Scottish Parliament! Pick up this Digital Point
Many years ago, Digital got a huge (and we mean huge) grant out of the English government to build a huge fab (fabrication plant = factory) at South Queensferry, not far from the nominal capital of Scotland -- i.e. Edinburgh. There was a bit of a scandal when DEC (Digital -- now Compaq) shut it down but because it was the pre-sleaze era, no one really picked this news baton up and tried to run with it. It now transpires that the local authority built a special motorway turnpike to the ex-Digital plant. AMD was going to take it over but the cost was far too great for it to pick up. (It's not Intel). A Scottish reader alerts us to the fact the huge fab is still empty, the turnpike still goes to it and there's one janitor working there whose job it is to turn the lights on...just in case anyone takes the wrong motorway turn. How much, exactly, did that motorway turnpike cost after DEC shut down the Alpha plant, opened by Her Majesty the Queen? And why is the local authority having to pick up the bill for the motorway to an empty plant (fab)? We feel Nigel Griffiths or Gordon Brown should be asked, but we don't have the courage.
And while we're on the subject of pre and post sleaze
When Pete Mandelson got the job as minister in charge of the Departure of Trade and Industry, this august organ quizzed his spin doctor Zebedee (it's true!) about when Britain could expect Siemens to repay the £50 million what we tax payers spent. We're still waiting for an answer on that point, despite cafuffles about spin dottores....Please, DTI, give us a call and sort it...
Intel warns against overclocking new Celerons
Intel has warned that 366MHz and 400MHz Celerons it released early this week are likely to have clock locking built into them. That follows a report on hardware site The Overclockers Comparison Page that two enthusiasts who have what they say are retail CPUs, are able to overclock them to speeds of 550MHz and 600MHz.
Updated: Windows faster with Netscape – the saga continues…and continues
The solution we gave for substituting the IE 4 shell for Netscape does work but readers have reported that by itself it seems little use. But now a reader has suggested a further tweak to the original story. (Story: Windows runs faster using Netscape shell)
Traders blame euro difficulties on computer problems
Computer glitches were yesterday blamed for teething troubles in the value of the euro. Europe’s new currency dipped two cents against the dollar in New York trading on Wednesday night, hitting a low of $1.155. It bounced back to $1.165 yesterday, but still standing three-quarters of a cent below the previous day’s London close. American dealers scrambled to get rid of their unwanted euros, but were thwarted due to poor liquidity. There were disagreements about the cause of the slump – some blamed problems with the Target cross-border payment system run by European central banks. Others feared investors were giving the currency a wide berth while it was in its infancy. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England both denied any major problems with Target. ®
Microsoft touts PnP system for PCs and appliances
Microsoft yesterday announced its latest bid to extend Windows out of the PC market - Universal Plug and Play. Unveiling the plan in a Consumer Electronics Show keynote senior VP Craig Mundie pitched UPnP as addressing the blurring of distinctions between appliances and computing devices, but although this could in theory pitch it against Java and Jini, in practice it seems the company is taking a more conservative approach, at least initially. "As appliances become more intelligent and the distinction between appliances and computing devices blurs, a key part of their value to consumers will come from their ability to communicate with other intelligent devices," said Mundie. But in describing the operation of UPnP, the company keeps it simple, suggesting it could be used "to install and configure… intelligent consumer appliances and devices on a home or small-business network." It could also be used to make it easier to share resources on a network in business or the home, or for two PCs in a home to share a single high speed Internet connection. So really this sounds like it could turn out just to be a fairly modest iteration of PnP, enhancing some of the things you're starting to be able to do with computers already (i.e., all of the above), and maybe - or maybe not - being a possible Jini competitor some way down the line. The partners Microsoft has announced for the system don't contradict this view significantly: AMD, ATI Technology, Axis, Cisco, Compaq, Conexant, Dell, Diamond Multimedia, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Intellon, Kodak, Lexmark, Lucent, Micron, National Semiconductor, NEC, Proxim, Quantum, Samsung, Sharewave, 3Com, Texas Instruments and Toshiba. These are largely the kinds of partners you'd expect for a classic Microsoft initiative that was going to cover PCs, peripherals, chips and networking. The presence of Proxim makes it clear UPnP is going to cover wireless networking, and may have a lot in common with HomeRF (quite a few of the supporters are HomeRF members). But there's nobody big in the consumer electronics industry there, so although phones may get involved (Lucent), it's not going to address one of the big potential markets immediately. What UPnP actually is is as yet somewhat sketchy. Mundie says: "Because UPnP is built on existing standards, it will be relatively easy for vendors to implement, and easy for consumers to take advantage of." But as Microsoft is presenting it as a development of PnP, we can be sure where those existing standards are coming from - Microsoft. ®
Avnet to buy division of JBA Holdings London
Avnet is to buy the JBA Computer Solutions Division of JBA International, it announced. Yesterday we reported that Avnet was on the acquisition trail.
