22nd > December > 1998 Archive

The Register breaking news

A year ago: Intel sings like canary with flu

So that was Christmas and one day after the Boxing Day festivities, an email arrived from Santa Claus from Santa Clara, confirming the cut which dare not speak its name. Quoth Santa: "You have been speculating about price cuts in January. I can now tell you that in response to customer requests to establish entry-level Pentium II processor-based systems in Q1 1998, we are conducting an out-of-cycle price reduction on our 233MHz Pentium II processor. "This new price will enable OEMs to offer unprecedented levels of performance at entry-level price points, beginning in January 1998. According to our regular schedule, Intel will provide updated microprocessor pricing for the rest of our product line later in January." OK, so we got that one right then. Bumped into a security guard at a major publishing house in London who, knowing our trade, told us that he'd already placed an order for the 333MHz part which will arrive in the shops, distributors and OEM establishments towards the end of this month. (If there's an erratum, we won't see twin sets for a while (passim)). That, of course, will coincide with a drastic slashing exercise as Intel prepares to once again shift the goalposts on the processor front. At the same time, Deschutes will splash onto the tarmacadamy in a bid to convince the universe that what it needs is more power. But over in AMD-land, Intel's crafty fork technique (passim) has the boys and girls running around in a bit of a panic, we understand. It will introduce a pre-emptive price strike to persuade OEMs and the now vast assembler market that yes, content/archive/84, it will do its thing to keep at that lower price point. We'd seen it in the US press, but now it can be confirmed that the three Wise Men: AMD, Cyrix and Centaur/IDT, are huddled up considering a unified approach to MMX extensions, Ye Socket Seven Standarde and the ilke. They'd better get their act together fast, we think here at The Register. ®
The Register breaking news

iMac top-selling PC in US

Apple's iMac was the top-selling desktop computer in the US retail and mail-order channels in November, research from PC Data has found. The consumer-oriented computer notched up a marketshare of 7.1 per cent by volume and 8.2 per cent by sales. Those figures pushed Apple's overall marketshare to ten per cent, twice what it was then the iMac was launched back in August. PC Data's numbers suggest Apple has been able to extend the iMac's initial sales momentum into the holiday season, thanks to clever marketing techniques, such as offering iMacs through a three-year hire-purchase scheme. However, the decision of US chain Best Buy to drop the price of the iMac from $1299 to $1099 has raised some concerns that sales may be tailing off this month. And in the Christmas buying period, that would be bad news for Apple. Here in the UK, prices appear to be sticking to the £999 launch price point. That said, reports in the US media suggest that this price reduction isn't being matched by other retailers, and that it's largely down to the very large volumes of iMacs Best Buy ordered when it signed up to sell the machine. Best Buy's rival, CompUSA, hasn't discounted the computer's price tag, but instead chosen to bundle more hardware and software, which is tantamount to the same thing. Price cuts are on the cards anyway, as Apple prepares faster versions of the iMac and possibly even an alternative version of the computer aimed at mainstream business buyers. Certainly, Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs recently said he wants the iMac to compete with sub-$800 machines, and will ultimately bring down prices to around $100 above the baseline for similarly specced Windows machines (see Apple set to cut iMac prices year on year, claims Jobs). ®
The Register breaking news

Errant Virgin boss drops balloon sponsor in it

Somewhere over Tibet today world-famous people's capitalist Richard Branson has a problem. The stunt-happy Virgin boss is engaged in his umpteenth attempt to fly round the world by balloon, and this time is in trouble with the Chinese. It's obviously a bit nerve-racking for Branson, but in a large building somewhere in London it must also be a worry for the outfit with its name on the gas-bag -- ICO Global. The statutory crisis is now traditional for each and every one of Branson's stunts. The boat breaks, the balloon escapes, a heroic crewperson saves everybody's life by shimmying up to let some gas out, whatever. But this one's a cracker. Flying a little more tot the north to avoid storms in the Med and then Iraq, the balloon strayed into restricted military airspace over Tibet. It didn't have permission from the Chinese, and earlier this morning China said that not only was it not going to get permission, but that it was being ordered to land. At time of writing the balloon was still airborne, and no doubt the Chinese are starting to get a little cross. With a bit of luck, they won't shoot it down. But they might look at the logo and put two and two together. ICO Global is the outfit that's running the satellite phone spin-off of Inmarsat. In order to make these kinds of operations work, it's necessary to strike deals that allow world-wide coverage, which means you've got to do business with some rather ticklish governments. Like the Chinese one, for example. But a goddam balloon with your name on it is currently wandering across a super-secret military area. Oh dear... ®
The Register breaking news

