16th > March > 1999 Archive

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CeBIT 98 bites peregrinator hard

A year ago Our first appointment at CeBIT 1998 was with Intel, as it happens, fortuitously. It turned out that its stand, in Halle 13, was just behind the entrance gate from the Messe railway station. Here, Great Stan had its famous van along with several BunnyPeople, whose chief function seemed to be to grab hold of visitors and shove them onto the stand. Gordon Graylish, director of marketing of Intel architecture, Emea, greeted us upstairs. The main thrust of his message was that the Pentium II had achieved over 50 per cent penetration around a month ago, meaning that it had succeeded. No, he said, it was untrue that Intel will offer the Covington-Celeron to first tier customers at a different rate to the others. There is still plenty of growth in the market and the Western European and North American adoption of the technology was now in sync, although it had lagged behind for three or four months. Graylish was in charge of Intel's push into the total cost of ownership (TCO) but had the grace not to mention that until we did. The Internet would push sales even higher, he said. We were supposed to meet the mobile people at 10 am but they didn't show, meaning we had a chance to look around the Halle. Close to Intel's place was a huge stand from Apple, which resembled a fortress. Cooperative money from its partners helped out in the space round the ramparts. Psion Dacom, just opposite the Apple fortress, was cock-a-hoop about the deal it had just struck with Ericsson. It now has just about all of the big players under its wing, with Nokia and Motorola already in the bag, as exclusively reported here. Psion Dacom has formed a partnership with Ositech Comms, a Canadian company, to produce Ethernet PC Cards together. Ositech has expertise in driver support and this means we can expect new modem products to appear. Intel was to hog most of our first morning at CeBIT. At 11 am, we trucked along to see Dr Albert Yu, its senior VP of microprocessor products, demo a 702MHz Pentium II, specially tweaked for the occasion. Actually, the performance meter on the screen showed a Pentium Pro inside, but that's the sort of creature a PII is anyway. Yu talked in some detail about the Intel CPU roadmap and said that the 2-way Deschutes - which he referred to as a Pentium II SVW processor - would arrive sometime in the middle of the year. As revealed here in November 1996, it will come with huge amounts of cache, running at the same speed as the CPU (hopefully, we wonder). The server chips, in the second half of this year, will run at 400MHz and 450MHz, using the 450SWS chipset and a 100MHz bus. That, he claimed, will give it a performance boost of around seven times the Pentium Pro architecture. He said Intel would actually give it a different name to the infamous Pentium II SVW. Yu then rolled on the obligatory SAP exec, which creature duly endorsed the architecture. Cough. Towards the end of the year, Intel will roll out a Celeron running at 300MHz with integrated Level 2 cache. In the second half of 1998 it will start to ramp up the Covington thingie. Again, as predicted here earlier, it will release its Katmai chip and as we had been unceremoniously kicked off the AMD stand a little earlier in the morning, we were unable to ask Dana Krelle why its infamous 3D K6 had still not made its appearance. It is, after all, the end of March. (Do a search for the Versailles gig). Yu held up a tiny sliver of chip designed for mobiles - it being the Deschutes Mobile solution but we couldn't help wondering why it hadn't just designed a similar sort of creature for desktop PCs too. This baby, according to Intel-speak, is called the Mini Cartridge module. Amdahl had obligingly taken us to CeBIT and so the next couple of hours we interviewed a clutch of its executives. The biggest news, on the first day at least, was that IBM Global Services had licensed its TDMF technology; something of a win for Amdahl, The Register thinks. The day after, we talked to senior VP Yasusha Tajiri, brought in from Fujitsu when Amdahl was acquired last year. He enlightened us about the changes he was making to the company, disclosed that the Fujitsu-ICL name (FinFin, passim) had disappeared, to be replaced by Fujitsu Computers, and also told us that Amdahl would acquire another software/services company later this year, after Amdahl made a profit. In the press office, we learned that Siemens Nixdorf had re-organised itself but it always makes that announcement at CeBIT anyway; that Bull had a new chief executive, but it's always doing that anyway; and that Kyocera had announced a colour printer and two new Ecosys models. But it was in the press office that we learned that our exclusive information about IBM doing a deal with Fedex was far from dead, despite the fact that Compaq had pitched in to try and steal the huge order from under Big Blue's nose. And although Intel's Graylish had told us a few hours earlier that it had made the deal with Network Computer Devices (NCD), because "the industry wanted a standard specification for NCs", that Big Blue would announce a standard spec for NCs which would have nothing to do with Intel, whatsoever. Cough. Because we'd been with Amdahl, we'd missed a meeting with NatSemi-Cyrix, but the boys in the shape of Forrest Norrod and Steve Tobak, came over to see us. We'd met Steve before and declined his business card, but he forced it on us, saying: "You haven't had this one before". Indeed, we hadn't because the National logo had now displaced the Cyrix affair. Cyrix announced a 266MHz version of its 6X86MX chip and the boys told us that the .25 micron version was close to appearing in volume. The next day, The Register found itself on a helicopter, courtesy of Cirrus Logic, frightening the cows by making its landing in a field 40 miles outside Hanover. Here, we were treated to very noisy sounds in five-way stereo, with much talk of woofers and sub-woofers and other creatures of the same ilk. The Cirrus boys and girls told us, without so much as the shadow of a blush crossing their faces, that Intel was doomed and that its sort of consumer technology was not a patch on their own. But its customers appear to be Philips, Psion and ARM - and while it is still closing a deal with major OEMs (see our Comdex 97 report, passim,) for elements of its Crystal Division's technology, it was unable to tell us who they were. The execs denied earlier reports in the week that it was up for sale but had some interesting things to say about the NLX form factor. This widely touted motherboard has still not made its appearance in large numbers - a fact also confirmed by Intel (see earlier). Best quote from Cirrus Logic: "The [Psion] Organiser 5 is the Apple Macintosh of 1998." Is that an endorsement or a condemnation, we wonder? Footnotes from CeBIT? Readers may have heard of Viglen, taken over by Amstrad some tad ago. According to one source, it has an HR manual which has the following advice for its staff (we paraphrase). Staff at Viglen are under pain of instant dismissal if they have sexual relationships with other members of staff. However, if they do, they are instantly to inform their line manager. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Semi market in Jan slightly up

