8th > December > 1998 Archive

The Register breaking news

A year ago: Eckhard Pfeiffer named Man of the Year

Compaq CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer has been named Man of the Year in an extensive poll carried out by the editors of The Register. Pfeiffer, who bears the same relation to Michelle as The Register does to Time magazine, received the accolade after a high level meeting in the prestigious Nellie Dean of Dean Street where a distinguished panel agreed that he deserved the award for his ability to be flexible in the face of a rapidly changing industry. The jury singled out Pfeiffer's haircut in 1997 for particular merit, showing that he was able to "innovatively use several models" to "put forward a convincing show" that haircuts were part of the total cost of ownership (TCO) paradigm. The panellists also commended Pfeiffer for his cloning efforts during the year. "Dolly the Sheep had nothing on Eckhard," the panellists noted. "He demonstrated that if you wanted something to look exactly the same as another, Compaq, led by Pfeiffer, could do that and do it pretty damn quickly. "Pfeiffer not only cloned PCs," they said, "he also cloned direct channel models, hairstyles, marketing executives, mission statements, the Compaq Houston campus police force and lastly, but not leastly, Presarios." The jury noted that Eckhard had spared 35 minutes of his increasingly precious time to visit Computacenter customers at the Wembley Stadium in London in 1997, flying halfway across the world and back again just to re-iterate the benefits of the NetPC they would come to love. One of the highlights of the year, the panellists added, was that when Pfeiffer was obscured by clouds coming from dry ice at his keynote presentation at Compaq Innovate, his hairstyle was practically untouched. And, at the same venue, in a generous gesture typical of the man, he gave Intel CEO Andy Grove a small model of what appeared to be a Dutch windmill. Pfeiffer came CEO of Compaq after humble beginnings as a senior European executive in the days of Rod Canion. Remorselessly, he delivered speech after speech where the merits of counting beans in different ways eventually made him, rather than Canion, Caesar of Compaq. The Register's managing editor said: "Like his fellow wealth-builders of the digital age, his emission is his product. His hairstyle, like the steam engine, electricity, the assembly line, and going direct, is an advance that propels a new ParadigmShift™." * RegisterWeirdFact: Eckhard, in German legends, appears on the evening of Maundy Thursday to warn all persons to go home, that they may not be injured by the headless bodies and two-legged horses which traverse the streets on that night.
The Register breaking news

Gates moans to press in PR spectacle (Not)

The government is "trying to turn this into a PR spectacle," Microsoft legal consultant Charles F Rule told ranks of reporters as he stood in front of banks of video monitors yesterday. Rule was speaking at the Washington venue for a satellite interview with Bill Gates - but despite the apparent contrary signals, this is information, not "a PR spectacle," right? Microsoft's justification for mounting an apparent PR spectacle while denouncing the antitrust trial as one was put succinctly by Rule: "Our focus is in the courtroom, but we cannot and will not stand by without responding." The sub-Churchillian Mr. Rule is a former head of the DoJ's antitrust division, so is a gamekeeper turned poacher. But he's in good company - David Boies, the DoJ's main man in the trial, saved IBM from the feds in another lifetime. In reality yesterday's press conference was just another stage of the charm offensive Microsoft is mounting in a bid to repair the damage caused by Bill Gates' video deposition. Bill started this off the other week (Gates moans to press), and Microsoft is starting to hint at the possibility that he'll be used as a "rebuttal witness" later in the trial. Neither side has called him so far, but the Microsoft legal team may now feel it has to play the Gates card to recoup the situation. Or alternatively, they may be privately thinking a further spectacular screw-up by Bill in open court will save their hides, and make it clear that Gates himself is the one responsible for the whole case going down the toilet. Because Bill's current 'rebuttal' schedule seems to have him zooming from interview to interview, front page to front page, and not giving an inch. Could it perhaps be that his ego won't let him? In the face of three days worth of video deposition that indicates quite the contrary, Gates continued yesterday to insist that David Boies had asked all the wrong questions, badgering Gates "to give yes or no answers when he knew the questions were ambiguous." Said Gates: "I had expected Boies to ask me about competition in the software industry, but no, he didn't do that." What this means in the Wonderful World of Bill Gates isn't entirely clear. Boies has indeed spent some considerable time asking His Billness questions that are pertinent to Microsoft's competitive position in the software industry (get your lawyers to check what the case is about, Bill). But no, we suppose Boies hasn't asked something like: "So what do you think about competition in the software industry, Mr Gates?" Yesterday Gates was still insisting: "I answered every question, but Boies made it clear that he is out to destroy Microsoft and make us look very bad." But the record shows that he didn't answer every question (unless you count speaking, eventually, after each of them as an answer). Boies meanwhile has yet to reveal the true nature of his dastardly mission from the Dark Side to anyone outside of Microsoft. The DoJ did issue a press statement yesterday, but disappointingly it did not begin: "I, David Boies, Grand Admiral of the Klingon Fleet, am engaged in a secret mission to make Microsoft look very bad." It simply said: "Microsoft's latest press statements are another public relations effort to distract attention from the overwhelming evidence introduced in court showing that Microsoft has illegally used its market dominance to block competition from innovative technologies that threaten its operating system monopoly." Shucks. Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Star challenges MS Office with Linux, Windows freeware

