5th > March > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Split MS into four companies, says leaked report

MS on Trial A 40 page secret report by the software industry's trade organisation calls for the break-up of Microsoft, should it lose its antitrust case. The Software and Information Industry Association, formerly known as the Software Publishers Association, recommends in the report that Microsoft be broken up into three or four 'Baby Bills' with identical product lines. The status of the report, which was leaked yesterday, is unclear. It seems to have been approved by the Association's board, and is in the hands of the Department of Justice as well as the press. But over the past few years there has been considerable infighting within the Association over the Microsoft issue. Executive director Ken Wasch and much of the board are heavily critical of Microsoft, but Microsoft is the group's largest member, and has fought back hard. The DoJ looked in a strong position after Microsoft's last defence witness finished up last week, and will therefore certainly be starting to firm up the remedies it will ask the court for after its probable victory. But it would be seen as premature, and possibly damaging, to talk about these openly before the judge has actually delivered his verdict. But in order to decide what to ask for the DoJ will most certainly consult interested bodies. The SIIA is one of the most important of these, so the leaked document can probably be seen as being at least a preliminary stab at forming a policy. Microsoft COO Bob Herbold described the leak as unfortunate, said the document was preliminary, and that only 60 out of 1,300 Association members had been involved in its development. By preliminary he probably means Microsoft hasn't finished trying to get the membership to reject it yet. And presumably at least some of those 60 are rather on the large side. ® Complete Register trial coverage
John Lettice, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

A year ago: x86 to disappear with IA-64?

Several US newswires and papers reported on a seminar presented by Lesley Gwennap of The Microprocessor Report at the beginning of last week. The thrust of the talk was that x86 compatibility, which Intel has always maintained are its chip crown jewels, so to speak, will disappear when the IA-64 Merced becomes established as a processor for the enterprise. But we understand that while this could happen around 2005, even then there are doubts about whether Intel will dare to do this. First of all, it is clear that Intel has now bifurcated its processor plans, with the IA-32 and IA-64 roadmap two separate creatures with two separate existences. The 32-bit roadmaps are predicated on the continuing adoption of 32-bit NT and it would be only the bravest of large corporations which would swap its entire infrastructure for an untried and untested 64-bit NT, especially in its early years. While Gwennap is probably right that this plan is part of Intel's scheme for the future, it is so far ahead that it is hardly worth thinking about. You only have to read about Intel's so-called plans four years ago to realise that like every other computing company, it changes its mind, all the time. The now-doomed Pentium Pro, for example, was at release time expected to be the platform for Windows NT 32. Yet Intel was ahead of itself with that processor and unexpectedly ran into production difficulties that effectively made it a kamakazi chip. All that SRAM on board was far too expensive a proposition for Intel or its customers and so suddenly the whole world and its canine followers was expected to adopt the Cartridge Slot solutions. One corporate user The Register talked to last week said that many, if not most, of the famous "islands of information" that the vendors were so keen on plugging three or four years ago, are still separated from each other, with no plans to build tunnels or bridges between them. He said that the lag between vendors' technology and end users' realisation of this technology was still a long way off. Far from those gaps being bridged, he added, the islands were experiencing the archipelago equivalent of continental drift, mostly because his company - like many others - were still trying to get to grips with the Year 2000 problem. That occupied so much time that he, at least, was politely showing the vendors the door... ®
Mike Magee, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel buys Level One for $2.2 billion

Chip monster Intel has snapped up Level One, in a share-for-share exchange worth an estimated $2.2 billion. Level One specialises in silicon connectivity for telco and networking apps. The deal will give Intel leverage in the Intranet and Internet equipment market. The company will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel but the transaction is subject to review by the US government. ® Intel Developer Forum coverage
A staffer, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Update: Olivetti MBO is confirmed