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said late yesterday that sales of chips in January reached $11.10 billion worldwide. That demonstrates that the market, troubled by the falling price of DRAM over the last few years, is on the up and up, the SIA suggested. The rise, however, only reflects 1.2 per cent growth from January last year. Sales in Europe and Asia Pacific showed stronger growth compared to last year, at 2.8 per cent and 9.1 per cent respectively. However, those rises were offset by drops in both the Americas and Japanese market at 2.7 per cent and 2.6 per cent. Most chip (and especially DRAM) manufacturers are hoping that this year will show better growth. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Brussels putsch leaves IT policy in limbo

Yesterday we suggested that the time had come for Gates to go. Today, it's farewell to the European commissioners, who collectively resigned around 1am Brussels time rather than face the ignominy of being sacked for corruption by the hitherto-toothless European Parliament. For the European IT industry, not much will change immediately, but the revolution will ultimately change some of the personnel dealing with trade, competition and IT policy. Existing projects funded by the Commission will continue, and it is highly likely that most commissioners will carry on in a caretaker role for several months until cleared by some form of Brusselsgate inquisition. Those who should be looking for other employment include Jacques Santer, the Luxemburger president who was in charge of the security office, but took no action in the face of great evidence of corruption. Karel Van Miert, European commissioner for DGIV Competition, played a personal role in focussing European solidarity for the DoJ Microsoft case. He also gained a few concessions by supporting some formal European actions against Microsoft. In an interview with the BBC World Service this morning, the Belge Van Miert was referred to as being Dutch, which says a great deal about BBC accuracy nowadays. Van Miert claimed that he had "no choice" but to resign, and complained that the Committee of Independent Experts First Report on Allegations regarding fraud, mismanagement and nepotism in the European Commission "did not look into departments where things went well" and that "conclusions beyond reality" were reached. The most vitriolic part of the report concerns Edith Cresson of DGXXII Education, Training and Youth, former friend of Francois Mitterrand and briefly French prime minister until sacked by him, who got her dentist friend a lucrative job, and herself put in only a three-day week. Cresson characteristically called the report "an Anglo-German conspiracy". Since this is but the first report, we shall have to wait to see just why Van Miert was specifically named in the Annex concerning his stint at DGIX Personnel and Administration until 1994. Whether the main failings of the Commission - failure to act responsibly about its decisions on expenditure, and its inability to stop widespread fraud - will be resolved must remain doubtful, but the determination of the European Parliament not to let them get away with their incompetence (and worse) is to be welcomed. ®
Graham Lea, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Nortel's HP, MS and Intel alliance short on detail

