18th > August > 1998 Archive

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Millennium bug hunt uncovers Windows 98 quirk

Software designed by Prove It 2000 to test for Millennium compliance has picked up an entirely different date-related bug in the Windows 98 operating system. Both companies are keen to stress that the bug will affect a very small number of users, and Prove It 2000 has emphasised that it is working alongside Microsoft. The window of opportunity for bug infection is very small. If a computer is booted at in a given second before midnight, which one varies from computer to computer, Windows 98 will skip two days forward or one day back, possibly resulting in some data loss. Prove It 2000 declined to comment on the probability that a user would be affected - it is still working on the figures - beyond saying it was very unlikely. However, informed sources said that as many as one in a hundred users could be affected by the bug. No one at Microsoft was available to comment. The software giant reckons the bug is easy to fix, and that it will have a patch for the problem on its web site within a few days. Prove It 2000 is the same company that lodged a complaint with the advertising standards authority about Compaq’s claims of compliance for Y2K. Prove It has eight different tests for compliance in its range of software and alleged that Compaq’s test was inadequate as it did not include a test on the Real Time Clock (RTC).
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Size does matter, monitor manufacturerers claim

Fourteen members of the Computer Suppliers Federation have joined forces to sponsor research into the impact of monitor size on office productivity. The project, titled Monitors Matter, will be carried out by City University in London. The CSF says that the aim of the research is to educate businesses on the elements to consider when buying monitors. Volunteers will be assigned tasks to complete on systems with varying screen size and resolution. The time taken to complete the tasks will be recorded, and a measure of productivity will be taken from those numbers. Bob Raikes, MD of Meko, said it was blindingly obvious that a bigger screen would increase productivity, and that he expected the research to confirm it. “All the vendors believe this,” he said. “It is just a question of getting some independent evidence to demonstrate exactly how much more productive users are when using bigger monitors.” The CSF says that the research will provide unbiased answers to an important set of questions. It maintains that users can benefit considerable from making what it calls the right purchase. It says it is a question of knowing what to look for. The work is expected to be completed, and findings released in September.
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Syquest lets the good times roll

External storage device manufacturer Syquest claims it is putting the bad times behind it following a 41 per cent increase in sales for Q3 1998. The quarter ending 30 June 1998, saw Syquest sales rise to $44.7 million, up 41 per cent on $31.7 million in the same period last year. This was down from $47.0 million in Q2 98. The former darling of the Mac-based storage market was hit by two finance charges which turned the healthy looking sales into a loss of $42.5 million for the quarter. Syquest brought in an operating loss of $32.6 million, the second was a pretax charge of $9 million. The first, referred to as a 'special finance charge' by Syquest brought in an operating loss of $32.6 million, the second was a pretax charge of $9 million. Earlier this month, Syquest laid off 1,000 employees and halted production at its plant in Fremont, California in a bid to streamline the company and bring costs under control. At the time Syquest said it anticipated increased sales this coming Christmas which, combined with the reduced costs, would help them turn the corner. James Wickes, MD of storage distributor Ideal Hardware, said Syquest was still in a relatively strong position. “The fortunes of Syquest have always been linked to those of Iomega and currently Iomega is out of fashion; it is an over distributed product in the UK and given the opportunity we would rather sell Syquest.” Wickes said that the removable storage market was unlikely to be affected by DVD in the short term. “DVD won't impact on Syquest or Iomega until standards are set - consumers will remain wary of it until that happens.”
The Register breaking news

DVD comes of age –nearly

The leading DVD manufacturers are to ramp up drive production in a bid to double the number of units available in the next year. Projections for DVD drive demand show the market for Europe, US and Asia doubling to 4 million units next year, as compatibility issues are worked out and more software become available. In response to the anticipated demand, the largest Far Eastern DVD suppliers, Sony and Matsushita, are struggling to keep pace. Sony's Chiba plant is stepping up production from 60,000 drives to 80,000, with Matsushita trebling production to 100,000 drives per month. Smaller manufacturers like Nippon Columbia are also increasing production. The UK DVD market is seeing steady growth, according to retailers, but more explosive growth is predicted for later this year and next year. "There is interest but we are meeting demand at the moment," said Micro Anvika spokesman Kashif Merchant. "The drives are still gimmicky but they are set to improve." The market for DVD in other areas is also set to double according to projections. The estimates for Japan are for 300-500,000 DVD drives to ship this year, doubling to one million next year.
The Register breaking news

