30th > November > 1998 Archive

The Register breaking news

GEC and Alcatel plan £30 billion merger

The UK's General Electric Company (GEC) and France's Alcatel are considering a £30 billion merger, according to a report in yesterday's Sunday Times. Merger negotiations have come out of partnership talks the companies have had over the past few months, according to the report. But although the two companies have a certain amount in common, in other areas they seem more likely to clash than complement. From GEC's perspective a deal would strengthen links between its defence electronics arm, Marconi, and Thomson-CSF, the French defence group in which Alcatel has a 16 per cent stake. But as one of the possible areas of 'co-operation' said to have been considered was the sale of GEC's telecoms equipment business to Alcatel, the two don't necessarily both want to stay in the areas they have in common. Register factoid: GEC's telecoms business was formerly known as GPT, which is rude when pronounced in French. Alcatel is also investing heavily in the Internet, in wireless, in satellite, and in personal communicator-style products, and none of these seem of much direct interest to GEC. The British company, on the other hand, has a long history of financial wheeling and dealing, and that might be what's attracting it to a possible deal. Some form of merger followed by de-merger, leaving one GEC-style business and one or more consumer/networking operation? GEC would no doubt like that, but would Alcatel? And indeed, would the French government? ®
John Lettice, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Chinese sabres rattle Taiwan again

In a parting shot before he left Tokyo on Friday, Chinese communist president Jiang Zemin said his country was willing to use force to stop Taiwan’s independence. The Japan Times reported that he had met the chairman of the Japanese communist party, Tetsuzo Fuwa, and had told him that the island of Taiwan was not in the same league as Hong Kong, where negotiation was the key. Taiwan now finds itself increasingly isolated on the world stage, although the Japanese government refused to abandon the island altogether in high level talks last week. It has good trade links with the island. Earlier this year on a visit to Red China, US president Bill Clinton more or less abandoned his country’s ties with Taiwan R.O.C. Trade considerations are believed to be uppermost in Clinton’s mind. Meanwhile, the Taiwanese government asked for US help to deploy Patriot missiles on its west coast and also wants to buy some advanced US warships, local newspapers reported. ®
A staffer, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

A year ago: Microsoft spells it out to the judge

Last Friday, Microsoft attorney Richard Urowsky neatly summed-up the company's case for the DoJ action hearing in Columbia district court, and from what he said it's now crystal clear where the battle-lines lie. Microsoft contends that the rider it had added to the 1995 consent decree allowing it to integrate features into the operating system gives it carte blanche to build Internet Explorer into Windows 98, and to require that OEMs bundle it. But the logical conclusion to this line of reasoning was pursued by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who asked if that meant that Microsoft applications could be integrated as well. Urowsky first responded that this wouldn't be economical, but when pressed further conceded that technically it could be done, and that it was possible that some parts of the apps could move into the OS. The judge has now retreated to his tent to consider his opinion, but he might do well to consider the extent to which pieces of Microsoft apps are already integrated in the OS, and take a look at the 'innovate, improve, incorporate' overheads Microsoft was showing its customers until quite recently. These make a virtue of the way Microsoft introduces features as applets and utilities, then builds them into the OS, or across the whole Windows 'platform.' Urowsky also tried to head-off Judge Jackson's interest in the US antitrust Sherman Act, pointing out that the consent decree didn't have anything to do with Sherman, so Sherman does not apply in the current case. That's probably correct (although the judge seemed unconvinced), but if Microsoft's case is sustained, then it seems likely that further antitrust action will be pursued by the DoJ. ®
John Lettice, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

