9th > April > 1999 Archive

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Only the paraspinmedics survive

At The Register we are of the belief that one chip company is just as mad, bad and ugly as any other. Two of them are paranoid and we are very concerned about that. We can recommend psychotherapists for both AMD and Intel execs. No sooner do we find an Intel document telling the 65,000 staff how to deal with UK journalists and publish it, than AMD tries to kick us too. How disappointing. Do they need Rolfing? Not all chip companies are paranoid. In fact, apart from AMD and Intel, none are. Cyrix-NatSemi is groovy, Rise chips are fabbed by ST Microelectronics, a cool French firm, and IDT/Centaur is almost optimistic. IBM Micro is sane, Samsung is sensible, and the rest, apart from AMD and Intel even have common sense. Because we dared to say the AMD K7 was late (it's true), we felt like a virtual Kosovo, bombarded by emails, one saying we should be sued. We're now thinking we should love Intel after the hate mail (mail rage?) we've had from AMD and its fellow travellers. As Pat "Kicking" Gelsinger said to us in Palm Springs in February, AMD has precious few fabs. We almost love Intel compared to the Great Satan of Taperecorders (AMD) after today... ®
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MS judge releases ‘secret’ depositions

MS on Trial Although the Microsoft trial is in recess until at least mid-May, procedural matters continue to be dealt with by the court. There was to be a scheduled status conference this morning, but this has been cancelled by mutual agreement. It was planned to discuss the emergency motion in which Microsoft sought to compel AOL/Netscape and Sun to produce more documents. It now appears that negotiations will take place outside the courtroom, although Microsoft could elect to return to the courtroom if it isn't satisfied. At issue is the fact that Microsoft received only three boxes of documents about the AOL-Netscape merger, whereas the DoJ received 120 boxes. Microsoft evidently thinks that some of these documents could help its case. It is interesting to speculate why Microsoft has agreed to negotiate outside the courtroom. The most likely explanation would appear to be a desire not to burden Judge Jackson any further with procedural wrangles. It may also prove that Microsoft no longer regards the merger as good evidence of there being a vigorous software industry. The current feeling seems to be that Microsoft brought about the demise of Netscape. In addition, as we suggested, it is unlikely that the documents would be very fruitful for Microsoft's case anyway. Judge Jackson has also issued two orders to abide by the Publicity in Taking Evidence Act of 1913, following an appeal by media organisations that was successful. Neither the DoJ nor Microsoft was keen for the public and media to be admitted to depositions, but that will now be allowed. It also means that all the depositions in the case so far will be made public, subject to some redaction. Microsoft has been running into some difficulties in its attempts to keep documents under seal. In the Caldera v Microsoft case in Salt Lake City, media organisations are seeking to stop Microsoft's over-designation of documents in the "confidential" category. They are likely to succeed. By making the taking of depositions open to the media, Judge Jackson may find that he is reading about matters that have not yet been formally entered into evidence in his own court. This should in fact cause no problem, but it is likely to increase the stress on those giving depositions. Had media attendance been permitted when Gates was deposed, he might well have behaved in a somewhat more mature fashion and not bodged his evidence. ® Complete Register trial coverage
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Will 64-bit Win2k for Merced ship later rather than sooner?

How close is the 64-bit version of Windows 2000? Well, Microsoft demoed it at WinHEC this week, but an examination of the detail of the demo suggests that it's a little bit further off than Microsoft might be suggesting - for the Merced version, anyway. Microsoft showed the product running, apparently rather well - so it's just around the corner? Read on. The grand unveiling was fronted by Microsoft president and spinmeister Steve Ballmer, who told the assembled audience: "We've had a lot of interest in the 64-bit version of Windows. When will Windows be 64-bit?" When, indeed. Steve gets the tricky stuff over with first by not answering his own question and leaving some leeway for future fuzzing: "We will launch a 64-bit version of Windows based on the Windows 2000 code base as soon as we can after the shipment of Windows 2000." There, so if you accept that Win2k is still going to ship before the end of the year, the "as soon as we can" period commences in January 2000, or thereabouts. But Steve carefully doesn't specify how long it lasts. Now the fuzz, which will no doubt disappoint those of you who figure this period might be short: "When we ship Windows 2000, we'll also ship an intermediate form factor that actually supports 36 bits of addressability on today's Intel chips. So four gigabytes of memory is sort of standard maximum [for 32-bit], with the extended, what we call PAE addressing, you'll have up to 64 gigabytes of virtual memory, and with the full 64-bit version, you get up to eight terabytes of virtual addressing." Kludge, do you reckon? The notion of an "intermediate form factor" seems to confirm what we heard last year, that there will be a lengthy period before 64-bit, and that MS will initially go for a 32/64-bit product while it finished 64-bit properly. The more extensive the intermediate form factor is, the longer you're likely to have to wait. Now, the demo itself. Ballmer's man Richard Waymire points out that "We're currently building both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 2000. Every night, we go through the build process. It's the same source, just a different compile. So there's no special development effort per se underway on 64-bit, it's the same stuff." That makes it all sound a doddle, but he's not specific about whether or not he's talking about both Intel and Alpha versions here. He shows 64-bit running on a Merced emulator, basically doing nothing, then switches quickly over to Alpha, and then does a demo of 64-bit SQL Server, running on Alpha. That demo runs fine, of course, but how come Microsoft chose not to do it on the Merced emulator? If you're suspicious you'll reckon the Alpha version is a lot further advanced, and that Microsoft is heavily in hock to Compaq as far as 64-bit development goes. This isn't entirely news, as Microsoft has historically leaned heavily on DEC's Alpha NT engineering. Something else that might slow, or provide an excuse for the slowness of 64-bit Merced development, is pointed up by Ballmer a little later: "Most of the system designs in PC servers today are not well balanced, with respect to use of CPU, I/O, et cetera, for these very large system designs. The I/O architectures aren't that effective. "If you really want to run very large database problems, we're going to need more parallelisation over the bus. Network optimisation, as you put bigger and bigger loads on fewer and fewer servers." We're going to need, says Steve, a whole bunch of stuff, and you can bet heavily that a lot of that stuff is going to be developed after the 64-bit Win 2k's initial shipment. If Steve is currently talking down expectations for PC 64-bit performance, it's going to be a long haul. ®
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Gore Web site breaches own pet privacy laws

