News & Current Affairs

October 3, 2008

Biden and Palin debate

Biden and Palin debate

The two US vice-presidential candidates have traded blows on the financial crisis, climate change and foreign policy in their only TV debate.

Democrat Joe Biden sought to link Republican presidential candidate John McCain to the policies of President Bush, saying he was “no maverick”.

Republican Sarah Palin defended herself against claims of inexperience and said the McCain ticket would bring change.

Voter polls suggested Mr Biden had won but Mrs Palin did better than expected.

The debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, was seen as particularly crucial for Mrs Palin, whose poll ratings have fallen.

Mrs Palin played to her strengths and her image as a mother in touch with ordinary Americans.

For the most part she spoke fluently but simply about the economy, climate change and the war in Iraq, our correspondent says, and there were few of the stumbling gaffes that have become the staple of late-night comedy shows.

Two polls conducted after the debate, by US networks CNN and CBS News, judged Mr Biden the winner. However, the CNN poll found a large majority thought Mrs Palin had done better than expected.

‘Hockey moms’

Asked by moderator Gwen Ifill who was at fault for the current problems with the US banking system, Mrs Palin blamed predatory lenders and “greed and corruption” on Wall Street.

It would be a travesty if we were to quit now in Iraq
Sarah Palin
Republican VP nominee

Senator McCain would “put partisanship aside” to help resolve the crisis, she said, and had raised the alarm over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac long ago.

She said “Joe six-packs and hockey moms across the country” – referring to middle-class voters – needed to say “never again” to Wall Street chiefs.

Mrs Palin also accused Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of seeking to raise taxes but Mr Biden rejected that claim.

He said the economic crisis was evidence that the policies of the past eight years had been “the worst we’ve ever had” and accused Mr McCain of being “out of touch” on the economy.

Senator Obama’s plan to raise taxes on households earning over $250,000 was “fairness”, Mr Biden said, unlike Mr McCain’s proposals for more tax breaks for big companies.

‘Dead wrong’

On foreign policy, Mrs Palin accused Mr Obama of refusing to acknowledge that the “surge” strategy of extra troops in Iraq had worked.

He’s not been a maverick on virtually anything that people talk about around the kitchen table
Joe Biden
Democratic VP nominee

“It would be a travesty if we were to quit now in Iraq,” she said, describing Mr Obama’s plan to withdraw combat troops a “white flag of surrender”.

Mr Biden countered by saying Mr McCain had been “dead wrong” on Iraq and had yet to present a plan to end the conflict.

He said the US was wasting $10bn a month in Iraq while ignoring the real front line in the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan.

In turn, Mrs Palin said Mr Obama was naive for saying he was willing to talk directly to the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba. “That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous,” she said.

The pair also sparred on the issue of climate change.

Mrs Palin, governor of energy-rich Alaska, said human activities were a factor in climate change but that climatic cycles were also an element. She urged US energy independence as part of the answer.

Key words used most frequently by Joe Biden in the debate

Mr Biden pointed to climate change as one of the major points on which the two campaigns differed, saying: “If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution.”

He said he and Mr Obama backed “clean-coal” technology and accused Mr McCain of having voted against funding for alternative energy projects and seeing only one solution: “Drill, drill, drill.”

While Mrs Palin described her party’s candidate as “the consummate maverick”, her rival argued that Mr McCain had followed the Bush administration’s policies on important issues such as Iraq.

“He’s not been a maverick on virtually anything that people talk about around the kitchen table,” Mr Biden said.

Overall, commentators highlighted Mrs Palin’s frequent use of a “folksy” style, for example using expressions like “doggone it” and telling her opponent: “Aw, say it ain’t so, Joe.”

They also noted how Mr Biden appeared emotional as he talked about raising his two young sons alone after a car crash killed his first wife.

Poll shift

According to a Pew Research Center poll, two-thirds of voters planned to follow the debate, far more than in 2004.

McCain and running mate Sarah Palin at Republican convention in St Paul on 4 September 2008

Sarah Palin was a huge hit at the Republican convention last month

A new poll by the Washington Post suggests that 60% of voters now see Mrs Palin as lacking the experience to be an effective president.

One-third say they are less likely to vote for Senator McCain, as a result.

