14th > December > 1998 Archive
The UK sort of shuts down over the Christmas period, which gets longer and longer every year. Some years ago, the .gov here decided to extend the traditional Scottish bank holiday on New Year's Day to the rest of the country, meaning that many people thought it was hardly worth the effort going in for three days between bank holiday Boxing Day and Hogmanay. So The Register settled itself down on Christmas Eve for a good night's switching between 68 channels on the box but flicked back swiftly when we noticed that PC World (part of the Dixons group) was advertising a sale the day before the turkey got its chippolatas. Now we know that Intel has all sorts of secret plans afoot to cut prices but actually Dixons was just following the retail pack. Tradespeople, the sniffy upper class Brit-word for shopkeepers, were complaining bitterly that people were just not spending enough. The BBC reported, pre-Christmas, that the UK retail trade had something like £2 billion worth of stock they needed to shift in the early weeks of anno domini 1998. Although the malaise was not confined to superstores which sell PCs, The Register had warnings from big players as long as three months ago that all was not well on the PC front. A source at Acer said that stores it sold through were reporting sales of PCs were well down, and there seemed no prospect of a boom in the run up to the turkey-shoot. But our Acer moll said no-one was entirely clear why any of this was happening. The distributors who sell to the assembler trade had a much clearer idea. They said that when Intel made its last series of price cuts, back in the autumn, the assemblers put their plans on hold because they refused to lose a couple of points on making boxes. While we were astonished indeed at the price slashes on the PC World adverts, we were even more surprised at the positive flood of adverts from Lentil. Featuring the world famous Intel Bunnies™, the adverts were greeted with puzzlement by most sane (i.e. non-industry) folk. What could it all mean? Did Lentil have its finger on the PC pulse? People dressed in multicoloured suits dashing around in the sort of van that .gov agencies use to snoop on the subversives did not carry a very clear message, the sane people told us. Meanwhile, in Blighty at least, the toy shops were kept busy trying to supply an insatiable demand for a phenomenon known as the Teletubbies™. These huggables, unlike the Intel Bunnies™, were out of stock as our nation cried out for total silliness rather than Pentium IIs. * Register Joke .18 micron. Napoleon's famous jibe: "L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers" came true in the sixties when Carnaby Street was full of boutiques. But what do you call a hand grenade rolling across a kitchen? Answer: Linoleum blown apart. ®
Internet Explorer can be separated from Windows 98, says DoJ expert witness Edward Felten of Princeton University. In testimony released on Friday Felten explains how IE can be disengaged from the various revs of Windows, and even goes so far as to describe a "prototype" uninstaller program he and his assistants have knocked up. This could conceivably have some commercial value, as one of the points he makes in his testimony is that getting IE out of Windows has become progressively harder with each version. Somewhat embarrassingly for Microsoft, however, getting the two apart has only required the invention of software 'crowbars' since Windows 98. Was it not a year ago that Microsoft was arguing that the version of Windows 95 it was shipping to OEMs had IE so inextricably integrated that it wouldn't be possible to strip it out again without breaking Windows itself? Felten refers to Microsoft KnowledgeBase articles which explain how IE 4.0 can be removed from Windows 95 OSR 2.5, which was the OEM version the company started shipping in December 1997. He also points to the way OSR 2.5 installs on a machine, Windows 95 first and then IE 4.0, and suggests that Microsoft could simply allow the second step to be skipped in order to provide Windows 95 functionality without the 'inextricably integrated' browser. The nature of the integration, it would appear, tends to be more a case of Microsoft mixing browser related and non-browser related functionality within the same DLLs. If this is the case, then Microsoft is gluing