Network: Bytes

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ONLINE SHOPPING has finally caught on in Britain, according to the Which? Online 1999 Internet report Are You Being Served? Growth of an E-nation.

One-tenth of Net users described themselves as regular online shoppers, and the volume of online trade has doubled since the previous year.

Computer hardware and software - the main purchases in recent years - have been overtaken by books (16 per cent of all transactions) and flights and holidays (13 per cent).

The report noted that although many people still have qualms about buying online, 58 per cent of those online for more than two years have purchased over the Internet, as have a quarter of those who have gone online within the last year.

Almost 40 per cent of British users have been connected in the last year, bringing the total to about 10 million - an increase of 50 per cent from last year. Three-quarters of British users are online for five hours or less a week, during which time they visit an average of 13 sites.

However, traditional worries about the Internet remain unchanged. Pornography, morality and fraud still concern 56 per cent of users. Three-quarters of parents interviewed said that they would not let their children use the Net unsupervised, and the same number of respondents felt that Internet regulation was needed - figures that are unchanged from last year.

THE US government last week reversed its policies on the export of data encryption technology, when President Bill Clinton relaxed government controls.

Under new proposed rules, the government is to allow companies to export their strongest software without an individual licence for each customer, as is currently required. Only one licence will be needed, and companies will help the government to track sales by telling it which retailers it has sold to. It will still be illegal to export encryption products to hostile countries such as Libya and Iraq.

Federal law enforcement and national security organisations have argued that banning the export of strong encryption is necessary to protect national interests.

The Attorney General, Janet Reno, conceded that the liberalisation "will result in greater availability of encryption, which will mean that more terrorists and criminals will use encryption". She added: "We must deal responsibly with that result by attempting to assist law enforcement in its efforts to protect the public safety."

A coalition of technology, business and civil rights groups has taken the line that the Internet needs strong encryption for legitimate uses and that existing legislation has succeeded only in shutting America out of a growing international market.

Various spokesmen welcomed the White House proposals, but cautioned that the shift was aimed at companies rather than individuals, and that the government was still intent on securing legal control of the keys that unlock private messages.

VIRGIN ENTERTAINMENT last week announced that it is launching a service, Virgin JamCast (http://www.jamcast. com/), to allow consumers to download music and games to PCs over the Internet or to other devices such as digital TV set-top boxes.

Virgin has formed a partnership with Wavo, a digital media services provider, whose Internet Protocol multi-casting technology will be used to deliver a weekly collection of files to those who request the service, with content dependent on their interests. The service is more like the old push technology than traditional streaming in that it is delivered to a user's hard disk, rather than having to be listened to in real time. The music, a mix of samples and limited-play versions, will be available in a variety of formats which can be purchased if required.

PALM COMPUTING, the manufacturer of top-selling handheld computers, is to be sold off by the owner, 3Com, which plans to float its Palm division by the end of this year or early next year. Twenty per cent of shares will be released and the remainder distributed to 3Com shareholders.

Although Palm has been successful, with sales of $570m in this financial year, it is peripheral to 3Com's central networking business.

"We think [this announcement] signals the creation of two leaderships focused on separate and complementary businesses," said Eric Benhamou, 3Com chairman and CEO, adding that the spin-off will let 3Com focus on networking and give Palm the management and resources it needs for the popular handheld device to continue to thrive.

He also said the move would free Palm Computing to explore ways of making money other than by selling hardware: licensing of operating systems, computing systems for businesses, wireless data services and Web services were among the areas he identified.