28th > September > 1998 Archive
Caldera Thin Clients will be announcing today that its DR-WebSpyder – an embedded Internet set-top -- will be used by OnSat Network Communications in its private networks for satellite Internet access. The consumer end will consist of Caldera's v86-based graphical devices, with Inkotomi's Traffic Server network cache and OnSat's private satellite network. The service will offer email, voice mail, and even financial smart cards, according to Roger Gross, the CEO. A pilot programme was conducted recently with a number of ISPs in the US, and the service is now being offered worldwide. The vision is of low-cost access in areas where land-line access to the Internet is not available or extremely expensive, such as remote villages in sub-Saharan Africa where Startec, a South African company, is offering the package. Caldera Thin Clients [of Andover UK], together with Caldera Systems that focuses on Linux distribution, are subsidiaries spun off from Caldera earlier this month because Caldera was being perceived as a company out to get Microsoft, Random Love, CEO of Caldera Systems said. The case against Microsoft, which will feature a jury trial in Salt Lake City, gathered strength recently when it was extended to include the consequences of the practices Microsoft used against DR-DOS with Windows 9x, as well as Windows 3x. Caldera demonstrated at Cebit in March that DR-DOS could substitute for the underlying Microsoft-DOS in Windows 95. Microsoft has just asked for a further delay in start of the case, at present scheduled for June, as Microsoft is unable to provide immediately all of the executives Caldera wishes to depose. Steve Susman, one of Caldera's lawyers, deposed Gates for eight hours on videotape last November. ®
More details have emerged about a switch in direction Transmeta made when it hired Linux inventor Linus Torvalds earlier this year. (See story, Transmeta to use IBM fabs) Reliable sources said that the company has re-engineered itself and is now preparing a Risc processor which will be optimised for Windows NT 5.0, and which will effectively abandon legacy support for Dos and 16 bit Windows. According to the source, the arrival of Torvalds heralded a sea-change at the secretive firm, which is run by the ex-head of SunSPARC labs, David Dinzel. "Linus has taken a different look at it [the company] and has asked what x.86 actually means," the source said. "Effectively, it meant DOS and Windows 3.11 compatibility." This is the standard route the cloners have followed, for good reason - as the bulk of PCs today (even Windows 98 ones) still run DOS-based operating systems, then compatibility remains important for current platforms. But Torvalds seems now to be looking to a future where this isn't an issue. According to the source, Torvalds has come to the conclusion that the designers of Risc processors were a little too early to market with their offerings, but that has now changed. "Compatibility now means it will run NT 5.0 and it is compatibility with NT 5.0 that is important." If this is indeed what Torvalds is planning, it's an intriguing strategy that could pay off big-time if Microsoft delivers on its OS plans -or at least, what is generally understood about its notoriously flexible OS plans. As and when it gets NT 5.0 out the door, Microsoft will be pushing hard to establish it as the final unification of its operating system platforms, and to shift users away from Windows 9x - 98 is currently thought of as the last iteration of the company's DOS-based operating systems. So if this actually happens, chucking out the old DOS baggage could be a serious advantage for Transmeta. But it's a big if - Microsoft has been talking about convergence for years, but never quite getting there. But on the other hand, NT does run on Risc processors, and Alpha (the only one now that runs a version of NT with a future) is important to Microsoft in getting NT 5.0 to 64-bit. So if Transmeta points itself into the middle of this territory, it might well be able to build a cheaper, faster NT 5.0 platform. Which presumably will also run Linux… ® Click for more stories What do you think? If you think it's important that a Transmeta processor runs legacy DOS software, click here and put Transmeta in message line If you think that Merced-like compatibility is important, click here and put Merced in message line We will publish the results of the survey later in the week.