Vice-president Al Gore, Microsoft's friend and now US presidential candidate, has blown it again. The man who likes to think that he created the Internet (or so he suggested to CNN, although he later claimed he was "tired" when he said this) has had a rough ride with his web site. It didn't help that when the site was first registered last year, it gave his office at the White House and his official phone number, rather than a campaign contact. That turned out to be a minor issue compared with when he showed his site at a press conference on Tuesday. In a "Just for Kids" section, children were invited to ask him questions, and to send their names, email address, and zip code. The snag was that a Gore press release claimed that he had "championed" the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act which will make it illegal to ask for such information when it comes into force. Gore's campaign manager consulted lawyers and the site then had a suggestion that kids should ask parents before giving the requested information. This was pointed out by a helpful press release from the Republican National Committee, which shows that at least sometimes there is some integrity in politics, even if it is just backbiting. But that wasn't all. Earlier in the week, the site said: "This is your web site -- IT'S OPEN SOURCE ...". That was puzzling, to say the least, and Slashdot's nerds let loose. The confusion between open source software and content has now been corrected, and when we looked at the HTML this morning for Gore's home page we found that his web person had anticipated our visit and left a message thanking us for dropping in. The grammar ain't wonderful ("one criteria" ...) but there was an invitation to develop a Linux screen saver in a competition, as "We are very interested in developing content that takes advantage of Open Source Software such as Linux". However, no prizes are mentioned. ®
The Register breaking news

MS to ship new Win98 in May – annual rental here we come?

Microsoft has confirmed our original suspicion (Next version of Win98 due in Q2?) that it was planning a quick and dirty run for Q2 shipment of Win98 Second Edition. At WinHEC this week the company revealed the 'new' product is now to ship in May. Microsoft also confirmed earlier this week rumours that there would be future versions of 9x, and the idea of converging onto Win2k's codebase was now at the very least postponed. But the company has been running a softening-up process on both this and the mysterious appearance of Second Edition as a product rather than a service pack for the past couple of months. The convergence plan as outlined by Bill Gates himself last year at WinHEC had Windows 98 as being the last iteration, to be replaced by a consumer OS based on Win2k. But that roadblocked Microsoft's plans pretty effectively, as it meant first the company had to get Win2k out of the door and then it had to build a version that ran great games and didn't need vast quantities of hardware, among other things. The do-ability of this was such that the consumer OS couldn't seriously have been expected until 2002-3, and funnily enough, this is now the timeframe Microsoft is talking about for consumer NT/Win2k. But no doubt that will slip. With the roadblock for the moment removed/postponed, Microsoft is now free to do a couple of things. As we anticipated, a quick refresh of Windows 98 code plus a few fixes, new stuff like IE5 and scope for xDSL communications can be shipped out quite quickly. Having softened up people to expect a new, paid-for, OS rather than a free service pack (Yusuf Mehdi said late summer or early autumn just a few weeks ago at the IE5 launch, so you can see the ratchet in operation), Microsoft can roll out a neat revenue-generating retail product. We should watch out for attempts to squeeze 'upgrade' dollars out of corporate customers too, because that's where the big money is. And because the job is relatively simple, Microsoft can get a 'new' OS out the door just a year after it shipped the last one. Add some more useful new stuff in order to create the next version of 9x that's planned to ship in 2000, and it can do it again. So Microsoft is ever so gently reducing the amount of service, bugfix and enhancement code you can download for free, bundling it together into 'this year's model,' and, magically, you're moving towards that annual rental model MS said was just an idea. You read it here first. ®
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InterNIC sells WebTechs domain name to porn site

WebTechs, the first Web-based HTML validation service, created in 1994, is locked in a battle with the InterNIC domain registration service after it sold webtechs.com's domain to another company. Instead of linking to a practical software service users accessing www.webtechs.com are faced with the Jane's Photos porn site registered by Virtual Domain Buyers on 18 March. And because of its status among the Web community it's estimated that there are nearly 35,000 links pointing to the webtechs.com domain -- now all pointing to a Danish porn site. Mark Gaither, one of the co-founders of WebTechs, said the error lies with Network Solutions which has benefited from an exclusive US government contract since 1993 to register Net addresses under the InterNIC service. "It is clear that the InterNIC has made a clerical error," said Gaither, "and I've contacted an attorney to explore my options." "All I want is a public apology from InterNIC and my domain back." But Cheryl Regan, corporate communications manager for Network Solutions Inc, insists that WebTechs' registration had lapsed and that it was perfectly within its rights to re-register the domain to another company. "Our records show that it wasn't paid for despite issuing three different notices," said Regan. Last month, Network Solutions purged 18,000 domain names because of late payments although Regan could not confirm if webtechs.com was part of this mass wipe out. Attempts to contact the new registered owners of webtechs.com proved unsuccessful and according to international telephone enquiries, there is no record of Virtual Domain Buyers at the Danish address. ®
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Camino cockup panics Chipzilla

