22nd > September > 1998 Archive
So is it OK for Microsoft to charge companies for having buttons for their applications included in the user interface? That's exactly what Microsoft announced it was doing with four major search companies yesterday, so the question is worth considering. The four companies, Alta Vista, Lycos, Infoseek and Snap, will pay a minimum of $60 million to join Microsoft's Inktomi-designed MSN Web Search system on a pull-down on the MSN.com portal. The companies aren't specific about the actual cost, the $60 million is a guaranteed minimum, while actual payment will be based on numbers of page impressions. But Infoseek says it will take a charge of $7-8 million when the service launches. If this sort of thing happened in the OS or even in the browser, Microsoft would no doubt swiftly find itself in the regulators' cross-hairs, but of course this is a different gateway we're talking about here, and if challenged Microsoft could always point out that Netscape raked in a cool $70 million from Excite in a similar deal earlier this year. Search companies are willing to pay for prominent positioning in major portals because they'll be able to pull in more users, and therefore pull in more advertising from users' search results pages. Major portals also benefit from the arrangement because having a bunch of good search engines on their front door adds value and attracts more users. Note however that major portals can theoretically earn more money by directing users to their own search engines, because they can charge for ads directly, and because they can use them to direct users to their own sites. This is of course all OK, and not a debatable practice like bundling your own online system with your operating system, or putting together contracts with special friends to be in the channel bar of your browser. But why is it OK? Because you don't have a dominant position - you don't own the portal. Yet… ®
ARM has scored what may turn out to be one of its biggest deals yet, licensing the ARM7TDMI and ARM740TT microprocessor cores to Hewlett-Packard. HP is a market in peripherals and hand held devices, and says it intends to use the cores for a wide range of products, including portable computing, networking and peripherals. Also good news for ARM is the fact that HP sees the licences as strategic. "We view the signing of this agreement… as a key event in broadening our IP portfolio and as the start of a long-term relationship," says HP IC division manager Dick Chang. "HP chose the standardised architecture of the ARM7 core family in part for its broad availability of tools, and also for its software and design support, which enables reduced development time for our customers." Broadening market acceptance of ARM plus the ability of ARM licensees to develop their own intellectual property based on ARM standards will also have been attractive to HP. Historically the company has tried to work within industry standards while building its own technologies based on them. According to ARM VP of marketing Reynette Au, the deal will allow HP to design a broad range of products, and also to second-source chips for high-volume applications. This suggests that HP may be anticipating sourcing ARM chips from Intel, which has in the past provided chips for HP laser printers. ®
The saving grace for the UK government of Nortel's closure of a factory in Devon is that it can't be blamed on the Asian crisis - not directly, anyway. The company announced it was shutting the Paignton plant with the loss of 586 jobs yesterday, adding to a series of closures and job cuts overseas manufacturers have made in the UK in the past few months. But in Nortel's case the problem is more likely to have been caused by the troubles of its UK partner, Ionica. Ionica is cash-strapped, and has been having trouble with the rollout of a domestic telephony system based on Nortel's Proximity Wireless Local Loop technology. The Nortel Paignton plant was involved in Proximity, and its closure therefore suggests that Nortel, which in the past has declined to mount a rescue for Ionica, doesn't think matters are going to improve. Deployment of WLL systems has also been hit internationally though, as financial problems in the Far East, and now, Eastern Europe, has savagely reduced governments ability to invest in new systems. WLL is frequently presented as a cheap way for developing countries to deploy telecoms infrastructure, but in many cases right now it's not cheap enough. ®
Trigem Computer is to ship 1.13 million PCs priced at $499 a pop through the US Wal-Mart chain of stores, and proposes to drop the first batch of 130,000 into the US commodity market before the end of the year. According to this morning's Korea Herald, Trigem's $560 million deal will be operated through Wal-Mart affiliate Sam's Club, and will be the largest ever single PC contract scored by a local manufacturer. Sam's Club will be supplied via eMachines, a Trigem joint venture US distribution operation with Korea Data Systems. The balance of the contract will ship in 1999, and both the low price and Wal-Mart's involvement will strike terror in the hearts of already heavily-commoditised PC 'manufacturers' (these days, we use the term advisedly). At $499 for a viable desktop the deal promises to burn-off most of the companies who've been squeezing their wares below $1,000, while a big push by Wal-Mart must mean the company has decided it can finally make money out of PCs. Wal-Mart is a highly conservative low-price operation, and its late founder Sam Walton for some years had the distinction of being the guy in the US who was still richer than Bill Gates. No more, for two reasons… ®
If the DoJ subpoenas the latest piece of incriminating Microsoft documentation it will have a tricky logistical problem - it's a billboard advertising MSN, it provides an amazing insight into Microsoft's corporate mindset, and it appears to be stuck to the wall of Picadilly underground station in London. You probably won't believe that Microsoft is sticking incriminating documentation to advertising hoardings, but bear with us while we explain. The poster says, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he'll eat for life. Enlighten him further and he'll own a chain of seafood restaurants." Get it yet? How about if we say Findows Everywhere? Nope? Microsoft's marketing people are of course pursuing the old saying to its logical (to a Microsoft mind) conclusion. Having benefited from the educational package that taught him to fish, our fisherman gains further enlightenment and leverages his dominant position in fish production into dominance further along the supply chain. Ultimately, as his restaurants spread, he will own the portal to the fish business. But he's still trying to figure out how he can stop his fish working with other people's restaurants...
