17th > March > 1999 Archive

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Compaq re-visiting Merced strategy

Insiders at Compaq have told The Register that the company is now taking a long hard look at whether Merced is worth bothering with at all. According to our highly unofficial source, Merced is showing little signs of life at the corporation. Engineers at Compaq whose job it was to look at the Merced architecture are now being told to occupy their time looking at other projects, our deep throat said. If true, this is extremely bad news for Intel. Compaq is, in public at least, continuing its support for Merced. But in private, it is determined to press ahead with fast EV67 and EV68 platforms, we are informed. Very soon now, Compaq will demonstrate Win64 on the Alpha platform. ® Merced dead, says Sun
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CeBIT 98: The Bootnotes of Lou

A year ago: Deutsche Messe AG's apparent campaign to destroy Germany's reputation for efficiency took another giant leap forward this year. The Register habitually holes-up at the other end of an express train ride from Hanover, cunningly not catching the trains that stop at the special show station so we can get a seat. But these trains are now few and far between, so we kept having to stand while vastly-increased volumes of passengers headed for Laatzen, the CeBIT station. So on to the next great move from Deutsche Messe. Instead of the bus that took you from Laatzen to the show, there's a new 'Skywalk' that lets the milling throng walk there instead. At the other end the ticket gates are now automated. You put your ticket in, wait until it spits it out and tells you to go. This probably increases the time spent at the turnstile by a factor of three to five, so you shuffle slowly towards the gates as one of a slow moving mob of thousands. Another 20 minutes walk gets you to press registration, if you're press. Yup, more innovation. The ratchet of security has been tightened some more, so one by one the 'alleged' journalists get to have a long argument. We got in finally with the aid of a press card and a suggestion that "if you want to see our goddamm clippings you'd better check the URL yourself." The Psion Series 5 with a cellular connection was being held in reserve for this, but we think it was the cold, murderous stare that finally made the clerk give in. Earlier this year the Financial Times announced Mitsubishi's withdrawal from the PC market. The trouble was that the story, based on an interview with company PC guru Dr Peter Horne, was inaccurate. Mitsubishi was getting out of the consumer PC market and the FT had got it horribly wrong. Now, non-journalists might think that 'there but the grace of god go I' would come into it for us, but not a bit of it. Heartless, short-sighted thugs that we all are, journos everywhere laughed their socks off about that one, snickering some more when they noticed the FT had spelled Dr Peter's name wrong and slightly misplaced Samsung's nationality. But we learn that it was funnier than that, if you're not Dr Peter Horne, that is. The day the story came out Dr Peter was in Japan, heading into a meeting with the Mitsubishi High Command. Now, the FT may be British, but it's an international paper with international editions, including a Far East one which, time zones being what they are, is published when the Mitsubishi Electric PC Company's spinmeisters are abed in the vicinity of Birmingham, UK. The FT not being out in the UK yet, they snooze on blissfully unaware of what will detonate in a couple more hours. If it wasn't detonating in the boardrooms of Mitsubishi Japan already, that is. Dr Peter strides in, notes that the bosses are looking somewhat more scrutable than usual, and are holding copies of the Financial Times and pointing at the front page, which has Dr Peter quoted as closing a whole division without asking them first. What can he do? Something honourable but messy involving a Swiss Army knife? But we can't go on - we feel another helpless giggling fit coming on… As we've mentioned before, IBM's e-Business strategy plays in unexpected ways in parts of the UK where E stands most often for the drug Ecstasy. So we don't know what we should say about the German headline in the brochure for the E-Plus mobile system that says "Stars live bei E-Plus." You pronounce 'bei' buy, but that doesn't help really, does it? ®
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Symbian to KO Microsoft at CeBIT?

