2nd > November > 1998 Archive
Japanese wire Nikkei Net reported over the weekend that Sony has made a breakthrough in producing the largest MR (magnetic resistance) heads for hard drives in the world. According to the reports, it has already delivered samples of 4Gb heads to hard drive firms, suggesting that it is close to producing the units in volume. If Sony succeeds in gaining market acceptance (customers, in other words) for the products, it could give the IBM storage division a run for its money. Last week, Quantum and MKE announced they would shut down a joint venture to produce heads in the US. ® Click for more storage Click for story index
Reports said that DRAM majors NEC and Toshiba have decided to move from producing 64Mbit to 128Mbit parts earlier than expected because of unprecedented demand for notebook PCs. They will shift production of the memory chips, which are more profitable, towards the end of next year rather than the year 2000, according to the reports. While desktop PCs are showing only a moderate rise in sales, the lucrative notebook market gives the companies the opportunity to sell higher value, higher margin parts. Earlier this year, a senior analyst at monitor research company Meko, said that notebook demand for LCDs was likely to sustain the market through most of this year and 1999. ®
The beleaguered island of Singapore got a boost late last week from 3Com, which has decided to invest $70 million in a manufacturing plant. The factory will be located in Changi industrial park and will make network interface cards (NICs), USR modems, hubs and other products in 3Com's range. The site will also include a customer administration office and a logistics centre for the Pacific Rim, said 3Com. According to senior 3Com VP Doug Spreng: "Asia offers exciting opportunies. We are determined to make a long term commitment in this region." That is good news for Singapore, considering the number of chip and hard drive companies which have shut shop on the island during the course of this year. ® Click for more stories Click for story index
ST Microelectronics (ST) said today that it has teamed up with Microsoft and will support the CE operating system on its single-chip STPC family. ST said that it will work with Microsoft to develop CE for the STPC family and ensure that software development kits work on the platform. The move is a further development in ST's bid to capture the so-called "embedded on a chip market". Last week, it said it would be able to produce devices at less than $100 (See ST claims sub-$100 chip breakthrough). The chips use a 486 core, which was originally developed and licensed to ST by Cyrix. ST, under its former name of SGS Thomson, was, with IBM electronics, a wafer fabricating partner with Cyrix. But last week, Graham Jackson, European programme director at NatSemi-Cyrix, said that he believed that the low power devices ST is touting will not offer enough PC functionality for most people. Such devices could, however, form the basis of Net TVs and the like. ® Click for more stories
This just in from leading US satirical Webzine, The Onion...
The thorny question of whether Philips will now bite the bullet and shut down its CRT monitor operations has re-emerged after Cor Boonstra, the company's president, said it will shut down a third of its factories worldwide. Reports that it was exiting the CRT monitor business, quickly denied by Philips, were first published in The Register last June, at the Computex show in Taiwan.
Diamond Multimedia and four other digital audio specialists have joined forces to oppose the music industry's stance on the MP3 digital audio standard. Operating under as the MP3 Association, Diamond, plus online music publishers GoodNoise, MP3.com and MusicMatch, and hardware vendor Xing Technologies, will promote the MPEG-based MP3 as the standard for downloadable digital music. They will also pool their legal resources to fight challenges from the recording industry, such as the battle Diamond is currently waging with the Recording Industry Association of America (see Diamond wins right to ship Rio music player). The MP3 Association claims it was being developed "weeks" before the Diamond/RIAA case emerged. The MP3 Association will also lobby the US government. "The goal is to get with the right influence in Washington to make sure they understand alternative business models for delivering digital audio," said Hassan Miah, Xing's president and CEO. "We are trying to get legislators to understand that MP3 is a legitimate digital business model of the future." The Association's goal won't be achieved easily. What makes MP3 attractive to the Association's members is exactly what makes the format so popular with music pirates and what the music industry hates about it: it's free. "The music industry is shit-scared of the Internet," a Sony Music executive recently told The Register, and it's not hard to see why. The prospect of bypassing all the 'value-add' -- CD production, decent artwork, lyric-filled sleeves -- plus the businesses' colossal margins worries them something rotten. The industry has always had the jitters over Internet-based music technologies, but at least the likes of Liquid Audio, Dolby's AC3 and Real to some extent are tied into systems for making royalty payments -- the