6th > January > 1999 Archive

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Memory man Gates doesn't understand Intuit restrictions

In what is probably the last extract from his videotaped deposition, Bill Gates was as obstructive, petulant and 'forgetful' as usual. Unless he has a medical condition that is completely unknown, it is inconceivable that he could be as ignorant of significant developments for Microsoft as he purports to be. Any normal company with such a forgetful CEO would surely discretely arrange for some medical help for the poor chap. In the video extract shown to the court yesterday, Gates denied knowing about the content of an email he received from Brad Chase in April 1997 (which Chase had received from Will Poole) summarising the details of the agreement between Intuit and Microsoft. The conditions for Intuit are onerous, and included bundling IE3 or IE4 with all 1997 and 1998 Intuit products; using DHTML; and putting the IE logo exclusively on all Intuit Web sites. The phrasing of the agreement with respect to Netscape is interesting: "Not enter into marketing/promo agreements with Other Browser [sic] manufacturers for distribution or promotion of Intuit content". Then Intuit had to "Announce a Very Public Alignment with Microsoft technologies, including a joint press release to announce plans to use and deploy products with significant use of ActiveX, specifically addressing security issues etc." It would seem that Microsoft was at that time very concerned that ActiveX was not everyone's idea of a secure technology. Gates was confronted with the part of the email that said "Create 'differentiated content' area for Intuit Channel that is available only to IE users" and claimed "I don't understand what [these words] mean." For its part, Microsoft agreed to "World-wide royalty free distribution of IE for three years", but since Intuit only produces its products for Windows, Microsoft must have slipped up by referring to IE as a product since, as everybody knows, IE is part of Windows. In the absence of any mitigating medical evidence about Gates' mental condition, the inevitable conclusion likely to be drawn by Judge Jackson is that Microsoft does have a great deal to hide, and is guilty as charged. The only rational defence that Microsoft could present to defend Gates' behaviour in the videotaped deposition would be to say that he has burn out, and is suffering from mental fatigue. Since this is extremely unlikely, Microsoft will have to live with the consequences. Microsoft has become used to being able to win using its usual repertoire of business practices that have propelled it to its pre-eminent position, but in a court that functions on the basis of equity, Microsoft will not be able to get its own way. The question that remains is whether the US courts will dispense justice in this case. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

Happy Old Year

The Register was thrilled to see that this morning’s post brought with it 1999’s first issue of PC Dealer, the weekly channel newspaper. But as soon as we had wrestled off the cellophane wrapper we began to feel slightly uneasy. "6 January 1998" it said on the front page. Hmm, funny old thing deja vu. So, we’ve got to go through 1998 all over again, have we. Good news for all you stressed out IT managers struggling to beat the alleged millennium bug. We at The Register predict that Compaq will buy Digital in about three weeks’ time. Watch this space - not. ®
The Register breaking news

British retailers wasting e-commerce opportunities

British retailers aren’t doing enough to set up shop on the Internet and are threatening the development of e-commerce in the UK. Unless they start developing Web sites and building similar levels of brand loyalty on the Web, as they have on the high street, they're in danger of missing out on a market that could be worth £3.1 billion in 2003. In particular, US companies pose a serious threat. Companies such as online bookstore Amazon and stockbroker Schwab have showed how they can bring their experience from the more advanced US market over to the UK and compete in the marketplace for a fraction of the cost of establishing a chain of retail outlets. The warning comes in a report by Fletcher Research which concludes that online shopping has barely begin to take off in the UK. But Len Griffin of the Alliance of Independent Retailers, which represents 27,500 retailers in the UK, said that for the most part, "the Net is no help at all." "It's appallingly difficult to retail anything on the Net and while it's fine for certain goods, you can't exactly buy a pint of milk and a box of Cornflakes, can you?" he said. Griffin's traditional take on retailing -- which in his view is simply about getting goods from manufacturers to consumers -- is of no surprise to Benjamin Ensor, author of Window Shopping?. He says that retailers in the UK must realise that the rules change when they sell online and that they have to develop new ways of building relationships with customers. Ensor also estimates that the total online sales, excluding financial services, were around £230 million last year -- less than 0.2 per cent of the total retail market in the UK. What's more, he concludes that only 12 per cent of users in the UK are active online shoppers. ®
The Register breaking news