What Bill Gates and St. Paul have in common is an annoying one-note evangelical zeal. In defence of the latter it has to be said that at least he was involved in creating a major religion and only had one conversion. Mr. Gates keeps getting new pseudo-religious epiphanies with alarming regularity - and they tend to be glaringly obvious. Microsoft missed the Internet boat in the early 90s, but was able to undo some of the damage caused by spending a truckload of money. Even so, Microsoft's success in the crucial e-commerce and portal businesses has been lukewarm at best. The company won the browser war - only to find out that the real action was somewhere else than in controlling the browser software. The latest Microsoft awakening concerns the mobile telecommunications field. The realisation of the enormous market potential of mobile telecom arrives just as late as the Internet insight. But this time, Microsoft is not facing a motley crew of small, relatively inexperienced start-ups like Netscape. It's going against opponents that are both well-funded and determined to form a united front. Apparently it was only in 1998 that Microsoft started seriously to metastasize into mobile telecommunication, which gave the established telecom companies plenty of time to form a coherent battle plan. One key collaboration is the Symbian initiative to produce a universal new operating system for smartphones, others include Bluetooth and WAP. All of these projects have been under development in various incarnations for several years, even if the formal announcements of them have come much later. Bluetooth, for example, combined several in-house development projects aimed at creating a wireless interface technology connecting mobile phones with other IT devices like PC's, laptops, faxes and printers. The initiative is now being backed by pretty much everybody except Microsoft - from Toshiba to Intel. Cheap & fast By uniting behind common technological standards the various companies aim to pre-empt the attempt to introduce Windows in different forms into wireless technology universe. So far, the approach seems to be working. Symbian was able to bond the usually combative Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia. This unison created a critical mass that is now in the process of sucking Alcatel, Siemens and Sony into backing the concept. If this really happens, the battle for the control of the Internet phone operating system is over before it begins. Ericsson's launch of the MC 218 is signaling that EPOC devices are being introduced ahead of schedule - just a few weeks ago it was still assumed that EPOC products would debut "within a year". Now Ericsson is set to start selling its first offering this summer and Nokia and Motorola are widely expected to unveil EPOC phones by next fall. What gnaws Microsoft's guts perhaps the most is the low licensing fee approach used by the Symbian and Bluetooth initiatives. Bluetooth will actually cost nothing to companies implementing it - EPOC is widely assumed to cost companies just 20-30 per cent of what Microsoft wants to ask for a modified Windows OS for handheld devices. This puts Microsoft into a very difficult position. It can't compete with price, so it has to argue that cross-platform interoperability between PC Windows and handheld device Windows is so valuable to consumers that it's worth the price premium. But even though Windows is Microsoft's greatest asset, in this case it may turn out to be a liability. It doesn't matter that the PC operating system is suffering from elephantitis - Intel keeps cranking out faster chips and memory space keeps expanding at an equally break-neck speed. However, in the handheld device field, nothing matters as much as compactness and frugality. These are alien concepts to Microsoft, which has never paid much attention to the "less is more" bromide. 1999 - the decisive year? Nobody knows when the first Microsoft OS-equipped Internet phones might actually arrive to the market. But this time the "vaporware" threat carries little weight. The manufacturers are not paralysed by the possibility of a late Microsoft entry to the market, because the top three mobile phone makers in the world are already committing considerable resources to EPOC. The possibility of a Microsoft attack is not slowing down development of smartphones - on the contrary. Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola have been galvanized into action and intend to flood the mobile phone market with several competing EPOC and WAP devices, designed to create a uniform way to access internet via phones. So the ongoing roll-out of EPOC products is leaving Microsoft to try to push a Windows-based OS that comes late to the market, suffers from being relatively inefficient and unsuitable to voice applications according to most observers - and carries a stiff price premium. Moreover, the only phone manufacturer currently cooperating closely with Microsoft, Qualcomm, is bringing a new smartphone to market this spring or summer. And it uses Palm Pilot OS, allying Qualcomm with Microsoft's worst enemy on the PDA front. Qualcomm may shift to using some Windows variant in its future applications, but for the near future, the damage is already done. The scrappy Palm Pilot is still dominating the US and European PDA markets, leaving Windows-based PDAs scrambling to close the market share gap. This division in the PDA market is crucially weakening Microsoft's attempts to convince any major mobile phone manufacturer to join its bandwagon. If Microsoft can't even succeed in the PDA market, which is much closer to the PC market, what exactly is the rationale for adopting Windows Lite for mobile handsets? CeBIT 1999 may be a crucial turning point. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft can offer to the sceptical mobile industry audience. Any Symbian announcement by Sony, NEC or Matsushita would spell big trouble for Microsoft - these Asian companies with close ties to Microsoft are the last line of defence against Symbian. If they join the Motorola-Europe axis the game is over. Microsoft's previous collaboration announcements have been either nebulous (what's the actual, specific content of that British Telecom agreement, anyway?) or somewhat unconvincing (Qualcomm will become Microsoft's close ally... while launching a Palm Pilot smartphone). They need to show some real substance - new products and their launch dates, new corporate alliances that actually aim at some tangible results. The Symbian alliance will most likely try to overwhelm the fence-sitters by an onslaught of new products. By the end of next week we may have a much clearer picture of Microsoft's role in the field of mobile telecommunications. ®
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Apple offers open source for Mac OS X Server

