17th > February > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

IBM to fab Compaq's Alphas

Sources very close to Compaq told The Register yesterday that her company has struck a deal with IBM Micro to make its Alpha microprocessors. That is no surprise. IBM Micro has very expensive fabs with super-duper process technology and our source told us that Big Blue is still a bit leery about Intel. AMD will also probably make Alphas once it has ramped up its Dresden fab a bit. Eckhard Pfeiffer, CEO of Compaq, brokered the deal, according to our information. Pfeiffer was in London yesterday, pre-announcing an acquisition (see earlier story). Does Mr Pfeiffer always come to the Landmark Hotel when he's buying companies? We think we should be told. ®
The Register breaking news

MS heads for trouble in Caldera lawsuit

MS on Trial Alongside the big antitrust action, Caldera's lawsuit against Microsoft over anticompetitive action against DR DOS cranks on. Microsoft has moved for summary judgement, and Caldera lawyers will now be studying more than 200 pages of close legal arguments filed by Microsoft in support of this. The tactic Microsoft has used is very interesting. Microsoft evidently feels it has not got much chance of getting the whole action dismissed, so by chopping up Caldera' various claims, it is hoping that at least some of the nine memoranda it has just filed will strike gold, and result in some claims being dismissed. This is important for Microsoft, because then it could then make great claims about winning, even if it were a battle and not the war. Microsoft is well aware that its chance of prevailing before a Salt Lake City jury is very slim indeed. Caldera achieved a spectacular PR advantage when Microsoft was pressed to comment on its original Complaint without having a copy, because Caldera had filed it as the court office was closing before a long weekend. It seems that Microsoft tried the same trick last Friday, as Caldera was slow to react. Another ploy Microsoft has used is to cite as many cases as possible in an attempt to overwhelm the resources of Caldera's lawyers, and to put down markers for the Court of Appeals. As ever, Microsoft is sparing no legal expense. Some of Microsoft's claims are unfounded or on very thin legal ground. A constant refrain is that more than four years passed between the events complained about and Caldera's original Complaint. But could Microsoft have overlooked that the period between the signing of the consent decree and its approval after Judge Sporkin's disapproval does not count towards the statute of limitations? Microsoft makes some amusing arguments: "Even if Microsoft had a duty of 'predisclosure' [of Windows betas under the Sherman [antitrust] Act, Caldera's claim would fail because a crucial element -- DRI's lack of access to the betas -- is missing in this case." Digital Research developed DR DOS in Hungerford, UK. Microsoft says that Tobey Corey, DRI's director of marketing, admitted in a deposition that DRI had access to the betas by the autumn of 1991, and that John Constant, DRI's product development manager, also admitted in a deposition that DRI had access to the betas through Novell. It was in July 1991 that Novell announced it was acquiring DRI, and the deal was completed in November. Further details as to just how dangerous DRI/Novell might have been to Microsoft was disclosed: there were three attempts to unseat Microsoft. DRI tried in its Cutlass project to emulate Windows APIs. Another project involved a strategic alliance with IBM to develop DR DOS with OS/2. The third project was to develop a product with Apple, in a project codenamed Star Trek, a successful but commercially unexplored attempt to put the MacOS on Intel. One of Microsoft's Memoranda refers to a deposition from Theo Lieven, then CEO of Vobis, which should prove very interesting if it gets into the public domain. Willi Dahmen, Vobis' general manager, was punished by Microsoft at the 1995 SoftDev conference in San Francisco by not being allowed to keep a copy of the latest Windows 95 beta, because Vobis had preferred DR DOS to Microsoft-DOS with Windows 3.1. Fred Kampermann, head of sales at Microsoft Germany said that because Vobis did not maintain confidentiality about the contents of contracts, Microsoft did not have the confidence and trust to allow Vobis to participate in the beta test program. Lieven denied this, and threatened Microsoft with a defamation action before the German courts. Microsoft's nerve in claiming that Microsoft's licensing practices for its operating systems were "reasonable" flies in the face of the consent decree, inadequate as it was. Microsoft says that its per processor licenses, banished by the consent decree (but this is not mentioned in the Memorandum) "had obvious benefits for the OEM and Microsoft". The benefit for Microsoft was clear enough: force an OEM to take MS-DOS, so making it rather difficult for it to have DR DOS as well. Microsoft's claim that per processor licensing "was one of several options made available to each OEM, and that it was selected only by those OEMs that found it to be to their economic advantage" does not accord with what OEMs were saying privately (for fear of sanctions) at the time. Microsoft did not in general offer an alternative to per processor licensing. Nor does Microsoft say in its Memorandum that it was prevented by the consent decree from entering into licensing agreements with a duration greater than one year. Two years had been the previous norm, with a discount for a three year term. The amount of redacted material is really quite extraordinary at this stage in the life of MS-DOS. The evidence is that the censorship is to save face rather than for commercial reasons. Microsoft now uses as an excuse for the inordinate delay between the vapourware announcement of MS-DOS 5.0 in April 1990 and its delivery in June 1991 the suggestion that Brad Silverberg had required a third beta, and the addition of new features. This was hardly surprising, because DR DOS 5.0 was a considerable advance over the MS-DOS 3, and the bug-ridden MS-DOS 4. Microsoft's assertion in one of the memoranda that DR DOS 5.0 copied earlier MS-DOS ignores the fact that DR DOS had additional features that Microsoft copied, and that DR DOS was produced in a clean room as Microsoft itself explicitly acknowledged (or it would have taken legal action, no doubt). In each Memorandum, Microsoft presents what it calls an "Statement of undisputed facts" but it is anything but that. Microsoft's documents yet again have incorrect paragraph numbering, which appears to result from Microsoft failing to follow HTML standards. In about half-a-dozen cases, the page images on Microsoft's web site do not render the page correctly, but such inattention to detail is of course a "feature" and a well-known hallmark of Microsoft. A Microsoft press release accompanying the documents claims that "After nearly three more years of investigation, Caldera still has no evidence to support its claims." The fact is that Microsoft has done everything in its power to slow down the case. The evidence available to Caldera includes the documents that Microsoft had to produce to the FTC and the DoJ, and it is pretty damning stuff. With the damage that Caldera suffered as a result of not being allowed the possibility of substituting DR-DOS for MS-DOS in Windows 9x (a new claim allowed by the Salt Lake City court), Microsoft is clearly very worried about the timing of this case in view of its present difficulties in Washington. Although there can be no financial penalty on Microsoft as a result of the Washington case, the prospect for a huge award in the Caldera case, which would be tripled by law, seems high. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

