14th > April > 1999 Archive

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AMD K6-III thrashes Intel on Linux compilation

Hardware site CPU Review has published a set of benchmarks which claims that the Linux kernel compiles 16 per cent faster on an AMD processor than an Intel chip. According to reviewer Bill Henning: "The fastest x86 CPU I've tested to date (April 12, 1999) for kernel compilation is the AMD K6-III/400. While it is priced about 3.8 per cent higher than a Pentium II 400, it is more than 16 per cent faster at compiling the Linux kernel". CPU Review has tested a number of processors at compilation, with the results available here. According to Henning, he has now tested 52 separate chips for Linux compilation. ®
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Motorola shows gains in Q1

US giant Motorola said that its first quarter financial results show that it is returning to profitability in its chip business. Overall, Motorola showed turnover of $7.2 billion, with net profits of $171 million. That represents a five per cent increase in revenues from the same period last year. Net margin on its products was 2.4 per cent. According to chief operating officer Robert Gowney, Motorola sees "continuing improvements in the semiconductor business, which returned to profitability." The following are the 1999 first-quarter results of major operations compared with the first quarter of 1998. In its mobile business, sales rose by eight per cent. Its network system sales rose by five per cent, quarter on quarter, with digital infrastructure sales accounting for 95 per cent of its terrestrial systems turnover. In its chip business, sales were 11 per cent higher, with this division turning in an operating profits of $47 million compared to a loss of $58 million in the same period last year. European orders fell, while orders increased in the Americas, Asia and Japan. The turn round was led by wirleess communications. ®
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Puffajackets get reprieve as Psion Dacom wins big deal

A year ago From The Register No. 73, April 1998 Psion plc subsidiary Psion Dacom is set to strike a massive deal with a major OEM which will mean further re-organisation at the company. Last year, it struck a deal with Dell, exclusively reported here in The Register. The fresh deal freshly follows the rapid departure of David Curl, marketing manager at Dacom, although he is understood by everyone to have left on the best possible of terms. That was reported here two weeks ago. A mole at Psion told The Register last week that a similar deal was on the cards. He said that the Dell deal had changed the way the plc did business and that the board of directors had decided that Psion Dacom was far more important than it had previously thought. No-one from Psion plc was available to comment on speculation that either Compaq or IBM was about to boost its subsidary’s earnings even more. But the mole at Psion told us that the prospect of Psion Dacom being bought was just pure speculation, and that we were drawing too many conjectures and conclusions from Curl’s departure. The mole, by the way, was neither Curl, nor Dacom's PR company, but a senior source still remaining at the plc. * Register PuffaPuffaJacket Fact 1. The lads pictured above were Royal Marines, fitted out with Psion Dacom puffajackets for a trip to the Arctic. However, something went terribly wrong with the trip and they're all back in town. We were unable to find out what went wrong. Were they divebombed by Great Auks? The notebook in the picture is a Toshiba, and not a Dell, a Compaq Amanda, or an IBM ThinkPad. * Register PuffaPuffaJacket Fact 2. One journalist (at least) of our acquaintance has been seen propping up bars wearing a Psion Dacom PuffaPuffaJacket.
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Apple and Intel: the canary pecks back

A flood of emails and articles on the World Wide Web has prompted the Intel engineer that said Apple and Intel are cuddling up to respond to critiques. The engineer, who tipped us off about the story on Sunday, said: "I am a regular reader of Macnn and AppleInsider "The funny thing about the article and the message boards at macnn is that everybody thinks this is completely unreasonable because they wish it to be. "I for one, am happy that Apple is back on its feet, but if it wants to stay competitive over the next 5-10 years, it's going to have to at least tip its hat to iA32/iA64 at some point... Whether PowerPC is better or not (and I think it is), flukes of history have made Intel's chips the dominant ones. (Could it be because IBM kept Intel afloat for most of the mid to late 80s buy buying massive amounts of Intel stock? Ever heard of the 125% solution?) "Be it PPC/Celeron dual-CPU machines or full blown iA64 MacOS X Server, Apple is likely to do the Pentium dance at some point in the near future. Another possibility is to make MacOS X clients PowerPC only in the short term... "All these folks seem to forget that Apple did develop a full blown x86 System 7.1 in the 1994 timeframe, a project that was dubbed 'Star Trek', and Apple was rumored to have been supplied 486 systems courtesy of Intel. "Hell, it's even well known that Steve Jobs and Andy Grove are at least cordial with each other if not friends, as Andy has been quoted more than once that his inspiration for the Intel Architecture Labs (who have produced, among other things, PCI, which is used in both Macs and PCs) came from a visit to Next Computer, courtesy of one Steve Jobs in the early 90's. "A zealot mind is an Orwellian mind, I always say." Zealots and Orwellians (as well as the many sensible people who emailed us) are welcome to post their thoughts on our Message Forum.® See Also Intel works with Apple as PowerPC out on limb Apple to move on Merced
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Dyson sweeps back into ilion faculty top spot

