25th > November > 1998 Archive

The Register breaking news

Ziff shares soar – ZDNet IPO ahoy?

Shares in Japanese combine Softbank have risen sharply in Tokyo today, following substantial gains in the share price of its US subsidiary, Ziff-Davis, overnight. PC publisher and owner of ZDNet Ziff-Davis gained around 30 per cent, but had no comment on why. The company went public earlier this year at $17 a share, but more recently has seen stock down in the vicinity of $4.50. The latest gain takes it towards a rather more respectable $13. ZD had recently implemented various exercises in belt-tightening, its cash cows (which include PC Week and PC Magazine) apparently being insufficient to counteract losses from investment in new titles and new media. But in October it announced moves that pointed to taking its ZDNet Web operation public, and this may be connected with the mysterious stock rise. Register stock tip: Well, not exactly, our stock observation is simply to remind you that initial investors in ZD's IPO have not as yet done famously, and to point out that Web operations have some distance to go before they're gold mines. ® Complete Register trial coverage
B N Counter, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

'Buy AMD or NatSemi,' Microsoft exec told Gates

Microsoft OEM division senior VP Joachim Kempin seems to be a specialist in thinking the unthinkable, being a loose cannon, or both. Last week his radical recommendation that Microsoft move over to a rental model for its software became public (Click for story), and now it emerges that at the same time he was suggesting Microsoft buy NatSemi or AMD. Given the timing (December 1997, in a suggestion to Gates), our verdict on Kempin has to start tilting towards loose cannon. Microsoft was immersed in the Windows 95/Internet Explorer integration battle with the DoJ, and had for quite some time been taking a ‘heads down’ view of major acquisitions. The high tide came when the DoJ effectively warned it off from buying Intuit, and although the company slipped WebTV in afterwards, that didn’t necessarily look such a big deal at the time. A bid for a major x86 company, on the other hand, would certainly have drawn further unwelcome attention from the antitrust authorities. Kempin was making the suggestion in connection with the scheme to move over to an annual fee system for software sales. He saw an Intel entry into the operating software market as probably the most dangerous threat to the plan, as Intel could conceivably undercut Windows drastically (Kempin saw $50 a PC, no matter how low the PC price, as ‘no pasaran’ territory for Microsoft). This could screw-up the fee plan, but even if the fee plan didn’t go ahead immediately, it could slash Microsoft’s OEM revenues. So to counter this, Microsoft could buy a cloner, presumably tying clone x86 hardware and software closely together and slowly squeezing Intel out. This of course would have been a dangerous plan – maybe Microsoft undercutting Intel on hardware while Intel undercut Microsoft on software would have been absolutely great for the industry. Could Microsoft have gone ahead with such a plan? With hindsight, from this distance, it would have been suicidal. But in December 1997 Microsoft was (rightly) confident that it could overturn the DoJ injunction, and Bill Gates quite possibly thought defeat for the DoJ on integration would be the end of the matter. He and his lawyers had been taking a line by line, narrow legalistic approach to the consent decree that was being argued over, and as his deposition videos now are making clear, Gates did not take the DoJ seriously. If he thought that Microsoft would soon leave the whole antitrust thing behind and steer into clear blue water, then yes, maybe he could have gone for it. ®
John Lettice, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

PointCast finds strategic investor – at last

Troubled 'push' software developer PointCast said yesterday it is close to winning the support of an unnamed strategic investor as it strives to turn a profit. The company also said it is dropping the Mac from the list of platforms it supports. Push technology emerged two years ago as a solution to so-called 'information overload'. Push pioneers developed applications to send Web-based information to users desktops rather than force those users to actively seek out that information. However, push largely failed to break into the mainstream -- to work efficiently, push needs a pervasive Internet connection, and few non-business users have access to one -- forcing Push companies like PointCast, Marimba and BackWeb to focus more on corporate information systems, and even there have met with limited success. PointCast itself is now turning its focus back to the mainstream in an attempt to cash in on the high-profiile Internet portal business, through its EntryPoint site. PointCast has been seeking a capital injection for some time. One option was an IPO, but the company pulled out in the summer. Last year, it attempted to find an investor or buyer, but that too failed to generate positive results, most notably the collapse of buyout talks with News Corp. in a deal rumoured to have valued the company at $400 million. That said, PointCast's IPO filing valued it at $250 million. PointCast yesterday claimed that the soon-to-be-signed investor was just one of dozens of potential investors keen to boost the company's finances in exchange for a stake. News of PointCast's decision to drop the Mac came in a letter to the company's information providers. "We have found that we cannot devote the resources required to deliver a quality service, especially one that services a very small portion of our viewers," said the letter. The company claims only five per cent of its 600,000 customers are Mac-based. On 1 December, PointCast will cease to make the Mac version of its viewer software available for download, with Mac-specific broadcasts coming to a close by the end of the year. ®
Tony Smith, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Lucent buys Pario

