28th > January > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Does MS internal email confirm Explorer can be removed?

The US Department of Justice yesterday filed an emergency motion demanding that Microsoft turn over an internal email which it says confirms that Windows 98's Internet and shell functions can be split. According to the DoJ, the email agrees with claims by prosecution witness Edward Felten that it would be possible to pull apart shared DLLs, and thus remove Explorer. This is not exactly big news for the programming world, but a Microsoft admission that at least some of Felten's claims are true would undermine counter-claims that have been made by MS execs Paul Maritz and Jim Allchin. The latter's deposition, which was made public yesterday (Browser integration predates Gates' birth), contains great swathes of data/invective on the inseparability of the two. The Microsoft email was sent during the period when Microsoft was testing Felten's prototype IE uninstall program for Windows 98. There has already been some argument over this period, as the DoJ claimed that Microsoft had completed testing but avoided telling the DoJ about the results. Felten's program seemed to get accidentally broken just before he was due to take the stand. According to the DoJ motion of yesterday, the email says "Arguably, based on Felten's testimony, this list [of shared files] could be used to 'separate' shdocvw into two parts: shared+shell and browser specific." This is not of course rocket science: shdocvw.dll is tagged by Microsoft as a "Shell Doc Object and Control Library," and it's in the nature of DLLs that they include functionality covering more than one program. Or as Microsoft might put it, 'more than one set of technologies.' If it's simple to pull the functionality apart, of course, then that's helpful to the DoJ's case - it might suggest the components were arbitrarily put together in the first place. And if you could do it without breaking anything, well, that helps the DoJ's case some more. Microsoft was last night quoted as saying the email showed that there was an enormous overlap in browser and shell files in Windows 98, but this makes it interesting too. If the email contains a list of overlaps, then it would be generally instructive, and highly useful for people working on pulling Explorer out of Windows 98 (Example well worth visiting). According to Allchin's deposition: "Whether a piece of software or some functionality can be 'removed' from a software product does not mean it was not a useful, integrated part of the product line in the first place. My hand can be surgically removed from my body, but it was certainly a well-integrated part of my body before that surgery." Spookily, we heard somebody else from MS say that very thing some weeks back - boy, are these guys on-message. "The central issue should be whether customers benefit from an integrated design, not whether such a design can be torn apart later." That's certainly one of the issues, but not necessarily the central one. Here's a possible alternative candidate: "They [browser users surveyed by MS] said they would not switch, would not want to download IE 4 to replace their Navigator browser. However, once everything is in the OS and right there, integrated into the OS, 'in their face' so to speak, then they said they would use it because there would be no more need to use something 'separate.' The stunning insight is this: To make them switch away from Netscape, we need to make them to upgrade to Memphis." That email and the associated survey data were sent in February 1997 to Bill Gates, Paul Maritz and Jim Allchin. So what do you think it means? It would appear to be saying that the survey data clearly indicates that by integrating in Memphis/Windows 98 Microsoft can cut off Netscape's air supply. The central issue therefore could be whether this was the primary objective, and the integration was carried out for that reason, or whether the eclipse of Netscape would merely be collateral damage. Allchin also says that the core IE files remain in Windows 98 after Felten's uninstall, and that "The DOJ version of Windows 98 is 99.93 percent as large as the Microsoft version of Windows 98." Again, this is pretty meaningless stuff, as Felten was demonstrating that Windows 98 could work without Explorer - do that successfully, then you can start optimising to reclaim disk real estate. His claims that Felten's uninstall damages Windows 98's performance are however potentially more serious. After you've run it he says: "Various features of the operating system are inoperable," but it's not clear what these are. The 98lite site we referenced earlier in this story doesn't seem to agree. "Any attempted installation of Internet Explorer 4.0 will malfunction" - This might make you happy, rather than sad. "The performance of Windows is reduced" - again, 98lite claims the reverse. " It causes numerous third party software applications to fail" - again unspecified, but here's a suggestion. The ThinkPad 600 which is producing this very story came with both Netscape and Explorer 4.0, and with a CD of bundled software you can use to add and remove applications. But it's hard-wired to use IE 4.0 as the UI for doing so. Open Netscape, try to open the HTML files to run the add/remove routine, and it'll tell you the program needs Internet Explorer. Did IBM think of this all by itself, or is it in an MS OEM contract? ® Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Judge quizzes Maritz over browser separation