RAID transition costs Adaptec dear

Loss-making storage vendor Adaptec has slashed its work force by 10 per cent and is likely to take a charge of "several million dollars" in Q2 next year. The axing of around 100 jobs is part of a move by Adaptec to edge itself away from the cut-throat, low-end SCSI business, and to reposition itself as a mid-range RAID vendor. Context analyst Jeremy Betancourt warned that the change in Adaptec's strategy - which follows the resignation of chairman and CEO Grant Saviers last month - was risky. "The mid-range storage market is already crowded and all the big names are there," he said. "It is not clear what Adaptec are going to add." But with margins tumbling at the low-end Adaptec has little choice but to throw its hat in the ring. Interim CEO Larry Boucher has said that he wants Adaptec to move away from being a supplier of storage systems towards building components for storage systems. "We want to move out of the box market," said a spokesman.
The Register breaking news

Cisco secures mobile tunnel capability

Cisco has added Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP) to its IOS software for Access VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). It will reduce network management costs, simplify WAN operations and allow companies to focus on their core competencies, said Cisco. L2PT is a hybrid produced from the crossing of Cisco’s Layer 2 Forwarding (L2F) protocol and Microsoft’s Point to Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP). The tunnelling utility will enable service providers to offer secure VPNs to customers who need to communicate with remote users and telecommuters. Peter Crowcombe, an analyst at Spikes Cavelle, said the most important aspect of the announcement was the mobile side. “Mobile comms is the biggest technical challenge because of the bandwidth problem,” he said. “It will not solve the bandwidth problem, but any added options with mobile comms are a bonus.” L2TP establishes secure tunnels between users across the service providers shared network or across the Internet. Crowcombe said it was another move towards the ‘global village’. “It is an incremental step that will be important for some people,” he concluded. “Business customers are looking for service providers to deliver services that have the same policies as their private networks,” said Larry Lang, VP of marketing at Cisco. The new protocol would allow users to do just that, while keeping their costs down, the company said.
The Register breaking news

Granada buys Control Data division

IT services company Granada Computer Services International, has bought the Systems Integration Services (SIS) division of Control Data Systems. Granada, which was itself the subject of an MBO last September worth around £89 million, claimed the move will help it establish a stronger presence in mainland Europe. It bought SIS for an undisclosed sum; the former Control Data division employs around 160 people in five countries and, according to a Granada statement has sales worth around £23 million. In a statement issued today, Granada managing director Richard Ferre said: "This acquisition gives us a stronger presence in those European markets where we already operate - Germany, France, Spain, Holland and Switzerland." The services market has been the scene of increased acquisition activity over the last 18 months, with 1997 seeing a 32 per cent increase in the year-on-year number of merger deals in this market, according to research carried out by IDC. IDC senior analyst Marianne Kolding said the growth in acquisitions was being driven by larger companies buying smaller ones for their specialist skills. "The larger players in the services market are looking to boost their skills and break into niche markets by buying up the more specialist players," she said. Ferre said the SIS purchase would bolster Granada's internal skills base: "In particular we intend to use SIS skills to develop our remote data archiving capability."
The Register breaking news

Telewest strengthens grip on UK cable business

Telewest Communications is to pay £130 million to gain a 99 per cent stake in Birmingham Cable, from Comcast and General Cable. Birmingham Cable currently has consolidated net assets of £71 million. The company has agreed to buy Comcast’s 27.47 per cent stake for £125 million, the additional £5 million will be paid to cover various fees owed to Comcast. The companies expect the deal to be finalised by the end of September. Telewest had previously announced a separate takeover of General Cable’s 44.95 per cent stake in the Birmingham company, but has changed course slightly. It now intends to merge with General Cable, and take control of the stake that way. Charles Burdick, finance director at Telewest, said: “Birmingham Cable’s operations are contiguous with our midlands franchises and together they will represent one of the largest clusters of cable franchises in the UK with almost one million homes.”
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Hewlett Packard starts UK Connect programme