Compaq exec downplays MS threat to pull its Windows licence

MS on Trial Compaq exec John Rose says in testimony released yesterday that Windows makes computers easier to use, and that his company happily abandoned its own home-grown 'making PCs easier' software, Tabworks, "because it generated significant support costs and because we were satisfied that Windows 95 was more user-friendly". Rose's testimony for Microsoft's defence is intended to counter DoJ portrayals of PC OEMs groaning under an increasingly heavy Microsoft yoke, and to blunt the effect of the retelling of Compaq's big spat with MS over Internet Explorer in 1996. Then Compaq had removed the IE icon from the desktop, and had been told by MS that it was consequently in breach of its Windows licensing agreement. So put IE back now, or you don't licence Windows any more, Microsoft told Compaq. To get that properly in perspective just remember that Compaq is Microsoft's biggest customer for Windows, so if MS thought it could successfully threaten to pull the rug out, it must have been pretty sure of itself. Compaq folded immediately, and news of the argument emerged in late 1997 earlier in the current round of DoJ action against Microsoft. Compaq had actually been in breach of its agreement, but its actions in removing the icon showed that it did want greater flexibility. Internal documentation from Compaq, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard produced at the trial shows that this view was pretty general, despite what Rose says now. He says that the removal of the icon was contrary to "an understanding I had reached with Microsoft in August 1995." This "understanding" is of course a Microsoft OEM licensing agreement, stating what Microsoft required of Compaq on the desktop, so presumably Rose is talking about signing it. Compaq seems to have got into its trouble with MS by signing a deal with AOL that same year. The AOL deal required that AOL's icons be the only ones easily accessible to users. This would apparently seem to confirm that Microsoft's contracts did reduce Compaq's freedom of action, and that at least AOL was of the view that making access to its own products easy and rival products hard was important. Rose also suggests that Compaq ships only Windows computers because that's what consumers want, adding that it would licence alternatives if there were sufficient consumer demand. But Windows is of course cheap, as far as Compaq is concerned. Rose coyly says it costs Compaq less than 5 per cent of a $1,500 machine, but he's being too modest - if Compaq can't get $50, who can? Microsoft documentation on OEM pricing makes it clear that MS regards a Compaq-led revolt as one of it's biggest potential threats, so the company really ought to be getting the best deals. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