Some of the antritrust trial documentation shows folks at MS apparently treating the browser and the shell separately, and suggesting they might charge for it, to boot. Paul Maritz was confronted by this little difficulty yesterday. Hewas quizzed about an email exchange where Yusuf Mehdi raises the matter of internal plans to ship the shell and browser separately, and to charge for the shell at retail. An earlier version of this plan seems to have been favoured by Brad Silverberg, at least until Bill flamed him. Judge Jackson pursued this matter, and asked Maritz how the two could have been split. Maritz replied that it would be a packaging-related question, but that some software engineering would be necessary. He added that it wasn't simple to split the two, and that he personally had decided against splitting in order not to delay shipment of IE 4.0. This may have been a little misleading. The 'ship the shell and browser separately' debate had originated in late 1995, so between then and the Mehdi-Maritz exchange (July 1997) the browser and shell probably got themselves a lot more entangled, code-wise. The proposals to ship separately had however been revived by then, which is why Mehdi is concerned. Maritz does indeed have some responsibility for deciding not to ship separately, but the way he puts it in his response to Mehdi is rather different from the way he put it to the judge yesterday. "I also said 'no' on the proposal to charge separately for the Shell," he tells his subordinate. There are a couple of factoids embedded in that statement. First, it confirms that a proposal existed, and suggests it got far enough to be formally turned down. Second, it implies that Maritz sees no technical difficulties in separating the two (which he's referring to as separate) at this late stage in development. He canned it for marketing reasons, not technical. He goes on in the email to stress the importance of continuing to put dollars into pushing IE, and it seems pretty clear that he made this marketing decision in response to pressure from some sections of Microsoft to start getting pay-back from IE development. That is, by charging for the shell. ® Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

A year ago: Microsoft moves to square European Commission

While the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has been noisily mounting what increasingly looks like a crusade against Microsoft, the European Commission has been quietly padding around in the background, running various low-key antitrust investigations that may or may not come to something. One of these, into Microsoft's relationship with European ISPs, now seems on the point of being quietly buried, following a Microsoft decision to revise contracts. The previous contract required that the ISPs offer Internet Explorer as their preferred browser in return for being listed as a provider in the 95 operating system ,but this is now being dropped. The change is being presented by Microsoft as routine, but it has the key advantage of removing a possible clear legal peg for the Commission to hang a bust on. What it doesn't do, of course, is alter the overall policy of establishing cosy relationships with ISPs - check the preferred Microsoft download sites for, say, the beta of Outlook 98 and you'll get a good indicator of who Microsoft's European buddies are. There are various other European enquiries under way, but the latest Microsoft move suggests the company is likely to neuter the more dangerous-looking ones by switching away from the stick to the carrot in its relations with its business partners. Just like everybody else, in fact. NetScape meanwhile has scored some small consolation, from a million licence deal with French ISP Jet Multimedia. Jet is to distribute one million NetScape Navigator 4.0 CDs as part of its France Explorer programme, and is the first big NetScape score following the decision to distribute Navigator free. But there's a long way to go in France, as AOL and the France Telecom service, Wanadoo, use Explorer as their default browser, and France Explorer only has 200,000 subscribers so far. ®
John Lettice, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Softbank makes $12 billion from Web – on paper

Transnational cyber-mover and shaker Softbank boasted yesterday that it had made $12.5 billion on paper via its investments in nine companies. This is (apparently) quite a turnaround for the Japanese company that even the Japanese were starting to have severe doubts about a while back. It should also provide further grist to the mill of at least one analyst (see Analyst slams Softbank investments) with some interesting theories about Softbank and its Web investments. Softbank's gains come largely via the wonderful Web stock boom, rather than through investment in wonderful profit-making companies. For example, it has made $10 billion on paper from its 31 per cent stake in Yahoo, and then in second place, $853.8 million from E*Trade Group. Excitingly, the company made $295.8 million from Ziff-Davis, which IPOed last year and most certainly doesn't make money itself. Au contraire, it's sitting on a debt mountain it acquired via the restructuring associated with the IPO, and hoping to pay some of it off by issuing a tracking stock in ZDNet. Softbank also, to be fair, made $323.9 million from its stake in Trend Micro, which was projected to make $30 million pre-tax over 1998. According to Softbank, only one of its investments, games publisher GT Interactive, lost it money ($24.9 million). ®
John Lettice, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Korean strikes destroying country's IT business