Tosh to make smallest DRAM in the world
Reports from Asia said that IBM, Siemens and Toshiba have formed an alliance to produce 64Mbit DRAMs with a tiny form factor. According to the reports, by the end of this year, the companies will ramp up production of 30 square millimetre 64 Mbit parts and 60 square millemetre 128Mbit parts. The process technology will be .18 micron, with chips being produced in both Japan and IBM's joint fab with Toshiba in Virginia. ®
Ideal offers idiot-proof server range
Ideal Hardware has been taken on as UK distributor for Cobalt Networks, in a move aimed at boosting Ideal's links with smaller resellers. Ideal’s agreement with the network developer will mean resellers selling into the small to medium enterprise (SME) market can offer their customers Web servers which need little technical know-how to run. The Surrey-based distributor claims the Cobalt kit is so easy to use that the biggest technophobe can set up the servers in only 15 minutes. But despite this empahasis on ease-of-use, Cobalt says its machines are technically robust. The Cobalt Qube Microserver can deliver 140,000 e-mail messages, 50,000 file transfers and 250,000 Web page requests per day. In a separate move, Ideal has poached Claudette Morgan from Datrontech for its high-end SCSI department. After five years at Basingstoke-based distributor Datrontech, Morgan’s responsibilities as business development manager will involve working with resellers to help them put together SCSI-based packages. ®
IBM sells ThinkPad assembly to Solectron
IBM has hived off its portable PCB division and a swathe of intellectual property rights and global agreements to Solectron. The move is a sure sign that IBM is determined to do its own sourcing, and could spell trouble for Taiwanese manufacturers making machines for Big Blue.
Windows 95 will never be fully Y2K-compliant – official
Microsoft has announced - but not actually shipped - Year 2000 compliance testing tools, but at the same time it's emerging that there's no guarantee that more than a narrow subset of company products will actually get completely fixed. Windows 95, for example, will remain as "compliant with minor issues" forever - some minor issues have already been addressed, but according to Microsoft, that's your lot, son. The 'don't hold your breath' aspect of Microsoft's Y2K programme is also more than a little reinforced by the generous guarantee the company inserted in a statement yesterday: "Also, to support those who use recent (but not the most current) versions of Microsoft products, the company said it will maintain Year 2000 compliance for many popular products such as Windows 95, Office 97 and SQL Server 6.5 through Jan. 1, 2001. This policy will apply even if newer versions become available. Meanwhile, all future Microsoft products will be Year 2000 compliant, the company said." You may well, reasonably, have trouble with that one. Here we have Microsoft guaranteeing Year 2000 compliance through 1 January 2001 on a fairly narrow range of non-current products (i.e., three, and we're not sure Office 97 is entirely non-current yet), and later on in the same statement Microsoft says one of those products, Windows 95, won't be brought up to full compliance. The super-generous one year guarantee is also more than a little disturbing. One could wonder what the hell it is that Microsoft thinks might prang Windows 95 the year after the rollover, but more probably one could muse that in Redmondthink, if you haven't upgraded by then, you bastard, then you might as well be tossed to the sharks. The "compliance with minor issues" tag in one sense means more or less what it says. It ought to be perfectly possible to run Windows 95 installations through to 2035 if that's what you want to do (2035 is its official Microsoft-defined operational ceiling, apparently), and not much bad will happen. But as one irate developer pointed out to us last time we casually dismissed minor issues, it's going a lot nastier than that. Microsoft software runs with a bewilderingly large range, and large numbers of versions, of DLLs. Quite a few of these are derived from Microsoft itself, so even if developers themselves can track down everything within their own software that needs a fix, they quite probably won't get the fixes from Microsoft RSN. That's not necessarily a Y2K-specific problem, but Microsoft's stated Y2K policy makes it pretty clear that it exists, and will