2nd > February > 1999 Archive
The Department of Justice yesterday revealed an embarrassing document for Microsoft - a 1998 US patent where Microsoft's patent lawyers appeared to make it clear that Web browsers and operating systems were two separate things. The patent relates to online banking, and includes the words: "It should be understood by those skilled in the art that a Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer … is separate from the operating system." The DoJ's David Boies said he'd discovered the patent over the weekend, and happily noted that Microsoft's patent lawyers and its antitrust lawyers seem to think different things. Microsoft retorted that the patent referred to versions of Internet Explorer for non-Windows platforms such as Mac or Unix - which are separate applications. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The aficionados of the goings on at the now-renamed IBM PC Co will remember that we had many a joke at the expense of Mike Lunch, who is now to take another job at Big Bluell. We suspect that means no more breakfasts with Mike, who formerly worked for Toshiba and was poached from there by Nick Coutts, himself poached by David Winn, ex Amex guy, who was himself poached by Lou Boots Gerstner. As reported over the last two issues, IBM is revising its Ts&Cs and is, indeed, taking a fresh look at that old canard, price protection. All the senior guys at Big Bluell were in Turkey last week, as they all scratched their heads about what they were going to tell the world about the Ts&Cs when they had to return from the casbah to the cold world of reality which is Emea. PCs will only be one part of the "new deal" for the Business Partners however, who are likely to be told the worst when IBM spends a stack more money at a conference for them in the US. The name of the game, also as reported here before, is now NCs and everything takes a back seat to those in Boots Gerstner's eyes. IBM will now operate a two week stock rotation system on all of its PC products including notebooks and the infamous NetFinity servers, The Register understands. Readers will remember that Big Bluell told us several weeks ago that the changes were in the offing but when pressed, refused to buzz. Lunch is to take an unspecified channel role within IBM Emea but we should not forget that in the past he sold RS/6000s. The business partners will also be served up with cold turkey slices when IBM finally deigns to unveil its other cunning plans toward the Ts&Cs in the next few weeks. Just talk to your favourite distributor to discover the hard truth. ®
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison says Dell is to sell Oracle 8i appliance servers using the 'Raw Iron' technology the company unveiled last year. Oracle also won Hewlett-Packard's support at the end of last week, and Ellison claims Compaq and IBM are also close to signing. Oracle's system provides a major challenge for Microsoft in that it allows the database to run on just a small kernel - it's much faster, and it can be used to cut Microsoft's NT out of the equation entirely. From Oracle's point of view it's therefore extremely important to win over PC suppliers. Dell will be selling pre-configured Oracle 8i appliances direct, and will be using a new type of licensing model for them. Rather than going for the rigorous 'per user' model Microsoft favours or the rather more relaxed concurrent licensing system it has used for Oracle products in the past, charging will be based on server power. This approach ought to make things simpler to administer, and is at least apparently fair, as the power of the server usually relates to the number of concurrent users. ®
Sources a long way away from STMicroelectronics, formerly called SGS Thomsen, tell The Register it has started beta testing a family of superfast processors. Last year, STMicro said it was developing so-called "system on a chip" devices as part of a cunning plan in conjunction with IBM Microelectronics. STMicro, a European company formerly called SGS Thomsen, has access to fast process technology from its time when it was fabbing Cyrix chips, before Cyrix was acquired by National Semiconductor. The samples are already with prospective manufacturers. Last November, STMicro bought Adaptec's storage chip designers. ®
Martin Turner, the MD of CompuServe UK, did not voluntarily step down from the post after two years in the job, as reported by The Register on Friday. According to sources close to the company he was sacked - although the circumstances surrounding his dismissal still remain a mystery. Apparently, Turner only found out that he way getting the elbow when he returned from holiday to find the entire contents of his office had been packed into boxes ready to be shipped out. His wife Mary, who was the marketing director at CompuServe, has now also left the company. A spokeswoman for CompuServe confirmed that both Martin and Mary Turner had left the company but refused to elaborate. "We have already issued a statement, I can't say any more," she said. ®
Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun Microsystems, has warned that Asian IT component manufacturers are likely to hit badly by the millennium bug. McNealy claims that the majority of such suppliers - including Taiwanese motherboard makers - are using equipment that may be as much as three years out of date. The head of Sun said yesterday that many just-in-time delivery schedules could be thrown into chaos if the big bad bug bites. Consequently, McNealy advises companies to bring their buying plans forward to this year to avoid such dangers. But then he’s hardly likely to tell anyone to do the opposite, is he. ®