Labour unrest in Korea is damaging the country's IT business. LG Semicon staff are out on strike in the peninsula because of a proposed merger with Hyundai. Yesterday, Hitachi Japan said it had suspended a long standing agreement with LG because Hyundai competes with its own business. And now, Daewoo monitor staff have walked out in protest because they fear they will lose their jobs because of a merger with Samsung. Large US IT companies, including Compaq and IBM, are switching their production to Taiwan and other South East Asian companies because of the strike. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Sony to sue Connectix over PlayStation emulator

Sony Computer Entertainment and its US division, Sony Computer Entertainment America, are suing Connectix over its Mac-based PlayStation emulator, Virtual GameStation (VGS), according to Japanese news agency Kyodo. When the software was released at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco earlier this month, many observers anticipated Sony would take legal action (see PlayStation emulator launched for Mac). Given that possibility, Connectix has moved very cautiously throughout the VGS' development and launch. The product was only on sale at Connectix's stand during the show -- a spokesman said it would not be available once the show had ended -- unboxed. And after the launch, it emerged numerous Mac-oriented Web sites had colluded with Connectix to prevent news of the product leaking out and becoming the target of a pre-emptive legal strike from Sony. Connectix's argument is that the VGS' was engineered without recourse to Sony intellectual property, Sony has no case against it. That said, the company originally suggested that since Sony only makes money from games, not consoles, Connectix could hardly be sued for damages relating to lost earnings. However, according to the Kyodo report, Sony has finally concluded that it does have a case against the developer. The suit, filed at the San Francisco Federal District Court, alleges Connectix has violated not Sony's intellectual property rights but its copyrights, too. However, Sony was unable to confirm that legal action had indeed been taken -- certainly the news conflicts with earlier reports that Sony had decided that it would not pursue Connectix through the courts. Does Sony have a case? Certainly, Connectix's arguments carry some weight, but having an unsure case has rarely stopped corporates using the courts to delay a product's release or even to bully the developer into abandoning that product. Yet it's hard to see how you can genuinely build as complex an application as an emulator without recourse to the emulated system's specifications and intellectual property -- it's simply not that easy a task. If Connectix chooses to fight, it will certainly make for an interesting battle. ® See also Apple to bid for PlayStation emulator outfit?
Tony Smith, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Dell using Linux as educational spearhead

Further details of Dell's foray into the Linux market were revealed to the The Register today. Last year we exclusively revealed that Dell was dabbling with the Unix clone. A senior executive at the company said that while it was still "absolutely committed" to the Wintel platform, it was responding to customer requests by shipping the operating system. The source said that higher educational establishments across Europe had asked it to provide Linux-based systems. Dell was responding to customer demand and was shipping products to this specialised market, the source said. Yesterday, we revealed that Dell was shipping systems using the Alpha chip (see Dell using Alpha chips in servers). ® See also Linux to become a 'core OS' for HP, SGI
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Net addicts to get online treatment

The founder of the Centre for On-Line Addiction, launched earlier this month, has denied that treating Internet addicts on-line is at all inappropriate. Dr Kimberly Young argues that this is, in fact, the ideal method of treatment as it is convenient and encourages clients to be more honest and less self-conscious. This may come as small comfort to the estimated half a million or more afflicted with Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) in Great Britain. Those with a real interest in the Internet must already be feeling insecure after Canadian psychologist Marc Rogers' controversial presentation entitled Profile of A Hacker at the recent RSA Data Security conference. In this, he claimed that the most visible breed of computer hacker, the "cyberpunk" is an obsessive white middle class male, possibly with a history of physical and sexual abuse. Ouch! Not surprisingly, a number of hackers have not taken too kindly to such talk. Dr Young, who is to launch her phone-in psychology radio show on-line in September - and who plans to go live with a couples counselling clinic on the Internet next January - has a less scathing view of the typical hacker. She does, however, identify problems with debt as common ground between IAD sufferers, but ironically she also charges £10 for returning an e-mail and £30 for a live consultation. ®
Will Knight, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel applies fork technique toThe Register