continue to exist. Microsoft wants to move people onto new versions of the software every couple of years (actually every year in some cases, but the deadline slips, vis Office 96). It doesn't think, if there's a new version out, it should be having to try too hard to support the old stuff. So although you get, say, DirectX 6.0 support for Windows 95 now, 2001 will probably be a different matter for DirectX X.0, and it might be a different one for Windows 98, given that Windows 2000 will be shipping by then. The happy side-effect is of course that you have to pay for a new version of the product, whereas you don't (not usually or directly, any way) for a bug-fix upgrade. So when Microsoft does go live with its Y2K tools next month, don't get too excited. The company is offering, by download or on free CD, a resource kit that audits individual PCs for Microsoft software, compares the installed software with the Microsoft compliance database, and recommends actions. System Management Server 2.0 is the corporate version (so you've got to buy it, folks). It's due out at the end of this month, and is intended, among other things, to allow managers to do the same thing on the PCs on the network, download the fixes and then distribute them. You may note that neither of these is rocket science, but although Microsoft originally suggested the Resource Kit would be out in January, it seems to have slipped a month. Microsoft's compliance list also remains somewhat fluid. Last April the company announced its Year 2000 Resource Center and headlined the accompanying release "Tests Show Most Microsoft Products are Year 2000-Compliant." It added "with minor issues" in the text, and yesterday we had COO Bob Herbold at it again, saying that 93 per cent of products (that have been tested) are compliant or have "minor Year 2000 issues." But according to the Microsoft lists, quite a lot of products haven't come out of testing yet. All versions of Windows 95 bar the English language ones haven't, for example. And Microsoft is having problems keeping up. All versions of Windows 98 are still listed in the testing not complete area, although we issued a fix for that one last year, didn't we folks?
Trojan horse hacks AOL passwords
A UK security firm is warning Net users not to open files labelled "picture.exe" unless they come from a trusted source because of a rogue email attachment that steals user names and passwords before sending them to a Chinese address. According to Network Associates, the Trojan horse -- a malicious, security-breaking program disguised as something benign -- is being propagated by spam and scours hard drives to collect Web browser histories as well as AOL user names and passwords. The sinister twist in the tale is that no-one appears to know what happens to the information once it has been emailed to the mysterious Chinese address. Nor is anyone sure of the true scale of the problem but the Berkshire-based security company did confirm that it had logged a number of calls about it. According to Network Associates' antivirus consultant, Jack Clark, the motive behind the attack still isn't clear. "It's more a demonstration of what can be done," he said. "Once inside a PC, a Trojan could delete files -- it could, in fact, do anything at all. Luckily, this one doesn't, but I do expect to see more of this kind of thing in the future." "People should take the security implications of this very seriously," he added. "This is the first time in my experience that a Trojan Horse has been distributed to Net users in this way. People should be very worried about running executable files from untrusted sources," he said. A spokesperson for AOL said he didn't know of any reports of the Trojan Horse, dubbed "URLsnoop" by Network Associates, from users in the UK. The virus came to light a couple of days ago. Further information can be found at: http://beta.nai.com/public/stand_alone/picture.htm ®
Visioneer sells off scanner business
Primax has bought the rights to the Visioneer hardware division for around $7 million. The new division will operate under the name Visioneer and no redundancies are planned, with all staff transferred to the new company. It will develop and sell scanners and associated imaging hardware. Since early last year, Primax has been manufacturing scanners for Visioneer and will continue the R&D work into screen quality, hardware design and the integration of images in software applications. In a separate move, Visioneer has taken a 55 per cent stake in ScanSoft, a division of Xerox. ®
