26th > February > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

What MS OEM agreements really say

MS on Trial Our recent coverage of Microsoft's new-look, flexible and liberal OEM licensing policies (sic) has prompted a helpful Redmondite to ship us some highlights from the Microsoft Windows 98 System Builder Preinstallation User's Guide. As Microsoft OEM chief Joachim Kempin has been saying all week, OEMs are perfectly free to install whatever software they like on the machines they ship - their freedom as regards how they install it, however, is another matter. Says the guide (MS in italics, our comments roman): Restrictions to Modifying the Product Do not modify in any way or delete any aspect of the Microsoft Windows 98 product software. This includes, without limitation, any features, shortcuts, icons, wizards, folders, subfolders, or programs of the Microsoft Windows 98 product software acquired through the Delivery Service Partner Program, except if and as specifically permitted in this. Anything not specifically permitted is forbidden, right? Anything that Microsoft says is part of Windows, including folders and programs (Applications are separate? Surely some mistake…) has to go onto the machine. Do not modify or add content to any directories installed by the Microsoft Windows 98 product software, except as permitted in the SB PK for preinstallation of applications by the SB. In addition to not deleting, you can't add either. You can add content, providing you keep away from the MS directories, but be careful (see below). Do not modify or append any text to the online Microsoft End User License Agreement without express ritten [sic] permission from Microsoft. We write the licence agreements round here, OK? You are allowed to replace the term "PC Manufacturer" with your company name without written permission from Microsoft. A concession! Fill your company name in and praise Bill, kid. Do not modify or obscure in any way the sequence or appearance of any screens displayed by the Microsoft Windows 98 product software as delivered by Microsoft from the time the target PC completes BIOS processing after being switched on by the end user and transfers control to the software loaded from the hard disk ("End User Boot") until the time that the "Welcome to Windows 98" program has been run and closed by the end user and the computer displays the desktop screen. This is the bit whose "relaxation" Joachim Kempin has been bashing on about. It has only been relaxed for a few major OEMs, and the rest of you out there have to make sure the install process runs precisely as MS defines, with no interruptions. Read on: Do not use any portion of Microsoft Windows 98 product software to enable any programs or other content to run or appear before End User Boot. Get out of that without moving, as the late, great, Eric Morecambe used to say. Even if you try to run software before the installed system boots for the first time, you're in breach of your licence if you try to run it on, er, the operating system. Joachim, we think maybe this one's overkill. Do not display any content, including visual displays or sound, from End User Boot up through and including the time that the preinstalled PC has displayed the Windows 98 Desktop screen. More overkill, surely, but note that this one is maybe a more specific prohibition of companies sticking their advertising in during the install process. We publish the ads round here. Do not modify, delete or obscure, in any way, the appearance of the desktop screen (including without limitation, any features, shortcuts, icons, Active Desktop items, "wizards," folders-including sub-folders-or programs of Windows 98 as delivered by Microsoft in this SB PK.). This is the bit that says you can't remove the IE icon, or indeed any other icon or embellishment MS decides is part of the "Windows Experience." But here comes a concession: You may, however, add icons or folders to the Desktop screen, provided that: Any such icons are the shape as icons included on the Desktop screen as delivered by Microsoft; Any such folders are the same size, shape, and appearance as folders included on the Desktop screen as delivered by Microsoft. You may also add Active Desktop items, including background wallpaper, Web site and channel links, to the Active Desktop provided that: Any trade names, trademarks, logos or brands displayed in connection with such components shall be limited to those under which the Customer System is marketed and distributed. You maybe nodded off during that, but wake up! First we've got (rough) parity in prominence, so if AOL demands major impact for its icons it can't have it, and then you can only add product names and brands that are specific to the PC you're selling to the Active Desktop. So doing deals with third parties and then advertising their wares is forbidden. We make the deals round here. Restrictions for Windows 98 Software Components Do not remove any standard Windows 98 component software from a preinstalled PC. Users expect a consistent behavior from all new computers, including all of the standard utilities and features. And that's an order. Do not replace, remove, or supersede any of the following: Welcome.exe (the Microsoft Welcome to Windows 98 dialog box). This application includes What's New, Online registration, Tip of the Day, and The Tour. You may add up to two buttons below these four buttons. The Welcome to Windows 98 dialog box must appear on the desktop automatically for the first user session. You can add tips to Tip of the Day, but you are not allowed to remove any existing Microsoft-provided tips. The mouse tutorial or the line that calls it in Opkinput.inf. The default Start page or Search page for Internet Explorer. Control freak stuff, largely. But note that you're specifically required to leave the IE default page set to Microsoft. This is of course important in order to ensure that your customers are thoroughly integrated into microsoft.com. Restrictions for SB-Provided Preinstalled Applications Do not configure any programs to be enabled, run, or initialized automatically-that is, without requiring a deliberate act of the end user-from an icon or folder on the Desktop screen, from the Start menu of the Desktop screen, or by any other mechanism. This includes, without limitation, any shells, screen savers, welcome scripts, wizards, or other content. That covers most of it. You can, as Joachim says, preinstall anything you like on the machine, but you can't auto-run anything. You can, if you want, place an icon on the screen (the same size as the IE one, mind) which swaps out the shell, disables IE and runs Navigator instead, but the user has to deliberately decide to press the button, then go through the aggravation. Your ability to automate such a process is limited, and your freedom to tailor the machine at the factory is next to nil. Do not populate the Startup folder, Autoexec.bat, Boot.ini, Config.sys, System.dat, System.ini, User.dat, or Win.ini files in any manner that will cause any program or content to run or load automatically upon End User Boot, except for device drivers necessary to support preinstalled or preconfigured hardware devices such as network cards, printers, and so on. More overkill. You pesky varmints will keep trying to get round our nice liberal licence agreements, won't you? But here's something else you should bear in mind: Important Do not list Microsoft or a Microsoft phone number for support information, either electronically on the preinstalled PC or in printed materials distributed with the PC, unless explicitly permitted to do so by Microsoft. You take the tech support phone calls round here, OK? ® Complete Register trial coverage
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Philips stalks VLSI with takeover proposal