UK firm offers 25 years free Web access – at a price

An Internet start-up is offering users the chance to have unlimited Net access until the year 2024 for a one-off payment of just £150. The 25-year agreement comes from Sheffield-based Indigo UK Online -- a subsidiary of Indigo Computer Systems. It is open to both residential and business customers and is limited to the first 200 registered users. Due to be launched in March, Indigo UK Online's proprietor David Reed is adamant that the company will still be honouring its customers' contracts in 25 years' time. But some analysts are urging consumers to think twice before signing up for the deal. "There's little practical benefit in offering a service for this length of time," said Nick Gibson of market research company Durlacher. "Especially once broadband access is introduced within the next three or four years." And he advised people interested in the offer to assess the added value it would provide. With the ISP market in the UK in a seemingly constant state of flux committing to such a scheme may not pay off on the long run. ®
The Register breaking news

Press coverage forces removal of UltraHLE ‘source’

The programmer who posted so-called 'source code' for the UltraHLE Windows-based N64 emulator has pulled the code from his Web site. The self-styled 'GossiTheDog' blamed press intrusion, and clamed the coverage of his actions had generated far too much interest in his attempt to encourage ongoing development of UltraHLE by the open source software community. However, the real reason is more likely to do with the real value code he posted. Register readers were quick to slam the GossiTheDog's code as merely a disassembled version of the UltraHLE application and an almost impossible basis from which to work to develop the emulator further (see Programmers slam 'useless' UltraHLE source code). That makes GossiTheDog's claim that "if people had engaged their brains before [covering the source code release], you would probably have seen a complete C++ source to UltraHLE released in several months and Linux ports soon after" rather less credible. GossiTheDog also wrote on his own Web site that the press coverage gave "us far too much publicity before we were ready for it" -- or maybe it just exposed just how far his reach had exceeded his grasp? In any case, he had no right to the UltraHLE code, which was developed by 'RealityMan' and 'Epsilon', neither of whom have chosen officially to post the genuine source code, not least thanks to increasingly likely legal action against them by Nintendo (see Nintendo will sue UltraHLE developers ) ®
The Register breaking news

Marimba: IPO is go

Push technology developer Marimba finally filed its IPO gameplan with the US Securities and Exchange commission this week, as predicted (see earlier story). The filing does not indicate how many shares will be issued, and no starting price is disclosed -- details will be posted in a separate filing. However, it is believed the company hopes to raise up to $56 million through the issue, but the finalu figure could be much higher thanks to the massive interested in Internet companies' IPOs. That should net the company's photogenic CEO, Kim Polese, a significant windfall, through her 13 per cent stake in the company. The IPO document, called an 'S-1', also reveals some interesting background information on Marimba. For instance, it shows the company has yet to make money from its Castanet information and application delivery system. Since Marimba's formation in 1996, it has lost some $14.6 million. So much for all the hype and wild predictions of success that heralded the launch of Castanet, in February 1997, as the future of the Internet... For the company's last financial year, to 31 December 1998, it lost $5.7 million on revenues of $17.1 million. The year before it lost $7.7 million on revenues of $5.6 million, so the company is at least selling more software these days. Current high-profile customers include Compaq subsidiary AltaVista, Ingram Micro, Sun, Intuit, Bay Networks, Segasoft, Seagate and US DIY chain Home Depot. Marimba's plan to expand those sales, also described in the S-1, is to develop its non-domestic business, something it admits it has failed to capitalise upon: in 1997, non-US sales accounted for 22 per cent of Marimba's revenue; last year it was down to just seven per cent. ®
The Register breaking news