HP has kicked off its Connect reseller marketing programme in the HP3000 channel, but has so far managed to sign just four resellers in the UK. The Connect programme - an attempt by HP to bring all its channel branding under one roof - was launched earlier this year. The mid-range HP3000 channel, which has a small number of resellers, is the first to get to the accreditation stage. HP has signed up 37 resellers across Europe for HP Connect, which offers branding opportunities, co-op marketing funds and lead generation. But only four resellers in the UK have signed up. Riva Systems is the only UK Select and Solutions reseller to join the scheme, alongside three Select system resellers, Computing Solutions, Nike Consultants and Prestige Systems. The system resellers focus on hardware rather than applications. Alexandra Weidenmann,HP3000 channel program manager for Europe, said the vendor was looking to sign up other UK HP3000 resellers to the scheme. Partners have to demonstrate business stability and focus as well as technical and sales expertise according to HP. Weidenmann said that no UK dealers had yet been turned down from the scheme, and that applications for the scheme from UK resellers would be welcomed.
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Siemens blames IMF-backed Koreans for DRAM closure

Dr Ulrich Schumacher, president of Siemens Semiconductors has spoken out about the impending closure of the chip maker’s Tyneside plant, blaming the EU, the IMF and the Korean chip manufacturers for the decline in the Dram market. In an article published in Electronics Weekly, Schumacher doesn’t pull his punches when speaking out against those he feels are to blame. "I blame the Koreans, and the Koreans, in my view, are backed by the IMF," he said. Schumacher said Korean chip makers had kept Dram prices artificially low to gain market share and in so doing had reduced the value of the market from $40 billion to $14 billion in the last three years. "Siemens is a responsible company, 150 years old, which finances growth out of earnings, but the Koreans have started a war with debt financing." "The Koreans are still pushing prices down and still investing in capacity to buy market share. Not even the oil producing countries behaved in such an idiotic way,” he continued. "The Korean companies are selling below the variable cost of the product - I don’t know how they can do this - I think it has something to do with the IMF." The embittered Schumacher did not hide his anger when talking about the build up to Siemens’ decision to shut down its Dram plant in the north east with the loss of 1,100 jobs. The Tyneside factory had been losing $150 million a year, its closure followed the demise of Siemens Munich plant with the loss of 450 jobs. "I am sorry that the people in Tyneside are paying the bill. It is awful that we have to close a factory. I hated the decision - it was one of the toughest points in my business life so far," he said. He went on to say that he blamed the EU for not taking action to prevent the Korean chip companies dumping stock on to the European market. "We tried to get the EU to take action against dumping but we were not successful. The EU doesn’t realise what the Koreans are doing to prices. I’m very disappointed by the actions of the EU - they said they’d take quick action if there was evidence of dumping but the EU now says that to take action against the Koreans would be discriminatory - because everyone is dumping." Schumacher said he also blamed the IMF for not stepping in to ensure that loans given to the Korean government to shore up its troubled economy were not used to help Korean chip companies keep Dram prices artificially low.
The Register breaking news

Lucent strikes unified messaging deal with Sun

Lucent and Sun have teamed up to develop unified messaging systems that will combine voicemail, email and faxes on a single network. This is not the first unified messaging system, but the two technology companies claim to be the first to try to make it work on a corporate scale. Customers will be able to access a three types of message from a single mailbox. The system would improve the efficiency of communications, said Sun, since a user would be able to access any type of message - fax, voice, e-mail - from any type of device, including cell phones, PCs and pagers, or the seat phone in a plane. Products are not due until 1999, and the companies have no plans to develop applications for the systems. Service providers will want to design their own applications to distinguish themselves from their competitors, said the companies. The infrastructure the two companies provide will include Sun Solaris servers, Sun Internet Mail Server and Lucent's Octel voice-mail technology. Speech recognition technology will also be wrapped in, officials said, and in the future, speech to text translation could be made part of the infrastructure.
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BSA welcomes software compliance