disparate pieces of code together rather than integrating. Similarly, Windows' desktop update functionality may be lost if you have taken IE out, but one of the reasons for this is that Microsoft's update Web site refuses entry to other browsers. This would seem to be a mechanical limitation rather than a matter of functionality. Felten's prototype uninstaller was constructed in order to show that it was (and is) feasible for Microsoft to produce a similar program, and thus to sell Windows 98 without IE. The uninstaller removes iexplore.exe then makes changes in the Windows registry to stop 98 trying to view files with IE 4.0. Then it modifies two DLLs and adds a small new DLL which forces 98 to use the default browser, if there is one, rather than being hard-coded to use IE 4.0. "The prototype removal program does not prevent Windows 98 from booting properly," he says. "Nor does it affect the stability of Windows 98 under ordinary use. Microsoft could have produced a version of Windows 98 without Web browsing in a way that did not adversely affect the non Web browsing features of Windows 98." It is going to be extremely tricky for Microsoft to refute this in cross-examination this week. Company spinmeisters on Friday were already pointing out that Felten "did not actually remove Internet Explorer from Windows 98, he only hid some of the functionality it provides." This would seem to be true to some extent, but why is it true? Is it true because 98 genuinely needs IE 4.0 "functionality," or because Microsoft has hard-coded browsing code into non-brower DLLs? In that case the 'hidden functionality' is not, in the absence of IE, doing anything but taking up real estate. Felten would appear to know his DLLs, so Microsoft attorneys will trifle with him at their peril. ® Complete Register trial coverage
As predicted here rather some time ago (Intel network scheme means war with Microsoft), Intel's "server appliance" strategy is breaking the old Wintel alliance asunder. Last week the company announced a group of "supporters" for its projected Server Appliance Design Guide, and Microsoft, naturally, wasn't on the team. It may also be interesting to note that Compaq, which muscled its way into some of the Wintel PC9x design guides, isn't listed either. An oversight, or a hint of Alpha-related shenanigans to come? The "supporters and contributors" (it seems pretty clear who's in charge here - they're not what you'd call consortium members) are Bull, Cobalt Networks, Dell, Dialogic, Digex, HP, Lucent, Nortel, Novell, Oracle, PSI-net and SCO. So what do you do with a group like that? Well, you maybe modify what you said originally about server appliances for starters. Intel's original pitch was that they were single-task or limited function devices that sat on the network and were easy to install. It's first real appliance was launched relatively recently, and is a sort of plug-in mail server in a paperback sized box. It uses a 486 and an embedded OS, and it's cheap. At the original announcement Intel specifically stated that expensive, multi-function (i.e., Microsoft) operating systems were out of the question, as were expensive, per seat (i.e. Microsoft) network licensing models. Now, the message is slightly different. "Server appliances are an expansion to the overall market segment, providing complete hardware and software solutions designed to perform a single dedicated function or a small set of dedicated functions within a network or communications infrastructure… These products are applicable over a broad range of performance classes and usage models." Read that last sentence again if you didn't get it right away - Intel has taken the spec upscale. Initially it was pitching appliances at small business, but now (no doubt having read and learned from Oracle's Raw Iron project ) it sees how you can put high performance apps like Oracle8 almost directly on the metal. Quite a few of the supporters for server appliances certainly would want to build simple, idiot-proof devices for small businesses, but quite a few of them would also like to produce more powerful, dedicated devices. Intel would appear to be snuggling up to Oracle in order to commoditise the latter's Raw Iron project on an Intel hardware base. The effort will get a charter in Q1, and the first spec is expected in Q2. So what do we call it? Intacle?