Although the Nortel-Intel-HP-Microsoft consortium said it would take voice and data communications "off the drawing board and into businesses", the only evidence at yesterday's announcement was that the four have agreed to work together in some loose fashion. It would seem that the Sun/Lucent alliance has provided an impetus for the consortium. Two new products were announced by Nortel and HP: a business communications server (with NT and Pentium of course), and a business messaging server. The announcements were not fleshed out with prices or a shipping dates more precise than "mid-1999," but two development assistance centres have been set up, in Santa Clara, California and Brampton, Ontario. For HP, accused of "Big hat. No cattle" following its split into two companies, perhaps there are some opportunities, but the giant still lacks any decent software capability of its own to keep it independent of these sorts of ventures. Gates arrived by satellite and did his "building the digital nervous system" number, which is a sure sign of no product and not even any slideware yet. It seems that the chums have agreed to use an embedded version of Windows in the communications servers. The evident failure of the video news conference did not bode well for the new venture. Microsoft was cheeky enough to claim that the "open systems" effort would expand "Microsoft's active role in transactioning the communications industry from closed or proprietary platforms to open platforms such as Windows NT Server". Does that mean we're all saved? ®
Graham Lea, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

‘I read all my email’ – shock Gates admission

Months after his toe-curling, stonewalling video deposition, Bill Gates has inadvertently handed the Department of Justice a clear, concise and (oh dear) totally contradictory statement on what he does with his email. He reads it all, and acts on it. Excerpts from his latest book (sic), Business @ The Speed of Thought, are starting to show up in the public prints, and Gates writes (sic again): "There's no doubt that email flattens the hierarchical structure of an organisation. It encourages people to speak up. It encourages managers to listen." On its own, that's a good 'un. In his deposition Gates repeatedly said he couldn't remember receiving emails. After all he was a busy, important person who was copied thousands of emails every day. And a standard corporate get-out routine (by no means exclusive to Microsoft) has execs pointing out that crazed/illegal/unpopular suggestions were simply proposals made by low-level staff, and the company most certainly had no intention of taking them any further. Well, here Bill's saying he's encouraging staff of all levels to communicate with him, and that he'll listen to them. Here's another one: "I read all the email that employees send me, and I pass items on to people for action." Among all of the email that's been sent to Bill over the past four years or so there have been numerous dubious examples sent by subordinates, and copied to Gates, and from what he's saying he must have read and understood these. You might think it's possible that in some cases where the subordinate was proposing something excessive, or engaged in it, Bill would have just had a quiet word in their ear, and all would have been well. But no - the book also says companies should conduct all of their business via email, so if Bill had disapproved, there'd be a record of it, right? ®
John Lettice, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

AMD tight-lipped about chip futures

Jonathan Hou at Fullon3D has posted an interview with an AMD executive suggesting that its Dresden fab won't reach full capacity until early next year. That squares with our feelings but AMD is being particularly tight-lipped about its plans of late, as it seeks to supply the demand its K6-2s and K6-IIIs are generating. In particular, this AMD exec is very coy about chipset and motherboard infrastructure. We know that towards the end of this year, there will be motherboards supporting both Alpha and K7 chips but were warned last week by Robert Stead, European marketing director at AMD, that there is less to this Alpha relationship than we thought. Neverthless, over at JC's Pages there is a little detail about SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) chipsets for the K7. JC points to a post on Silicon Investor which expands our knowledge a little. And capacity? Well, if AMD pricks IBM Micro and gets it producing K6-2s and K6-IIIs, it has a real chance. While "real men have fabs" (copyright Jerry Sanders III), real macho men have more than two and a bit. And if the Great Satan of Tape Recorders is to take on Gorgonzilla big time, it had better get going. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Finding your Pentium II PSN could be a tricky biz

