergo maintenance, needed updating or required a security patch to be applied.

By putting virtual servers on one physical box, companies had been able to shrink the numbers of machines they managed and get more out of them, he said.

“The real savings are around physical management of the devices and associated licensing,” he said. “Physically, there is less tin to manage.”

Equally, said Mr Brown, if one physical server failed the virtualised application could easily be moved to a separate machine.

“The same benefits apply to the PC,” he said. “Within the Microsoft environment, we have struggled for years with applications that are written so poorly that they will not work with others.

“Virtualising this gives you a couple of new ways to tackle those traditional problems,” he said.

Many companies were still using very old applications that existing operating systems would not run, he said. By putting a virtual machine on a PC, those older programs can be kept going.

A virtual machine, like its name implies, is a software copy of a computer complete with operating system and associated programs.

Closing Windows

“On the desktop we are seeing people place great value in being able to abstract the desktop from actual physical hardware,” said Dan Chu, vice president of emerging products and markets at virtualisation specialist VMWare.

Some virtual machines, he said, acted like Windows PCs to all intents and purposes. But many virtual machines were now emerging that were tuned for a particular industry, sector or job.

“People take their application, the operating system they want to run it against, package it up along with policy and security they want and use that as a virtual client,” he said.

In such virtual machines, the core of the operating system can be very small and easy to transfer to different devices. This, many believe, is the idea behind Midori – to create a lightweight portable operating system that can easily be mated to many different applications.

Microsoft’s licensing terms for Windows currently prohibited it acting as a virtual machine or client in this way, said Mr Chu.

Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner, said the development of Midori was a sensible step for Microsoft.

“The value of Microsoft Windows, of what that product is today, will diminish as more applications move to the web and Microsoft needs to edge out in front of that,” he said.

“I would be surprised if there was definitive evidence that nothing like this was not kicking around,” he said.

The big problem that Microsoft faced in doing away with Windows, he said, was how to re-make its business to cope.

“Eighty percent of Windows sales are made when a new PC is sold,” he said. “That’s a huge amount of money for them that they do not have to go out and get.

“If Windows ends up being less important over time as applications become more OS agnostic where will Microsoft make its money?” he asked.

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