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has warned UK businesses that it will still be keeping up the pressure on them to get their software licences in order despite giving tacit support for a new body claiming it can ensure companies run their IT systems within the law. The BSA is expected to issue a statement later this week acknowledging the work of a newcomer to the compliance market - the Initiative for Software Compliance (ISC). Unlike BSA, ISC is not an enforcement agency and is attempting to establish a standard along the lines of the ISO quality management standard which will help companies run their IT systems in line with the laws governing software copyright, data protection and so on. BSA European MD Amelia Knight said she welcomed ISC’s involvement in the software compliance market, but that it was just one approach to ensuring compliance. “The ISC has a job to do and so do we, but we both have different objectives. Companies have to work within the law, having the ISC standard will not guarantee immunity from the BSA to anyone.” BSA works on behalf of many of the major software manufacturers and will seek damages from anyone it finds using pirate software. Punitive damages set by the courts are often as much as 10 times greater than the cost of any unpaid licences. ISC has laid out a framework that explains the legal obligations of company directors in relation to IT systems, including software licences and year 2000 compliance. It believes its members will be safe from the BSA. ISC chief executive Michael Ludlam said: “The whole point of providing a standard like this is to be able to demonstrate that yours is an outward facing company with a genuine commitment to best practice.” Knight played down the BSA’s endorsement of ISC. “I wouldn’t call it a big deal. The work of ISC is just one piece in the puzzle,” she said.
The Register breaking news

HM Customs denies it is heavy-handed

Customs and Excise has denied that its national investigation service is specifically targeting IT inward investors - viewed as high-profile and lucrative targets - in a revenue-raising plan. But representatives of inward investors have met Customs to seek reassurances that they are not being singled out for heavy-handed treatment. There are concerns that high-profile Customs raids will deter large high-tech companies from investing in the UK. Although companies that fear they are being targeted are loath to go public, there are efforts being made to try and negotiate with Customs. In Scotland, a consultative committee, including lawyers and accountants, acting on behalf of inward investors has met Customs. "Very few of these cases are downright fraud," said David Moore, partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers in Glasgow. "But Customs appear happy to let companies arrive and operate for a few years, so that the value of allegedly unpaid duty builds up." The investigations arm of Customs and Excise is believed to be concerned that high-tech firms are evading VAT by undervaluing equipment that comes into the UK. Customs is concerned with claims that companies are importing the same goods from number of countries and paying VAT only on the lowest price. Customs denied that high-tech companies were being specifically targeted. "There is no investigations going on into high-tech companies," said a Customs spokesperson. "But if companies are under-declaring VAT then they should not be doing it."
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DRAM prices expected to bounce back

The DRAM market is on the brink of a boom time, expected to start early next year, according to Dataquest senior analyst Richard Gordon. His comments came in response to reports from analysts in the Far East which suggested the DRAM market was about to enter into a period of rapid consolidation with only three major vendors left in the market. Yoshiharu Izumi, market analyst at SBC Warburg Japan, said the top three DRAM makers, Samsung, NEC and Micron would have the market to themselves over the next two years. Izumi predicted that falling DRAM prices would force more manufacturers to drop out of the market. But Gordon rejected this scenario. “The price of DRAM has started to creep up on the spot markets in the Far East,” he said. “There is an expectation that even though the market on the whole is in a state of over supply, there will be shortages in specific product areas.” Years of falling prices had resulted in a lack of capital investment by DRAM manufacturers, this would bring about product shortages, coupled with increasing demand for DRAM this would lead to higher prices - an incentive for more players to enter the market. “The market is turning,” he said. “Starting possibly in the first half of next year we will enter a three to four year boom period for DRAM. Rather than the top three sew up the market, more people will enter it.”
The Register breaking news