German software outfit Star Division is aiming to hit Microsoft where it hurts, by giving away its StarOffice 5.0 productivity suite for free. The highly-regarded software is available on Linux, naturally, but the company also offers it in Windows 9x/NT, Solaris, OS/2 and Java flavours. Star Division claims to have sold 3 million copies of StarOffice world-wide since 1995, and is aiming for a minimum of 10 million personal users by the end of next year. It announced the free offer (Available here and here) quietly in Germany a couple of weeks back, but only went public internationally within the last few days. The company is claiming to have had 200,000 downloads since the German offer opened. One of the big problems Star Division's move will present for Microsoft is that the German company's product is highly mature, and competent. It's been in development for several years, and historians will note that the OS/2 version was some years back one of the great missed opportunities of IBM's OS/2 'hearts and minds' programme. IBM very nearly bundled it with OS/2, but lost the plot by buying in productivity software instead - IBM, the company that supports our ISVs, right? The other big problem for Microsoft is that StarOffice is cross-platform, so if it takes off big-time, as Star Division intends, it'll support platform leakage from Windows to alternatives. It includes WP, graphics, presentation, database front end, HTML editor, mail/news reader, scheduler, charting and formula editor, and claims interoperability with Office products up to Office 2000. Star Division has moved its HQ to the US, and intends to IPO next year - so how does it make money? The free version is the StarOffice 5.0 Personal Edition, but the giveaway model is being followed with a Deluxe version on CD with manual and support plus extras for $39.95. The "Personal Edition" tag is significant for both of these, as they're intended for personal users. For commercial users there's a Professional Edition at $169, and an extendable five user licence for $499. Star Division is also making it clear where it thinks it's heading by splitting commercial licence models into two categories: Business Licence and Enterprise Licence. The latter adds support and consulting services, and is clearly pitched at the corporate customers that Microsoft has run just about everybody out of. ®
John Lettice, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Microsoft ‘compliant’ Java tempts Sun to sue some more

