1st > October > 1998 Archive

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Roundup: Yesterday's markets

The neurotic gnomes of New York had a field day yesterday after the Greenspan disappointment. Fretting over an uncertain future US economy pushed the Dow down 238 points (3 per cent), and Nasdaq by 2.3 per cent. The Nikkei reached a 12-year low, reflecting the inability of the Japanese government to sort out the Japanese economy. Still, there will probably be another quarter per cent reduction in interest rates by the Fed on 29 November. One of the results was a tough session for the telecom sector. Nortel, the number two in the North American phone business, warned that because of weak demand in Europe as well as Asia, revenue would not meet expectations, and fell 10 per cent. The ripple took its toll on both Lucent (down 7 per cent) and Nokia (down 3 per cent). AT&T fell 2.5 per cent on the rumour of its interest in acquiring IBM's global network. AOL suffered when an undisclosed nervous investor sold a million shares (for around $115 million), causing AOL to lose 5 per cent. If any further evidence that stock prices do not reflect reality were required, Amazon.com was down only 1 per cent after being off-line for nine hours yesterday for what it called "scheduled maintenance". This explanation seems unlikely. The company claimed the maintenance took five hours longer expected, but this still means that it planned to be down for four hours, and it is most revealing that a significant (though unprofitable) online vendor cannot keep it systems up around the clock. We wonder what software caused the problem. Ovid Technologies, a specialist in medical and scientific content, was acquired by Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer (whose merger with Reed Elsevier was turned down by regulators) for about $200 million in shares, representing a 19 per cent premium. NCR went up 8 per cent after it bought the Decision Support Services Group unfit of Medaphis for an undisclosed sum. ® Click for more stories
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Sun execs said Microsoft could change Java, claims Microsoft

Previously sealed transcripts of the Sun-Microsoft court battle were released yesterday, revealing a ding-dong battle between the companies' lawyers over precisely which of the pair was hell-bent on ruling the world. This strikes The Register as a pity, as world domination is what the other case is about - this one's just about what the contract says. As far as that matter was concerned, the struggle (which took place on 10 September) seems to have tilted towards Microsoft. Sun emails produced by Microsoft showed that at least some Sun executives had read the contract and agreed with Microsoft's interpretation of it, concluding that Microsoft could design its own Java Native Interface (JNI), and there wasn't a damn thing Sun could do about it. Microsoft argues that the contract gives it full rights to modify or optimise Java for the Windows platform, and while the net effect of this might be, as Sun argues, to fragment Java and spoil Sun's dream of 'write once, run everywhere,' if the contract says its OK, spoiling Sun's plans is at best a matter for another court. Those Sun execs who agreed with Microsoft went quiet pretty fast though, because according to Microsoft Sun JavaSoft president Alan Baratz mailed them all and told them to stop reading the contract. So chalk up another point to Microsoft, and then try speculating like crazy. Baratz is the man who negotiated the contract from the Sun side, so should know what he meant the contract to say, if not quite what other people might think it says (it's up on the respective Web sites, folks, and frankly it beats us). Baratz also knows what Sun boss Scott McNealy thinks it ought to have said, and can surely expect little mercy if the court concludes contrariwise. Shadow-boxing for the DoJ The other stuff from the transcripts is rather more interesting, but unless the judge is going to take motivation into account, not totally relevant to this case. From Microsoft's point of view though it's probably providing valuable practice for the DoJ antitrust action, which is due to start in another two weeks, unless it gets delayed again. Again, Microsoft does better, but maybe because we've heard all about Microsoft's world domination plans before, whereas dope on Sun's is relatively fresh meat. Microsoft was claiming that Sun, in collusion with the Gang of Four (Microsoft calls "gang of four" to account for their actions), had devised Java as a strategy to kill Microsoft, and the company's attorney Karl Quackenbush cited an email from Sun exec David Spenhoff referring to "Sun's fundamental belief that it will be Java that kills Microsoft." Sun co-founder and noted guru Bill Joy also got in on the act, with Quackenbush describing a Joy document which included a diagram showing 'Wintel' being eliminated by 2000. This is promising territory for Microsoft, and if it's extended to the rest of the Gang of Four it could play well in the DoJ case. If we put ourselves in Scott McNealy's shoes a few years back, surveying the trends in the market, then what we'd see would be a Windows juggernaut. Sun had tried to stop it by various means in the past, but had failed. So in devising the Java strategy, Sun couldn't really help thinking in terms of breaking Microsoft's hold on the market, and these thoughts would inevitably extend to breaking Microsoft. If we then look at how the Java strategy is being executed, we see strong central (Sun) control over what the standard is, and we also see Sun owned and funded (and therefore controlled) initiatives spreading out in all directions. There are basically very few areas in the Java space where Sun does not have its own product, or planned product. So if it worked, Microsoft's attorneys will point out, Microsoft will be broken, and Sun will own the market. Tricky one to argue though - Microsoft could easily wind up proving that all tech companies are conniving, duplicitous schemers aiming to rule the world, and Judge Penfield Jackson might then break them all up. ® Click for more stories
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Network Solutions wins seven-day reprieve from termination

