22nd > March > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Those Rise pix from CeBIT 99

Updated See our earlier story: Rise chairman confirms Socket 370 mp6II on way We now are almost certain that Rise's fab partner will be STMicroelectronics (formerly known as SGS), although Rise's CEO David Lin refused to say which company will fab its mp6II chips. Since we wrote our original story, we have obtained a far more detailed shot of the mp6II board. Click for this picture of the mp6II board here. (174K) David Lin, CEO of Rise and Mike Magee, at the Rise stand in Halle 7, CeBIT 99 ®
Mike Magee, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Register gets first ABC figures

The Register has received its first officially audited figures from the independent Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). The figures, for the short month of February, which apply to the most popular UK Web sites, show that we received just under 1.4 million page views. (Note, not hits). That makes us one of the top UK sites, beating ZD Net UK and Silicon.com. And in March even more readers are tuning into The Register. Our daily viewing figures are more than 30 per cent up on February... we think we'll break two million page views this month. You can view the February figure and our certificate here ®
Team Register, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft courts UK banks for online love-in

Microsoft is to team up with a number of UK banks in an effort to create a unified online banking service. The service will be called the Finance Channel and will feature on the MSN site. Among the banks thought to be in negotiation with Microsoft are Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Co-operative Bank. The online banking sector is still in its infancy in the UK but interest in it is expected to take off over the course of the next two years. The Finance Channel will provide links to the individual banks’ sites. Microsoft will be using the service as a means of boosting its own site traffic. ®
Team Register, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Internet is a tool for democracy, says UK government

Governments need to use the Internet to enhance democracy and debate, according to the culture secretary, Chris Smith. Taking part in an interview broadcast on BBC Online he said: "We need to develop the ability to use the Internet as a sort of enormous town meeting." "I think all governments need to see that as a way of communicating with at least a part of the population," said Smith, in response to questions emailed by members of the public. Acknowledging that the Internet needs to be brought within the reach of more people, Mr Smith said £270 million of Lottery funds were being set aside to give Internet access to more people through public libraries. He said this would help "avoid the situation of information havens and have-nots". "There should be no outcasts in this New World ahead of us," he said. No doubt the secretary of state also pointed to an announcement made earlier this month when the government said it would provide poorer families with recycled PCs as part of a £400 million package. But many people think the government's actions don't get to the heart of the problem and fail to address the major barrier to the widespread adoption of wired technology: namely, the issue of unfettered local calls for Web access. There appears to be little political will to intervene in the current debate and force a cut in the cost of dial-up access for home Net users. Until the government commits to bringing down the cost of Net access, the UK looks set to continue to lag behind the rest of the world. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

DoJ-Microsoft split to happen on 29 March?

Sources close to Microsoft suggested today that as part of a deal with US Department of Justice (DoJ), a company split will happen next Monday, 29 March. According to the source, the sides are getting closer, with Microsoft lawyer Bill Neukom already in discussions with Justice Department officials, as well as representatives from the other 19 prosecuting US states. The Wall Street Journal and other US wires reported this morning that talks are likely to start soon, but our information is that discussions are already under way. Bill Gates, Microsoft's CEO, has decided that rather than have the humiliating trial resume on 12 April, he is likely to get a better deal if he settles now. Meantwhile, the South Korean Fair Trade Commission (FTC) launched its own anti-trust case against Microsoft on Friday, with the software giant being accused of being monopolistic. ®
Mike Magee, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Scottish businesses targeted by anti-piracy hoaxers

Companies in Scotland are being warned of a bogus letter allegedly sent by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) warning of an impending audit for illegally held software. The letter says that companies will be contacted by a Mr T Thorpe on behalf of FAST (Federation Against Software Theft) who will carry out the audit on behalf of the BSA. FAST confirmed that no one called Mr T Thorpe worked for the organisation and said it has passed on the details of the hoax to the BSA after being tipped off by a company which received the letter. Both anti-software piracy organisations have denied anything to do with the letter and have taken action to warn companies in the Glasgow/Inverclyde area to be on the lookout. "The BSA is anxious to alert all Scottish businesses to this fraudulent attempt to gain access to the companies’ software details," said the BSA in a statement. "Contrary to the suggestion in the fake letter, the BSA has not selected any company for an inspection by the company named in the letter, FAST -- or any other auditing company. "The BSA will pass details of the possible fraud over to the Scottish authorities," it said. What makes the hoax even more puzzling is that it appears to be motiveless. One explanation may be that the group involved was staking out companies intending to steal hardware to order. In the letter, it talks of contacting "other graphic related companies". This may provide a clue to a motive but both the BSA and FAST admit that they are stumped by the fraud. Ironically, the BSA is launching a new campaign -- Crackdown 99 -- to curb the illegal use of software. It is sending out letters to 80,000 small businesses across the country alerting them to the penalties for using illegal software and is worried that some companies will ignore it thinking it may also be a hoax. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Micromuse founder killed in F1 smash