OEM sales report shows how MS squeezed Netscape out
The Microsoft OEM sales figures the Department of Justice had so much trouble getting access to last year are finally making it into court. Yesterday the DoJ released a Browser Report Card, a single page from one of the company's OEM sales reviews. The rest of the document, all 680 pages of it, is intended to be given to the court on Monday, but as it includes that troublesome Microsoft confidential pricing data, it will be under seal - at least for the moment. The part of the document released so far shows the extent to which Microsoft had muscled Netscape out of the OEM market by early last year. The review covers 15 major PC companies, and found that only five either did offer or intended to offer Navigator as an option, and only on some models. Close observation of court discussion surrounding the full document over the next few weeks may pay dividends, but given the sensitivity (and relatively recent nature) of the data it contains, it probably won't be unsealed in the immediate future. The DoJ also released two emails, one from Ben Slivka ramming home the Java message: "Don't encourage new, cross-platform Java classes, especially don't help get great Win 32 implementations written/deployed." He added: "Do encourage fragmentation of the Java classlib space." Meanwhile Eric Engstrom says Microsoft should get Intel "to stop helping Sun create Java multimedia APIs, especially ones that run well… on Windows." Both of these are part of the Microsoft internal discussion of how Java could be fragmented, and how cross-platform Java can be stopped. The Intel one is interesting though, as it suggests a (justified) fear that Intel will write good Windows code that can then be used by Sun to undermine Microsoft's ownership of the Windows Java platform. And here's another one from his Billness to Jim Allchin, came up in the DoJ trial exhibit treasure trove earlier this week, and boy, is he mad: "Cross-platform demand is not coming from statistics [so he does pay attention to the stats, aha!]. It is coming from the free-lunch syndrome we have allowed to develop. All of a sudden people think that there is no drawback to being cross-platform. No drawback in size, speed, interface, richness, testability… We should have people laughing at the idea of 100 per cent pure Java whether they write in Java or not… we are not in there driving a positive agenda for Windows." So Bill, who at the time (February 1997) is at least theoretically signed-up to 100 per cent pure Java, is suggesting mounting a marketing programme to get everybody to laugh at it. ® Complete Register trial coverage
Cable goes down under
Aussie telecoms company, Telstra, has pledged that the 37,000 km cable linking 33 countries in South East Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe will be ready in time for Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. Speaking at the Perth landing of the cable, Telstra's network boss Lawrence Paratz said the $0.3 billion investment was vital for meeting the "explosive customer demand for Internet and interactive services." Once operational at the end of the year, each pair of fibres of the two-pair optical fibre system will be able to transmit up to 20 Gigabits of data. In other words, it will be able to carry a total of 50,000 simultaneous phone calls, or 1,000 broadcast quality TV channels, or one million pages of email per second. Its first major test will be to meet the global demand for 24-hour digital TV coverage for the 2000 Olympics. ®
Rogue traders blight Web
Online stock trading in the US could be about to undergo sweeping reform as regulators try and get to grips with the activities of day traders. According to a report in Business Week scores of day trading firms in the US are being investigated by regulators under suspicion of fraud and other irregularities. It's alleged that some day traders -- which account for up to 15 per cent of NASDAQ's daily volume -- are misselling their services to novice investors saying it will make them bundles of cash. Although day traders only make up a small proportion of all online dealers, they are incredibly active in the market. Some market watchers blame them for fuelling the steep rises in the value of technology stocks creating artificially high values. ®
Wotcha! John, got a new Web site?
