12th > March > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Intel did not damage employee's psyche

A year ago From The Register No. 70. An ex-Intel employee has lost his case at appeal that the company "injured his psyche" during his employment with the company. Last year, the Workers' Compensation Board in California found that Hamidi had suffered "an industrial injury to his psyche", resulting in temporary disability. But Intel appealed the finding and now the Appeals Board has found in its favour. Intel claimed that Hamidi had engaged in "a pattern of deliberate mis-representation and fraudulent efforts". Hamidi runs an organisation called FACE Intel which co-ordinates legal actions against the giant chip monster. At press time, there was no information as to whether he would appeal the Appeal decision. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Too late for MacOS X Server?

Analysis Apple may have missed its February ship date for MacOS X Server 1.0, but for once a skipped deadline isn't the issue. True, many Apple-watching Web sites have expressed their concern over how the delay might damage the credibility of both Apple and its new operating system, but even a month's delay is as nothing compared to the set-backs Microsoft has frequently had to make to its OS ship dates. No, the real question mark hovering over MacOS X Server is whether it's worth releasing at all. It's not that the product is flawed technologically -- it isn't -- but in the face of that genuine computing phenomenon of the 90s, Linux, will it ever be anything more than a niche product found only in schools and publishing environments? Two or three years ago, about the time that Apple bought NeXT, it might well have gone on to do great things. Novell Netware and Windows NT were battling it out for medium to large-sized enterprise market, while Unix was only a valid option at the real high end. That left a huge opportunity to carve out a business at the bottom of the pile. Small business' networks and the burgeoning demand for Web servers, would have ensured a solid, cheap and, most important of all, non-Microsoft server OS could quickly build up a lot of user support. It didn't happen, of course, and instead almost everyone and their dog began to use Linux. For anyone who's been living under or a rock or in Mac isolation for the last 18 months, Linux is a version of Unix, originally written for Intel-based machines but now running on pretty much anything, including Macs. The Unix angle makes Linux both highly stable -- it takes a lot to knock over a machine running the OS -- and highly powerful. But that's not really what makes Linux interesting. The important point to bear in mind is that it's free -- all the code is available on the Internet for anyone to download, modify and use. It's an approach called 'open source' and hardcore programmers love it. They can build their own operating system and tailor it for whatever hardware they want to run it on. The DIY approach to Linux is very technically demanding, so various companies emerged to sell ready-to-run versions of the OS for a token fee. Freed from the need to compile and install the OS and applications manually, users have turned to these cut-price (few pay more than $50 for a full server OS) Linux 'distributions' in huge numbers, many of them administrators of networks both big and small, and Web server operators. Market research company IDC reported late last year that throughout 1998, Linux's share of the server operating system market grew a massive 212%. That left Linux with just 17.2% of the market, up from 6.8% in 1997. Windows NT lead the market with a 36% share, the same figure it achieved last year. NetWare dropped slightly, from 26.4% in 1997 to 24.1% in 1998. Other varieties of Unix had a combined share of 17.4%. In its survey, IDC only tracked sales of Linux distributions. The figures didn't include copies of the OS downloaded from the Internet simply because it was impossible to tell how many downloads had taken place and how many had been used for servers. That means Linux probably has an even larger marketshare than the 17.2% IDC quoted. That has meant it has attracted the support of some big-name software developers eager to cash-in on such a vast market and, in some cases, as a political move against Microsoft (step forward Microsoft-basher-in-chief and Apple board member, Larry Ellison of Oracle). Last week at the LinuxWorld Expo show in San Jose, IBM announced it would be offering technical support services to corporates running any of the major Linux distributions. It also said it will be bundling the version of Linux offered by the OS' best-known distributor, Red Hat, on various server and desktop offerings and that it intends to develop its own version for its PowerPC-based servers. Dell is already offering Linux to high-volume customers and will soon be offering it as an option for everyone else. So is Compaq. Netscape is porting all of its server software to the OS. You can already run Oracle 8i and Corel WordPerfect 8 on Linux. Heck, even The Register's server is powered by Linux. The point is, Linux is massive, and likely to get even bigger. So far most industry observers have focussed on the threat Linux poses to Microsoft and Windows 2000 (aka NT 5.0) in particular. And you could argue that if Linux is going to give a company like Microsoft a headache, its effect on a much smaller player like MacOS X Server would be fatal. Maybe -- and maybe not. Linux has a pretty major flaw: while it's great for servers, it's not too hot as a desktop OS. Even the latest Linux GUIs, like Gnome and KDE, look decidedly crude compared to Windows, let alone the MacOS. Even as a server OS, Linux can be tricky to set-up -- doubly so if you're not a techie. And there's a dearth of productivity applications. Developer Applix recently released a version of its Office-style suite, ApplixWare, for LinuxPPC, the leading Mac Linux distribution, but it's not an application you can just insert the CD and double-click the install icon. Linux is a work in progress, so all these issues are being addressed and over time solutions will emerge. In the short term, though, there remains an opportunity for an easy-to-use OS to make its mark. MacOS X Server is essentially BSD Unix -- another open source OS -- with a MacOS front-end plus the Yellow Box application APIs and Blue Box MacOS compatibility module. By the time MacOS X Client is done, Server will probably have been upgraded to match its stability and power. MacOS X in all its forms is a very modular operating system, and it wouldn't be too difficult to port its interface and APIs onto another OS kernel -- the core of the system that provides its most fundamental features. MacOS X's high level of portability comes courtesy of the work NeXT did to make OpenStep easy to move to different platforms. Apple has played down this aspect of the new OS, largely because it's keen to continue selling hardware, which is where the money is. However, hints have been emerging from Apple for some time that it's considering building MacOS X onto other kernels than the modified Mach 3 that it currently uses. For now it may be far-fetched to suggest a version of MacOS X that sits on top of the Linux kernel is on the cards, but if MacOS X Server fails to find an audience beyond schools who want to run a stack of net-booting iMacs, Apple at least has the opportunity to move with the rest of the industry and hop onto the Linux bandwagon. Linux need not be the death of MacOS X Server -- it could be the very thing to ensure its survival. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Cyrix goes 370 pin

