10th > December > 1998 Archive

The Register breaking news

A year ago: Intel re-orgs Euro bureau, catches worldwide VP flu

The Great Satan of Human Resources has made changes to its European lineup which mean that old Register pal Hans Geyer has been sent to the US. He leaves his Munich redoubt to be replaced as co-general manager of Intel Europe by unknown exec Rob Eckelman, formerly manager of lentil's channel organisation. Geyer tipped The Register off about a confrontation between him and our 1997 Man of the Year at a famous Etre conference some years ago when Pfeiffer accused Intel of pushing its own brand over its customers' brand. We tipped up, thus giving us a world scoop. Former co-general manager Steve Poole no longer has that post, having moved back to Intel's Swindon office, for personal reasons, we know. Now the unknown Eckelman will co-manage Europe along with royalty in the mysterious shape of The Rt. Hon. Earl Wheatstone, who, we are given to misunderstand, had the title bestowed on him for sterling work inventing the concertina, the microphone, and his famous Bridge. Intel has made some people "Dudes" or "Fellows", which it described as the company's highest ranking technical position. Promoted (demoted?) too are the egregious Louis Burns (passim), Sean Maloney, who we haven't seen for years and years, Patricia Murray and Steven Smith. Burns is director for information technology, and appeared at Eckhard Pfeiffer's famous Computacenter gig last Autumn. He also presided over a downtime in its email system during an ill-fated week in December, we are given to understand. Maloney is a very nice chap which presumably makes him a good fellow. He used to be Grove's right hand man but the last time we met him was in Santa Clara at an embedded exhibition. Ms Patricia Murray is director of human resources at Lentil, which, if FACE Intel is to be believed, makes her not such a good fella. And the nabobs of spin at Intel tell us there are 10 freshly appointed VPs, none of whom we have ever heard of or who seem to be registered readers. They are: Alan C. Baldwin, David M. Cowan, Leslie S. Culbertson, Peter N. Detkin, Jami K. Dover, Shelley L. Floyd, Thomas R. Franz, Avtar K. Saini, Gidu K. Shroff and Edward Y. So. Here are the top 10 - in no particular disorder:-- Pete "I am the Law " Detkin has been appointed a vice president of Legal. As assistant general counsel for Intel, he is responsible for Intel litigation and oversees the management of Intel's patent and trademark departments. He'll have a tough year ahead with the DoJ. Jami "Lots of Dosh" Dover has been appointed a vice president of the Sales and Marketing Group and is a director of Co-op Marketing, responsible for the Intel In$ide(r) program worldwide. $helley "$hareprice" Floyd has been appointed a VP of finance and is in charge of Inve$tor Relation$. Tom "Gulag" Franz was (is?) a general manager of the Embedded Microcomputer Division, based not too far from Irkutsk, as the 747 flies. Avtar "Kalki" Saini is general manager of the Platform Components Division responsible for chipsets for Intel Architecture-based PCs and also co-manages Intel's Graphics Components Division. Gidu "Where's my Silicon" Shroff is director of Materials at Intel. Ed R2-D2 So has been appointed a vice president of the Technology and Manufacturing Group. We note, with chagrin, that no PR people have been appointed fellows, fellas, Dudettes or fellaheen at Intel but remain grateful to that long suffering department for the last line in this worthy release: "Third party marks and brands are property of their respective holders." That means, we suppose, that all these folk get to keep their own names, at least.
The Register breaking news