Let's hear it for plucky little CompuServe and its attempts to offer compelling services to its users. Want to plan your travel? Then try Michelin's route planner service. We at The Register tried this repeatedly, puzzling over the way this spanking new service seems to be perpetually down. But maybe it's not - check the url CompuServe points you at, and it's http://www.michelin-travel.com/vide.htm. And the French for empty is of course 'vide'. Back to the drawing board, CIS.
Yahoo has been all over the place in the last week and has lost countries, too. Last week, Yahoo lost Israel, Japan and South Korea. There aren't any newspapers according to the famous site, in North Korea, but we're wondering which country will be next...Bulgaria?
Sony is talking to Charles Schwab (the largest US online broker, with 5.4 million accounts) about setting up electronic trading in Japan when it is fully deregulated next year. E*Trade is already there in a $20 million joint deal with Softbank. Merrill Lynch also employed 2,000 people made redundant when Yamaichi went bust, and Salomen Smith Barney now has a 25 per cent stake in Nikko Securities. This all points to Americans deciding to help Japanese financial reform from the inside. Tech stocks beat the market generally, with Nasdaq and the Dow marginally up. The market was down strongly in early trading -- thought to represent European selling -- but recovered in the afternoon. Think New Ideas, Inc., a Web advertising and design specialist, didn't, and its Q1 loss warning caused a 21 per cent drop in its shares. The loss was blamed on the "current economic situation" but could it be an early sign that Web advertising has reached saturation? Philips Electronics was marked down ten per cent after it announced a significant decline for Q3 and flat income expectations for 1998. The main problem is the Lucent joint venture, although the semiconductor business (Europe's largest) will have lower margins. In Silicon Valley, semiconductors shares were significantly up: National Semiconductor (4.8 per cent), LSI Logic (9.4 per cent) and Maxim (six per cent), as were disk drive manufacturers such as Seagate (7.5 per cent) and Quantum (9.6 per cent). The Lockheed Martin acquisition of COMSAT, following the DoJ blocking of the proposed marriage with Northrup Grumann for antitrust reasons, will be carefully scrutinised by the FCC. Lockheed shares dropped five per cent. After trading closed, Cabletron announced its Q3 profit fell 75 per cent, attributed to having fallen behind with its technology offerings. The Internet sector showed strong gains for Amazon.com (up 7.3 per cent), Yahoo (5.7 per cent) and AOL (4.6 per cent). Broadcom's new chip news sent its shares up 4.2 per cent. Gateway put on 5.4 per cent. Ascend put on 6.3 per cent because of expected higher sales to telecoms. 3Com gained 5.3 per cent in anticipation of its Q1 results, due tomorrow. Covad Communications, a provider of xDSL (digital subscriber line) service filed an IPO for $143.7 million. ®
Broadcom has succeeded in developing a single chip, known as the BCM3300, to replace the three-chip set currently powering cable modems. This should have a significant impact on the price of cable modems, expected to reach the $175-$200 range, with the chip costing around $50 initially. The first modems should be available at the end of the year. Broadcom achieved the cost saving by integrating the media access control and the physical layer transmission functionality. The transfer rates achievable on coaxial cable should be 56Mbps for receiving and 20Mbps sending. Encryption and decryption is also possible for secure email and financial transactions. The chip will support next-generation modems because of its compatibility with the Data Over Cable Interface Specification. The development could also help video-on-demand from cable companies. Another application for the chip is set-top boxes, although these are not likely to appear before next summer. The smaller size of the STB will also be an added advantage. Broadcom's BCM93300 reference design also provides interfacing capability for video teleconferencing, voice-over-Internet, USB and 10Base-T Ethernet. In the US, it is expected that there will be 500,000 cable modem users by the end of the year, with forecasts by Kinetic Strategies of three million by 2001. The alternative approach, xDSL, is expected to attract around a third of these numbers, according to Telechoice, for a broadband service that can be delivered over twisted copper wire. ®