The Network Solutions, Inc. contract for registering .com, .org and .net domains that was to have expired at midnight has been extended for seven days to allow more time for negotiation. No interruption in service is anticipated. A new, fifth draft of the proposal for a new body deals with some of the objections that have been voiced, but not all. The proposed name for the new authority is the unlovely Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), previously referred to as the 'new IANA' (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority). It is expected that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the US Department of Commerce will consider the fifth draft today. Robert Shaw of the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union's has pronounced the draft as being "close enough". There is considerable jockeying for position going on by ISPs, who see the opportunity to become domain-name registrars, rather than just agents for NSI, and make some money at it. Although consensus is unlikely, the contentious issues remaining reflect philosophy more than practicality. The Electronic Frontier Foundation continues to object to the censorship of any domain name because it might be offensive, although words not regarded as rude in the American tongue, but rude in Europe, may still get registered, as has happened with personalised car number plates. Other issues taxing the EFF include the privacy of board meetings and accountability. Concern is being expressed in Europe about the geographical weighting of the board in favour of the US, while American interests respond that there should be some form of proportional representation. The US does have the most domain names. There is also no agreement in Europe about who should put a European view, with the Council of Internet Registrars (CORE) making a claim for recognition, and supporting the fifth draft. Perhaps the most important issue of all, the so-called "domain squatting" where a name is registered in the hope of selling it to a trademark holder for a large sum of money, is unlikely to be addressed before the new body is operational. ® click for more stories
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Broadcom wins Sci-Atlanta set-top deal

Scientific-Atlanta is to buy a minimum of 500,000 digital communication ICs from Broadcom Corporation, for use in the company's next generation set-top boxes. Deliveries of the ICs, which will only account for an unspecified percentage of Sci-Atlanta's requirements, will take place during 1999 and will be used in production units for sale in 2000. According to Sci-Atlanta they'll go into the company's Digital Interactive Network and Explorer 2000 (possible trademark problem here, boys) digital set-top terminals. The company claims to have chalked up a goodly number of cable companies as customers for these, and as the unit requirements of these should ultimately run into tens of millions, we can speculate that the Broadcom contract is simply part of a plan to run a pilot of a million or two deployments over 2000. The two companies however say they are co-operating to integrate the communications functions for the Explorer 2000 into a single VLSI chip, so they're obviously still trying to get the cost down. ® Click for more stories
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Citrix wins Circuit City in major MetaFrame order

US retail chain Circuit City has deployed Citrix MetaFrame servers to its 500 stores across the country, in what Citrix says is one of the largest MetaFrame deployments to date. Circuit City will be using the servers to run its build-to-order kiosks, and as a mechanism to migrate from various non-Dos and incompatible in-store computer systems. The build-to-order kiosks allow customers to design their own name-brand PC. MetFrame is being used to centralise software installation, updates and maintenance on them. The more important aspect of the announcement in the longer term however is that Circuit City seems to be moving towards being a MetaFrame shop. The company will use the kiosk servers as the basis for its in-store systems, migrating applications to them and running these remotely from existing older Windows PCs and Unix workstations, using Citrix's client software in order to do so. ® Click for more stories
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Netscape offers Netcenter support for Internet Explorer