UK consumers still paying too much for PCs

Higher taxation and stricter consumer laws are the excuses given by PC manufacturers accused of over-charging UK consumers. These comments come from, among others, Compaq in response to a study by ComputerActive magazine which found UK customers often paid much more for PCs, handheld computers and printers. The ComputerActive investigation highlighted the Compaq Presario 5150 Pentium II. It was 35 per cent more expensive on the UK high street than in equivalent US stores, the article claimed. The US price was around £887 after tax – a massive £312 cheaper than the UK price. A Compaq representative blamed differing taxes, hardware and software specifications, as well as level of services and support provided. She also blamed stricter consumer laws in the UK for bumping up prices. ComputerActive’s findings fuelled the long-running debate that prices are kept at artificially high levels in the UK. Supermarket chain Tesco claimed manufacturers had turned to them last year because they felt existing prices were too high and were deterring consumer spending. Tesco pointed out that many high street retail outlets were now forced to copy its lower prices on PC bundles. A Tesco representative compared computers to other consumer products. "Look at petrol. Since supermarkets started selling it other companies have had to start towing the line. Now the big names advertise petrol at supermarket prices," he said. Pete Day, an analyst at Woking-based research firm INTECO, disagreed that tax and spec differences between the two countries accounted for the huge price variations. He thought US customers paid less due to the different economies of scale - the market is around eight times bigger than the UK, he said. He also pointed out the different workings of the channel, with distribution much tighter in the US. ®
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Tech site reveals SGI's new workstations

Despite SGI's best efforts, full details of the workstations the company intends to launch on Monday have finally escaped, and the Ars Technica site has published an ecstatic review. The machines, the Visual Workstation 320 and 540, will come in at under $4,000 and - according to Ars Technica - do a good job of translating SGI technology to the NT workstation market, and coming up with something unique. The 320, the entry level model, is a single or twin Pentium II 350-450MHz machine, while the 540 can take up to four 450MHz Xeons. They both include several SGI technologies that have been evolved in order to produce something a cut above 'me too' NT workstations. IVC, Integrated Visual Computing Architecture, is a development of Unified Memory Architecture (UMA), which integrates memory, CPU, network, audio, graphics and disk into a single unit. This allows the SGI Cobalt Graphics chipset to use system RAM as video RAM, so it makes the whole box cheaper without degrading performance. The Lithium chip meanwhile functions as a sort of router for the bus system, operating rather like a crossbar switch and reducing bus bottlenecks. The Cobalt chipset is entirely SGI designed, and optimises performance for OpenGL and GDI under NT, and enables multi-processor rendering and dynamic allocation assignment of graphics memory in system memory. Another chip, Arsenic, gives the frame buffer continuous DMA, and allows for flat panel connections. Ars Technica reckons that the combination of all this puts SGI clearly in the lead in NT workstation technology. "SGI has managed to re-engineer the inside of the box to remove the bottlenecks that other manufacturers are trying to build around," says Ars Technica. "SGI… has managed to create enough differentiation… to effectively compete against their competitors in a market that is completely foreign to their roots: a low-margin, high volume market." Seems it's a hit then, but considering how touchy SGI has been about pre-release info, it's a puzzle how Ars Technica got hold of the gear… ®
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Compaq to go product mad in three weeks

Compaq is preparing for a product blitz at the beginning of February and will roll out a new name for Digital Unix on the first of the month. But, at the same time, Compaq UK said it was unlikely to roll out its 21264 Alpha workstations, dubbed the X-Treme Performance XP 1000 series, until much later this quarter Compaq's big bash at the end of this month and the beginning of the next will include announcements about StorageWorks Raid Array RA8000 and the ESA 12000, with Monet and DS20 in the same timeframe, according to Terry Shannon, editor of Shannon knows Compaq Details of the 21264 Alpha workstations are now available on Digital's Web site at the following addresses: The SOC table of contents, and the description of the XP1000 at these URLS: SOW01EPF.PDF, SOWO1EP8.PS. Meanwhile, a corporate spokesperson at Compaq US declined to comment on the numerous stories we wrote about redundancies over the Christmas period. She said: "We don't comment on speculations and rumours." The last time Compaq US said something like this was when we exclusively broke the news about the company being in talks with Gateway 2000 at Houston two years ago. ®
The Register breaking news