Japanese Web site Happy Cat is listing a Cyrix 370-pin processor called the MXs which it says will be available in early April. No wonder Cyrix is keeping quiet about its product plans. According to the Japanese text, which one of our readers kindly translated for us, the product uses the Cayenne core and comes with 256K of level two cache in the chip. This doubt, is the secret of secrets that Cyrix has tried to prevent us knowing about all week. There is no pricing yet for the MXs, but the same site lists the MII-366 at Y7,600. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Cyrix to go 370-pin in April?

Japanese Web site Happy Cat is listing a Cyrix 370-pin processor called the MXs which it says will be available in early April. Specifically, it will be released on the 6 April next. No wonder Cyrix is keeping quiet about its product plans. There's no point us asking Cyrix about any of this, because this week has shown us it won't tell us... According to the Japanese text, which one of our readers kindly translated for us, the product uses the Cayenne core and comes with 256K of level two cache in the chip. This doubt, is the secret of secrets that Cyrix has tried to prevent us knowing about all week. There is no pricing yet for the MXs, but the same site lists the MII-366 at Y7600. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

NatSemi has lots of fabs but sells few x86 chips

NatSemi made a loss of just over $27 million in its latest financial quarter and said it was partly due to poor sales of its Cyrix chips. Turnover fell to $550 million for the Q, compared to $600 million in the same Q last year. On the other hand, AMD said it will make a significant loss but if only it had loads more fabs, it would probably turn in a profit. Jerry Sanders III, the CEO of AMD, is famous for his line: "Only real men have fabs." But as with other manly attributes, it does seem it depends on what you do with what you have that is important... ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft caught with pants down over hardware IDs