Shareholders in Italian vendor Olivetti Computers Worldwide (OCW) have approved the company's proposed MBO. But UK distributors believe this is just the first step, and that the company's main difficulty lies in getting the kit and confidence back into the channel. Last week, a proposal was put to shareholders that an MBO would help write off the company's L88 billion debt to the Olivetti group. See earlier story. The buyout will reduce the share of Piedmont International, which bought Olivetti in 1997, from 80 per cent to 35 per cent. A meeting was held last night, in Turin, to thrash out the details of the MBO. But even if it goes ahead smoothly, the MBO is unlikely to bring Olivetti's woes to a speedy end. Some distributors are claiming that they are completely out of many Olivetti lines. The channel is already complaining about the level of disruption to Olivetti stock. One industry source said: "There are ridiculous shortages of Olivetti kit in the channel. The lead times from Italy go between two weeks and two months. There are few spares available. It's a very poor situation." Another agreed, saying: "It's only really starting to bite now, but we're running out of product. Olivetti is putting a positive slant on this MBO, but it needs to improve its supply - and to do it quickly." Sources also felt disquiet about Olivetti losing market share due to poor product availability. Ian Davidson, Olivetti UK PC division marketing manager, admitted the company's failings, but stressed the MBO was positive news. "This will give us the much needed cashflow. The cash constraint we have been under, caused by debts to the Olivetti group, has caused these product shortages." Davidson said he expected the amount of kit in the channel to be back to capacity by the end of March. He added: "In the short term, we will have lost market share. But in the last year, we have started our reseller programme, Olivetti Pro, and this has brought us into direct contact with the channel. I see the current situation as a short-term blip, and we should recover the lost ground in Q2." ®
Linda Harrison, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel puts legal screws on Ugeek

Updated Our friends at Ugeek have had a letter from Intel's lawyers telling them to cease and desist from using a "Geek Inside" logo on their Web site. Ugeek.com received a fax from lawyers Arnold White & Durkee of Menlo Park, CA, saying it has 10 days to sign and return a letter promising not to use the image any more. According to the fax, Ugeek " . . . provides technical specifications for Intel's processors and chipsets and allows your customers to shop for Intel processors at your website! All of this is likely to mislead consumers into believing that your website is somehow related to or affiliated with Intel or that Intel endorses or sponsors UGEEK's activities. Thus, consumer confusion is likely." But Ugeek does not sell chips, which it makes clear in its Processor Specs FAQ in the first paragraph. This is not the first time Intel has applied its legal hammer to crack a nut. Other Web sites, including The Register, Happy Cat, Tom's Hardware Page, and Robert Collins x86.org have also heard from m'learned friends in the past. Will Intel ever learn that if it is not to be viewed as hostile and defensive, it must cease and desist from behaving like Chipzilla? The chaps at U-Geek point out, quite rightly, that lots of other examples of the logo are around, and show examples. Our favourites on their site are Satan Inside and Evil Inside. We saw the latter on tee shirts in Palm Springs last week... Perhaps Intel's legal department should be called Stupid Inside. ® Intel Developer Forum coverage
Mike Magee, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Merced. Steel, or platinum film on copper?

Updated A metallurgical reader of The Register has sent us facts and figures about different metals Intel may be using in its cartridge Merced design. And now, an electronic engineer has chipped in with his conclusions, which he thinks may be a thin film of platinum deposited on copper. The photographs, developed by Boots the Chemist in the St Ann's Centre in Harrow, are here. When we questioned Stephen Smith, who runs the Merced programme in the US, he told us he had no metallurgical knowledge and so therefore could not explain which metal was on the backside of the cartridge. However, the reader said Smith's comments were "most interesting" and sent us a set of numbers. The ratio is between material, heat conductivity and density. Here are his conclusions. Ag: 420:10.5 Cu: 395:8.93 Au: 310:19.26 Al: 200:2.7 Fe: 50: 7.88 Si: 0.7: 3? He thinks the backplate has got to be a copper alloy although we still favour steel, because of the weight. After all, the silicon is pretty light and even given the 560 gold contacts, there's something hefty there... And even given the metallurgy, Stephen Smith, the Merced programme manager, told us there was a pretty hefty heatsink on the back too. At this point, the chemist left us and gave some figures for both Cork, an organic substance, and rock, an indeterminate substance. Cork: 0.05:0.01 Rock:3: 2? If by rock he meant quartz, we think that Intel buys in its crystals and cork is so light it can float like a Kyocera mobile phone. We conclude from his observations that the backplate must be steel, as we first thought, thus making the package very heavy. It is, after all, pretty conductive. An electrical engineer, howver, doubts the chemist's conclusions. In an email, he wrote: "I doubt that the heat sink of the Merced CPU is made of steel. Your chemist has confused thermal capacity with thermal resistance, or its reciprocal, thermal conductivity. "Aluminum has a low thermal resistance (or high thermal conductivity) and copper has an even lower thermal resistance. "Here's where it gets funky. Silver has an even lower thermal resistance than copper, and platinum yet lower than silver. However, due to both the cost as well as the mechanical strength, these metals aren't used for heat sinks...directly. "However, I remember reading several years ago of a vapour deposition process designed for radiators, like you would find in a home, that deposits a microfine layer of platinum onto a less expensive metal to improve its thermal conductivity. "My guess, which is based strictly upon your photos and physical description of the weight -- platinum deposited upon copper. I haven't heard much about this method being used in electronics, but with the power dissipation of the Merced chip (which needs to be conducted away), it wouldn't surprise me one bit if this is what Intel is doing." ® Intel Developer Forum coverage
Mike Magee, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Lycos hit by class action