1999 not Year of Rambus, warns Fujitsu exec

Concern that memory companies will not be able to produce enough Rambus Direct DRAMs increased yesterday when the deputy general manager of Fujitsu's DRAM division admitted a shortage of packaging and testing units will hit supply hard. "1999 is not going to be a Direct Rambus year," warned Masao Taguchi. Taguchi said that tight supplies of both Micro-BGA packages and testing devices for high-speed memory is putting the squeeze on Fujitsu's Direct DRAM production, according to EE Times. And he said these shortages are hitting other Direct DRAM producers too. Taguchi's comments follow increasing speculation that the year will see a major shortage of Direct DRAM, chosen by Intel as the next memory standard. As an alternative, some chip-set vendors, most notable SIS, Acer and VIA will support PC133 SDRAM until Direct DRAM is available in sufficient quantities (see Intel, chip-set vendors prepare for Rambus shortage). IBM has said it will produce PC133 SDRAMs. Even Intel is worried. It has developed an system to allow SDRAMs to be mounted on Direct DRAM RIMMs (Rambus Inline Memory Modules), and recently began pouring investment dollars into DRAM producers to encourage them to ramp up production, most notably Samsung and Toshiba (see Intel to pour $100 million into Samsung and Intel tempts Toshiba with cash carrot). Taguchi denied that Fujitsu had been in similar investment talks with Intel. ®
The Register breaking news

New software problem to hit before the year 2000

People who can't wait for the collapse of civilisation in the wake of the Millennium Bug could get a taste of Armageddon sooner than they think. The disaster recovery group Safetynet has warned that there could be problems in September when some older computer systems fail to cope with the date change between Thursday, 9 and Friday, 10 September. The "Four Nines Bug" -- so named because it is set to hit on 9/9/99 -- is likely to affect systems that used 3GL and in particular, Cobol-based mainframes developed in the 60s and 70s. Larger organisations are particularly at risk including banks and insurance companies. "It used to be the common practice to use a string of 9s at the end of a file when this code was originally written," said spokeswoman Piper-Anna Shields at Safetynet. "No one back then ever imagined that it would still be used today," she said. To get round the problem, Safetynet is urging companies to check for this date anomaly during their normal Y2K testing and to talk with their software suppliers. It's a view endorsed by the UK's largest independent software testing consultancy, Tescom. "Some systems may simply shut down," said Jordan Daniel of Tescom. "It's impossible to say how big the problem is but if it nothing is done, it has the possibility of touching everyone," he said. News that the Four Nines Bug could cause pre-Millennium carnage was welcomed by some computing journalists who claimed that the market for sensationalist Y2K stories was drying up. "Readers are starting to balk at yet more year 2000 rubbish," said one hack. "The Four Nines Bug should mean we can continue to avoid doing any real work for a little while longer." ®
The Register breaking news

Joint channel accreditation for Oracle and Compaq

Oracle and Compaq resellers will be able to sell across the two vendors' product ranges thanks to a joint accreditation programme. The joint venture will bring together the OraclePartner Programme (OPP) and Compaq’s Enterprise Solution Provider (ESP) programme, offering free dual certifications. The deal has come into effect in the US, with plans to implement it in Britain, according to Andrew Bailey, Oracle UK marketing director for product, services and alliances. Bailey confirmed Oracle was still in talks with Compaq about UK plans and said it was hoped the deal would be in operation over here by the end of the year. Bailey said the programme was aimed at Oracle resellers who were not yet in the Compaq ESP programme, and vice versa. He denied it would lower barriers to entry for resellers or that it would lead to over-distribution. He added it was helping Oracle to build a broader channel aimed at mid-market customers for Internet packages based on Oracle8i. The deal also includes the creation of an education fund to pay for a week-long course. This combines the Oracle Database Operator (DBO) on NT course with Compaq's Master Accredited Systems Engineer (ASE) course on Oracle8i. Bailey added: "Our partners' customers will reap the benefits of deploying easy to manage Internet computing solutions from certified business partners of Oracle and Compaq." Oracle's OPP programme was announced last September to replace all its other reseller accreditation programmes. Compaq's ESP programme was launched a month later. Bailey said Oracle currently had no other such joint schemes with vendors, but did not rule out such deals in the future. ®
The Register breaking news