Lucent has added Pario Software, a developer of security software to police remote access to IP networks, to its list of acquisitions. The terms of the deal have not been released, although a spokesman said it was in the region of several million dollars. Pario will become part of Lucent's remote access products group, which will integrate Pario's Java-based Port Authority software into its Radius Authentication Billing Manager. ®
Team Register, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Transarc APS to support Linux

IBM's Transarc subsidiary is embracing Linux -- it is lining up versions of its AFS client and server products based on the freeware Unix derivative. The company also said it is delaying the NT release of AFS 3.5, file management software designed to manage unstructured data, until February 1999, when it will release not only the Linux versions of the software but the already announced Digital Unix, Solaris, HP-UX, Irix and AIX releases. The Windows NT version was originally due any time now. Transarc said the decision to support Linux was based on customer requests -- 60 of them -- some large corporations. ®
Team Register, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

DoJ fights bid to strike Apple evidence

The DoJ has just filed its Opposition to Microsoft's 10 November Motion to strike the evidence of Apple VP Avie Tevanian. It argues that Tevanian has direct personal knowledge of the QuickTime/Windows incompatibilities and their nature, and was personally involved in efforts to fix the problems. Microsoft had contended that Tevanian had insufficient knowledge to support his assertion that Microsoft had sabotaged QuickTime. Microsoft had produced in court a document previously unseen by Tevanian and asked him to interpret it. But it turned out this was a trap. The document was downloaded from Netscape's Web site, and is complex and incomplete, consisting of 5 out of 11 pages of chapter 2 of some unspecified document about developing plug-ins. The DoJ says that Microsoft tried to ambush Tevanian by asking for an instant assessment of the document. Tevanian was not prepared to answer questions on the document, so Microsoft claimed that he "insulated himself from meaningful cross-examination". The problems Apple experienced resulted in "incorrect and misleading error messages" when QuickTime was invoked. The messages suggested users reconfigure their systems because of a supposed error in their media file associations, when there was in fact no such error. Tevanian felt that such messages were unlikely to have appeared accidentally, and therefore inferred that Microsoft intended there to be a problem for Apple. The deviousness is that Microsoft had two explanations for Apple's problems. One was that Apple had not followed Netscape's plug-in instructions (false), and the other was that an ActiveX control was absent. It is almost certainly significant that Microsoft's response to Apple was delayed by "a newly developed legal complication" in August 1998. A 21 July 1998 email from Schaaff to Microsoft sets out the problem and notes that Microsoft's software uses "information from the Windows Registry to determine what MIME types get routed to which places.. as you know, the Windows registry is not publicly documented..." which results in "third party developers, like Apple, getting hurt." The DoJ has not made an issue of undocumented calls in Microsoft software, which is an oversight since no remedy against Microsoft would be adequate without forced disclosure of such information. The DoJ disclosed emails between Apple and Microsoft in its opposition. Tim Schaaff, Apple's lead on QuickTime (who had been "subjected to a vigorous and lengthy deposition by Microsoft") pointed out to Microsoft in email that MIDI and MPEG formats were not Microsoft formats, as Microsoft had been claiming, but industry standards. He also noted that although IE preferred ActiveX controls, "it didn't use to" and Schaaff "would at least have expected [Microsoft] to maintain good compatibility with the existing, widely adopted standards, such as the Netscape Plug-in API. Besides, ActiveX is only supported on Windows and only with Internet Explorer. That's a bit narrow, don't you think? Microsoft repeatedly pressured Apple to abandon QuickTime for Windows, and Microsoft's Don Bradford relayed a message that Gates "wanted Apple to abandon the playback segment of its multimedia business on Windows". Meanwhile QuickTime continued to work with Navigator. A Microsoft internal document filed with the Opposition by the DoJ shows that Microsoft corrected problems between MOV and QuickTime, but admitted that Microsoft "does not really want to enable [Apple] to do this to the file types that [Microsoft] owns". Another document entitled "QuickTime/DirectX convergence proposal" evidently was the basis for a meeting on 15 June 1998 between Tevanian (with Steve Jobs present) and Microsoft at which Microsoft proposed that Apple should abandon of QuickTime for Windows. It notes that Microsoft would announce "Adoption of MOV as the Windows file format" and "Adoption of [QuickTime] Authoring services". Eric Engstrom, the Microsoft executive in charge of Microsoft's multimedia work, is scheduled to give evidence for Microsoft, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say when he is cross-examined. ® Complete Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Novell Q4 figures top Wall Street expectations