Philips has published a letter to Alfred Stein, chairman and CEO of VLSI proposing that the US firm submits to friendly takeover by the Dutch giant. Although couched in the politeness for which the Dutch are not famed for, the underlying message of the letter is clear. Philips is trying to bounce VLSI into accepting a deal, by appealing over the heads of the board to the shareholders. In turn this suggests that VLSI is in no hurry to lose its independence, or it thinks Philips’ indicative offer --which at $17 per share represents a premium of 60 per cent on VLSI's closing price on February 25. Alternatively, the thought of working for a Dutch company could fill the Californians at VLSI with something less than enthusiasm. Philips says it "has the highest regard for VLSI". The company will be a "platform for Philips Semiconductors’ further expansion in the United States and an important element of our strategy to be a leading global supplier of communications and consumer semiconductor products," said Arthur van der Poel, CEO of Philips Semiconductors. ® The Philips letter to VLSI in full Mr. A.J. Stein Chairman & CEO VLSI Technology Inc. 1109 McKay Drive San Jose, CA 95131 February 25, 1999 "Dear Mr. Stein, "Thank you for meeting with Arthur van der Poel and myself to discuss a possible strategic business combination between our companies. As you know from our recent conversations, Philips has for some time studied the possibility of a combination of our Semiconductors division and VLSI. Those conversations and our meeting today have convinced us that we should progress with our discussions on a fast time track. We have therefore summarized our proposal in this letter so that you can discuss it with your Board of Directors and advisors. "Based upon our work to date, which has been limited to public sources, Philips would propose to enter into an agreement to acquire VLSI in a merger transaction in which your stockholders would receive $17 in cash for each share of VLSI common stock. We believe our proposal, which represents a premium of approximately 60% to the closing VLSI market price on February 25th, offers an extremely attractive opportunity for your stockholders. Philips would propose to finance the transaction primarily through existing cash balances and thus would not require any contingency or delay traditionally associated with raising capital. "As we told you, we have the highest regard for your company and your employees, as well as your many innovations in the semiconductor field. We believe that the combined business of VLSI and Philips Semiconductors will be positioned as a global leader in many of the most exciting semiconductor growth markets. Furthermore, we are convinced that the strategic, operational and financial merits of such a combination are compelling and will provide significant benefits to your shareholders, employees, customers, and other stakeholders. We plan to use VLSI as a cornerstone of our growth strategy for Philips Semiconductors in North America and as a platform for further expansion. As a result, we recognize that VLSI's management and employees are essential to the success of our proposed business combination. We are therefore very interested in discussing with you the ways in which we can properly offer incentives and retain those managers and employees. "As you can appreciate, with a proposal of this type, time is of the essence, and we are prepared to move accordingly. We would be happy to meet with you and other members of your Board of Directors, senior management and with your advisors as soon as practical to discuss our proposal and to answer any questions you or they may have. We believe it would be mutually desirable if you would give us the opportunity to conduct customary due diligence in parallel with the negotiation of a definitive acquisition agreement. "We realize that your Board of Directors will want to carefully consider our proposal, but we do ask that you get back to us with a response as soon as possible, but in no event later than the close of business on Wednesday, March 3rd. "We have discussed the highly sensitive nature of the market information contained in this letter with our legal counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell. Based upon those discussions, we have decided to publicly disclose our acquisition proposal. "I hope that VLSI will respond favorably to this proposal, and that a combination of our related businesses can be accomplished in an amicable and mutually beneficial fashion. We look forward to your response." Sincerely, Cor Boonstra President & CEO Royal Philips Electronics
The Register breaking news

