18th > March > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Polish shortfall may take shine out of Datrontech results

Datrontech is investigating a "profits shortfall' in its Polish subsidiary. In a statement to the Londond Stock Exchange, the British computer components distie said : " The exact nature and quantum of this shortfall in profits have not been ascertained and, potentially, it may have a material effect on Datrontech's results for the year ended 31 December 1998". Curiously, Datrontech issued notice of this problem, by way of a statement concerning its recent share price movement. The company said it knew of no reason for the recent price rise. Datrontech's shares have not been exactly volatile lately. Between January 15 and March 15, Datrontech's closing price was a pretty rock bottom 25p ( In the heady days of the memory market boom in 1995/96 Datrontech shares peaked at over 340p). On March 16, Datrontech's closing price leapt one whole penny to 26p. Yesterday( March 17), a trade for 14,385 shares in the company was executed at 28p… almost three hours after the profit warning issued by Datrontech board. Today, Datrontech shares opened down 0.5p to 25.5p. ®
Drew Cullen, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Korea investigates MS over Win98 pricing

Even more bad news for Microsoft, as now the Korean FTC (Fair Trade Commission, this one) mounts an investigation of possible price-gouging on Windows 98. The Koreans have been complaining that 98 is more expensive in Korea than in the rest of Asia. The tab is about 20 per cent higher than in Japan for example, and in dollar terms this translates to about $125. The Register reckons that gives the Koreans something else to complain about, if they'd only care to look west. The differential seems to have been caused by Microsoft's failure to react to the Korean Won strengthening against the dollar recently. The FTC says the investigation is currently only in its preliminary stages, but it has the power to fine offenders up to 2 per cent of annual Korean sales. ®
John Lettice, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

MS could face French liability claim over Win98 Y2K issue

The French government is considering taking action against Microsoft over the non-Y2K compliance of several products, including Windows 98. Both 98 and Works 4.5 failed compliance tests carried out in January, and according to French small and medium business minister Marylise Lebranchu, possible liability on Microsoft's part is currently being assessed. The tests were carried out by the Directorate for Competition and Prevention of Fraud, and while it's not clear whether or not the Windows 98 tests were carried out on a version that had had the Y2K service pack applied, Lebranchu seems more appalled by Microsoft having shipped non-compliant products in the first place than by whether or not the problems will be fixed. With some justification, she describes it as "extraordinary" that a cutting-edge IT company should be shipping products that won't work after 2000. Microsoft has of course shipped quite a lot of these over the past few years, and quite a few Microsoft products (including Windows 95) will never be brought up to full Y2K compliance. So if the French want to play hardball on product liability, MS is a pretty big target. We shall see... ®
John Lettice, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Gates book 2: Now Bill contradicts key MS witness

The world according to Bill Gates' books continues to diverge from the one described in Gates' trial testimony - and now, too, in the testimony of other Microsoft antitrust witnesses. The first excerpts from Gates' new book Business @ the Speed of Thought earlier this week (I read all my email - Bill) showed Bill claiming he read all of his email carefully, when last year he apparently couldn't remember any of it, and now he seems to be implying that company economist witness Richard Schmalensee got it wildly wrong under trial cross-examination. Schmalensee came up with one of the more hilarious claims of the trial, saying that Microsoft's sales records were kept on scribbled bits of paper and, um, that was why it was pretty well impossible to produce breakdowns. Obviously no sane person was going to believe this nonsense, but it seemed just possible that Schmalensee at least, who is handsomely rewarded by Redmond, was prepared to accept it as gospel. But here's the truth according to a book excerpt, published in the Financial Times this week: "When figures are in electronic form, knowledge workers can study them, annotate them, look at them in any amount of detail," Gates wrote. "Going digital changes your business." Gates backs this up in an interview with the FT: "The sales results are in digital form, so anytime I want to I can look by country, by product, exactly how sales compare to budget, how they compare to other groups." Even more bizarrely, it seems Microsoft mouthpiece Mark Murray is still prepared to shore-up Schmalensee's ludicrous claims. Bill's wonderful description of Microsoft's Digital Nervous System, he says, is only dealing with sales data, while Schmalensee was specifically talking about tracking profits. Actually, you can see a possible small nugget of truth here. Bill is obviously going to want to know who's buying what and where, and it's a fairly small step to at least attach estimated revenues to those figures. But it's not particularly likely to be able to derive profit figures from that data. Old Schmalensee did however seem to go rather further than that. What he said was: "The state of Microsoft's internal accounting systems do not always rise to the level of sophistication one might expect from a firm as successful as it is." That is, he was strongly suggesting that there was no useful data at all, and that's clearly untrue. ®
John Lettice, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