ARM, the Cambridge-based chip design house, has rounded off a good Q4 with its first licence from Toshiba -- for the entry-level ARM7TDMI. In an interview with UK trade magazine Electronics Weekly Gordon Fairley, Toshiba Asic manager, said: "We were a solid MIPS company but we've got customers asking us for ARM -- it's the de facto standard in Europe." Toshiba joins Matsushita, Seiko Epson and Hewlett-Packard among six new licencees signed up in Q4. Two of the new recruits wish to remain anonymous for the time being –- ARM says only that one is based in the US and the other is in Europe. ARM revenues for Q4 ending December 31, 1999. climbed 52 per cent to £12.5 million and pre-tax profits jumped 133 per cent to £3 million. For the full year, sales jumped 59 per cent to £42.3 million (1997: £26.6 million) and profits were up 108 per cent to £9.4 million. ARM is a deceptively small company, with its revenue representing a lucrative -- but small -- slice of the ARM platform market worldwide. In 1998, semiconductor licencees pumped out 50 million units based on the ARM architecture, a fivefold leap on 1997. ®
Witness lists in the up-and-coming case of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) vs Intel are beginning to trickle out, according to US reports. Today's issue of the Wall Street Journal claims that AMD's chief technical officer, Atiq Raza, will testify against Intel. Before AMD took over Nexgen, which Raza ran, he worked for Intel. And the WSJ says that Intel's list includes anti-trust boffin Carl Shapiro, patent office commissioner Roger Milgram, amongst others. Ranged against them on the FTC's side will be various academic and patent experts. ®
Skillsgroup has announced its results for the year ended 30 November 1998. Turnover rose 16 per cent to £162 million, with profit before tax rising to £14.4 million compared to last year’s loss of £16.3 million. The results followed the year’s restructuring programme, which included dumping the product businesses of P&P UK Desktop, P&P Sweden, P&P Rentals, P&P Belgium and Acuma PSL. This brought in around $41.3 million and transfer of net borrowing commitments of £14.8 million. Commenting on the results, David Southworth, Skillsgroup executive chairman, said the company would continue to grow through acquisition, especially in the consultancy and training areas.®
P&P veteran Pete Fisher has joined one-time rival Northamber as a non-executive director. Fisher looks a good fit for Northamber. He looked increasingly out of place from the company (now called Skillsgroup) he founded by the time he resigned as non-executive director in 1997. Established in 1998 as a volume distributor and reseller, P&P (Skillsgroup) now confines its activities to IT training and consultancy.®
Europe's largest credit reference agency has hit out at reports that hackers are able to break into internal networks and alter sensitive personal and financial information held on databases. Peter Brooker, associate director at Experian was responding to a story featured in yesterday's Daily Telegraph about a man whose details were allegedly altered at an unnamed credit reference agency by a vindictive hacker. "It's just not feasible," said Brooker who also revealed that the circumstances surrounding the story are identical to a PR stunt uncovered last year. In that case a man who had created a secure firewall allegedly had his personal details altered at an unnamed credit reference agency after he became the victim of a revenge attack by a disgruntled hacker. "I think someone is trying to get publicity at the expense of other organisations said Brooker. "I can only speak for Experian but we aren't aware of anyone getting through our firewalls -- ever. People have tried but they've never succeeded. "Nor have we ever had a complaint of a bona fide case of someone's details being altered, " he said. The report in yesterday's Daily Telegraph told how Paul Smith, an employee at London-based Gen Technology, had his personal details at an unnamed credit reference agency altered by a hacker with a grudge. A representative of Gen Technology claimed that Smith is still trying to clear his name 10 months after being slurred. Yet officials at Experian said that in the unlikely event of this happening, any discrepancy would be cleared up in less than 24 hours. Smith is the brains behind a new system called Access Denied that, allegedly, prevents hackers from breaching network security. But when hackers failed to breach the company's defence after being issued with a challenge, Smith became the target of a personal revenge campaign that led to him having six default notices and a County Court judgement lodged against his name. But The Register can reveal that the event happened almost a year ago and that Paul Smith is just a pseudonym. Gen Technology said it could not release the unknown employee’s real name for supposed security reasons. When The Register tried to speak to "Mr Smith" we were told he was out of the country and unavailable for comment. A spokeswoman for the Gen Technology's PR company, Fox Parrack Fox, denied it was just a publicity stunt but admitted it was a "PR gift." ®