Come in User 2, your time is up

User 2 Computers, which launched itself onto the PC retail market last year, has folded. Based in County Durham, the company went into voluntary liquidation on 4 January. Only last year User 2 aimed to open a dozen retail franchises at £105,000 a piece. Five were established before its fall. They are still trading and are being run independently under that banner name. User 2 was backed by venture capitalist 3i. Stuart Gibb, former MD of User 2, said the company had gone under due to the slow rate of take up of the franchises and associated cash-flow problems. Gibb added that the PC retail franchising market was especially difficult last year. "There were insufficient funds to continue the franchising. It was a slow process to get the shops up and running." He continued: "It was also down to bad timing and economic forces – some years people look to going into business swiftly, some not," he said. The franchises were opened in Edinburgh, Belfast, Middlesborough and two in Aberdeen. Gibb also said he believed another was about to be opened in Newcastle. User 2 Computers took a sharp fall from its launch onto the market. Last August the company boasted a turnover of around £1 million, and offered to provide franchisees with a fully fitted shop and trading stock for their fee. It also offered technical training to shop staff and group purchasing for cheaper PCs. It assembled computers as well as selling recycled machines. See earlier story. Gibb has now set up a services company - Forbes 2000 - also based in County Durham. ®
The Register breaking news

MS exec in shock Windows is great white whale claim

MS on Trial Confidential Microsoft documents referred to in court yesterday show that in 1996 the company offered OEMs financial inducements in exchange for their agreeing to use the standard Windows interface, rather than alternative shells. But bizarrely OEM chief Joachim Kempin claimed that the OEMs were already legally obliged to stick to the standard interface. Kempin had initially said OEMs hadn't been offered extra discounts, but changed his mind when DoJ attorney David Boies produced the documents, which were admitted under seal (ie. we can't have them -- yet). "Yes," he said. "I believe we incented the OEMs to go back to the normal standard licence agreements because... we had a lot of third-party shells which these OEMs were using, and they booted into these shells, basically covering up our product totally. I would call this tampering, as I said yesterday." Kempin's view of tampering has been made fairly clear this week, and yesterday he compared Windows to a great novel, saying that messing with it was akin to tearing out chapters or changing the ending because you don't like it. Specifically, the great novel he cited was Moby Dick -- so, friends, Windows is a great white whale. But how come Microsoft was paying the OEMs to return to the licensing conditions they should have -- in Kempin's view -- been adhering to all along? "I think what we did here is we said, 'This might take you some work to do that.' So instead of just writing it to their licence agreement and demanding it, we basically tried to give them some additional dollars to basically do the R&D work and change." Kempin's misphrasing here is key -- did he mean writing it into the licence agreement, or writing to them drawing the licence agreement to their attention? He quickly stresses that he meant is "that was already written in the licence agreement... they had no right to do this, and we never granted them this right." Historians will however note that one of the software categories the launch of Windows 95, which had launched the previous autumn, broke was third party alternative shell software. But clearly Kempin is saying that, aside from making it technically difficult to re-engineer third party shells, Microsoft had outlawed them in its OEM contracts. This is possibly a matter for interpretation, however, as what OEMs can and cannot interfere with depends on how far out Microsoft decides to place the boundaries of its 'great novel.' Kempin may say that these boundaries have not changed, but that isn't the perception of Microsoft's big OEM customers. A Hewlett-Packard memo of early 1997 for example says: "We strongly protested the changes [our italics, and these changes are precisely what Kempin was saying weren't changes yesterday] last fall and were flatly