French prepare further France Telecom sell-off

The French government is selling another 13 per cent of France Telecom, bringing its holding down to around 62 per cent. This assumes that the 2 per cent being bought by Deutsche Telekom for 8 billion francs will not be controlled in effect by France Telecom, because - surprise, surprise - FT is buying a share of DT for, you guessed it, 8 billion francs. The shares just offered were for 390 francs, and will yield some 36 billion francs, of which 23 billion will be retained by FT, and the rest go directly to the French government to help it with its deficit. The way in which the French government has bartered its ownership of France Telecom, or more particularly its pension fund, in order to meet the Maastricht criteria for monetary union has already gone down in history as one of the great conjuring tricks of all time, comparable only with Robert Maxwell's creativity in pension fund management. FT says it will be using the cash to fund its international expansion, with a seemingly absurd expectation of getting a third of its income abroad by 2006. Since only 2 per cent came from outside France in 1995, it has some way to go - but those fonctionnaires at FT should be giving some good parties with all that marketing money. Some of this cash may find its way moving towards some Internet-related activity, or even a face-lift for Minitel. It doesn't sound as though much will be done about speeding up data transmission. There is a distinct possibility that if FT cross-subsidises any services in competition with the private sector, it could find itself in Brussels answering some tough questions from DGIV, the European Commission's competition directorate, where the French have little influence at present.
Graham Lea, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

How Microsoft backed down in the face of Japanese FTC

Last week we elaborated on Microsoft's interesting way of reporting how it had "won" its antitrust battle in Japan. (Earlier story) We now have the full text of the Japan Fair Trade Commission decision, which makes interesting reading. The JFTC found that since March 1995, Microsoft Japan "unjustly has tied its word processor software 'Word' to its spreadsheet 'Excel' and has tied personal information manager software 'Outlook' to 'Excel' and 'Word' when it licenses their software to PC manufacturers (Fujitsu Ltd, NEC Corporation, IBM Japan Ltd, Compaq Computer Co Ltd, etc) for the purpose of installing or bundling them to PCs." The JFTC issued a recommendation to Microsoft (to which Microsoft hastily agreed) that it should cease the breaches of the law concerned with tie-in sales. If Microsoft had not accepted the recommendation, the JFTC announced it would "commence hearing procedures". The JFTC also identified breaches of the Designation of Unfair Trade Practices (Dealing on Exclusive Terms). Of specific concern was that since April 1996, Microsoft offered to reduce its licence fees for Windows if OEMs "stopped installing a competing browser" on their PCs. The second concern was that Microsoft's contracts with ISPs in Japan "restrained them from dealing in competing browser software in exchange for offering referral services". Microsoft agreed to stop these practices in April, but the picture that now emerges is radically different from that presented in the Microsoft press release and statement from Microsoft general counsel, international, Brad Smith. That the JFTC decided that Microsoft had illegally tied its products and dealt on exclusive terms should give the DoJ some comfort. ®
Graham Lea, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Original Celeron bites dust

The original Celeron is discontinued, Intel confirmed today. The processor, launched in spring this year, gave way to later revisions of the brand name with a faster Mendocino core. And Intel has also decided to discontinue the PII/233, the PII/266 and the PII/300. It will continue to supply the processors to those with existing orders until November 1999, a representative said. The move means that Intel will now concentrate on pushing its higher clocked PIIs, with the Pentium II/333 now the entry level processor. Distributors reported some weeks ago that there was a shortage of PII/266 and PII/300 parts, and the announcement by Intel is, in some respects, a solution to these problems. There are unlikely to be any changes on PII prices until early January, however. ®
Mike Magee, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Micron signs Microtronica in UK

Microtronica is to distribute Micron products in the UK and Ireland. Les Billing, MD of the company, owned by Arrow Computer Products, claimed that Micron's products were "among the first" to be approved for new designs. "Micron is a close partner of Intel in the specification of devices for the latest motherboards and chipsets," he claimed. Microtronica will concentrate on selling 64Mbit SDRAM modules, said Billings. While the agreement is at present only confined to the UK, Billings said he hoped it would extend to a pan-European distribution deal. Meanwhile, Wendy Griffiths at Micron UK, said her company was hoping to build up its business in the UK and Europe through distribution channels. ®
A staffer, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Microsoft is world's second most-respected company

Microsoft achieves a respectable second place in today's Financial Times survey of the world's most respected companies. But curiously, the closer the respondents come to the company, the worse Microsoft seems to do. According to the survey, which was carried out by Price Waterhouse Coopers, Microsoft scored half the votes of top-placed General Electric. Third place Coca Cola got half as many votes as Microsoft, while IBM in fourth got half as many as Coca Cola. If only the views of US CEOs (major Microsoft customers?) are taken into account, then Microsoft only gets half the votes of GE, and is less respected than Toyota, while in the electrical/IT/telecoms sector globally it comes eighth, with GE, IBM, HP, Matsushita, BT, Emerson Electric and Ericsson all beating it. His Billness can, however, take some comfort from being the second most-respected business leader (number one is, of course, Jack Welch of GE). Gates is trailed by Jurgen Schrempp of Daimler-Benz, Lou Gerstner and then Andy Grove. ®
John Lettice, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Respect 2: Gates and Lucky Luciano share Time mag honours