A reader who is a chip architect told us today that finding processor serial numbers (PSNs) on .25 micron Pentium IIs is not necessarily easy. (Story: Unique serial number exists on all .25 micron Intel chips) He said:"The bus multiplier is in that same PIROM [as the serial number] and while there is an interface to the PIROM it isn't accessible without some fancy hardware work. I can confirm your other source is correct [about processor serial numbers being in .25 micron PIIs.]" He added: The serial number and bus multiplier value (among other things) is written into the PIROM after the chip has been bonded out/packaged. The testing unit determines what the speed of the processor is and then writes the serial number information along with bus multiplier into the PIROM. A simple mistake in the test software would give the wrong value to the PIROM bit that allows the serial number to be read by the CPU." Tricky, but not impossible. Let's see what the rest of the week brings. Meanwhile, Intel's competitor, AMD, is keeping remarkably quiet about whether it will use PSNs in the future. It does have a statement on its Web site saying the idea itself is not a particularly bad thing. (Story: AMD wavers over chip security ID) We suppose it's waiting until all the fuss dies down before it makes its announcement. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

US states mooting $10 billion plus fines for MS

US state attorney generals are considering a remedy that could cost Microsoft tens of billions of dollars, according to reports today. If as expected the current antitrust action goes against Microsoft, the company would be fined for each antitrust violation. And the states are considering whether each sale of a copy of Windows could be counted as a violation. Considering the mind-boggling sums that would add up to, it's difficult to see it happening quite like that, but the notion makes it clear that the states want blood - lots of it. The fines the various US states can levy for antitrust violation vary from a couple of thousand dollars up to $100,000, so if they hit Microsoft for, say, 10 million sales, the tab would be way in excess of $10 billion. Hit Microsoft for all the copies of Windows (Windows 98 just - let's be gentle) shipped and it would come to even more money than Bill Gates has. Obviously, that's not going to happen. But it a remedy that followed this approximate line of thinking might be sustainable. Perhaps a two-track system of fines, where each OEM contract were treated as a violation and retail sales of 98 were also treated as individual violations could be made to stick. This would still add up to the kind of big number the states appear to have in mind, but would be less likely to add up to more money than there is on the planet. ®
John Lettice, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Xeon III prices out…

Intel distributors have given us prices for the Pentium III Xeon, which is officially released tomorrow. According to our source, the 500MHz chips with 512K, 1Mb and 2Mb of level two cache, will cost approximately $975/1000, $2000/1000 and $3700/1000 respectively. Pentium II Xeons now cost the following. Again prices are for 1000s. The 450/2Mb part costs $3600, the 450/1Mb part $1940, the 450/512K part $800, the 400/1Mb part $1900 and the 400/512K part $800. Intel's next major price revision will be on the 10 April, the distributor said. ®
Mike Magee, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Nvidia launches Riva TNT2 to blow 3Dfx out of water

Yesterday saw the launch of the Riva TNT2 3D graphics processor from pretender to the gaming chip crown, nVidia. The Riva TNT2 combines 3D and 2D performance, the company said, giving 32-bit colour rendering, with a 32-bit Z-buffer and 32Mb frame buffer. Despite not being clocked as high as rival 3Dfx’ Voodoo3 chip, Nvidia claims its latest offering can still outperform the competition clock-for-clock. Technology review site Tom’s Hardware gave the TNT2 the thumbs-up. In his blockbuster review of the chip, Tom Pabst said: "They (Nvidia) promised me that TNT2 would be faster than Voodoo3 clock-for-clock. It turns out that NVIDIA kept another promise." In a market where you really are only as good as your last chip, Nvidia is gaining ground on its arch-rival, 3Dfx, with Pabst adding: "The days when 3Dfx was the performance leader in the 3D gaming scene are over now." Nvidia went through a successful IPO in January and soon after was able to report impressive results for its fourth quarter, ending 31 January. ®
Sean Fleming, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