Singapore may be the location of a new Silicon Graphics Inc (SGI) manufacturing and R&D operation, according to this morning's Singapore Business Times. This would be good news for the island, which has been hard-hit by the Asian crisis and associated job losses in hard disk manufacturing. We at The Register also speculate that it would be bad news for SGI's Swiss and - possibly - US manufacturing plants. Switzerland in particular seems a pretty dumb place for a company going through a re-engineering process to be building stuff. The suggestion came from SGI CEO Richard Belluzo in an interview with the Times. There are obvious attractions for SGI; the employment situation isn't anything like as tight in Singapore as it was before the crisis, and the Singapore government is particularly keen to diversify manufacturing and attract more R&D. Belluzo says he's also been talking to the government about SGI's contribution to SingaporeONE, distributed learning and supercomputing projects. This may be the fish the Singapore government is dangling - Singapore has massive plans for wiring the island, so it's both a major potential source of revenue and a product showcase. ® Click for more stories
Intel has pulled in a PowerPC Somerset Design Center veteran to head-up a new long-range R&D centre in Austin, Texas. Mark McDermott comes from the Motorola side of the old PowerPC alliance, and also ran the system on a chip design group at Motorola's Advanced Systems Technology Lab. It's not yet entirely clear what he and his team will be designing - Intel is reportedly saying that's going to depend on the staff he hires, and if this is the case we can maybe think of him and the company being on some kind of fishing expedition, looking for star designers and star technologies. From that point of view Austin isn't a bad place to look. It houses Motorola, IBM, Dell and an excellent university, and at least until the great DRAM disaster was a happening place for semiconductors. And beer, we seem to remember. Austin's also the location of Intel's StrongARM design operation, but this will continue to be run separately. Perhaps McDermott can have a go at hiring back all the Digital engineers who ran for it when Intel took over StrongARM. ® Click for more stories
Lawrence Lessig, who was chosen by Judge Jackson to be a special master in the DoJ case against Microsoft, but whose appointment was put on hold in February after Microsoft told the court of appeals that Lessig was biased because he did not like the way Internet Explorer had interfered with the software on his Mac, may be invited to submit an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief by the Judge, according to sources close to the case. The court of appeals did not address the issue of Microsoft's bias claim. Lessig, who is now teaching a class at Harvard called "The Microsoft case", said that if he were invited, "of course I'd write something for him". The move is indicative of the Judge preferring the DoJ version of events. It means that the Judge can in this way obtain Lessig's opinions but avoid any question of Lessig's appointment being overruled again in the new case started in May. Meanwhile, pressure from MEPs has resulted in DGIV, the competition directorate of the European Commission, offering a "brainstorming behind closed doors... because we don't want to create problems for our US colleagues. We can't make public all our information". By international treaty, it is agreed that the EU will await the outcome of the DoJ's action before taking action on the same issues. Karel Van Miert, the competition commissioner, said: "We are in constant touch with [the DoJ] because this is a very important case." DGIV has resolved several European cases involving Microsoft, and has no outstanding complaints, although Van Miert said: "We can't rule out receiving [more] complaints." ® Click for more stories
Bill Gates and his Microsoft co-founder chum Paul Allen have been selling shares. Data from Microsoft's proxy statement just filed with the SEC shows that Gates sold $2.8 billion of Microsoft shares over the last year, and Allen $4.4 billion. The valuations are on the basis of last week's closing price. Gates has $57 billion of shares left (20.8 per cent, excluding Mrs Gates' $12 million), Allen £16 billion (5.8 per cent), with president Steve Ballmer languishing with $13 billion (4.8 per cent). Bill did not get his full bonus as it was "tied to corporate revenue and profit goals" that were not achieved. Steve's take home pay was $5,530 more than Bill's, however, because his bonus is bigger. COO Herbold received $1.18 million, Michael Lacombe (senior VP, EMEA and president of Microsoft Europe) $593,000, and Paul Maritz $516,000. That said, Intel's Andy Grove takes home $52 million, leading to some suggestions that senior Microsoft execs are underpaid. Ahem. A graph in the proxy statement showed how over a five-year period, Microsoft shareholders would have seen the value of their holdings increase at more than twice the rate of Nasdaq, and 3.5 times the S&P 500. There then followed the tongue-firmly-in-cheek management suggestion that past is not prelude. Microsoft shareholders can now cast votes via the Internet before the shareholders' meeting in November, when all seven Microsoft board members are up for re-election. There should be little trouble as Microsoft executives and staff own around half the company. The average age of the board is now 52. • In Gates' introduction to the annual report, he was muted about Windows CE: it was "finding its way" into interactive TV and hand helds was the extent of his hype. He expects to "more than double the WebTV installed base to over one million users during the next year on the very positive word-of-mouth this product has generated". "Online is still at an early stage of development," Gates said, which must be news to AOL. ® Click for more stories