Intel's singular failure to deliver the whizzo new Camino chipset with its 133MHz frontside bus has thrown plans for the PIII range into more than a little confusion. The next PIII was due to be a 533MHz part, shipping around June, but Chipzilla's legendary ability for missing the (RAM) bus has scuppered that one. Enter instead the 100MHz FSB PIII 550 using the venerable BX chipset. Intel insiders reckon the 550MHz bruiser will cost around $750 big ones when it appears, meaning its 500MHz and 450MHz siblings will get the usual $100 or so knocked off their price tags. Now the only question remaining is whether there are any BX motherboards out there that have beefy enough voltage regulators to handle the demands of the new part which is expected to hit the shelves sometime in May or June. ®
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Chip cost chop continues

That the creaky old Pentium II is on the slippery slope to the chip gulag can be in little doubt as Chipzilla knocks a few more bucks off on Sunday night (no respect for the Sabbath, these guys). PII 400's drop to $234 from $246 and the entry-level 350 is now a snip at just $163. Sources close to Intel reckon that the 350 has now seen its last price cut and is not expected to live to see another Autumn. No price moves are expected on other parts for at least a couple of weeks until the stopgap Pentium III 550 part is expected to put its head above the parapet and the PIII 500 and 450 will start to look a bit more attractive price-wise. ®
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ATI leaks details of Rage 128 Pro

ATI operatives have spilled the beans on the company's upcoming Rage 128 Pro accelerator chip, successor to the current Rage 128, which has been boosting the company's profits lately. According to Maximum PC magazine, an ATI guy, speaking at WinHEC 99, claimed the new chip would will run at 125MHz and above, and sport anisotropic filtering and DirectX 6 texture compression. That's in addition to the Rage 128's current 128-bit dual-pipeline architecture, 32-bit z-buffer, 32-bit rendering and support for up to 32MB of on-card VRAM. The news comes immediately after nVidia announced that its next Riva TNT accelerator would provide on-card lighting and transform acceleration (see nVidia claims graphics breakthrough), and it's possible ATI's 'leak' was a spoiling tactic. The Rage 128 Pro should begin to appear on add-in cards in July, supporting AGP 2x and 4x, plus all the flat-panel display support, DVD decoding and video out options favoured by ATI at the moment. ®
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Japanese boffin claims 200MHz FSB invention

A Japanese inventor has claimed he has devised a method to increase the speed of the Front Side Bus (FSB) on any motherboard from between 50MHz and 200MHz. The method, called Turbo PLL-01, with block diagrams and photographs is on this site. The English translation is a little shaky, but it sort of seems to make sense. There is also more information on the Overclocker Page. ®
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WinHEC keynotes show MS losing Windows plot