Gates fingered as running predatory strategy

The DoJ's final witness, MIT economist Franklin Fisher, has produced a blockbuster 'summing up' piece of testimony which endeavours to show clearly first that Microsoft is a monopoly which engages in predatory conduct, and second that this conduct is driven by Bill Gates, not 'loose cannon' subordinates. In written testimony released yesterday, Fisher says: "It is worth emphasising that the Microsoft documents that reveal Microsoft's predation are not documents from low-level employees or employees likely to be misinformed about the purpose and effect of the company's conduct. Many of the most significant documents are documents to or from CEO Bill Gates personally." Basically, this takes the DoJ's case full circle. It opened with testimony showing Bill Gates vague and evasive about documentation either to or from him, and it's being rounded-off with the DoJ's final expert witness portraying it as inconceivable that the man in charge knew as little as Gates claims in his testimony. Fisher tries to show a coherent predatory strategy driven from the top, rather than just being the work of individual product managers. He also describes it as a strategy that covered relations with Intel, Apple and Netscape, over NSP, QuickTime and Navigator: "In each case, Microsoft was confronted with platform-level software to which applications programs could be written. In each case, platform-level APIs threatened to erode the applications programming barrier to entry into PC operating systems by supporting applications programs that could be used with multiple operating systems. In each case, Microsoft responded by attempting to get the supplier of the potential alternative platform-level software to agree to withdraw from offering it and to concentrate instead on products that did not offer platform potential. In each case, Microsoft was prepared to act to preclude the supplier of a potential platform-level software from succeeding in offering the platform. Even if such actions 'did not make sense from a business standpoint.'" "'Taking action that does not make sense from a business standpoint' in order to restrict competition," he says, "is the essence of predatory anti-competitive conduct." To refute this Microsoft will have to first discredit his claims - which are backed up by Microsoft documentation - that IE is a 'negative revenue' product, and then undermine his contention that it's a systematic, predatory strategy driven from the highest level. He's going to have an interesting few days on the stand. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

‘Phone Bug’ could cripple UK businesses

An independent IT consultancy is warning firms that they need to start planning now -- or face severe disruption -- when the "The Big Number" telephone changes come into effect in June. Hampshire-based Commslogic says that companies failing to take notice of the "phone bug", as senior consultant Jonathan Tucker puts it, face higher charges and dialling difficulties if they don't plan ahead for the change. It's a view supported by National Code & Number Change (NCNC), a group set up by the UK's telecoms operators, to oversee the mammoth project. Last November the NCNC published research which revealed that only one in 10 firms had taken any action to prepare for the changes. A spokesman for the NCNC today was unable to confirm how many more businesses had taken the necessary steps to prepare themselves for the changes. Yet if businesses fail to re-configure equipment, their calls may not get through or could connect to wrong numbers, the NCNC admitted. The Big Number telephone change is far more reaching than BT's PhOneDay in 1995 when the "1" was slipped into codes. It is set to overhaul telephone numbers in the UK and will affect codes, numbers and mobile phones. It will also provide additional capacity by reserving four additional number prefixes for future area codes. The move has been ordered by telecoms watchdog Oftel as a way of creating more numbers to meet the ever-growing demand for telecoms-related services, such as access to the Internet. At the moment, it is gearing itself for a major awareness campaign to be begin later this month when it hopes to make more people aware of the problem. Until then, it is targeting equipment suppliers and service engineers asking them to approach their customers as a way of ensuring that businesses are ready for the changes which begin to take effect on June 1. "But they've only got six months, which is not long, given the number of customers who need help," said a spokesman for the NCNC. The NCNC has identified six technical issues which need to be addressed before June 1. · least cost routing · payphones · call loggers · ISDN · 01 quick fixes · call barring ®
The Register breaking news