You regular readers will remember our many stories about senior Intel VP Pat "Kicking" Gelsinger. He took great pleasure at a Comdex some years ago in kicking a staffer here when he was asked some tricky questions about Merced. Unfortunately, there's someone tougher than Gelsinger at Intel and he doesn't mind using lethal weapons to get his point across. At Intel's UK party last night at the infamous Waxy O'Connors in Rupert Street, a senior executive made his point by repeatedly stabbing a Register staffer in the chest with a fork. Seven times, he struck, and seven times the fork failed to penetrate our breastplate. OK, it was only a plastic fork, but as your staffer was wearing a light shirt, it didn't half hurt.
Team Register, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Euro strikers hit out at call charges

A pressure group in the UK has helped co-ordinate a pan European Internet strike scheduled to take place this Sunday which it hopes will force telecomms companies across the Continent to cut the cost of accessing the Internet. The Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications (CUT) brought together different factions throughout Europe to provide a united opposition to what they believe are unfair telecomms charges. The strikers have a list of demands including asking telecomms companies to reduce their profit margins on the cost of calls. They also want a flat-rate charge to be introduced for calls made to Internet Service Providers (ISP) using a modem. In addition, they say telecomms companies should abolish minimum call charges, so that metered calls are charged solely by the time spent connected. And they want companies to speed up the introduction of modern Internet access methods such as cable modems, satellite access and xDSL technology. Net users in Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland are all being encouraged to lay down their modems on Sunday and organisers believe that as many as around one million people could take part in the protest Europe-wide. Ironically, UK net users are not being asked to back their Euro brothers and sisters in this stand of solidarity because CUT doesn't believe strike action works in the UK. Instead, it is planning a series of awareness campaigns to be held later this year involving 14 countries to highlight its fight against metered call charges. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

And talking of Kicking Pat Gelsinger…as we were..

His life story is very interesting. He actually started work at Intel's HQ as a cleaner. He worked very, very hard and eventually came to the notice of one Andrew Grove. After a little while, Gelsinger did even better and actually invented the 386 -- one of Intel's better -- some might say best moves. Grove encouraged him to do a PhD in his spare time and he's now gone on to better things. And don't forget, when we reminded Pat about the kicking incident at Comdex, he actually gave a staffer a very relaxing massage...®
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Apple ordered to face patent trial

A US Federal judge has sided with New York-based software developer Imatec and ordered Apple to stop trying to delay the pending legal battle between the two companies. Nearly a year ago, on 13 February 1998, Imatec filed a suit against Apple alleging the company had infringed three patents it holds for device-independent colour management software. Imatec claimed Apple's ColorSync software contained its technology (see Apple, Imatec lawsuit talks collapse). Imatec is seeking $1.1 billion in damages. Apple denies the charge. It claims ColorSync, which was formally introduced in 1993, contains technologies the company had been developing and offering since 1985. Though quite why the usually highly scrupulous Apple failed to register patents of its own for these technologies isn't clear. Imatec's patents were granted in 1992, and cover the electronic adjustment of the colours of a digital image to compensate for the difference between how that image appears on a monitor and how it's printed. That's pretty much what ColorSync does, though it goes beyond the printer-monitor relationship by supporting other devices, such as scanners. Interestingly, ColorSync uses technology licensed from Heidelberg Prepress, then known as Linotype. So too does Microsoft's less well-known Image Colour Management system, though this software is not cited in the Imatec suit. Possibly it's the highly contestable nature of the case that has provoked Apple to repeatedly request the trial date be extended. In any case, a trial date has yet to be set. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel's Merced undercut by Compaq's Alpha

Alpha partner Samsung is now selling fast processors for as little as $250, it has emerged. According to confidential documents seen by The Register, .25 micron 533MHz Alphas will ramp to high volume in spring. They currently cost $250/1000. And when the 800MHz Alpha is released later on this year, it will also be priced at the $250 volume mark. Intel is expected to price its Merced processor, sampling in June and expected next year, at over $1,500. The information shows that Compaq, Samsung and the other Alpha partners are serious about taking on Intel in the high end server market. The pricing information we have seen means that large PC OEMs, including Compaq, Dell and HP, can ship 64-bit systems this year, possibly using Linux rather than NT, at a fraction of the cost a Wintel box will cost. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Mother Shipton discredited by Intel