Opinion The keynote speeches given at the Microsoft hardware engineering conference in Los Angeles show just how rocky Microsoft's roadmap for Windows has become. After reading them, we were left with the general feeling that Microsoft has lost control of Windows development, and that long-term strategy has been abandoned for short-term gain. Steve Ballmer was more subdued than usual, perhaps trying to gird himself with some presidential dignity. It was all too clear that his desire to renew the vision and dream of the last 25 years implies that Microsoft has achieved power at the price of the industry having clumsy, unreliable systems and that there is a real need for a quantum shift to a better world. Part of what has been bequeathed to Microsoft's Windows developers came from Ballmer, who some ten years ago used to run Microsoft's Windows development efforts. He knew little then, and even less now, although he effectively admitted that it was the semiconductor industry that deserved most of the credit for what had been achieved. In reviewing Windows, he mentioned a Data Center Edition of Win 2000 without elaborating about it, and then pitched into a demo of 64-bit Windows 2000. Although he didn't mention it, this is the group run by the original Windows NT architect Dave Cutler, who spends much of his time nowadays in racing cars sponsored by Microsoft. Ballmer noted that the feedback he was getting was that Microsoft did not achieve "enough absolute performance to take PC architecture to the highest end." That should please IBM, and dismay Microsoft-only customers. Ballmer put it on the line that Microsoft needed more scalability, availability, reliability and parallelisation. Ballmer's demo of Microsoft's new "Windows Server Appliance" showed that the wizards were not really so wizardly, and that there is still considerable tinkering to do before the machine becomes like an electric kettle that you take from the box and plug in. Ballmer's conclusion was that "We've got to remove complexity. We've got to add relevance." Right on, Steve: but why is this not possible now? The most noticeable thread that probably united Microsoft's presenters and the audience is a common interest in games. Ballmer and others seem to be deeply involved in getting games working for their children. The audience was evidently full of semi-grown up propeller heads who spend inordinate amounts of time playing (and possibly developing) games. The conference had little to say about Microsoft in the business world for the simple reason that it is an alien world to Microsoft's culture. Microsoft's nerds have no business experience, which accounts for many of the unreal aspects of the Office suite. It probably wasn't good for Ballmer to admit: "We weren't sure for a while what we'd be delivering in the year 2000 exactly." Although Gates was sure last year, he was wrong of course, so Ballmer pitched in to the version of Windows 2000 that was in fact a third edition of Windows 98: "The right approach next year is to continue to enhance the Windows 98 product". So far as Windows CE was concerned, Ballmer said that "We're still going to pursue the CE strategy." which made it sound as though there had been some doubt. And thereafter? Keep taking the medicine, we suspect. The Java aspects of universal plug-and-pray were going to be handled by HP, Ballmer announced, probably with some relief lest Microsoft be congratulated on using the wrong tool for the job, in view of its altercation with Sun. The death of the PC was not on Ballmer's agenda, he noted, contrary to what Business Week had suggested, although he was game (again) for renewing the vision. Five minutes of questions were announced, but only one was answered, and it was said to have been submitted the previous evening. It seemed like a crude piece of stage management to stop embarrassing questions, and to give Ballmer the chance to give a position statement on Linux. We quote the question and answer in full: QUESTION: "And, Mr. Ballmer, what is your opinion about Linux and open source software, from the Microsoft point of view?" BALLMER: "Well, as we've maintained fairly steadfastly, we're in a very competitive environment. And it's good to see people doing innovative work, it keeps us moving forward. I think there's a lot of value to the kind of software that we build, that we test professionally, we work on the installation, we validate the device drivers. "The customer gets an incredible value out of the additional efforts that we put into our software. So I don't think the great attraction to Linux is the fact that it's free. If these new devices require very low price points in order for you to build them, we'll work with you on that. The key thing I think that we're trying to really understand and decide what to do about is this notion of open source. There is a level of flexibility, or at least a level of comfort that people have when they have the source code just in case. "Most CIOs I talk to don't actually want their people to touch the source. "They don't want to introduce new variations, new perturbations, new confusion. Most hardware manufacturers I talk to don't really want a lot of additional software engineering costs in the price of creating a new device. "But, there's a comfort level there, and we're, of course, thinking with great interest about that. We're really studying and talking to customers about their reaction to this source code availability, and as we figure out what that means for us, we'll certainly let people know." No applause was noted at the end of the statement. ®
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Cisco on buying spree again

Networking giant Cisco has bought Fibex Systems and Sentient Networks, paying over $445 million for both. The deal will be accounted for with shares, Fibex Systems getting $310 million and Sentient Networks around $120 million. Both Fibex and Sentient sell high end networking systems to telephone companies. Last year, Cisco bought nine companies but these are the first companies it has bought in 1999. ®
A staffer, 09 1999
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MS denies Win98 part two is paid-for service pack

Microsoft's slender press release on WinHEC has had a footnote added today that is intended to clarify the position about the Windows 98 service pack, and Windows 98 second edition. Microsoft is evidently peeved that the media have come to the conclusion that Windows 98-2ed is primarily a bug fix for which Microsoft will charge. Not so says Microsoft. There will be a bug fix for W98-1ed (which Microsoft calls service pack 1 - SP1 - to address issues with existing features) "in the next few months" as a free download. It will include a Y2K update (despite Gates saying years ago that there were only problems with old iron). It will also have IE 4.01 service pack 2. The new features of W98-2ed will include IE5 ("free forever", but yours for $89 if you live in the USA), as well as Internet connection sharing (presumably an IE5 extension, or should that be "integrated" like the non-integrated IE5 that can be downloaded on a good day with a new moon). Oh yes, W98-2ed will also have SP1, which is free. So there you have it: IE5 has a price, and it's $89. OEMs will pre-load W98-2ed, Microsoft confidently predicts, while existing W98-1ed punters will be able to buy a CD for $19.95, no doubt only if they live in the USA. It is worth investigating what happens if users try to run Office 2000, when it comes out, with Windows 95 (you'll be lucky) or even W98-1ed (you'll need IE5, which is of course in W98-2ed, unless there is a new moon or you've bought the CD somehow). The other conundrum is just what Joachim Kempin meant in his evidence at the Microsoft trial that it would not be an option for Microsoft to charge an annual fee for Windows until 2001. Is there possibly something we haven't been told? ®
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Bart Simpson exposed as Melissa mastermind