Netscape is like Saddam Hussein – Sun exec

The status of Sun's relationship with its Java-loving ally Netscape came into some question yesterday when Microsoft attorney Thomas Burt produced one of the trial's most colourful emails so far. Java inventor James Gosling had been explaining how thoroughly Netscape was committed to Java, but in 1996 another Sun exec had different ideas. "They are completely untrustworthy," wrote VP of software products Jon Kannegaard. "No agreement with Netscape is worth the ink it's written with. Go sign a deal with Saddam Hussein. It has a better chance of being honoured." Saddam, we think, must be Jim Barksdale since Marc Adreessen lacks the age and gravitas for the part. But he could be Saddam's spoiled sprog, careering around Silicon Valley's nightspots in the small hours, casually shooting rivals. But why was Kannegaard so het up? Possibly because in September 1996, when the email was written, Netscape looked like it might be a rival to Sun, or at least to Sun's Java strategy. In November, at Comdex, Jim Barksdale would go public with the plan that would become Communicator. It didn't quite pan out the way he wanted, but at the start Netscape's target was basically to grab the desktop back from Microsoft, and provide users with an alternative, Netscape-owned place to live, browse the Web from and launch applications from. Java might come in handy for this -- but then again, it might not. The plan was scarcely original. Lotus had sort of tried to do it with Notes, and IBM had tried to integrate Windows into the OS/2 Workplace Shell. You may also recall that a little while down the line Lotus had a spat with Netscape over the latter's refusal to unbundle Navigator from Communicator. This stuff certainly supports Microsoft's 'everybody does it' case, which although probably of negligible value for an antitrust defence (see Registers passim) is helpful from the PR point of view. But Burt seems to have used it solely to illustrate that Sun and Netscape weren't always friends, and maybe to get a few laughs. In similar vein he also produced an email from Saddam junior to Scott McNealy of Sun. "Now is the time to strike together on this," Andreessen wrote of Microsoft in 1995. "Let's nail the bastards." Unfortunately for Andreessen, Saddam senior must have refused to let him have the keys to the family SCUD. ® Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Tivoli and Novell in ‘standards-based’ alliance

Novell has stolen another march on Windows 2000 with the announcement of a series of joint initiatives in network management and administration with Tivoli Systems. When Windows 2000 ships it is intended to be Tivoli-ready, among other things, but the Novell-Tivoli deal seems to amount more to what you might call a firm alliance. Microsoft is incorporating management features in Windows 2000, and then intends to encourage management software providers, including Tivoli, to offer more complex and sophisticated features on top of these. Tivoli and Novell however are seizing the initiative by integrating Novell Directory Services with Tivoli Enterprise software, and by collaborating in pushing the Desktop Management Task Force's Common Information Model (CIM) and Managed Object Format (MOF). They have already demonstrated prototype integration of Novell's Z.E.N.works and Tivoli's Managed Software Distribution via DMTF standards. Crucially from Novell's point of view, the two intend to collaborate to produce "cross-platform enterprise management solutions based on NDS and Tivoli Enterprise software." So Tivoli is effectively supporting Novell's pitch that NDS should be used in the management of networks in general, rather than just NetWare ones. NetWare itself will be made Tivoli-ready, and the two will release ManageWise Provider for Tivoli Enterprise in Q1 1999. This will allow ManageWise and Tivoli Enterprise to share network alarms, topology and inventory data. ®
John Lettice, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Christmas Caption Competition: Who is this woman?

Pictured here on the left is our managing editor Tony Smith, in riotous form at a Lotus Development party in Soho Spice earlier this week. But who is the mysterious woman jiving with Tony? First correct or the wittiest reply gets invited to the prestigious Register Christmas Party in central London next week. Respond to caption …
The Register breaking news

3Com and Siemens team on voice data convergence

Siemens and 3Com have demonstrated that there is potential synergy between the two companies with the announcement of a joint venture focused on the development on a portfolio of voice and data telecoms/networks convergence products. The two have been allied for 18 months, and the new venture represents an extension of this. But not quite so far as the Siemens takeover that's been frequently rumoured this year. Siemens itself is going through another restructure, following its discovery that it wasn't doing as well as it thought it was, and that semis and cellphones were costing it a bundle. Right now the company could do without having to figure out what to do about 3Com. But the new venture does seem to represent a sensible merging of strengths. 3Com has been slow in getting into voice, whereas Siemens has a fairly advanced portfolio of products here, and has even started to push systems into the US small business market. The first collaborative products are due to ship next year, and will have a lot of Siemens technology in them. They'll include communications servers, digital phones, LAN telephony gateways and call processing software. The 3Com SuperStack II PBX 1000 will use 3Com SuperStack and Siemens Hicom PBX technology, so the merged product will basically be a combo LAN and PBX system in a stackable format. The two seem somewhat coy about another product line, the "3Com Digital Phones." Siemens has been trying to sell cordless phone systems in the US, so this is probably what they're talking about. But the company has also been substantially outpaced by Nokia and Ericsson in digital cellular sales (Nokia recently tanked Motorola again in the US in digital), so in the longer term you might figure a 3Com partnership here. 3Com, owner of the Palm Pilot, must surely be in the market for convergence wireless products based on it. Some form of implementation related to the Palm VII (3Com unveils Palm VII) would seem logical. Future developments will include scaling the stackable systems up, and the development of multimedia exchanges for large sites. Large scale multimedia exchanges and gateways are intended to be available by 2000. ®
John Lettice, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Expert and MS argue over definition of OS