Shell shocked by eco break-in

Protesters who broke into Shell's London headquarters and barricaded themselves inside executives' offices continued to load images and text onto their Web site even after police cut power and phone lines to the eco-warriors. Using a digital camera, laptop computer and portable phone, the thirteen protesters kept a unique record of their six-hour siege before police finally smashed through the office walls and arrested them all. They were taken to Charring Cross Police Station where they were released later in the evening without charge. The environmentalists described the protest as an "act of solidarity with indigenous resistance to Shell in Nigeria". Today, a spokesman for the activists said he believed Shell was ready to take out an injunction against the protesters' Web site, which uses the company's logo and images, and closely resembles Shell's own home page. But a spokesman for Shell said he didn't know of any plans to force the pressure group to remove the offending material from its Web site. ®
The Register breaking news

Live liposuction on the Web

If you're quick, you should be just in time to catch a 34 year old mother of two having liposuction, live on the Web. Kim Dang of Denver, Colorado will be having fat removed from her stomach, legs and buttocks live on onlinesurgery.com at 7.30am Pacific Standard Time today. Kim was the lucky winner selected from hundreds of applicants for free surgery to be performed on onlinesurgery.com, which is a service provided by the Newport Center for Outpatient Surgery, it says here. Surgeon Michael Elam will be answering questions from Internet viewers during the surgery, which will be followed by a live forum with a panel of surgeons "who will address the most commonly asked questions about breast implants." Dr Elam apparently developed onlinesurgery.com in conjunction with the Internet Entertainment (sic) Group. The site is still recruiting candidates for free surgery, so come on down… ®
The Register breaking news

Games pirates get slapped wrists

Manufacturers and industry bodies were in uproar today after a Sheffield gang of software pirates was let off the hook when trading standards ran out of cash to prosecute. £1 million worth of counterfeit CD computer games, some of which were believed to be for Sony Playstations, were seized last October along with £30,000 of equipment. Five men, four of whom had previous criminal records, were arrested in Sheffield. The men received a slap on the wrist and the group was said to have relaunched its operation within weeks, according to today’s Daily Telegraph. Vendors slammed the cautions that were handed out, saying the lack of funding into trading standards departments was jeopardising the software business. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) said it was disappointed in the outcome. Tracey Howe, a member of the BSA committee, said: "I suppose this is seen as a victimless crime. But it has a knock-on effect on us all because it takes people’s jobs, costs the country in unpaid taxes and undermines the industry as a whole." Howe added that the organisation was trying to get the police and trading standards departments to put more resources into this area. Sheffield trading standards office admitted that fighting software piracy was not high on its list of priorities. But Richard Platts, general manager of the Sheffield office, stressed: "There are a lot of issues surrounding this. We have not withdrawn from the case - we’ve put a lot of manpower and work into it." Platts was unable to comment on claims that the gang had relaunched their criminal activities shortly after release. ®
The Register breaking news

In brief: BSG gets exclusive deal

SRA International has struck a deal with London-based reseller Business Systems Group (BSG) to be the exclusive reseller of its market-leading Assentor software. BSG will offer Assentor to UK-based financial services firms to use as part of their compliance review process, screening and archiving broker's incoming and outgoing email messages as required by industry regulations. ®
The Register breaking news

$50,000 pay out for lucky Net gambler

A high roller on a lucky streak has won $50,000 on a digital slot machine at a Web casino. Details about the cybergambler are being kept secret and all that's known is that he (or she) won the jackpot over the New Year. The owner of the GalaxiWorld casino (www.galaxiworld.com) -- based in the West Indies -- admitted that he's made some pretty hefty payouts during his first month of business, but said that this was by the largest. "I know this may sound ridiculous, but we couldn't be happier with this payout!'' exclaimed casino boss Larry Weltman through gritted teeth. ®
The Register breaking news

In brief: Name change for Micro Focus

US/UK software developer, Micro Focus, is changing its name to Merant. The proposed name change will be voted on at a shareholders’ meeting on 4 February. The company said that it wants to shed the old name to reflect the change in its focus, in the wake of its £322 million acquisition of Intersolv back in June. ®
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Software Stan confirms Office 2000 prices