Updated Chilling evidence of a connection between a cult cartoon series and the Melissa virus has emerged. The evil genius who brought email systems worldwide to a crunching halt, we can now reveal, may be none other than Bart Simpson. In its Melissa FAQ list CERT offers a tantalising hint: Q: "Are you aware of the connection between the Melissa virus and the television show The Simpsons?" A: "Yes." In true Network Nazi mode, CERT sticks to "I know something you don't know and I'm not telling," and goes no further. But although hackers may not know much about anything except hacking, one thing they do keep on their dance cards is The Simpsons. So over to comp.virus, where it is revealed: "The last five or so lines of code in the Melissa macro are: End If 'WORD/Melissa written by Kwyjibo 'Works in both Word 2000 and Word 97 'Worm? Macro Virus? Word 97 Virus? Word 2000 Virus? You Decide! 'Word -> Email | Word 97 <--> Word 2000 ... it's a new age! If Day(Now) = Minute(Now) Then Selection.TypeText " Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here." End Sub Says our helpful poster: "This is a quote of Bart Simpson. Melissa was the word he used to win a game of scrabble. Makes you wonder if the macro was really named after a stripper." Well of course it wasn't. Hackers don't have time to pick up the name of Bill Gates' wife (it's Melinda, not Melissa, but presumably these virus guys reckon it's close enough) or go out to lapdancing venues, they're very busy people. But they watch The Simpsons. Update Yup, they sure do. Our thanks to Cookie Hound for the following: The entire relevant section of this episode is as follows: Bart: Here we go. Kwyjibo [places his tiles] K-W-Y-J-I-B-O. Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here. [gets up] Homer: [grabs Bart with his left hand, holding a banana in his right] Wait a minute, you little cheater! You're not going anywhere until you tell me what a kwyjibo is. Bart: Kwyjibo. Uh... a big, dumb, balding North American ape. With no chin. Marge: And a short temper. Homer: I'll show you a big, dumb, balding ape! [leaps for Bart] Bart: [making his escape] Uh oh. Kwyjibo on the loose! So there we have it, and now you know. I guess your poster was only half helpful. The Simpsons stuff comes from www.snpp.com/news.html, and if you post a correction, can I possibly have a name-check? The name-check's all yours, Mr Hound, sir. ®
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Chip trade body welcomes Red China, US accord

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said today that it welcomed talks between the US government and Red China which could result in the communist country becoming a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). SIA president George Scalise said: "Our industry would very much like to see China join the WTO when a commercially viable agreement is reached. Such an agreement should increase US exports and help expand China's market for American semiconductor companies. The SIA thinks communist country China will become one of the biggest chip markets in the world. Current value of the market is around eight billion US dollars, the SIA estimates. Tariffs on chips were 20 per cent in 1995 but have now dropped to between six and 10 per cent. Said Scalise: "Continued liberalization of Chinese trade and investment rules wouldfurther permit growth in the Chinese market for semiconductors, to the mutual benefit of U.S. semiconductor producers and the Chinese information technology industry. We highly commend the Administration's efforts and progress and strongly support China's WTO accession on commercially viable terms. While there are still issues to solve, we do believe that this is an important step." Taiwan might think differently. Red China continues at regular periods to rattle its sabre at the island, although it is not in its financial interests to invade. Red China does not have a good record on human rights but the US thinks its market is far too big to ignore for these considerations to count that much. ®
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Sony's anti-emulation action comes to court

Sony has acted to block the release of a second PlayStation emulator, less than a month after failing to get Connectix's Virtual GameStation (VGS) banned. According to a report in MacWeek.com, Sony this week asked a federal judge to prevent Bleem from shipping its eponymous Windows-based emulator. An initial court hearing to weigh up the validity of Sony's demand takes place in San Francisco today. Bleem's case will be strengthened by Sony's failure in a similar blocking action made against Connectix back in February (see PlayStation emulator wins first round against Sony). Sony demanded that Connectix cease shipping VGS pending the company's case against the Mac developer for alleged intellectual property and copyright infringement, and promotion of software piracy. That request was thrown out by the Federal judge. However, on 11 March, Sony achieved a small victory against Connectix's development of a Windows version of VGS. Sony's requested all development be suspended. That demand was rejected, but US District Court Judge Charles Legge did order that what Connectix called "a specific bit of code" could not be used in the development of VGS for Windows. Sony claimed that "specific bit of code" is a part of Sony's PlayStation BIOS, and therefore its claim that Connectix had infringed its copyrights was justified. It hopes to prove that point later today in a preliminary hearing for its main copyright and IP infringement case against Connectix, a hearing which covers both Mac and PC versions of VGS. Connectix maintains that no Sony intellectual property was used on the development of VGS or exists within the software itself. Bleem will be watching the outcome of that hearing closely. Right now, its emulator runs on Windows machines, but the company is preparing a Mac version, due to ship in the second half of the year. It's hoping to outsell VGS by supporting all Power Macs, not just the G3 PowerPC 750-based models that VGS requires. ®
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NASCR races to out-perform FreeServe

An independent computer trade association has launched a subscription-free Net access service it claims has a wideband link to the Web 19 times greater than FreeServe and other similar ISPs. The National Association of Specialist Computer Retailers (NASCR) claims its service will give Net users "one of the best rides ever" and won't be hampered by bottlenecks and other network delays. "This means our customers will be able to get to the sites they want and download data much more quickly without the kind of delays experienced elsewhere," said Bob Ide, technical director of NASCR. "NASCR.NET has been carefully designed by people in the trade who understand the problems faced by Internet users," he said. The service will be launched officially this Sunday at the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham. Free software will be available at NASCR retailers throughout the country from next Monday. ®
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Government seeks last word on cellphone health scares

The Minister for Public Health yesterday ordered an inquiry into health effects of mobile phones, after revelations that they may cause heating of the brain. Tessa Jowell asked The National Radiological Protection Board to set up an independent group to examine the current state of research into the affect of cellphones on human health. In a government statement, Jowell said it would be wrong to ignore the concern due to mounting public worries. "In recent years research interest in the effects of mobile phones has increased. To date there has been no consistent evidence suggesting risk to health but there is continuing public concern about the possibility," she said. According to Jowell, who labelled herself the "champion of public health" in the statement, the public needs clear advice on the use of cellphones. The investigation follows research commissioned from the University of Bristol, released yesterday, which showed mobiles could cause slight warming in the brain (see Official: cellphones won't maim your brain). Jowell said these results, sponsored by the Department of Health, would also be taken into consideration. ®
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Sony president announces Netman digital music player