Are there no limits to the honours and awards being placed on the young -- well, perhaps middle-aged -- shoulders of William Henry Gates III? Time Magazine and CBS News have decide that Gates is one of the titans or "most influential builders" of the century, but the company he keeps in the list may disappoint him. There's a certain gentleman, with considerable organising abilities, able to discipline the work force with no problems at all, and who always ensured that the bottom line was in good order. Mr Charles Luciano, known to his intimates as "Lucky", of course played a notable role in building the Mafia, developing a business model that was perhaps instructive to later titans. Then there is Walt Disney and Estee Lauder, the well-known cosmetologist. The list soon becomes even more bizarre, with the founder of failed airline Pan Am, and the eponymous planner of Levittown, Long Island. IBM-builder Thomas J Watson makes the list too. ®
Graham Lea, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Eleven DRAM vendors pledge support for DDR

Eleven DRAM manufacturers have pledged their support for the DDR (double data rate) SDRAM standard, despite the rise and rise of Direct Rambus. Fujitsu, Hitachi, Hyundai, Big Blue, LG, Micron, Mitsubishi, NEC, Samsung, Siemens and Toshiba all said they would use the standard, which was developed by the Joint Electronic Device Engineering Council (JEDEC). And SGI said it would also develop systems using DDR. Last August, Samsung actually shipped the first of its 64Mb parts using DDR at a speed of 266MHz. Manufacturers are forced to pay royalties of around two per cent when they license Rambus technology, while DDR is a cheaper alternative. However, most PC vendors are expected to use the Direct Rambus technology because it offers vastly superior memory speeds to DDR. ®
Mike Magee, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Oasis' record label plans pay-per-download music sales

UK independent record company Creation, best known as Oasis' label, is to begin distributing music via the Internet next year, reports the Financial Times. The move follows the announcement by IBM that it is working in the US with five of the world's leading labels to develop a Web-based music distribution system (see Major labels join IBM on Net music sales trial). One of those labels is Sony Music, whose UK wing owns 49 per cent of Creation. Creation originally announced it would be selling music through its Web site through a straightforward CD mail order service to be launched last summer. However, that service has yet to begin -- Creation's Web remains "under construction", and the company now expects to open it for business next month. And in July Creation canned the planned extension of its sales service to cater for international customers. That decision is believed to have been made at Sony's insistence -- the major labels are quick to discourage cross-border sales because of the different prices that different territories will charge for the same disc. Equally, European divisions of the major labels are far more conservative than their US counterparts, who have pretty much come to realise they have to live in the Internet world, and the best way of doing it is to dominate. Which is why the IBM deal is a US-only affair. That conservatism may yet impact on Creation's plans, which appear to be rather less well defined than they seem at first. While the company has been reviewing technology from a number of developers, including Liquid Audio, Creation's communications director, And Saunders, told the FT it will only make a move if it can be convinced the technology is up to the task and it becomes clear there's a real demand for music sold on a pay-per-download basis. That leaves Creation plenty of room for manoeuvre, particularly if it decides to drop the plan, either off its own bat or under pressure from Sony. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Intel, VIA settle chipset row

Intel and VIA have settled their dispute over chipsets for the Pentium II family, it was confirmed today. Under the terms of the agreement, Intel will receive royalties from the Taiwanese company and will have rights to build its Apollo chipset. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Earlier this year, Intel raised objections to VIA building PII chipsets without having licensed the technology. The company builds motherboards and chipsets for a number of other microprocessor firms including AMD and Cyrix. ®
Mike Magee, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