AMD kicks butt with 600MHz K7 demo

Chip company AMD has shown a K7 processor running at 600MHz at the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, and has revealed more details of its plans for the product. Our photographs are here. Gary Bixler, K7 product marketing manager at AMD's Austin microprocessor division, said: "The K7's going to very high performance and will allow us to compete [with Intel] from the lowest to the highest level. The combination of the K7 and the K6 will allow us to compete with Intel and the K7 will compete in the high end space." He said AMD was not yet ready to talk about chipsets but he said: "It will have a feature set to match its performance." As well as showing us a demonstration of the K7 at 600MHz, Bixler also showed a motherboard with three ISA slots, four PCI slots and one AGP slot. "Partners already have reference designs," said Bixler. He said AMD continued to be on target for its release date. He would not say whether AMD was developing a 64-bit processor. "It takes a long time to develop one," he said. "Clearly we have other things in design. The K8, for example, is well down the road." He revealed that the very first K7 was built using an Alpha system. "We know it works with Alpha and we have partners that are interested in it. But software and BIOS work would need to be done," he said. "The Alpha bus is the EV6 bus." He said that AMD was, at least initially, committed to the slot. "Our initial product will be on a module. Over time, K7 customers in the value segment may have to look at alternative form factors." At launch date, the K7 will use the same 3DNow! extensions as the K6, but Bixler said: "Clearly we'll move that forward." The first K7s will come out of its Austin fab, Bixler confirmed, with production at Dresden starting later. The K7 will support all different types of memory modules from 512K up to 8Mb of address space, as second level cache, said Bixler. He said that AMD was likely to develop Rambus chipsets for the platform. He claimed that the K7, at release date, would match and surpass anything that Intel could produce on the 32-bit platform. He also said that higher frequency K6-IIIs would be rolled out during the year. On volumes of processors, Bixler acknowledged that demand was high but he said AMD was taking steps to address that problem. ®
Mike Magee, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Novell wins copyright case against ISP

A Belgian Internet Service Provider (ISP) has been convicted of copyright infringement after subscribers to a bulletin board were found to be using the service to upload copies of Novell software. Novell is heralding the conviction as a landmark case in the fight against software piracy. The owner of the service, Renaat C, was fined BF500,000 in Hasselt Criminal Court – believed to be the largest fine set by a Belgian court for copyright infringement. The case will have implications for any ISP that finds its service being abused by subscribers. Renaat C had claimed that it was unreasonable for him to be held responsible for the actions of people using his Point Break service. Even if he had wanted to monitor and control the content of their postings, he argued, the time taken to do so would have made the task impossible. Judge Van Coppenolle dismissed these claims saying that the time taken to perform such duties did not impinge on their legal requirement. Novell, naturally, was tickled pink by the ruling. Martin Smith, head of the company’s anti-piracy unit, said: “This judgement is an important milestone. There can be no doubt that high volume of traffic does not remove the liability of the service provider to ensure that copyrighted software and other materials receive adequate protection.” ®
Sean Fleming, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Free ISP mania hits US

The US is enjoying its first taste of subscription-free Internet access and according to the latest figures it appears punters over there think it's simply scrumptious. Californian-based NetZero -- which began offering a free dial-up service five months ago -- has confirmed that it now has 500,000 registered users and the numbers are growing all the time. At worst, this places NetZero at around thirteenth in the US ISP popularity charts. At best, NetZero is now among the top 10 ISPs in the US making it one of the elite. According to the company's own estimates, it will hit one million users by June and a whopping four million by the end of the year. Although this progress is impressive, Dixon's FreeServe only took eight weeks or so to pass the 500,000 milestone. Nor is NetZero the first ISP in the US to offer subscription-free access. Other companies have tried it -- and failed -- but what sets NetZero apart is that it offers nationwide dial-up access. Nonetheless, if NetZero's service -- which is funded by advertising revenue -- continues to make ground there is every possibility that other subscription-free services could start springing up everywhere in the US. Net users in the US -- already mollycoddled by the widespread availability of unmetered telephone calls -- could be on the verge of a revolution that would make the UK's experience appear insignificant by comparison. So, is it wise to think the unthinkable? Could the subscription-free model that has done so much to change the Net landscape in the UK do the same in the US? No one is prepared to say. Just remember, a little over six months ago no one had ever heard of FreeServe. Today it's the number one ISP in the UK with over 1.25 million users. ®
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Chipzilla strikes back with 800MHz PIII Xeon overclock