Some interesting subtleties have come to light in the transcript of the testimony by Professor David Farber of the University of Pennsylvania, who was allowed to interrupt testimony from James Gosling because he was about to go on a lecture tour. It was claimed by Microsoft that his examination would take one day, but Judge Jackson suggested that was optimistic, as indeed proved to be the case. Farber's written testimony is a general account of the software development process; the relationship between the operating systems and applications software; the inefficiencies in designing "so-called" operating systems which include inappropriate functions, such as applications like Web browsers; and the negative consequences of permitting Microsoft to add what are now applications to create an ever-larger, monolithic software package with Microsoft calls its "operating system". Farber presented a bare 12 pages of analysis and a 19-page CV that showed he had great experience with operating systems development and the Internet, but not with Windows. Since most of the first day of his examination was taken up enquiring about his knowledge of the Windows 98 operating system, he did not prove to be a very useful witness. It transpired that he had been recruited as a witness through a personal friend at the DoJ, and not on merit for his knowledge of the relevant matters for the case. Nor did his current practical knowledge of software seem very sophisticated. It would have been better to have had somebody who was familiar with Windows to testify. Farber is also an active Democrat, it was revealed in court, but the significance of this McCarthy-like question was not immediately clear - except that Judge Jackson is a Reagan appointee and probably therefore a Republican. Farber said he had declined opportunities to look at Windows 98 source code because he found the required non-disclosure agreement conflicted with his teaching duties, so far as revelation was concerned. Although Farber was able to give an authoritative view on the design of operating systems in general, it was an easy matter for Steven Holley, cross-examining for Microsoft, to make him look like a fool for his lack of knowledge about Windows. But if Farber was made to look the fool, Holley acted the fool by introducing textbook references that were grossly out of date ("ancient history" Farber said). One book was from 1990, a second was out of print, and a third was in its fifth edition in 1997, although it was criticised in amazon.com reviews for being out-of-date. The clearly highly-selective references were used by Holley in an attempt to show that what Microsoft was doing with the integration of IE and Windows was approved by theorists from a generous interpretation of the texts quoted. Farber had no specific knowledge of any of these books (presumably nobody had paid him $300/hour to read them), which did tend to suggest that they were not mainstream. At one point Farber suggested that the (Netscape) author of an email that said that "a kernel cannot sensibly be regarded as an operating system" should go back to school. Farber tried to establish the difference between an operating system and an operating system environment, but had only limited success. It was clear however that using definitions to define an operating system would not effective, and that Microsoft was correct in defining Windows 98 as an operating system, even if it was badly designed, faulty and bug-ridden. Notions of the definition of an operating system from the earliest days of Unix are just not relevant today. What is important is Microsoft's direct actions in making life difficult for a competitor, but these were not addressed in the first day of Farber's examination. Microsoft should be castigated for the implied claim that it was Microsoft that made TCP/IP available "free of charge" when it previously cost $50 in one commercial packaging. It was of course readily available for downloading free of charge. Farber was scornful of DLLs that were carried along as baggage in the operating system and were only used for IE, suggesting that "dead bodies hanging around code that's not used by somebody eventually causes you trouble". Another subject of Farber's scorn was OS/2 version 4 ("I have had the misfortune to use it"). Holley kept repeating the futile exercise of asking Farber if he knew the function of a particular file in Windows 98 until he was stopped by Judge Jackson and told he had made the point. The examples used by Holley were of course of DLLs that were used in IE and elsewhere in Windows 98. What was not clarified is which DLLs are used just by IE. The judge asked who would be the counterpart expert to Farber, and was told Jim Allchin. It will be easy for Allchin to say that he does not know the answer to this important question about DLLs, because he did not have hands-on responsibility for the design of Windows 98. Perhaps some hacker will make known exactly which files are used just by IE only, in time for Allchin's cross-examination. Nevertheless, the issue as to whether IE should be integrated into Windows is really a matter for Microsoft, but any steps that Microsoft has taken to make it difficult for other browsers to function with Windows would be anticompetitive and therefore illegal. Perhaps David Boies for the DoJ will take this up in his redirect. Farber had reservations about the Court of Appeals ruling that talked of it being "absurdly inefficient" to make end users reprogram their products to get additional features, but was not willing to criticise the court. Judge Jackson encouraged him to do so, to much laughter in court. The most worrying outcome for Microsoft may well be that after Farber had completed the installation of Microsoft software on a PC to test something, the machine was immediately reclaimed by his students - for running Linux. ® Complete Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Eight MPUs cloned from one set of x.86 instructions