refused any leeway." In a September 1996 paper Kempin himself says: "The current Windows experience guidelines are being implemented and by January 1997, at least 65 per cent of all systems will follow them." Again, he's talking about what he's now saying OEMs were always required to do, but is pretty relaxed about so few of them doing it. And then of course there's Microsoft's old trusty, Dell (remember Mikey Dell spoke up for Bill at the senate hearings last year). A document headed "Dell's response to Microsoft's Windows User Experience Amendment Proposal" stems from a Dell-Microsoft meeting in Redmond in December 1996. Dell would appear to be under the impression, as HP was, that these are changes, and the document covers "the Windows User Experience (WUE) amendment which has been proposed by Microsoft as an amendment to Dell's contract with Microsoft." It does look a bit like Joachim isn't telling the pure, unvarnished truth, doesn't it? Maybe, maybe not. One of the things he stressed yesterday was that Microsoft did a lot of business verbally. Strange as it may seem, considering the detail the OEM contracts go into, there are surely plenty of permissions, restrictions, advisories and Compaq-style side licences that either don't go down on paper immediately, or don't go down on paper at all. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

Sony enters digital music contest with MP3-beater

Members of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) will today meet in Los Angeles to begin the process of thrashing out a universal standard for compressing, encrypting and protecting music. But participants are already touting their own technologies. Earlier this week, Liquid Audio announced it was working with Texas Instruments to develop a digital music player (see earlier story). And yesterday Sony announced its own copyright protection system. Sony's entry into the SDMI race is codenamed MagicGate. It's designed for consumer electronics kit, including Internet-enabled hi-fi separates and systems, and portable players like the Rio. Sony is also working on a version of MagicGate, called OpenMG, to protect tracks downloaded into a PC. At the heart of both systems is an authentication system hard-wired into silicon. The device checks that downloaded files are correctly encrypted and were received from a MagicGate-compliant source. The MagicGate chip could easily be added to music players, said Sony. For PCs, it would be built onto an add-in card which would automatically encoded MagicGate files stored on the computer's hard disk or other storage media. "Promotional tracks could be limited to a single playback, whereas other content could be played-back freely, a certain number of times or over a limited playback period," said a Sony spokesman. Backing up this client-side technology is Sony's SuperMagicGate system, which handles all the copyright management, distribution, data encryption and e-payment processing at the server end. Sony's name will naturally carry much weight with the SDMI steering committee, but the company will need to work hard to persuade the committee to back MagicGate. While a hardware-based technology will appeal to the music industry, consumer electronics companies may baulk at Sony's licence fees -- consider the furore provoked by Apple's decision to levy a royalty for the use of FireWire/IEEE 1394 -- and IT vendors won't be too keen on adding extra, potentially expensive add-in cards to their systems. For the SDMI format to work, it has to be universal and -- for music buyers -- very cheap, otherwise they'll stick with MP3, the very opposite outcome of what the SDMI was formed to create. MagicGate, if it makes it to the mainstream, could become cheap enough for hi-fi vendors to support -- they tend to be happy paying royalties for new technologies provided all their competitors are paying it too, and they all will -- but it's hard to see suppliers of cheap PCs doing the same. They will argue the technology is an optional extra, and once it's perceived as such, any hope of universality goes straight out the window. Then there's SuperMagicGate, which appears to do exactly the same thing as IBM's Madison Project (see IBM's Project Madison: the music industry's Manhattan Project?). Madison will begin public trials this Spring, with Sony's support. Indeed, it's backed by all the major global recording companies. ®
The Register breaking news