Celebrities with an axe to grind are being offered the chance to put the record straight with their own virtual soapbox on the Web. Due to be launched in February, Wotcha! (www.wotcha.com) offers free pages to the great and not so good giving them an opportunity to say what they want, when they want it, without any unwanted editorial spin. The brainchild behind the site, Stuart Wilson, admits that it's going to take time to establish the site's credibility, but he's in no doubt that it will happen. "This is an exciting opportunity for celebrities who want a chance to say, in their own words, anything they like, without being misquoted in any way. "Some people call Wotcha! a magazine, but I think of it more like a speakers' corner," he said. But a spokeswoman for The Outside Organisation -- which includes the Spice Girls and David Bowie among its client list -- was sceptical. "It's a nice idea, but I can't see anyone taking it up. If celebs are going to say anything they'll do it on their own Web sites, or through their own agents," she said. "I can't see them using this." Despite this potential setback, Wilson is keen to find new and different applications and actively looks around to see what's not on the Web and then tries to develop a commercial application. He's also hoping that companies -- especially those who don't have a Net presence -- will use the site for promotional purposes too. Using Wotcha! as a temporary base, companies and organisations can get online with minimal investment, Wilson explained. ®
Lycos launches innovative banner ad scheme
UK portal Lycos is offering companies the chance to trade on the Internet even if they don't have their own Web site, The Register can reveal. Believed to be the first of its kind, the service allows companies -- however small -- to advertise and sell their goods and services on the Web at a fraction of the cost of owning and maintaining their own ecommerce site. Direct Golf -- a company selling reconditioned golf balls -- has already signed up to the scheme and a major catalogue company is on the verge of confirming its interest shortly. Lycos-Bertelsman will officially announce the service later this month. The service works by companies "buying" key words and then targeting ads aimed at anyone searching the Web using those words. For instance, a specialist carpet company may buy "Persian" and "rug". Whenever someone searches the Web using the Lycos site using any of these words, an ecommerce-enabled banner ad will appear with the listings. Anyone clicking on the ad will be able to browse the rugs on offer and buy one there and then. Cash will be paid electronically to Lycos, which in turn, will inform the shop that it has an order before finally passing on the money to the supplier. In trials, Lycos found that that the click rate of these highly targeted ads peaked at 87 per cent before levelling off at around 47 per cent. Traditional banner ads only generate a click through rate of around one or two per cent. ®
US government could put spanner in DRAM works
The merger of LG Semicon and Hyundai's chip business will make it the second biggest DRAM company in the world after Samsung. But if the IMF's funds are used to prop up the Korean economy, the United States is likely to respond negatively, according to a senior semiconductor analyst at Dataquest Europe. Analysing the events of the last six months, Richard Gordon said that LG giving away its semiconductor division to Hyundai meant the shape of the DRAM market had changed drastically. Now, Samsung will be number one, Hyundai will be number two, Micron number three and NEC number four. The other players in the market are way below the top four, he said. Gordon said: "The two companies [LG and Hyundai] were forced together by the government and neither was very keen. They reluctantly went down the route of using a third party [ADL] and hoped the problem would go away." He said that LG did not like the solution Arthur D Little proposed but the government said, 'thou shalt'. Much of the discussion was down to politics, said Gordon. They thought the DRAM market was going to get better and so imagined they would reap the results. Gordon said: "Hyundai is number two now, but two and two don't always make four. The US government is concerned about whether IMF funds are being used to prop up the [South Korean] economy. It will be interesting to see whether IMF money is used in that way." ®
Cunning AMD-Compaq plan takes shape
The EV6 system bus in the AMD K7 means both it and Compaq will benefit from the use of its slot architecture. According to a very reliable source close to Digital in the US, AMD gets an extremely fast bus out of the deal, while in the future, Compaq will be able to use the same motherboards for their products. The source added that K7 systems will be upgradeable to Alphas just by swapping CPUs while Compaq will benefit from AMD's ability to leverage its motherboard contacts in Taiwan and elsewhere. But the downside (for Compaq) is that Alpha systems will get dramatically cheaper. Although it and its partners -- such as Samsung -- are selling 600MHz EV6 systems for $10.5 thousand currently, it is likely they will drop to a sum more like $2.5 thousand by the end of this fateful year. AMD was reluctant to comment on the implications of the deal, although a representative The Register spoke to said that the deal with Motorola offered promise for the future. ®