BSA goes gunning for pirates in ’99

The computer industry's software police are clamping down on the illegal use of counterfeit software as part of a major new offensive targeted at the UK's 80,000 small businesses. Yes, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has launched another crackdown campaign – Crackdown 99. With more than half of all software in use by small businesses in the UK believed to be illegal, anyone receiving a letter from the BSA should take the gentle reminder seriously. Last year, the BSA took action against 292 organisations -- an increase in of 34 per cent on 1997. Any company found guilty of using pirated software risks unlimited fines, or the directors could face up to two years’ imprisonment. Either way, being publicly humiliated by the BSA breeds nothing but damaging publicity. In November last year, AOL UK became one of the latest high profile companies to be outed by the BSA. See previous story: Software piracy police bust AOL UK. Other IT-related companies named and shamed by the BSA last year include London-based IT recruitment agency Computer People and Basingstoke-based software reseller CD Revolution. "Small businesses should not underestimate the dangers of using illegal software -- both to themselves and the economy as a whole," said Mike Newton, campaign relations manager for BSA UK speaking at the launch of BSA Crackdown 99. "Buying cheap, pirated software may seem an attractive option -- particularly when you’ve got other economic pressures on your mind -- but in the long run, quite apart from it being a crime, it can be a very expensive risk to take." ®
Tim Richardson, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Apple trails Linux connection for MacOS X

Later today some of the great and good from the open source world are due to join Steve Jobs on-stage for the unveiling of Apple's new operating system, MacOS X Server. Could this be the day Apple sorts out its somewhat equivocal attitude to Linux and open source software? Apple will be pitching OS X Server as cheap, fast, robust and better than NT. It will be sold on the basis of per server licences, as opposed to NT's per user approach, the price tag in itself will be lower than NT, and hardware requirements will be less than NT. But a lot of that and maybe some more applies to Linux, so has Apple missed the boat, as we were saying last week? (Too late for MacOS X Server?) That will depend on what Steve has to say for himself, but OS X gives Apple plenty of room to manoeuvre. It's the successor of Rhapsody, which itself was derived form OpenStep/NextStep, the Mach kernel-based OS acquired along with Jobs when it was putting together its previous rescue plan. Rhapsody was intended to be portable, and given the basic platform that wasn't exactly a difficult proposition. NextStep started out on Motorola 68k hardware, and with the tag-switch to OpenStep executed a platform switch to Intel. But in between these two Next had been engaged in a port to PowerPC which never shipped. Some of the work involved in building Rhapsody/OS X will therefore have drawn on this, but as OpenStep was sort of Unix in the first place, this isn't what you'd call a massive development headache. Jobs' headaches lie in different areas. He de-emphasised Rhapsody in favour of the 'back to basics' strategy that has given us the iMac, and throttled all Apple's licensing deals with other manufacturers. That approach has it that Apple owns the compelling platform, which is a combination of hardware and software, and nobody else gets to play. If Apple was Intel or Microsoft you could grouse, but you've got to admit it's a reasonable survival strategy, and that it's been successful so far. You've also got to admit that it doesn't look like a strategy that will play well with Apple's new open source buddies (if that's what they turn out to be). But OS X could be different - at least as far as servers are concerned. Apple has never been a significant player in the server market, so there aren't really that many sales to cannibalise. Historically it's been far more important to Apple to co-operate with the Microsofts and Novells of this world so that Macs can run on their networks than it has been to sell servers of its own. So Apple could loosen-up on hardware platforms here without pawning the crown jewels, and it could still present its client Macs as different and unique. One of the more commercially compelling aspects of Linux is that the OS gives you a robust, effective server on a commodity platform, which at the moment has to be Intel, and Apple could take a similar approach by offering Intel as an option. In any event, this was always the intention with Rhapsody, and there may still be the matter of the odd stranded OpenStep for Intel user to consider (Apple did say it would support them, didn't it?). There are interesting nuances to the rollout plans too. By going with OS X Server now, but not shipping the client version until towards the end of the year, Apple is giving itself a clearly definable two-track operating system strategy to play with. But at the same time, it's still pursuing longer term development of OS X as a possible next generation OS, so if it finds PowerPC is failing to keep pace (IBM's reportedly losing interest in pitching for Apple's business, and Motorola may not stick around forever) it still has the option to switch. So do we expect Jobs to hug his new Linux friends and announce OS X Server for Intel? It's difficult to see why this would impress them. They've already got server software for Intel, thank you, and although they might like Apple's user interface, they'd like it for free, and along that route lie the dragons Steve fears. Apple clearly has to go for a mix of open source and proprietary, and it therefore has to go with a strategy that includes opening up the hardware to the open source world (which is something M Gassee will spit about, if it happens). The company could hope to generate some open source mindshare and development effort, and it may also make some promises about OS X Server on the Intel platform. But for the moment, it's really going to want to sell the software on its own hardware. Which is what makes sense. ®
John Lettice, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Great Stan of resellers shows off its financials