industry does like to hide its own hunger for profit behind claims that it's protecting artists' revenue. The point is, these formats are all nicely proprietary -- the industry can form alliances with their developers in the knowledge that they're not going to make it easy for shareware authors to knock up cheap encoders and decoders in the way that MP3, being an open standard, allows them to. Sure, Liquid Audio is to all intents and purposes a Microsoft thing, and the music business really doesn't want to end up the latest Bill Gates plaything, but that doesn't matter too much these days because there are now alternatives. MP3 is another matter, as the RIAA's legal moves against Diamond proved. While sites like MP3.com, GoodNoise and MusicMatch pay their artists royalties, there are still millions of illegal MP3 versions of copyright tracks available on the Net ready to be downloaded to Rio, ready because MP3 makes illegal reproduction and, more important, mass distribution so easy. The MP3 Association likes MP3 because, of course, it means it doesn't have to pay huge royalties to Dolby. Diamond may try and work some kind of arse-covering deal with its MP3 Association chums whereby Rio will only play files downloaded and, more importantly, paid for through MP3.com and co. But while the music business might be keen on the idea, perhaps suggesting it in return for removing the legal threat (it's an easy way to modify Rio to make it compliant with US copyright law but without making it appear that Diamond has caved in to the industry), it does kind of defeat the idea of having a open standard-based player, at least until legal copies become rather more widespread. ® Click for more stories Click for story index
Rumblings from Europe indicate that the Commission is growing restive over the Microsoft case, feeling that it has not been sufficiently consulted over European companies that may have been harmed by the 'Beast of Redmond'. Commissioner Karel Van Miert has openly indicated that any competition law complaint about Microsoft's business practices in Europe would be investigated. This may already be happening -- it has been reported that Microsoft Europe has issued an instruction to European OEMs and distributors that every PC shipped must contain a version of Windows, or the Windows licence for any PC would be withdrawn. If true, this would contravene the 1994 European settlement terms, which were essentially identical to the US consent decree and which prohibit per processor licensing of Windows. Clearly Microsoft's concern is that distributors may start shipping PCs with Linux or even no operating system at all. It is likely that Microsoft would find itself in a tough position in Europe if it tried to reintroduce per processor licensing, since in many ways the EU has tougher powers and remedies available than the US. For example, rather than trust the defendant to produce documents in response to CID (civil investigative demand), the EU can carry out dawn raids in any EU member state to seek documents before there is an opportunity to destroy them. So far as remedies are concerned, a company can be fined ten per cent of its worldwide revenue. Van Miert met DoJ head of antitrust Joel Klein and FTC chairman Robert Pitovsky for breakfast in Washington last week and it is believed that their discussion dwelt on an additional action in Europe, which may depend on the outcome in the present case. In Philadelphia, Van Miert said that there was no need to cover the same ground as the DoJ. He also pointed to two post-1994 cases that DGIV had handled. The first was a licensing dispute between the Santa Cruz Operation (in which, ironically, Microsoft is a shareholder), and the second, which is currently being wrapped up, concerns contracts between Microsoft and ISPs. ® Complete Register trial coverage Click for more stories Click for story index
Aztech said it had introduced a high performance graphics card using the S3 Savage 3D technology. The product, the VGS3D, comes with 8Mb of memory, a 250MHz Ramdac with gamma correction, and offers 24-bit z buffering, 128-bit dual rendering pipelining, and special effects including anti-aliasing, reflection, and atmosphere effects. Resolutions of up to 1600 x 1200 pixels are supported as well as Open GL, Direct3D and DirectX 5. Platforms supported include Win95/98, Windows NT 4 and Windows NT 5. The card comes in two configurations, one has a TV output. No pricing details were supplied. ® Click here for more stories
Buying a custom-built PC just got easier, according to PC World, after it launched an in-store system that enables shoppers to choose the exact configuration of their machines. Aimed at second-time buyers and those with enough confidence to decide between the 864 different permutations of machines and monitors available, the service is the first time such a system has been made available to high street shoppers in the UK, PC World claims. Once ordered, using an Internet-style graphical interface, custom-designed PCs are delivered to people’s doorsteps within ten working days. Launched today, Advent Configurator applies only to PC World’s own brand of Advent PCs and is available at six stores in Becton, Staples Corner, Slough, Enfield, Brentford and Harlow. The configure to order service will be