Apple is going open source with its new server software, but as we predicted yesterday (Apple trails open source), it's going carefully. Mac OS X Server was released yesterday at $499, almost half the price previously intended, but at the same time Steve Jobs announced that the source code, dubbed Darwin, would be available free for developers. OS X Server itself will be available in traditional Apple mode for the G3 Server, but the software will also run on other Macs. Jobs however is presenting it effectively as Unix - this isn't entirely a surprise, as servers Apple has sold in the past have run Unix, but Jobs did make the point that OS X Server doesn't run client Mac apps. Which, as we suggested, allows him to go public with the source while maintaining close control of the Mac itself. And quite a bit of what Apple's giving away is open source already. Darwin includes the foundation layer for Mac OS X Server, plus the Mach microkernel, BSD 4.4 and the Apache Web server. The launch was supported open source guru Eric Raymond, who was enthusiastic but suggested, ominously, that "now we'd like to see more." This will present Apple with an interesting challenge when it ships the client version of Mac OS X in Q3 or Q4. That software will have to run Mac applications, and at that point it will become more apparent that Apple is busily embracing open source while simultaneously holding onto key proprietary elements. Unless of course the OS X Server experiment is wildly successful. Apple is clearly testing the water with Darwin, and may go further if the temperature turns out to be favourable. ®
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AMD hires as it fires

One of our friends at AMDzone reports an interesting snippet. He said he was on the way home when he heard an AMD ad. The company is looking to recruit motherboard designers. The 300 people out of the 13,800 personnel on its payroll which AMD said it would lay off are not connected with its chip business at all. However, with the sad demise of Apricot UK, there are a fair few motherboard designers looking for work. Apricot used to design wonderful motherboards that even managed to resist staffers from The Register sitting on them by accident. We will be meeting top AMD exec Dana Krelle at the Cebit show in Hannover tomorrow and will report this from the Messe. ®
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Shannon declares Chipzilla Open Source word

Terry Shannon, who edits the influential newsletter Shannon knows Compaq has generously allowed free and open use of the word Chipzilla to describe the chip Goliath, nay behemoth, Intel. Shannon first coined the phrase in June last year. When he visited us a few weeks ago, the word lodged in our brain. But now we and everyone else have licence to use it willy-nilly. So long, Gorgonzilla... ®
Mikezilla, 17 1999
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Samsung ramps 256M SDRAMs in volume

The Korean Herald is reporting that Samsung has started to ship its 256MB SDRAM part in volume. The paper says that the 256MB chip will replace 64MB chips next year. While Samsung said that initial prices are expected to be just above $200/part, that will drop as volume increases, with chips costing just over $100 at some point this year. The Herald quotes a Samsung executive as claiming it is six months ahead of the competition. ®
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Chipzilla becomes caring, sharing dinosaur

Reports in the San Jose Mercury News late yesterday said that one reason Intel has got off the Federal Trade Commission's hook is because it promised to be more "sharing" in the future. The newspaper reported sources close to the FTC as saying that it will now give advance information to its customers (such as Compaq) even if they appear to be in some way or other competing with them. According to the report, the FTC is to announce details of the deal when the US gets up out of bed, later today. The settlement did not include discussions of the monopoly Intel is alleged to have, according to the report. Normally, big reptiles, when they lumber around, don't watch carefully enough where their feet land. Tread softly, or you tread on my toes... ®
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Register Message Forums open for biz

If our readers have not yet noticed, there's a little logo at the bottom of our right column which points to our message forums. We've started this as an experiment, please feel free to post your thoughts. The debate over responsibility for slow and lost connections is, we're sure, the first of many future discussions. ®
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Intel Celeron 433 to arrive Monday

Sources close to Intel confirmed today that it will introduce its 433MHz version of the Celeron this coming Monday. The 466MHz Celeron part is now expected to arrive in June. The 433MHz Celeron will cost around $165 at launch and will come in both Slot One and socket versions. But our sources tell us that Intel has now accelerated the death of Slot One Celerons and that by the middle of the year, only 370-pin Celerons will be available to both OEMs and the channel. Intel refused to comment on unannounced products at press time. ® RegistrOid 433 Chipzilla was a registered trademark of Terry Shannon at Shannon knows Compaq. However he has decided to make the name Open Source, which means we can use it again.
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Roldec rolls over