Microsoft yesterday launched the 'street legal' version of its implementation of Java, couching the announcement in terms that sounded suspiciously like a challenge to Sun to sue the company some more. Last month Sun won a preliminary injunction ordering Microsoft to stop shipping its non-compliant implementation of Java and start shipping Sun's - or at least, that's what most people thought the injunction said. Shortly after the injunction was granted Microsoft indicated that it would continue to ship its own Java Virtual Machine while at the same time shipping Sun's Java Native Interface (JNI). This, said Microsoft, would allow developers and users to choose whether they wanted to go with the Microsoft or the Sun flavour. This clearly tottered on the brink of contempt of court (Microsoft Java plan tempts fresh Sun legal action) - depending on how Microsoft actually offered this 'choice' it could be argued that the company was just carrying on its own sweet way, and sticking the JNI in as some kind of fig-leaf. Apart from a brief reference to "compliance with the recent ruling in the San Jose Federal District Court" the announcement is quite clearly aimed at presenting the move as an upgrade. Microsoft "today announced availability of its latest Java Virtual Machine for the Microsoft Windows operating system… this version expands the options for developers who choose to integrate applications written in Java with the vast diversity of Windows-based software and services. An update to the Virtual Machine for Windows that shipped with Internet Explorer 4 is also being made available. Both these versions include support for the Java Native Interface…" Microsoft then goes on to tell us how fast and functional the JVM is. "The Microsoft Virtual Machine has been the first in the industry to support a variety of innovations…. For both end users and developers, the Microsoft Virtual Machine assists Java software to act as a first-class citizen within Windows… This is enabled by the intrinsic user interface controls of the Windows Foundation Classes…" The added JNI support, on the other hand, means that "JNI joins the Raw Native Interface and the J/Direct API as mechanisms to help developers meld the productivity of the Java language with native services in Windows… COM integration…" Redmond, bless 'em, seems to have slipped a Y2K patch in as well, but we reckon if Sun doesn't bust them over this one before the end of the week, Larry Ellison's the Pope. ® Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

UK lifts C2000 performance

Computer 2000 has posted its "best year ever" results, citing the UK as one of the largest contributors to profits. On 2 December, the Munich-based PC distributor showed pre-tax profit of DM 150 million (£54 million) for the year ended 30 September, against last year's £25 million loss. Sales went up 22 per cent to DM10.1 billion (£3.6 billion). The group reported sales outside Europe had dropped 35 per cent to DM487 million (£174 million), and blamed the Asian crisis and restructuring in the US. But it said the British and German subsidiaries were responsible for the largest areas of profit. C2000 described business as "very satisfactory on the whole, with the exception of France, Norway and Latin America." C2000 was bought by Tech Data earlier this year. It has over 40 subsidiaries in 30 countries in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.®
Linda Harrison, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Plasmon doubles through Philips acquisition

Plasmon is beefing up its removable storage portfolio with the $26.4 million acquisition of Philips LMS, a manufacturer of magnetic tape drives and optical media. In a shareholder circular, Plasmon said the acquisition would help the company achieve its aim to become a leading player in the high-end stroage systems market. According to Plasmon the key elements of such systems are optical disk and tape drives; libraries; storage media; and integration software. Plasmon says it is well positionsed in three of these areas -- “However, the core technology in removable storage systems is the drive, a product for which Plasmon currently has no manufacturing or technology position”. Described as a “division of an affiliate of Royal Philips Electronics, Philips LMS nearly doubles the size of Plasmon, drive manufacturing capacity to the party –- and significantly enhances the profitability of its new parent company. Philips LMS made an operating profit of $7.3 million on sales of $32.1 million for the nine months to 25 September, 1998, against Plasmon’s pre-tax profit of £200K (1997: loss of £8.2 million) on sales of £20.0 million (1997: £14.2 million) for the six months to 30 September, 1998. Plasmon aims to raise up to £10 million (before expenses) through a placing and open offer for new shares. It will pay $18.5 million in cash on completion of the deal, and the rest is payable in cash over two years. ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

US body votes to continue Taiwan anti-dumping probe

Influential US body the International Trade Commission (ITC) said that it would continue an investigation into alleged anti-dumping on DRAM of one Mbit and above. A panel voted by five votes to zero to continue the investigation and said it was likely to produce a preliminary report by March next year. That means the US Department of Commerce will pursue its enquiry into the alleged dumping of memories by Taiwan. According to the ITC, $290 million worth of DRAM was imported from Taiwan between January and September this year. There are 14 US producers of DRAM according to the report, which have annual sales of nearly $4 billion. ®
Mike Magee, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Apple and Palm alliance emerges