At the infamous Waxy O'Connors, near Shaftesbury Avenue and only a stagger away from the tube station, we bumped into a charming Intel chap who gave us the full SP on Mother Shipton. Readers will remember that Ms Shipton was a seeress who predicted three hundred or so years ago that the world would come to an end in 1999. She lived in a cave in the charming Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, and to this day, visitors flock to her cave to admire the petrified limestone artefacts adorning its exterior. The valley is full of garlic plants and when your staffer visited it last, 30 years ago, there were water voles in the river. Your man from Intel told us that he was brought up in Knaresborough and when he was a kid, a local farmer showed him how the petrified artefact scam worked. In the field above the cave, which feeds the water, the authorities had a sink into which they placed vast quantities of calcium carbonate. Does Intel have to destroy all our illusions, we wonder? ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

ICL issues call to arms

Bizarre approaches to solving the IT skills shortage are fast becoming a stock-in-trade for hardware and services giant ICL. The one-time colossus of the UK IT industry -- now owned by Fujitsu -- plans to recruit 25 ex-army officers to take charge of its consultancy business. ICL's wacky personnel policies first came to light last January when the company revealed it was hoping to recruit convicted criminals to train as Year 2000 bug busters. The plans for the lags' army came to nothing but the talks between ICL and the prison service managed to raise eyebrows everywhere. This latest drive from ICL could replace the image of laid-back and introverted programmers with a new cry of "stand by your desks, you 'orrible lot" ringing out across the nation's IT departments. An ICL representative is reported as saying that former officers of the armed forces make ideal project leaders -- here's hoping none of General Custer's descendants end up running any ICL projects. ®
Sean Fleming, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Geofox went bust but where's the IP?

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of intellectual property owned by Geofox, which went bust on 2 November last year. The UK company, set up by George Grey, founder of Tadpole and MD of the company, was looking for a buyer or for venture capital funds before it went into voluntary liquidation. Geofox's liquidation went largely unreported at the time. A brief statement at the time said: "Geofox has ceased trading as of Monday 2 November 1998. The company has been seeking VC investment. Unfortunately, despite an increasing user community, Geofox has not been successful in finding a buyer." As well as having a low power handheld with a large screen, the device used Psion EPOC software and the company had masses of software described by users as leading edge. At press time, we were unable to talk to Grey or any former directors of the company. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Motorola to debut 450MHz PowerPC G4 next month

Motorola looks set to debut its next-generation PowerPC processor, codenamed G4, processor at next month's 1999 IEEE International Solid-state Circuits Conference, to be held in San Francisco. At the same time, IBM will unveil a 580MHz PowerPC 750 (aka G3) based on Silicon-on-insulator technology, according to US newswires. The G4 will be introduced at 450MHz and will be the first PowerPC to contain Motorola's AltiVec vector processing instruction set extensions, rivals to Intel's Katmai instructions. Reports suggest the copper-based chip (the first Motorola has offered; fellow PowerPC producer IBM began shipping copper CPUs last September) will contain 10.5 million transistors at 0.18-microns. That suggests the processor Motorola will unveil at the conference is the version of the G4 known as Max, which is due to offer all these features and ship in the 300-500MHz range. With PPC 750s already clocking in at 400MHz, with higher speeds to come, 450MHz would make an obvious starting point for Max -- for a given clock speed, Max is estimated to be 30-50 per cent faster than the 750. According to details seen by The Register last year, Max will also contain two 32K on-chip L1 caches and support up to 2MB of backside L2 cache. A 1.8V processor core will offer reduced power consumption. The chip will also provide a new 128-bit 'MaxBus' bus technology, which allows CPUs in multi-processing configurations to communicate directly with each other. The IBM processor, meanwhile, appears to be a variant on the standard 750, the last design IBM and Motorola co-operated on before falling out over AltiVec. Comments made last year by Mike Attardo, general manager of IBM's Microelectronics division, suggested the two are once more firm friends, a fact possibly confirmed by Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs' comments at MacWorld Expo earlier this year that the Mac makers would be sourcing CPUs from both companies (though the poor fellow still managed to call Big Blue "Intel"). The 580MHz CPU will be based on the silicon-on-insulator process in which conductive material is wrapped in an insulator to minimise noise from other circuits -- a major performance sap at 0.18 microns. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