Computacenter has reported turnover and pre-tax profit growth in the UK for the sixteenth consecutive year. The reseller giant today recorded preliminary results showing turnover up 39.9 per cent to £1.6 billion. Pre-tax profit rose 37.2 per cent to £64.6 million for the year ended 31 December 1998. The UK company’s earnings per share leapt 30.4 per cent to 27 pence. Dividend was 2.5 pence per share, up 0.5 pence on the same period the previous year. Philip Hulme, Computacenter chairman, said: "The growth of the group in 1998 was significantly in excess of market growth. This was the result of our continued focus on expanding the range of services offered to our existing customers, new account wins and the outstanding performance of our overseas operations." Mike Norris, Computacenter CEO, said the company would continue to grow its e-commerce system, On-Trac. Orders taken and processed via on-Trac exceeded £284 million during 1998, with over 400 customers using it, according to a Norris. The reseller said it would continue to increase investment in each of its three subsidiaries abroad. "The euro, the growth of e-commerce applications and the approach of Microsoft’s Windows 2000 operating system will all be increasingly important growth drivers for our business over the coming year," said Norris. ®
Linda Harrison, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

ORB Agency pushes into objects

It's not only Microsoft products that take three versions to get any momentum going, it seems. Now that CORBA has notched up its own version 3, all of a sudden the sounds of cash registers ringing up sales are being heard. The latest wheeze is The ORB Agency, a new subsidiary of APPS Ltd which specialises in resources (by being a job agency and providing contract staff) for Oracle applications. After a couple of years trading, the firm is turning over some £6 million. It has now decided to apply the same model to the object management market. Neale Provan, managing director based in Isleworth, told The Register that he expects the contract business to predominate over the recruitment side. PeerLogic, who acquired ICL's DAIS Orb when ICL jumped into bed with Microsoft last year, is supporting the Agency. ®
Graham Lea, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Watch out for strange containers…

According to an impeccable source, Rosemary Rock-Evans of research outfit Ovum asked for an escort (security, that is) before she gave her paper to the IIR "Implementing CORBA in telecoms" conference in Dublin this week. Could it be that she realised her remarks would not be well-received by the audience of hard-core CORBA developers, each of whom had paid £1,000 to be there? Her facts and opinions did not correlate very well with the experience of her audience, and there was indeed a certain frisson as she left. No doubt she'll have every reason to be worried about suspicious-looking objects in the future...
Graham Lea, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Currency set up to aid the take-up of ecommerce

The world's latest currency was unveiled today in a flurry of excitement and unbridled optimism, promising to create a new generation of e-millionaires. But the drop in value today of that other fledgling currency -- the euro -- following synchronised sword falling by the European Commission should serve as a warning to all those who are looking to trade in Beenz. Beenz could suffer from runaway hyperinflation -- a distinct possibility since the Beenz central bank has said it will issue the electronic currency to anyone who wants them with no regard to monetary policy. If this happened, the Beenz in your electronic purse wouldn't be worth a bean. According to bankers, Beenz are electronic credits which can be earned by shopping on-line or by simply visiting a Web site. These credits can then be saved in a personal Beenz bank account and spent at participating Web sites to gain discounts on purchases or access to valuable information. "We have re-engineered money in a way which gives consumers and businesses a greater share in the riches of the Web," said Philip Letts, CEO of The Beenz Company. "Beenz is the new currency of the Web," he said. But then he would, wouldn’t he He estimates that there will be around a billion Beenz in circulation by the end of May and that by the year 2000 more than 10 million consumers will have active Beenz accounts. With around 100 Beenz to the US dollar, there could be around $10 million of Beenz in circulation by next year. The currency has been welcomed by Ian Angell, professor of Information Systems at the London School of Economics, who says it's a "very sensible idea" following in the footsteps of loyalty card schemes. "But we'll have to wait and see if it's a success when the whole thing is up and running," he cautioned. He warned that the Beenz could behave just like a normal currency and that as well as suffering inflationary pressures, it could also be subject to counterfeiting or a loss in confidence, causing its value to collapse. If that happens, the Beenz could become a has-beenz. ®
Tim Richardson, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Phone exchanges blamed for failing Web connections