Soft landing ahead for AOL when Web stock bubble bursts

America Online (AOL) could be well insulated against the anticipated crash in Internet stocks, according to a columnist in Business Week magazine. Writing in the Inside Wall Street column, Mark Cavallone, of Standard & Poor's, said that AOL was trading at well below what it should be and that it is continuing to gain subscribers. Last month, Alan Greenspan, head of the US Federal Reserve voiced concerns over inflated Internet stock prices. In the last six months, AOL has seen its share price triple to just over $87. Cavallone said that this should be more like $115, given the low difference between AOL's stock price and its anticipated sales figures. AOL is expected to announce sales in the region of $4.5 billion for the year. This would give it a stock price-to-sales ratio of around 20, compared with 90 for Yahoo!, Cavallone said. ®
The Register breaking news

LineOne leaves users in dark about going free

The MD of LineOne has cast doubt on whether the online service will scrap its monthly fee and join the growing band of subscription free services. In an e-mail to its existing 80,000 or so subscribers earlier this week, Andrew Burke said: "You may have read in the press lately about LineOne going free. "We are currently evaluating the options available to us, and I guarantee that I will get back to you within two weeks to give you a full update and a definitive pricing policy. I would personally like to reassure you that we are continuing to strive to be the best value-for-money online service and that our decisions are being made for the benefit of our customers." His comments contradict reports earlier this month that LineOne was intending to scrap its £9.99 subscription fee in response to growing pressure from the subscription-free services. Yet, LineOne adverts placed with Computer Active, Computer Buyer and .net magazines are giving users the opportunity to sign up to the service "free for life." And operators on LineOne's helpdesk told The Register that the free service would be introduced officially next week. A LineOne representative admitted that it was "a bit of a muddle" but refused to shine any light on Burke's statement that would help clarify the situation. An attempt to delay the publication of the story by saying that there would be a "major announcement" on Monday when "all would be revealed" was later revealed to be nothing more than a diversionary tactic. So, what is going on at LineOne? Is this unforced goof a sign of just how tense things are at LineOne as it struggles to stem the haemorrhage of lost subscribers? According to earlier reports, LineOne has already sacked its billing department and has been told to double its membership before the summer or face closure. ®
The Register breaking news

Be boss offers OS to OEMs for free

Be CEO Jean-Louis Gassee yesterday promised PC OEMs a free licence to install the BeOS onto their products alongside Windows. In an article published on the Be Web site, Gassee grumbles that, for all Microsoft's claims at the DoJ trial that there are viable alternatives to Windows and thus the company doesn't have a monopoly, PC OEMs prevented from taking these alternatives -- specifically Linux and the BeOS -- on board because of the way they often interpret Microsoft's Windows licensing terms. That's not an unreasonable point, and Gassee's solution, in the short term at least, is to encourage PC vendors to install the BeOS gratis and ensure users can see it's there as an option when they boot their computers. Gassee's goal, he claims, is "put a crack in the wall" of the Microsoft monopoly, the idea being that if the Great Satan of Software kicks up a stink about what an OEM has done, its arcane licensing terms will be revealed to the world for what they are. Well, you can't blame the guy for trying, but his apparently altruistic comments have a real ring of desperation to them. There's no doubt the BeOS is a very fine piece of work, but it's currently in a vary difficult position. Styling its product a 'media OS', Be originally offered the BeOS as an alternative to the MacOS, and did a very good job of getting it to run, and run well, on Mac hardware. In the past, Apple didn't have a problem with that, but then Steve Jobs came back. It would be churlish to claim that Jobs has a personal problem with Gassee, who was, after all, a John Sculley man and Sculley was the guy who got Jobs fired from Apple in the first place, but since his return, there has been a clear cooling of the relationship between Apple and Be, culminating with Apple's decision not to allow Be engineers to get the inside track on the latest generation of Power Macs. Until it gets that data, Be claims it can't port the BeOS to the new G3s. It could be argued that the don't want too because Gassee doesn't like Jobs much either, but again it wouldn't be right to state that as a factor in the Be-Apple equation. Anyway, with its back to Apple, Be has been pursuing an Intel-oriented course, and even managed to win some investment dollars from the Great Satan, back in the Autumn. Trouble is, Be has a very long way to go to make its OS viable in the x86 world. As IBM found with OS/2, the key to success isn't just getting application support, you need to have great hardware support too, and Be just doesn't have it. Unless you have one of five supported network cards and one the latest graphics accelerators, the BeOS is a non-starter. And it only supports PostScript, PCL and a couple of Epson printers. Building up a user base by making it easy for PC OEMs to install the BeOS might help encourage device vendors to port over new drivers, but will many OEMs benefit from Gassee's generosity while those drives aren't there. We suspect not. ®
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Fore snaps up Irish telecomms software firm