NatSemi launches single scanner chip

NatSemi will today announce it has succeeded in integrating around 20 scanner functions on a single chip. The LM9830, claimed NatSemi, includes all the functions of a colour scanner, including an analogue front end, sensor clock generation, microstepping motor control, data buffering and parallel port on one IC. NatSemi's CEO, Brian Halla, said earlier this year that his company would concentrate on creating so-called PC-on-a-chip systems. The chip also includes digital pixel processing and will give resolutions from 50 to 600dpi (dots per inch). It will scan images in 36-bit colour and will also allow vertical resolutions of 50-600dpi in 1dpi increments. The 5V part also has a low power standby mode, and includes TWAIN driver and support, said NatSemi. ®
Mike Magee, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Infoseek, Netscape rearrange relationship

Netscape and Infoseek have renegotiated their agreement over the extent to which the portal's search engine is promoted in Netscape's own Internet access point, Netcenter. Netcenter allows users to search the Web using a variety of the leading search engines and Net directories, including Infoseek, Lycos, Excite and Alta Vista. If users don't specify a particular engine, Netcenter selects one at random. Netscape informed Infoseek earlier this month that it wished to renegotiate that arrangement. The new deal will see Infoseek's chance of being selected drop from 15 per cent to just five. It will also pay around 20 per cent more for each vistor who comes to its site from Netscape's. Infoseek reckons the random-selection reduction will see the Netsape-sourced share of its vistors fall from the 44 per cent it achieved in Q1 1997 to just four per cent in January 1999. That sounds a poor deal for Infoseek, but the portal has been trying to reduce its reliance on other sites for traffic. If you're building a business as a portal rather than a search engine, you want people to come to you first, not via a rival's portal. Infoseek is betting on its recently signed ties with Disney to bring in the punters. In any case, Infoseek -- and probably other portals as well -- will want to distance themselves from Netscape further once the deal with AOL goes ahead. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Lou the Boots sells lotsa shares

Lou's famous electronic boots, which don't work unless you are in very close proximity to Lou himself, i.e. snogging him, tell us that he has flogged off over 400,000 of his valuable $150 shares in the past month or so. There are rumours that IBM stock will split soon...if so, why he done that?
Sam Palmisano, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Palm delays release of next-generation handheld

3Com appears to have delayed the next version of the Palm organiser, codenamed Razor. Instead of a pre-Christmas release, as originally planned, the new machine will ship sometime next year. Information leaking out regarding the preparations for the December Palm developers conference suggest that the new device will not be demonstrated to attendees. If true, the chances of Razor making it out of the door in the near future are slim. Any delay to Razor is also likely to knock back the release of Bali, the first Palm with a colour screen. Bali was originally slated to appear early next year. According to reports that emerged in the summer, Razor is a thinner version of the current Palm III -- it has been said to be half the thickness of the 0.5in Palm III. In other respects, the two machines were said be identical. Bali was said to be based on the same technology, but offer a colour LCD. Now, talk is of a third device, said to be called the Palm IV, that includes more RAM and ROM than the Palm III and "a better display". It will also offer built-in wireless comms technology. That follows comments from Janice Roberts, Palm's acting general manager, that the company is modifying the PalmOS to support such technologies. Of course, none of these technologies are mutually exclusive, suggesting that in fact they're all aspects of the same machine. It's not hard to imagine a slimline Palm IV with an optional colour screen and wireless support. All of which is in line with Roberts' comments, and statements made by Palm's VP for strategic alliances an platform development, Mark Bercow, and 3Com CEO Eric Benhamou, all of whom have been stressing a more corporate, mobile networking orientation for the Palm since Palm Computing founders Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, and later martketing VP Ed Colligan, quit the company to form Handspring, a firm dedicated to developing consumer-oriented Palm-style products. Delaying the Palm IV as it's readjusted for a more 'vertical' role, makes sense, and, in any case, 3Com doesn't want to limit sales of Palm IIIs over Christmas by releasing an alternative version at the start of the season. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Plastic industry attracts DTI support from Right and Left

Plastics company CDT managed to attract serious DTI attention today. Current DTI minister Peter 'I'm only here for the peer' Mandelson shook hands with previous DTI minister now Lord Young of Graffham, as all of them looked at a £1.5 million "clean room". The Lord of Graffham was a DTI minister under the auspices of Baroness (Margaret) Thatcher. CDT has light emitting plastic displays which it claims are "state of the art". The artists of the plastic state are, from left to right (no pun intended or even applicable), Mandelson, The Lord of Young and plain Danny Chapchal. The last stands little chance now of being a Lord, given the situation... ®
Mike Magee, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Con artist sent down for scamming US ISPs, telcos