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are blaming telecomms operators for the poor performance of their Net services. In recent weeks, Dixons’ FreeServe has been singled out for special criticism as thousands of people have reportedly failed to log on to the Net. But FreeServe blames this on the failure of local telephone exchanges to handle the rise in the number of calls, allegations strenuously denied by the telcos. In a statement to The Register, FreeServe said: "FreeServe’s modem farm has never maxed out [reached full capacity]. FreeServe can cope with the demand from the million accounts it has. "Some users may experience problems at peak times due to problems usually related to interconnects at the local exchanges, which are the means by which the call is transferred to FreeServe.” The statement continued: "This is not a FreeServe problem. Many ISPs will experience similar problems with the local exchanges at peak times.” It's a view endorsed by Paul Myers, MD of The X-Stream Network, whose service came in for similar treatment after it offered a freephone number at weekends for people to access the Net for free. See earlier story. But representatives of telecomms regulator OFTEL and BT -- which operates the majority of local exchanges in the UK -- both vigorously denied that the fault lay with telcos and instead pointed the finger of blame at the ISPs. Nick Gibson, an analyst at Durlacher said it was almost impossible to say exactly where the blame lay adding that it would be both difficult and time consuming to find out. "In a sense, they're both right and wrong," he said, helpfully. Unfortunately, while the parties concerned continue to pass the buck and engross themselves in childish name-calling and finger-pointing, Net users in the UK look set to continue to receive a poor service. ®
Tim Richardson, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

UK body slams Cyrix/IBM for clock speed adverts

The UK advertising standards authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against Cyrix/IBM and its re-seller Time Computer Systems, for claiming that a chip that in reality clocks 233MHz is being sold as a 300MHz part. In an adjudication delivered in its latest monthly report, the ASA upheld a complaint from someone who said that Time, a subsidiary of the Granville Technology Group, had advertised a processor called the IBM/Cyrix MII-300. But when the complainant tested the chip, he or she measured it at 233MHz and "objected to the impression that that the package contained a 300MHz processor." The ASA, in its adjudication, said: "The advertisers thought that they had made no performance claims in the advertisement. '300 M-II' was simply the name of the processor. "They sent literature from IBM that explained the chip had been designed by Cyrix and manufactured by IBM. IBM called the processor the 'IBM 6x86MX PR-300' and the '300' in the name was the MHz equivalent Performance Rating (PR) of the chip... "The Authority understood from IBM that the true MHz speed of the processor was between 225MHz and 233MHz. It noted, however, that IBM no longer manufactured the processor and Cyrix had changed its name to 300 M-II. "The Authority considered that the letters 'PR' gave a helpful indication that the '300' in the name was a performance rating and not the MHz speed. "Because the letters 'PR' were no longer included and because naming chips after the MHz clock speed, as Intel and AMD did, was so commonplace in the industry, the Authority considered that readers were likely to infer that the true MHz clock speed of the advertisers' processor was higher than it was. "It asked the advertisers to make clear that the '300' was the performance rating of the processor or to give the MHz clock speed in the advertisement." Ahem... ®
Mike Magee, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Merced dead, says Sun

The question of Intel's Merced's future has again come into focus as a senior executive from Sun Microelectronics described it as a "failure". Harlan McGhan, architecture marketing manager at Sun Microelectronics in California, said: "Everybody's agreed that Merced is already a failure. I'm not expecting very much from Merced and it's a lot more expensive than its x.86 chips." McGhan was reacting to claims revealed here that Sun's UltraSparc III is late. He said: "We continue to expect that it will ship before the end of the year. Merced is two years behind this schedule. We're projecting that it will ship with an initial frequency of 600MHz. If it were shipping right now, it would be the fasted thing out there." He said: "The only thing that could beat it is the Alpha 264 at 750MHz, if it [Compaq] gets it out. By the end of the year, we'll be tying with the Alpha." He said that the UltraSparc III's memory latency made it superior to the Alpha 264. "We'll have a significant advantage on any of the TPC applications. The other area we're very strong in is the Internet." He said even Intel's erstwhile partner Hewlett Packard (HP) has lost faith in Merced and the IA-64 architecture. "MIPS," he said, "has just said there's a lot more headroom in the R6000 architecture. HP is now saying they'll have an 8900 five years from now. What does that tell you about their confidence in the IA-64?" He said that architectures are good for at least 25 years, and often longer. "In 25 years' time I think the x.86 will still be shipping." ® (Apologies to both Harlan and our readers for the earlier typos which I've now corrected. I was in a tearing rush to get the story up on the Web before I travel to Cebit -- MM.)
Mike Magee, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