MS Word ate my deposition

In paragraph 68 of his deposition, Microsoft's Jim Allchin explains some of the theory which underlies Microsoft's browser integration strategy. "Customers value the ability to find and view information in a 'seamless,' consistent way," he says. "In other words, it is desirable to design software products so that customers can find and view information without requiring them to use different programs and learn different user interfaces depending on where desired information is located. Testimony from Avie Tevanian and Glenn Weadock that customers find this sort of consistency confusing is completely at odds with both common sense and Microsoft's experience." Now hold onto the notion of seamless and consistent, and his point about "without requiring them to use different programs". Then try doing what we just did. Go to the Microsoft site and download Allchin's 139-page deposition. It comes in HTML format. Save it locally. Now open it up in Microsoft Word 97. Note that Word decides it needs repaginating as you do so, so you can reckon on all of the content page numbers being wrong. Then note that what you've got is nine pages. Nine pages? Yup, that's what we got anyway. The contents and appendices seem to be there, but all of the middle bit seems to have got eaten. Seamless, consistent... ® Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Distributors get fruity over sale of iMacs

Resellers wanting to cash in on the latest colourful Apple iMacs may end up having to buy more than they bargained for. Apple's two UK distributors -- Ingram Micro and C2000 -- can only get them in packs of five or ten of the assorted colours from the manufacturer. The latest additions to the iMac range come in blueberry, grape, tangerine, strawberry and lime. C2000 said it is willing to sell the machines to resellers individually. But some resellers have said Ingram Micro only shifts them in packs of five or ten. Therefore, if a reseller has an order for 20 grape-coloured machines, it must order 20 packs of five and hope it can shift the remaining colours. Steve Rush, marketing director of reseller Rapid Group, said: "We prefer to buy the iMacs individually. If a customer orders grape, we don’t want to be stuck with the blueberries and tangerines." Berkhampstead-based reseller Mac & More also confirmed Ingram would sell only in packs of assorted colours. David Millar, Apple corporate affairs manager, said even resellers buying direct from Apple had to buy assorted packs. "In the short term, we don't know which colours will be the best sellers. We want to get all of them out into the channel," he said. But he admitted Apple was addressing comments about the issue. Ingram Micro, on the other hand, was not available to comment. ®
Linda Harrison, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Racing software blag turns sour

A scamster who sold software that "guaranteed" success when having a flutter on the horses has been banned from being a company director for 13 years. Kevin John Robinson's West End company, Comstrad, sold get-rich-quick horse-racing software at £3300 a pop to gamblers. He also flogged pools programmes for £9995. In total, £4.5 million of software was shifted to at least 2000 people, said the Department of Trade and Industry in today's Financial Times. The company was wound up by the High Court in October 1996 with debts of £457,233, excluding claims from customers. The court found Comstrad had carried on its business by conducting a serious fraud on the public. Before it was closed down, Comstrad was visited by a journalist from Personal Computer World magazine who was shown around offices in London's exclusive St. James's. He reported a scheme where punters used a £500 stake pool to back only the three biggest-money races on Saturdays. Each bet had to be exactly five per cent of the remaining pool, with Comstrad promising to return any initial losses. Even in a worst case scenario, this still left the company with around £2500 cash from each customer. The software itself also left a lot to be desired. The DOS-based program had no database, no way of saving a horse's record and no means of accessing online information. The Register would like to say that it in no way condones betting, but a search of our own database today threw up the favourite at the 5.30 at Chepstow. ®
Linda Harrison, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Motorola sells smartcard logic division

Motorola has sold its smartcard production business, part of its Semiconductor Products division, to fellow semiconductor specialist Atmel. Terms of the deal, which so far exists solely as a non-binding memorandum of understanding, were not disclosed. However, it is reported to be "non-dilutive" to Atmel's 1999 earnings, suggesting the deal will be made on paper, not hard cash. Both companies said they expect the transfer of Motorola's Smart Information Transfer (SIT) business to be completed by the end of the second quarter of the year at the latest. The Great Stan of Car Radios said the decision to sell SIT had been made as part of the company's strategy to focus on key businesses, and to "improve the value Motorola provides our shareholders", said a company spokesman with a very long job title. In other words, SIT probably isn't making enough money. Atmel, on the other hand, sees clear synergies with its existing business, specifically its non-volatile memory and current smartcard products. "We are confident that the transaction will provide revenue enhancement opportunities," said Atmel president and CEO George Perlegos. The two companies said they would maintain an ongoing relationship with Atmel supplying semiconductor products to Motorola's other smartcard operation, its Worldwide Smartcard Solutions Division. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