Microsoft has brought upon itself two major privacy crises, one connected with Windows 98 hardware identification (it's calling it HWID) and the other with document identification in Office. Windows 98 must be registered, supposedly to make it possible for Microsoft support technicians to troubleshoot problems by knowing what hardware a user had "when they call in". Of course, Microsoft doesn't actually help with its many Windows 98 bugs if you do "call in", which brings us to what's likely the real reason for collecting the information, denied by Microsoft: it's for marketing purposes and to discourage piracy. After howls of protest, Microsoft has had to admit that "HWID data is not necessary for us to serve our customers' product support needs". Now Microsoft has also had to say it will stop receipt of new HWID via microsoft.com; that it will modify the registration wizard for Windows 98 in a bug fix; provide some software so that users can purge their Windows registry; and purge the database at Microsoft where it has stored the data. Microsoft also claimed, possibly on legal advice, that there was a bug in the Windows registration code that caused the HWID to be sent even if users had elected not to do this. Of course. A globally unique identifier (GUID) consists of a 32-digit number, with 12 digits derived from the Ethernet adaptor, but if one is not present, a fictitious number is used. Microsoft claimed that the numbers were used to trap broken hyperlinks, which is far-fetched because it offers no support for this. The remainder of the 32-digit figure consists of a number generated by an Office application. Users registering online then unknowingly sent the GUID to Microsoft. The discoverer of all this was Richard Smith of developer Phar Lap, who suspected it was a means of identifying pirated copies of software. Microsoft denies that it was part of a copy protection scheme. Of course. Then came the revelation: Microsoft said it was confident that hardware information was not being stored in its marketing database, but it was "investigating whether it is being stored in other databases". Now just what could that mean? Could it be that Microsoft was sending out information from a database to detector vans tuned-in to PCs running unregistered copies of Windows 98? With the new software piracy law in the US allowing penalties of the order of a few hundred thousand dollars (and a spell in prison), this could be a nice little earner. The latest move is that Microsoft is promising a new registration system for microsoft.com, and that "our registration database will be offline" and not able to provide "a few services". Those who have had reason to check a password over the last year, for example for MSDN, will know the database never was online, although at the time we attributed this to Microsoft not being able to get SQL Server working. A separate issue that has come to the fore at the same time is the Office 97 unique identifier for contained in documents created by the product. Microsoft says this is to allow documents to be referenced on a network, and that it has no database of them. However, because of privacy issues that have been raised, Microsoft says it will provide a means of eliminating these identifiers. Let's speculate as to possible uses of these identifiers for a moment. Suppose a whistle blower at Microsoft used Word to produce an email, and sent it to a regulator, or a rival company. Microsoft could demand electronic copies of emails during litigation and find out who it was who was leaking secrets. Sound far fetched? Well that's Microsoft all over. Of course the same facility could be offered to executives of large corporates who had similar concerns, and who might be swayed about the desirability of fingerprinted documents: "Just sign up for a five-year rolling contract, dump WordPerfect, and we'll give you the fingerprinting kit." Microsoft's claims of innocence are unconvincing, since a unique reference number could have been created on the fly. And remember, bug fixes with Windows Update are only possible online using IE. Of course, one sure way to keep information from Microsoft is to register Windows 98 by snail mail, to forego updates, and not to visit any Microsoft Web site. There is another way as well: use a Windows-free machine. The cultural gulf between control freaks and open source freedom fighters is widening daily. Microsoft probably decided to scrap these schemes because of the adverse publicity that Intel received a result of the Pentium III serial number issue -- and some unfinished business in the nation's capital. One might have thought that Microsoft would have learnt its lesson with the fiasco in 1995 over the MSN registration wizard, which passed to Microsoft a list of software packages on users' PCs. It seems that old dogs stick to old tricks. ® Complete Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

iMac sales return to launch peak

iMac sales shot back up to their original level in January, according to the latest figures from research agency ZD Market Intelligence (ZDMI). ZDMI's figures derive from a survey of US retail outlets. They show that the iMac accounted for 6.6 per cent of retail PC sales in January. That's exactly the same share the consumer computer achieved in its first month, August 1998. That compares with around two per cent for the previous two months. In September, with the Mac enthusiast demand sated, Apple's retail share dropped to 4.4 per cent. Since then the figure has grown slightly but was clearly reaching a plateaux of around 5.3 per cent by last December. The sudden hike in January, almost certainly due to the introduction of the faster, 'Revision C' multi-colour iMac (through ZDMI claimed the cause may have been the uncertainty in the Wintel market pending the release of the Pentium III), suggests Apple timed the launch of its upgrade almost perfectly. Essentially, it gave the line a shot in the arm just as sales were beginning to slow. ZDMI's figures tie in with recent numbers from Intelect, which showed Apple's retail sales increased by 176 per cent between January 1998 and the same month this year -- when, according to PC Data, the iMac was the fourth best-selling desktop PC, sharing the top five table with machines from Hewlett-Packard and Compaq. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Iomega recalls 60,000 Jaz PSUs

Iomega has issued a recall for over 60,000 power supply units which it shipped with external versions of its Jaz 2GB removable hard disk product. Some remanufactured 1GB drives may also be affected. The recall is targetting all PSUs shipped from the beginning of September 1998. Over 46,000 of the faulty units were shipped to Europe and Asia -- the remaining number went to North America. The PSUs were manufactured for Iomega by Cortech Systems and used only with Jaz drives -- other products use different PSUs from other manufacturers, the company said. Iomega wouldn't say what exactly was wrong with the offending units beyond stating that "the plastic PSU case provided by Cortech Systems was not constructed of plastic originally specified by Iomega". That suggests heat from the unit's transformer was causing the PSU's casing to melt, creating the possibility of injury from the melted plastic itself or exposure to the high-voltage components within. Readers concerned that their Jaz PSU might be affected by the fault should check out Iomega's Recall Web site. The company promised it would replaced PSUs free of charge, returning correctly specified units to US customers in two to five business days; non-US customers will have to wait one to two weeks for their replacements. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel stealth-shipping Coppermine in Dixon guise?