With only nine witnesses having been heard in eight weeks, it now seems unlikely that the present case will conclude before February, and because of the amount of evidence, a decision is likely to take a further several months. Increasingly it seems that the DoJ is winning at the moment in the District Court, but an appeal by the loser is thought to be a certainty. This would most likely result in an appeal verdict in the next millennium, which could result in a real Y2K problem for Microsoft. The DoJ has filed a Motion to modify a pre-trial order by Judge Jackson to require earlier production by Microsoft of the direct examination of witnesses. Microsoft is indulging in gamesmanship, it seems, to give the DoJ as little time as possible to prepare for its cross-examination. Microsoft has been slow producing its opposition to the Motion, and so the judge asked if it was conceding the motion. John Warden for Microsoft said not, it had been filed that morning, to which the judge replied it had not been received in his chambers. The judge will decide on the issue this morning. The next witness will be Professor Edward Felten from Princeton University. ® Complete Register trial coverage
Legally, the interesting thing last week was Microsoft associate general counsel Tom Burt's inability to crack James Gosling. The adage with do-it-yourself (in-house) lawyering - having a fool for a client - certainly applied. Burt acted like a competitive salesman from Microsoft who had followed a correspondence course in lawyering. He was unable to shake his intellectually superior opponent, so his attempts to "refresh" Gosling's memory (insinuating it was faulty, or contravened something said earlier) were met by Gosling with responses such as there was nothing to refresh, because he had never seen the document before. As Burt's cross-examination proceeded it seemed increasingly clear that Burt was using the occasion as a practice run for Sun versus Microsoft in San Jose, sometime next year. Many of the exhibits he introduced had been stamped for that case. Burt put his questions to Gosling in a particularly transparent and boring way, adding "correct?" at the end of each question. It may be that Lawyering for Dummies suggests this is an easy way to extract a confirmatory reply, but it happened 515 times during Gosling's interrogation by Burt. Gosling was not thrown by it at all: Burt: You entered into a licensing agreement with Microsoft and then gave them the illusion of working with them; correct? Gosling: I don't think that's at all the case. Correct? ® Complete Register trial coverage
Taiwanese motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte said late Friday it had introduced four boards which support the 370-pin PPGA Intel Celeron chips. The specifications of the boards give important clues to Intel's future roadmap next year. The GA-6LX7A supports 300MHz to 433MHz parts, and supports both Slot One and Socket 370 chips, with system speeds of 66MHz, 75Mhz and 83MHz and clock multiples of from three to 6.5. It will support between 8Mb and 768Mb of DRAM. The GA-6LM7A is a similar motherboard but supports four chipsets: the Intel 82440 LX AGPset, Winbond's 83977EF Ioset and the 83782 Health Chop and the ESS Solo-1 PCI sound chip. Both the ATI Rage Pro 2X AGP chip and the Yamaha 724 PCI sound chip onboard come with the GA-6LMM7 board, while the GA-6LA7 comes in a baby AT form factor. Last week, other motherboard manufacturers and some channel players complained that Intel was dumping Slot One Celerons in the channel as a prelude to the introduction of its 370 pin parts next year. ®
Evidence is mounting that Microsoft has a dual strategy on the integration of Internet Explorer with operating systems, just in case it is forced to separate the browser from Windows 2000. Microsoft is offering Unix versions of Internet Explorer 4.0 and IE 5.0 beta on its FTP site and has labelled them under a director called DeskApps. A software programmer said: "Does this mean that IE4 and IE5 are 'applications' which run under the Unix operating system, or has Microsoft taken over Unix too?" He added: "If they are applications, and presumably a large part of code is common to the Windoze versions, then why can't the Windoze versions be separate applications, just like the Unix ones are." Although Microsoft has always denied it, sources told The Register four years ago that it had dual application streams for future versions of Windows which integrated IE. ®
Winnov has introduced a USB PC video camera with a price tag of £99. The company said that its Videum unit is capable of supporting all video and multimedia apps on PCs which support the USB port. The camera integrates both audio and video signals, and has a built in microphone. The sampling rate is between eight to 48Khz and uses a CCD image sensor with a resolution of 352 x 288 pixels. That allows video to be captures at 15 framer a second. The unit comes with Win98 drivers and a capture application, as well as a video mail application supporting MPEG3 and MPEG4 compression. ® Go here for more details.