Palm Computing's scheme to license its Palm handheld technology, outlined at Comdex by various Palm and 3Com officials, seems to have borne its first fruit -- Apple has entered into a "strategic relationship" with the company. According to "Apple sources" quoted on Mac-oriented Web site MacOS Rumours, Apple and Palm are to build a co-branded machine based on the PalmOS with modifications from the Mac maker, whose industrial design team, responsible for the iMac and the forthcoming El Capitan minitower casing, will provide the hardware look and feel. Apple is currently working on its consumer portable, codenamed P1, a notebook alternative to the iMac. There has been plenty of talk recently about P1, in particular its rumoured wireless Internet access capacity. Palm, of course, beat Apple to it. The Palm VII, announced last week at Palm's Worldwide Developers Conference (see 3Com unveils wireless-equipped Palm VII), uses a cellular link to transmit email and Web pages between the Palmtop and the Internet. Given the apparent similarity between the two technologies, we suspect the companies may have been working together for some time. Last month, Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs revealed in Fortune magazine that he had attempted to buy Palm from its parent 3Com. 3Com CEO Eric Benhamou turned Jobs down, but it now looks like they did agree to co-operate on certain technologies. Whether that agreement came before or after Bill Gates' own attempt to buy Palm, also rejected by Benhamou, isn't known. This Apple/Palm alliance would certainly explain the latter's sudden interest in the Mac. While it has always offered a Mac-to-PalmPilot connectivity kit, called MacPac, it had fallen some way behind the Windows release. Earlier this year, it bought Organizer, a PIM published by Claris, the Apple subsidiary folded into the parent not long after, and shortly announced a much-updated MacPac 2.0, which has just gone beta. Can we see a pattern emerging here? Going further back, what makes the PalmPilot so effective is its Graffiti text entry system. Graffiti was, of course, developed for Apple's MessagePad because the Newton OS' handwriting recognition was too processor intensive and, more to the point, didn't work very well at that stage. Apple subsequently improved Newton's ability to convert handwriting into text, but the processor overhead remained. Which is why MessagePad's required top-spec. ARM CPUs, while the PalmPilot has been able to work with Motorola chips that are far less powerful and cheaper. The trouble with Newton was that it wasn't yet ready for the mainstream. Its hardware requirements made it too expensive, allowing the cheaper PalmPilot to rush in and grab the market. In fact, the Palm VII is near as damnit what former Apple CEO John Sculley originally described as his vision for a PDA (this before Apple officially announced Newton). Newton was going to some time to become a mainstream, consumer platform, and would still have to compete with Palm when it did. So, Jobs clearly seems to have reasoned, I kill Newton, embrace Palm and I can have a cheap Mac-connectable PDA now, not four years down the line. Thus was the technology alliance born. And Jobs' vision of a networked world, a vision he shares with his old chum, Larry Ellison, and which found form in the iMac (which will, curiously, boot up from a server and display a MacNC logo...), is thoroughly in harmony with that of Network Satan 3Com. Benhamou's Comdex comments point to a kind of Internet access appliance role for the PalmPilot as it evolves away from its PIM beginnings. Back to the present day, and we have a neat wireless technology that can connect both notebooks and palmtops to the Internet, using clever proprietary protocols to minimise bandwidth and thus airtime but which wrap around the standard TCP/IP set to maintain compatibility. Apple gets access to a device whose concept it pioneered but which it failed to capitalise upon. Palm gets access to the leading PC design team. Both get to share technologies key to the evolution of both platforms in the face of Wintel and Windows CE. Nice deal all round, really. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Semi recovery will be mixed blessing

A report by Semico Research has predicted there will be no upturn in the semiconductor industry until the year 2000. Even then, not everyone will benefit. But the report has also pointed out that die shrinks mean there will be less investment in fabs, meaning that semiconductor equipment manufacturers may not recover as swiftly as expected. Semico said that with shrinks of the DRAM memory cell, die per wafer value is doubling. When the industry used a .35 micron process, with a cell size of 1.75 mm, wafers produced 100 64Mb dies. However recent advances mean that over 400 dies per wafer can now be produced. That will have a knock-on effect on the semiconductor equipment industry, as less fabs are needed and will account for loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, claimed Semico. ®
A staffer, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