Roldec, the Midlands–based mail-order reseller, has thrown in the towel. The company has already ceased trading, and is seeking a voluntary winding up order. Yesterday, Roldec directors asked Deloitte & Touche in Birmingham to arrange a creditors’ meeting for March 31. A liquidator will be appointed at the meeting. Roldec ranked two years in succession in the Sunday Times list of the UK’s fastest growing companies. But the company was seriously damaged last year , when a import deal with a Far Eastern notebook supplier went disastrously wrong. ®
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Royal E-Mail backs security service with £100K bond

The Royal Mail has formally launched a secure e-mail service aimed at posting its 350-year-old business into the next millennium. Reported by The Register earlier this month ViaCode is being billed as the UK's "first secure service for business". And it's so confident that the service cannot be cracked, it's offering a £100,000 surety guaranteeing confidentiality. "Anyone serious about electronic commerce will have to adopt security practices and techniques to safeguard their business," said Royal Mail's MD Richard Dykes. "ViaCode has the potential to overcome any business' worries about Internet security…[and should help] provide UK companies with a powerful business tool to ensure they stay at the cutting edge in the e-commerce race with overseas rivals," he said. Executives at the Royal mail estimate that within two years the sale of secure e-commerce services will be worth £400 million in the UK alone. In Europe, that figure is expected to be nearer £2 billion. And the Royal Mail wants its share of the electronic pie. A spokesman for the organisation confirmed that no one has, as yet, signed up to the service although there is a "high level of interest". He also stamped out any suggestion that ViaCode spelt the end of traditional paper post. ®
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Order your virtual drinks for St Patrick's Day

Homesick descendants of the Emerald Isle too tight to buy a round of drinks on St Patrick's Day can e-mail as many as they like to friends instead. In celebration of one of the booziest saint's days in the calendar VirtualIreland.com is offering its readers the chance to send a virtual drink to anyone not already down the pub enjoying the Craic. There's a choice between a couple of pints of the black stuff, whiskey, Irish cream liqueur or flat warm beer. "There is a serious side to the site," said the Webleprechaun, "but I'm banjaxed if I know what it is." ®
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AOL Europe fights back against free ISPs

AOL Europe has take off the gloves and come out fighting against subscription-free Internet service providers. Stung by the phenomenal growth of free ISPs in the UK AOL Europe is worried that this same model could be replicated throughout Europe in a domino-like chain reaction that would jeopardise its position as a subscription service. Of course, executives at AOL Europe have stopped short of saying this is why they went on the offensive today at a pre-CeBIT press conference outlining a raft of new initiatives designed to show that AOL is an aggressive player in the marketplace. But they are worried -- that much is true -- especially if you believe the adage that the best form of defence is attack. Instead, spokesman Stephan Naundorf admitted that the more aggressive stance was due to a more "competitive marketplace" that was "heating up". On more than one occasion he denied any suggestion that AOL Europe is reeling from the pressure of upstart ISPs. But the strength and tone of today's announcements suggests that something isn't quite right. Among the new initiatives unveiled by president and CEO Andreas Schmidt, AOL Europe intends to introduce a new portal strategy aimed at generating a greater share of advertising revenue. He said that AOL and CompuServe would remain separate and distinct brands served by combined business support functions. AOL will continue to serve mass-market home users while CompuServe will increasingly be focused on vertical business and professional audiences, said Schmidt. He also renewed calls for telcos to offer flat-rate charges for Net access to help "accelerate Europe's emergence as a leading Internet power". And since this is only ever likely to happen -- if ever -- by legislation, he's also offering AOL Europe's services to politicians throughout the Europe as a way of educating out-of-touch MPs about the benefits of the wired world. "Now, AOL is poised to lead Europe into the next stage of mass-market growth and acceptance, driven by our superior value and a powerful growth strategy based on a tested business model," said Schmidt. "At the same, we will continue to push for policies and a business environment that will allow Europe to realise its potential as a competitive, modern 'Net-centred' economy." ®
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Intel escapes FTC noose

Well that didn’t take long. Last week Intel looked set for a short sharp shock in court with the FTC. This week, the company has wriggled more or less completely free from the anti-trust charges levelled against the company. For the Federal Trade Commission settlement -- agreed with Intel last week behind closed doors -- is not exactly a heavy cross for Intel to bear. The FTC says that Intel must "take no steps to impede, alter, suspend, or withhold advance technical information "for reasons related to an intellectual property dispute with such customer.". A copy of the full judgment must be posted on Intel's web site for one month. And Intel must report back to the FTC for five years to show it is complying with the settlement. But the company retains the general right to withhold technical and product information from customers. Intel says the adjudication protects its intellectual property rights. Even more satisfyingly, Intel escapes being tarred with the monopolist brush. Although the company controls well over 80 per cent of the microprocessor market, the FTC appears to conclude that there is still enough space for vigorous and successful competition. &reg:
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CeBIT: Microsoft ‘licensed Java to kill Netscape’, McNealy claims