Intel researchers said they cloned eight microprocessors from a single x.86 instruction set, demonstrating one of the most efficient techniques for cloning yet developed. Researchers and their colleagues at Kinky University in Japan said that their experiment showed prime x.86 instructions can easily be cloned to create elite microprocessors. Four of the chips died soon after birth, but the researchers think outside causes were to blame. Other cloning experts hailed the development as proof that cloning is no fluke and will soon become an everyday technology. (Original Wired story is at Eight calves cloned from one cow) ®
Intel headquarters, Santa Clara

Cyrix claims Intel dumping Slot One Celerons

Clone manufacturer Cyrix claimed today that Intel was engaged in a cynical exercise to dump Slot One Celerons in the run-up to the introduction of its 370 pin platform next month.
Mike Magee, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Aureal sues Creative Technology

Aureal Semiconductor and Creative Labs are biting at each other's heels again. This time, Aureal has demanded a US federal court order Creative cease selling its SoundBlaster Live! and Live! Value cards. The reason is that old add-in card chestnut: patent infringement. The patents in question cover Aureal's 3D audio technology. But this is just the latest in a long line of spats between the two companies and others in the highly-competitive PC add-ins market. "While we would prefer a non-litigation solution to this type of matter, we felt we had no other choice but to assert our intellectual property rights through the courts," said Aureal president and CEO Kip Kokinakis. It's a rather ironic statement given only a month ago, Aureal's VP and general counsel, Brendan O'Flaherty, claimed that "Creative seems to prefer to bring these issues to a courthouse rather than resolving them either directly or in the marketplace." He was referring to a suit launched by Creative based on allegations that Aureal was misrepresenting the SoundBlaster Live! and Live! Value cards' specifications in its advertising. Aureal's answer (see Aureal responds to Creative Labs suit) was to suggest the two companies once and for all sit down and thrash it out since it too could accuse Creative of misrepresentative advertising. The Register predicted the two parties would be more likely to end up thrashing it out physically, and it's hard not to see Aureal's new lawsuit as a direct response to Creative's (see Creative sues Aureal... again). And indeed: "We regard this latest move by Aureal as an obvious, by-the-book, defensive ploy -- an entirely predictable move given the recent rejection of Aureal's key defence in Creative's own long-standing patent case against Aureal," said John Danforth, Creative's VP and general counsel. ®
Tony Smith, 10 Dec 1998
Intel headquarters, Santa Clara

First fisticuffs fly in Intel-Intergraph action

The first real sign of action in an anti-trust suit against Intel took place in the US yesterday when Intergraph lawyers crossed swords with their counterparts at the chip giant.
Mike Magee, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Apple's Jobs pooh-poohs NCs, thin clients, Java

Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs' comments at the educational IT-oriented Cause 98 show in Seattle suggested he's not quite as keen on chum Larry Ellison's vision of the network computer (NC) as we might have thought. Jobs' keynote was given over to questions from the audience. Asked about thin client technology, he said they are unlikely to ever truly replace desktop computers. "If the client is really going to be thin, the interaction is not going to be very dynamic," he said. "What the thin client guys are doing is making their thin clients thicker. [Java 2] is five times bigger than the one before. I don't know you'd call it a thin client with 15lbs of stuff in the bag." While Jobs' comments about Java don't go as far as to criticise the technology -- no IT CEO whose products support Java and who doesn't want to piss off those of his customers that use it -- it does mark the first public comments from a senior industry figure that are negative, at least since all and sundry started running around saying how wonderful it is. This should come as no surprise, not least since, with its new (ish) 3D API and Java Foundation Classes GUI API, Java developers can now eliminate all taints of the OS from their apps, ensuring the look and feel the user works in is the same whatever hardware the software is run on. And, as Apple is not unreasonably keen to promote its own UI as its key differentiator from the hordes of Wintel clones, it's not too happy about Sun telling it how its GUI and apps should look. Back to the NC thing, this attitude clearly explains why the iMac, which started life as an Ellison-inspired NC -- it will boot up as one, in the right server environment (MacOS X Server?) and, with no floppy drive and built-in Ethernet, is designed for networking -- ended up as a full desktop PC. Interestingly, Jobs also said that Apple's forthcoming consumer portable, codenamed P1, was aimed primarily at education. Again, no great surprises here. Jobs, on taking over at Apple's helm, was keen to praise the eMate 300, the company's education-oriented Newton OS-based portable, but said it really should have been a MacOS device. Essentially that's what P1 will be. The eMate was, of course, Apple's first translucent computer and clearly the inspiration for the iMac, at least in design and presentation terms. The driving force behind eMate? One Gil Amelio, the CEO Jobs ousted to get his old job back. ®
Tony Smith, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Apple set to cut iMac prices year on year, claims Jobs

Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs explained the company's pricing strategy when he gave the keynote at the US Cause 98 education-in-IT conference. "Our goal is to drive [prices] lower and lower every year," said Jobs. His goal is to bring prices down to around $100 above what he called "white box" companies -- no name cloners offering "piece of Junk" (according to the great man) for as little as $800. Assuming all this happens, it marks an interesting shift for Apple. Its pricing policy for a given market segment has, by and large, always been to cut the price of the current model, introduce a faster version at a higher price, then phase out the old machine and simultaneously drop the better-specced Mac down to the original price point. Essentially, this maintains the same price point, either directly or as an average of the lower priced old machine and higher priced new model. However, with no Motorola PowerPC Celeron in the works, or compatible cut-price processors from rival manufacturers, if Jobs is to compete in that space, he has to keep cutting the price of, say, 233MHz iMacs while keeping a 'high-end' version based on the latest CPU at the $1299 (or £999, over here in the UK) price point. It will have to be a fairly dynamic process to ensure Apple doesn't end up with a long line of 233MHz, 266 MHz, 300 MHz, 333MHz and up iMacs which will ultimately just confuse the punters (even vendors of Wintel boxes don't like doing that any longer). But if Apple cuts the current iMac to $900 in the new year (paving the way for a new, 300MHz machine at $1299), it should be ready to target the $599 market the following year. ®
Tony Smith, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

IGN buy-out gives BT deal a boost

AT&T's decision to buy IBM Global Network will save the telecomms company time and money in its proposed international tie-up with BT. The $5 billion acquisition of IBM's global networking business automatically gives AT&T a presence in 93 out of the 100 cities where it and BT had planned to build new networks, according to a report by Reuters. The two telecomms giants had already agreed to set aside $5 billion to guarantee a presence in their 100 listed cities. AT&T’s deal with IBM means that the two have effectively done it -- all bar a handful -- in one fell swoop doing away with the need to make a series of costly and time-consuming acquisitions. "We're not going to have to do as many things as we had thought we'd have to do initially," said A&T CFO Dan Somers. "It may delay some capital spending, it may eliminate some. It will help us save money but I'm not ready to say how much." Last week, European antitrust regulators announced that they had expanded their enquiry into the proposed joint venture between AT&T and BT, fearing it could lead to excessive market control and domination. But AT&T said that the acquisition of IBM Global Network was unlikely to affect the investigation.®
Tim Richardson, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

AMD, Dell promise not to make old wood products

Did you know AMD and Dell made products out of old mahogany? We didn't, so were surprised to read a story on Associated Press that both companies have promised to phase out using and selling products made with old-growth wood.
Old Oak, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Disney does Dallas

Infoseek has come under pressure from its major shareholder, Disney, to keep its portal clean and drop sex adverts in an attempt to boost its credentials as a family-oriented site. The move was announced within weeks of the anticipated beta launch of the Go Network, a joint venture between the two companies. The company has also said it will supply a number of tools that will enable users of the Go site to filter out adult material, in effect, creating a closed environment on the Web. "In theory, it's a nice idea, but in practical terms, I think they'll find it very hard to succeed," said Tim McCann, editor of the Net magazine What's Online. "And I would have thought they'd miss the revenue from all that adult entertainment advertising," he said. Perversely, while that may be true in the short term it could even work in Infoseek's favour in the future if it attracts more advertisers and users who wish to take advantage of a porn-free environment. This approach also ties in with research from the META group -- an IT research and advisory service -- which suggests that those "lesser" portals (Infoseek is now among that crowd it seems) will only survive if they create services and environments for targeted audiences. META also goes on to say that the fight for portal domination is now between AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo!.®
Tim Richardson, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

FTC slaps record fine on Iomega

The US Federal Trade Commission has slapped a record-breaking $900,000 fine on Iomega, the Great Satan of Zips, for failing to pay cash rebates to customers quickly enough. The case goes back to a 1996 offer made by Iomega to entice users to buy Zip drives with a 'buy now, register your drive and get some cash back later' deal. Unfortunately, 'later' proved rather longer than most buyers had anticipated from the offer details -- some customers claimed they had waited up to four months for their money. The delays, which Iomega has since said were attributable to the "overwhelming response" to both product and rebates, contravened the FTC's Mail Order rules, which state a company must deliver rebates within 30 days. However, the FTC ruled that Iomega had not sought to defraud its customers -- it simply "got in over its head", said FTC staff attorney Matthew Gold. The $900,000 fine comes in over $100,000 more than the FTC charged Dell in April for violating mail order adverising regulations. See also Iomega sued over Zip-zapping 'click of death'
Team Register, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