German Mac users, resellers mobilise against Apple

Apple users and resellers in Germany have backed an open letter to Steve Jobs that demands the interim CEO sort out Apple Germany's management and what it claims is the parlous state of Mac sales in the territory. The letter claims Apple Germany's bosses are "careless and erratic" in its marketing, have bad customer and management policies, and claim better sales than they actually achieve. For example, the letter mentions Apple Germany's claim in November that it had increased its revenue and "strongly added to the good results of the enterprise" (Apple's words). However, the letter also cites market research which indicates the German division made DM150 million ($90.36 million) less than analysts had expected. Resellers claim the company's management only keeps Apple Germany in the black by inflating system prices, which limits unit sales for dealers already suffering from narrow margins. The company has a target of selling 15,000 iMacs by the end of the year, claims the letter's writers, yet German supermarket chain could sell 200,000 Pentium boxes in a single day -- more machines than Apple Germany sells in a year. Again, resellers blame pricing, claiming they wanted to see the iMac come in a DM1999 ($1200) rather than the DM2998 ($1806) it was actually released at, falling to DM2498 ($1505) last month. The letter ends with a quotation from an interview with Jobs that appeared on the German magazine Woche: "Apple historically has never done well enough in Germany and I don't understand why, because Germany is a great country and Germany has a lot of small businesses -- really healthy, strong small businesses. And Germany's consumers are smart. So I don't know, I think it must be something we've done wrong." The letter's writers would clearly agree, and cite the above examples as evidence for the prosecution. At the same time, they do fail to take into account the cutthroat nature of the German PC market, largely driven by a price-conscious buying public that is happy with lesser specced kit than US or other European customers would settle for, provided it's cheap -- around DM1699 ($1023) or less. The German market is dominated (78 per cent) by local PC assemblers -- even Compaq ranks only tenth in marketshare -- and has seen many firms come and go. In such an environment, it might even be hard for Steve Jobs -- the guy the letter writers and the resellers they cite clearly want to fly over and sort things out -- to make much headway. ®
The Register breaking news

Punter stung by sting

All bets were off yesterday at Southwark Crown Court after Neil Taylor, 22, of Harlow in Essex was found guilty of fiddling with computers at The Racing Post to show that he had won at the dogs. The scam -- a mini modern-day version of the con made famous in The Sting -- could have netted Taylor the grand sum of £800 if he hadn't been found out, the court was told. Taylor targeted greyhound races running at tracks where no bookmakers were present. The results should have been fed directly to The Racing Post -- then the sole source of results of these minor races for punters and bookies -- and entered into its main computer before being printed in the paper the next day. But Taylor managed to intercept these files before they reached the paper's central system, editing them so that it looked like his dogs had won. A spokesman for the The Racing Post said that he had no knowledge of anything like this happening before and said that security procedures had been tightened up. Taylor was sentenced to 180 hours' community service. Register Tip: That's Life, 2:40 at Lingfield ®
The Register breaking news

Season of goodwill fails to extend to online shopping

Filling your Christmas stocking online is slower than by Santa’s sleigh, according to a seasonal study of five leading UK retail Web sites. The report by London-based TesCom found the five high-street name sites were too slow and frustrating to use by anyone other than anoraks. Researchers tried to buy socks from Marks & Spencer, wine from Tesco, videos from Argos, Barbie dolls from Toys R Us and Christmas decorations from Great Universal Stores. Sally Drew, TesCom divisional director for e-business, said the sites were well presented and navigable but showed poor quality of service. She felt shoppers not accustomed to Web surfing would be intolerant towards the technical errors and speed of service. For example, buying the socks at M&S was impossible. Locating them proved difficult enough then customers were presented with a JavaScript error. Drew said: "Those new to the Internet would be tearing their hair out at some of the sites. They have generally good presentation and products, but technical problems occur further down the line when customers have already invested time choosing items." According to TesCom, typical customer behaviour meant they would give up and rarely try the site a second time. "Clearly, even for large and successful brands such as those we reviewed, there is still a level of immaturity in the quality of the service being offered," TesCom said.®
The Register breaking news

