22nd > October > 1998 Archive

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Dane-Elec to beef up memory module manufacture

Memory chip company Dane-Elec has re-engineered itself and will expand its module manufacturing operations. At the same time, it announced that it had struck a deal with Hyundai to sub-contract production of modules and another deal with Samsung is likely to follow at the beginning of next year. Dave Lalor, managing director of newly re-named Dane-Elec Memory, said that the company would increase production of memory modules in its factory in Spiddal, Galway, and would also begin production in its US office in Irvine, California. He said: "We're initially going to produce 20,000 modules a week in the US, and at present we're producing between 60,000 and 80,000 units here in Ireland." Lalor said that its US turnover was projected to rise from $44 million in 1998 to $90 million in 1999. The company, which has its headquarters in France, has a 13 per cent capitalisation on the Paris Bourse and in 1998 had a turnover of $210 million. Lalor said that Dane-Elec planned to increase its sales of memory modules through the retail market. It already produces packaged solutions in French supermarkets but is actively investigating doing similar things in the US and the UK. "We can increase our margins by selling through supermarkets but it needs a different approach," he said. "In time, supermarkets will sell memory upgrades off the shelf." The company is in the process of licensing Rambus technology and Lalor said that the modules using its technology would arrive in the market in big volume in the year 2000. Dane-Elec will look at using local distributors in territories where it currently has no coverage, said Lalor. ®
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Microsoft sought to pollute Java, maybe Sun let it

John Warner, Microsoft lead attorney in the DoJ antitrust case, claimed on Tuesday (see We don't have to be polite) that there was "no code of civility in business". Emails unsealed yesterday in the Sun lawsuit against Microsoft illustrate this amply, and suggest a possible verdict of 'nasty but legal' on Microsoft's conduct. There are emails from both Sun and Microsoft, but both tend to favour the interpretation that Microsoft did want to destabilise Java, that it set out to strike a licensing deal that allowed it to do so, and that Sun, dozily, let it. David Spenhoff, Sun's director of marketing, wrote in an email produced by Microsoft: "Microsoft was smarter than us when we did the contract... What I find most annoying is that no one at Sun saw this coming. I don't think our folks who negotiated and agreed to these terms understood at the time what they meant." This reinforces Sun internal memos released earlier where Sun managers were claiming that from their reading of the licence agreement, Microsoft was perfectly right. Microsoft claims that the licence gives it the right to enhance/change Java, and it's been doing so by adding Windows-specific features that, when used, mean it won't run on other platforms. If Microsoft gets away with this, Sun's 'write once, run anywhere' Java strategy stands in severe peril -- which is why Sun is suing. It seems abundantly clear from the latest Microsoft unsealed memos that Gates' company's motives were nefarious. But this lawsuit is about the text of the licence agreement, not antitrust. Similarly the argument over the DoJ preliminary injunction forcing Microsoft to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows 95 (which Microsoft eventually won) was about the text, not antitrust. Ben Slivka, who was managing Microsoft's Java strategy, wrote to Gates in plain terms. He wanted to know if Gates' concerns included how control of Java could be wrested away from Sun, and "How we turn Java into just the latest, best way to write Windows applications?" In the same vein, one of the Sun motions unsealed yesterday quotes a Microsoft pricing proposal as saying the company would "kill cross-platform Java by growing the polluted Java market". There you go, Microsoft Java programmers, you're "polluted". Sun's attempts to show that Microsoft's motives in entering the licence agreement were not of the highest are of course irrelevant to the lawsuit, and so are Microsoft's attempts to besmirch Sun. But they're still interesting reading. Microsoft produced a note of a meeting attended by Eric Schmidt, then Sun chief technology officer and now Novell CEO, where Schmidt outlined plans to evolve Java into an OS that would compete with Windows. Under Schmidt, Novell is now heavily committed to Java -- it wouldn't be at all surprising if Schmidt was now planning a similar evolution under a different corporate banner. ® Complete Register trial coverage Click for more stories
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Intel to stop supplying chips in trays