Branson hits out at AOL as Virgin offers freebies

As Virgin Net announced plans to jump on the free ISP bandwagon, Richard Branson has condemned AOL for taking its customers for a ride. Branson said today: "I read this morning that Frank Keeling, marketing director of AOL, believes that people will always be willing to pay to look at interesting and relevant content. We are offering it to the customer along with free access." Users of Virgin's free service may find they get stung by the £1 per minute charge for calls to the telephone support service. Dixon's Freeserve came under fire in November (see earlier story) for using a premium rate phone line service for support calls. It later halved the cost of support to 50p per minute. Alternatively, Virgin customers can receive free support for a reduced monthly rate of £5.99. AOL remains stubbornly determined not to bow to pressure and offer a free service itself. Virgin Net's new free access will be available to its existing 150,000 customers from 1 April and to the rest of us from 1 May. Virgin Net believes it will be able to offer a greater depth of content than other free ISPs and has claimed that its service will not slow down with the increased volume of traffic. David Clarke, chief executive of Virgin Net, said: "We will move all our existing subscribers over to the free package and then ramp up our operations to expand the offer to the general public." ®
The Register breaking news

Apple caves in over FireWire licensing

Apple has bowed to pressure from the computer and consumer electronics industries, and changed its royalty system for the IEEE1394 digital interface system, also known as FireWire. The company today announced it was forming a 'patent pool' with key FireWire licensees Compaq, Sony, Matsushita/Panasonic, Philips and Toshiba. Together, the six companies will develop and implement a collective licensing programme. In effect, the move takes Apple's FireWire intellectual property and shares it out among the six companies, though whether they each have an equal share isn't known. The announcement follows the widespread criticism targeted at Apple earlier this year when it emerged the company was charging newer licensees a $1-a-port royalty (see Apple caught charging crafty FireWire fee). Numerous PC manufacturers and peripheral vendors claimed the company was unjustified in seeking a royalty for FireWire, since, as IEEE1394, it was an open standard. In fact, as The Register pointed out, IEEE regulations permit IP owners to charge a royalty for the use of that IP even though it may be part of an IEEE standard. However, there remained the issue of whether Apple's royalty was too high and might limit the take-up of FireWire as the next peripheral interconnect standard. At the time, Apple said all royalties were open to negotiation and so would not inhibit the acceptance of the standard. However, the patent pooling move suggests that the Sony, Compaq and co. felt the reverse would be true. Most of the companies in the pool long ago paid an up-front $7500 charge for unlimited access to Apple's FireWire IP. Today's deal shows Apple has accepted its patent pool partners' viewpoint and sends out the message that FireWire is no longer in the hands of a single company. Still, it does represent a significant loss of face for Apple, though ultimately it will gain from the deal through the (hopefully) aggressive adoption of FireWire that its partners are now boasting will take place. ® See also Anti-Apple FireWire firms propose alternative spec Apple's FireWire licensing -- the debate rages
The Register breaking news