Leading portal Lycos and its CEO Robert Davis are facing legal action for allegedly misleading investors. Three separate class action lawsuits, filed within 24 hours of each other, allege that Davis misled investors by saying that the portal intended to remain independent even though Lycos was holding discussions to merge with USA Networks. A statement issued by Boston law firm Berman DeValerio & Pease LLP said: "The action charges that Lycos and its President/CEO Robert J Davis issued materially false and misleading financial statements during the Class Period. "In particular, it is charged that Mr Davis repeatedly stated that Lycos intended to remain an independent company, despite that active, but undisclosed, negotiations were ongoing with USA Networks and its intent to acquire Lycos. "When Lycos revealed that it would be acquired by USA Networks, its stock price plunged 31 per cent in reaction to the acquisition." In a statement issued by Lycos the company said: "We believe the lawsuits filed recently to be without merit and we intend to contest against the claims vigorously." ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

High-end Alpha spreads like Wildfire

Further confirmation that Compaq is pushing ahead using Alpha as a high end system is likely to provoke fear and loathing at Intel. According to our mole deep down in Compaq's skunkworks, the company is set to demonstrate Win64 running on Alpha in the very near future. Further, Compaq has successfully booted a Wildfire system, the same source said. Wildfire is likely to be announced before Christmas in a 16 CPU version, with a 32-way system available next year. The CPU will be the EV67. And Compaq is also benchmarking 667MHz EV6 TurboLasers, with initial benchmarks showing blazing speeds. Intel marketeers in Santa Clara are now likely to be anxiously scratching their heads and wondering about Compaq's dual 64-bit strategy. ® Intel Developer Forum coverage on Alpha and Merced
Mike Magee, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Siemens sets sights on US networking market

Siemens is set to make waves in the US data networking business next week, but is it eyeing up 3Com? On Monday, the German company is expected to announce that it has purchased US networking company Argon Networks - for around $240 million - and has taken a $30 million stake in Accelerated Networks, according to today's Financial Times. Reports were also rife that Siemens was considering paying £1.2 billion for that part of US networking giant 3Com that sells networking equipment to phone companies. 3Com is too widely spread, split between consumer modems and network cards, hubs and routers for businesses and its Palm handheld division, according to analysts. According to sources, the acquisition will give Siemens much needed US coverage and help 3Com focus on selling to SMEs. However, the deal is not yet set in stone. Keith Humphreys, analyst at Eurolan Research, told The Register he was not convinced by the rumours. "I think the reports are false. There's no logic in it. Siemens and 3Com are already involved in a $100 million joint venture. The current combined $132 billion voice and data market in Europe is something 3Com cannot ignore." Last December 3Com and Siemens announced an agreement to develop Lan telephony and multimedia products for enterprise customers. ®
Linda Harrison, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

UK to drop key escrow from crypto rules

The British government has dropped plans to build key escrow into its encryption policy -- a day before the Department of Trade and Industry releases the second public consulation document seeking opinion on how the UK's crypto policy should be formulated. However, the move may not remove the rights of the police and other agencies to access encrypted material. Instead, opponents to key escrow may have to come up with an alternative. The first set of DTI encryption policy proposals were made public back in 1997, under the previous, Conservative government. The suggested policy centred on a scheme whereby the DTI licensed Trusted Third-Parties (TTPs) to issues strong encryption technology to businesses, organisations and individuals. Each TTP would be responsible for maintaining and certifying users' encryption keys. However, a fundamental part of that proposal was key escrow -- making users' keys available to law enforcement and security forces, allowing those organisations to access encrypted data. The key escrow arrangement has since been widely attacked by business groups and civil rights organisations. This week the House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee, which is currently investigating the UK e-commerce arena and the role of strong encryption within it, heard evidence from Post Office board member Jerry Cope that ill-considered legislation -- law that required key escrow and/or limited the strength of encryption software -- would limit the UK's chances of become a world centre for e-commerce (see UK Post Office confirms crypto service roll-out). That outcome is the exact opposite of the UK administration's e-commere policy, outlined last year by the then Trade and Industry Secretary, Peter Mandelson, who said it was the government's intention to make the UK "the best place in the world to do business electronically". And yesteday Prime Minister Tony Blair backed up that claim by telling representatives of the IT and telecoms industries that key escrow would no longer be obligatory, according to sources close to the meeting. However, Blair clearly told them that they will need to come up with an alternative. Taking a tough stance on law and order issues is also a well-stated government policy, so the government is unlikely to willingly sign away law enforcement agencies' rights to intercept and access encrypted data while fighting crime. Sources suggest the IT and telecoms industries have three weeks to suggest an alternative to key escrow -- or it willbe put back into the proposed regulations. ®
Tony Smith, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Woman kills herself after online lover proves untrue