Microsoft licensed Java to kill Netscape, Sun CEO Scott McNealy claims. Speaking at CeBIT in Hanover, McNealy said Microsoft followed the licensing rules for about a year and a half, until it had damaged Netscape sufficiently. For Microsoft to drop Java support would be as serious a step as junking support for TCP/IP, he argued. McNealy used a Coca-Cola analogy: Microsoft had stuck to the (Java) formula, but suddenly it added three drops of poison to the formula, and shipped a Windows virtual machine. McNealy observed that Microsoft has a great deal of code in Java and will probably decide to become compliant with the recent court order for pragmatic reasons. However, he could not be sure of what the US court system would do, reminding the audience that Clinton was still President. But he is sure that Sun is getting ready for the post-PC era of thin clients and wireless devices. He has run the company for the last two years with just a Java Station in his office -- and had doubled the value of Sun in that period. Personal Java was running on top of Windows CE in a prototype, but so far Sun has been unable to persuade market-leader 3Com to agree to support Java on its Palm Pilot, although the Symbian alliance was significant. McNealy said that he had seen a Palm Pilot running Java. Taco Bell had decided against NT Servers in each of its 25,000 fast food outlets and had opted for Java stations, not least because they were none too keen of having an NT engineer at each site. On the subject of the NC, McNealy was defensive, but noted that there has been an order of magnitude growth each year, so that it is now becoming very significant. Sun's marketing model for Java has evolved in the nearly four years it has been available. There was a time when it was necessary for licensees to give back to Sun enhancements that they had made, but this is no longer the case – only bug fixes need be shared. Companies can try development using Java at no cost: it is only when they start to ship a Java product that Sun gets any payment. He envisages a world where users are knowingly or unknowingly sitting in front of Java devices for much of the day, whether it is a computer, a phone, a television, or a car (although he would not admit to Sun being involved in any development for automobiles). Anybody not doing one of these thing must be asleep, dead or playing golf, he quipped. ®
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Sun and Symbian strike EPOC Java deal

Sun and Symbian have announced an as-yet inkless alliance here at Cebit in Hannover to include Java with the Symbian EPOC platform. The expectation is for some 40 and 60 million users of wireless information devices in the next five years, with mobile phones able to reach one-sixth of the world's population by 2005. Symbian licensees (Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and Psion) control 70-80 per cent of the world cellphone market. Symbian was formed in 1998 to provide a more united front against Windows CE. Meanwhile, it has emerged that two separate strategic agreements were signed with NTT DoCoMo this week by Symbian and Sun to carry out fundamental research and development in Japan on new wireless communications technologies. It could well be that such devices will prove to be much more attractive to Japanese industry and consumers than PCs. Symbian CEO Colly Myers said that the first devices from the Sun-Symbian relationship are expected before the end of 1999. Psion, the conceiver of the Symbian alliance, said that "Java technologies help address problems of incompatibility, complexity and security across networked appliances, and allow service providers to deploy data content and services to a wide range of wireless information devices." The implication of all this seems to be that Sun has decided that wireless information devices will now be an important strategic direction, with the Symbian partners developing new kinds of devices with better integration of both hardware and software. Technologically, Java will ensure that the approach preserves a multi-platform environment. With the critical mass of this fledgling industry aligned against Microsoft, there is relatively little that Microsoft can do to wrest control of a non-Windows world. Of the big boys, only HP seems to be sticking close to Microsoft with CE. This looks like being one that will get away from Microsoft's deadly embrace. ®
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Sun doesn't have an earthly with UltraSparc III til Q2, 2000

Sources close to Sun Microelectronics said today that while Sun could conceivably tape out UltraSparc III by year end, it likely would be Q2 of 2000 before we see systems. The insider told The Register that Compaq's Alpha chip, now CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer's preferred high end processor over Merced, was on target and would deliver high performance and low price, as already revealed here. Said the insider: "EV67 is already taped out and EV68 will tape out soon after. Sun Microsystems does not have any chance of competing with the type of benchmarks the Alpha is displaying." Sun Micro was not available for comment as we wrote this story. Although we're always interested to hear from them. ®