New version of Windows 98 due in Q2?

Microsoft has tacitly confirmed that a consumer operating system based on the NT kernel is off the agenda for the foreseeable future. Last week's leaks of the company reorganisation plans had Jim Allchin running development of a new version of Windows 9x , meaning that 98 was by no means the last of the line, and now it seems that the latest build of the Windows 98 service pack has sprouted a name, and started to turn into a full-blown product. Unhappily, Microsoft seems to have rejected The Register's suggestion that Windows Millennium Edition would be a suitable product name, and is working with Windows 98 Second Edition instead. But the sudden transformation of a service pack into a new version of the operating system confirms our suspicions that Microsoft is planning a quick and dirty revenue generator with added bells and whistles, and more Redmond-generated standards to pull users closer into the Microsoft Web. Second Edition will for example include Internet Explorer 5.0, and it will undoubtedly fix the ID number 'feature' whose discovery caused a privacy storm earlier this month. How Microsoft will fix that is of course the $64k question, but it won't exactly be surprising if it turns out that Second Edition nevertheless tightens up the online registration process further. On the current schedule Microsoft won't be able to slide longer term development efforts like Universal Plug and Play into Second Edition. The company is effectively taking a service pack and calling it an operating system instead, so the new 'rev' will be with us sooner rather than later. But it now appears that there's plenty more where that came from - rather than terminating the old line at Windows 98 and moving over to a converged code base, Microsoft is mooting another version after Second Edition. Unhappily, this isn't going to be called Millennium Edition either - reportedly, it will be Windows 2000 Personal Edition, and it's slated to ship sometime after Windows 2000 itself does. This onward march of Windows 9x code into the foreseeable future is significant for a number of reasons. Microsoft has obviously concluded that it can neither build a viable consumer-oriented version of Windows 2000 nor make it stick, so it has instead decided to continue with a twin track approach. It will probably still try to switch business customers over to NT/Win2k, but elsewhere 9x will remain king for at least the next three to five years. Abandoning convergence however means the pressure is off from a development point of view, and as the 9x code base is stable (comparatively) Microsoft has the ability to ship out "new" versions of the operating systems as and when it feels the need. To get that into context, note that if Windows 98 Second Edition ships in the first half of this year, it will be the first time in recent years that Microsoft has shipped a new operating system two years in a row. That might help take the company closer to its goal of generating annual revenue, or "annuity income," as it puts it, from its software. But there might be another reason for rushing out another version of 98 and putting it through retail as well. If Microsoft thinks it's likely to lose the antitrust action, and reckons its ability to integrate features will be severely restricted by the courts, then it will want to get as much it can out there beforehand. And if it's seriously thinking of coming to terms with the DoJ, then Second Edition could turn out to be the 'last hurrah' product it wants to hit the streets before it signs. ®
John Lettice, 16 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

IBM ready to goose-step its way into CeBIT

It's springtime…for IBM…in Germany -- so it must be CeBIT. But on the eve of Europe's mightiest computer show it seems Big Blur may have become the victim of nasty hacking hoax. On the Big Blur CeBIT'99 home page The Register was appalled to find a picture of a booted and suited man apparently goose-stepping his way to the Messe in Hannover. Wearing a supercilious smirk that's probably a direct result of the fact that his foot is well, er, a foot above his head, it is hard to imagine how this picture won't offend people. Surely, Big Blur wouldn't have made reference to such a touchy subject on purpose, would it? Surely, such a well-oiled machine wouldn't have allowed such an invasion of common decency to slip through its own rigorous safeguards? Let's hope it's been the victim of some elaborate and distasteful hoax and will put it right forthwith. ®