Independent voters, who are not affiliated to either political party, have the most sceptical views of the 44-year-old Alaska governor.

Another poll, for CBS News, gives Senator Barack Obama 49% to 40% for Mr McCain.

It is the latest in a series of opinion polls that have shown a significant shift in the direction of Mr Obama since the economic crisis began.

Mrs Palin, whose fiery speech at last month’s Republican convention inspired Christian conservatives, produces unusually strong feelings – both positive and negative – among voters.

Key words used most frequently by Sarah Palin in the debate

Although Mrs Palin has succeeded in mobilising conservative Republicans, her key challenge is to appeal to the swing voters who could determine who will win the battleground states, analysts say.

In particular, she needs to win over the “Wal-Mart moms” – white, working-class married women.

A recent poll of customers of discount giant Wal-Mart suggested that Mr McCain was slightly ahead with this group in Ohio and Florida, while Mr Obama was leading in Virginia and Colorado.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is scaling back its operations in another swing state, Michigan, effectively conceding the advantage to Mr Obama there.

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September 12, 2008

Surrender by ‘uranium theft’ man

Surrender by ‘uranium theft’ man

Photo by Anirban Roy

Local objections have stopped mining from officially starting

A tribal man wanted in connection with the smuggling of uranium ore has surrendered to the police in India’s north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

Earlier this week, police arrested five people and recovered a packet of about 1kg of unprocessed uranium from them.

It is not clear how much ore the group had, or what it planned to do with it.

The arrests are at an embarrassing time for India, just days after the Nuclear Suppliers Group ended a ban on civilian nuclear trade with the country.

Indian officials had worked hard to persuade members of the group, which governs global trade in nuclear components, that its nuclear industry was in safe hands.

Uranium is the basic fuel for nuclear weapons, but it has to go through complex processes before it is sufficiently enriched for use.

‘Stolen’

John Khongmin gave himself up to the police in the West Khasi Hills district late on Wednesday after police circulated a look-out notice for him.

Mr Khongmin’s father is an employee of the government-run Atomic Minerals Division.

The Domiosiat mining site. Picture by Anirban Roy

Children play at Domiosiat – prized by experts for the quality of its ore

“We are trying to find out whether the group has stolen more and where were they trying to sell it,” district police official M Khakrang said.

Police say they are not sure whether the men are part of an organized global enterprise, or simply some amateurs, trying to make some quick money.

The seizure was made in the village of Mairang on Monday when police detained four people, including a village headman, for stealing a quantity of uranium.

A fifth man surrendered on Tuesday after the police carried out a search of the area.

Earlier in May too, police arrested five people for stealing uranium ore.

Others have been arrested in the past for trying to smuggle uranium out of the state.

“But we don’t know yet whether this is an organized racket. It could well be and we may have not yet found the kingpins,” Mr Khakrang said.

Proposed mines

Early in the 1990s, India’s Atomic Minerals Division discovered huge deposits of uranium at Domiosiat and Wakkhaji in the West Khasi Hills.

The Indian government announced in January it wanted to open cast mine 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore annually in the area.

But mining has been unable to start so far because of objections from local tribespeople who fear radiation contamination.

Officials say the proposed mines contain 16% of India’s known uranium deposits.

India is desperate for enriched uranium to boost its nuclear power generation.

It recently signed a controversial accord with the US under which it will receive civilian nuclear fuel and technology. The deal now awaits approval from the US Congress.

September 8, 2008

‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

CMS (M. Brice/Cern)

The UK alone has invested more than half-a-billion pounds in the LHC

The most brilliant minds should be directed to solving Earth’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, says Sir David King.

The former UK chief scientist will use his presidential address at the BA Science Festival to call for a gear-change among innovative thinkers.

He will suggest that less time and money is spent on endeavors such as space exploration and particle physics.

He says population growth and poverty in Africa also demand attention.

“The challenges of the 21st Century are qualitatively different from anything that we’ve had to face up to before,” he told reporters before the opening of the festival, which is being held this year in Liverpool.

“This requires a re-think of priorities in science and technology and a redrawing of our society’s inner attitudes towards science and technology.”

Huge expense

Sir David’s remarks will be controversial because they are being made just as the UK is about to celebrate its participation in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest physics experiment.