IBM has refreshed its entire range of ThinkPads and has promised a low-end, retail product called the ThinkPad i which it will launch in November and sell over the Web as well as in shops. It is also launching an additional product for the corporate marketplace, the 390. Sam Dusi, the IBM US segment product manager for the ThinkPad range, said that the 380, the 560, the 600 and the 770 were all undergoing a product refresh. The 390, like the ThinkPad i, will be introduced in early November, he said. Big Blue will now offer the 380 with bigger TFT screens, the latest Intel PII mobile chips, and with 4Gb drives and 32Mb of memory as standard. But eventually, the 390 will replace the 380, Dusi said. It is maintaining the 380 because many large corporations have standardised on it, he said. The 560, like the other ThinkPads in the range, will be offered with PII/mobile chips, come with 4Gb and 6.4Gb hard drives, and will have either 32Mb or 64Mb of memory. The TFT screen will be 12.1in. The ultra slim 600 ThinkPad will now be offered in three configurations, with enhanced hard drive sizes, 13.3in TFT screens and at the high end, the 600E will have DVD, TV out, and have a 6Gb hard drive with 64Mb of DRAM. Big Blue now claims a first with its high end 770 ThinkPad. It will now display 1280 x 1024 images on its 13.7in TFT screen, come with an 8Mb hard drive and 128Mb of memory, and with options for DVD, MPEG-2 and video IO. ®
AMD is set to make further incursions into the notebook market and has plans to release a 350MHz K6-2 mobile product this autumn, according to sources close to the company's plans. Today, as revealed here earlier, AMD introduced a 300MHz K6 chip aimed at the mobile market. The price tag for the part is $229 when bought in units of 1,000. According to the same source, Compaq will be one of the first to use the 300MHz AMD part in its notebook and it is also actively talking to the company about using the K6-2 mobile part when it arrives. The source said that Compaq is now determined to put clear blue water between itself and Intel, and will second source wherever possible. Meanwhile, IBM said today that it is talking to Intel about using Celeron notebook chips in some of its ThinkPad range. ®
IBM is offering downgrades from Windows 98 to Windows 95 to its customers, it has emerged. And Big Blue is having to pay Microsoft twice for the privilege. Sam Dusi, IBM Thinkpad segment product manager, said: "Windows 95 is not a pre-loadable option and we are offering customers downgradeable Windows 95 as an option." He said that many of IBM's large customers in corporations had standardised on Windows 95 and were evaluating Windows NT. That meant they did not want to upgrade machines to Windows 98 because it created support and other difficulties. "We don't get reimbursed for downgrading," said Dusi. "We have to pay Microsoft." He said that its licensing deal with Microsoft meant that after Win98 was announced, it had to offer the new operating system with machines it shipped. "Most customers that use Windows 98 are in the consumer space," he added. A Microsoft UK representative said that such a deal was probably one struck between the software giant and the individual PC vendor. She said that such an option was not available for end users generally. Dusi said IBM effectively paid for two licences from Microsoft when it downgraded its customers. ®
IBM said today that its sales of Celeron processors have been poor. But the jury is still out on how successful the chip has been. The original Celeron, released in April, is expected to be phased out some time next month. Bill Holtshauser, a marketing director from IBM US, said that the original Celeron chip "had bombed" but added that Intel's second iteration of the part, with a Mendocino core offered better opportunities. However, Joe D'Elia, senior microprocessor analyst at Dataquest UK, said that it was too early to make that judgement. He said: "The only quarter we have tracked Celeron so far was the second quarter, and in Europe they [Intel] shipped just under 99,000 PCs. It's not a huge number, but you have a very definite profile of uptake of a new chip and there's always a buildup." D'Elia said that when the highly successful Pentium MMX 166MHz part shipped, its first quarter of sales amounted to around 100,000. "But uptake has been a lot faster. With the Pentium II processor, it's only taken about four quarter to ramp, and so you'd expect a swifter slope." He said: "By historical standards the Celeron hasn't done too badly. The first Pentium II, the 233MHz chip, was shipped in only 23,000 systems in its first quarter but the uptake was much greater after that." He said the latest Celerons, with Mendocino cores, are much better parts than the original Celeron. "That will be where AMD is when they ship the K6-3 at the end of this year," he said. "The only thing that's missing from the latest Celerons are the 3D enhancements." An Intel representative said: "We saw a need for a PC in the basic segment and the Celeron was our first attempt. Our second attempt is vastly improved." ®