Column: The Big Fat Pipe

Suppose I was to tell you that you could get something really wonderful that could change the way that you use your PC forever. Furthermore, you could get this wonderful thing for about £150 and pick it up from your local PC store. Once home you could get it up and running in 10 minutes. Interested? I was – and still am. A technology is available, now, that can give you a big fat pipe into your PC. This big, fat pipe will throw a whopping great 8MegaBytes of data per second into your home. Just think about that. 8 Mbytes! That’s fast enough to allow MPEG video direct and live, it’s enough data to allow simultaneous TV, video, radio, download and browsing. World breaking news will suddenly be able to be watched live on the PC at work, home or anywhere a PC has that kind of connection. It’s called ADSL. It will work plugged into your standard telephone socket. No ISDN terminal, no expensive installation, no complication. Just buy the ‘modem’ (ASDL terminal) from your local PC store and plug it into the wall. Here’s how it works (and then I will tell you why you haven’t heard much about it before now). Back when old Alex G. Bell invented the phone he discovered that his voice wave band went from 300 – 3300Hz. This was sufficient to cover most (any) voice pattern and has remained with us since. Now the good bit. Those copper wires coming into your house are actually capable of a much, much wider bandwidth that 3000Hz. The fact that they don’t give a wider bandwidth is because your telecom provider puts filters on the line, otherwise all kinds of bad things would happen. But if your interest was only in getting digital data into the house then all you have to do is to get your telephone company to remove the filters and give you the bandwidth! Here’s some more maths on the subject to prove the point. The frequency range from 0Hz to 4KHz can produce up to 64kbits of data per second. However, from 10MHz to 100MHz this frequency can give 1.3Gbits of data per second. Put it into perspective – 8Mbps can give you 150 channels of TV per channel – wow! So why don’t you know about it? Well you will – believe me! British Telecom here in Blighty is terrified about DSL (ADSL is only one type) as it will kill off ISDN and the delivery issues for it have been complex, until recently. After calling 152, the business enquiry line, I was eventually given the number of a manager to speak to who confirmed that BT is looking at a trial in West London but that they didn’t quite know how to charge for the service. In the USA and elsewhere, however, ADSL is creating quite a stir. I should point out that the upstream data rate for ADSL is ‘only’ 640Kbps so its not as good as a T1/E1 connection for businesses. Having said that our business would be more than happy to be able to upload our web sites at 640Kbps! The last big really big thing to happen to the PC was Windows 3.0. Wouldn’t it be just fantastic if the world wide wait turned into the world wide ‘oh-my-goodness-that’s the-dogs-gonads-quick-Sheila-grab-the-cheque-book’ wonder! Imagine being able to listen to a whole CD on line for 25p a time, or download it in under a couple of minutes for £5. In fact, the more I think about it the more exciting it gets. For more information call your telephone provider and badger whoever answers for more information. It would be unfair to give the name of the manager I spoke to British Telecom but your telco will have information. Roy Taylor is joint managing director of Vanguard Microelectronics in the UK.
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CHS? Just say world domination…

Just a few weeks ago, The Register found itself sitting with a hangover in Boston, as two suits talked earnestly about a US distributor called Pinacor involved in an odd takeover situation. (See a previous edition of Bootnotes). And so it came to pass. We heard what the US suit called the "scuttlebutt" that CHS Electronics was close to a deal to buy Pinacor - the distribution arm of MicroAge - for $650 million in cash and stock. We flew American Airlines on the way over to the US and noticed that Pinacor came up too many times on the cute little TV screen in front of our faces. Frankly, most of us had never heard of it, being from dear old Blighty. But it appears that it pays to hang round Boston Marriott hotel lobbies in the morning. And have a cup of tea. The Bostonians don't seem to mind Scots having cuppas round them. Previously MicroAge had said that it wanted Pinacor to survive any merger as the dominant partner, and for it to retain its identity. Speaking earliehr this year, MicroAge chairman and chief executive Jeffrey McKeever said "All merger situations involve Pinacor being the survivor." McKeever split Pinacor off from MicroAge earlier this year. Pinacor is expected to have sales of around $4.5 billion for 1998. CHS has just announced sales of $1.8 billion for its second quarter. Merisel has also been tipped as a prospective purchaser for Pinacor. Brian Burke, at Dun & Bradstreet's computer marketing intelligence department, said that a possible compromise would be for the Pinacor name to be retained In the US, by whoever bought the company. "It could be a strategic partnership rather than an outright acquisition" he said.