CTS exhibitors get bug for year 2000 show

Less than a year since its launch, the Computer Trade Show has already set dates for its exhibition in the year 2000. With the second show ready to kick off on 20 and 21 January next year, the show’s organisers have announced that the number of exhibitors has doubled since the first show earlier this year. The keynote address for the show will be given by Gwynneth Flower, head of Action 2000 - the body set up to educate UK business on the threat posed by the millennium bug. Stuart Greenfield, the show’s managing director, was in bullish mood when confirming the number of exhibitors for next month’s CTS would stand at 115, with pre-show registrations currently standing at around 4,000. "CTS has been given an overwhelmingly positive response since the day the show was born in January 1998, and the signs are that the event will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. We are approaching the new millennium with a tremendous air of expectation." The 2000 show will run on 26 and 27 January at the Birmingham NEC, the venue for next month’s show. ®
The Register breaking news

Rambus sugarcoats bitter licensing pill

In an attempt to encourage memory manufacturers to abandon their plans for alternatives to Direct Rambus (RDRAM), Rambus is offering cheap shares at $10. According to the US reports, options in the shares will be granted to its licensees if they commit to certain, unnamed targets. Currently, DRAM manufacturers pay Rambus two per cent royalties and feel aggrieved at that imposition. At the end of last month, eleven manufacturers pledged their support for DDR (double data rate) memory, on which they pay no royalties. DRDRAM (Direct Rambus) has the support of both Intel and AMD, and looks to be the inevitable winner of the competing standards. Roy Taylor, co-managing director of Vanguard Microelectronics in the UK, said: "They're trying to be nice to people who have no choice in the matter and there will probably be small print that asks them to stop producing DDR and the like". ®
The Register breaking news

ClaraNET wants to be in tune with more resellers

ClaraNET -- one of the UK's largest independent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) -- has launched an incentive scheme aimed at attracting more business resellers. The scheme could net new partners up to an extra 20 per cent commission on business access accounts and services, the company said. ClaraNET already supports 150 resellers and 12,000 business customers but it is keen to expand its base in the coming year. Mark Button, the company's communications manager, denied that the initiative was in response to the explosion in free dial-up Net access and that this was squeezing out some of the 28,000 individual dial-up accounts operated by the company. But he did agree that servicing business customers was a "good place to be" and that it was likely to be a more lucrative market in the future. "Freeserve has not affected us at all," said Button, referring to Dixon’s free Internet account service. "Some of our customers have been trying it but they're coming back." ®
The Register breaking news

Quantum3D maintains alliance with 3Dfx

Quantum3D yesterday distanced itself from fellow graphics card vendors by choosing to stick with 3Dfx technology following 3Dfx's announcement of its decision to buy board manufacturer STB and begin selling its own cards to OEMs and consumers. 3Dfx's move provoked many licensees of its Voodoo graphics acceleration technology, including Diamond Multimedia and Creative Technology, to abandon Voodoo-based product development. No wonder since the STB purchase changed it from a supplier into a competitor. Quantum3D, however, reckons there's plenty of room for its own products at the high end of the market, particularly now that 3Dfx is developing its technology to embrace applications other than games. While the first two generations of Voodoo could only accelerate full-screen graphics, making them useless for more serious graphics work, such as 3D modelling and animation, which takes place within a window, 3Dfx's Voodoo 2-based Banshee does provide scope to accelerate applications such as these, thanks to its 2D engine, and future products may extend this to full in-a-window 3D acceleration. But while Quantum3D may be sticking with 3Dfx for its high-end cards, which it currently supplies to coin-op games manufacturers and developers of professional visual simulation systems, a question mark continues to hang over the company's gaming-oriented products, Obsidian and Raven. A Quantum3D spokesman said the company would "continue to offer full support and freshen drivers of the inventory already in the channel", suggesting that it may soon retire from the consumer arena. ®
The Register breaking news