The reader who gave us our exclusive on serial numbers within Pentium II/mobiles with Dixon cores, has come to the conclusion Intel is stealth-shipping Coppermine early. (Previous stories: Dixon Intel mobile PIIs have serial numbers -- it's a bug and Unique ID codes on mobile PIIs no accident.) Pierre Chassaing, whose Web site is here, said: "I still have a few ideas about this erratum, as Intel puts it. "The Dixon core is quite different from the Pentium II/III line in that it incorporates the L2 cache on chip. Yet there is Coppermine, supposed to be out mid-1999, which is supposed to have an integrated L2 cache too and PIII features. "So what do we have: A PII core with 256KB integrated L2 cache, some of them with a PIII feature normally disabled, and a PII core with 256KB integrated L2 cache with all the PII features. "There are obviously very strong similarities between these two chips. My guess is that Intel has simply already started making Coppermine, but is disabling the SIMD and PSN (personal serial number). "Why? Just to keep the 'top of the line' on the desktop and maybe because it still doesn't have the capacity to manufacture enough Coppermine as the desktop market is much bigger than the laptop market. "Not that disabling a feature in a processor is easy (they did for the 486SX which was a 486DX with a disabled FPU), and cheaper than making two different cores. "I would not be surprised if the Dixon also had the SIMD instructions too, even if they are disabled." ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft to split into four next week

Reports in today's Wall Street Journal Europe (WSJE), claim Microsoft is on the brink of splitting into four separate units. The announcement could come as early as next week, the newspaper claims. Although no sources were quoted in the report, the WSJE cited "people familiar with the situation" and claimed the new divisions would be centred around customer-facing lines rather than product portfolios. This report seems to reinforce calls from the Software and Information Industry Association (the artist formerly known as the Software Publishers Association) which produced a 40-page document calling for Microsoft to be subjected to a three or four-way split. ®
Team Register, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft readies MP3-killer digital music format

Microsoft will release its own alternative to the MP3 digital music format next month. The new format, MS Audio 4.0, is believed to offer better sound quality than MP3's near-CD reproduction and twice the MPEG-based format's level of compression. According to sources cited by MP3 distributor MP3.com, Microsoft's entry into the downloadable music business will contain the anti-piracy features that MP3 is usually criticised for lacking. MP3.com said it had received contradictory information from sources as you MS Audio 4.0's e-commerce features, but it's hard to imagine the format not doing so. The company last week announced a major attempt to build its credibility as a supplier of e-commerce systems, a move which included a $15 million investment in Reciprocal, a developer of digital rights management tools (see earlier story). The format will initially only be supported by Windows Media Player, which could limit its acceptance, but one source claimed Microsoft is "not looking at this as a means to extend their world domination. They're just providing you with another alternative". "They're not trying to squeeze out anybody," the source claimed. Microsoft has apparently already been talking to major record labels to negotiate the provision of content in the new format and its support in general. If it's had some co-operation -- and the claim that it's preparing a demo CD containing ten hours of Audio 4.0-encoded music suggests it has -- this marks a turnaround for the music industry, which has always viewed Microsoft's interest in digital content with extreme suspicion. In any case, the format's future probably depends more on to what extent it can be integrated into the Secure Digital Music Initiative. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Motorola legals Intel

Giant chip company Motorola is taking giant chip company Intel to court over alleged misappropriation of trade secrets related to its "Somerset" project. Its case rests on an ex-Motorola chip architect called Mark McDermott, poached by Intel last year, who subsequently poached 15 other chip designers. (Our story in September about McDermott is here.) According to the suit, McDermott enticed away 15 Motorola engineers who formerly worked on the PowerPC Somerset project, in Austin, Texas. Motorola is taking legal action to protect its intellectual property rights, it said. Intel was unable to comment at press time. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Sun strikes back at Compaq Wildfire claims

The battle at the high end ratched up a notch today as Sun hit back at Compaq's claims that Wildfire would thrash its Starfire product (see Compaq details Wildfire attack on Sun). Samantha Owen, enterprise server manager at Sun UK, said: "They [Compaq] are mispositioning their products against ours." She said that Sun's Starfire technology, which uses 400MHz UltraSparc II chips, could not be compared with Wildfire. "We can cluster Starfire without worrying about connections," she said. "We can do 64 CPUs in one box." She said: "Relying purely on performance is a mistake. This is about reliability and scaleability of the platform." But as we went to press, information which Owen would not comment on, suggested that Sun's next-generation Risc processor, the UltraSparc III, is late. It could be Q2 next year, our source said. By that time, Compaq is likely to be demoing 1GHz EV68 chips. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