Sony has confirmed it is developing a Walkman for the Internet era. The new device, dubbed the Netman, has been developed specifically to store and play downloaded digital music files. Speaking at the launch of the Sony's Super Audio CD, company president Nobuyuki Idei said the device will be launched later this year as part of IBM's San Diego-based public trials of its Madison technology. Madison is the first attempt to create a large-scale digital content delivery system that handles not only the download process, but takes in e-commerce transaction processing, rights management and copyright protection (see IBM's Project Madison: the music industry's Manhattan Project?). In fact, Idei specifically said the Netman -- the name is only provisional, he later admitted -- would only be released once a complete copyright protection system was in place. Sony is working on just such a system itself, known as MagicGate (see Sony enters digital music contest with MP3-beater). Other officials, cited by CNN, said the company had decided it will not support the controversial MP3 (MPEG Layer 3) audio format. Idei also said the device would be based on Sony's Memory Stick storage technology, launched late last year. Memory Stick is Sony's bid for a universal Flash storage format to be used in any consumer digital product and even for transferring data between computers. ®
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DRAM makers pin profit hopes on 128Mb production

Far Eastern DRAM makers are accelerating production of 128Mb DRAMs, following recent sharp falls in 64Mb prices. According to the excellent Taiwanese IT pub, Eurotrade, Samsung aims to shift ten million units per month, up from its current production volumes of 1.4 million. Korean rival Hyundai wants to ramp up from 100,000 units a month to between 500,000 and 600,000 from May and 1-1.5 million by the end of July. Recently, Toshiba announced its intention to reduce manufacture of 64MB modules by 90 per cent by December to one million units per month, as it steps up production of 128Mb DRAM. New Pentium IIIs and shipments of Office 2000 is expected to demand for 128Mb DRAMs in the second half of the year. Unit prices of 64Mb DRAMs are currently fluctuating between $8 and $10, according to Eurotrade. It says prices will fall further, when mass production comes onstream from Taiwanese newcomers to the market. So far, prices of 128Mb DRAM are holding steady at $34 --$38. But it is questionable how long this price point can be sustained in the face of such a massive production ramp-up. Continuing DRAM price erosion claimed another manufacturing victim last week, with Matsushita announcing its intention to withdraw from the market. ®
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Moscow government to support Merced killer

Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzko has promised support for the manufacture of Elbrus International's microprocessor, the E2k, dubbed the "Merced killer". Luzkov visited Elbrus with the chiefs of the Russian academy of sciences, and the minister of science and technology of the Moscow government. At the meeting Luzkov, said the Moscow government will support the Elbrus project with product arriving possibly as early as next year. Elbrus claims that the E2k will exceed the speed of Merced by a factor of between three to five times, depending on the application, with half the die size of Merced. According to inventor Boris Babaian, the chip will have full compatibility with existing x86 software. Since 1985, scientists at Elbrus resisted complicated superscalar architecture for the benefit of the command system with direct parallelism at a level of processor instuctions using a principle known as Epic (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing). Binary compilation used by the Elbrus developers is the basis for ensuring compatibility of the software written for other architectures, first of all x86 and IA-64. The fundamentals of the E2k design are protected by a plethora of international patents.The nucleus of the company is a set of professionals who have worked together for over 30 years and who created generations of Russian supercomputers for the Ministry of Defence. The history of Elbrus started in 1978, when the company was the first in the world to develop superscalar architecture, 15 years ahead of the West. ® Andy Fatkullin is an editor at Computerra, a Russian language online news service. See also Exclusive Russian chip scientist Babaian outlines Elbrus futures
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SCSI die-hards release roadmap

The SCSI Trade Association mounted a defensive campaign against Universal Serial Bus and IEE1394/FireWire at WinHEC 99 yesterday as it unveiled its roadmap for the ageing peripheral connection technology. The roadmap projected the development of SCSI over the next four years to the introduction of Ultra 5 SCSI, with its anticipated data transfer rate of 640MBps, in 2003. However, while the Association is working to overcome SCSI's 12m cable length limit, even Ultra 5 will still be restricted to a chain of 16 devices. That contrasts considerably with more recent technologies, specifically FireWire and USB. At WinHEC, Intel was promoting USB 2.0., which it claimed would replace SCSI on the desktop by the second half of next year. Most analysts appear rather less bullish, given FireWire's appeal to the consumer electronics market, but certainly for the majority of peripherals, current USB (let alone version 2.0) will be sufficient, particularly as more computer vendors follow Apple's example and ditch older connection ports, including serial and parallel, as well as SCSI, in favour of a USB and FireWire. That leaves SCSI clinging to the high-end hard drive array market, pushed down by Fibre Channel and shovelled up by FireWire. The Association is betting SCSI's proven stability (clearly these guys have never had to get multi-unit SCSI chains to work...), large installed base and continued speed lead (160MBps for Ultra3 SCSI vs. FireWire's 51MBps) will see it through while necessary technological improvements are developed. Still, with the faster IEEE1394B in development and Fibre Channel hitting 200MBps, the SCSI Trade Association's members will have to work fast to get ahead. ®
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Embarcadero drops direct-only sales strategy