Computer multi-millionaire Chris Dawes was killed instantly yesterday when his McLaren F1 crashed into a tree in Essex. Dawes, founder of software company Micromuse, died when his £640,000 limited edition sports car hit a tree and burst into flames. Three bodies were found in the car on the A120 near Great Dunmow. According to Essex police, all died at the scene. Australian-born Dawes had been facing trial in Guernsey for cocaine possession with intent to supply. Essex police said they were alerted by calls from the public after the crash at 1.35pm yesterday. A police representative added: "The bodies have not yet been formerly identified. We will have to do tests on dental records and other forms of forensic identification which could take up to a week." According to reports in today’s Times newspaper, the other people in the car were Fiona Newman, 35, and Michael Lamb, 37. A witness at the scene told The Daily Telegraph: "It was fortunate that no other cars were following. No one could get anywhere near it; it was just smoke and flames. Then there were two or three explosions as if the petrol tank went up." The burgundy sports car was one of only 72 road McLaren F1’s made, according to McLaren. The company was unable to disclose the car owner’s name, but a representative told The Register: "This vehicle was purchased four weeks ago. The £634,000 was paid in full." Dawes was arrested on Alderney, in the Channel Islands, in a Boxing Day police drugs swoop. His £3 million helicopter and £3 million private jet were impounded and stripped by Customs. Two packages were found during the raids and were being analysed. At the time of the fatal crash, Dawes was awaiting a trial date following the drugs bust. He launched Micromuse in 1989, two years after he arrived in London. The company was believed to have netted him £24 million. ®
Linda Harrison, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

CE Motor had no wheels

We were unpleasantly surprised, wandering around Halle One at Cebit to see a big yellow taxi on the Microsoft stand. This one looked like one of the new Beetles, rather than the Kubel One or the Kubel Two during the war. But the funniest thing about Microsoft's push into Halle One was that the car had no wheels, while just outside, folk were scrabbling for taxis. According to our taxi driver on the way back to Hamburg, no one liked the look of the new Beetles because the engine wasn't in the back... ®
The Register breaking news

Pole recognised by the Polizei

We managed to survive the huge messe up on Friday evening when all the Hannover trams broke down by catching a bus where the driver kept making German jokes. One of his choice samples was: "This bus is going to Poland" and that made all of his German fellow travellers laugh. It was a peculiarly German joke. When the bus let us off, we got drenched, waiting for a German tram that did go to the Hannover Hauptbahnhof. But when we eventually arrived at Hannover HBf, we were early for our train. Only to meet an Australian who we had rescued because he was leaning on a door and an American guy from Warsaw who insisted that he had persuaded the State Police to ferry him in the back of one of his green wagons...We should have been so unlucky... ®
The Register breaking news

Emoticons pollute Philips mobiles

The short message service (SMS) of GSM phones has been a technology in search of a real use ... other than alerting roaming users outside the coverage of their provider's service coverage that there is a message waiting. Well,no more.
Graham Lea, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Viking Helmets made the grade

We were astonished to see at this year's CeBIT Messe that people were wearing Viking helmets, the points of which must have had red neons in them to flash so brightly. We learnt the truth, very quickly. These people were given small skullcaps with LEDs inside and that is why they flashed so brightly. Viking Components was also offering a different kind of Yo Yo, one which was attached to elastic and looked like a rubber ball.... ®
A Hamburger, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