MS takes $400m hit to cover Office 2000 delay

Microsoft is deferring the recognition of $400 million of revenue because of the delay to Office 2000. This means almost certainly that the revenue for Microsoft's third quarter ending 31 March will be its biggest sequential decline in its history: down to $4.2 billion from $4.65 billion. A panic conference call with financial analysts was arranged at short notice yesterday afternoon when CFO Greg Maffei broke the news. Purchasers of Office 97 in recent months have been given a free update coupon, but with no product Microsoft cannot recognise the revenue from these punters this quarter, so it must carry forward a liability for what they have paid. Accounting 'rules' allow enormous flexibility in determining just how much revenue can be deferred or recognised, and Microsoft has been very astute at playing the game to even out its income. Office accounted for about a third of Microsoft's revenue in the last financial year. Microsoft has so successfully tuned its ways of controlling analysts' expectations to such an extent that the SEC has been sniffing around. Have you noticed how the only headline that Microsoft wants about its results is 'Analysts expectations exceeded'? Microsoft's concern yesterday was to reassure the Street that there was no reason to worry about the Office 2000 delay because the revenue could be recognised in the fourth quarter. After the bell, Microsoft shares fell as a result, but not the 19 per cent that Oracle dropped after a disappointing earnings report. There had been nervousness following Dell's revenue not meeting expectations last month. Without any supporting evidence, during the call Maffei hinted at greater than expected investment income. Nobody asked what kind of tap could be turned on to get an extra $400 million all of a sudden. Maffei also claimed that the "seasonal trend" (jargon for falling sales) was as expected. Maffei said that Office 2000 would be released to manufacturing by the end of March, and be available next quarter. In the US and Europe, many OEMs have been reducing inventory before shipping Pentium III machines, and there is some evidence that the channel was over stuffed by OEMs in December. This could result in Maffei having to whistle another tune on 19 April when Microsoft's results will be announced. ® Complete Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Senator tries to axe DoJ Microsoft trial funding

MS on Trial Senator Slade Gorton is trying to stop a 15 per cent increase in US Department of Justice funding, because "they've demonised the most innovative, extraordinary world-changing engine for progress that this world may ever have seen". In case Register readers are as mystified as we were as to the identity of this innovator, Gorton was bellyaching on the Senate floor about Microsoft. "The case offends me in every sense of the word," he said. "This trial was designed precisely to allocate resources from Microsoft to Microsoft's competitors." Gorton (a Republican) had a theory about this: he thinks that these Microsoft rivals are all giving loads of money to Al Gore (Democrat) for his presidential campaign. When accused by a group of four Republicans and five Democrats in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee that this intervention "could be perceived by the public and parties in litigation as interfering with a pending trial", Gorton's office said he did not want to cut the funding out of revenge, but to stop additional funding being used to continue the prosecution. In fact, the workload of the DoJ has increased significantly, with a 30 per cent recent increase in merger filings to be scrutinised, which does justify an increase. Gorton has been demanding detailed information about the DoJ expenditure on the case, but so far Attorney General Janet Reno has stonewalled him. Gorton was also upset that Intel settled with the FTC, because he thought that it was through fear that they would be "dragged through the mud" as had Microsoft in its trial. Gorton is a senator for Washington state. Microsoft is headquartered in Redmond, Washington. ® Complete Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

AMD hit with class action

AMD is the recipient of a new class-action complaint, filed yesterday in the District Court for Northern California. AMD and its CEO, Jerry Sanders, are charged with security law violations following projections for K6 demand that excited financial analysts, and resulted in AMD shares rising from $17 on 22 October 1998 to $32 shortly afterwards. But on 13 January, when AMD disclosed that there were design and production problems, the shares dropped to $22.50, declining around 20 per cent overnight. The basis of the claim by lawyers from Lionel Z Glancey in Los Angeles is that AMD projected an increased demand for the K6, and an increase in AMD's market share relative to Intel. Also yesterday, David Farber for CNBC-TV had some harsh things to say about financial analysts, who are increasingly seen as supporting their firms' lucrative investment banking business. Farber noted that many people thought that analysts' advice was of "shoddy quality". So why don't the class action pirates go after the real transgressors: the financial analysts? And why should hi-tech investments be risk free? ®
Graham Lea, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

MS planning Win 98 follow-up?

