News briefs

A-mazon deal

A glitch in Amazon's computer system lowered prices by 50 per cent or more on some items. The cause is still unclear. In one e-mail to customers, Amazon blamed computer error. But in another e-mail, it said the pricing problems occurred because suppliers raised their prices. In one case, the price of a refrigerator play set was listed as $2.49, but Amazon later said the correct price was $24.99. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company is too busy to respond to questions about the pricing glitch, though it told some news outlets that the errors were due to a "hiccup" in the system.

Staple discounts

At discount coupons intended only for certain customers were obtained by someone randomly punching numbers into the coupon tab field at its Web site. That person then posted the coupons on, a site that alerts consumers to discounts at various online stores and provides a forum for consumers to share information. Staples spokesman Tom Nutile said although coupon glitches are rare, they do happen to online, catalogue and bricks-and-mortar retailers. In the online world, coupons are strings of numbers that a consumer types into an area on a merchant's Web site. Some can be used repeatedly, others only once.

Microsoft stings

Microsoft has demonstrated a prototype smart phone from a development project called Stinger. It has a larger-than-normal mobile-phone colour screen for displaying text and images, a Web browser and applications, such as a mobile version of Microsoft Outlook that will enable users to synchronise data between mobile devices and servers. That synchronisation will occur via AirStream, the company's code name for its middleware that translates server-based applications into a format viewable by wireless devices. Samsung Electronics South Korea, will introduce a line of Stinger-based smart phones in North America next year.

HP to go beyond firewalls

Suggesting that today's corporate firewalls may not provide adequate protection from hacker intrusions and DoS (denial of service) attacks, Hewlett-Packard plans to begin offering what it calls "security appliances" sometime in 2001. According to Roberto Medrano, general manger for HP's Internet security solution division, the HP security appliance will sit directly behind a company's existing firewall and in front of Web servers. Medrano also suggested that another security appliance be placed behind any secondary firewalls that protect a company's application servers.

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