CeBIT 99: Thin clients cache in

Netco, a small company from Blankeberg in former east Germany, is showing an interesting Applet Cache device at CeBIT and, for some strange reason, in the US Pavilion. The Applet Cache is intended for use with thin-client workstations in branch offices. The Cache is designed to eliminate the need for on-site expertise, to reduce telcoms costs, and generally to avoid having a conventional server with the usual support costs. NetCo says its product should reduce the overall cost and increase the reliability of managing thin clients. Installation is fairly idiot proof: the device is plugged into the electricity supply, the phone, and the cluster of thin clients. It then makes a pre-programmed call to receive an Internet address, and hangs up. The device is then re-contacted to configure it and the clients from a remote server. Intelligent cacheing enables a systems administrator to determine what legacy software features should be permanently cached for each client and cluster, and when remote updating will take place. Although there are no moving parts, in the event of breakdown it is only necessary to plug in a replacement device. Other envisaged uses include intranets, automatic tellers and information kiosks. The most frequently requested applets are held in cache for instant use. Of course, all this assumes a new Java world where Windows will be thrown out of the window. It also rather assumes that Linux will not become the alternative fat client, although who can predict what may happen in a proper Java-Linux marriage: perhaps Linux servers could do a fair job of managing Java clients with a touch more reliability than with Windows NT. If so, there's a future for the likes of NetCo GmbH. ®
Graham Lea, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Sun pursues wild beasts to the Serengheti

A Sun chap came up to us at CeBIT 1999 and vouchsafed that the next iteration of its so-called Starfire stuff is codenamed Serengheti. We thought to ourselves, perhaps that is a term for something wilder than we had ever seen before. But no. It is, instead, Sun's coda for COMA, a four letted acronym that must attract a lot of attention -- for obvious reasons... ®
Long Neck, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel's Maloney makes funny smell reference to wind and bums

A copy of a new magazine by Intel UK has reached the hands of The Register. All of us are puzzled by the level of wit displayed. The magazine, called Intelligence features senior VP Sean Maloney, who was, we know, once the right hand man of Andy Grove, the effective maker of the chip giant. The magazine Intelligence quotes Maloney as saying that when he joined Chipzilla, 16 years ago, he had to take an effective pay cut worth around 50 per cent. It must have been worth it. Maloney's picture has a cut out saying: "My butt is the same size as yours," and just above it the legend: "I found it an incredible breath of fresh air." ®
The Register breaking news

CeBIT 99: Let German speak unto American

Hats off to Lernout & Hauspie for a remarkable CeBIT demo that combined speech recognition, machine translation, voice synthesis and intelligent agents. That's a lot of technology to run together in real time. Lernout & Haupsie demonstrated its Multilingual Chat by having an American and German speaker chatting together in their own languages to two PCs. The speech was recognised and instantly translated very acceptably, although it was being done with a pre-tested script no doubt. At one stage, a speaker asked what the weather was in Boston, and the audience immediately heard a spoken response from weather.com, which was listening in -- so to speak -- the response being through an intelligent agent. The speech recognition took considerably longer than the translation (which the audience heard through speech synthesis). L&H says it is improving the quality of the synthesized voice, but even so it was all most interesting, with many serious applications waiting in the wings. Although this was the first European showing of the product, it had been demonstrated at Demo 99 recently in the US, and at the launch of the Pentium III. There is no doubt that more horsepower would help -- it would be a good application for the Alpha. L&H is a Belgian company quoted on NASDAQ and EASDAQ, and headquartered at Wipers (or Ypres or Ieper depending on your preference). We asked Gaston Bastiaens, L&H's CEO, why Microsoft (which has a strategic alliance with L&H and invested $45 million in September 1997, and is about to take up options for a further $15 million, to give a seven per cent holding)was not pushing the L&H technology more actively. in view of the speech recognition with Corel WordPerfect (by Dragon) and the Lotus suite (derived from Dragon by IBM). He mentioned a couple of instances of Microsoft's use, but it was all pretty minor stuff. Reading between the lines, it seems that Microsoft is content to let matters ride. Microsoft poached IBM's guru in charge of such matters some years back. Then CTO Nathan Myhrvold said that his R&D group had signed off their work on speech recognition, but that work does not seem to have been a big deal. In a lively discussion after the meeting, it was suggested to us that Microsoft wanted to get 99.5 percent reliability before incorporating speech in Office, which seemed rather unlikely in view of the buggy nature of Windows 98. Another suggestion was that L&H did not want its products to be devalued by being bundled, which sounded much nearer the mark. ®
Graham Lea, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Aunty Beeb to hold Net classes