In among the rumours that Microsoft's long-expected split into four divisions (see earlier story) is due to take place next week there's an interesting little nugget: according to the Wall Street Journal, which today chases after a story that first broke surface over a month ago, senior VP and butterfingered video impressario Jim Allchin is to "retain responsibility for the forthcoming Windows 2000 operating system, as well as the successor to Windows 98". If this is true, then it takes us a little nearer confirmation of the stories that the planned convergence of operating systems at Win2k stage has been cancelled. MS' previously stated intention was for Windows 98 to be the last of the line, and for Win2k to provide the standard business platform for both clients and servers. Just to make it confusing, of course, there's also record of an intention to produce a consumer version of Win2k/NT, so the plan as was catered for convergence, followed by a swift divergence again, but based on the new code base. Again last month (see Microsoft junks consumer NT plan), it appeared that Microsoft had decided to postpone convergence, possibily indefinitely. The confusion in the company's strategy then was apparent from the bizarre combination of code base and name -- the 'one more rev' would be based on Windows 98, but for want of a better tag was being referred to internally as NT Consumer. As the NT brand ought to have ceased to exist by the time such a rev shipped, referring to something based on the 9x code base as NT was just plain weird. But here's an interesting thought. If it's the case that Microsoft thinks a home OS based on the Win2k kernel is impossible to do in the immediate future, both for technical and footprint reasons, where's the money going to come from? And how is MS going to move the users along in its preferred directions? The standard OS refresh every couple of years or thereabouts is helpful both because it provides revenue, and because its helps lock users into the latest Microsoft standards. And by a happy coincidence, if MS has abandoned the more ambitious strategy, a clean-up of Windows 98 plus a raft of new bells and whistles (shall will call it Windows Millennium Edition?) should be pretty simple. So the 'new' OS could be with us by Q1 next year, which could be handy if Win2k slips again and/or it turns out to be not quite as impressive as intended. When Microsoft intends to ship and when it does ship are however usually two separate things -- so start hyping RSN, wind up shipping Q2 2000? Or if Jim wants to be really tricky, why not dress up the next service pack (where the registration stuff is going to have to be fixed), call it a new OS and whack it out for Q4 99? ®
John Lettice, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

CompUSA bans obscene IT publication

America's largest chain of IT superstores has refused to sell a new computer magazine because it claims it is littered with obscenity. Although CompUSA has removed all unsold copies of In Formation from its shelves, it confirmed it has not received a single complaint from consumers. But publisher David Temkin believes CompUSA has a more sinister agenda and spiked the publication because of its sceptical and irreverent view of technology. "Clearly, CompUSA doesn't want its customers to think twice about the computers it sells," he said in an interview with online news service TechWeb. But this was vigorously denied by Suzanne Sharlton, director of PR at CompUSA, who said that it had not banned the magazine because of its editorial stance. Instead, she said, the company made the decision because the magazine contained bad language. "The content was a little less family oriented than we would have liked," she said. "It contained obscene language and we didn't want it in our stores." Temkin told The Register last night: "That's f$%king rubbish. OK, there's the odd f^&king swear word -- there's no f*£king harm in that, is there?" Or something along those lines. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Paedophile priest on trial in US

A priest has gone on trial in the US charged with trafficking child pornography on the Internet. Reverend Robert Orr denies that he downloaded pictures of naked young boys and distributed them to other online paedophiles. Claiming to be a computer novice and a Net virgin, the Rev said he stumbled upon the images by mistake when playing around with the church's PC. The prosecution claims that the Rev -- who allegedly had suggestive screen names including "Lapboy", "Lapteen" and "XESYOB" (Boysex spelled backwards) -- is not as naive as he makes out. In an ecclesiastical twist, the indifferent Reverend says he knows the true identity of the real smutmeister but is bound by the secrecy of the confessional not to reveal his name. Unfortunately for parishioner John Ralston, the Rev's attorney is not bound by such religious rules as he named and shamed the astonished man much to the astonishment of the court in Philadelphia. Ralston has not been charged worth any crime, according to the report by Philadelphia Newspapers. The case continues. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

End of the line for Apricot UK

Mitsubishi will stop making and designing PCs in the UK from June, resulting in an extra 200 job losses. The Japanese manufacturer said yesterday it would stop the PC hardware design and manufacturing business of Apricot Computers, a division of Mitsubishi Electric PC. In a letter to resellers from the president of Mitsubishi Electric PC Division, Dr Peter Home, the company blamed poor margins. It stated: "As an active reseller within the UK market you will know only too well how difficult it has become to maintain acceptable margins on hardware alone, and despite some notable successes in recent years we cannot ignore the financial pressures that have been mounting. In simple terms, the economies of the situation make it a necessary step." Peter Crane, marketing manager at reseller PSM Micro Computers, said: "It is very sad to see them go. We found them a very professional company. It marks the end of an era – the last UK player who was present in the early days of the PC." The Mitsubishi statement went on to say that making profit on hardware was now the sole preserve of either the biggest or specialist niche organisations. A separate statement issued by the company said the Glenrothes, Scotland factory would be sold or closed by the end of June. The Birmingham-based R&D, PC sales and marketing operations would also be shut by the same date. This will result in 200 jobs lost, in addition to the 200 announced in January. Mitsubishi said it would concentrate it efforts on the Internet and software integration. The company said it would continue its support services "for the foreseeable future." Reseller issues such as technical support, warranty and spares would be addressed "as a matter of priority." It does not affect Mitsubishi Electric’s PC customers in Japan, who will continue to be provided with PCs and servers under the Apricot brand name. ®
Linda Harrison, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Latin American telecomms firm falls for BT