Intel has stopped supplying its processors in trays to all but its largest customers, it confirmed today. It will now supply product in boxes, according to a source at an Intel UK distributor. He said: "The reason is that it is easier to track sales, and remarks and it's also a branding solution. Only the very largest players are interested in tray supplies." But the move will also help cut down on gray market sales, he said. The packaging is far more bulky than trays, which can be easily transported across international borders. A representative from Intel confirmed the change had occurred. He said: "The really large OEMs will still get them in trays." Intel customers like IBM, Compaq, Dell and HP had sufficient volume to justify the continuing supply of trays. Only last week, Customs officers at London's Heathrow airport stopped an individual who was grey importing PII/400s in an attempt to evade value added tax (VAT), which currently stands at 17.5% in the UK. ®
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Vanguard wins contract to sell Cyrix CPUs in UK

Vanguard has won a contract to sell Cyrix CPUs to the UK market. The news, which leaked out from customers and distributors, means that Roy Taylor, joint MD of the UK-based firm, will initially sell product to UK distributors Flashpoint and Karma. Taylor founded Blue Micro in the UK, a company which acts as an agent to sell IBM microprocessors. In the last few years, Vanguard has operated as a channel for selling memory chips from the Taiwanese firm of the same name into the North European market. He confirmed that a deal had been struck with NatSemi-Cyrix. "It has appointed us to support them in their efforts to promote and sell the Cyrix microprocess range as their representative in the UK," he said. "We're also looking to do the same for them in Scandinavia," said Taylor. Current Cyrix distributors in the UK are Flashpoint and Karma. NatSemi could not be contacted for comment at press time. ® Click for more stories
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Supply constraints hit low end monitors

A tightening of supply on 14in and 15in monitors is likely to increase over the next months as 17in screens begin to dominate the market. According to a Romtec report on the third party UK monitor market, 17in screens had a 43 per cent market share in August, while 14in and 15in displays fell to 17 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. But flat panel display sales remain in the doldrums, with sales of only three per cent, Romtec said. Bob Raikes, senior analyst at research company Meko, said 17in displays would continue to fall in price over the next few months and were capable of displaying 1024 x 768 Windows displays, while the smaller sizes were not. But, he said: "The prices of 14in and 15in displays have started to tip upwards." That, he added, was because of a tightening of supply for the screens. While 17in displays continue to dominate the market, larger screen sizes still have a relatively small share, with 21in monitors standing at eight per cent, Romtec said. ® Click for more stories
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Madison and Deerfield to split Intel IA-64 architecture

Further details leaking out about the Intel IA-64 roadmap flesh the company's plans out until around 2003, and introduce two more codenames, Madison and Deerfield. According to Gordon Graylish, Intel marketing director EMEA, after McKinley's introduction in 2001, the IA-64 architecture will bifurcate into high-end and low-end versions. These are Madison (high end) and Deerfield (low end), and will be 0.13 micron. Ultimately Deerfield will be a sort of IA-64 Celeron implementation (although unless Celeron's reputation starts improving, Intel might not fancy saying this in 2003), and will at some point supplant the IA-32 line of CPUs which is currently roadmapped at Tanner, Cascades, Foster and then at least one other. The roadmap Intel set out a few weeks ago (see earlier story) covered Madison and McKinley, but didn't name them. It also appears to have been slightly misleading, because although the charts imply that Merced will be supplanted by its McKinley successor, Merced is actually intended to continue in parallel with McKinley, and to evolve into Deerfield. Graylish meanwhile confirms that Intel doesn't want people to get too excited about IA-64 too soon. As reported here earlier, Intel's plans for the continuation of IA-32 make it clear that it anticipates this being the volume platform for some time -- Foster, for example, which will be a contemporary of Merced, will offer "outstanding performance for 32-bit volume apps". Says Graylish: "We think we've got the timeline about right. There's not much requirement for 64-bit today, but in five years' time [ie. 2003] there will be." Asked why in that case people should even bother about 64-bit before McKinley, Graylish pointed out that the lead times in server and application deployment meant it was important for corporations to go with Merced initially. A 12-18 month enterprise deployment cycle would then have them poised for the arrival of McKinley. ® Microprocessor Forum Coverage Click for more stories
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Judge gives DoJ two more days on Microsoft data

