7th > October > 1998 Archive

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UK Tech Week off to a feeble start

This week is UK Technology Week, but judging by the attendance on the yesterday at Earl's Court, it must be pronounced a major flop. The Comdex UK 98 (incorporating Object World), Networld+Interop, and Expo Comm exhibitions were merged, but only managed to bring together 150 or so exhibitors. Instead of the 28 terminals that had been set up to register visitors, a couple would have done the job for most of the first day, as attendance was pitifully thin. There were also two associated conferences: UK.Com and Object World, plus the UK Comms Awards. EJ Krause & Associates, the US exhibition management company, said that there had been "two years of extensive research by independent organisations: Spikes Cavell, DataMonitor, Hulme Associates and Business Initiatives [none of whom were present as exhibitors]" that demonstrated the demand for "a single end-to-end technology event." The outcome shows that this conclusion was wrong. And the Web sites for the event were pathetic, and the documentation sloppy. The evidence is now that buyers want highly-focussed events that bring together vendors and users, rather than events that are supposed to "address the converging IT, telecoms and networking markets". One of the problems is undoubtedly a false assumption that what works in the US will work in the UK. A comparison between CeBIT in Hannover and the current event shows just how different things are in different European countries. Nor was the participation of the UK government very significant, consisting as it did of a picture of Tony Blair, wearing a beautifully-ironed blue shirt, saying in a printed message to attendees that "The government is committed to achieving leadership for the UK in the world's new digital economy". Barbara Roche, the small firms minister, added that "Our aim is to make the UK the world's leading electronic trading nation and UK Technology Week will help get us there." On the evidence of this event, that will never happen, although the organisers are planning a similar event for April, which they have also dubbed UK Technology Week. ® Click for more stories
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HP and Sun make peace over Java

Hewlett-Packard and Sun seem to have come to a mutually agreeable arrangement regarding HP's Java-cloning activities. In March of this year HP announced its own Java strategy, which included the creation of its own Java Virtual Machine, and for a time it seemed the two were tottering on the brink of litigation. But a new licensing agreement signed by HP and announced yesterday gives HP access to more Sun technology in the shape of the Java HotSpot virtual machine, and seems to clear the way for the implementation of HP's Java strategy within Sun guidelines. Said a joint statement: "Und
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AMD beating Intel at low-end, takes aim at sub-$1,500

AMD is claiming a 54 per cent share of the sub-$1,000 PC market for its K6-2 CPU, and is now taking aim at the sub-$1,500 mainstream desktop market with the 350 MHz version of the chip. This sector of the company's business now at last seems to be booming - on the strength of it AMD yesterday announced that it had gone back into profit in its third quarter. Its sales of $686 million were up 30 per cent on the previous quarter (15 per cent on last year), and although profit was only $1 million, analysts had been expecting another loss. The company says sales and bookings are running at record levels, and that the PC manufacturers' inventory problems of earlier this year have finally been cleared from the channel, meaning there's plenty of headroom for more sales increases. The K6-2 is already topping retail sales charts in the sub $1,000 US market (Intel sales badly dented by AMD upstarts), but is weaker in overall retail sales, in other PC markets and internationally. But the factors that have taken the K6-2 to the top in one sector will apply in the others, as faster implementations come on-stream and as the company progressively erodes corporate determination to stick with Intel. AMD chairman and CEO Jerry Sanders claims the company is gaining share because it has "superior technology," and points to the 3DNow version of the K6-2 as an example of this. But although that will be a factor, AMD's real secret weapons are that the markets are increasingly price-conscious, that the low-cost end of the market is booming, and that Intel doesn't really have a coherent answer to competing chips that are both cheaper and as capable as Intel's products. ® Click for more stories
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Roundup: Markets on 6 October