PointCast to target telcos

Troubled Internet 'push' provider PointCast is believed to be expanding on its recently signed deal with British Telecom to target other telcos and push its information services as a portal for their Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) Net access offerings. PointCast's attempt to bring its Internet-based data delivery service to the masses foundered largely on the software's huge bandwidth needs. To get the most from the PointCast Network, users need a high-speed permanent connection to the Net. DSL, which in the US offers connection speeds of up to 1.5Mbps, looks like just the technology to provide sufficient bandwidth to domestic and small to medium-sized business users. Most US telcos are promoting DSL as an alternative to cable modems. Working with PointCast -- the PointCast Network contains news and information from a wide variety of sources, such as CNN -- would bring much-needed content to the telcos' sales pitch. That's essentially what BT is doing with the UK edition of PointCast. While it isn't specifically typing PointCast to DSL-type services, it is using it to address numerous gaps in its content provision, specifically in business information sector. PointCast UK is heavily sponsored by BT and for the moment its advertising content promotes BT offerings exclusively. Of course, the snag is that PointCast's software may prove too much of a bandwidth hog for even DSL. Certainly, a number of companies, including Hewlett-Packard, who licensed PointCast technology to provide information over their corporate network, which clearly run rather faster than 1.5Mbps, found the software create too many data log-jams. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Fayrewood looks to Europe for acquisitions

Fayrewood is seeking to expand its collection of distributor acquisitions in Europe after interim profits almost doubled. The holding company for distributors Interface Solutions, ComputerLinks and Banque Magnetique posted a 98 per cent rise in pre-tax profit to £961,000 for the six months ended 31 October. Turnover was also up for the AIM-listed company, leaping 167 per cent to £54.1 million. Earnings per share increased 26.3 per cent to 2.7p, with the board declaring a dividend increase of 0.54p per share, payable on 7 April 1999. Pierce Casey, Fayrewood executive chairman, said the group will keep the companies under one umbrella, but stressed there were no plans to further integrate the three bought over the last 18 months. "Our strategy is quite different to many in the field in that we find entrepreneur-built companies and let them run relatively independently. This is probably where a lot of other companies go wrong," he said. The May acquisition of UK distributor Interface raised questions about compatibility within the group. ComputerLinks is a German high-end networking distributor and French Banque Magnetique specialises in modems and 3Com. Casey said future growth would be both acquisitive and organic, adding "we are seeking well run, niche service companies". However, he placed definite emphasis on buying distributors in continental Europe, or European sections of companies.® Acquisitions boost Fayrewood sales Germany set Fayrewood
Linda Harrison, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Intel invests in Clarent

The Clarent Corporation, a privately held Californian company, said that Intel had made an investment in its technology. The amount was not disclosed. According to a release from Clarent, both companies will work together to bring IP telephony technology to the edge of the network including broadband, settop boxes and other technologies of that type. Clarent will also support Merced, it said. Scott Richardson, director of server software at Intel, said: "The investment in Clarent supports our direction to bring Intel architecture IP telephony to carriers, service providers and operators worldwide." ®
A staffer, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