available in all 56 PC World stores throughout the country from 16 November. As well as specifying which processor, memory and hard disk they want, shoppers can also choose which CD-ROM, graphics card, sound card, speakers, monitor size and software bundle they want. And for anyone worried about designing their PC spec, PC World says that help is on hand for those muddled by the maze of choice available. The move is seen as an attempt by PC World to compete more effectively with companies such as Dell and Gateway, which offer similar build-your-own services over the phone and the Internet. PC World says the configure to order service will enable it to supply high spec PCs at "direct factory prices". In recent months PC World parent company Dixons Store Group has come under fire in the UK press for charging high prices for both PCs and service warranties. ® Click for more stories Click for story index
Recording DVDs could soon become a consumer PC technology, thanks to a new chip from C-Cube, DVxplore. The chip can encode video from analog or digital camcorders in MPEG 2 format -- the standard DVD encoding technology -- and save it on a PC's hard disk, a CD-R or DVD-RAM disk. According to C-Cube, it also allows the encoded material to be edited in real time. The company anticipates the DVxplore will appear initially in third-party add-in cards, priced at around $299. The chip itself costs $75, in volume. Of course, reasonably priced DVD-RAM drives will have to emerge first. Panasonic's latest drive, one of the first to produce disks that can be read by DVD-ROM units, costs $599, so there's still some way to go yet before manufacturers of low-cost PCs begin bundling them, or user start buying external units. ® Click for more stories Click for story index
Israeli newspaper Globes has reported that IBM Microelectronics has won a deal from 3Com to produce fast communications chips for the networking company. The deal is worth $10 million. The newspaper said that the new chips will appear next year and is codenamed Pacific. The chips will be used in 3Com switches and will be able to handle a large number of the different protocols currently available. The semiconductors will be designed at 3Com's Herzliya R&D centre and will be fabbed out by Big Blue. ® Click for more stories Click for story index
Basilica, the St. Albans, Herts-based corporate reseller, has backpedalled on its claims that critical press reports are responsible for putting off companies from investing in thin-client solutions. But Nick Gorringe, R&D manager at Basilica, did admit that customers are being put off by Microsoft and Citrix licensing arrangements. "Once you start going through the model and explaining the licensing costs their mouths drop open," he explained. "All they see is that they have to splash out on the licences up front and we have to try and convince them to look at the longer term." From Gorringe’s admission it appears that the so-called scare stories currently doing the rounds are merely a reflection of the situation rather than the cause of the problem. "I don’t know of anybody yet who has bottled out simply because of critical press reports," he said, "but I would say that some customers may be revising their strategies." ® Click for more stories Click for story index
General Magic has formally ended its affair with the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) concept it helped to pioneer by divesting itself of its handheld computer division. The division will become a quasi-independent company called DataRover Mobile Systems (DMS) after its main product, the DataRover 840, a data-acquisition device. DMS will continue to focus exclusively on vertical markets, said CEO Steve Schramm. The DataRover itself is based on General Magic's Magic Cap 3.1 PDA-oriented OS. General Magic will retain a 49 per cent share of DMS into which it is contributing $3.4 million and "technology". It's not yet clear whether that means DMS is taking Magic Cap away with it. Certainly, the OS doesn't appear to play a major role in Portico, the product General Magic will now focus on exclusively. Portico, which went live in July, provides a single cellphone access point for email, voicemail, Internet-sourced information and faxes, all of which are read out to the caller. PIM functions like address books and agendas are also provided the same way. Portico-based services are currently being tested by several large US telcos, including AT&T, Cellular One Bell Atlantic Mobile and BellSouth Cellular. Schramm said the reason for the split was the clear lack of synergy between the DataRover and Portico operations. "They're going after horizontal markets; we're going vertical," he said. "We decided that my business was self-contained -- no conflict, no confusion." ® Click for more stories Click for story index
IBM ThinkPads are at a premium and cost quite a lot (certainly we paid quite a lot for the ones we bought). But Big Blue has now instituted a scheme where people aged over the age of 75 get one free. There's a snag. You have to be blasted into space and be an ex-astronaut...won't sell many that way, will they? On the other hand, an insider close to IBM said that the scheme whereby journalist got freebies that they had to pay for was the first rev of its GoDirect™ scheme...