A California con artist has pleaded guilty to cheating ISPs and telephone companies out of $9 million in a toll-free number scam. Fraudster Gregory Evans operated ICB Telecommunications, also known as Connect America, and signed up for 125 toll-free '800' numbers. Net service providers bought the lines, but were left facing angry customers when numbers were shut off in the first month. Evans admitted he never paid AT&T and MCI for the lines, and the phone companies have been left footing most of the bill for the caper. Evans, 33, last Monday pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy, wire fraud, and using false names and addresses for the scheme from November 1996 to June 1997. He will be sentenced with a fine of $1.5 million -- under US law he has to pay the victims in full -- and a maximum of 30 years in prison. Angela Davis, the assistant US lawyer for the prosecution, said: "He has a whole life ahead of him, if he doesn't have the money right now this obligation stays with him for life." The case follows last year's Moldeva sex site scam, where 38,000 smut-seeking customers were awarded more than $2.74 million compensation for dial-up calls to a porn site that were re-routed through the former Soviet Union republic to allow the site's administrator to collect international call tarriffs. ®
Linda Harrison, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

PointCast launches UK, German editions

Troubled push provider PointCast has launched a UK versions of its Internet broadcasting system with the backing of British Telecom. It has also announced a German version of the service. BT will sponsor the service and act as the local broadcaster. It will also nab all the highest-profile advertising slots, including multimedia commercials and high-profile branding of many of the UK editions information channels, such as news, companies, sports, lifestyle and weather. The service will feature content from The Economist, the Press Association, Reuters and ITN Online, derived from each providers' own Web sites. The deal gives BT a business-oriented information site that complements its primarily consumer-oriented services, such as Click and its recent deal with Excite. News of the launch follows confirmation from PointCast that it had found a backer (see PointCast finds strategic investor -- at last). The company has been in need of funding for some time, even more so following the collapse of takeover talks with major media players, including a potential $400 million buyout by News Corp. last year, and this year's IPO, which was cancelled at the last minute. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

British Telecom threatened with two cyberstrikes

Internet users in the UK are being urged to down modems and take part in a pan-European cyberstrike next year, even as they are also being asked separately to desist from access the Net in December. The strike, which could be the largest of its kind if it goes ahead, will seek fairer Internet charging by telecoms operators in EU member states. In particular, organisers are calling for flat-rate tariffs -- a single payment per month for voice calls and Internet access -- rather than the per-minute tariffs currently levied. Protest groups from Germany, Spain, France and Italy have joined the UK to co-ordinate the 'industrial action' and it's expected that more countries will join the strike by the time it takes place in the middle of next year. But Alastair Scott, head of the Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications (CUT), which is co-ordinating the action in the UK, is worried that a proposed rogue cyberstrike planned for Sunday 13 December will detract from the European action. According to Scott, the people behind December's strike are "computer gamers" and he criticised them for running a disorganised campaign. "The people running it simply haven't got it together," he said. "They asked for our advice but they didn't take it. I don't want to be associated with this strike." A spokesman for BT confirmed that he had heard of the proposed strike but said he "was not worried" by the threat of action, adding that its impact would be insignificant. This is the latest in a number of cyberstrikes that have hit countries trying to address telecoms pricing structures. Germany and Spain have both experienced high profile actions, and a student from China is planning one for the end of the month in protest at the high cost of Internet access there. The Spanish strike met with success, as did the German action, though Deutsche Telekom cut its prices before the strike and claimed it was going to do so anyway. ®
Tim Richardson, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Software piracy police bust AOL UK