BT is to buy a 20 per cent stake in a leading Latin American telecomms company. Dancing the tango with a red rose clamped between its teeth, BT serenaded ImpSat with a £90 million bid the company simply couldn't refuse. ImpSat, which has networks in key cities in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela, will also become a distributor of Concert, BT’s global services company once the deal is ratified. The company provides major corporates with voice, data, Internet and e-commerce services. "Communications in Latin America is a high growth area and I am particularly pleased to have ImpSat as a partner because of its excellent reputation and access to major corporate customers," said BT's CEO, Sir Peter Bonfield. It also means that all those hot-blooded BT execs who learnt Latin at public school will at last have the chance to use it. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Pentium II Xeons have serial number too

Pentium II Xeons also have personal serial numbers, a reader told The Register today. That is in line with senior VP Pat Gelsinger's statement at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) two weeks ago. He said in September last year that Intel would proliferate the ID numbers on every chip, bar none. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Gelsinger “brains” behind shipping chips with PSN on

At an Intel lunch at its Intel Developer Forum two weeks ago, Pat Gelsinger admitted he was the brains behind shipping the Katmai-PIII with the ID number switched on. We were interested in this PR disaster. Sometimes, to outsiders like us, Intel seems like a lumbering dinosaur where the brain doesn't know why the tail is twitching. We said, at the time, this was a PR gaffe, rather than an error, per se. We quizzed Gelsinger about the PR disaster, specifically. Said Gelsinger: "That was my idea." Was it also his idea to ship PIIs with the serial number switched on, we wonder. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Ericsson unveils Symbian-based palmtop

Mobile phone maker Ericsson today unveiled the first palmtop computer based on Symbian technology. Symbian founder Psion -- the other backers are Motolora, Ericsson and Nokia -- will be manufacturing the Ericsson MC218, which is due to ship towards the middle of the year. Symbian's contribution is the EPOC operating system (developed originally by Psion) and its wireless Internet access software. The connection to the Net is made through an infra-red link to an Ericsson mobile phone. Ericsson's move is a shot in the arm for Symbian -- formed to develop a cellphone-oriented alternative to Windows CE and the Palm platform -- but is an even bigger boost for Psion. The British palmtop producer has built up a significant userbase for its Series 3 line of organisers. But the company has been hit by the massive popularity of the 3Com's Palm line of handheld organisers and the expectation that Windows CE will carve out a huge chunk of the palmtop market thanks to the Microsoft name and the technologies backers, all of whom have long been Psion competitors. Psion has said its future depends on Symbian's success. Psion has invested a lot of money in Symbian, but it stands to make even more if the technology takes off as a platform for data and voice-enabled mobile communications devices. ® See also Psion upbeat over year-end results Psion Dacom restructures business model Psion profit warning follows modem sales slump
Tony Smith, 12 Mar 1999
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Software Stan denies falling demand in PC market

Microsoft said yesterday worldwide demand for PCs remained strong, despite a seasonal lag in sales. The great software giant reassured Wall Street analysts that business was fine, after profit warnings from computer companies had raised concerns about the PC market, according to today’s Financial Times. After the close of trading yesterday, Greg Maffei, Microsoft CFO, made the following statement: "We’ve seen some pre-announcements, some rumours of pre-announcements, some speculation that the PC business is falling apart." But he went on to reassure analysts: "All evidence that we see suggests that is not true." Maffei said the post-Christmas slowdown was "just like every year," adding that sales were in line with expectations for the current third quarter – apart from the $400 million in lost revenue from the delay in shipping Office 2000. Maffei said projections for the current quarter were $4.2 billion. Speaking to The Register, analysts said the industry was suffering from a slowdown in growth of demand, but were divided on when this would pick up. Andy Brown, IDC research analyst for EMEA PC market, said there was a definite growth slowdown in worldwide PC sales, but this should pick up by the end of 1999. "Microsoft is trying to reassure the stock market. It is worried about share price and confidence," he said. Brown added that the regions showing the greatest slowdown, according to IDC research, were Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But he stressed that this was not a drastic turn of events. "There isn’t a massive slow in demand. Key drivers like year 2000, the euro, increasing IT spend in businesses, PII migration and the Internet will bolster sales in the second half of 1999." Clive Longbottom, CSL analyst, thought the situation would not pick up this year. He said: "We can currently see a slowdown in growth of demand, and there will be a slowdown of demand itself in the second half of the year. This will probably continue until around next March." Microsoft’s announcement came at a time when fellow computer companies were complaining of weaker than predicted sales. 3Com recently warned its second quarter revenue would fall short of forecasts. The number two networking vendor cited decreasing demand in the US and Latin America as one reason. At the time, Eric Benhamou, 3Com chairman and CEO, said he was unsure whether this decline in the US was a temporary blip or a more long-term trend. But he said he understood his rivals were experiencing a similar situation. This year has also seen Dell, Hewlett Packard and Compaq reporting weaker than expected sales. Yesterday, US distributor Ingram Micro warned its first quarter earnings would be below expectations. It blamed cautious buying trends in Europe, Latin America and Asia. ®
Linda Harrison, 12 Mar 1999
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Third fighter joins FireWire, USB 2.0 fray