There was good news in Tokyo this morning: the Nikkei was up six per cent on expectations that the Japanese government had indeed been shamed into finding a way to increase the capital of the banks, with bills before the Diet (see Japanese banking collapse threatens IT sector). In London, the FTSE was up four per cent on hopes of an interest rate cut on Thursday, and opened this morning in buoyant mood. The Dow was marginally up (0.2 per cent, or 17 points) at the close of play yesterday, having been up 150 points during the day. Nasdaq was down two per cent. In the US, it looked as though investors were looking for weaknesses in technology stocks, and selling if they imagined there were any: it was a day for fair-weather friends. It was turnaround time for Motorola following Monday's after hours result: its shares rose eight per cent, and pulled up deadly rival Nokia two per cent. Keane, a millennium bug killer, rose nine per cent. Lucent acquired the privately held Quadritek for around $50 million, and fell two per cent. AOL fell five per cent after the news that CTO Michael Connors was leaving. Lycos rose six per cent after it announced it was buying Wired Digital. Cisco, Dell and Microsoft fell four per cent. Citrix fell at one point yesterday by 22 per cent, but closed down 11 per cent on concern at Microsoft's pricing for NT Terminal Server, which uses Citrix technology. Intel was down four per cent [other reports say one per cent]. Oracle was down nine per cent, and Sun down eight per cent. Veritas was harshly treated by investors following the announcement of its Seagate Software acquisition (see Seagate storage management arm to merge with Veritas), free-falling 42 per cent on shareholder concern that Veritas was paying too much. The 33 million shares now make the deal worth only $862 million after yesterday's close, rather than the original $1.6 billion. Many investors were hoping that the deal would fail, but both Veritas and Seagate say they are pressing on. This is not the first time that Veritas' share price has dropped following an acquisition: when it acquired OpenVision last year, the shares fell sharply, only to increase three-fold. There was no provision in this deal for it to be called off if the share price dropped, but there is a hefty fee to be paid if either side were to walk away. In a crafty move, Veritas cleared the deal on a hypothetical basis with the SEC. Apparently, Veritas had planned to call $500 to $550 million R&D and amortise the remaining billion or so at about $80 million/quarter. A potential problem is an unusual trading pattern last Friday, before the announcement, suggesting the possibility of insider dealing: some 3.8 million shares were sold, to make it the second heaviest day's trading in the company's history, with a four per cent drop in Veritas' share price. The prospect of increased competition from Veritas sent Legato down 22 per cent. Against expectations, AMD was restored to profit (just) in its Q3, helped by sales of its K6-2 processors -- sales of the K6 family were 3.8 million units, or 54 per cent of the sub-$1,000 PCs sold in the US. The revenue was $686 million, and the profit $1 million, a 15 per cent year-on-year increase in revenue, and a 30 per cent increase on Q2. The shares rose 7 per cent. Meanwhile, AMD plans to show the K7 at Comdex in November, and launch it early next year. ® Click for more stories
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Set-tops to oust PCs for home Net access

Net-enabled TVs, not PCs, represent the future of domestic Internet access in the US, claims a report from research agency Inteco. And while the number of home computers is predicted to grow by 60 per cent by 2003, the majority of them will go into homes that already have a PC. The number of PC-equipped US homes will grow from 44.8 per cent to just 52.7 per cent over the next five years, according to Inteco. The driving force behing home PC purchases is clearly the Internet -- Inteco's research found that eight out of ten first-time buyers bought a new PC to surf the Net. However, over the next five years, set-top boxes will become sufficiently mainstream to offer easy access to the Internet for a fraction of the cost of a desktop PC. "It's been a dream to have the PC on every desk," said Inteco analyst Mark Snowden. "That's not going to happen." ® Click for more stories
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SGI, Real 3D end hostilities

Silicon Graphics has taken a ten per cent stake in graphics chip developer Real 3D, and the two have agreed to undertake cooperative marketing and development programmes. The moves come at the end of a three-year legal battle. The deal sets up Real 3D as preferred supplier for future SGI workstation products, such as Create 3D and RealScan 3D. In turn, SGI will help market Real 3D's content creation products. The two companies have also signed a royalty-free graphics patent cross-licence covering current technology and possibly future developments too. The patent agreement ends the two companies' long running dispute over patent infringement, initiated by Real 3D's majority stakeholder and technology licensee Lockheed-Martin. The company also licenses its technology to Sega and Intel. Intel is Real 3D's third major stakeholder, owning 20 per cent of the company. SGI's stake is estimated to be worth $20-25 million. Analysts welcomed the deal, suggesting Real 3D's experience with Windows NT would benefit SGI's own moves toward that platform. ® Click for more stories
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DoJ vs MS trial delayed again