US networking company FORE Systems has acquired Dublin-based Euristix Limited for $81 million. Under the terms of the agreement, FORE has issued five million shares and stock options in exchange for the outstanding shares and stock options of Euristix. The deal combines Euristix and FORE's scalable Internet backbone switches. Executives at both companies agree that the deal should help develop a range of new products including intelligent networking and voice over IP. Thomas J Gill, president and CEO of FORE Systems, said: "The acquisition of Euristix is a powerful statement about FORE Systems' commitment to our existing and future service provider customers. "With the addition of Euristix, we are now positioned to deliver the best software for the provisioning of advanced data, voice and video services in the new public network." Euristix is a privately owned company and employs 150 people in Dublin and California. ®
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Intel anxious about Compaq Alpha threat

Informed sources told The Register yesterday evening that Intel has serious concerns about potential challenges from Compaq's Alpha platform. The source used to work for Digital but was one of the bodies exchanged as part of the deal brokered by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). She said: "Alpha will give Intel's high-end systems a run for its money because Compaq is committed to using the chip in its highest end servers." A Microsoft executive, who was booed at the Intel Developer Forum earlier this week, had said unequivocally that Win2000 will be ported to the platform. And, as we reported late last year, Compaq has succeeded in booting Win64 on the Alpha processor. Earlier this week, Paul Otellini, a senior VP in charge of Intel architecture, told The Register that he thought Compaq did not have the financial resources to sustain Alpha. The informed Intel source said that was not necessarily true. ®
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Intel pays for Pentium support from Linux compiler

Intel's attempts to inveigle its way into the Linux world -- Lintel, anyone? -- continued yesterday when it announced a deal with software developer Cygnus to modify leading Linux programming tools to support key Intel chip features. Cygnus said it had already begun work on adding support for the Pentium III's Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE) instruction set to its own GNUPro Linux compiler. However, the focus of the development effort centres on supporting Pentium II and Celeron features, such as MMX support and better code optimisation. The company claimed software developed using the new GNUPro would run 30 to 40 per cent faster than previous releases' code. The software will be released in the second quarter, at which point the company will detail its plans to add Pentium III support to the compiler. Intel is clearly the driving force here, having essentially paid Cygnus to carry out the work. As Cygnus' own release put it: "Winning Intel's business to optimise GNUPro software technologies..." (Our italics). This money-led approach follows the company's earlier investment in Linux distributor Red Hat to ensure the OS keeps up with its own processor developments. Interestingly, GNUPro is currently only certified to run under Red Hat Linux -- a version guaranteed to work under SuSE Linux too is coming (presumably with the PII/Celeron-optimised release) and the toolkit will "probably work fine on Caldera, Debian, and other releases of Linux. However, these platforms have not been tested and validated with the GNUPro Toolkit, so we cannot guarantee 100 per cent compatibility at this time," according to Cygnus' FAQ. Indeed, Intel's Linux strategy strongly resembles the carrot-and-stick approach it has been taking with memory chip manufacturers, using large cash incentives -- sorry, investments -- to persuade them to ramp up production of Rambus Direct DRAM (see Intel to pour $100 million into Samsung and Intel tempts Toshiba with cash carrot). ®
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e-Bay in e-trouble after copied MS software is sold on its site

