30th > December > 1998 Archive
AOL's anti-spam campaigning has moved up a notch, with the company seeking an injunction and punitive damages against a Californian man it accuses of sending millions of messages to its customers. Michael Persaud is being sued in Virginia, and is accused of "digital trespassing" and fraud. AOL claims he has been operating since March 1997 under the names of James Butterfield, Henry Summers and Brian Crawford, offering a home employment directory and a survival guide for home workers. A key part of AOL's case is the accusation that he used AOL's domain on the messages so that they looked like they were approved by the company. In a series of recent lawsuits AOL seems to have been trying to establish legal precedents in this and similar areas in order to define a legal framework for dealing with spam.
SGI has been having a little trouble getting its secret files back into the safe, following the escape of documentation on its new Intel workstations a few weeks back. Details of the machines have been popping up despite the company's best efforts in advance of their launch, due on 11 January. According to sources close to SGI, the information was posted on the Web by - oops - SGI as part of a test. Details were swiftly pulled, but not before a few people had got to see them. According to US paper Smart Reseller yesterday data purporting to be "rumours" has been posted at www.3dluvr.com, but the paper claims SGI has been pressuring the site to take them down, and early this morning the site didn't seem to be reachable. If SGI has been exerting pressure then one could surmise that the company believes that the data is based on its own documentation, rather than just the collection of rumours it's claimed to be. The machines will apparently be flat panel display models with 350-450MHz Pentium II and 450MHz Xeon processors, with twin CPU configurations of the PII possible, and four-way Xeon versions. ®
Microsoft has released a 'prebuttal' of as yet unreleased testimony to be given next week by Intuit CEO William Harris. Once upon a time (1994) Intuit was ready to sell out to Microsoft, but nevertheless Harris' testimony will accuse the company of setting out to wreck Intuit. The aborted 1994 deal between the two companies seems to be the source of Harris' grievances. Intuit's Quicken was the dominant personal finance package, but was threatened by Microsoft's Money (aren't we all, brethren?). Harris claims that Intuit agreed to sell to Microsoft because it was afraid that Microsoft would tie Money into Windows, and thus destroy the company's business. Also of concern to Harris are deals that involve exclusive or near-exclusive tie-ins with the operating system. Microsoft's prebuttal points out that the company didn't integrate Money with Windows, and notes that Quicken is still the leading personal finance package. The company also says that more than 10 per cent of Harris' testimony is spent "describing a litany of 'hypothetical' behaviour, which Microsoft is not involved in, that he claims warrant certain exceedingly vague remedies. "This portion of his testimony also contains a legal analysis of the 1995 consent decree, an economic analysis of supposed 'network effects' in the software industry and an entirely new and irrelevant concept Mr. Harris cooked up on his own - ' operating system neutrality.'" So how right is Microsoft? In contrast to the matter of Netscape, the Microsoft-Intuit battle is the dog that didn't bark. Or at least, it hasn't done so thus far. Microsoft didn't integrate Money, and Intuit's business didn't go down the toilet. But in 1994, did Microsoft menace Intuit into agreeing a deal? Integration of Money at that time was certainly being planned by Microsoft. The company was then preparing its own online system, and saw electronic commerce and billing as being a major expansion area. The rise of the Internet forced Microsoft to shelve much of this planning work, but if it had gone ahead the attractions of bundling personal finance software with Windows would have been compelling. Even without overt threats, Intuit was absolutely right to be worried. Intuit's independence was however saved by the DoJ. After the announcement of the deal it became abundantly clear that Microsoft would have to fight every step of the way to get it approved, and rather than do that the company decided to walk away. This left Intuit to deal with Harris' "supposed 'network effects.'" Despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, these are pretty easy to define. Discount structures, integration, bundling and exclusivity deals all tend to tilt the playing field in Microsoft's direction. Harris says Intuit was forced to use Explorer, and found itself unable to do business with Netscape because restrictions in Microsoft's contract with it made it too expensive to do so. Microsoft denies this, pointing out that other companies with similar deals with Microsoft (e.g. Disney) were able to work with Netscape during this period. But the fact that Disney and CBS could afford it doesn't automatically mean Intuit could, and Microsoft kind of spoils things by pointing out: "In any event, Microsoft later waived the promotional and distribution restrictions… that Mr Harris complains about, and yet Intuit has still not entered into any significant promotional or distribution arrangements with Netscape, nine months later." ® Complete Register trial coverage
According to this morning's Guardian newspaper, Bill Gates has been having trouble with the concept of virtual reality. He's now so rich that if he needs to meet ordinary people, he just hires actors to play them. Gates took some friends on a rail trip across Montana recently, and in the restaurant car found himself accosted by two strangers, who poked fun at him, calling him, among other things, Steve Jobs. This, you'll understand, is a tricky situation for Bill. He gets pretty angry when people go for him, but on the other hand, he needs to do something about his image. So in order to look more of a 'regular kind of guy' without actually being abused too much, the Guardian claims Bill had hired the pair. He'd even made sure they had a careful script to stick to. So the insults must have been nice ones. It's not however entirely clear what Bill's couple of dozen friends thought about these two crazies being on the train in the first place. It was a private one, the guests all had to sign NDAs (no, really...) and there were teams of bodyguards ready and waiting at every single station. Unreal, eh? ®