The start of US versus Microsoft may be delayed for four days, according to unconfirmed reports circulating early this morning, and attributed to a lawyer who wished to remain anonymous. It was suggested that both Microsoft and the DoJ wrote to Judge Jackson yesterday asking for a further four-day delay until Monday 19 October. This is the third delay that has been mutually agreed. Each time he has granted the request, the judge has indicated his unhappiness at a further delay. The initiative came from the DoJ, and Microsoft did not object. The reason this time is put down to some pre-trial depositions of witnesses and industry executives not yet having been completed. There is still a possibility that Microsoft will ask for a further delay, and appeal immediately if this were not granted. Meanwhile, the DoJ has again asked the court to compel Microsoft to produce documents in response to its first request. At an earlier hearing, no ruling was made about the first request because Microsoft said it was working with the DoJ on the issue and expected to be able to resolve it satisfactorily. In the event, the DoJ says in its Motion that "Microsoft produced stripped-down versions that cannot be used or analysed in an efficient manner", and Microsoft refuses to cooperate any further with the DoJ on the matter. The DoJ asked for several databases: "Microsoft Sales", "OEM Query" and "Datamart", and any other related databases from 1 January 1990 to date. Microsoft produced "Microsoft Sales" on three CD-ROMs with compressed text-file tables and insufficient information to allow the data to be extracted. The DoJ said in a Motion: "In short, it is as if Microsoft was required to produce to plaintiffs a working car, and instead it produced a box of parts and an incomplete assembly manual." The "OEM Query" database was produced as tables formatted in Access 7, with inadequate documentation. No version of the "Datamart" database has been produced. This request could be an excuse for Microsoft to seek a delay in the start of the trial, and to attach blame to the DoJ, although it is Microsoft that has been obstructive in providing the data in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ® Click for more stories
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Plasmon licenses IBM technology for tape push

CD-ROM and MO storage specialist Plasmon has licensed IBM's MagStar MP 3570 tape drive systems to power a new line of Plasmon-branded tape storage library systems. According to analysts, the deal could boost Plasmon's sales by 25 per cent. The agreement grants Plasmon worldwide rights to MagStar MP technology to be included in mid-range library systems aimed at open systems environments. It's a market that Plasmon has so far ignored, focusing instead on the optical storage media. The first MagStar MP-based products are due to ship in Q4 1998. "This agreement allows Plasmon to leverage its broad expertise in optical automation into the fast growing tape automation marketplace," said Plasmon chief executive Nigel Street. Both Dataquest and the Gartner Group reckon the tape library market is worth $1 billion, said Plasmon. Worldwide shipments of library systems are expected to double over the next three years. Plasmon already produces various tape drives for other manufacturers, including IBM, a business that accounts for £27 million of the company's overall sales of £40 million, according to Henderson Crosthwaite analyst Richard Dyett. Dyett reckons that the IBM-based product could boost sales over a two to three-year period by 25 per cent. However, "it will take time for Plasmon to establish a reputation in this field because it has never produced this style of produce before", he added. ® Click for more stories
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Fujitsu announces double speed SDRAM

Fujitsu has announced the development of a form of SDRAM that can transfer data twice as fast as standard SDRAM. Double Data Rate SDRAM uses a new circuit architecture, and samples will begin shipping in November. According to Fujitsu, DDR (Deutsche Demokratik Republik? Surely not - ed.) SDRAM has a peak data transfer rate of 200 megabits per second for the device (x 8 I/O configuration) and 1.6 gigabits per second for the modules. The products incorporate an on-chip DLL circuit which allows the data output signal to be fully synchronised with the clock, and therefore improves clock access time. The company is aiming the new 64 megabit modules at high-speed system designs. they come in four variations, supporting non-ECC and ECC, and in 64-bit and 72-bit I/O formats. ® Click for more stories
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DRAM: Out with the bath effect water