Novell has announced Q4 profits of $42 million on revenues of $298 million. The profit translates to a 12c per share, 30 per cent up on the 9c a share Wall Street had anticipated. In the previous quarter, it recorded profits of $26.5 million on sales of $272 million. For the full fiscal year, Novell made $102 million (29c per share) on revenues of $1.08 billion. That contrasts with the loss of $78 million on sales of $1 billion recorded for fiscal 1997. During the quarter, revenue from directory-enabled servers, consisting of NetWare 4 and 5, reached $150 million, a 16 per cent increase on the Q4 1997 figure. Network infrastructure and application software accounted for $83 million, an increase of 30 per cent on the year-ago quarter. Directory-enabled applications, including ZENworks, ManageWise and GroupWise, represented 65 per cent of that revenue ($54 million), itself an increase of 49 per cent on Q4 1997. In terms of territories, US revenue totalled $179 million (up 23 per cent), EMEA $81 million (up nine per cent) and Asia Pacific $21 million (down 39 per cent). Canada and South America together accounted for revenues of $17 million (up nine per cent). "Our strategy is clearly working," said CEO Eric Scmidt. "Initial customer response to NetWare 5 and new Novell partnerships demonstrate that the market increasingly recognises that the directory is vital to managing information in an Internet world." That refers to the company's recent high-profile signings of supporters for its Novell Directory Services (NDS) technology, including Nortel, Lucent and, most recently, Cisco (see Cisco to add NDS support to CiscoAssure). ®
Tony Smith, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Government e-commerce bill draws praise and fire

The British government's crusade to get rid of hereditary peers, and the appearance of Jamie Lee Curtis in the Lords may have grabbed the headlines, but this does not diminish the importance of the proposed Electronic Commerce Bill outlined in yesterday's Queen's Speech. For some people in the industry it's enough that the government has finally recognised the importance of e-commerce. For others, the bill is a botched attempt to serve two masters. One the one hand, the bill sets out to legalise electronic signatures and encryption in an attempt to boost confidence in the Net. If the government is right, then this should help stimulate e-commerce not just between businesses, but also bring in individual consumers. "We are delighted that legislation will be introduced to promote electronic commerce," said Roger Till, director of e centre uk, an organisation which promotes e-commerce in Britain. "Widespread use of e-commerce depends on users having trust and confidence in the whole activity. This legislation, which will be a key to developing that trust, is needed now," he said. But there is a catch, and civil liberties groups have been quick to highlight the bill's get-out clause as yet another example of a government fudge. For although encryption will ensure greater security, this can be overrided if the police and security services obtain a warrant to intercept and decode electronic communications. It's like handing over your credit card PIN number, said one critic of the measure. At the ISP end of the business, David Furniss, sales and marketing director Demon, is lukewarm about the proposals. "In broad terms they're OK," he said, "but the government needs to make sure it gets the detail sorted out. "Some of the proposals are simplistic so I just hope that the government works with service providers to get this legislation right." But the government maintains that this is the way forward. In a written statement earlier this year that has form the basis of the bill, Barbara Roche outlined the government's policy and in particular, defended the right to intercept and decode e-mail. During 1996 and 1997, the lawful interception of communications lead to the seizure of nearly three tonnes of Class A drugs, and 112 tonnes of other drugs, with the combined street value of £600 million, she wrote. A white paper will be published next month and the bill is expected to be debated in the spring. The bill, which sets out a legal framework for e-commerce, is expected to become law in the summer. ® The Electronic Commerce Bill: key points
Tim Richardson, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Hack steals Toshiba giveaway