A World Research survey suggests that 16 per cent of Internet users will change ISPs in the next six months. The self-selected sample of 3,590 users mostly accessed the Internet from home, and were dominantly male (73 per cent). Particular dislikes with ISPs were a slow log-in and too many busy signals. The geographic distribution of respondents was not given, but it appears to be overwhelmingly American. Favourite ISPs in terms of satisfaction were Erol's Internet, Sympatico and EarthLink Network, with the least-liked being WebTV, AT&T World\Net and AOL. The churn factor appears to have characteristics in common with those changing cellular telephony providers. Some 73 per cent of users had been with their ISP for less than two years, and 42 per cent for less than a year. Another recent study by the Interactive Solutions Group of Market Facts suggests that Internet users mirror the behaviour and attitudes of non-Internet users. The study was based on 3,000 matched sample households, using respondents from Market Facts' consumer panel. If the sample is matched demographically with actual census data, the company says that apart from different attitudes and behaviours towards technology, there are few significant differences between responses to surveys by telephone and mail, and through the Internet. A disturbing aspect of such surveys is that they serve the marketing purposes of the companies carrying out the surveys. A similar problem arises when software companies, for example, commission a market research organisation and -- lo and behold -- the results just happen to be very close to those desired by the commissioner, and the market research firm gets to undertake more studies. Furthermore, the market research firm gets free publicity when its results are publicised buy its client. In view of recent doubts expressed about sacred measures like the P-value test of Professor Sir Ronald Fisher, what are we to believe? ®
3Dfx has slapped a patent infringement suit on rival 3D graphics specialist Nvidia. The suit alleges Nvidia has incorporated 3Dfx's multi-texturing technology in its own products. The 3Dfx suit contends that Nvidia's Riva TNT chip-set uses technology it developed in 1996 that allows multiple textures to be applied to a single 3D object. The developer claims it attempted to reach a negotiated settlement with Nvidia, but the attempt failed. "We see litigation as an unfortunate last resort," said 3Dfx president and CEO Greg Ballard. This is the third time Nvidia has been accused of infringing patents this year. Silicon Graphics sued the company in April, and S3 did the same in May. Nvidia has achieved many plaudits from the graphics and games industries for its products, largely for the higher performance and functionality it offer. All of which has helped the company oust 3Dfx from the games world's 'flavour of the month' slot. Interestingly, Nvidia also helped Microsoft in the development of the DirectX 6.0 3D graphics component Direct3D. Its contribution: adding multi-texturing to the games-oriented API. As Direct3D is designed to provide a common link between games software and graphics acceleration cards, to an extent it dictates how the cards work. In other words, any card that supports Direct3D 6.0's multi-texturing must ultimately be based on Nvidia multi-texturing technology. Which, allegedly, it copied from 3Dfx. So, support multi-texturing through Direct3D 6.0 and your card is in danger of infringing 3Dfx's patents too. Microsoft is already recommending Nvidia's Riva TNT as the DirectX 6.0 graphics reference platform. "As the most complete implementation of the DirectX 6.0 feature-set, Nvidia's RIVA TNT serves as the optimal reference platform for our developers," said Charles Boyd, Microsoft programme manager for Direct3D, earlier this month. Neither Nvidia nor Microsoft has yet responded to 3Dfx's allegations. ®