UK PC school scheme could founder on Y2K problem

A scheme intended to re-cycle PCs and distribute them to schools throughout the UK has taken no account of the fact that many of the machines will be non Year 2000 compliant. Tools for Schools (TfS), a charity supported by UK daily the Guardian, the Financial Times and Independent Television, is supported by both the UK government and teaching unions. According to a news item in today's edition of the Guardian, only 486s or Pentiums no older than three years' old will be acceptable. The report said that 10,000 computers will be allocated in 1999, rising to 30,000 in 2000 and 2001. But a representative for the Intel Corporation said today that 486 machines are definitely not Y2K compliant, while some of the early Pentiums also suffer from the same problem. That could mean that the machines will fall over on the 1st of January 2000. Intel has a site here which explains the problems different PCs may encounter. The charity is hoping to persuade industry to donate machines but large corporations are expected to ditch many of their old machines and buy new ones because of potential non-Y2K compliance next year. The scheme was yesterday endorsed by School Standards Minister Charles Clarke. But other government ministers are engaged in actively fighting potential problems in the Year 2000…. At press time, TfS was unavailable for comment on the potential problem. ®
Mike Magee, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Santa runs out of mobile phones

Hoist by its own petard, Cellnet has run out of pre-paid handsets, leaving supermarket giant Asda to turn to mobile phone rival One-2-One for its supply of boxed phones this Christmas. Asda claims the number of phones it gets from Cellnet satisfies only a third of the demand it has for such products. The supermarket currently sells around 5,000 Cellnet handsets per day. Pre-paid mobile phone services, where customers are charged in advance for calls, are proving to be one of Santa’s most popular stocking fillers this year. Such sales are expected to account for one million connections over this year’s final quarter. In November, Cellnet set off a price war when it cut a deal with Asda to launch "U" at £69.99 for handset and connection, about £30 cheaper than competitors. The Carphone Warehouse immediately dropped its prices to match. The same month saw Cellnet, Orange and One-2-One all poo-poo Vodafone chief executive Chris Gent for his overly modest prediction of up to 50,000 pre-pay handsets this Christmas.®
Linda Harrison, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Ericsson plots Qualcomm's demise