Those of us in the semiconductor industry refer to something called the 'bath tub effect'. When a product is launched, it's expensive, but as as demand grows the price drops. Eventually, demand drops off and the part becomes more expensive again. The result is a flat-bottomed sales curve, hence the reference bath tubs. It's a pattern that has emerged for most products during the 80s has remaind the same for most of the 90s, while products had a lifespan of around six years. However, as the memory market has worsened, a fundamental change has taken place that is often overlooked. The intense competition and the staggering losses incurred by DRAM vendors has led them on an endless search for any value added product. Since all the manufacturers are trying to do the same, this isn't easy. We can perhaps illustrate this and point out its relevance by looking at the fast (25nS) 256Kx16 EDO DRAM. The 3Dfx Voodoo 2 card, when launched, needed 24 pieces of these 4Mb memory chips to make a 12MB add-in card. At that time the only manufacturer of these speed-rated devices was Silicon Magic. The price was an unbelievable $3.50-plus (compared to a 16Mb SDRAM selling for less than $2). But within eight weeks there were another five suppliers and the price had fallen to its current low of just over $1. Guess what? Yup, all of the suppliers have now stopped making the part. When current stocks are consumed (probably within the next month) the market price will rocket up. Here's some other similar parts: 64Mb FPM DRAM, 64Mb EDO DRAM, 16Mb EDO DRAM in TSOP packaging. In fact, the highest price for any 64Mb DRAM today is the FPM (Fast Page Mode) device which sells for over $14! The losses being made by the Korean and Japanese manufacturers is preventing them from being able to invest in a wide range of different devices, nor can they afford to speculate on making parts that may not sell quickly. Today, buyers have not seen any major impact of the Japanese/Korean losses but as we move into 1999 we will see these suppliers have a more narrow product range forcing them to drop unpopular or slow-moving parts more quickly. This means that product managers at both the supplier and the customer will have to work more closely to ensure that the closest possible product matches take place. The bathtub has become shorter and steeper, the average product life span has now shrunk to less than two years (and often much less). I predict we'll see the re-emergence of brokers and dealers as a major source of redundant and difficult-to-source parts as this effect takes a stronger hold in 1999. Desperate purchasing managers will struggle with insouciant suppliers for parts that have been abruptly brought to a production halt. You heard it here first, but I can already feel the vibration of the feet of an entire DRAM industry stampeding towards the Holy Grail of direct RAMBUS. If you build PCs then you might be pleased to hear this. But if you have just designed a network card, VME bus board, industrial controller or other product that needs a two year supply of 10nS PC66 SDRAM then I would be looking around for a friendly broker... ®
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NatSemi attacks WSJ cancer claims

National Semiconductor has hit back the Wall Street Journal, following a "one-sided" article in Monday's edition, in which the company was accused of exposing workers at its Greenock, Scotland plant to hazardous working conditions. In the WSJ article, former NatSemi workers complained of chemical leaks at the plant, and exposure to carcinogenic materials, which had led to a cluster of miscarriages and uterine cancers. Complaining that the WSJ ignored "critical facts" and was misleading, NatSemi boasted of "superior health and safety controls and an excellect record". It notes a string of awards from the British Safety Council. Only 75 former employees had made allegations against the company, compared with a total payroll -past and present - at the plant of 5,000 staff, Natsemi said in a statement. It is not clear if this figure includes former employees who have died from uterine-related cancers. In a heavily spin-doctored passage, NatSemi acknowledged that the "claims and allegations made by those cited in the Journal story are the most troublesome. Clearly, these individuals are looking for answers, but it is false to say that National is the cause of their ailments. Many factors must be considered when looking at this issue, including genetics as well as lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption". The Scots have a reputation for being the least healthy people in Western Europe. They eat more cake and fewer vegetables than anywhere else in Europe. And this translates into a world record performance for heart attacks. But uterine cancer? NatSemi has its work cut out before it can make the lifestyle argument stick. NatSemi is turning to epidemiology to ward off expensive lawsuits. It says it is willing "participate in an industry-wide health study" examining genetics and lifestyle factors. The future of NatSemi's Greenock plant is up in the air, following the company's decision to scrap its 4-inch wafer facility at the cost of 600 jobs. Senior executives are interested in conducting an MBO for the 6-inch wafer facility, safeguarding a further 440 jobs, according to the Financial Times. NatSemi says it will close the second facility, unless a buyer can be found. But it is willing to sweeten any deal by guaranteeing orders and support worth $30 million a year for the next three years. ® Workers make cancer claims in NatSemi job cuts factory Click for more stories
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Silicon Spam – whatever next?

For some time now we've all been pestered by emails from various members of the hierarchy of an outfit called Silicon News, or Silicon TV, or Silicon.com, or something. They keep telling us useful stuff like we could win a Sony DVD player if we just log into the site. We restrain ourselves. But now what about this? From: euro <euroitprouk@life.com> To: @@adslin1 Date: Wed, 07 Oct 1998 06:08:34 PDT Subject: News and TV on your PC Hi -- I thought you might be interested in Silicon http://www.silicon.com -- it's the best service I've seen for IT news and information. What's really unique about it is that it has information that's really relevant to my job and very good quality TV news and interviews. You should be able to check out the latest news by going to the inbox http://www.silicon.com/bin/bladerunner30REQEVENT,+REQAUTH,21046 What's more there's a chance of winning a Sony DVD player every week in October -- all you have to do is register and use the service. Cheesy or what, we thought. But then we checked out www.life.com, which seems to be a respectable Unix outfit called Lifetime Software Technologies, with a complaint on its front door about goddamn spammers using life.com as an email ID. So why are spammers trying to publicise Silicon TV in such a ham-fisted way? And why does Silicon TV itself keep pestering us with free DVD offers? We're sure they can't be related...