Embarcadero Europe has abandoned its direct-sales only strategy in the UK and Ireland. The database and software tool maker this month got the green light for its first channel programme in Europe. In a statement yesterday, it claimed resellers would net around 30 per cent commission on sales of its products. Embarcadero Europe, a division of US-based Embarcadero Technologies, was offering resellers version 5 of its database administration tool, DBArtisan, its database design and build tool, ER/Studio, and integrated development tool, Rapid SQL. Embarcadero director Terry Rollo said: "While channel revenues and margins are being threatened as a result of moves by many companies towards a more direct sales model, Embarcadero is looking to increase its channel activity." Databases covered by newly released DBArtisan 5 include Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2 and Sybase. It also supports the Tivoli Enterprise framework. ®
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Melissa programmer freed on bail

Alleged cyber desperado David L Smith was hauled into a US courtroom yesterday to face the charge of masterminding the Melissa virus. Smith, a former computer programmer, appeared at Monmouth County Court, Freehold, New Jersey, accused of interruption of public communications, conspiracy and theft of computer services. The Web's most-wanted man was freed on $100,000 bail but is due to face a Grand Jury. Smith faces a maximum four-year jail sentence and $480,000 fine if convicted. He refused to speak to reporters following the 15-minute hearing. The Melissa virus -- believed to be named after a topless dancer in Florida, but really a reference to comedy terrorist Bart Simpson -- has been wreaking havoc on systems, clogging e-mail accounts and disrupting PC networks since March (see earlier story). ®
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Microsoft hints at Windows rental – again

David Cole, Microsoft's VP for Web client and consumer experience (how embarrassing can you get in a job title, especially as he is dubbed the tele-evangelist internally), mostly demonstrated games and leisure activities at the WinHEC conference in Los Angeles. For example, he demonstrated how programming a video recorder could be made even more complicated by time shifting on a PC. Most people use a teenager, although the maintenance tends to be more expensive. Cole did, however, make one most revealing remark when he wasn't playing with the installation of Monster Truck Madness. On a slide, he called the DOS-based Win98-2K "Consumer Windows in 2000", which sounded as bad a name as his job title. He added: "So to meet sort of the consumer cycle, we want to be able to do a release every year, for the consumer, and which is a very retail market-driven kind of thing." Is this another clue that for Microsoft it's just one short step to the annual rental of Windows? That could be described as a Windows tax? There was once a windows tax in the UK, but it didn't last. People found a way around it: they bricked up surplus windows. Could the brand of bricks be Linux? ®
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The AMD K7 story – it's a limited edition

We had a huge set of emails after we wrote our story based on cautionary statements AMD made about the K7 yesterday. Some were abusive, some were querulous but many, if not most of them, were very interesting indeed. SharkyExtreme (see below) says the K7 will arrive in limited quantities in July, not June, and that two tier one OEMs have samples. That makes sense. The very well reasoned argument on SharkyExtreme points out the OEMs are less than happy with the kit they've received, and suggest that it will not perform as well as the Pentium III platform... Oops. The K7 will be available in "limited quantities" in June, AMD insists, so we thought we'd ring the company up and ask them what that meant. At the same time, we thought we'd ask them how many of the high speed K6-IIIs were yet available. The ever patient Robert Stead, European marketing director of AMD, said: "The high end K6-III is shipping in better volumes than it was. Production will ramp throughout the quarter." He refused to say how many, exactly, a question that perhaps shareholders should ask AMD. He said: "It will be true for the K7 too, when it ships in June." We asked him exactly how many K7s will ship, and he refused to tell us that either. But high speed parts will cost more than low speed parts, he said. Meanwhile, SharkyExtreme is reporting that the K7-500 will cost $500 and is this is the same price, more or less, as the K6-III/475, that will make life very interesting indeed. Maybe AMD should call the K7 the K-VII/500 at launch, and leap four Roman numerals. "Everyone loves AMD microprocessors," he said. We said we were a bit agnostic about one kind of processor versus another. At The Register we all learned a long time ago that supporting the underdog is a process fraught with peril. Before you know where you are, the underdog becomes a topdog with similar bullying tactics. What we can't understand here is why this whole AMD-Intel thing has turned into a gladiatoral battle, a sort of soccer match of the x.86 giant and dwarf. After all, a processor is just a bit of refined sand, isn't it? And everyone knows that the microprocessor and the clock speed is just one small part in a much bigger whole. As William Blake put it in his Auguries of Innocence: "To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour." ® RegisTroid 999 William Blake lived four hundred yards from our office in Mayfair and witnessed the Broad (now Broadwick) Street riots when he was a kiddie. His old gaff was knocked down in the early sixties and replaced with a very ugly tower block. His work was considered so radical that it was only available in limited editions, a bit like the high speed K6-III and the K7.
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Fake news fraud powers Pairgain stock