Troubled on-line auction house e-Bay is keeping its e-fingers crossed in the hope that the Microsoft legal heavies don't come e-banging on its e-door. A report in today's Financial Times claims that the great Stan of software is well and truly peeved that e-punters have been flogging knocked-off MS software via eBay. The report says that Stan is even considering unleashing its legal department on eBay if the situation does not improve soon. More than 6,000 copies of Stan's Office application were being e-offered in 140 separate instances for as little as $19.99. A bona fide copy of the e-software e-retails at $599. e-Bay gum, that’s some discount. While e-Bay takes the issue of punting counterfeit software very seriously and works with companies such as the Great Stan to reduce the risks, it is unable to e-monitor every item that passes through it e-auction e-house, an e-spokesman said. Earlier this month e-Bay said it would no longer sanction the sale of guns or ammunition via its online auction service. And a man who used e-Bay to sell computer equipment was convicted of fraud for not delivering the goods despite pocketing the cash. ®
The Register breaking news

Rapid sells MacLine as Apple readies channel cull

UK reseller Rapid Group has sold its two of its four Mac channel operations, well-known mail order dealer MacLine and AppleCentre Cambridge. That leaves Rapid with Thames Valley Systems and London-based C J Graphics. The latter was acquired from previous owner Floral Street Plc only a few weeks ago. The move will see MacLine relocating to AppleCentre Cambridge's offices and will take over its business, including its shop-front operation. The new owner, ex-Insignia Solutions business manager Garrett Doyle, said the AppleCentre Cambridge would cease to exist as a separate entity. For MacLine the deal is probably a good move. It comes as Apple UK continues the reorganisation of its channel, which will next feature a cull of mail order resellers and an increased focus on the AppleCentre concept in particular and retail sales in general. The changes to the mail-order channel will see Authorised Resellers -- ie. those who buy through the company's distributors, Ingram Micro and C2000 -- forbidden from advertising as mail order dealers. Only the UK's three biggest mail order specialists, Computer Warehouse, MacWarehouse and Jigsaw will retain the right to do so. Apple UK's pitch is that the 15-odd UK dealers selling off-the-page are simply targetting the same body of buyers. By limiting their ability to sell this way, the company says it hopes to encourage its resellers to be more pro-active in attracting new customers to the Mac platform. That said, Apple US has probably played a part here. Of late, it has been pushing its UK offshoot to adopt a more high street retail-oriented channel strategy because retail outlets have led the success of the iMac. Arguably the UK market is less suited to such a role -- the small high street stores typically found here are very different from the CompUSA-style superstores that have driven iMac sales in the US. Still, if it persuades Mac dealers to focus on winning new business rather than chasing each others' diminishing customer lists, that can't be too bad. ®
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c't magazine declares war on spam

Leading German computer magazine c't is spearheading a campaign against the legalisation of unsolicited junk e-mail -- or spam -- by the European Union. Legislation currently being considered by the EU is calling for all spam to be clearly labelled so that people can see immediately what is bona fide e-mail and what is an unsolicited piece of e-mail. By taking this approach the EU will, in effect, be legalising spam. The editor-in-chief of c't, Christian Persson, is calling on all Net users to sign a petition demanding EU officials take a closer look at the proposals. The petition will go live on Monday 1 March. While the petition doesn't call for commercial spam to be outlawed completely, it does demand that users should not be bombarded with junk e-mail unless they specifically request it. Moreover, it says that users should not be discriminated against simply because they have chosen not to accept spam. Persson maintains that spam filters aren't up to the job of weeding out junk mail and that it shouldn't be up to the individual users to sift through their mail. Instead, the onus should be on the company sending out the spam to mail it only to those people who have specifically said they are willing to receive it. "I know what a problem spam is for people on the Web," said Persson. "I want as many people as possible to sign this petition so we can try and get Brussels to change its mind." ®
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Corel to offer own Linux distribution