Red-faced executives at AOL's London offices have been busted for using illegal software after the industry enforcer, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), moved in after an anonymous tip-off. AOL Bertelsmann Online -- the UK arm of AOL, jointly funded by German media giant Bertelsmann -- was caught red-handed using unlicensed copies of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator software at the company's offices in London. The company held up its hands to the infringement and agreed to pay a settlement to the BSA, although neither party will disclose the full extent of the fine. The BSA has been quick to point out that AOL's misdemeanour was not premeditated. Instead, AOL was the victim of its own bad systems management, which allowed their software usage to increase without securing enough licences. This is the standard line given by the BSA and fellow anti-piracy organisation the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) when the offending company admits its guilt. Unfortunately, pleading ignorance is not a defence. Nor did it stop someone -- possibly a disgruntled former employee -- from blowing the whistle on AOL and phoning the BSA hotline with the tip-off. A spokesman for AOL denied all knowledge of the action. So The Register can only assume that AOL is so ashamed, so embarrassed about its slip-up that it just doesn't want to talk about it -- even to its own PR staff. ®
Tim Richardson, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Solar cells to power Iridium phones and more

Solar cells are on the verge of becoming economical enough to be used in both commercial and domestic environments. And panels that will power satellite phones and notebooks are in production. But the economies of scale are such that it may be two or three years before manufacturers, including Siemens and Japanese company Kyocera, can make them cheap enough. The photo-electric cells depend on high quality silicon which is still expensive, despite the pervasiveness of sand everywhere. Refining the sand to a point where it can become a PnP reality, and so economical, costs money. However, the Japanese government has already subsidised 10,000 households to the tune of ¥1 million to install systems on their roofs which cost ¥3 million. These systems are a microcosm of other, commercial systems, pervasively used in the Japanese islands. In Japan, the solar panels are used by the prefectures in every place where light can be received, for example on the top of lamp posts and also street furniture of all types. In the ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto, a corporation called Kyocera has built a structure of 12 stories and on its south facing side has solar panels which create ice for air conditioning and in summer, at least, supplies most of its electricity needs. Any remaining is sold to the local power grid. The Kyocera building rivals an ancient Samurai castle, which towers below it across the valley. Kyocera said that its Shinga plant by next year will be the biggest manufacturer of solar panels in the world. It has even built a four metre square panel for its Iridium satellite phone, the planetwide system which is strongly rumoured to be subsidised by American agency the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). But, so far, the use of solar energy is minimal in the West, which is still relying on more traditional types of energy. ®
Mike Magee, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Ideal Hardware pinches Penny

Former Penny & Evans MD, Mike Penny, will be forced to pay his debts via an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) thanks to an Ideal Hardware bankruptcy petition over his latest channel debts. The IVA request came at Ideal's petition hearing for Penny's bankruptcy following his personal guarantee for the £30,000 owed by his reseller, Omni Solutions. If passed, it means Penny will have to make all promised payments -- or face bankruptcy. Insolvency practitioner Ian Franses Associates proposed the IVA for the ex-Omni MD on 25 November at Slough County Court. "When Omni went into administrative receivership in August we called on the personal guarantee, and this is the result," said Eddie Pacey, Ideal Hardware's credit manager. Penny's proposal will be put to creditors at a meeting on 14 December, where he will need a 75 per cent vote in favour. Slough-based Omni went into administrative receivership on 3 August owing around £450,000. Its main channel creditors -- ETC, Ideal and Computacenter -- were pessimistic about repayment. Shortly afterwards, the networking reseller's trading arm and name was bought by Tilven Computers, and continues to trade from the same Omni offices. Penny & Evans was liquidated by Pannell Kerr Forster in 1993, owing £1 million. ®
Linda Harrison, 30 Nov 1998

Touchstone shows strong results after flotation

Touchstone Group, the specialist accountancy software reseller, has reported strong figures since its flotation. The results for the six months ended 30 September showed pre-tax profits at £460,000, compared to the previous full year profit of £841,000. The Hertfordshire-based reseller's turnover was £3.5 million, up 17 per cent on the same period last year. Earnings per share were 3.36p against 6.91p for the last full year. The board declared an interim divided of £33, payable on 15 January 1999. This was a drop on the dividend of £1100 for the 12 months ended 31 March 1998. Touchstone, the UK's biggest dealership for Systems Union's Sun account, floated on AIM in July. Chairman Philip Birch said the software maintenance revenue had shown 22 per cent growth in the last six months. ®
Linda Harrison, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Updated: Chip cloner AMD sort of responds to The Register pressure