London set to run out of phone numbers as row breaks out

The telecomms watchdog, Oftel, has been accused of mishandling the management of telephone numbers in the UK by MPs sitting on the trade and industry select committee. In a report published yesterday, the group demanded that Oftel delay the overhaul of the country's telephone codes and numbers until further analysis is carried out. The influential group of backbench MPs said Oftel failed to consult widely enough when drawing up its proposals but stopped short of delivering a full-blown condemnation of the industry watchdog. The introduction of the new numbers is already at "an advanced stage", Oftel has warned, and any delay would have a severe impact on the provision of telecomms services in the UK. Oftel director general of telecommunications, Dave Edmonds said: "It is highly unlikely, therefore, that significant change can or should be made to what is now known as The Big Number campaign." While the select committee and Oftel battle it out, time is ticking away for companies who have to decide whether it's worth changing their systems to cope with the number changes, or just to wait and see what the bureaucrats decide. Edmonds also said that "customers need more information about the changes, not less", a view supported by The Register which discovered recently that only half of UK companies are aware that new telephone numbers and codes are being introduced in less than four months' time. The whole affair is rapidly turning into a shambles especially as Oftel maintains that unless the changes go ahead, London will run out of telephone numbers by summer 2000. "It is a mess," said James Murray, director of the telecomms services company Alternative Networks. "It definitely could have been handled better," he said. ® See also 'Phone Bug' could cripple UK businesses
The Register breaking news

Aureal annual revenues up 16x

Audio specialist Aureal has posted a loss of $3.5 million on revenues of $10.8 million for its fourth quarter of 1998, ended 3 January 1999. That compares with a $5.9 million loss on revenues of $200,000 for the same period of the previous year. For the full fiscal year, the company recorded revenues of $25.3 million, a sixteen-fold increase on 1997's $1.6 million, and an overall loss of $18.5 million. Last year it was in the red to the tune of $17.7 million. David Domeier, Aureal's VP of finance and its CFO, was understandably keen to highlight the company's progressive increase in revenue throughout 1998, which he attributed to the growth in demand for the company's Vortex audio chips and boards based upon them. Contributing to Aureal's losses were increased spending on R&D, and sales and marketing. The company is hoping its existing OEM deal with Diamond Multimedia and a recently signed OEM agreement with VideoLogic will this year push the company toward profitability. Driving demand will be increased support among leading games developers for Aureal's innovative dynamic A3D 3D audio technology, said the company's UK representative, Roy Taylor, MD of 3DSL. "Aureal is definitely beating Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live! in the 'war of the reviews' in the US," he added. Creative and Aureal have long been arch-rivals in the advanced sound-card market, a rivalry that has generated numerous lawsuits (see Registers passim). ®
The Register breaking news

Hardcore porn ads sneak past Excite filters

Excite is under scrutiny from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after it was revealed that filtering software used on its Magellan search engine does not block children’s access to pornographic material. The loophole in Excite’s advertising policy -- uncovered following an investigation by The Register -- is so serious that the online family group, CyberAngels, has reported it to the FTC in Washington DC. "This is a consumer fraud issue," said Parry Aftab executive director of CyberAngels. "Whether it is intentional or inadvertent, there is a fraud there." A spokesperson for the FTC confirmed that a complaint had been received on Wednesday morning (US time) and that it will now consider what action to take. Magellan's "Green Light" feature sifts out "unsuitable" material when a search is carried out on the Web and is intended for use by concerned parents. If a user searches on sex-related keywords using Magellan's search engine with the Green Light function switched on it lists a string of non-pornographic Web sites. Yet the banner ad accompanying the results page will lead to sites more suited to a red light. In one case it led to a page entitled: Porno deluxe XXX Hardcore -- in your face!. The ad itself displayed gratuitous, animated scenes which should certainly not have been given the green light. Aftab said that people are being duped into using the site on the premise that the content will be family-oriented if the Green Light is employed. Yet there is no guarantee that they would not regularly be faced with such pornographic banner ads. "Parents everywhere need to know about this," she said. Replying to the allegations, Melissa Walia, director of corporate communications at Excite, said: "The term Green Light Sites refers to the sites that are presented in response to the user's query." She declined to comment further on this or say why pornographic banner ads accompanied material that was meant to have been given Green Light clearance. Attempts to speak to other representatives at Excite today have been less successful. Excite is currently facing legal action for keyword-related trademark infringements from Estee Lauder and Playboy. ®