Corel will next week announce its own Linux distribution, according the company's executive VP of engineering, Derek Burney. However, Red Hat, SuSE and co. don't quite need to start worrying just yet -- while Corel knows who it's targeting, it doesn't seem so sure about how it's going to reach them. Burney, quoted in an interview with ZDNet UK, said: "We'll be announcing at LinuxWorld something that we're code-naming Corel Linux. What it amounts to is essentially another distribution flavour, but one that has more desktop-oriented functionality." The Corel VP went on to suggest that central to Corel's plan for its own Linux release is the Wine Windows-to-Linux portability technology, which is designed to make it easy to migrate applications from Windows to the open source OS. Corel sees the availability of applications as being key to Linux's acceptance as a desktop OS. Fine, but Burney also admits that right now only a few Windows applications work with Wine -- and most of them are games. "Until Wine has a 100 per cent complete Windows coverage, it will never be able to run all the Windows applications properly," he adds, and goes on to point out that Wine won't be finished until at six to nine months have gone by -- and then we'll have to wait for developers to modify their applications to be 'Wine aware'. That leaves Corel's strategy relying on not only the development of Wine, currently happening within the open source community (so it probably will happen sooner rather than later), but on competitors' making the business decision to commit to Linux as a desktop OS. Incidentally, Burney's example of another developer who would benefit from Wine is Adobe, which only a week ago or so was mooted as considering making a hostile bid for Corel. Perhaps the companies are closer than they have been letting on -- and we'd welcome comments from anyone who knows more about this... Back to Linux, and Corel is also relying on hardware vendors to begin offering Linux as a desktop alternative to Windows. Put all these factors together and you have what really looks like a 'here's hoping...' strategy (the sound you can here in the background is Michael Cowpland straining to keep his finger's crossed). Linux has some way to go before it reaches the maturity required to attract the kind of mainstream users Corel appears to be interested in. A decent GUI wouldn't go amiss -- though Gnome looks like it could be the one to provide that -- and it needs to be a darn site easier to use pace the techies who love its complexity. Burney admits on the many users who downloaded the Linux release of WordPerfect, hardly any did so because they disliked Microsoft, so Corel can't rely on converts through some kind of post-DOJ anti-Gates backlash. Increasingly, Corel's interest in Linux looks more like a desperate leap on a bandwagon, not dissimilar to its erstwhile jump onto Java that ultimately went belly-up. At least then the company could switch to Linux, but if its Linux-as-a-desktop-OS idea isn't realised, this time there's nowhere else to go. No wonder it's worried about hostile takeovers. ®
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Compaq profit scare hits tech stocks

Comments from Compaq that its first quarter results might be "a bit light" have sparked off a wave of decline across technology stock prices. It blamed slow sales into the SME sector. Compaq’s stock fell by around 16 per cent during the opening hours of US trading, so much of its stock was being shifted that at one point it was one of the most active US stocks, according to reports. One analyst is reported to have lowered his expectations of Compaq’s Q1 turnover from $10.1 billion to $9.8 billion. The outbreak of selling and diving prices hit Intel and Gateway, among others. Intel stock fell $6 3/8 to $121 3/8 and beat Compaq to the inauspicious 'most active stock' position in US trading. Gateway fell $5 1/8 to $75. ®
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Savage4 optimised for PIII says S3

Intel's favourite 3D acceleration specialist S3 today announced one of the first fruits of its technology alliance with the chip manufacturer: the optimisation of its Savage4 chip-set for the Pentium III's Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE). According to John Brothers, S3's VP for architecture and software, optimising Savage4's ICD and Direct3D drivers for the SSE allows the host PC to "feed transformed, clipped, lit triangles to or hardware at a rate closer to what the Savage4 architecture is capable of rendering". Of course, all graphics accelerator vendors will be keen to make use of SSE to speed up the 3D pipeline and this improve the performance of their cards, but S3's relationship with Intel has allowed it to get ahead of its rivals, something it needs to do to recapture the marketshare it lost a while back to the likes of ATI. ®
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Intel ships Pentium III, slashes PII prices

Chip giant Intel formally rolled out its first two members of its Pentium III family today but didn't make a song or dance about it. It did that last week, at the Preview. But sources close to Intel US said today that the PIII/550MHz is now expected to ship in May at prices of $750/1000. The PIII/500 costs $696/1000 and the PIII/450 costs $496/1000. The shipping of the Pentium III has now caused an inevitable drop in PII prices. The PII/450 now costs $476/1000, the PII/400 $284, the PII/350 $150. The PII/300 now effectively drops off the bottom of the roadmap. The price of the PII/450 should be contrasted with the price of the new PIII/450. It's a meagre twenty bucks. ®