Nokia pumps up German arm

Nokia’s celular phone production plant in Bochum, Germany, will get a £118 million cash boost to cope with the global demand for handsets. The Finnish telecomms giant yesterday revealed plans to add several assembly lines to the facility, employing over 1,500 staff, and double production. The announcement rounds off a year in which Nokia overtook Motorola to become the world’s biggest mobile phone manufacturer. Anassi Vanjoki, head of Nokia’s mobile phones business in Europe and Africa, said the group had sold more than 1 million phones a week several times in recent months. ®
The Register breaking news

Samsung makes non-volatile DRAM breakthrough

Samsung Electronics said today it has developed a memory chip which combines flash and conventional memory. The non-volatile memory breakthrough means that when devices are switched off, they will still retain data, unlike conventional DRAM. According to the report, the chip will be far cheaper than existing flash and will have applications for PCs, mobiles, digital cameras and hand-held devices. If Samsung succeeds in making the chips on a large scale, it could transform the future capabilities of PCs. Meanwhile, Samsung claims it is now the market leader in the graphics memory market, with 35 per cent market share. The company said it has started sampling its 32M synchronous graphic RAM (SGRAM), which delivers a maximum of 166MHz. The product will start shipping in volume in 1999 and displace 8M and 16M SGRAM.
The Register breaking news

Windows NT systems targeted by new ‘network’ virus

What appears to be the world's first network virus, already dubbed Remote Explorer, has hit telecoms giant MCI WorldCom's network of Windows NT machines. The virus' effects were detected on Thursday, but the cause was only identified yesterday, by Network Associates (NA), developer of the McAfee anti-virus tool. While The Register would never accept the cynical suggestion that virus are being conjoured up by the creators of the antidote applications as a way of boosting business, NA was very quick to describe Remote Explorer as heralding "a new era" in virus technology with the potential to "do more damage to a business than any virus we've ever seen", claim that it was the first real instance of "cyberterrorism", and suggest worried network administrators rush over to its Web site and download the trial version of McAfee and the detector patch. In a statement verging on the admirational, NA said Remote Explorer's programmers had a knowledge of operating systems, networks and business operations that went far beyond the capabilities of most virus creators. MCI WorldCom understandably wanted to play down such hyperbole, and a spokesman simply said that the infection had been quickly contained and "had no impact on our customers or operations". Microsoft's Windows NT group product manager, Jason Garms, was also quick to play down the virus' power, saying it's not much different from other viruses beyond its ability to move rapidly round a network. Remote Explorer -- for once an Explorer that isn't a Microsoft product -- itself differs from more commonplace viruses by attacking not specific machines but the network. According to NA's boffins, it only affects Intel-based machines (and presumably Intel-compatible PCs) running Windows NT in Administrator mode. Once there, it obtains the security information it needs to spread itself around the network. NA reckons it can also travel via Windows 95/98, NetWare and Unix file servers running on Intel hardware As it moves around, Remote Explorer compresses random program files and encrypts data. However, both methods are known, and the NA fix will restore both types of file to their original state, said a Microsoft spokesman. ®
The Register breaking news

Rise wins Acer chipset support

Rise has received another boost to its fortunes with support from Acer. Yesterday, we revealed here that Rise is likely to announce a fab partner shortly which will allow it to build Socket 370 parts. (Story: Rise to announce Socket 370 breakthrough) The company said that Acer Labs Inc (ALi) Aladdin V mobile core logic chip set will support the Rise mP6 chip. The deal means that Rise will now have an effective mobile platform for its microprocessor, which it claims, is designed to give good multimedia performance at low powers. ALi’s chipset is also optimised for high integration and low power consumption. According to Rise, mobiles using the mP6 will include functions such as software DVD, 3D games and soft modem. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple kills Best Buy cut-price iMac policy

US retailer Best Buy's attempts to bring iMac prices down to between $1099 and $999 (see today's story iMac top-selling PC in US) appear to have incurred the wrath of Apple. According to "retailer sources" cited by Mac Web site MacOS Rumors, all Best Buy stores should have re-priced their iMacs back up to $1279, though they will now come with a bundled scanner by tomorrow. The move was made following aggressive negotiations over the weekend between Cupertino and Best Buy. The same sources also claim Best Buy was losing "hundreds" of dollars on every machine sold, even those offered at $1099, just $200 below the recommended price. Given it has long been Apple policy to recommend a price but allow resellers the right to specify their own pricing, it's hard to see what Apple could really do about Best Buy's moves, but it's not hard to imagine Apple receiving hundreds of calls from pissed-off resellers and deciding enough is enough. Especially if, as appears to be the case, Best Buy was selling machines at below cost price. ®
The Register breaking news