The Collider, built at the Cern laboratory under the Swiss-French border, is starting full operations this Wednesday.

It will seek to understand the building blocks of matter, and, in particular, try to find a mechanism that can explain why matter has mass.

This international venture is extremely expensive, however. The UK alone has contributed more than £500m to the LHC – the largest sum of money to date invested by a UK government in a single scientific project.

Sir David said it was time such funding – and the brains it supports – were pushed to answering more pressing concerns.

“It’s all very well to demonstrate that we can land a craft on Mars, it’s all very well to discover whether or not there is a Higgs boson (a potential mass mechanism); but I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilization is really crucial.”

Big ideas

Chief among these challenges for Sir David is the issue of climate change. When he was the government’s top scientist, he made the famous remark that the threat from climate change was bigger than the threat posed by terrorism.

He said alternatives to fossil fuels were desperately needed to power a civilization that would number some nine billion people by mid-century – nine billion people who would all expect a high standard of living.

“We will have to re-gear our thinking because our entire civilization depends on energy production, and we have been producing that energy very largely through fossil fuels; and we will have to remove our dependence from fossil fuels virtually completely, or we will have to learn how to capture carbon dioxide from fossil fuel usage,” he said.

Finding and exploiting clean energy sources was now imperative, he said; and Sir David questioned whether the spending on particle physics research in the shape of Cern’s Large Hadron Collider was the best route to that goal.

He even doubted whether Cern’s greatest invention was an outcome that could only have come from an institution that pursued so-called “blue skies research”.

“People say to me: ‘well what about the world wide web? That emerged from Cern’. Brilliant. Tim Berners Lee was the person who invented that. What if Tim Berners Lee had been working in a solar [power] laboratory? Perhaps he would have done it there as well. The spin-out would have come from the brilliant individual.”

August 24, 2008

Solar plane makes record flight

Solar plane makes record flight

A UK-built solar-powered plane has set an unofficial world endurance record for a flight by an unmanned aircraft.

The Zephyr-6, as it is known, stayed aloft for more than three days,
running through the night on batteries it had recharged in sunlight.

The flight was a demonstration for the US military, which is
looking for new types of technology to support its troops on the
ground.

Craft like Zephyr might make ideal platforms for reconnaissance.

They could also be used to relay battlefield communications.

Chris Kelleher, from UK defence and research firm QinetiQ, said
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) offer advantages over traditional
aircraft and even satellites.

“The principal advantage is persistence – that you would be
there all the time,” he told BBC News. “A satellite goes over the same
part of the Earth twice a day – and one of those is at night – so it’s
only really getting a snapshot of activity. Zephyr would be watching
all day.”

Deployment close

The latest flight was conducted at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

The Zephyr flew non-stop for 82 hours, 37 minutes.

Altitude infographic NOT TO SCALE (BBC)

That time beats the current official world record for unmanned
flight set by the US robot plane Global Hawk – of 30 hours, 24 minutes
– and even Zephyr’s own previous best of 54 hours achieved last year.

However, the Yuma mark remains “unofficial” because QinetiQ did
not involve the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale), the world
air sports federation, which sanctions all record attempts.

The US Department of Defense funded the demonstration flight
under its Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) programme.

This programme is designed to advance the technologies American commanders would most like to see in the field.

“We think Zephyr is very close to an operational system – within
the next two years is what we’re aiming for,” Mr Kelleher said. “We
have one more step of improvements; we trying to design a robust and
reliable system that will really sit up there for months; and we want
to push the performance.”

Energy density

The trial, which took place between 28 and 31 July, also included the participation of the UK Ministry of Defence.

The 30kg Zephyr was guided by remote control to an operating
altitude in excess of 18km (60,000ft), and then flown on autopilot and
via satellite communication.

It tested a communications payload weighing approximately 2kg.

Zephyr (QinetiQ)

Zephyr should be in commanders’ hands within two years

At first sight, the propeller-driven Zephyr looks to be just another
model aircraft, and it is even launched by hand. But this “pilotless”
vehicle with its 18-metre wingspan incorporates world-leading
technologies.

Its structure uses ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre material; and
the plane flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon solar
arrays no thicker than sheets of paper. These are glued over the
aircraft’s wings.

To get through the night, the propellers are powered from lithium-sulphur batteries which are topped up during the day.