E-romance claimed its latest victim this week when a 28-year-old woman was found dead after being spurned by the man she had fallen for over the Internet. Julie Yasa's body was found in woods an a suburb of Detroit after police received a call from the man she is believed to have spent two weeks tracking down. He called to say he'd seen a body in the woods. The local police investigation and found Yasa dead -- under her body, a pile of sleeping pills. An autopsy revealed no definitive cause of death, forcing the police release Yasa's would-be lover. His story has it that Yasa arrived at his home on Saturday. The couple proceeded to get on down to it, at the conclusion of which, the guy took his Parisian lover to the end of his driveway and told her to clear off back to France. Unconsoled, she returned two days later and threatened to kill herself. Unmoved, the man refused her assistance or access. Detroit police said that the man could not be named because he may yet be charged. A spokesman said there were "inconsistencies" in his story that were currently being investigated. ®
Tony Smith, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Charity begins on the Web

UK charities are being given the chance to access the Internet for free with a service tailored specifically for their needs. Thames Valley ISP Voss Net has teamed up with Charity Logistics - a registered charity that provides support services and practical help for other charities - to offer the subscription-free service to all 184,000 charities in the UK. As well as offering the now commonplace subscription-free service, calls to the help desk will not carry a premium. The home page will provide relevant information geared specifically to their needs and charities will also be given back a slice of the interconnect charge depending on how often they use the service. "Up until now there has been no such thing as a specialist ISP service for charities," said Charity Logistics CEO George Cook. "This service is great news for charities - it could even be the first of its kind in the world," he said. AIM-listed Voss Net hit the headlines last month when announced it would offer free Net access to 32,000 schools in the UK. "I am a great believer in the private sector working with the public sector," said Roger Carter, Voss Net's chairman and CEO. The scheme is due to be launched officially later this month. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Sony, Tosh team up to produce PlayStation 2 processor

Toshiba and Sony are to form a separate company to mass-produce the processor that will drive the next-generation PlayStation 2 games console. The move is designed to avoid the problems rival console vendor Sega faced when its chip supplier, NEC, proved unable to manufacture enough graphics chips. The joint-venture will be 51 per cent Toshiba-owned -- Sony will take the remaining 49 per cent through its Sony Computer Entertainment subsidiary. The company, as yet unnamed, will be established on 1 April and be capitalised at Y100 million ($810,370). The JW will focus on manufacturing the PlayStation 2's 128-bit processor, dubbed the Emotion Engine by Sony and Toshiba, who both co-operated on its development. Volume shipments are expected to begin in the autumn. The console itself will ship by the end of the year in Japan, and in the second half of 2000 into the US and European markets. Sony and Toshiba are clearly keen to avoid NEC's problems. Last year, NEC admitted it was having problems adapting the PowerVR 2 processor developed by UK graphics specialist VideoLogic to Sega's 128-bit Windows CE-based Dreamcast console (see earlier story). Those problems didn't delay Dreamcast's launch, but they did severely hit Sega's sales targets. Originally, the company had predicted sales of one million units by the end of 1998 -- by launch, that figure had been revised to 500,000, with the millionth sale now pushed back to sometime before the end of March 1999. In fact, recent reports in the UK press suggest Sega has only just passed the 500,000 mark, though its poor showing is now due more to a paucity of software that takes full advantage of the console's power than a shortage of PowerVR 2 chips. ® See also PlayStation 2 development to be driven by Linux
Tony Smith, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Nintendo N64 emulator programmer quits