The US CDMA digital phone standard is in danger of being shut out of consideration in the international discussion for third generation (3G) cellular systems; or so it would appear from a series of coded press releases issued over the week. In the wonderful world of mobile phone company strategic direction, press releases frequently don't mean what they purport to say. Henry Kissinger or Machiavelli might grasp the intent instantly, but mere mortals and honest journalists haven't much hope of spotting the daggers and poison chalices carefully inserted between the lines. Bizarrely, these press releases aren't meant to be published. The companies are sending one another threats and signals while maintaining unctuous smiles on their corporate faces. We can tell you don't believe us - but in the past couple of days the plot designed to hang CDMA and Qualcomm out to dry cranked into action. Two days ago Ericsson published a statement offering a proposal "to harmonise third generation mobile communications." The meat of the proposal was that the chip-rate of WCDMA, which is the basis of the European UMTS 3G standard and a candidate for incorporation in the ITU's IMT-2000 global one, be reduced from 4.096 Mcps to 3.84 Mcps. This is the arcane point at which everybody except a handful of backstabbers world-wide is supposed to stop reading. "We are very optimistic that our proposal meets with all requirements for harmonised 3G standards for users of GSM, TDMA IS-136, cdmaOne and PDC equally well," smiled Ericsson VP Ake Persson. Yesterday Nokia followed this up by saying it "looks forward to closely reviewing recent proposals for the adoption of the common chip rate of 3.84 Mcps for both WCDMA and CDMA 2000." so what we've got so far is an Ericsson proposal, and a Nokia reaction of studied neutrality. Nokia is reserving its rights to jump in whichever direction it decides suits it, apparently. So, onwards to today. The CDMA Development Group (CDG) claims the Ericsson proposal is hypocritical. Says voluble CDG executive director Perry LaForge: "We find it frustrating that Ericsson says it's trying to compromise, but again chooses a chip rate that is made purposely incompatible with the cdma2000 proposal... Clearly there is no difference in performance between 3.68 [the rate proposed for cdma2000] and 3.84 Mcps... So how then is 3.84 Mcps a compromise?" If you've stuck with us this far you're probably puzzling over what it is they're arguing about. But the trick is to grasp that what they say they're arguing about isn't really what they're arguing about at all - it's a sort of proxy war. Ericsson has clearly deliberately made a proposal that it knows will be unacceptable to the CDMA lobby, while Nokia is holding itself in reserve. Between the two of them they can call the shots in Europe's ETSI, and they have a mutual interest in stitching up Qualcomm. Which brings us on to the real argument. On Monday the ITU issued a warning "that CDMA-based RTT proposals for IMT-2000 could be excluded from further consideration if [the] IPR stalemate is not resolved by the year end." This uncharacteristically uncoded edict basically means that if the CDMA camp doesn't start to negotiate reasonably on intellectual property it's not going to be allowed to play in the construction of a global phone standard by being allowed to submit candidate Radio Transmission Technologies (RTTs) for consideration. Robert Jones, Director of the ITU Radiocommunications Bureau, says: "To conform with the ITU patent policy the holder of any known patent or any pending patent application related to any proposal made to the ITU in the process of international standards-setting must submit a written statement, either waiving his rights or committing to negotiate licenses on a non-discriminatory basis and on reasonable terms and conditions. Failure to provide this statement ultimately excludes the proposal from the international standards-setting process." So the ITU isn't saying contributing technology should be royalty-free, but that it should be freely and reasonably licensed. Which might seem reasonable. The ITU has set a deadline of the end of this year for patent statements on IMT-2000 RTTs, and has received two "upholding IPRs on CDMA-based technology proposals: one by Ericsson on 28 September 1998 and one made by QUALCOMM on 13 October 1998." Ericsson seems to sort of accept the ITU conditions, but says, according to the ITU, that "it is not prepared to offer licenses, provided that some other company does not apply such reciprocity in its licensing commitments and by such non-reciprocal action, hinder free choice on equal terms between available standards." Again according to the ITU, Qualcomm is willing to conform on cdma2000, but on a stack of others, including UMTS, W-CDMA and Korean CDMA, it "is not willing to waive the IPR rights it says it holds nor is it willing to agree to negotiate licenses with other parties on a on-discriminatory basis on reasonable terms and conditions." Qualcomm is claimed only to be willing to licence its IPR if first, a single converged world-wide CDMA standard is selected for 3G; second, that this standard accommodates equally the two dominant standards of today, and third, that "Disputes on specific technological points should be resolved by selecting the proposal that either is demonstrably superior in terms of performance, features, or cost, or, in the case of alternatives with no demonstrable material difference, the choice that is most compatible with existing technology." Requirement three looks like a handy last trench to inhabit if the other two are agreed, but you get the picture. Qualcomm has been betting the IPR ranch on leveraging itself into a pivotal position in IMT-2000, and on being able to derive extremely comfortable revenues from the rest of the industry. Coming to acceptable agreements on IPR assignment is absolutely vital to the production of converged standards, so Nokia and Ericsson, who aren't about to roll over without a fight, are working hard to isolate Qualcomm. (Lots of other companies want to isolate Qualcomm too, but that's another story). The ITU announcement makes it abundantly clear that the isolation process proceeds apace. The CDMA people, RSN, may have to truck out FCC spokespeople bashing on about letting the market decide again. And that chip rate stuff? Well, Ericsson has made an offer that is difficult for the CDG to accept, and deliberately so. Maybe Nokia is playing good cop, by welcoming the possibility of discussion. And by rejecting the offer out of hand, the CDG looks intransigent again. ®
John Lettice, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

UK IT firms slip in/out of FTSE 100

While Dixons was yesterday celebrating its return to the FTSE 100, it was a bleak and frustrating day for Misys and Sema, who were both squeezed out of the top shares’ index. While the two prominent stocks prepared themselves for a period of bouncing in and out of the FTSE 100, Sage, the accounting software group, had its shares downgraded despite improved results. Sage proved successful at selling software packages to SMBs, yet its shares slipped due to disappointing organic growth. Misys was the first UK software company to enter the FTSE earlier this year. Sema, the Anglo-French reseller, joined three months ago. Dixons will rejoin the index on 21 December.®
Linda Harrison, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