“A lot of effort has gone into power storage and light-weighting
the systems,” explained Mr Kelleher. “Lithium sulphur is more than
double the energy density of the best alternative technology which is
lithium polymer batteries.

“They are an exceptional performer. We’ve worked with the Sion
Corporation. They’ve had them in development for years. We’re actually
the first application in the world for them.”

Vulture venture

Zephyr has demonstrated that it can cope with extremes of
temperature – from the blistering 45C heat found at ground level in
Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, to the minus 70C chill experienced at
altitudes of more than 18km (60,000ft).

The engineers from the Farnborough-based company are now
collaborating with the American aerospace giant Boeing on a defence
project codenamed Vulture.

This would see the biggest plane in history take to the sky,
powered by the sun and capable of carrying a 450-kilo (1,000lb)
payload.

US commanders say the design must be able to maintain its
position over a particular spot on the Earth’s surface uninterrupted
for five years.

QinetiQ is also developing UAV technology for civilian uses.

It has been working recently with Aberystwyth University on
field monitoring trials, plotting areas of ground that may or may not
need fertiliser applications.

Zephyr (QinetiQ)
Lightweight plane (30-34kg/70lb) is launched by hand
Coms or surveillance payload of about 2kg (4.5lb)
Flies autonomously and can climb to more than 18km (60,000ft)
By day, Zephyr flies on solar power and recharges its batteries
Advanced amorphous silicon solar arrays supplied by Unisolar
Rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries supplied by Sion Corp

August 17, 2008

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran says it has successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite.

Officials said only the rocket had been fired, correcting state media reports that the communications satellite itself had been sent into orbit.

The White House voiced concern, saying the technology could also be used for launching weapons.

Tehran has pursued a space program for years, despite international concern over its nuclear plans.

In February it sent a probe into space as part of preparations for the launch of the satellite.

Long-held ambition

Footage aired on Irinn (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) showed the launch of the Safir rocket in darkness.

The presenter said that the satellite launch was a trial which was successful. State and military officials confirmed the launch had taken place.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the event, said one report.

In October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

Sunday’s launch comes amid a long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions.

“This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile program are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations.”

The US and some European countries have demanded that Iran curtail uranium enrichment – but Iran protests that its purposes are peaceful and says it has a right to continue.

August 7, 2008

Israel mulls military option for Iran nukes

Israel mulls military option for Iran nukes

JERUSALEM – Israel is building up its strike capabilities amid growing anxiety over Iran‘s nuclear ambitions and appears confident that a military attack would cripple Tehran’s atomic program, even if it can’t destroy it.

Such talk could be more threat than reality. However, Iran’s refusal to accept Western conditions is worrying Israel as is the perception that Washington now prefers diplomacy over confrontation with Tehran.

The Jewish state has purchased 90 F-16I fighter planes that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran, and will receive 11 more by the end of next year. It has bought two new Dolphin submarines from Germany reportedly capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads — in addition to the three it already has.

And this summer it carried out air maneuvers in the Mediterranean that touched off an international debate over whether they were a “dress rehearsal” for an imminent attack, a stern warning to Iran or a just a way to get allies to step up the pressure on Tehran to stop building nukes.

According to foreign media reports, Israeli intelligence is active inside Iranian territory. Israel’s military censor, who can impose a range of legal sanctions against journalists operating in the country, does not permit publication of details of such information in news reports written from Israel.

The issue of Iran’s nuclear program took on new urgency this week after U.S. officials rejected Tehran’s response to an incentives package aimed at getting it to stop sensitive nuclear activity — setting the stage for a fourth round of international sanctions against the country.

Israel, itself an undeclared nuclear power, sees an atomic bomb in Iranian hands as a direct threat to its existence.

Israel believes Tehran will have enriched enough uranium for a nuclear bomb by next year or 2010 at the latest. The United States has trimmed its estimate that Iran is several years or as much as a decade away from being able to field a bomb, but has not been precise about a timetable. In general U.S. officials think Iran isn’t as close to a bomb as Israel claims, but are concerned that Iran is working faster than anticipated to add centrifuges, the workhorses of uranium enrichment.

“If Israeli, U.S., or European intelligence gets proof that Iran has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons technology, then Israel will respond in a manner reflecting the existential threat posed by such a weapon,” said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking at a policy forum in Washington last week.