AOL sees huge hike in profit

AOL has reported that its second quarter after-tax profits romped ahead by 340 per cent to $88 million, confirming its position as one of the world's leading Net companies. Revenues from subscriptions climbed to $779 million, an increase of 61 per cent over the same period last year. And revenues from advertising and commerce rose to $126 million, an increase of 133 per cent. Predictably, the company was delighted about its performance especially since it even seemed to take some analysts by surprise. "With this quarter's record results, we continued to build excellent momentum throughout our operations and across all brands," said Steve Case, chairman and CEO of AOL. He spoke freely about 1998 being a watershed for the Net explaining to reporters that it had now truly come of age. In a separate announcement, AOL's board of directors voted for a two-for-one split of the company's common stock. The split will take place on 22 February when stockholders will receive an additional share for every one they own. Anyone who bought 1000 shares for $11,500 at the company's initial public offering in 1992 -- and who still held stock -- would, after the latest split, own 64,000 shares worth around $5 million. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Hyundai workers down tools in sympathy with LG Semicon

Reliable reports said that Hyundai workers had joined those at Daewoo and LG Semicon and are on strike. Hyundai workers came out in strike in sympathy with LG workers, the source said. That is not likely to go down well in the United States. It seems that practically every worker in the peninsula has gone on strike. Even the newspapers seem to be on strike. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Recycling company gets trashed

Cheshire-based computer hardware recycler Decom is set to close after confirming that it had suspended day-to-day trading. Simon Greer, one of the founders of the company, said Decom's problems were down to a "bad contract" but refused to disclose any more information because of what he called legal reasons. He said more information would be made public at a creditors' meeting to be held on either 10th or 11th February but failed to give further details. Around 20 or so people worked for the Altrincham-based company providing recycling and distribution of ex-corporate IT hardware. Mark Lee, sales director at Decom said: "We have suspended day-to-day operations and appointed accountants to review the affairs of the company. "We will issue a press release on Monday. Until then I have nothing else to add." The market for recycled IT products in the UK is highly competitive and companies are being squeezed by low margins and the low cost of recycled component parts. "Decom was a player in the recycling arena and they had some big clients including Midland Bank," said Jon Godfrey, commercial director at rival recycler Technical Asset Management. "When a company fails it is always sad and this is definitely a blow to the UK recycling market," he said. Around five million PCs are chucked away each year in the UK and around 400,000 tonnes of IT waste is discarded. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

BT's startup scheme for small businesses goes belly up

Mike Gleeson, head of public relations startup company Archangel Communications, said yesterday that its Connect to Business Service, aimed at small businesses, was down for two and a half days last week. The service is supposed to give SMEs and other small firms the ability to get up to speed on the Internet. Repeated calls to BT's press office today failed to come up with any response. Said Gleeson: "I am an entrepreneur and my system has gone down." BT Connect to Business, a service aimed at entrepreneurs, went down on the 11th, the 12th, and half of the 13th of January, said Gleeson. He phoned Iain Vallance, chairman of BT, but got no reply. Then he faxed him. And a factotum replied with the message: "We're very sorry, we'll look into it." Gleeson also attempted to contact Bill Cockburn, MD of BT in the UK, but no one there was replying to his calls at press time. Said Gleeson: "This system was important to us but it was out of order." ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Procom pulls rug from under rivals

Storage manufacturer, Procom, claims to be the first to develop a hot-swappable storage device which can be added to and configured with a network without the need to power down the server. Called NetFORCE 100, the device is simply plugged in, taking about five minutes to configure. It was launched in the US in October and costs between £4,690 and £8,270. The six available models are available through one distributor in the UK - Norfolk-based Mosaic, part of the Store Data Group. Adaptec, a rival to Procom, said it had been working on a similar product that was still under development. Last year the technology was passed onto another company, Chaparral Technologies, Adaptec said, conceding that it had been pipped at the post by Procom. An Adaptec representative confirmed Chaparral was still working on a complete storage product, but was unable to say when it would be completed. Page Tagizad, Procom director of product management, said: "It is the first plug-and-play protected storage for the network. This technology makes it easier and cheaper for companies to add storage." Tagizad added that a similar product aimed specifically at Web sites, NetFORCE 2000, would be launched within the next two months. California-based Procom started 11 years ago, and has 40 per cent of the world attached storage market in CD-Rom and DVD. Last year it purchased Megabite, a high-end storage distributor in Germany, now Procom Europe. ®
Linda Harrison, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft leapfrogs to top of FT500