Major chip manufacturers are set to unveil new microprocessors at a conference in the US in mid-February. The agenda of the IEEE Solid State conference, lists presentations from executives from IBM, AMD, Intel and HP, and accidentally discloses details of chips they have in the offing. According to the programme HP will show a 64b PA RISC chip using a .25 micron process, together with 1Mb of level one cache data and 0.5Mb level on instruction caches. The processor will run at 500MHz on a 21.3 x 22mm square die. IBM Micro will be showing a G5 chip for the S/390 platform, using a .15 micron chip running at 600MHz and running at 500MHz in a 10+2 shared environment. AMD will show its K7 at .25 microns and describes its out of order FPU, which it claims will execute FPU instructions at two FLOPS per cycle, 3DNow! SIMD instructions at four FLOPS per cycle peak rate and up to three MMX SIMD instructions per cycle. Intel is demonstrating a 600MHz IA-32 chip, according to the agenda. ®
Internet Technology Group (ITG) -- the UK's largest independent Internet Service Provider (ISP) -- has confirmed it is in talks with a number of media and retail companies to create a "free" Internet access service similar to Dixons' Freeserve. A major partnership is expected to be announced in the spring although the company isn't prepared to reveal any more details at present. News of ITG's entry into the free Internet service marketplace coincides with the publication of its preliminary end of year results which sees a marked improvement on previous years. ITG has announced profit before tax of £55,000 compared to a loss of £1.96 million in 1997. And revenue has leapt by nearly 180 per cent to £11.01 million which has been mirrored by an increase in subscriber base to 105,000. "Making a profit for the first time is good news," said Laurence Blackall, chief executive of ITG. "But of greater significance is the substantial growth that we have achieved. "With our national and international networks, we are very well placed to sustain this growth and become a leading player in the global connectivity market," he said. ITG is the parent company behind Global Internet -- recently named the ISP of the year by Internet Magazine. Last week the company announced it's intention to buy Internet Facilities Europe, a Dutch business-to-business ISP for £4.27 million.
Retailers are being blamed for the stunted development of e-commerce in the UK, according to a report due to be published later this week by Durlacher Research. Although 30 per cent of home Internet users have already bought goods online, Durlacher found that there are significant gaps between the percentage of those willing to purchase goods online and those who have actually gone ahead and done so. These discrepancies represent considerable missed opportunities, the authors of the report maintain. "Either existing e-commerce vendors in that space are failing to provide an adequate service or there are genuine niches in which no vendors operate," said Nick Gibson, Internet analyst at Durlacher. To prove his point, Gibson points to one piece of research that shows that while 13 per cent of users would be willing to buy clothes online, only two per cent have actually done so. "This appears to indicate a considerable supply shortfall in the e-commerce market," he continued. The report also found that peoples' reluctance to purchase online is not, as many believe, because of a preference for shopping in person or the "personal touch". Instead, Durlacher found that many users are still concerned about security issues (31 per cent) and the absence of adequate vendors (25 per cent). ®
Apple has confirmed it is to axe nearly a third of the workforce at its Cork, Ireland manufacturing plant. Some 450 jobs will be be cut, out of a total workforce of 1400, which comprises 1000 full-time positions and 400 temporary staff. According to sources at the Irish Development Agency, the bulk of the layoffs will be part-timers. The Irish deputy prime minister, Mary Harney, described the cuts as a "severe blow" to the works and to Cork as a whole. The plant's remaining staff will continue to punch out Power Mac G3s. However, iMac production will be shifted to LG Electronics' facility in Wales. ®
Global derivative software company Monis said that Intel had invested money in it. The amount was not disclosed. Monis was formed after a management buy out from the London Business School in 1994. Intel will help optimise Monis apps for the Merced and IA-32 platforms. ®
Sequent, the big-box Intel manufacturer, is to outsource its sales operations in German- speaking countries to Comparex, the South African owned networking equipment reseller. Up to 100 Sequent staff are to be transferred to Comparex in the move, which sees the reseller also assuming Sequent’s sales responsibilities for Benelux, Portugal and Spain. No job losses are involved, the company says. Comparex already runs Sequent sales in South Africa. Following the re-organisation, Sequent Europe will employ 550 sales and support staff, and will maintain its direct sales operations in the UK, France and Italy, “ where it has secured considerable success”. Sequent has not achieved considerable success in Germany, Europe’s biggest IT market, where it has struggled against the likes of Siemens, HP and IBM. The company admits it has next to no presence in German blue chips -- unlike Comparex. Sequent anticipates that “revenues for both companies will increase significantly”, because of the new partnership -- but was not forthcoming on how much this would be. The company was also unable to say if any money changed hands between Comparex and Sequent as part of the deal. Europe accounts for around one-third of Sequent’s $800 million turnover. ®
Richard Baker, senior director of marketing of European marketing at clone chip company Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) will miss the introduction of the Sharptooth K3 chip. That's because the long arm of the law, in the shape of British Justice, has called him up to be a juror in cases as yet untried...