Judge Jackson decided in a ruling from the bench yesterday morning that the DoJ would have just two more days to get what information it needed from Microsoft -- and it would have to pay Microsoft for the Microsoft personnel used to conduct searches for it. Microsoft had complained at the burden of providing five people from its finance department, as well as lawyers, to help in the retrieval of data. Steve Holley, a lawyer for Microsoft from Sullivan & Cromwell, objected, saying that the 14 August request came too late. This seemed absurd, since in the more than two months since the request was made, Microsoft has refused to allow access to the sales data. Philip Malone, speaking for the DoJ, said that he wanted operating system and Internet Explorer data going back eight years, in order to get a historical perspective. Does he know when IE was "invented"? Judge Jackson has been particularly slow in making this ruling, following Microsoft's repeated refusal to supply it. Indeed, he almost seemed to be apologetic in requiring Microsoft to provide it, saying that "I have to consider that this may be information that I may need". ® Complete Register trial coverage Click for more stories
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Novell buys into NetObjects

Novell has taken a stake in Web page design software developer NetObjects. The first fruit of the deal will be the bundling of NetObject's Fusion with the small business edition of Netware, but the companies also spoke cryptically of "additional programmes and opportunities going forward". Fusion has so far been aimed almost exclusively at Web design professionals. As one of the first WYSIWYG Web page tools, and through its rapid adoption of new Web technologies, such as Dynamic HTML and XML, has won NetObjects many supporters in the design community. However, the company needs to push beyond designers into the business software arena, currently dominated by more prosaic apps like Microsoft FrontPage. The Novell bundling deal should provide it with just such an opportunity. Novell isn't the only major IT investor in NetObjects -- IBM also has a stake in the company. ® Click for more stories
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More questions for Barksdale, but judge gets tetchy

It is probable that Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale will undergo another six hours of cross-examination today, after which he will be questioned by the DoJ's David Boies. They have yet to get to the nitty gritty of the June "carve-up" meeting. Judge Jackson has evidently been doing some calculations as to how long the trial will last, and doesn't like the result of his sums. He held a private conference with the lawyers from both sides yesterday, and asked John Warden (for Microsoft) to speed up his cross-examination. Jackson also stated that Barksdale had been responsive thus far, according to a source present at the conference. Microsoft was a little peeved. A spokesman said: "Microsoft deserves the right to conduct a full examination of his testimony." Steve Houck, the lawyer representing the 20 states and the District of Columbia who are joined with the DoJ in the case, asked a question about a page of testimony yesterday, but Judge Jackson quickly stopped him, saying: "Let me remind you of the one-witness, one-lawyer rule." Jackson had laid down a ground rule before the trial to prevent a witness being doubly questioned by two lawyers. Houck objected, but Jackson said he must work out with Boies who does the questioning. Houck now plans to make a formal request for the right to carry out independent questioning. An unstated issue was the additional problem of having one lawyer representing 21 independent legal entities: each has a separate and different claim against Microsoft. Judge Jackson is being quite lenient about what he regards as hearsay evidence (and hence inadmissible). Warden objected to some of Barksdale testimony as being "multiple layers of hearsay" but he was overruled by Jackson. The next witness will be from Apple. ® Complete Register trial coverage Click for more stories
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Clark memo fails to shake Barksdale in six hour marathon