Compaq boots 64-bit NT on AlphaServer
Highly reliable sources said that Compaq has successfully booted 64-bit Windows NT on the forthcoming Compaq AlphaServer DS20. The work was done by the handful of Compaq developers on the "Sundown" 64-bit NT project. This development will fortify the Alpha value proposition: there is no Pentium, Pentium Pro, Pentium II, Pentium III, or RePentium chip that can deliver 27 SPECint95, 58 SPECfp95, and support 64-bit memory addressing. Furthermore the SPEC numbers will be obsoleted by EV67 parts in just a few months time. ®
When all the D/UX are thirty-two bit, we'll have the new name
OK, so we know that Compaq will change the name of Digital Unix on the first of February. It's all getting a bit Katmai-like, isn't it? However, it now appears that DEC -- oops Tandem -- oops Compaq is spending a fistful of money with marketing consultancies who have two favourites in the running. The first is Tru Cluster, faintly redolent of after shave lotion, Tandem technology and a bunch of bananas, while the second is 64 bits. Our correspondent tells us that a better name for D/UX would be Digital Unix... ®
Changes happen at Northamber. Chocolate partly to blame
Northamber today saw the resignation of two top managers. Paul Smith quit as commercial director and Colin Thompson left his post as non-executive director. Northamber refused to comment on Smith, but said Thompson's departure was due to legal requirements. David Phillips, Northamber chairman, said Thompson's role conflicted with the Cadbury recommendations regarding the independence of his position. Thompson was prevented from being a non-executive director as he was working for the company. The Cadbury report was published in 1992. The PIRC Corporate Governance site has a wealth of information on the recommendations. Thompson had been a director at Northamber long before the Cadbury regulations came into operation. It was only in the Northamber board's latest Report and Accounts that the distributor found it was in contravention of the rule. "Thompson was found on the wrong side of the line, after the line had moved," Phillips said. Phillips confirmed Thompson would continue working at the distributor. The circumstances surrounding Smith's exit remain cloudier, with Phillips declining to comment. ®
Microsoft in talks to get shot of MSN
AT&T has walked away from a deal with Microsoft -- for the time being at least -- that would have handed all its Internet media properties including Microsoft Network to the telecoms giant According to a report in USA Today , two of AT&T's top men, Michael Armstrong and John Zeglis, visited Bill Gates' home last autumn and discussed the deal over dinner. Sources close to both companies confirm that AT&T was looking to fuse MSN with its own WorldNet Internet service provider and to buy a stake in the MSN portal and its Web-based Slate magazine. In return, it's reported that not only would Microsoft have wanted a large cash sum, it also sought to have AT&T adopt and promote Windows NT. Although AT&T believes the talks have been put on the back boiler, Microsoft believes they are still open, USA Today said. Neither company was available for comment. ®
Clinton parasites havana great time as trial creates Net spin off
Now that impeachment proceedings are truly underway against Big Bill, it's good to see that one software company is happy to exploit its nation's constitutional crisis all in the name of profit. Worried that workplace productivity will slip as people log on and tune-in to the trial, Elron Software is using it as an excuse to flog its web access management tool. They're even throwing in a 30-day free trial to restrict excessive accessto sites covering the impeachment proceedings. In the land of opportunity, it's the American (wet) dream come true.
Diamond unveils Liquid Audio support for Rio
Diamond Multimedia has unveiled software for its controversial Rio MP3 digital music player that adds support for Liquid Audio's Liquid Tracks format. The software, shown for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is the first result of a collaboration agreement announced by the two companies back in October 1998. Until now, Rio was limited to MP3 tracks downloaded across the Internet onto a PC and then piped across to the player. The addition of Liquid Tracks support will allow owners of the player to download music encoded in what is probably the next most popular format after MP3. The big difference between Liquid Tracks and MP3 is that for former includes mechanisms to support licensing music tracks to individuals. That ensures the artist and label get their cut of the sale and that the licensee can't copy the track for others to use. It's the lack of these features in MP3 that has had the music industry up in arms against both the format and systems, such as the Rio, that encourage its use. Liquid Tracks is one of the formats the music industry sponsored Standard Digital Music Inititiative (SDMI) is considering as the basis for a new, universal digital music format. ®