The deadline has expired for a buyer for the Siemens fab in North Tyneside which means the company will have to refund £50 million to British taxpayers.
People who faced irate landlords and bank managers after a government computer glitch ‘lost’ benefit payments, were today planning how to spend the £10 they are now being offered as compensation. More than 400,000 people are in line to receive the pay-off following a computer failure at the Contributions Agency left many penniless. The Daily Telegraph today said opposition parties had hailed the announcement as a U-turn by ministers and that it was the first official acknowledgement of the seriousness of the problems faced by the government agency. Baroness Hollis of Heigham, a junior social security minister, last night told fellow peers that the government had decided to relax the rules in favour of the one off £10 gesture. But alert Tories in the upper chamber were keen to point out that the compensation could not be paid out because the computer was not working properly. In keeping with The Register’s desire to tell it like it is, we have come up with a few suggestions on how to dispose of the extra tenner being doled out by the boys and girls in Whitehall. You could buy 10 lottery tickets, or four pints in a pub in London’s West End, or three packets of ciggarettes, or even spend it on a phone card so you can call the Contributions Agency to ask where your benfits are. ®
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is damaging UK businesses by delaying legislation on the use of cryptography and other secure messaging systems, according an expert from e-centre UK, a centre for research into e-commerce. Roger Till, director of e-centre UK, who last week gave evidence to the DTI as part of its ongoing enquiry, said recently: "The DTI is clearly having internal discussions, but they're going to have to hurry up if they're going to get anything out by Easter, as they promised." The e-centre also called for the government to lead by example in its approach to e-commerce. Till said: "If Britain is seen as a more difficult place to trade, it will discourage people from setting up business and trading here." This is particularly damning criticism as only last September, the then Secretary of State for the DTI, Peter Mandelson, made the modest claim: "By the end of this Parliament, I want the UK to be globally recognised as the best environment in which to trade electronically." The problem, according to Till, is not a lack of understanding on the part of the DTI, but rather, a misguided belief that the government must somehow protect the public from criminals wishing to misuse strong encryption to communicate. Till went on: "We fully understand the need for the police to have access to key information in certain circumstances - the main issue at stake is how best to achieve that without hindering the take up of electronic commerce." The French government's recent U-turn on encryption policy, allowing companies to export up to 128-bit encryption, is an indication that the UK is already be falling behind in it's policy on e-commerce. ®
Microsoft's defence took a potentially fatal hit today in court, as the DoJ demonstrated that a video demonstration had been 'massaged,' and forced Microsoft senior VP Jim Allchin to concede "they filmed the wrong system." Basically, Allchin is in big trouble, and his evidence is toast. The video had been played by Microsoft's defence on Monday. It ostensibly showed how modifications made to Windows 98 by Edward Felten's IE uninstall program caused severe performance degradation. But the video has given prosecution lawyer David Boies a courtroom scene he can dine out on for the rest of his life. Boies went through the video, freeze-framed it and showed that a title bar had suddenly changed in the middle of the 'demonstration.' It had been edited, and the edit had clearly used two versions of Windows, one of which had not been subject to Felten's modifications. Boies hereby wins our newly-created Register Perry Mason of the Year Award, and should reward his unsung researcher handsomely. There is no question that someone, somehow, had cooked the video at Microsoft. A flabbergasted Allchin said: "I believe from what I've seen here is, they filmed the wrong system." Microsoft obviously wouldn't do that to deliberately mislead the judge, would it? "In this particular case, I do not think the program has been run," said Allchin. "Obviously there were mistakes done there." Allchin still insists that Felten's program severely impacts the performance of Windows 98, but it's now highly unlikely that many people are going to pay attention to him. As a jubilant Boies pointed out, he'd come into court and set forth his case on the basis of evidence that has now been demonstrated to have been tampered with. He can say they made a mistake, and that he's right anyway, but will anybody believe him? Somebody in the Microsoft back rooms just made a big hole in the defence case, well bellow the waterline. ® Complete Register trial coverage