Microsoft continued its cross-examination of Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale yesterday for a further six hours. Microsoft's purpose was to tempt him to say that Netscape was not hurt by Microsoft's tactics, and that Internet Explorer was a better product. Barksdale wasn't playing this game, and gave long, stonewalling answers, sometimes questioning the questions he was asked. John Warden, for Microsoft, tried to show that his client had not been successful in cutting off the oxygen supply. He asked Barksdale: "Is it true that Netscape's web browser is the most used software application of all time?" Barksdale clearly saw this trap -- to say "yes" would undermine his case -- so he replied "one of the most successful". Warden produced an email from Jim Clark, co-founder and chairman of Netscape, to Brad Silverberg of Microsoft dated 29 December 1994 in which he said: "We want to make this company a success, but not at Microsoft's expense. "We'd like to work with you... Working together could be in your self-interest as well as ours. Depending on the interest level, you might take an equity position in Netscape with the ability to expand that later... "No one in my organization knows about this message..." It was not mentioned in court that the message was sent at 3:01am, at a time when Clark was concerned that Netscape might be facing financial difficulties, and feeling a little fragile about his personal $4 million or so exposure. Barksdale said that "Jim Clark has described this [email] as a moment of weakness". Microsoft immediately rejected the approach, and the following week Barksdale started work at Netscape, but was not told about the email. Barksdale said he though Clark's intention was to persuade Microsoft to make an investment in Netscape. Warden then suggested to Barksdale that six months later, Microsoft was just responding to Netscape's approach, and that Clark's message laid the foundation for the June 1995 meeting. Barksdale said: "No, it was not consistent with my company's strategy," and added that he did not know about the message until recently -- and nor did anyone else at Netscape. Barksdale threw further light on Microsoft's attempt at a 'smoking pistol' document by saying that Clark was simply "selling" in the email, and attempting to revive a licensing deal that Netscape had rejected because it was too low: "[Microsoft] had offered a flat fee of a couple of million dollars to take us out of the game... we didn't like the deal." Barksdale admitted that Microsoft had not explicitly suggested at the June meeting that the browser market would be carved up, but the expectation was "as explicit as you could get". Microsoft regards the message as very important, but Christine Varney, Netscape's general counsel, said during a break that Clark's message did not excuse Microsoft's behaviour, and was unrelated to the June conversation. "This is just another attempt to make fiction out of fact," she said. David Boies, the DoJ trial counsel, said afterwards that the email was "another attempt to change the subject by Microsoft". Warden tried to establish that Microsoft had disclosed in 1994 that it intended to offer its browser without charge, and before Netscape had released its browser. It is very much in Microsoft's interest to try to do this, as the DoJ maintains that Microsoft gives IE away to make things difficult for Netscape. A strange delay resulted from Warden's attempt to get Barksdale to admit that IE received better reviews than Navigator. Warden gave Barksdale 19 reviews that purported to show that IE was superior. Barksdale retired to another room for about 15 minutes to read them, and returned to tell Warden that they were not "head-to-head" comparisons. Warden also tried to make an issue of an apparent inconsistency between Clark's knowledge that Microsoft intended to give IE away, as Bill Gates had said at a conference in 1994 that Clark had also attended, and Netscape's original decision not to give Navigator away. Barksdale said that free distribution was never included in Netscape's strategy, and that if Clark thought so, "he was just wrong". Warden pressed again, and suggested that Netscape's browser was "free, but not free", referring to the fact that Netscape did not press for payment of the nominal $39 charge for Navigator. Barksdale said he had never heard this phrase, but Netscape found it would be uneconomic to collect payments. Barksdale would not concede that Netscape could benefit from a free browser: "You could go flat broke doing that." Another argument used by Warden was to try to get Barksdale to admit that it was ironic that Netscape, with a browser "monopoly" should seek help from the DoJ to defend it. Barksdale said he had three meetings with Joel Klein, the head of DoJ antitrust, and sat on a panel with him once. Warden also wanted to know when Netscape had retained Gary Reback, a lawyer with Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, and a strong critic of Microsoft. Barksdale could not recall. All in all, Microsoft has gained little from its cross-examination of Barksdale so far. Much depends on the view that Judge Jackson takes of the June meeting. ® Complete Register trial coverage Click for more stories
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ISS has ANSA to network security