One of the authors of the controversial Nintendo N64 emulator, UltraHLE, has decided to abandon not only that particular project but work on any kind of emulation -- "for good". In a statement, the developer, known only as 'RealityMan', said threatened legal action from Nintendo, time pressures and users only interested in using emulation software to pirate games had all contributed to his decision. "This decision has not been made lightly," he said. "The concern about the legal issues with Nintendo alone was not enough to drive me to this decision... There are many skilled and dedicated programmers out there who, like me, write emulators as a hobby. However, there is a growing element out there who just want to peddle illegal ROMs, openly bash our work and generally may a nuisance of themselves. Quite frankly, I am sick of this, the increased back-biting and derogatory comments being made. "I have decided to look at new projects outside of emulation and will not be able to devote enough time to emulation [now]," he added. RealityMan's departure still leaves his collaborator, 'Epsilon', still working on the project, at least theoretically. As yet, he has not commented on his colleague's decision. However, with Nintendo legal action still pending, he too may quit the emulation scene -- probably exactly the planned effects of Nintendo's aggressive stance on UltraHLE (see Nintendo will sue UltraHLE developers). If Epsilon does abandon UltraHLE, it will be interesting to see whether he or RealityMan releases the emulator's source code to the open source community. The strong demand for that code was demonstrated earlier this year when a UK-based programmer released what he claimed was UltraHLE's source but which was soon exposed as just a disassembled version of the application of little use to anyone keen to continue work in it (see Programmers slam 'useless' UltraHLE source code). ®
Tony Smith, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Pop star sues Web sites

The well known pint-sized popster who likes to party like it's 1999 is taking legal action to stop anyone using his name, his symbol or his music on the Net. Once laughingly dubbed the "new Jimi Hendrix" and the man who courted wee Scottish songstress Sheena Easton, the rock god in question is taking action to stop businesses exploiting his good name ... or should that be good symbol? Anyway, according to sources in the US he wants one Net company to stop using his trademark symbol and likeness and to quit selling his lyrics. In another action, he's taken umbrage that unauthorised copies of his image and biographies are being peddled. He's also pretty riled that some of his fans are downloading bootleg copies of his music from Web sites and wants this stopped as well. If he catches anyone else doing it he may well decide to (purple) rain on their parade. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

VIP moves into cyberspace

Components distributor VIP Computers is trying to distance itself from the recent collapse of near neighbour, Memsolve, as it moves on to the Web. It is set to open an ecommerce site and set itself up as an ISP. The Mancunian outfit, Voice Integrated Products (VIP), will launch CommPort, co-ordinating a national chain of retail Internet shops. Its second venture, Insight-Media, is an Internet service provider offering Web site design and maintenance, or full site hosting. The company was swift to allay fears that the diversification will lead it to moving away from its main market. Stan Cookson, VIP sales director, stressed: "Whenever a company makes fresh lateral moves, rumours fly regarding the business for which it is best known. I’d like to ‘nail’ this from the outset; VIP is not moving away from its main market. "The company’s commitment to trade-only computer and component distribution is long term and will remain its prime corporate consideration." ®
Linda Harrison, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Compel is a good buy, says broker

According to this week’s Investors Chronicle, now is a good time to buy shares in Compel. Despite the threat of impending legal action from disgruntled former Info’ Products employees, broker Merrill Lynch has tagged Compel stock as "accumulate." Investors Chronicle says Compel stock looks cheap when compared to that of Computacenter. It points to the acquisition of Info’ Products as adding good critical mass to the company and says it is likely to "mask any millennium slowdown." ®
Team Register, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

UK Web use doubles year-on-year

According to a report published the NOP Research Group as part of its regular Internet User Profile Study, the Internet is attracting 10,900 new adult users in the UK each day. The research also shows that some 10.6 million adults accessed the Net at least once during 1998, an increase of 48 per cent compared with 1997. "These findings suggest that Internet usage in Britain has undergone spectacular growth in recent months," says NOP's Rob Lawson. "One of the principal factors explaining this was the introduction, by Dixons, of Freeserve in the last quarter of 1998 which has given the company somewhere in the region of one fifth of the market overnight. "However, even removing this from the equation, overall growth was still strong during the six months to December 1998," he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Forecast: A preview of Merced, software-wise

Tomorrow The Register will post all of its Merced information and we will focus on the software side, rather than the cartridge. We successfully collected every material we could find and are now in a position to post the definitive piece on Merced, on the software side. Watch this space. ®
Mike Magee, 05 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Matrox gets all leaky about G400/G800

Information currently reaching The Register from La Belle France indicates that the much awaited G400 will arrive on March 16, this year. It will be available in quantity in Q2 1999 and in Q2 of 2000, the G800 will make its debut. Jonathan Hou at Fullon3D tipped us off. Look at his site and Hardware France for more details. The Register will attempt covering CeBIT, which happens later on this month in the Hannover Messe. It is the biggest computer show in the world. ®
A staffer, 05 Mar 1999