Integration is all the rage, apparently. Today Netscape is expected to announce greater integration between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and its own Netcenter Web portal. So you could think of it as kind of the reverse of certain alleged tactics by certain companies -- Netscape is trying to make it easier for users of a rival browser to gain access to its own products. Netscape TuneUp for IE is a free ActiveX control that helps IE behave rather more like Netscape Navigator, as far as Netcenter is concerned. Navigator has features that integrate it into the site, giving users access to various advanced search services, personalisation, software updates, directories and Netscape WebMail. You could see how these integration features might have been seen by Netscape as a way to make Navigator more popular, because it could do things the rival couldn't do -- but that of course depends on these things being ones that users wanted to do. Netscape has been beefing-up Netcenter for a while now, but it's still not somewhere everybody wants or needs to go to. Which is an essential feature of the 'integration' approach to popularising software. Allegedly... By offering the features for IE as well, Netscape is clearly abandoning that approach, levelling the playing field and letting the two products, browser and portal, stand or fall more on their own merits. But that doesn't mean the company is going to stop trying to get more users for both. ® Click for more stories
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SCO bids for early Merced Unix lead

SCO has reinforced its bid for leadership in Merced Unix by shipping the second build of its UnixWare for IA-64 to "selected partners." These include "strategic SCO OEMs and ISVs," and will doubtless include Compaq, Data General, ICL, and Unisys, partners with SCO in an effort to make UnixWare the standard data centre Unix. "The availability of this release establishes SCO as the leader on Merced," said Ray Anderson, senior vice president of Marketing, SCO." By providing early availability of IA-64 ready software to OEMs and ISVs, SCO is able to establish the infrastructure needed for solution partners to be successful on Merced." UnixWare for Merced build two is running on Intel's Merced simulator, and consists of a full 64-bit UnixWare kernel and base utility set. According to SCO the kernel takes full advantage of the Merced 64-bit addressing for memory and file access, and IA-64 dynamic library linking is implemented in this release. It also comes with an SDK, available as native IA-64 and hosted in a cross development environment on UnixWare 7 for IA-32. UnixWare for Merced, says SCO, will be able to give applications access to over a terabyte of main memory and up to 8 Exabytes (these are 1024 gigabytes, apparently) file storage. SCO is also aiming UnixWare for Merced at smaller ISVs, and intends to release a software architectural model, designed in conjunction with Intel, that makes allowances for the likelihood that many ISVs won't have an immediate need for the scalability of Merced. These ISVs will be able to recompile their apps simply for Merced as and when they need to. The software architectural model will be implemented over the next quarter, and will be released to ISVs early next year, hosted on UnixWare 7. ® Click for more stories
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Motorola heralds voice-operated Web

Motorola has introduced an extension to HTML to provide a framework for linking voice recognition technology to Web pages. The extension, called VoxML, is also designed to work with phone systems, which are increasingly utilising Internet-derived technologies. Motorola claims it has won the backing from a number of major telecoms, Internet and voice recognition companies, though as yet it refuses to say who they are. VoxML has also been submitted to the W3C in the hope the Internet standards body will recommend its use. An impressive list of backers would certainly make that happen sooner rather than later. ® See also Trio propose Web timed data spec click for more stories
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Trio propose Web timed data spec

Microsoft, Macromedia and Compaq have jointly submitted to the W3C an extension to HTML to provide links between the Web language and multimedia data. Dubbed HTML-TIME (Timed Interactive Multimedia Extensions), the system is designed to allow presentations to interact with HTML elements. The W3C has already recommended -- the closest it gets to saying a spec is a near as dammit standard -- the use of SMIL (Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language), which allows Web developers to synchronise various multimedia elements. However, the HTML-TIME trio reckon SMIL is seriously limited by the way it forces developers to work within a specific SMIL environment -- essentially, SMIL presentations have to run in their own window. HTML-TIME is designed to allow synchronised multimedia elements to be placed within Web pages. If it wins a W3C recommendation, HTML-TIME will at last make Web pages truly dynamic. ® See also Motorola heralds voice-operated Web click for more stories
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Hard disks chief cause of new PC failures