Giant PC player Compaq-Digital has introduced a range of dual speed Ethernet switches aimed at terrifying its networking opponents, it said today. The products come from the joint venture it has with Cabletron Systems which it signed earlier this year in a bid to beef up its product offerings. Cabletron bought a chunk of Digital's networking business before Compaq bought DEC. A joint venture was only possible when CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer had set his mind on Digital. But that no longer applies… The SW3300 range is a set of high performance products aimed at the corporate enterprise, said Compaq. But Compaq has also introduced a three layer 10/100/1000 Cabletron speech which is a different type of beast altogether. The SW3322 and SW3323 are priced at £1,615 and £2,230 respectively, and the SW5450 is priced at £9,070. All three switches are covered by a three-year limited warranty and are available immediately. That has prompted speculation in the industry that Cabletron is a target of Compaq's acquisitive feeding frenzy. ® Click here for more speculation
Intel's first true 'thin server appliance' is to ship on 25 November at a street price of $699. With its thin server strategy, announced in September (Earlier story), the company intends to embed cheap, single purpose devices in networks, automating small businesses simply. The new InBusiness eMail Station is aimed at businesses with less than 50 employees, and is a paperback book sized plug-in device with a 486 CPU, and running WindRiver's VXWorks embedded operating system. According to Intel it takes 20 minutes to install, and can be used by small businesses to engage one primary ISP account for all the employees in the business. At the moment, says Intel, 80 per cent of small businesses run individual email accounts for their employees, so the eMail Station is intended to offer them a simple mail server in a box, downloading all mail then passing it on to individuals. It also includes remote dial-in access as standard. The choice of WindRiver and the price bracket are both ominous for Intel's erstwhile partner Microsoft. In defining thin server appliances, Intel specified that they should be single task devices with no functionality in excess of what was needed. They should have task-specific operating systems, and they shouldn't involve expensive per seat licensing fees. None of these requirements is fulfilled by a current Microsoft operating system. But the eMail Station, and no doubt other forthcoming devices in the range, poses a direct challenge to Microsoft's efforts to sell NT into the small business sector. Microsoft has been experiencing some cost- and complexity-linked consumer resistance here, and the new challenge from Intel could hurt. ® Click for more stories
IBM and Sun have admitted that widespread acceptance of NCs among corporates is no longer on the cards -- assuming it ever was -- and are realigning their strategies accordingly, claimed PC Week US. The premise is that many of the two vendors' big league corporate customers are themselves re-evaluating their IT strategies, either limiting the roll-out of NCs or phasing them out of their plans altogether. "Three short years ago we were desktop-focused. The perception that Java clients would take over the desktop was naive. NCs are betterin single-purpose environments like airline and hotel reservations," admitted Sun's JavaSoft division group product manager, Gina Centoni. "We've reset our business objectives to what the reality of the market is," said IBM US' director of channels and marketing said. He added the company will now focus on niche markets such as retail, manufacturing, and travel and transportation. Of course, that 'reality' is largely what analysts and industry observers have been saying for some time: that the NC is currently more suited to niche applications, such as data entry and information presentation, than as a mainstream general-purpose computing platform, ie. as a PC substitute. ® See also Fat prices for thin clients deter corporates Click for more stories Click for story index
Yesterday's boycott of the Internet by users in Germany may well have had its desired effect -- before it even took place. A Frankfurt-based Internet club called Dark Breed had been calling for fellow German users to avoid using the Internet on 31 October for the last five weeks. The group's complaint was that the German telecoms monopoly, Deutsche Telekom, was charging far too much for dial-up Internet access. The boycott was designed to make a small but clear dent in DK's revenue. In the event, DK announced days before the boycott that it intends to bring in new, cheaper tarriffs for phone calls, in turn making dial-up Internet access less expensive. DK would not say whether its moves were a result of the threatened boycott -- presumably it's waiting to see how wide the boycott really was. It's not hard to imagine a pair of press releases sitting on the DK public relations manager's desk, one claiming the company magnanimously responded to widespread public demand, the other highlighting price cuts on the basis of the general downward trend of call costs because DK is a lovable kind of company. Certainly, a spokesman for the telco said the company's prices were in line with many other countries' phone operators and that they would continue to shrink. He even admitted the considerable disparity between German and US phone and Internet charges which provoked the protest in the first place. Dark Breed claimed they received over 12,000 emails pledging support for the widely-publicised boycott. However, the figure represents only a small percentage of Germany's online population. The group's plan followed a similar scheme by Spanish Internet users which led that country's monopoly Telco, Telefonica, to pledge to reduce call charges. In Switzerland, Internet users are also believed to be organising their own protest. ® Click for more stories Click for story index