A man has been barred from eBay, the electronic auction house, for allegedly swindling consumers out of anything between $30,000 and $100,000. Sonny Stemple received cash for items that he never dispatched, according to a report by Newsweek. To make matters worse, eBay has said it won't compensate those who have been ripped off. Instead, it's advising them to pursue their own legal actions against Mr Stemple. Stemple's activities are unlikely to boost the wider public's confidence in buying and selling over the Internet. It's been a bad week for eBay. Last week its software broke down twice causing its site to crash and disrupting thousands of bids.®
Four years ago, next January, The Register found itself in San Diego along with thousands of other business partners (BPs) to hear the word of CEO Lou Gerstner about how committed it was to its channel. Two years later, we found ourselves in the company of Compaq luminary Eckhard Pfeiffer at Innovate in Houston, to hear the great man pledge his company's commitment to the channel. And now we find both IBM and Compaq still maintaining that they are committed to the channel, while effectively dumping their grand plans. It was not much of a surprise for IBM to do a u-turn. It is characteristic of the protean nature of the beast. A proteus is now considered to be a blind, cave dwelling amphibian but its original meaning is releated to Proteus, a Greek sea god, who did not want to foretell the future and therefore took on many different forms. Both definitions apply to IBM. It has wriggled its way, seemingly blindly, through many a similar situation within living memory. But surely Gerstner's latest wriggle is one too many. The cost of promoting IBM's two tier channel scam is incalculable -- a little like its profound failure with OS/2. So when Doug LeGrande, IBM EMEA's general manager, told The Register two weeks ago that his European channel weren't particularly concerned about the company's move to a direct model, that's probably because they already knew… Compaq is a little different. It has always had a better relationship with the PC channel than IBM, and seems to have gone out of its way to attempt to keep the relationship going. But the devil, in the shape of Dellistopheles, Great Satan of Hardware, concentrates PC manufacturers' minds. It has not suffered from the inventory problems of both Dell and IBM. On the contrary, it has stormed through 1998 and will probably do the same next year. Compaq seems to have been forced into its direct action by Dell's success on price and time to delivery. IBM's excuse, at best, is sheer incompetence. IBM shareholders should ask the company they invest in exactly what it thinks it is doing. After all, it invented the PC which spawned all of its competition. But now that both Compaq and IBM have bitten the direct bullet, there is another question that their shareholders should put to them. Why are both Compaq and IBM being so mealy mouthed about going direct and why don't they both just come out and say their enemy is Dellistopheles? ®
The vicar who has written a "liturgy for the blessing of a mobile phone" appears to have shot himself in the foot. The new succentor and junior cardinal at St Paul's Cathedral, Canon Gordon Giles, may be wholly justified in blessing mobile phones, and may be trying to rid the church of its fusty image, but he needs to give his own Web skills the last rites. His blessing ("we have come together in the presence of God, to ask God's succour and support in the management, use and care of this mobile telephonic apparatus...) is supposed to be published on his personal Web site. But when The Register took a reverential look, all we got was a blank screen. "There's nothing wrong with our server," said a defensive helpline operator at Enterprise, the company which hosts the Canon' site. "He's done something really bizarre here and hasn't uploaded it properly," he said. Amen to that. The Register telephoned St Paul's to let the Canon know of the slip, but all we got was an answerphone message. Perhaps the Canon is working on his latest liturgy -- the geek shall inherit the earth. %reg;
A problem with a software timing loop in Windows 95 has re-emerged but this time it is Intel, rather than AMD, which appears to have difficulties. Motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte, one of the most successful third party manufacturers for Intel, is stressing the fact that it is providing what it calls the Intel PIIX4 Patch Utility for Windows 95 with 370-pin Celeron motherboards it is supplying. A source close to the Taiwanese company said: "I think this is a problem with the software timing with Win95 but at speeds of 333MHz and 350MHz." Three weeks ago, Intel denied point blank it suffered from the problem, after rival AMD found itself in difficulties over $35 Microsoft wanted to charge dealers for the workaround. But a senior architect, who declined to be named, said the patches were unrelated. He said: "Not that it's not entirely possible that the same timing loop problem in Win95 affects Intel (and maybe Cyrix too) CPUs ...but the PIIX4 patch that I've seen fixes a different problem, one having to do with chipset IDE ports. "Briefly, Win32 uses keyed info in INF files as tokenized how-to info on accessing system resources. The Intel 430 HX and TX chipsets, with the PIIX3 and PIIX4 chips before, were released after Win95, so the OS doesn't recognize the chips with their secret signatures, assumes that there's default hardware on its motherboard, and misbehaves. "The patch consists largely of updated INF files describing the newer chipset hardware. Abit has also provided this info for their customers, and Intel still has the update on their website." A representative from Intel said he was unaware of such a problem. ®
A senior executive from AMD Europe has expressed surprise that Intel is moving from slot architecture to socket architecture again, given that bus speeds will mount swiftly over the next two years. Rana Mainee, head of European market research at AMD, said that the K7 will have a slot architecture for technical and not for marketing reasons. He said: "The slot architecture is significant for 200MHz buses, which the K7 will support. Bus timings between 133MHz and 150MHz start to get very difficult to guarantee using socket architecture." Intel has promised that next year it will produce chips capable of supporting 133MHz buses. Mainee said: "As you get to 200MHz you have to make sure the handling of the signals is as faultless as possible and slot architecture allows you to terminate signals correctly." He said that AMD engineers were working on producing far more level two cache on the K7 than was thought possible. "These are more technical than marketing issues," said Mainee. "It's a topsy turvey world." Rumours have been circulating in the chip industry for some months that Intel was thinking of dispensing with slot architecture completely. At press time, no-one from Intel was available to comment. ®
3Dfx Interactive has bought graphics board manufacturer STB for an estimated $141 million. The deal will be accounted for by a share-for-share transaction, with STB investors getting .65 shares of 3Dfx common stock. Subject to regulatory details, the acquisition will be completed by March of next year and helps to catapult 3Dfx into an even more powerful position in the add-in-board business. It could also narrow the options for end users but both companies said the deal will mean there will be a single source for 3Dfx branded add--in-boards, which will help price stability. Technically, it will allow for closer integration at the chip, software and board level and faster designs for cheaper solutions, 3Dfx said. The companies gave no details of future rationalisations on the job front. 3Dfx products include Voodoo chip sets, and Voodoo Banshee. STB has specialised in video drivers and graphics controllers. ®
Major PC vendors are unable to say how they will deal with Year 2000 compliance issues caused by Windows 98, despite having detailed plans for their hardware.