As hoaxes go, the stunt that created a run on the stock price for California-based telecoms company Pairgain Technologies is hardly anything to get worked up about. The only surprise is that such a sting, which was only mildy sophisticated by all accounts, received so much attention in the first place since this kind of thing happens all the time. Already dubbed "the most cunning Internet investing scam yet", the hoaxer went to the trouble of mocking up a Bloomberg news story alleging that Pairgain had agreed to be bought by Israel-based ECI Telecom. The fake news story was posted on a Yahoo! message board but was quickly pulled off when the scam was rumbled shortly after trading opened in New York. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done by then. Despite denials by the companies in question, PairGain's stock price rose from $8.50 to $11 before closing at $9.375. Anyone who traipses around the electronic gossip shops that litter the Net should know the Web is built on a lies and untruths. The US Securities and Exchange Commission, which is investigating this latest hoax, recently nabbed Charles O Huttoe and 12 other defendants who secretly distributed to friends and family nearly 42 million shares of a company called Systems of Excellence Inc. Huttoe then artificially drove up the share price of the company using false press releases claiming it had won non-existent multi-million dollar sales. He also announced non-existent acquisitions and revenue projections that had no basis in reality. The SEC fined Huttoe $12.5 million but he'd already spent most of his cut by the time the SEC caught up with him and he is now doing bird for his crimes. According to one analyst, this type of fraud is known as "ramping" and it's as old as the hills. "Ramping has been going on for centuries, the Internet has just made it easier," said Benjamin Ensor, a business analyst at Fletcher Research. "My advice to investors is to take every piece of information with a hefty piece of salt." Let's just hope this sound hint isn't misinterpreted by some novice investor and lead to a mass buying frenzy of salt companies and condiment manufacturers. ®
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Euro ISP revenues hit all-time high

Mushrooming interest in the Internet is responsible for the fastest growth ever seen in European telecoms market. According to a survey by IDC, European ISPs last year experienced revenue growth of 53 per cent, although the market research company predicts this steep rate of growth will ease slightly this year, to 44 per cent. Even so, IDC believes the European ISP market was worth $4.3 billion in 1998. This high level of growth is in spite of falling prices across Europe and the emergence of lower-cost access methods such as subscription-free services that proved so popular in the UK. "Broadband access is the fastest-growing segment of the Internet access market," added James Eibisch, research manager of IDC's European ISP markets programme. "All European countries will exhibit growth rates near, or over, 100 per cent from 1999 to 2003," he said. From 2002, revenues gained from corporate Internet access will begin to slow down, although the segment will still outgrow nearly all other IT markets, IDC said. The report, European Internet Access Market 1998-2003, predicts that in the Internet services market, any long-term future slowdown from plain access will be more than countered by a high increase in value-added services business such as Web/application hosting, commerce and security. ®
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IBM to offer entire range direct via Web

IBM has confirmed it will sell its entire product range over the Internet from next month. Big Blue is due to unveil the Web site, code-named Project Odyssey, in May. The project, only for the US at present, may swell IBM cybersale coffers to around $15 billion, according to Business Week magazine. The site will target small businesses and consumers. There are no plans as yet to bring it to Europe, according to IBM. IBM is no stranger on the on-line business, currently selling its Aptiva PCs and one ThinkPad laptop through its Web site. Last year it netted over £3 billion through flogging kit over the Internet. ®
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Will Dell buy IBM's PC business?

Analysts are crawling over IBM's loss making PC outfit and are suggesting that Dell will take it over. But that could be a faulty analysis. Certainly the IBM PC people we're talking to are denying it, big time. Nevertheless, there are attractions for the Great Satan of Hardware. It has this humungous OEM agreement with IBM that it signed just a few weeks ago and Dell has this direct model that drives Compaq practically insane with envy. Further, Loot "Boots" Gerstner, IBM's CEO, has more or less washed his hands of the whole PC affair, despite the protestations of the PC division. During one of Britain's more famous sex scandals, the Profumo affair in the early sixties, one of the hookers involved, Mandy Rice-Davies, replied to a UK hack's point that the Minister was denying any involvement with the line. "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" ®
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Dell will ship iMac clone

Dell CEO Michael Dell has confirmed the company will offer a Wintel-based iMac clone. Speaking at a press conference organised to persuade the industry and Wall Street that his company's long run of major revenue growth was finally beginning to slow down, Dell said the machine would ship in the next 12-18 months. Interviewed earlier this year, Dell said the iMac had been a "wake-up call for the PC industry", a line he re-emphasised yesterday. Clearly the product is some way off, but such has been the perceived success of the iMac for Apple, saving the company from extinction, in many observers' eyes, it makes a lot of sense for Dell to use it as allay the fears of Wall Street. It sounds like the right thing to do, and that may well keep share traders happy. This isn't the first time Apple kit has been cloned (in the broadest sense of the term; clearly we're not talking MacOS-based Dells here -- though you never know; if it's offering Linux, why not an alternative desktop OS?). Apple's original PowerBook notebooks proved so popular, they were quickly emulated by Wintel portable vendors the world over. Even the Apple II casing was ripped off for a few early Far Eastern IBM PC compatibles. Apple's problem has been retaining the innovation lead. The second generation of PowerBooks weren't sufficiently far ahead of the new, PowerBook-aping competition to persuade buyers to stick with the more expensive Apple brand. If Dell moves down the iMac road, you can bet the likes of Gateway and Packard-Bell will follow, and that will be a major problem for Apple if it hasn't learned the PowerBook lesson. Fortunately, the company's rapid roll-out of faster, more colourful iMacs (see yesterday's story) suggests that maybe the company is determined not to make past mistakes, but the real test will come when the iDell ships. ®