New home digital standard launched

Eight consumer electronics companies have banded together to establish a licensing programme for the development of domestic digital audio-visual entertainment networks. HAVi (Home Audio-Video interoperability) has been designed to address home networking needs and in particular, provide consumers with the convenience of hot plug-and-play connectivity, appliance interoperability, and future proof operation. Grundig, Hitachi, Panasonic, Philips, Sharp, Sony, Thomson and Toshiba have all backed HAVi, which will be made available to the electronics and multimedia industries in spring next year. HAVi will provide a number of new services such as high-speed Internet access, video-on-demand and home AV server applications, according to a joint statement.®
Tim Richardson, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Motorola products are history

Iridium has been live for barely a month, and it's not yet properly commercial, so Motorola's decision to donate one of the satellites to the Smithsonian Museum seems a little, ah, premature. Today's irony-free press release tells us that "Motorola is no stranger to making history." Well no - take its Mac clone operations. Or maybe the pager division...
Willis Loop, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Rise, Taylor and Byrne team up x.86 wise

Roy Taylor and John Byrne, joint managing directors of VML UK, have signed up x.86 clone manufacturer Rise as their client. The x.86 cloner, emanating from Taiwan, makes cheap chips which work perfectly with Windows 95 and other operating systems belonging to Microsoft. Taylor refused to comment on details of the deal, but confirmed that he would be the representative of the Rise x.86 clones in January 1999. VML UK will start representing Rise from early January. Rise could not be contacted for comment at press time. ® Roy Taylor is a regular contributor of columns to The Register
Mike Magee, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

AOL in $31 million Yellow Pages deal

AOL has signed a $31 million deal with Bell Atlantic and GTE Directories in an attempt at increasing consumer confidence in online transactions. The new online Yellow Pages database is to be made available to all of AOL's 12 million members -- plus the millions of other visitors attracted to its portal -- to provide the "most complete shopping information available anywhere on the Internet." Available later this month, the Yellow Pages directory contains listings for 11 million US businesses, as well as product and service information for thousands of advertisers. According to a report published last week, researching products is one of the four most popular things people do online. "AOL members value having easy access to trusted brands, and in the Yellow Pages category, GTE's SuperPages and Bell Atlantic's Big Yellow are two of the biggest names available," said Barry Schuler, president of AOL Interactive Services at America Online. "Recent research also shows that one of the top reasons people go online is to get product information, which is why we believe offering a fast, accurate, reliable Yellow Pages feature will be a valuable resource in our members’ everyday lives. "We think that the shopping information offered by GTE and Bell Atlantic will be a great fit for the AOL community," he said. Under the terms of the three-year agreement AOL will receive guaranteed payments of $31 million in a combination of advertising sales and distribution revenue.®
Tim Richardson, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Toshiba goes direct in Japan. Next step, Europe?

Toshiba has started selling its PCs direct in Japan. Those machines include both desktops and notebooks But sources close to The Register said it would be some time before the model migrated West. The sources did not say how long. Toshiba, hit by different forces because of the weakness of Japanese currency, and which made big losses three weeks ago, as reported here, started selling PCs over Japanese wires yesterday. As reported here last week, IBM had decided its model was to sell direct. But, in that case, it was simply following the Compaq model. Toshiba UK could not comment at press time. The sources said it was reacting to market pressures, including low demand in the home market. ®
A staffer, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Condoms with everything

Lycos today put condoms over everything and opened the Web’s first virtual department store, but it says UK shoppers will have to wait until Valentine’s Day to get the full monty. The US Lycos Store claims to sell everything from contraceptives to cars. This Internet extravaganza is piloted in the UK from today, with readers able to bid in an auction for two Furbies, RRP £39.99, which will be auctioned off for charity between now and 23 December. Richard Spinks, Lycos UK business development director, said the promotion is designed to show what the system is capable of. He says it will charge £495 per £10,000 page views for businesses wishing to take part. Spinks said: "This is the perfect way for businesses to test the benefits of selling over the Web." When asked which product stood out the most, spunky Spinks swiftly replied: "Condoms". Lycos has grown to the point where it has the fourth biggest Internet audience, behind Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft. It acquired Wired Digital for $83 million earlier this year.®
Linda Harrison, 10 Dec 1998
The Register breaking news

Departure of Trade and Industry still not Mandelson's name

Far be it from us to suggest to Her Majesty's government that it is not good. We are, after all, mere journalists. But we are, nevertheless, slightly concerned that after the loss of 1,000 jobs at Royal Doulton that no-one has picked up on our suggestion that the Department of Trade and Industry be re-named. After all, these are the people who only cottoned on to the Year 2000 almost after the fact.