Under pressure from the South Korean government, the country's five biggest chaebols have now agreed to sort out their managerial differences over the re-allocation of business units. But LG and Hyundai are still locked in a bitter struggle over which firm will have the controlling interest in the merged chip company they propose. According to Asian reports, Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo, LG and SK will now complete their plans by October 1 -- except for semiconductors. The proposed merged semiconductor company is now becoming a major source of embarrassment for the South Korean company, especially after it emerged that both the European Union and the US may invoke anti-trust laws to investigate the deal. Further, both LG and Hyundai were faced with anti-dumping duties in the US at the beginning of this month, as reported here. The European Union is still investigating whether LG and Hyundai will be faced with increased tariffs. ®
Tetra has flogged the intellectual property rights (IPR) to its business forms division to Software Stationery Holdings for £150,000 cash. SSH also gets rights to use the Tetra customer database for two years. In return it will pay commission on all future sales to the database, committing to a minimum of £200,000 per year over the next two years. Tetra said the business forms division is non-core as it focuses on sales to customers with low-end systems. The company will funnel the proceeds from the sale into resourcing software licence sales “where margins and growth are substantially higher”. In the year to 31 May 1998, the Business Forms Division made £179K PBT on £1,044,000 sales. No amount was attributed to the IPR in Tetra's balance sheet as at 31 May 1998. ®: Click here for more stories
An announcement by Pioneer that it has solved the problem of creating organic electroluminescence (OLED) flat panel displays is not a significant breakthrough, it has emerged. OLED technology is far cheaper to produce than TFT technology but there are technical difficulties to implementing it, especially in the notebook field. A US startup, Universal Display Corporation (UDC), is about to beat them to the punch while there are still problems with Pioneer's implementation of OLED. Bob Raikes, senior analyst at Meko Research, said Pioneer's announcement that its OLED was suitable for notebooks and PDAs, but that while it had solved one problem with colour, the problem with the life of OLEDs was still unresolved. He said: "It hasn't solved one of the major problems which is the 2,000 hours problem, the OLED has. Pioneer has got over one of the hurdles which is to create blue, but still hasn't got over the lifetime problem." That, said Raikes, should be a mininum of 10,000 hours and preferably 20,000 hours. However, he said: "UDC has got some very efficient OLED technology and is working with Princeton." ®
US book retailer Barnes & Noble will become the latest Internet bookseller to leap onto the IPO bandwagon when it floats its Barnesandnoble.com subsidiary. According to the company's SEC filing, Barnes & Noble will retain 80 per cent of the online retailer's stock. Given the inflated valuations Wall Street is giving to Internet-based operations, such as Amazon.com. Amazon has a long way to go before it makes a profit, yet its stock has been talked up on the expectation of major returns in the future. Clearly Barnes & Noble wants a cut, and reckons it can make a pile on by selling just 20 per cent of the company. As Mark Mooradian, an analyst at market researcher Jupiter Communictations, pointed out, the formation of Barnesandnoble.com as a division within Barnes & Noble did not overly improve the parent's stock value. ® Click for more stories
A US source said that AMD will slash its prices towards the end of October on a range of its K6-2 processors. But AMD in the UK has refused to comment on the story, saying it was "more than their job was worth". According to Computer Reseller News US, AMD is preparing to release 380MHz and 400MHz versions of its K6-2 processors in Q4. As revealed here earlier, AMD is on target to introduce its K6-3 chips late this year. It also has a K6-2 mobile in its capacious wings in Austin, Texas, and in Dresden, Germany, when that ramps. But AMD is also under pressure from Intel, which has initiated a death match between it and all other clone chip makers. Last week The Register revealed Intel's technique, which according to CRN US, will force AMD to now sell its 333MHz K6-2 at $95. AMD has a different policy to Intel. When Intel prices fall below $100/1000, it means the end of a processor. AMD is likely to keep the 333MHz part alive for some time. The 333MHz K6-2 will fall to unprecedented prices in the first quarter of next year, the newspaper said. That may not be enough to allow AMD to keep its prices 15 per cent below Intel's prices. Sources at the Great Stan said that its now-famous 370 pin socket will undercut that 15 per cent by a factor of five per cent. ®
A year 2000 company has claimed that a third of a million jobs will be lost in the UK as a result of the dreaded millennium bug. And small and medium sized enterprises are most at risk, the company has claimed. Although Prove It 2000 sells solutions to the Y2K problem, a representative maintained that the calls were not made as part of a sales process. Prove IT 2000 said it had conducted a survey of 10,000 UK companies over the last few months, with those employing less than 250 people being the target of the research. According to the research, 80 per cent of those surveyed said they had still not started to tackle the millennium bug, and 10 per cent were "certain" their systems would not be ready. Only 15 per cent of the companies had asked for compliance from vendors of systems, while 45 per cent said they were using app software which was over five years old. That led Richard Coppel, MD of the company, to say that 291,072 jobs would be lost, based on the premise that at least 384,000 companies throughout the UK were relying on mission critical computer systems. "This predicament is disturbing," he said. "The results show that even at this late stage, the majority of SMEs are still not taking the year 2000 seriously." Last week, The Register reported that Tony Blair's bug-busting initiative is now in tatters. The initiative is now under the control of Peter Mandelson, minister in charge of the Department of Trade and Industry. ® Year2000oid Mother Shipton said that the world will end in the year 1999. If she is right, no one needs to worry about the Millennium Bug.