Want to give your product a head start over rival offerings? Then set up an industry standards body around it. That's what network security system vendor Internet Security Systems appears to have done. It launched the Adaptive Network Security Alliance (ANSA) yesterday, roping in some 40-odd networking vendors, including 3Com, Lucent, Nortel, Nokia, IBM, HP and Compaq, to support its goal of devising a unified scheme for managing security tools such as firewalls and anti-virus software. ISS president and CEO Tom Noonan said ANSA will "provide an enterprise-wide security framework that automatically adapts to changing security conditions" by embedding "adaptive network security functionality such as enterprise security active response, lock down and decision support capabilities into traditional security technologies, as well as network and systems management products". It all sounds very laudable, until you see that the basis for all that ISS has in mind is its own SAFEsuite Decisions software. Membership of ANSA essentially allows you to integrate ISS technology, in the form of "Adaptive Network Security Modules" into your own products. This probably accounts for the fact that Network Associates and Axent, both of whom develop products that compete with SAFEsuit, are missing from the ANSA roster of members. ANSA also connects members to ISS' marketing and sales teams (direct and channel), and brings "increased credibility and visibility in the security market provided by the ISS name". In short, what we're talking here is more licensing programme than "open industry-wide initiative", as ISS would have it. ® Click for more stories
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CTX licensed Big Blue patents

Who's zooming who? Last week, Packard Bell NEC (PBN) filed a suit against CTX International, claiming the company's machines infringe five PBN patents. This week, the waters are muddying rapidly. Chuntex Electronics, CTX's Taiwanese parent, said it licensed the technologies for several years from IBM. The unexpected upshot is that PBN is now in negotiations with Big Blue, raising eyebrows and questions about its ownership claims and its demand for "substantial monetary damages". Their respective spokespeople are seeking clarification. ® Click for more stories
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Intel, AMD and Cyrix to feature in price cut blizzard

A flurry of price cuts from the three major x.86 manufacturers this weekend will mean further reductions in PC prices. On Saturday, Cyrix will announce a range of price cuts to its range of processors, followed by more cuts from Intel on Sunday and AMD on Monday or Tuesday. Intel is keeping tight lipped about the changes it will make to its pricing schedule but details of the Cyrix changes were revealed here several weeks ago. However, the Intel prices have been extensively leaked by OEMs and distributors, and it is difficult for the Great Satan to keep a lid on details. Indications are that on the desktop side, the PII/450 will cost $550, the 400MHz part $380, the 350MHz PII $210, the PII/333 $175 and the PII/300 $190. The last price change means a sort of a fond farewell wave to the 300MHz part, which now retires to Intel's gulag. The original Celeron processor, again as revealed here earlier, will disappear. AMD will respond to the price cuts on Monday. Rana Mainee, analyst in charge of AMD's strategy in the UK, said: "We will react to any price cuts Intel makes. The key element in our pricing is that we will react in terms of our processors which have comparable performance." The market can now expect to relax a little as the next major price cuts are not likely to happen until shortly before or shortly after the Yule celebrations. ®
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Big Blue's new PowerPC chip uses Transmeta technology

A source close to Transmeta said today that IBM's announcement of a multiprocessor chip at the Microprocessor Forum two weeks ago will use technology from the company. As revealed here earlier, Transmeta, which employs operating system wizard Linus Torvalds, is using IBM Microelectronics fabs to create the processors. The so-called gigachip has an "advanced Power PC core". A week after we revealed that IBM Micro was fabbing the Torvald chips, an engineer who still works for the company disclosed details of its previous forays into a multiprocessing, multi-operating system processor. IBM Microelectronics declined to return calls at press time. ® Related stories 615 it still alive in a Transmeta sort of a way Transmeta letter to Linus Transmeta to use IBM fabs Transmeta transmogrified by Linux founder
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Samsung plays waiting DRAM game