Chas ‘n’ Dave out of favour with HP

Hewlett Packard has said it will terminate its sponsorship deal with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club at the end of the current season. No explanations were given regarding the termination and both parties said the arrangement had been a success while in operation over the last four seasons. Dave Griffiths, Channel Marketing Manager for Hewlett Packard, said: "Hewlett Packard has been delighted with the professionalism of everyone involved with the sponsorship at Tottenham Hotspur, which has proved to be a stimulating and successful marketing initiative for HP." Troubled PC vendor AST ended its sponsorship of Birmingham club Aston Villa last season. After parting company with AST, Villa went on to have one of the best starts to a new season in years - wonderful thing, irony. ®
The Register breaking news

Cognos snaps up Guildford-based Relational Matters

Database giant Cognos has put Guildford software developer Relational Matters on the map with a $10 million pre-Christmas cash-stock buyout. Relational Matters is now wholly a part of Cognos, and all staff have moved across to the database manufacturer. The five-year old, 12-person UK company is best known for DecisionStream, a high performance business intelligence data integration tool. DecisionStream allows VARs can easily integrate their own applications and are no longer forced to piece together different products from various vendors. Cognos intends to integrate the technology into its own data mart product. Recreational Matters founder and CEO Peter Griffiths could not contain his glee at the acquisition. "We're very pleased. It's a great deal for everyone concerned," he said. Griffiths confirmed the company name was changing to reflect its new position as a division of Cognos, but was not so sure about what he would be spending the cash on. "I've no idea. Maybe I'll put it -- and the Cognos share investment -- towards my retirement." Cognos, which has about 900 VARs worldwide, revealed the acquisition after announcing its third quarter results ended 30 November. Sales were up 23 per cent to $76.3 million compared to the same period last year. ®
The Register breaking news

Compaq no Father Christmas as Alpha layoffs rise

Sources told The Register late today that Compaq will use the Christmas period to lay off a number of former DEC employees worldwide. According to our reliable source, Compaq may end its financial year of 1998 on an upbeat note. But Digital Classic layoffs are 16 per cent across the board, helping Compaq's bottom line. There are exceptions. The VMS group will lay off forty employees -- an eight per cent cut -- because Digital sent its NT Cluster file system and the rest to the little imp of software (Microsoft). Compaq's engineering facility, in Edinburgh, shut down because of the transfer. ®
The Register breaking news

Cyrix clarifies its roadmap to the heights

NatSemi subsidiary Cyrix has clarified its roadmap for next year, in the buildup to multimedia extensions it has. A source told The Register today that it will release MIIs in 333, 350 and 366MHz flavours throughout Q1 of 1999. It will also release a 400MHz flavour in Q2. MXi samples will come in Q1 and be produced in Q2, according to National Semiconductor. The Jalapeno MIII flavours are still on target for Q3, the source said. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel, Microsoft team up to pollute the world

Evidence is mounting that the unholy alliance of Microsoft and Intel is causing severe pollution on the planet. Those facts emerged as both Microsoft and Intel re-iterated their plans for computers in cars. A senior scientist told The Register today: "Cars, if they use diesel or petrol, emit more fumes than even the average journalist on 40 a day". Both Intel and Microsoft are committed to putting their technology into automobiles. Indeed, sometimes they openly flout their pro-environmental claims. A representative from Intel said last week: "I live near Stratford upon Avon and it only takes me 50 minutes to get to Swindon." A swift calculation shows that the motor vehicle must be overclocked for that journey, using motorways constructed. Some journalists, too, have fallen victim to the Wintel car obsession. One said: "I have bought six Citroens in the last year, what's wrong with that?" Most of the United Kingdom was covered in fog this morning as evidence of the secret Wintel plot. But others were chopping up logs as the fossil fuel ran out. ®