Microsoft has set pricing for Office 2000, due to ship during the second quarter of 1999, along with free upgrades to encourage new year sales. The software giant said Office 2000 Professional, Standard and Small Business suites would be consistent with Office 97 prices. And punters who buy Office 97 between January 1 and the official Office 2000 release date will be offered a free upgrade to Office 2000. Office 2000 Professional will be priced at $309 for users upgrading from previous editions of Office, $349 for those upgrading from competing products and $499 for new users. Office 2000 Standard and Small Business follow the same pattern, at $209, $249 and $499 for new users. Office 2000 Premium – including FrontPage 2000, PhotoDraw 2000, Word, Excel and Access – will go for $399, £499 and $799. Office Developer will cost $609, 649 and $999. The free upgrades will be available via an electronic coupon on Microsoft’s Web site. ®
The Register breaking news

This one is definitely not worth writing Dome about

WebCams -- how bad can they get? The BBC -- Gawd bless 'er -- has finally lost it. After being criticised for blowing half a million pounds on its new hot air balloon TV trailers, and blasted for a £250,000 spending spree on a dandelion logo to represent its Millennium series of programmes, it's now decided to install a DomeCam (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/domecam/default.htm). Why anyone would want to stare at a building is beyond rational comprehension. When The Register alerted its readers to the thoroughly boring Big Ben Cam, at least the hands moved. Can it get any worse?
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Pressure to adopt euro begins

Tektronix has said it will encourage all European business transactions to be conducted in the euro by 1 June, making it one of the first US computer companies to grasp the new currency nettle. The Oregan-based printing and networking manufacturer offered the option of doing business in euros from the 4 January changeover date. Customers can now place orders, ship documents, invoices and banking transactions using either the euro or their local currency. The second phase will coincide with the start of Tektronix’s fiscal year and the company rolling over many internal aspects to the euro. Adrian Moss, Tektronix director of corporate communications, said: "We can’t stop suppliers who say they aren’t ready for dealing in the new currency. But we will find it easier to do business with companies who are because of our systems." The company went ahead with the move after a survey of its top 200 customers showed a third wanted to start conducting transactions in the euro as soon as possible. Tektronix, whose European headquarters are located in Marlow in the UK, did $550 million of European sales in the 1998 fiscal year. The company, with offices in 27 countries, had worldwide revenues last year of $2.1 billion. Other major US IT vendors are expected to follow suit and press their trading partners in Europe and the UK to trade in euros. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple drops iMac pricing restrictions

Apple is understood to have ended the restrictions is places on the prices US retailers can charge for iMacs. According to US newswire TechWeb, citing a source at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, Apple has lifted its Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) scheme, allowing retailers to charge whatever they like for the consumer computer. The MAP restrictions recently came under fire from Apple dealers after US retail chain Best Buy began pricing the iMac at $999, $300 below Apple's recommended retail price of $1299. Best Buy soon put the price up to $1099, but it was believed to be losing money on each sale even then. However, the precedent was set, and Apple clearly has had to back down from its attempts to get the likes of Best Buy to push prices back to the recommended level (and margins are tight enough at that price point). Still, with the new, 'Revision C' iMacs launched this week coming in at $1199 (£799 exc. VAT in the UK), there's likely to be plenty of older machines in the channel which dealers are going to have to get rid of, and the ending of the MAP restrictions should help them do so. However, whether that will help Apple UK clear the heap of unsold Revision A iMacs believed to be sitting unclaimed at its Cork factory will remain to be seen. ®
The Register breaking news

AppleStore opens throughout Europe

Apple is expanding its Web-based build-to-order AppleStore across Europe. Already offering a Dell-style service to UK, Irish and Swedish customers, AppleStore will this week open its doors to buyers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland and Belgium. The company will also be pricing computers in Euros, though British buyers will still have to pay in Sterling. Apple said the stores would be open on 5 January. However, when we checked, the company's helpful Web site simply told us to come back soon. And build-to-order systems will not be offered until 16 January -- in the meantime, only pre-specced machines will be on sale through the Web. ®
The Register breaking news