Toshiba's laptops proved to be more portable than most last night. A top-of-the-range Tecra 8000 DVD was stolen from a press function, allegedly by a computer journalist. The laptop, worth around £3,000, vanished around 11.30pm, Toshiba's press office revealed. Three notebooks were on display for journalists to peruse, with the Tecra 8000 offered as the top prize on the roulette table. But as the beers were downed, some crafty journo tea leaf is believed to have slipped the machine past the two bouncers at The Saint Bar near Leicester Square, in Central London. Fellow gamblers were duped and sent home empty- handed. ®
Linda Harrison, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Journalist dies of septic shock – Comdex press food suspected

A Californian computer journalist died on Monday of septic shock after a week at Comdex in Las Vegas, reports the San Jose Mercury. He was admitted to Las Vegas' Desert Springs Hospital on Friday suffering from nausea, diarrhoea, dehydration and high fever. According to the Mercury, the journalist, 68 year old Gerald Hewitt, is suspected of having been given food poisoning at a Comdex press lunch. A colleague, 67 year old Lee Peters, also attended the lunch and has been admitted to a California hospital with a similar condition. The two visited the show with another colleague, 57 year old Judy Rogow, staying in the Gold Strike Casino 25 miles from Las Vegas. She is reported to have had a stomach upset. ®
John Lettice, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

AOL Netscape deal questions open source commitment

AOL's acquisition of Netscape has thrown the latter's commitment to open source software into doubt and could provoke a battle royal over just who owns its browser technology. Back in January, Netscape finally conceded that, with Microsoft shipping Internet Explorer free of charge, it would have to do the same for Communicator. It also made the cunning move of announcing it would release the source code of Communicator 5. The plan allowed users free access to the code and the right to tinker with it, provided any modifications, amendments and new features were submitted back to Netscape's open source admin team, collectively known as Mozilla, for verification and incorporation in the next release of the source alongside the work of Netscape's own coders. It's the way Linux is now developed, and so Netscape was able to win even more anti-Great Satan of Software kudos than it had already. That was then. Now, AOL technically owns the Communicator source code -- or, rather, it will do once shareholders and regulators have given the deal the go-ahead -- and may prove rather less keen on open source than Netscape. For the moment, Mozilla-ites reckon they're safe -- as one member, Jamie Zawinski, wrote on the group's Web site: "What if AOL hates open source? The Mozilla code is out there, and it cannot be recalled. It has been distributed under an open source licence, and nobody can ever take that away from you." True, but the "open source licence" only appears to refer to Communicator Standard Edition 5.0 -- there's arguably nothing (but Open Sourcers' opprobrium) to stop AOL pulling version 6.0 (Navigator 2000, anyone?) back into the fold. Of course, open work on 5.0 could continue, but it's hard to see it retaining widespread support once it's been superseded by a probably more advanced version. Given AOL clearly has its eyes on wider markets than PC-based Web browsing (see Netscape deal founds Sun-backed 'AOL Everywhere' scheme), it's highly likely AOL will want full control of the software that's likely to form a large part of the interface to the new devices that plan is founded upon. At the press conference, Sun and AOL said they will both develop the next generation of Navigator and Communicator clients, which suggests that it will, at least initially, be pulled out of the open source arena. Of course, in the PC space, AOL has its own interface, which can easily be reconfigured to use Navigator instead of IE whether Navigator 5.0 is open source or not. And it could continue with its wider plans and still allow Communicator to continue as open source. But given AOL has always used proprietary software, that too doesn't bode will for the open future of Netscape browser technology either. "mozilla.org is not Netscape. And it is not now, nor will it ever be, AOL," says Zawinski. True, but you really can't that about the software it's based on. ®
Tony Smith, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Corel to standardise Linux machines on KDE GUI