The BBC is flexing its muscles as a public service broadcaster to educate UK Net virgins about the joys of the Wibbly Wobbly Web. As part of a major six part campaign starting next month, the BBC has teamed up with supermarkets, soccer clubs and pubs to offer free "crash courses" on how to use the Net. The WebWise Challenge follows on from the successful Computers Don't Bite campaign which the Beeb says inspired more than 200,000 people to use computers for the first time. "This is a brilliant chance to find out what all the fuss is about," said Philippa Forrester, the woman most geeks said they would like to introduce to their PCs. "Many people are mystified by the Internet. It's certainly pretty scary at first inspection, but it needn't be with a bit of help. "That's what WebWise is all about. There are plenty of reasons to find out more about the Internet, whether it's shopping for your groceries online, ordering a football or theatre ticket, or using email for a good old-fashioned gossip! It's also tremendous fun as well as a valuable source of information," she said. The campaign will be supported by a range of television and radio programmes as well as a CD-Rom and Web site. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

This is the time for takeover Action

Action Computer Supplies has confirmed talks with a potential buyer are taking place. Discussions are at a "'very preliminary' stage, which may or may not lead to an offer being made for the company," according to a statement issued today by the UK reseller. The mail order company made the announcement in direct response to what the company called: "Recent press comment speculating on a possible offer for the company." Action’s shares have plummeted from 441p since February. By this afternoon share prices rallied to 230p amid buyout rumours. American computer companies have been flocking to buy the Wembley-based reseller, including Insight Enterprises, according to yesterday’s Mail on Sunday. A representative for Nasdaq-listed Insight told the Mail on Sunday that investors had been informed that: "Acquisition plans are still in motion." She added that Insight intended to snap up companies in Europe this year. US direct sales giant Insight bought German-based reseller Computerprofis Computersysteme in December. The move was Insight’s second European acquisition last year, following its buyout of ailing UK reseller Choice in April. Global Directmail, which acquired UK-based off-the-page reseller Simply Computers in February, was also said to be in the running for Action. Action was unavailable for comment. ®
Linda Harrison, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Netscape staff wait to see who’s for the chop

It's an unpleasant time for Netscape employees as they wait for leading Internet company, AOL, to decide exactly where the axe is to fall and which jobs will be slashed. Reports from the US suggest that as many as one in five jobs could go as AOL -- which completed its acquisition of Netscape last week -- cuts costs and embarks on a series of structural changes at the once pioneering Net company. It is also rumoured that AOL may use this as an opportunity to wave the axe around making cuts to its own management and internal structure. Rachel O'Neil, a spokeswoman for AOL UK, refused to comment on the speculation insisting it was a matter for the US. Unfortunately, no one was available for comment this afternoon and Jim Whitney, AOL's media spokesman who is responsible for handling such high profile enquiries, failed to return calls before this article was published. If true, the job cuts will come as an acute embarrassment to the company that only recently offered every Netscape employee an extra month's wages just to stay with the company until the deal was confirmed. Now it seems that as many as 500 people could lose their jobs. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Iomega flogs off Ditto

Iomega has sold its Ditto family of personal tape back-up drives to Tecmar Technologies for around $3 million. The storage specialist said the deal would allow it to focus on its other storage brands, Zip, Jaz and Clik, which the company described as "core" products (though how your entire line can be 'core' is another matter). However, Ditto was never a popular line. Getting small to medium-sized businesses to back up data is hard enough, and persuading home users to do so is almost impossible -- particularly when Iomega was targetting its Zip drives and cartridges at the same market. The move follows CEO Jodie Glore's decision to merge Iomega's professional and personal product divisions into a single, unified company structure as part of his programme to bring the company back to consistent profitability (see Iomega returns to profitability, begins reorganisation). Q4 1998 was the company's only profitable quarter last year. The income from the deal will also go a little way to offsetting the $9.5 million Iomega spent on acquiring Syquest's intellectual property earlier this year. ®
Tony Smith, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