AMD has decided to take a stance against Microsoft and give away the Win95 patch that cured the crippling of its K6-2 chips after The Register revealed it was frit of the software company. Two weeks after we wrote the story, it started appearing on American wires too, but without attribution to us. But now the Great Satan of Taperecorders has posted the patch on its Web site -- which was down for most of the weekend -- and it can be found at this spot. However, there seems to be a bug at the site. If you accept the very extensive terms at the URL above, rather than decline them, you find yourself unable to download the patch, suggesting that once again the situation is unclear. We noted here the AMD site seemed to be neither up nor down over the US holiday weekend... If, however, you accept the decline option, you are referred to AMD technical support, suggesting that MS has put the boot into its partner on the $35 issue... AMD told The Register when we first wrote the story four weeks ago that Microsoft would not allow it to post the patch. That brought storms of protest from end users, dealers and distributors, all of which resented the $35 they were expected to pay Microsoft for the privilege. At the time, as also revealed here, AMD said it was a commercial issue. Now the company seems to have decided in the face of public pressure that the risk of antagonising Microsoft and its $35 patch is worth it. The problem was with Windows 95, not the chip. ®
Mike Magee, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Samsung ramps up third-gen. Alpha production

Samsung is about to begin volume shipments of the latest version of the Alpha processor. The company added that it expects to make $100 million in sales of the new CPU throughout 1999. The chip will also form the mainstay of the companies non-memory semiconductor business, and will spearhead Samsung's strategy to reduce its reliance on DRAM sales. The third-generation Alpha is twice as fast as the previous release, said Samsung. It also contains features, accessed through APIs for Windows NT and various forms of Unix, that improve the playback of audio and video streams. The first shipments of the new CPU have gone to Compaq, with whom Samsung recently formed the Alpha Processor organisation, a body tasked with developing and marketing the Alpha chip. Samsung began volume production of the second-generation Alpha last year, and entered the Alpha business in 1996. In addition to next year's $100 million sales target, Samsung said that over the next five years, it hopes to net $1.5 billion in Alpha sales. ®
Team Register, 30 Nov 1998
The Register breaking news

Gateway contract shows OEMs have choice, says Microsoft

In court today Microsoft attorney Michael Lacovara produced his client's distribution agreement with Gateway as evidence that OEMs have a choice when it comes to the browsers they want to bundle. Whether this can be termed remarkable cheek, remarkable ignorance, or both, is up to you and the judge to decide. Just over a week after the DoJ filed against Microsoft earlier this year, the Beast of Redmond had a sudden attack of liberality when it came to Gateway (Click for Story). Until that point Microsoft had been set hard against allowing OEMs to customise the initial screen, and as internal memos from the company produced in court have already made clear, the company's execs were busily looking for ways to lock more and more into this initial process. Gateway itself had testified on the subject in court hearings held last autumn, its basic view then being that it would like to have the ability to modify the opening screen, and that not having this ability was a serious restriction on it. The breakthrough for Gateway earlier this year was that it gained permission to encourage its customers to sign up to its own Internet access service, and as part of this to allow them a choice of browser. At best, this put Netscape Navigator on an even footing with IE on Gateway machines, and of course we can't help remembering that the DoJ case against Microsoft was already rolling when this massive concession was made. But as Lacovara said today, it's an example of how the OEMs are now allowed to choose browsers. Sort of. They've got to include IE with Windows 98, obviously (won't come out, says Microsoft), but they can include Navigator as well if they like. And it doesn't necessarily apply to all of them, either. As Microsoft's Jim Cullinan said at the time, the fact that Gateway ran its own Internet service (which was unusual for a PC company until recently) meant that "Gateway does have a special circumstance." Which kind of seems to imply that the Gateway case, now being used as important evidence by Microsoft, was at least originally intended as a one-off special. ® Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 30 Nov 1998

Acorn mulls RiscOS spin-out

What the hell is a "limited press release"? In Acorn's case it's an announcement concerning plans for Risc OS 4 that: a) doesn't get sent to the press b) is nowhere to be found on its web site -- or buried very, very deep c) takes five days to get posted on Acorn Cybervillage, Stuart Halliday's fine Web site and the fount of all knowledge on things Acorn.
Drew Cullen, 30 Nov 1998