Intel today launched 500 and 550 MHz versions of the Pentium III Xeon chip, along with previewing "the Formula One race car of processors" – a PIII Xeon running at 800 MHz. Pat Gelsinger, Intel VP and general manager desktop products group, announced the chips to CeBIT this morning. The high-end 500MHz, 412KB, 1MB and 2MB versions for two, four and eight way servers and workstations will start shipping today. The 550MHz, 512 KB, in 1 and 2MB versions for four and eight way servers, will be available from Q2. He added that Intel had seen "a very strong and early response" to the Pentium III chip launched three weeks ago. This latest unveiling follows hard on the heels of AMD’s own high-speed chip launch earlier today. Gelsinger also outlined Intel's "vision of the E-Corporation", saying Europe was predicted to outstrip the US regarding growth in this area. By 2002, E-Commerce revenue in Western Europe will be $223 billion, compared to $6 billion last year, according to IDC quoted figures. For the US, the figures were 291 billion from $31 billion in 1998. Regarding the future, Intel unveiled knowledge management features and indexing run on an 800 MHz chip. "This can very quickly go over a GB of information and pull it down to exactly what you want to look at in seconds," said Gelsinger. He claimed this was "the fastest machine ever demonstrated in Europe. The Formula One race car of processors," adding: "This gives you some idea of the headroom in the Intel processor family." ®
Linda Harrison, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Users smash up PCs in outbreaks of network rage

Violent acts against computers have become such a problem that behavioural psychologists have branded this digital vandalism as "network rage." Eighty-three per cent of network managers surveyed reported abusive and often violent behaviour by users as a result of computer problems. Acts of wanton violence resulted in shattered monitors, smashed keyboards and kicked-in hard drives. Sometimes the PC GBH was so bad it was impossible to make out the identity of mice that had been flung across a room -- their plastic shells dashed against walls and shattered into tiny fragments. "When people are under a lot of pressure from supervisors and managers to meet tight deadlines, they can become frustrated and lose control of their temper," said Boston-based psychologist Dr Will Calmas. "Instead of voicing their frustrations to their supervisors, some people choose to take out their aggression on inanimate objects -- in this case, their monitor, keyboard or mouse." According to the survey conducted by Concord Communications, the number one piece of equipment broken during an act of network rage is the keyboard. Broken mice and shattered monitors tied for second place and kicked-in hard drives placed third. One network manager who asked to remain anonymous said: "I had a user who complained that her cursor would not move, so she would repeatedly slap the terminal on one side to move it." And another told of how one irate woman was close to breaking point after being unable to send any e-mail. "After I calmed her down, I asked to see a sample of an email message she was trying to send. The email address included street name, town, county and full postal code." * If you've witnessed network rage first hand -- or wish to admit to battering a PC from time to time -- why not share your experiences at The Register's Message Board. ®
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Siemens to spin off chip business

The long and painful saga of Siemens’ semiconductor business continues to unfold. The German electronics giant has said it wants to spin off the chip concern as a separate division, with a view to eventually putting it up for a listing. The most recent chapter in the chip business’ history saw a failed attempt to get an MBO off the ground at the Siemens’ Tyneside factory. The reported £400 million bid came to nothing after Siemens management rejected the MBO offer for the site which at its height employed some 1,100 people. The plant shut down in August last year. It was set up with a £50 million subsidy from the UK government and after its initial failure, rumours began to circulate that it would be bought up by a consortium of Chinese companies. This also came to nothing. ®
Sean Fleming, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

CDR shortages to hit Europe this summer

Europe faces shortages of CDR disks due to unexpected demand, a CeBIT exhibitioner told The Register today. Distributor Pine Technology, has warned that the current shortages are likely to last until the summer. Nigel Lippard, managing director of Pine Technology, has predicted the situation will worsen for European consumers looking for top-level branded CDR media. He blamed falling hardware prices for the surge in demand. "If demand continues to outstrip supply, we are looking at a real shortage of quality branded media in Europe until the summer at least," he said. Lippard claims European CDR hardware sales could rise to around 500 million units in 1999, compared to last year's 300,000. This means Europe will be the hardest hit when supplies start to run out. The cause is a bit of a two-edged sword. To cool demand for a while the prices would have to go up. In addition, Japan has increased its own demand for the product, leaving less to export. According to Lippard, vendors are planning to up supply, but time is against them. ®
Linda Harrison, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel breaching spirit of FTC deal already?