S Carolina defection fails to shake States v MS

South Carolina has dropped out of the parallel action against Microsoft by 20 states and the District of Columbia, apparently agreeing with Microsoft that the case is now pointless. State Attorney General Charlie Condon claimed yesterday that the AOL deal had proved there was competition in the marketplace. Condon said he had joined the action because he was concerned that Microsoft was obtaining a monopoly over access to the Internet, but he now considered that "innovation was thriving" and that "there are no monopolies on the Internet". He also said that "consumers have not taken a leading role in this action" and so he did not wish to spend tax money on the case. South Carolina was the least active of the states in the action, with nobody from his office having attended the court. In view of what Condon said, it is rather hard to see why he agreed to join the action in the first place. Texas, previously a prime mover for action against Microsoft, withdrew at the last minute because of pressure from Dell, Compaq and other companies with significant manufacturing in the state. In South Carolina it is unlikely that there was such pressure from manufacturers, but it would be surprising if Microsoft lobbyists hadn't been busy putting pressure on each state attorney general and helping to draft press releases. And after all, Bill Gates had visited North Carolina recently (not a party to the action), but not the southern neighbour. The parallel action by the states was merged with the DoJ action by Judge Jackson. In July, the states amended their complaint to exclude a complaint about Microsoft's monopoly with its Office suite. There are several reasons for there being a parallel action, and no single explanation applies to all states. Microsoft countersued the states, but this is seen to be a tit-for-tat action and not serious. The real reason for Condon's volte face needn't be seen as Netscape-related. He now says his sympathies are with the Milton Friedman school of economics, which reckons government intervention will hurt innovation and reduce corporate profits. Compare this to Microsoft press releases ("innovation should be left to entrepreneurs, not to government bureaucrats or to the courts"). Microsoft says it is "gratified" at the decision, but Bill Neukom, Microsoft's head lawyer was whistling into the wind hoping that other states would join South Carolina. New York state AG Dennis Vacco's office said that Condon's decision would "have no impact" and that it was a "non-event". The DoJ said the decision would have "no impact". Iowa AG Tom Miller, who is chairman of the states' executive committee supervising the action, said the states were "very committed" and Condon's action was "surprising. The trial is focussed on alleged illegal conduct." Meanwhile Kevin Arquit, former head of the bureau of competition at the FTC, said that "The Netscape-AOL combination doesn't reduce Microsoft's operating system monopoly by one iota. Bill Gates' chokehold on the operating system - and consumers - is as strong today as it was two weeks ago. His ability to overcharge consumers for Windows is clear evidence of market dominance." ® Complete Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

S3, UMC claim graphics breakthrough

S3 and Taiwanese foundry UMC Group claimed today they had jointly produced the graphics industry's first .18 micron design. According to the companies, the development of the process means higher performiung graphics accelerators that beat the Pentium II in terms of gate complexity. Paul Franklin, senior VP of operations at S3, crowed: "While many other graphics competitors are still taping out their initial .25 micron designs, we have already successfully produced three .25 micron designs with UMC Group. The yields for our .25 micron products have already reached levels comparable to our achievements at the previous generation." Jim Kupec, president of UMC US, said: "Although we were not the world's first dedicated foundry, we were the first to offer production capacity at .25 and .22 micron." The .18 micron design will be introduced in the first half of next year, the companies said. S3 and UMC have a close relationship, with the former owning 16 per cent of the latter's equity. Over 30 per cent of the foundry's business comes from S3. ®
A staffer, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Hull home for UK's first commercial ADSL service

Hull-based Kingston Communications has launched what is believed to be Europe's first commercial "fast Internet" service using ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) technology. The service -- Kingston Ultra -- is expected to deliver Internet access at speeds of up to two million bits per second over standard copper telephone lines to its 185,000 customers in Kingston-Upon-Hull. The ADSL technology will begin to be rolled-out in March next year after the company recently completed a £4 million investment programme -- including the installation of ATM switching -- to enable the network to support ADSL services. As well as providing fast Net access, the company also plans to deliver digital broadcast television over ADSL lines aimed at home users. The move follows an extensive trial of ADSL-based services to 250 homes in the Hull area. Kingston will take advantage of IP multicasting, ATM switching, MPEG video and ADSL to enable home access to digital television and interactive services over a common, multi-application high speed network, the company said. A new business -- Kingston Vision -- has been formed to manage the entertainment-based service, creating up to 25 new jobs. The company also confirmed that it was in negotiations with set-top box suppliers, and programme content and service providers are nearing completion. "We are committed to ADSL technology as a means of delivering these services to our customers, creating new growth opportunities," said Kingston Communications Chief Executive Steve Maine. "Our trial has shown it is both reliable and fully capable of delivering a high quality service," he said. According to a spokesman at the company, there are some 710 million copper phone lines in the world and the thought of digging them up and replacing them with fibre optics simply isn't worth considering. "ADSL helps solve that problem and bridges that gap in the local loop," he said. BT has been running similar ASDL trials for several years but as yet has been reluctant to press ahead with it. But the US does appear to be embracing ADSL technology more and more, and a number of countries in Europe, including Germany and Belgium, have also announced that they are to run extensive trials. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

