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    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Reuters - Is oil windfall a curse for poor countries?

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    Is oil windfall a curse for poor countries?

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 9:5PM UTC

    By Ed Stoddard - Analysis

    DALLAS (Reuters) - Red-hot oil prices are a blessing for big energy companies but often prove a curse for poor oil-producing countries.

    Exxon Mobil Corp and other energy giants traditionally use good times as an occasion to make prudent investments with their cash. But oil-rich countries that are poor -- and often poorly run -- tend to squander their windfall profits on dubious projects or have them stolen by corrupt officials.

    So when the inevitable price bust occurs, developing countries are ill-prepared.

    "The oil majors have many decades of experience in smoothing out their revenues and investing the money during the fat years to prepare for the lean years," said UCLA political scientist Michael Ross.

    Exxon, which was holding its annual meeting on Wednesday, enjoyed full-year earnings last year of $40.61 billion.

    State coffers in oil-producing countries like Angola are also overflowing but many lack the transparency of publicly listed Exxon. Many have neither the capacity to handle such an income surge nor the will to spend it in an equitable manner.

    "New oil producers especially are largely unprepared for revenues of this scale ... oil-producing countries today are being hit with a tsunami of cash, and the danger is that they will squander it just like they squandered the surpluses of the 1970s," Ross, a noted expert in the field, told Reuters.

    The new oil club includes African nations such as Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Sudan.

    Grounds for optimism are scant. Equatorial Guinea has risen in a few short years to become sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest crude exporter after Nigeria and Angola.

    Yet most of its half-million people live in grinding poverty, and income disparities are glaring. Equatorial Guinea stands out as its small population means that oil cash could actually make a meaningful impact on the lives of its people.

    President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been in office since he overthrew his uncle in a coup in 1979, and human rights groups say he tolerates little dissent. The country was ranked as the tenth-most-corrupt in the world last year by Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International in a 180-nation survey.

    Angola has been accused of graft on a grand scale while many of its people are among the world's poorest. According to the International Monetary Fund it could not account for at least $4.2 billion in oil revenue between 1997 and 2002.

    "When you have a situation with little fiscal transparency in the context of high oil prices, you have problems. But Angola is doing better now, it is publishing details of what it's paid by the different oil companies," said Razia Khan, the Africa economist for Standard Chartered.

    "But the criticism is that that data is only out with a considerable lag," she added.

    Oil prices on Wednesday rose to near $130 per barrel, not far from the U.S. crude record high of $135.09 reached last week. Oil prices have doubled in the last year as speculators pile into commodities and as demand soars in emerging economies.


    Red-hot oil prices strengthen the hand of repressive governments that can buy more guns and that seldom give much thought to the "butter" side of expenditure.

    They can also grease the wheels of conflict as the stakes in the game are so much higher. The militant attacks in Nigeria's impoverished but oil-soaked Niger Delta which have helped keep prices on the boil are an example of this trend.

    A botched coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea a few years ago is another. In a commentary in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs," Ross writes that oil-producing states today host about a third of the world's civil wars, up from one-fifth in 1992.

    Rivers State in Nigeria's Niger Delta is often held up as a prime example. Elections in 2003 and 2007 were overwhelmingly won by the country's ruling party but widely dismissed by outside observers as farces.

    "The spoils of controlling political office in the Delta are higher now than they've ever been, especially because so little has been done to prevent public officials from stealing the money they are accountable for," said Chris Albin-Lackey, the senior African researcher at Human Rights Watch.

    "It really seems that the primary consequence of increasing revenues going into government coffers has been increasingly violent and corrupt struggles for political power," he said.

    Many developing countries also simply lack the capacity and technical expertise to deal with such a sudden flow of revenue and would have trouble allocating it efficiently even with the political will to do so.

    "There are several studies which show that the national oil companies are much more inefficient in terms of how they spend or invest their money because they are not market-driven companies," said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

    "But some have matured over time such as Petrobras in Brazil, which is an outstanding company," he told Reuters.

    (Editing by Matthew Lewis)

    Reuters - Next Microsoft operating system has touch controls

    This article was sent to you from, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:

    Next Microsoft operating system has touch controls

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 7:23AM UTC

    By Eric Auchard

    CARLSBAD, California (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp plans to give users of the next version of its Windows operating system touch screen controls as one option for controlling the software, its top executives said on Tuesday.

    Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Executive Steve Ballmer showed off new Windows features based on software it calls "multi-touch" that will be part of Windows 7, the next version of Windows, which Ballmer said was due out in late 2009.

    The ability to use touch to give users fingertip control of their screens could help revolutionize how computer desktops and mobile phones are controlled and would be an alternative to existing mice, keyboard and pen-based user controls.

    During a joint interview that kicked off the Wall Street Journal's three-day D: All Things Digital conference, an annual gathering of the computer industry elite taking place north of San Diego, Ballmer said touch screen controls was one example of how Microsoft would improve on existing Windows software.

    Microsoft is seeking to one-up Apple Inc, which made touch-screen software central to the success of its iPhone mobile device, which combines computer, phone and Web features and has sold around 6 million units in its first 11 months.

    After more than a decade of slow development, Gates said new ways of interacting with computers other than keyboards and mice have matured to the point where they are ready to go mainstream.

    "We are at an interesting juncture where almost all of the interaction is with the computer and mouse, today, and, over the years to come, the role of speech, vision, ink, all of those will become huge," Gates said.

    He was referring to technologies that gives users the ability to control computers with voice commands, detect and sort different kinds of images and use electronic ink instead of typing for computer input.


    Multi-touch software builds on existing capabilities Microsoft has introduced in recent years including Surface, for interacting with large tabletop computer displays, TouchWall for mounted screens and Tablet PCs for touch-screen notebooks.

    In a demonstration of touch-screen capabilities to be offered in Windows 7, Microsoft showed a new application called "Touchable Paint" that lets a user paint with their fingers, as well as software to organize photos or navigate maps by touch.

    "It is not about complete replacement of the mouse," Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's corporate vice president in charge of Windows Experience Program Management, said in a first-time demonstration of multi-touch features to run inside Windows 7.

    Ballmer said Microsoft is trying to learn from the reaction to Windows Vista, the latest version of its operating system, which was introduced in January 2007 but faced initial criticism for being incompatible with many older applications.

    He said Microsoft has sold 150 million copies of Vista, up from 140 million the company reported it had sold a month ago.

    "When you read the customer research, the No. 1 people found jarring is that we changed the user interface," Ballmer said. "People take a while to get used to it."

    He said Microsoft had learned lessons about making dramatic changes in the way users interact with new versions of Windows. Conference co-host Walter Mossberg asked Ballmer whether Microsoft was done changing the user interface.

    "We will polish it," Ballmer replied. "We will change it, but there are ways to change it and there are times to do it."

    Vista followed five years after the previous Windows upgrade and was beset by delays due to the complexity of updating a piece of software with some 50 million lines of code that runs on more than 90 percent of the world's computers.

    After the problems of releasing Vista in a timely manner, Ballmer pledged to never again wait so long between releases of its Windows operating system. Microsoft has said it expected to release the new operating system code-named Windows 7 around three years after the early 2007 release of Windows Vista.

    Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft considered Apple a formidable competitor. But he said the two companies' audiences were vastly different in scale, with Apple supplying around 10 million computers this year versus the roughly 290 million machines which PC makers will sell running Microsoft Windows.

    "Whether Apple has a PC with touch in it to market first, we'll see," Ballmer said.

    (Additional reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle; editing by Sue Thomas)

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