A new version of Opera, the browser developed in Norway, has been released in beta. Although it still lacks some highly desirable features, like a good email subsysten, it has features not to be found in the big two. The new features include an implementation of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS1 and part of CSS2), closely following the W3C spec. Opera is often used as an independent chek for standard Web page rendering. On the security front, Opera is believed to be the only browser offering 128-bit encryption. In addition, it has the most recent SSL encryption protocols and is claimed to be the only web browser supporting Transport Layer Security encryption, which is expected to replace SSL. Opera says that these levels of security "are considered impossible to hack". Version 3.5 is faster than earlier versions (we found), and still fits on a floppy (it is a mere 1.15MB). On installation by downloading from www.operasoftware.com it does not interfere with the operating system, like other browsers. Opera 3.5 also supports Java applets using the Sun Java Plugin, and the PeopleLink service for instant messaging online. Bugs -- there are a few -- are discussed openly in a forum and fixed. There are versions for 16-bit and 32-bit Windows and OS/2, with Mac, Amiga, Psion, Linux and BeOS versions in the pipeline, in several languages. It is amusing to see Opera refer to "American competitors", yet the earlier versions of Opera have attracted a cult following and been well-reviewed, despite it costing $35 after a month's free trial. A major usergroup is those with older PCs or limited disk space. ®
Encouraged by reports of clones of the iMac PC, Apple is expected to open an office in Seoul in October. According to English language paper The Korea Herald, Jobs has authorised a startup in the peninsula, using Korean sales agent Elex as the source. Apple US will put money into the venture, according to the newspaper. That follows Motorola's decision yesterday to take a decisive controlling share in a Korean telecomms company. No amounts were disclosed but it is expected that South Korean manufacturers will help supply parts and machines themselves, due to an unprecedented demand for the new Apple Macs. Apple UK could not be contacted at press time. ®
Yesterday, NEC announced it would shed 6,000 jobs worldwide, the latest in a long sad tale of Japanese semiconductor firms to predict a loss. Now Matsushita Electronics has fallen flat on its face on the semiconductor front with the news that it will postpone two fabs' production. According to Matsushita, demand for memories this year has been at an all time low with 64Mbit memories, in particular, showing slow demand. But unlike Fujitsu, NEC or Toshiba, the cancellation of the company's DRAM plans will have most effect in its home territory. The two fabs are on Japanese soil. ®
HP goes NDA bananas...or what says another hack who went to the gig at the Cafe La Paris rather than the Lernout & Hauspie thang we were subjected to at La Registere... The hack tells us that before getting into the gig, the mad HP geezers made 30 or so journalists sign stringent NDAs about the new LaserJet printers that HP does not want the world to know about. Unfortunately, said our source, the minute the NDAs were signed, they were whisked away and out of the seven new announcements, none of the 30 hacks could remember which were under embargo or not. That means, of course, it's all public knowledge now.... Kicking Pat...now where we? We got so strung out by Mr Gelsinger's massage (apparently everyone gets them but not -- apparently a good kicking and thumping) that we forgot the keynotes of his KeyNote speech. Mr Gelsinger spent quite a deal of his time plugging 101 devices into a USB port and then announced, very proudly, that Intel had applied to the Guinness Book of Records for a world record.
NetWare 5.0 is to be ported to the Merced platform, it emerged today. At last week's Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs, California, Rumi Zahir, chief architect of the Merced platform, said that Novell Modesto was supporting the Merced platform. Netfire is a virtual Java machine that will sit on top of the Intel IA-64 platform. A Novell spokesman said that Modesto is the Merced platform for NetWare. But he refused to say whether it would use the abilities of the simulation platform, a software halfway house, to run Netware on Merced. Zahir said last week that the majority of programs did not need to be rewritten specifically for a 64-bit chip. He said that the 32-bit method of porting would mean that Merced -- now officially due in the second half of the year 2000 -- would suffice for most. But Zahir refused to be drawn on whether operating systems, and NetWare could be considered one such, would need to be ported. ®
Azlan Group has become the first Pan-European Premier Plus partner for Sylvan Prometric, the IT industry certification company. The signing represents a strong endorsement of certification training and testing, according to Sylvan. It says European training companies have not traditionally offer a wide range of certification tests. Sylvan has designed courses in more than 60 IT vendors. Azlan Training is the biggest supplier of technically-oriented manufacturer certification courses in the UK and the Netherlands. It also runs courses in Belgium, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy and Germany. ®