On November 30 last Intel released summaries of the problem in the Pentium chip. These were extracted from a white paper dubbed Statistical Analysis of the Floating Point Flaw in the Pentium Processor (1994), a 32-page document. Careful analysis of the white paper revealed the following. The word flaw occurred a total of 38 times in the first 30 pages, with particular emphasis on page two where it occurred 13 times. Sometimes it appeared with the qualifying word subtle in front of it, but for all practical reasons this adjective causes no severe dysfunction of the word following. Intel's table on page 13 caused particular problems. Even though the word flaw only appeared three times on this page, the MTBF figures created results around the world corresponding to the effect of Schroedinger's Cat suddenly becoming the British Prime Minister. Headed Typical System Failure Rates, the table estimated particle defects in a Pentium would give a MTBF of once in 200-250 years, compared to a PC user with a spreadsheet running 1,000 independent divides a day, giving a MTBF of once in 27,000 years. On page 15, the word flaw did not appear at all but the figure 27,000 made its second appearance. The table follows: This produced a furore amongst children (mainly boys) under the age of14 who suggested that the impact of their games crashing produced fits of temper and frustration likely to lead to the break up of the happy home scenario and perhaps worse. Intel's analysis was itself flawed. On page 27 it gave, in our opinion, undue emphasis to financial users of Pentium machines. "The flaw is of potential significance for a small minority of users in the financial world. These users are primarily involved in running highly numerical applications involving intensive recalculations such as path-dependent derivatives valuations and those valuations involving simulations. Depending on the circumstances, these users should employ either an updated Pentium processor without the flaw or a software workaround." The word flaw appeared 13 times on this page; an unlucky number as it turns out. It ignores the fact that many financial directors or heavy duty users of PCs are also likely to play Doom 2, Sid Meier's Colonization and a number of other applications. Under these circumstances, financial directors are bound to make many more mistakes in their jobs if the frustration of encountering the fdiv problem in their favourite games makes them tired and emotional. The issue appeared to The Register to be so important that we asked Intel what would happen to Pentium chips returned for replacement. Mike Sullivan, the charming head of communications in the UK, confirmed to us last Thursday they would be destroyed. This seems an appalling waste of resources. With winter encroaching in the Northern Hemisphere, doesn't it make more sense to give them away to central heating engineers who could embed them in walls and wire them up, thus giving a good and reliable source of heat when Father Frost arrives? And rebellious youngsters wearing leather jackets and cropped hair could embed Pentiums into their jackets and even use them as combs. It's a scandal. ® From The Register No. 10, 19 December 1994
It seems only four years ago (it was four years ago, Ed.) that The Register, and Citrix' Mike Passaro and Ed Iacobucci decided to skip an Etre black tie event and go on the town instead. And so we did. Now we learn from Business Wire that Passaro, who can take his drink with the best of them, has retired from Citrix. Good luck in any future career Mike. We got back to the hotel after our night out just in time to get on a plane back to London. Iacobucci managed to bump The Register onto his flight and we managed to get Ed almost killed at Heathrow by telling him you could smoke. We struck a lucifer for him and he lit up his cigarette. When a London Bobby (whatever happened to them?) came across toting a Uzi sub machine gun and told him he was in a Nosmo King zone, Ed decided The Register was kidding. According to the press release from Citrix, Passaro grew sales from $1.8 million in 1992 to $173 million in the first few months of 1998. Cheers Mike. ®
The Korean press reported yesterday that LG was still pressing ahead with its plans to sue Arthur D Little (ADL), following a recommendation by the consultant that Hyundai have the lion’s share in a merged semiconductor company.
Reports in the Taiwanese press said yesterday that both Compaq and Big Blue are to cut original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on the island out of their manufacturing loop in 1999. And other worldwide PC companies are likely to follow in a bid to slash their costs, affected by the much lower prices of PCs in the shops. The reports may form part of a revised Compaq strategy, in which its OEM division may be floated off as a separate company. Over the Yule period, Compaq has made a number of changes to its overall strategy, including ditching its networking division and cutting another 3,000 jobs worldwide. Last month, IBM abandoned its attempts to sell PCs through two tier distribution, while just before Christmas, Hewlett Packard announced its plans to sell more of its PC and printer products direct. These companies are reacting to the success of the Dell Corporation. The reports claimed that both Compaq and IBM will now locally source a number of components including displays and storage devices without recourse to OEMs. It is an open secret in the industry that big US PC players have allowed locally based company to build notebooks and desktop PCs for them for some years. Now they just want Taiwanese companies to make the components, such as semiconductors, displays, and CD ROMs. Giant OEM Acer is likely to be the worst affected, but a number of other companies, including Mitac, also make products for PC companies. Acer is already reeling from poor financial results, largely caused by its DRAM business. While Taiwan now has large semiconductor fabrication plants, the news will be a blow for the island. Many of its small businesses and a high proportion of its exports are funded by the PC industry. Earlier this year, officials representing the Computex Trade Fair reported a far smaller number of foreign visitors than in previous years. ®
A US company has claimed it has developed a cooling system which will allow 400MHz AMD K6-2s to clock at 500MHz. It is selling a 110V system for both Win95 and Win98 and promises a 220V system early in 1999. The system, sold by Kryotech is called the Cool K6-2 and uses a 400MHz part accelerated to 500MHz using a proprietary –40° cooling system. A unit with a FIC PA-2013 ATX motherboard using a 100MHz front side bus with AGP and a 300 watt power supply will cost $1,695. More details are on the company's Web site. Kryotech could not be contacted at press time for launch and distribution details, although it is attempting to create partnerships with European companies. ®