Fall out in the memory market will create more casualties amongst manufacturers with Samsung set to reap the results as other players fall out of the market. According to a customer source close to the major conglomerate, the continuing battle between Hyundai and LG Semicon, is set to benefit Samsung, as memory manufacturers consolidate. Samsung, the source said, is keeping a low profile with the South Korean government and complying with President Kim's wishes in every way. Hyundai and LG, two of the biggest chaebols (family groupings) in South Korea, are at loggerheads over a proposed merged company. The source said: "The president of South Korea can't solve this situation." He said that the fall out of various players in the DRAM market during the course of this year had meant that Samsung's business was doing better than ever. The impasse between Hyundai and LG, in the local South Korean market, meant Samsung was bound to benefit in the long term. "It has better process and design technology than the other two," he said. "It is just waiting for other players to fall out." ®
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The great satan of hardware called Dell, is doing amazingly well. When it started quite small… it was nothing at all… then chose Microsoft DOS as its shell

Dell is now manufacturing 12,000 PCs a day at its manufacturing plant in Limerick. But the PCs are not all intended for the British Isles. A source at its Limerick plant, in western Ireland, said that it was currently supplying the entire Northern European market. The demise of AST, which also had a factory in the Limerick area, was "a godsend" for Dell, he said. They had used the facilities they bought from Samsung-AST to help ramp the production up to that level, he said. Dell refused to comment on the report. It does not give official figures about its production plans. ® Click for more limericks
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Harris bangs Apple's head over Newton

Apple's decision to nuke its Newton PDA division earlier this year provoked complaints from MessagePad aficionados and the platform's selection of software developers. However, loud though the grumbles were, no one sought recompense through the courts -- or, rather, no one backed up their asseverations with actions. Until now. Hardware vendor Harris is seeking legal redress for the $10 million and up it claims it lost by being forced to back out of a deal with Ameritech. Harris had been contracted to supply the US telco with machines based on the MessagePad 2000. Harris is seeking $17 million in damages, covering lost business and development costs. "Apple deprived Harris of the basic benefits Harris reasonably expected to receive from its dealings with Apple, and which Apple understood were being conferred on Harris," says the ten-page complaint. Apple interim CEO cancelled Newton development in February as part of his attempt to focus the company on its core competencies and reduce costs. At the time, the move generated much criticism since the division had at long last begun to offer products, specifically the eMate 300 education-oriented laptop and the MessagePad 2000, which delivered on the promises Apple originally made for the technology. Newton technology was originally intended for widespread licensing -- in addition to Harris, Sharp, Siemens, Schlumberger, Motorola and Digital Ocean and Sony also licensed the technology. Interestingly, the suit blames Apple's decision to distance itself from the Newton on the departure of erstwhile CEO John Sculley, who pioneered the technology, and the arrival of Steve Jobs, who ultimately cancelled it. Sculley, don't forget, oversaw Jobs' marginalisation at Apple, and it was widely claimed that nixing Newton was an act of petty revenge on Jobs' part, the logic being that if Newton was such a threat to Apple's revenue, either Michael Spindler or Gil Amelio, the two CEOs between Sculley and the returned Jobs, would have cancelled it already. Still, since so many of the so-called Jobs reforms were, in fact, initiated by his predecessor, it's entirely feasible that Amelio would also have de-emphasised Newton as part of his programme to cut back on the large number of technologies Apple was spending development dollars on. If that's the case, Amelio, who regards Jobs as the man responsible for his firing, as outlined in his book, On the firing line: my 500 days at Apple, will see the Jobs regime being stuck for $17 million as nothing more than poetic justice. Newton, of course, discovered gravity by having an Apple fall on his head, so perhaps its about time Newton banged Apple's cranium. ® Click for more stories
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IT company calls on EU to regularise VAT when the Euro dawns