Palm at fives and sevens over release schedule

Palm Computing seems just as confused about its product release schedule as the rest of us, if comments from the company's European general manager, Neville Street, are to be believed. According to Street, quoted on a UK newswire, the next version of the Palm handheld organiser to be released in Europe will be the Palm V, which will ship in April or May. Sounds fine, except that the next version of the Palm is supposed to be the Palm VII, the wireless comms-equipped Palm III that was premiered at last month's Palm Worldwide Developers Conference (WDC). The Palm V will be half the thickness of the Palm III, use sophisticated Li-Ion batteries and contain a low-reflectivity screen. That sounds like one of the early specifications for 'Razor', the upcoming Palm device originally said to be the replacement for the Palm III. Details of Razor began to appear back in August, and since then the device has steadily accrued more and more sophisticated features, such as a full-colour screen. Certain UK pundits have speculated that Street's Palm V is Razor, but this is probably unlikely. A more sensible scenario is that Palm V is simply the next version of the Palm III, offering the same features as the Palm VII but without the wireless data components, which is why it's thinner than the V. Razor, if it is a working prototype and not simply a proof-of-concept design (at the WDC, Palm pooh-poohed speculation over Razor's spec.), will be mark the generation beyond the V and VII. That still leaves the question of why the version numbers go up by two and not one, but that's Palm for you. ®
The Register breaking news

Latest on Compaq Europe – talks go on

As we went to press late today, we heard more about the putative redundancies at Compaq France and Germany, and more, too about revised Ts&Cs worldwide. A representative phoned The Register and told us that the works councils in Germany and France were actively resisting the layoffs. France and Germany have different (better?) labour laws than the UK and it is now unlikely there will be layoffs on the scale we suggested last week. Indeed, there is the possibility of strikes in Compaq Europe because of the proposals, the representative suggested. Meanwhile, in the USA, Compaq is pressing ahead with its plans to change Ts&Cs for top distributors, with Avnet in its line of site. Compaq UK is taking a distinctly Blighty view and is resisting the corporate dictat, we are given to understand. ®
The Register breaking news

Updated: Silicon threatening planet – official

Factual details have emerged about the high cost of producing a single eight inch wafer of silicon -- and it's bad news for the planet. According to Web site The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, it takes many thousands of gallons of water for any fabrication plant to produce a single eight inch wafer. It estimates nearly 3,000 gallons for one wafer, which is bad news for Irish people drinking Guinness. Worse, according to the site, there are by products which do not help human survival on the planet. All companies which make chips and have fabs are producing many tons of toxic waste, the coalition alleges. But the problem with water is one the site highlights. It seems, from what the site says, human beings have a stark choice between silicon and water. A virtual desert could be produced, it alleges. The coalition has chapter and verse on the subject, with many scientists backing it up. An Intel representative told The Register that its conscience was clear on the Guinness front. Its fab in Leixlip, near Dublin, is up-stream of the Guinness fab. "We use 1,000 gallons per wafter and 80 per cent of the water is recycled. The amount of water lost in the process is 200 gallons. "It takes four days to get the microbes out and then we have to put the microbes back in again," he said. "But the recycled water doesn't get into the Guinness." The microbes had to go back into the water because the fish in the river Liffey would die from pure water. Ding, ding ding ding ding. Guinness Inside. A senior executive at a database company quipped: "So how do they hide 200 gallons of water per wafer - surely you can't get that much into a single wafer. Or maybe they are storing it in the plant in which case it will surely burst eventually and cause a catasrtophic flood downstream at the Guinness fab. And if they are simply pumping it into the ground, then Ireland will soon simply float free and drift out into the Atlantic Ocean, until it eventually reaches Boston, which is probably where it belongs." The Toxics Coalition site does not pose the question which occurs to us, which is, is it better to be intelligent and living in a desert without water or stupid in a lush green place with plenty to drink? Homer Simpson was not available for comment at press time. ® * A reader responded to this story after it was posted with the following comments: "As someone who works on control software for the largest producer of semi-fab equipment, I've been appalled by the huge amounts of cooling water used by some fabs. There's no reason why the cooling water couldn't be sent out to a heat exchanger, and re-used. Exhaust gases on many semi-fab machines could also be cleaned up by better design." He said that simple retrofits to existing equipment could help a lot.