“Israel takes (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements regarding its destruction seriously. Israel cannot risk another Holocaust,” Mofaz said.

The Iranian leader has in the past called for Israel’s elimination, though his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” while others say a better translation would be “vanish from the pages of time” — implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment is meant only for electricity generation, not a bomb — an assertion that most Western nations see as disingenuous.

Israeli policymakers and experts have been debating for quite some time whether it would even be possible for Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear program. The mission would be far more complicated than a 1981 Israeli raid that destroyed Iraq’s partially built Osirak nuclear reactor, or an Israeli raid last year on what U.S. intelligence officials said was another unfinished nuclear facility in Syria.

In Iran, multiple atomic installations are scattered throughout the country, some underground or bored into mountains — unlike the Iraqi and Syrian installations, which were single aboveground complexes.

Still, the Syria action seemed to indicate that Israel would also be willing to use force preemptively against Iran.

“For Israel this is not a target that cannot be achieved,” said Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, former head of Israel’s army intelligence.

However, it’s unlikely Israel would carry out an attack without approval from the United States.

Recent signs that Washington may be moving away from a military option — including a proposal to open a low-level U.S. diplomatic office in Tehran and a recent decision to allow a senior U.S. diplomat to participate alongside Iran in international talks in Geneva — are not sitting very well with Israel.

That may help explain recent visits to Jerusalem by Mike McConnell, the U.S. director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, each of whom delivered a message to Israel that it does not have a green light to attack Iran at this time.

Senior Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they do not wish to appear at odds with their most important ally, said they were concerned about a possible softening of the U.S. stance toward Iran.

Apparently to allay Israeli concerns, Bush administration officials last week assured visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the U.S. has not ruled out the possibility of a military strike on Iran. And the U.S., aware of Israel’s high anxiety over Iran’s nukes, is also hooking Israel up to an advanced missile detection system known as X-Band to guard against any future attack by Iran, said a senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions over the issue have not been made public.

With sanctions and diplomacy still the international community’s preferred method to get Iran to stop building the bomb, an Israeli strike does not appear imminent.

If it did attack, however, Israel would have to contend with upgraded Iranian defense capabilities, including 29 new Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile systems Iran purchased from Russia last year in a $700 million deal.

Russia has so far not gone through with a proposed sale to Iran of S-300 surface-to-air missiles, an even more powerful air defense system than the Tor-M1. An Israeli defense official said the deal is still on the table, however. This is a big source of consternation for Israel because the system could significantly complicate a pre-emptive Israeli assault on Iran.

Military experts say an Israeli strike would require manned aircraft to bombard multiple targets and heavy precision bombs that can blast through underground bunkers — something Israel failed to do in its 2006 war against Hezbollah. It’s widely assumed that Israel is seeking to obtain bunker buster bombs, if it hasn’t already done so.

Elite ground troops could also be necessary to penetrate the most difficult sites, though Israeli military planners say they see that option as perhaps too risky.

America’s ability to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities is far superior to Israel’s.

Unlike Israel, the United States has cruise missiles that can deliver high-explosive bombs to precise locations and B-2 bombers capable of dropping 85 500-pound bombs in a single run.

Yet the cost of an attack — by the U.S., Israel or both — is likely to be enormous.

Iran could halt oil production and shut down tanker traffic in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which could send the price of crude skyrocketing and wreck Western economies.

It could stir up trouble for the U.S. in Iraq by revving up Shiite militias there just as Washington is showing some important gains in reining in Iraqi chaos.

It could activate its militant proxies in both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, from where Israel could come under heavy rocket attack. And it could strike Israel with its arsenal of Shahab-3 long-range missiles — something Israel is hoping to guard against through its Arrow missile defense system.

Perhaps most importantly, any strike on Iran — especially if it’s done without having exhausted all diplomatic channels — could have the opposite of the desired effect, “actually increasing the nationalist fervor to build a nuclear weapon,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Israeli and expert on Iranian affairs.

Whether an attack on Iran would be worth its cost would depend on how long the nuclear program could be delayed, said Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser and now a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“A two, three-year delay is not worth it. For a five to 10-year delay I would say yes,” he said.

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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