Intel VP Pat Gelsinger was asked at his CeBIT presentation this morning about the FTC deal. He said he was happy that it was settled, and he didn't "believe Intel would change its behaviour in the market." But perhaps just a little bit of change in behaviour might be advisable, under the circumstances. The Register reported yesterday that Intel must "take no steps to impede, alter, suspend, or withhold advance technical information" for reasons related to an intellectual property dispute, but already Intel is ignoring the spirit of the agreement it would appear. We recall a Mr. Bill Gates of Microsoft making claims similar to those Gunslinger is making now, after the 1994 agreement to a consent decree, and look at what happened. Although the Intel Order is not yet fully in force, it will require Intel to display the text of the Order on its developer.intel.com page, but this morning only an Intel PR puff about the 8 March agreement was found. Diligent search down four levels down www.intel.com does reveal a PDF version of the Order. The Order also says that officers and directors must be given a copy of the Order within ten days of appointment. It would perhaps be a good idea for Intel to tell its VPs about this if it does not wish to follow Microsoft along the path to doom. ®
Graham Lea, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

CeBIT numbers in steep decline

Conference organisers are denying it but the evidence on the ground at what the German organisers call the biggest computer show on Earth seems to confirm it. Every hall in the show was visited by less people than last year and now CeBIT has the look of Comdex last autumn, which also showed a decline. The organisers refuse to comment until their initial day of trading is properly counted. ®
Mike Magee, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Cyrix claims huge retail win in UK, now

CeBIT 99 National Semiconductor's decision to aim for the low end has been vindicated by the latest Romtec results, released at this year's CeBIT. According to the figures, Cyrix has won market share of 53.4 per cent in the sub 500 pound market, beating Intel which has 45.2 per cent of the market and making AMD look at a dwarf at 1.3 per cent. That is all well and good. But why is Cyrix announcing a PC on a belt at the CeBIT show? A representative seemed unable to fathom this, too. ®
Mike Magee, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Kodak digicameras in big lay off in Heidelberg

A representative said today she had no knowledge of an estimated 1,700 jobs lost in Heidelberg, yesterday because of a huge slowdown in the digital camera business. She said she could neither confirm nor deny the reports, caused, according to our information, because of a drop of sales in the pricy consumer items. She promised Kodak would come back to us before we went to press. We await the call. But if Kodak's experience is anything like Compaq experience in laying off French and German employees, this could be deeply tricky. Organisations called Work Councils prevent this level of redundancy in France and Germany. ®
Mike Magee, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Euro blighters block anti-spam fighters

Supporters of a Europe-wide anti-spam campaign have been dealt a massive body-blow today after a committee of European MPs voted to legalise unsolicited commercial email. According to an observer at today's meeting of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (EMAC), Conservative MEPs voted against an amendment to ban spam while the Liberals and Greens voted in support of the ban. "I didn't see any Socialists voting one way or the other," said The Register's own Euro gravy train spotter. While the amendment adopted by EMAC said that people could ask for their names to be removed from distribution lists, it effectively called for the legalisation of unsolicited email. It also suggested that the text string #/# should be placed in the subject heading box to help users instantly recognise spam and even set filtering software to wheedle it out. Christian Persson, editor-in-chief of leading German IT magazine, c't, who is spearheading a European campaign to stamp out spam, was disappointed at the vote. "This is not good news," he said. "Neither do I believe this is the last word on this. We must strengthen our efforts and I urge everyone to sign our petition." The pressure group EuroISPA -- which has gained the backing of some MEPs -- is campaigning to ensure that all commercial email is requested rather than being sent on spec. A decision by the Legal Affairs Committee -- which will make the final decision before a full vote by the European parliament -- is expected in May. ® Related stories: c't magazine declares war on spam Anti-spam campaign gathers momentum
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Official: Win98 new version to ship in Q3