VAT fraud in the UK has risen to an all time high, a distributor has told The Register. Alan Stanley, UK general manager of the French company, said yesterday that the UK had now overtaken other European countries for the most fraud. He said that HM Customs & Excise told him £300 million worth of business in the UK was lost through VAT fraud. That compared unfavourably with other countries, said Stanley. Last year France was number one in VAT fraud but the situation had changed. Criminals were using the different rates of VAT throughout the European Community to make illegal profits. He hoped that the arrival of the Euro at the beginning of next year would mean a rapid move to harmonised VAT rates. Two weeks ago, Stanley was offered Dane-Elec memory at a price below the price he had to pay his own factory, based in Galway. The UK, has a 17.5 per cent VAT rate, while the tax on memory in Ireland is eight per cent. ®
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Big Blue makes European channel u-turn look like fast oil tanker

IBM gave its European channel partners a bitter pill to swallow today when it told them it will sell its high-end NetFinity servers direct. The plan, which was already in place in the US, will now be implemented here in Europe, the partners are being told. The move marks the virtual end of IBM chairman Lou Gerstner's plan to sell through the channel. At a conference in San Diego three years ago, he produced an expensively produced business partners charter which pledged fidelity to its dealers and agents. However, things have changed, as previously reported here. IBM, throughout 1998, has taken steps to unify its entire server portfolio. The NetFinity family will, next year, include a number of enhancements to make it work with the Stealth RS family. And IBM has incentivised its sales force to sell not only the S/390 family, but AS/400s, RS machines, servers and even its ThinkPad notebooks. The business partners' arrival in Monaco, which is a pleasant place with usually fine weather, may not placate their anger at the move. ® Click for more stories
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Microsoft NT 5.0 for Merced could be 32/64-bit hybrid system

Microsoft has been having problems getting NT 5.0 out of the door, but once it has, it will have another hill to climb - getting to 64-bit. And it seems the company is planning a repeat of the Windows 95 experience by offering a hybrid 32/64-bit system. In the run-up to 95's launch, Microsoft billed the forthcoming OS as 32-bit, for good reason. At the time OS/2 was seen by the company as a serious threat, and there was a possibility that IBM could take advantage of the switchover from 3.11 to 95 (IBM? Well, just goes to show even Microsoft strategists can have a vivid imagination). In reality 95 turned out to be a sometimes uneasy mixture of 16-bit and 32-bit, with consequent disadvantages in terms of converging operating systems around the Win32 API. Speaking at a UK Hewlett-Packard function yesterday Microsoft UK exec Oliver Roll insisted that NT 5.0 would ship next summer (which is a slight advance on "second half," but maybe a tad optimistic), and also maintained that "we will have a derivative of NT.50 [for Merced] when Merced ships." Urged to get more specific about what this meant, Roll seemed not quite capable of blurting out the 64 word. Gartner research director Ed Thompson, who'd been doing an excellent job of blabbing out truths in a Gartnerish sort of way (the Microsofts and Intels may not like it, but they know they can't stop them), enlightened us - he figures a hybrid system. That would Microsoft to introduce 64-bit features without a ground-up rewrite, probably at some cost to the integrity of the operating system. As indeed was the case with 95. Taking this route would certainly make it a lot easier for Microsoft to get a 64-bit (-ish) product out of the door, but it's not necessarily going to be convincing. The Unix vendors are beavering away furiously on Merced 64-bit implementations, and they expect Microsoft's slowness in getting to a full 64-bit Merced NT to be a valuable sales aid for their products. Microsoft's hope, undoubtedly, is that it can go just far enough to avoid corporate customers defecting, and deliver the real thing a little further down the line. Which is what it's doing currently with NT 4.0 pending the shipment of NT 5.0. Thompson, who seems the sort of satirical cove we ought to talk to more often, also delivered a smart kick in the teeth to Microsoft. He (and of course, this is mighty Gartner talking here) still reckons NT's share of the cake will grow, and that Unix spending will start to decline next year, but he disputes the truth of the usual NT negative - scalability. "The question is not whether NT scales, but it's stability," he says. We had meant to end this piece on that backhanded compliment, but then we remembered something else Oliver said. "We develop software in seven year cycles," he told us, meaning that Microsoft's applications software was currently going through a serious refresh. But (abacus out), we seem to recall NT first popping its head out in around about the 1991 timeframe. Shoot - and it's not even stable yet... ® Click for more stories
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PC Chips snaffles stake in Elitegroup