Last year, Steve Jobs announced -- to a background of boos from loyalists -- Apple's alliance with Microsoft. This week Apple senior VP of software engineering Avie Tevanian testifies that the 'alliance' was a lie, a deal struck at gunpoint to Apple's severe disadvantage. So what's the real story? The course of today's examination of Tevanian is predictable, and the scope for Microsoft accusations of it being hearsay, out of context and rumour are considerable. But Tevanian and his testimony are both special cases. He's been with Jobs for his entire non-academic working life, and can be presumed not to be crossing his master. And while it's possible to think of his testimony as just a list of grievances, if you try to view it as a forensic examination of how the Microsoft machine operates against competition, it's dynamite. Tevanian's case centres on QuickTime, and on Microsoft's efforts to snuff it out as a standard for Windows. These, so far, seem to have been successful. They also tie in with the apparent main event, Microsoft's determination to make Internet Explorer the default browser on the Mac, and from there lead on to how the machine works in general, because it's all of a piece. QuickTime is Apple's multimedia playback system, and according to Tevanian, the company's objective in developing it was to enable multimedia content to be "created and played back on virtually any computer system". QuickTime is frequently viewed -- particularly in the Windows market -- as being just an alternative to Microsoft's media player, but the distinction is significant; if QuickTime were to succeed as an open multimedia platform, and if it were to be combined with an open browser, Microsoft's supremacy would be challenged -- you could play multimedia stuff on anything. QuickTime is intended to use simple HTTP for file transmission, so any server on the Web can transmit QuickTime files without needing extra and/or proprietary software. It also has a fully documented API, so can be extended by developers without Apple's knowledge or permission. Now contrast this with the approach Microsoft uses. Says Tevanian: "Microsoft's multimedia products must use Microsoft's proprietary and undocumented communication protocols for streaming." Microsoft gives its players away for free, but playback is dependent on the server running Microsoft NetShow on a Microsoft operating system. Because Microsoft has the numbers at the client end, it can leverage the standards at the server, and it can exclude competition. "Because Microsoft does not divulge those proprietary protocols," says Tevanian, "Apple's QuickTime movie player... cannot be configured to view a NetShow movie. "With Microsoft's multimedia products, one cannot use a Web server from one of Microsoft's competitors, such as Apache, Netscape or Sun, for streaming with Microsoft products; it is necessary to have a Microsoft NetShow server running on Microsoft's Windows NT operating system." Tevanian's allegations of how Microsoft set out to drive Apple out of the multimedia market have already been reported here (see Microsoft sabotaged QuickTime, says Apple exec), but we should note that the sections of his testimony reported above are clear, established fact, not hearsay. It is a fact that multimedia playback in the gospel according to Microsoft requires Microsoft server software and a base NT operating system, it is a fact that the protocols are proprietary to Microsoft, and it is a fact that NetShow movies won't run on other companies' software. These are not allegations -- they are a description of a process. Microsoft defines the standards, deciding which standards it's going to define, and once it has defined them, tells the existing competitors that their business is part of the operating system, so they should get out, or be driven out. Microsoft is now arguing that the problems Apple encountered in getting QuickTime to run with Microsoft software can all be laid at Apple's door, because Apple's programmers weren't good enough to hack it. But as Tevanian points out, Microsoft had decided playback was part of the OS, and that in order to hack it Apple would have to abandon its own open standard and embrace Microsoft's proprietary DirectX one, at least as far as Windows was concerned. In this light, whether or not Apple's programmers were any good isn't terribly relevant -- Apple was being forced by the processinto a position where it had to abandon its own work and start from ground zero with 'standards' that Microsoft had defined for the rest of the world. Tevanian lists threats from Microsoft, and customers for QuickTime (including Compaq) who appear to have abandoned it through fear of Microsoft rather than for technical reasons. And last year Apple was in trouble, so it gave in. In exchange for continued development of Microsoft Office for the Mac and a small investment, Apple made IE the default browser for the Mac, and settled all intellectual property disputes with Microsoft. These included the small matter of the appearance of Apple-owned code in Microsoft's Media Player. Apple also made a quite astonishing concession -- in addition to making IE the default browser on the Mac, it gave Microsoft the right to develop the default browser for any new Apple operating system produced in the following five years. This may not be terribly relevant, however, as Tevanian also blames Microsoft's lock on the market for killing off the next generation operating system, Rhapsody. Apple didn't actually say it was dead when it refocused its OS strategy earlier this year, but Tevanian's testimony makes it clear that it is. Effectively, Apple chained itself to the Microsoft proprietary view of the world and drastically limited its ability to break out again into the 'open' approach. But that was last year. Apple is stronger now, and Tevanian's testimony pulls no punches. So is he on a mission from Jobs to break the company's fetters? ® Complete Register trial coverage Click for more stories Click for story index