GTS snaps up Esprit Telecom

US-based Global TeleSystems (GTS) is to buy Reading-based Esprit Telecom Group plc for $665 million in stock. The deal means that GTS and Esprit Telecom will have the largest independent cross-border carrier network in Europe. Greater competition from companies such as Cable and Wireless and the planned joint venture of BT and AT&T appears to have prompted the move, according to analysts. When the deal is finalised sometime within the next six months, the two companies will have a stock market capitalisation of around $4.1 billion, a presence in 19 countries throughout Europe and around 3,000 employees worldwide. CEO David Oertle will remain with Esprit Telecom throughout the transition. There are no reports as yet as to whether the deal will create any enforced job losses. GTS is based in Washington DC and owns a number of phone companies throughout Europe. Founded in 1992, Esprit Telecom is a facilities-based provider of telecoms services in Europe, generating more than a billion minutes of traffic a year. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Sony to re-sign artists in bid for full online rights

Sony Music is to add full online rights to artists' recording contracts, paving the way for a major effort to exploit the Internet as a method of not only selling but distributing music. According to today's Financial Times, Sony has instructed its own record labels, which included Columbia, Epic and Sony Classical, plus affiliates, such as Creation Records, Oasis' label, to ensure a comprehensive range of online rights are included in recording contracts. The news comes a week after Creation announced it will begin distributing its artists' music digitally next year (see Oasis' record label plans pay-per-download music sales). Sony's instructions apply not to all future signings, but to artists currently on labels' rosters. Contracts with the likes of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey will have to be renegotiated. To be included in the new contracts are not only online music sales rights -- which many labels now include in contracts, to cover sales of CDs and tapes via the Net -- but digital distribution rights and comprehensive online marketing rights, including artists' own Web site domain names. Sony's move is clearly a power play. Digital music sales are fairly small fry, and even the most enthusiastic estimates suggest digital sales will account for only 20 per cent of all music sales by 2007. From a distribution rights perspective, Sony is simply covering an angle, much in the way film and TV companies began to add commercial video exploitation rights to production contracts. More important the marketing arrangements, which put control of promotion into the label's hands, ensuring that artists' Web sites are accessed through Sony's own, and giving it the opportunity to cross-promote artists in similar musical genres. The Internet has been widely heralded as a mechanism for putting control of sales into the hands of the music makers, and few bands have ignored the possibility if offers for promotional activities, typically conducted through official fan club sites. The Internet Underground Music Association recently announced the Net would put more power in the hands of music makers and buyers. Sony's gambit (you can expect the other major labels to follow suit very quickly) will ensure that that scenerio is now highly unlikely indeed. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Net is ‘rude’ complain kids

Almost half a million kids in Britain -- 20 per cent of those using the Internet -- claim they have been 'upset' by something they have found on the Internet, according to a survey published by the NOP Research Group. Of these, two-fifths say that they found something "rude", a quarter something that they thought "would get them into trouble", and one in seven something that "frightened" them. The survey highlights some of the problems associated with the unregulated nature of the Internet, especially where kids are concerned. But it also raises questions about whether content needs to be policed as a way of protecting children especially when it comes to pornographic and other unsuitable material. "These findings suggest that a significant minority of young Internet users in Britain are uncomfortable with some of the information they have encountered through the Internet," said Rob Lawson from NOP. "But it also shows that kids are tremendously positive about the Internet," he said. But while some children are offended by what they come across, others -- and it appears to be a sizeable majority -- are attracted to the Net exactly because of its unregulated nature and don't have a problem with the content. Other findings from the survey suggest that a further 1.8 million kids expect to be using the Internet within the next 12 months. In addition, the research demonstrates that children are generally Internet enthusiasts -- they find it easy to use, they like to use it for information, for fun and to chat. Two-thirds think that it helps them with their learning, and a third would like to use it for lessons if they were away from school ill. Yeah, right. ®
The Register breaking news