The massive PC Chips Group is taking an undisclosed stake in Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) through its Taiwanese manufacturing subsidiary, Hsing Tech Enterprise. ECS in the UK said it had no knowledge of the investment, but reports from Taiwan suggest that loss-making ECS will make huge savings on joint component purchases, enough to move back into the black, and Hsing Tech will get a seat on the ECS board. ECS ranks as one of Taiwan’s top five PC manufacturers, but it generated huge losses from which it has yet to recover, when it bet the farm on manufacturing CD-ROMs, just before the bottom fell out of the market. PC Chips Group is the world’s biggest independent producer of motherboards with around a 10 per cent marketshare and the capability to produce over one million units per month. It operates in the UK through its Protac distributorship and a spokeswoman said the company will comment tomorrow on speculation about its relationship with ECS. ®
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Read-Rite or Red Wrong?

Read-Rite Corp made a fourth quarter loss as expected, but the beleaguered disk-drive manufacturer surprised the markets with a $29.5 million loss, smaller than anticipated. Analysts had forecast the loss at around 68 cents per a share, but the Milpitas, California manufacturer’s loss worked out at 61 cents a share, although revenues plummeted by 45% to $175.9 million from $318.2 million last time. For the year, Read-Rite saw last year’s $76.2 million profit fall to a $319.7 million loss, and revenues dropped 30% to $808.6 million, down from $1.16 billion. Read-Rite has rationalised and restructured throughout the year, and the company said conditions remain extremely challenging and that all manufacturers are suffering from a huge over-supply and deep price erosion. During the last quarter, Read-Rite has ramped up and shipped in volume MR heads to Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate and Western Digital for their 3.2Gb to 3.4Gb disk drive desktop programmes. ®
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Survey: price, not security bars consumer e-commerce

A new survey has confounded the assumption that security, or lack of it, is the biggest barrier to consumer acceptance of e-commerce. Defining the Internet Shopper: Attitudes, Objectives and Behaviour, a survey of some 55,000 online users conducted jointly by Jupiter Communications and NFO Interactive, found that many surfers who visited e-commerce sites (called 'non-shoppers') and those that didn't (dubbed 'browsers')were actually disuaded from making purchases because the prices weren't good enough. The study found that 35 per cent of the Net surfers had bought goods or services via the Web during the last year and were satisfied with the experience. According to the Jupiter/NFO data, over 77 per cent of browsers and 64 per cent of non-shoppers would buy goods and services online if they could make greater savings. Traditionally, concern over the safety of sending credit card details over the Net has been highlighted as the main reason why consumers are wary of e-commerce. Given we've known about the basic economic principle that buyers prefer to spend as little as possible for centuries, you'd have thought that it this would be obvious, but there you go. "Aggressive pricing on select items will get customers in the door, and is a crucial step to help win the next phase of the customer acquisition battle," said Evan Cohen, Jupiter's director of group research. But he warned: "Vendors shouldn't slash prices across the board, but strategic discounting will help [e-commerce] players to convert non-buyers into online purchasers." The survey also found that many consumers are using Web-sourced information to help them decided what to buy offline. According to the data, researching products and services was the third most popular online activity. At the same time, Internet usage remains the province of the middle classes and up. The survery found that 65 per cent of all domestic Net users live in households with incomes of $100,000 or more. ® Click for more stories