AOL/Sun deal gets Tandem knickers in a twist

A reader has pointed out to The Register a fundamental flaw with the Sun-AOL deal. AOL uses Tandem's Himalaya servers to deliver all sorts of services to its end users. Sun will sell AOL $500 million of its iron to AOL, a sum approximately equal to 500 of its UE10K boxes. A few years ago, AOL decked Stratus because its equipment did not work as well as it ought to have done. AOL fired Stratus and appointed Tandem. Now that Tandem is part of Compaq, is not there a slightly schizoid feel to the deal? Why doesn't AOL just use Alpha chips? ®
Mike Magee, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Jobs to go as CHS sees poor results

Broadline distributor CHS Electronics will cut staff by 10 per cent and shut offices worldwide in a $15 million cost-cutting plan after posting a drop in profit in 1998. The US channel giant has outlined a huge overhaul to slash costs, including halting employee recruitment and trimming current staffing levels by about 600. It will also merge its 10 world regions into six operations and look at axing 25 to 30 redundant local warehouses. Q4 profit stood at $13 million on $2.9 billion turnover. This was compared to $23.8 million profit in the previous year, according to reports by Reuters. According to Peter Rigby, CHS director of marketing and communications, his will include merging the six UK warehouses into one building in Banbury, which was bought last month. CHS blamed overstated vendor rebates in the second, third and fourth quarters for the poor results. It was a similar story for the year-end results, with profit at $45.7 million, on turnover of $8.5 billion. This was against $48.4 million net income, in 1997. Rigby was unable to confirm how many, if any, jobs would be lost in the UK. He said: "A lot depends on how each of the companies are run and their profit. In a company like ours, there are always parts of it that perform and parts that don’t." He added that many of the jobs would go in "natural wastage" following the freeze on recruitment. CHS has 500 employees in the UK, and around 6,000 to 7,000 worldwide. Several top executive changes have been made recently. Pasquale Giordano, former executive VP of Europe, resigned following an investigation into the rebate discrepancies by an outside solicitor. This investigation also led to the restating of the second and third quarter’s results. He has been replaced by Jean-Pierre Robinot as CCO of Europe, who joined from Seagate. Senior executive Burt Emmer will oversee and take responsibility for vendor rebates. Chief executive Claudio Orsio will come out of his back-seat role of running CHS at a strategic level and resume direct responsibility for the overall business. The plan aims to reduce capital expenditures in 1999 by $15 million, cut operating expenses by $40 million and push up cash flow by $50 million. ®
Linda Harrison, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

UK company launches portable MP3 player

UK-based Memory Corporation has unveiled MP3-GO, the latest portable digital music player to challenge Diamond Multimedia's Rio PMP300 for the solid state music hardware market. MP3-GO is a combined CD ripper and music storage system with separate portable player, called SoulMate, and Internet access device, Audio Port. Essentially, the system replaces PC, modem and Rio with its own three units. The base unit, dubbed the Portable Music Store (PMS), can encode and store up to 100 CDs. The mini-Walkman sized SoulMate connects to the PMS and downloads up to an hour's music in its Flash memory. To help fill the PMS' music repository -- if you don't have 100 CDs to copy -- MP3 audio tracks can be downloaded through the Internet Audio Port (a modem by any other name). Tracks will have to be downloaded from Memory Corporation's MP3-GO site, though the company clearly hopes better-known MP3 providers will support the new system. MP3-GO contains copyright protection to ensure a track on the PMS can't be copied to a different unit's SoulMate. However, it's not clear whether the device will prevent users downloading unauthorised MP3 files from the Internet. It could also be argued that any system that allows CDs to be duplicated promotes illegal copying, but since such claims have failed to kill hi-fi tape decks, the MP3-GO is safe on this score. Memory Corporation is currently seeking licensees to rebadge the MP3-GO system and bring it to market. The company clearly realises its limitations in the mainstream audio business. However, it will need backers if it's to get in ahead of the key Japanese and European hi-fi players, most of whom are waiting for the format war to come to some kind of workable conclusion, probably through the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), which is due to announce a draft specification this summer. Memory Corporation is itself an SMDI member, but feels, like Creative Technologies, which announced its own MP3 player a couple of weeks ago, that it can't afford to wait for the SDMI's work to be concluded. ®
Tony Smith, 22 Mar 1999
The Register breaking news

Baan shareholders slam non-exec packages

Fireworks are banned in the Netherlands (except for New Year's Eve) but you wouldn't have known it at a recent Baan shareholders' meeting.
Graham Lea, 22 Mar 1999