The Great Satan of Software may now be the world’s biggest company, according to the Financial Times’ annual ranking of the global top 500, but this has as much to do with fortune as it has with business acumen. The latest FT500 listing clearly shows Microsoft’s move to first position, from fourth last year. This is as much a reflection of the overall changing face of the FT’s league table. IT stocks have risen across the board, with companies such as Cisco, Lucent, MCI Worldcom and AOL all jumping up the ranking. European IT companies’ stocks have similarly risen. Deutsche Telekom has moved from 44 to 27 and BT from 64 to 25. Vodafone, which recently snapped up AirTouch, has rocketed from 226 to 81. If anything, Microsoft’s move to first position implies that investors’ confidence has not yet been dented by the marathon anti-trust case currently slugging along in the US. A company’s FT500 ranking reflects it’s market capitalisation, which is determined by its share price multiplied by the number of shares in issue. Bill Gates is keen to point out that’s all he’s doing: capitalising on the state of the market. It remains to be seen, however, how long the market tolerates this sort of capitalisation. ®
Will Knight, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

Yahoo! swoops on GeoCities

Yahoo! has confirmed it is to buy the Web company GeoCities in move that will create the world's largest online community. The news ends speculation that the two were holding secret talks and is yet further evidence of the frenetic activity currently being witnessed among Internet companies. Speaking to analysts earlier today, Tim Koogle, chairman and CEO of Yahoo!, said: "This is a substantial and strategic acquisition that will culminate in a powerful and complementary alliance. "Through this acquisition, we are accelerating our global leadership position by combining two of the Web's strongest brands and most heavily used services into one powerful offering." With more than 3.5 million sites and a user base of more than 19 million people, GeoCities has built up one of the Web's largest online communities. According to Nick Gibson, an analyst at Durlacher, the deal is all about being able to say who has the largest user base. "It's all about eyeballs," he said. "The more eyeballs they have staring at their pages the more revenue they can get from advertising." ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jan 1999
The Register breaking news

MP3 distributors threatened with patent suit

MP3 music site MP3.com was yesterday told to cough up a one per cent royalty on every music track it sells to a customer for download -- or face legal action. The bizarre demand was sent to MP3.com president Michael Robertson by Christopher J Reese, VP and general counsel for online music supplier Sightsound.com. Sightsound.com claims to be the owner to two US patents which it believes govern the downloading of audio and video files via the Internet and charging money for them. As a result, "Sightsound.com is offering a One Year Limited Patent License to [MP3.com] so that you can receive the protection of Patents 5,191,573 and 5,675,734. The royalty rate for the License is one per cent of the total price charged to customers per transaction for the download sale of music or other audio recordings", wrote Reese. And then: "Please understand that if you do not become an authorized licensee, you must immediately cease and desist from selling music, or other audio recordings, over the Internet in download fashion." The first patent, 5,191,573, refers to "a method of transmitting a desired digital video or audio signal" stored on one machine and sent to another "via a telecommunications line", and of "transferring money" by the same route. It was filed on 18 September 1990 and granted on 2 March 1993. The second patent is described in very similar terms, but was granted on 7 October 1997 on a filing made on 27 February 1996. While we at The Register would never claim to be experts in US patent law -- nor to offer advice upon it (knowing how bloody litigious they are over there) -- we are curious how these patents cover MP3.com's e-commerce activities, or anyone else's for that matter. Given they specify a "method" of downloading digital music and video, as opposed to the principle of downloading (which can't be patented), unless MP3.com is actually using that method, Sightsound.com's patents are surely not infringed. MP3.com presumably transmits files through a Web browser using standard protocols, and it's hard to believe that FTP and/or HTTP are the property of a small, little known Pennsylvanian e-commerce operation. It's interesting to note that Sightsound.com also claims to be a member of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), it's not hard to imagine the more militant MP3 buffs decrying it all as some kind of music industry conspiracy to lay one on MP3.com. Sightsound.com's own site uses Macromedia Flash, and we'd be very surprised indeed if the Internet multimedia company had similarly paid its user a patent royalty. Incidentally, it also claims that, in its former guise as Digital Sightsound, it was, in 1995, the first company to "offer music for sale in a download fashion". We understand that Robertson has yet to respond to Sightsound.com's demands, but we'll be watching the case with interest. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Jan 1999