Dtec Memory Corporation has won European distribution rights for Toshiba-branded DRAM and flash memory. The joint venture company, 51 per cent owned by Memory Corporation and 49 per cent owned by Datrontech, will target the European SME market. The company said it would also explore opportunities to integrate Memory Corp’s memory management silicon designs with Toshiba flash technology. DMC was formed in January this year, to “deliver own branded memory products and differentiated computer memory solutions in the UK and Europe”. In July, Datrontech threw two more companies into the pot, customised distribution arm Memory Plus, and trade desk operation Datrontech Hong Kong. DMC estimates sales are running at an annualised $100 million per year. ® Click here for more stories
Amstrad lovechild Viglen Technology will try and dig its way out of continually flat profits by re-focusing its efforts on networking and value-added software services. The company's aim is to move away from purely direct PC sales which took a massive hit last year as market share fell by 50 per cent. Viglen has just announced pre-tax profits of £4.4m on sales of £94.6m and warns that it expects profits to remain "linear" in the foreseeable future. Chairman Alan Sugar, who is no stranger to ringing the changes, has confirmed that the company will metamorphose into a networking and software services provider but not at the expense of its education market. Viglen has performed well in education with a 14 per cent increase on sales from the previous year and this includes both PC and software sales. The company's acquisition of Xenon Networks in February this year enabled the company to change tack and this is where Sugar sees future growth and profit margin. However, Sugar has also committed himself to increasing the workforce in the education division "as we are committed to growing out share of the schools market," he said. Viglen's share of the direct market has been halved while sales to corporates have also been hit and Sugar is looking to networking as a way of getting the company back in line. "It's something that Viglen had to do," said Adrian O'Connell, PC analyst at Dataquest. "Elonex and Tiny already offer this kind of service so there will be plenty of competition. It's unlikely to turn them into a success story but should help keep the wolf from the door."®: Click here for more stories
According to some reports today Microsoft is poised to launch Embedded Windows NT next month. A bit of a rush this, even for Microsoft - the company is currently advertising for an entire team to, er, develop the OS from ground zero. We quote: "Program Manager (new job) - Primary responsibilities include driving the development of a new embedded NT operating system and appliance line of products being developed. This involves developing specifications for the operating system as well as development of new applications and services… Development Lead (new job) - Primary responsibilities include leading the development of a new embedded NT operating system and appliance line of products being developed. Additional responsibilities include developing design specifications, design & code reviews, and schedule management, hiring and working with a team of engineers and working with other teams to integrate diverse technologies." New jobs also exist for a software design engineer (development of a new etc), a software design engineer in test (testing of a new etc) and a test manager (testing of a new etc). Those nice people from Microsoft may well be planning to say some more about Embedded NT next month, but it's a deal away from shipping. But that doesn't mean it isn't a happening thing. Microsoft already has some retail customers who're using NT in retail environments, so that cash register with the touchscreen in the bar or the supermarket might actually be a PC running NT workstation. Microsoft wants to extend the reach of the corporate network way out into the stores, the warehouses and the delivery trucks (and, incidentally, to blow what's left of OS/2 out of the ATMs), and ultimately there's not a great deal of sense in offering an OS that isn't of itself real time, but does have a somewhat redundant ability to run Win32 productivity apps. It's Friday night in Hooters, and we really need to check the Excel spreadsheet before we serve these 50 customers, right? Sure… Microsoft has actually been trailing the prospect of Embedded NT for some time. Earlier this year senior VP Jim Allchin (who we recall slings a mean DoJ email) said Microsoft was working on a version of NT that could run on networking equipment, be used in home automation, in-car systems and goodness knows what else. Allchin claimed that Microsoft had been working on the OS for a while, so we can only conclude (see ads above) that all of the project staff left recently… But seriously, we can see connections. Intel is talking embedded too, and is taking pops at Microsoft's NT licensing policies as it does so. Intel's also playing footsie with Linux, and if we're talking about Intel systems that provide the smarts in network infrastructures, the home, the vehicle or retail, we're not necessarily talking about systems with Microsoft operating systems any more. So check out the flip side. Last year, when a senior Microsoft designer was explaining CE 2.0 and related embedded matters to us, we suggested that maybe CE 3.0 was going to be NT 6.0. He blushed and changed the subject. But it was a valid point. Microsoft's commencement of development of Embedded NT gives it an opportunity for a redesign of the OS from the ground up, jettisoning a lot of stuff real time embedded devices aren't going to need, and also giving it the opportunity to jettison x86. It did that when it designed CE, and as we pointed out earlier today, Linus Torvalds reckons concentrating on future NT versions and dumping backward compatibility is the way to go for CPU design. We think maybe he's on the money. ® Click for more stories