Acal looks forward to ‘satisfactory year’

The Acal Group -- a distributor of electronics and IT products -- has reported increased sales and profits for the six months to 30 September despite suffering difficult trading conditions made worse by the strength of sterling. Much of the Surrey-based company's success has been achieved because of the improved performance of its PC parts business, EAF, which Acal acquired in 1996. EAF operates throughout Europe and has a holding company in Holland. It accounts for around 20 per cent of Acal's turnover. "In Europe, in a more positive climate, we have achieved growth overall," said Acal chairman John Curry. "However, the real success of the half-year has been the turnaround of our PC parts business." Curry said the company achieved growth in the UK in the PC parts business and in Headway, its document management business. "Forecasting is particularly difficult given the uncertain and generally pessimistic economic climate," Curry said. "Nevertheless, we look forward to a satisfactory year." Acal's turnover was up 5 per cent at £78.2 million from £74.6 million the same period last year. Group operating profit increased by 15 per cent to £5.5 million (£4.8 million) and profit before taxation was up 29 per cent at £7.2 million. "I am pleased to report that the business is exceeding the original plans for this year and will meet all our financial goals of growth, return on capital and profit on sales," said Curry. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 1998
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Sun releases Java 2 under Open Source-style licence

Sun today made its much-anticipated move to open up its Java source code for commercial exploitation. The announcement came as the company rolled out the latest version of its platform-independent language, Java 2. Sun's new Java licence allows commercial software developers to do pretty much what they like with the Java source code. So it now allows them to "use and modify the source code for commercial sofwtare product development" and to share those modifications with other companies. All of this can take place without having to pass the rights to those modifications on to Sun, without its mediation and without having to pay it anything. The licence itself hasn't been issued under an Open Source agreement, but what Sun calls a "community source licence", which would appear to be one that adds compatibility clauses. Sun stresses compatibility throughout -- you can do with Java what you will provided you don't screw up the 'write once, run anywhere' ideal. Sun will continue to lead the development of the language and new APIs, but third parties can now create extensions to the language so long as they commit themselves to following Sun's API specification. All such work -- including Sun's own -- will now be formally audited by PriceWaterhouse Coopers for compatibility. Behind all this is Sun's desire to make Java more attractive to software developers. Opening the source code, it's hoped, will ecourage developers to extend Java to cover the needs of less mainstream markets than it those it has addressed so far. "We recognise now that work needs to be done to adapt and tune Java to make it appropriate for particular industries and different devices," said Sun's Java supremo, Alan Baratz. "Our goal has always been to foster industry participation and development of Java while preserving a unified platform. The [Open Source] model achieves that balance." Other Java technologies will also be issued under the Community Source Licence, including PersonalJava and, most notably, EmbeddedJava, which neatly defuses the brewing conflict between Sun and the Hewlett-Packard led Real Time Java Group (which, interestingly, includes Microsoft) building their own version of the language for embedded systems (see HP alliance throws down Java gauntlet to Sun). ®
Tony Smith, 08 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

AT&T buys Big Blue's Globule Newtwork

AT&T is to buy IBM's Global Network business for $5 billion. As part of the deal -- which was announced this afternoon -- the two companies will enter into outsourcing contracts with one other. Big Blue will outsource a significant portion of its global networking needs to AT&T. In return AT&T will outsource certain applications processing and data centre management operations to IBM. The transactions could represent $2.5 billion in additional revenue to AT&T in the first full year of operation, the company said. The IBM Global Network business currently services several hundred large global companies, tens of thousands of mid-sized businesses and more than one million individual Internet users in 59 countries. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 1998