Reader's Comment Following our coverage of the 'Intel snubs FireWire' and USB 2.0 debate, we received the following letter from Paul Walker, a representative of the IEEE 1355 Association: Thanks for the articles about Intel's USB 2 and the response from James Snider of the 1394 Trade Association. Mr Snider did not mention that the 1394 standard is currently under revision, to both 1394a and 1394b. Both revisions have taken far longer than planned, and the 1394a revision recently failed its ballot for approval. The reason for the delay is that the standard has been bent to applications it was never intended for, and which have requirements that 1394 fundamentally fails to meet. The Working Groups deserve great credit for their work, but they face a Herculean task, and to do the job properly may require a fundamental shift. Intel, with USB 2, has clearly decided that such a shift is necessary. But USB, while simpler than FireWire, is still a bus, and all the modern network technologies, such as Switched Ethernet, ATM, FibreChannel, Myrinet and IEEE 1355, are switched. Intel's own NGIO is switched. So any new technology which does not adopt the switched paradigm is obsolete before it hits the streets. Some of the switched technologies are, admittedly, more expensive than the 'simple' buses. But actually it is a lot easier if the logical topology of the network matches the physical topology, which is now always a set of point-to-point links. Incidentally, it is more ecological also if the packets go directly between A and B, rather than having to be bussed past all A to Z. Consider IEEE 1355, an equivalent of a UART can be produced which fits the smallest Spartan $2.95 FPGA from Xilinx, and which uses less than a third of the logic of a 16550 UART in Xilinx. I have the 1355 "UART" running on the bench at 140MBaud in the slowest XCS05 chips; it is asynchronous, AutoBaud, flow-controlled, and carries a very simple packet protocol. A four-port switch for 1355, including the ports, fits in less than half the amount of Xilinx logic required for a three-port USB Hub. The bandwidth of a switched network scales. So that a large network of 1000 nodes of 1355 has bandwidth of many tens of GBps, far higher than any conceivable bus. There is no constraint on the topology --- loops are allowed and indeed are necessary for reliable systems. (1394 disallows loops so that a break anywhere in the network splits the network into two completely separate networks, neither of which can talk to the other.) 1355 can be honoured with Intel's Mr Gelsinger's reference to "Niche Technology" (see this story), because it is being used in Space, where they need reliability above everything else. 1355 is also being used in other niche applications, such as super-computers (for performance), in data acquisition (for low latency), and in telecoms (for low cost). But Intel's announcement of USB 2 and description of 1394 as niche technology has thrown open the wider debate once again. Sooner or later, the industry will have to shed the legacy of the bus and move to simple, switched, networks. The sooner the legacy is shed, the less work and investment will have to be thrown away and done over again. The combination of reliability, much lower fundamental cost than even USB, scalable performance, ease of use and flexibility, make 1355 a pretty good, genuinely "Universal", choice. ® Paul Walker is Editor to the 1355 Association Web Site, www.1355.org The Register welcomes letters for publication. We reserve the right to edit for clarity and conciseness.
Paul Walker, 12 Mar 1999
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Class war breaks out in virtual middle England

Pupils from rival schools in the genteel cathedral city of Ely appear to have become embroiled in an online slanging match. They are using a Web site aimed at attracting tourists to the area to publish their hate mail. For the last two weeks the message board at Ely On-line has been turned into a virtual battleground between posh fee-paying pupils at The Kings School and the kids from the local City of Ely Community College. Instead of being a place for visitors and local people to post their comments about this historic Cambridgeshire city it became a seething pit of class division and mutual loathing. At the height of the flame war teachers from both schools were defamed although it's unclear at the moment whether those involved will seek legal redress. The police have not been called in to investigate the matter, a spokesman for Cambridgeshire Police said. No doubt one of Ely's most famous sons -- the revolting Oliver Cromwell -- would have revelled in this most modern uprising. But spokesman Martin Horrocks of the Kings School said it had still not been proven that pupils from both colleges had been involved. "There is some evidence that aliases have been used and we're trying to trace those people involved," he said. Upset that the "public reputation" of the colleges and the city had been "held to ransom" Horrocks was unsure why the editor of the Web site hadn't taken action sooner to stamp out the flame war. But Lee Gillett, editor of the site appeared unconcerned by the whole affair saying it had been blown out of all proportion by the media. (Does he mean us? Ed.) "It's just a few kids swearing at each other, that's all, " said Gillett. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Mar 1999