Corel is adopting the K Desktop Environment (KDE) GUI for its NetWinder Linux thin client and thin server machines. The company said today it would participate in the KDE Project, and that NetWinders running KDE would be available next year. Corel already offers a Red Hat-based version of Linux on NetWinders, and recently said it would move over to standard Red Hat. Its latest move will increase KDE's ability to establish itself as a GUI standard for Linux - the lack of one of these is frequently viewed as one of the larger roadblocks in the way of wider acceptance of the open source OS. "This collaboration and the port to the NetWinder gives us an opportunity to deliver our free desktop to even more users," said Uwe Thiem, African region representative of the KDE team. "We are confident KDE will gain widespread acceptance of users because of its outstanding functionality and ease of use." ®
John Lettice, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Permafrost for Microsoft Permatemps

Microsoft US is to tighten temp hiring procedures, following a court ruling that so-called "permatemps" are employees in all but name and entitled to full-time benefits. The company is attempting to close the loophole, by lengthening its forced employee lay-off policy and expanding the categories of workers affected. It is to increase the "break-in-service" for US contract staff, working with the company for 12 months or more, from 31 days to 90 days. The new policy comes into force in July, 1999, according to the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. Uncle Bill's company assures us the mandatory breaks are there to reduce its dependence on long-term assignments and to address "morale" issues. The Seattle-based company hires more than 6,000 worker from employment agencies. Nearly half the "temps" have worked at Microsoft for over a year, according to a survey by Microsoft's Contingent Staffing Group (CSG,) conducted in March. These so-called "permatemps" receive none of the share options or other perks of permanent staff. Converting several thousand permatemps to full time employees would hit the company's revenue-per-employee ratio, which could in turn affect the company's stock price. ®
Linda Harrison, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Shepheard leaves Gateway flock

John Shepheard has resigned from Gateway, following the appointment of a senior VP at the vendor. Shepheard, director of sales for Gateway Europe, Middle East and Africa, left last week after four years at the vendor. The company stressed the appointment of Todd Bradley to senior VP of Gateway EMEA and Shepheard's departure were unrelated. It added that Shepheard wanted to leave the company's HQ in Ireland to return to his family in England. He has been replaced by Star King, head of sales at Gateway EMEA. Bradley took over the role at Gateway on 1 September.®
Linda Harrison, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

BT buys 50 per cent share in Excite UK

BT's decision to buy a half share in the UK arm of Web portal Excite is a clear signal that the Internet is to form a major part of BT's future strategy. The $10 million investment was announced today amid speculation that it is the first time such an active and close relationship has been forged between an UK company and a major US portal. Not only will the agreement bolster BT's presence in Internet advertising and transactions, it also opens up Excite's market to the telecoms giant. "Taking a 50 per cent share in Excite UK demonstrates BT's commitment to the Internet industry and underlines our ambition to help grow the market and further improve our position within it," said BT spokesman John Swingewood. "BT has been very successful in offering Internet access services and Excite UK further extends our reach into the important advertising and transactional sectors," he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 25 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Aureal takes 3D API battle to Europe

Aureal has opened a new European battlefront in the 3D sound chip war against Creative Labs. The 3D sound chip developer is gunning for the games developer community to take on its 3D API and has appointed a local sales repper to spread the gospel in Northern Europe. Roy Taylor and John Byrne, owners of VML Europe, have set up a 3DSL, a new company that will concentrate solely on selling and marketing Aureal products in UK, Ireland, Scandinavian and French territories. Roy Taylor, joint MD of VML, said; " We are excited about this new business -- Aureal has huge technology and we're going to help it get huge business in Europe." 3DSL will promote Aureal and A 3D, its 3D sound API, into the 700-strong UK games developer company sector. The company will also handle sales relationships with European sound card manufacturers. Aureal is engaged in a battle of hearts and minds for games developers with Creative Labs, which is touting the rival E AX 3D sound API. The two companies are locking antlers in the courts, with Creative Labs accusing Aureal of patent infringement.®
Drew Cullen, 25 Nov 1998