More than one in 10 desktop PCs sold fail to work when they are taken out of the box, according to a survey by Windows Magazine in the US. “Don’t be a cheapskate when it comes to the hard disk, CD-ROM drive, modem, mouse, monitor and motherboard (in that order),” Windows Magazine advises. “These are the parts that fail most often.” Faulty hardware components were cited as the chief cause of failure by 37 per cent of the 2,900 readers surveyed. By far the most common problem was with hard disks -- 17 per cent didn’t work. Driver problems or hardware/software conflicts came in second at 36 per cent. Application software was to blame for 34 per cent of cases while the operating system accounted for 24 per cent of problems. In terms of getting the problems fixed, 61 per cent went directly to the vendors' support desks with one in four needing a new part or complete replacement. Users made 2.7 calls on average to resolve a problem: time on hold averaged 10 minutes. Top performers in the survey were Hewlett-Packard and Dell, while Compaq, Gateway, IBM and Micron were all ranked as "good" in the Windows Magazine survey. ® Click here for more stories
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Motorola, ST Microelectronics play down joint venture rumour

Motorola is expected to announce a rash of extra job cuts next week when it posts its financial results. But the company is playing down rumours that it is looking to ST Microelectronics (formerly SGS Thomson) to help bale it out on the semiconductor side. The extra job cuts, according to reports, will be in addition to the 150,000 it announced last June as part of its restructuring scheme. The company is expected to announce the additional layoffs because both its semiconductor and mobile business are still in the doldrums.
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Intel denies Pentium II supply problems

Chip giant Intel has denied that there is any shortage of its CPUs. That follows a claim from US company PC Connection yesterday that its results were affected by changes in Intel's manufacturing schedule. But a UK distributor has confirmed that Intel products are on allocation until the end of the year. An Intel representative said that as far as he was aware, there was no difficulty in supplying parts to the market. Mark Davison, processor product manager at Datrontech UK, said: "Pretty much all the parts are on allocation. That's good because it means business is strong." He said there was a probably a shortage of the low end parts, but if companies thought ahead and bought carefully, there wasn't a problem getting stock. "The 333MHz part, which is currently the entry level Pentium II, will disappear before the end of the year," Davison said. "It will be replaced by the 350MHz Pentium II at the bottom end of the market, ignoring the Celeron chips. Smart people are buying the 350MHz chip now," he said. Davison said the rapidly changing situation in the marketplace meant companies had to order carefully. "I don't sell processors any more," he said. "I sell green bananas and I've got to get them onto the market stall before they go off." ®
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Intel's Moore donates $12.5 million to Cambridge University

Gordon Moore, the co-founder of the Intel Corporation, has donated $12.5 million out of his personal wealth to fund a library at Cambridge University. Cambridge is building a £45 million site and Moore's money will be used to help finance a science library, according to UK newspaper The Financial Times. Last year, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates gave $20 million to Cambridge University to fund a science laboratory. According to the FT, Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, will donate his archives to the library. ®
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Creative sues Aureal… again

Battle was begun again in the ongoing war of words between soundcard suppliers Creative Labs and Aureal when Creative accused its rival of making false advertising claims. A Creative Labs lawsuit filed yesterday alleges Aureal made a series of misstatements about Creative's SoundBlaster Live! Card. It is seeking injunctive relief and damages. "This is not a case of a simple product spec that has been misstated or misunderstood," said Creative Labs VP and general counsel John Danforth. "This case arises because of a series of inexcusable misstatements through which Aureal attempts to compare its own not-yet-shipping product against a [Creative] shipping product... whose specifications... bear no resemblance to Aureal's repeated misstatements." The Creative suit is the latest in a spat between the two firms that has been on the boil since February, when Creative launched a digital audio processing patent infringement case launched against Aureal. That provoked Aureal to issue a writ alleging that Creative defamed and commercially disparaged it, interfered with its business prospects, engaged in unfair competition and acted fraudulently. It also claimed the purpose of the patent suit was to slow its sales. Aureal has yet to respond to the Creative's suit. ® click for more stories
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Update: Intel StrongARM SA-120 to run at 366MHz