Microsoft has now officially conceded that there will be another version of Windows 98, and says that what is likely to be called Windows 98 Second Edition will ship in late summer or autumn of this year. The company still hasn't admitted that its plans for a convergence of code on the NT/Win2k kernel are therefore toast, but what were you expecting? Confirmation that Windows 9x lives comes from IE marketing chief Yusuf Mehdi, who says that the new software will include Internet Explorer 5.0 (which is released today) and various other technologies, including Internet Connection Sharing, which will allow multiple computers to access the Internet over a single line. This is clearly intended to take xDSL deployment a stage further via a form of home networking. Microsoft's hit rate when it comes to accurate prediction of how fast consumer broadband is going to take off has so far been absolutely diabolical, but maybe this time it will be different. Win98 #2 does however look very much like the packaging operation we predicted it would be. It will be a service pack on steroids which Microsoft has decided to throw some other bits into, and then call it an OS. Considering the level of technical challenge involved, it shouldn't be too difficult to get it out the door on schedule, but as one of the unfortunate side-effects of the U-turn over convergence is that MS probably doesn't have anything like a full-scale 9x development team in place, traditional slippage is still perfectly possible. That might present a problem, if the ship date slips beyond the end of the trial, and any remedies imposed (assuming Microsoft loses) involve a bit of disintegration. But IE 5.0 shows signs that Microsoft may be preparing for that eventuality. From the user's perspective IE 5.0 appears to be somewhat less closely integrated with the OS than IE 4.0, and although Microsoft is still insisting that the underlying code is tightly integrated, you can see the possibilities here. At the trial Microsoft insisted that there were perfectly valid reasons for code sharing between the shell and the browser, whereas critics suggested that there was more than a little arbitrary gluing together of DLLs to attain this 'integration.' If IE 5.0 looks and feels like shell and browser could be two separate things, then breaking them apart isn't going to cause so many problems with users, and hacking the DLLs apart again can just be done under the covers. So maybe MS is shipping defeatist code. ® Related Stories: Next version of Win98 due in Q2? MS planning Win98 follow-up? MS junks consumer NT plan
John Lettice, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Hooray, hooray, it’s IE5 release day

It's amazing what some people will do to avoid the release of yet another software upgrade. Two men have been so keen to miss the launch of Microsoft's latest Internet browser they decided to seal themselves in a tin can and float around the Earth at 35,000ft rather than face the media hype. Rest assured the Great Satan of Software (GSOS) will have found some way to let the crew of the Breitling Orbiter 3 know that the launch of Internet Explorer 5 (IE5) had gone ahead without a glitch. For as well as a technological feat, IE5 is a triumph for the marketing men who managed to come up with its new snappy name. "It's a vast improvement on IE4 -- absolute genius," said one analyst. But it's not just the name that sets it apart from its rivals. With IE5 users can also view Web sites and send e-mail. "Internet Explorer 5 not only displays Web pages faster, it's designed to save you time on the things you do most often," fizzed some promotional gumph from GSOS' Web site. "It's never been easier to get online, find the information you need, and just do stuff faster," it said. (See me - Ed) ®
Tim Richardson, 18 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

CeBIT 99: Cisco praises Singapore, bitches about Europe

Cisco CEO John Chambers said at CeBIT that he thought that Singapore had the best educational system in the world, and he could not find enough praise for the plan to wire the whole country (about the size of the Isle of Wight, it seemed to us). Of course his view is completely objective and unrelated to any Cisco contact to service the island for the Internet. But Chambers seemed to be the only big guy talking about the Internet at CeBIT - the buzz everywhere else is on portable devices. Chambers' sidekick James Richardson, introduced as President of Europe (the vacancy must have been filled remarkably quickly), thought that electronic commerce (and by implication Cisco sales) had been held up by the wicked telecom charging practices of Deutsche Telekom. He was pleased to see that charges had dropped from eight times US rates to four times US rates, but it was not good enough. In the US, 8Mbs cost around $50/month, he noted, and would cost thousands of dollars in Europe if it were available. Commenting on the recent Cisco deal with Telia, Richardson claimed that it was an innovative financial transaction whereby Cisco had purchased the network assets to avoid any necessity to increase the capitalisation of Telia. The question now must be which European PTT/Telco is next? In the miscellaneous information department, Chambers noted that the CTO of AT&T has decided it will be technically better and less expensive to have an IP infrastructure rather than one based on switching. Heinrich Geisler, a German consultant, asked Chambers about Bill Gates' visit to German Chancellor Schroder, and whether Chambers would be seeking such a meeting. Chambers misunderstood the thrust of the question and went on about how Cisco should be doing more politicking. Geisler told The Register afterwards that he was disgusted at the power that Gates had to influence politicians, and put forward the view that the politicians were totally ignorant about IT and only did it to get a photograph with Gates. Geisler also said that he thought it bizarre that Germany rather than the UK should run the largest computer show in the world. How true. ® 'Ethical' Cisco CEO will avoid anti-trust concerns Cisco CEO berates British education system Cisco chief pans Ascend takeover
Graham Lea, 18 Mar 1999