Police and trading standards officers in Edinburgh have arrested 12 people in connection with the seizure of pirated Nintendo and Sony Playstation games worth an estimated £1 million. The fake goods were found on seven stalls in Edinburgh’s Ingliston Market. The games were on sale for around £15 each and in some cases there was no software at all in the boxes. ®
Reports from South Korea said today that Samsung Electronics is set to invest nearly $1 billion in producing DRAMs next year. But the investment will take place at home, and not abroad, the company said. Samsung is to build a further DRAM fab at its Kiehung plant to pump out 64Mbit and 256Mbit parts in anticipation of extra worldwide demand. It is the first of the big three semiconductor chaebols to announce fresh investments. LG Semicon and Hyundai are locked in a deadly embrace over their DRAM future, with Wall Street consultancy Arthur Little caught in the middle. ®
Novell has made its first acquisition outside the US, gaining a minority stake in Edinburgh-based Orbital Software and in so doing, aiding the Scottish company’s distribution channel. The $1million funding from Utah-based Novell forms part of a $5.1 million investment in the company which specialises in knowledge management products. Orbital, founded in 1995 by two former academics from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, already has one of its products, Persona Server, incorporated within Novell Directory Services. The deal forms part of a four-way investment with Scottish Equity partnerships, venture capitalists 3i and NatWest’s IT fund through Novell’s Internet Equity Fund. Kevin Dorren, Orbital’s president and CEO, described the move as "a benchmark" for Novell because it was investing in a company outside the US. He said Orbital would use the cash boost to expand the sales and marketing of Orbital’s Organik PersonServer and Organik KnowledgeWare products through Novell’s UK channel. Dorren said he was unable to disclose the percentage of the company Novell had purchased, but stressed it was "only an investment for upcoming technology" and in no way related to a complete buy-out. ®
The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) - which promotes the interests of ISPs in the UK - has warned that the current trend towards free Net access may be short-lived and that consumers need to be wary before signing up. Although there is strong evidence of a new economic model for ISP's being developed, there is no guarantee that free Net access will survive in the medium to long term, according to Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of ISPA. "It's a little simplistic to say that subscription-based Net access is dead and buried," he said. "I still think there will be a demand for a pay-for subscription market. "Price isn't everything. The quality of service, connection and technical support all need to be considered," he said. Lansman was speaking after yet more companies revealed they had followed Freeserve's lead and started offering free Net access. The mail order company, Software Warehouse, launched Softnet earlier this month and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) announced that it is offering free Net access to all of its 122,000 members in the UK. In addition, Callnet has joined ICL-backed VIP to join a growing number of companies offering brand-customised access. The apparent success of Freeserve -- which last week announced it had attracted 550,000 subscribers in less than three months -- appears to have prompted other service providers to jump on the bandwagon. While Freeserve has cut the cost of Net access in the UK, Lansman warns consumers not to jump in headfirst. "Consumers should be careful and read the small print before signing up to a new ISP. "They need to ask themselves, 'is it really free?' -- the money has to come from somewhere." ®