Insiders said that the next iteration of the StrongARM chip from Intel will be a part called the SA-120 which will run at 366MHz. Currently, Intel is pushing the SA-110 chip, which is set to be replaced by the new processor which may be out at the end of the year. The device is likely to be powerful enough to run speech recognition software, built into both mobile phones and set top boxes, according to the sources. Psion may also release a version of Organiser which uses the processor and also will use voice recognition software. Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel, said at the company's developer forum two weeks ago that its StrongARM business was complementary to its IA-32 and IA-64 architecture. He said in his keynote speech that StrongARM chip technology, acquired as part of a settlement deal with Digital last year, will be used in smart handheld devices, Internet access devices and for embedded control. Intel was not prepared to comment on the reports. ®
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Caldera poised to launch ultra-thin Java client

Caldera is poised to launch an ultra-thin Java client for DR-Dos, the OS that was once an MS-Dos competitor but is now enjoying a new lease of life in the embedded market. Earlier this week Caldera won a deal to supply software for 170,000 set-top boxes to OnSat Network Communications (DR gets OnSatellite of love), beating Microsoft's WebTV in the process. The impending arrival of the Java client is likely to have influenced OnSat's decision. OnSat proposes to offer satellite-based ISP services to parts of the world where PCs and land-lines are scarce, and Caldera's system will run on minimal hardware, while the company's WebSpyder browser allows users to access the Internet from Dos. Caldera Thin Clients, the division which was formed recently to handle DR-Dos development and sales, has promised a Java client for DR-Dos in the past, and has had one in beta for some time now. Its addition to the range will strengthen the prospects of interestingly minimalist devices, Dos PCs which Caldera has said could cost as little as $100. Roger Goss, one of the original DR-Dos developers and now president of Caldera Thin Clients (which is effectively the old UK-based DR-Dos operation reformed), suggests that the Java client is going to be slim enough to give Sun a run for its money. This is likely to be particularly the case in the set-top box arena, because over millions of units a few dollars each for more memory will have a major impact on the cable companies' buying decisions. ® Click for more stories
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South Korean big deal no big deal until Santa comes

The much vaunted "big deal" that will help the large five family conglomerates sort out their affairs has now been deferred to December. According to our virtual twin, The Korean Herald, intensive all-night talks have failed to produce any kind of result whatever. But Hyundai and LG have chosen to introduce a third party to help them decide the issue, the English language newspaper said. That will also not happen until Santa Claus comes down some chaebols' chimneys. ®
A staffer, 01 1998
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BT is Burton on the Button

BT, the company that has just struck a deal with Korea Telecom, had a huge launch yesterday to which, unfortunately, The Register was not invited. The deal goes like this. From early on real soon now, people located around the M25 will be able to both send and receive emails from the booths. But maybe BT forgot what the booths used to be like. Formerly, they smelled of wee, had broken windows and thief-proof boxes. But before that 1970s nightmare, they were far more interesting. The old phone boxes had two buttons - Button A and Button B. You had to insert twelve old English pennies, dial the pulse thingie in a circle and then when you were connected press Button A and BT (formerly the Post Office) would accept your shilling (twelve pennies equalled a shilling, pre-decimalisation) and put you through. But there was a tweak to the system if you were a phone tweaking phreaking sort of a shady dodgy geezer or geezerette. If you tapped out the number on the two prongs that supported the receiver, you get through without spending twelve pennies. Those were the days. The 12 pennies are now worth five pence (new pence) and BT phones won't accept such small change. The minimum they accept are 10 new pennies (formerly two shillings). Plus ca change. We wonder how much an email will cost....the new £2 coin? Those of our beloved Blightyish readers old and long toothed enough will probably remember the expression: "As bent as a two pound note". For our American readers, a two pound note was worth US$6 in those days. And "Burton on the Button"? This refers to demobilisation after World War II. Every squaddie (grunt) got a free suit and a rail pass when they left (were pushed out) of the Army (Navy and Air Force too). ®
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Hitachi unveils 12,000rpm 'world's fastest' HD

Hitachi has launched what it claims is the world's fastest hard disk, and a quad speed DVD-ROM drive. Built to a 3.5in form factor, the DK3E1 SCSI drive holds 9.2GB and spins at 12,030rpm for a average seek time of 5ms. The drive is powered by a Hitachi SuperH Risc CPU, and achieves further data access speed gains through its use of 'headerless' sector formatting and a digital Enhanced Partial Response/Maximum Likelihood (EPRML) read channel. The result is an internal 27.3MBps data transfer rate and a sustained data transfer rate of 18MBps. Meanwhile, the GD-2500 EIDE DVD-ROM drive is an internal unit aimed at PC assemblers and system builders keen to differentiate their products with the latest optical storage technology. The drive reads DVDs at four times standard speed, and operates as a 24x CD-ROM drive. ® click for more stories
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CA buys Siemens TransView, development team

Computer Associates and Siemens have brought their enterprise-oriented IT management efforts together as part of a wide-ranging strategic alliance. Central to the deal is the acquisition by CA of Siemens' TransView solution, which will be integrated into CA Unicenter TNG. Siemens' TransView development and marketing team, which comprises 150 employees, will become CA staff. CA is to open development centres in Munich and Pearborn, where members of the TransView team currently work. In turn, Siemens will bundle Unicenter TNG Framework with its Unix and NT servers free of charge until March next year, to make it easier for TransView users to migrate to Unicenter. It will also promote Unicenter TNG as its IT management solution of choice. CA will support TransView until September 2000, the company said. In a related announcement, CA said it has released Aim It, Ship It and Network It, its software distribution, asset and inventory management, and network management point tools. The company is also preparing Service It, a workgroup tool for small held desks. ® click for more stories
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Microsoft killed the PowerPC 615

An insider at IBM has responded to the PowerPC 615 story we wrote yesterday with some hard facts -- and corrections --that cannot be ignored. The insider said that Motorola, although it knew of the programme, was never involved and Somerset and IBM Austin were not in the picture too. The IBM Micro team at Burlington performed the 615 miracle, with 250 engineers involved. Even after the programme finished, he said, 40 or so remained at that site. Some went to work on the ASIC ARM and TI DSP cores, while others went to Centaur and the Great Stan of Taperecorders (AMD). While the first pass of hardware performed reasonably, the engineer said that pass two was killed and that level of silicon was never tested. Many of the 250 kept the pass one chips as mementoes. A version of Minix was written to run in PowerPC mode and launch x.86 and PowerPC applications. It proved the concept and a version of OS/2 for the platform also worked. But Microsoft got very cross when it was asked to write a version of Windows to run in the PowerPC mode, it emerged. The chip used .35 micron technology and measured 16.5 by 20 millimeters. According to the source, the VP in charge of the project was sure that the Pentium II would be an IA 64 design and that prompted the die size. If he had not been so sure of that, the die would have been much smaller, the engineer said. The chip, now presumably in keyrings, pendants, earrings and the like, supported x.86 architecture, 32-bit PowerPC architecture and the 64-bit PowerPc architecture. The original PowerPC 64 design was not backwards compatible from an OS point of view. Further, a mode switch from PowerPC to x.86 or vice versa took five CPU clocks. That was the time it took for the pipe to empty one architecture's instructions and fetch the new architecture's instructions. The mode switch, despite press reports, did not take an eternity, but the engineer said the US press did not help... The programme was killed because someone realised it would never make money. That was Microsoft's fault, the engineer added. Microsoft would not give any level of support. ® Click here for more stories
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Washington Post and LA Times sue story stealer

The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post have begun legal action against Free Republic, a Republican-leaning Web site which re-posts their stories without permission. While the two papers cite their irritation with the site's infringement of their copyright, they also specify that it diverts readers and potential revenue away from their own Web sites.