ilion faculty will replace former MD Julia Jones with company old-timer Gary Dyson. Dyson was one of the original co-founders of Persona Group along with Wayne Cannon. He launched the training and services faculty business as part of Persona 10 years ago. Dyson, who left ilion Group in 1992, will rejoin the Chessington, Surrey-based ilion faculty on May 5. He will work alongside Jones for about a week in a hand-over period, according to the company. Dyson said: "My work at faculty was the most enjoyable thing I have ever done, and having performed several different roles during my previous time with the group, I’m really looking forward to getting back to what I consider unfinished business." Jones has resigned from the distributor to move onto an as yet unnamed venture. It is unclear where Dyson has been employed for the past seven years, but he is believed to have returned from Portugal to take up the position at ilion. ®
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Phone war breaks out as One-2-One takes on BT

One-2-One has chopped call rates by up to two-thirds, targetting BT in an all-out price war. Last night’s move saw the mobile phone operator planning to cut off-peak charges to 2p a minute nationwide. This will make it cheaper than BT – which charges 4p per minute for long-distance evening calls. One2One, the UK’s fourth largest cellular phone company, also slashed peak rate tariffs from 30p to 10p per minute. But its £15 monthly charge remains steeper than BT’s. Analysts said the moves, effective at the end of this month, will make One-2-One the cheapest UK network, according to today’s Financial Times. The company, jointly owned by Cable & Wireless and MediaOne, will boast charges 20 per cent lower than rival mobile operators Cellnet, Orange and Vodafone. Orange said it would very likely match the cheap tariffs, but One-2-One said competing with mobile rivals was not behind the decision. "They may follow us in these moves, but our main target is BT," said Tim Samples, One-2-One MD. The company is introducing a flat tariff for contract and pre-paid phone customers alike, and scrapping differences between local and national calls. ®
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Linux camp slashes out at ‘NT beats Linux’ survey

A Microsoft-sponsored test has 'proved' that the combination of Windows NT and Microsoft Internet Information Server outperform Linux and Apache as a Web server, and Linux and Samba as an SMB file server. Unsurprisingly the survey has come under withering (and, it appears, justified) fire from the Linux camp. The test was carried out by Mindcraft, Inc., whose previous greatest hits include providing evidence that supported Microsoft's claims that it was all Apple's fault that Quicktime didn't work with Internet Explorer. The outfit concludes that NT 4.0 is 2.5 times faster than Linux as a file server and 3.7 times faster as a Web server. Presumably this means that an awful lot of customers out there (including The Register, which scores 100 on the Dumbo scale by running Linux and Apache) are just plain stupid. NT isn't exactly the world's Web server of choice, whereas Apache is. Mindcraft's results somewhat cheekily suggest that NT is more scalable than Linux, and show NT's NetBench throughput starting to climb above Linux at 32 users. We could note here that even on Microsoft's figures this indicates that Linux is a more appropriate fileserver for most small businesses than NT, but the Linux people are already pointing out that Mindcraft's Linux installation was maimed. We'd be the last to suggest this was deliberate of course. If it wasn't the case that the installation was effectively crippled, then the results are still difficult to credit. NT is repeatedly criticised for scalability limitations, and Microsoft itself has repeatedly promised scalability improvements for the product. Steve Ballmer himself did so again, just last week, at WinHEC. Here's another little bit of cheek from Mindcraft: "The Linux 2.2.x kernel is not well supported and is still changing rapidly… We started the tests using Red Hat Linux 5.2 but had to upgrade it to the Linux 2.2.2 kernel because its Linux 2.0.36 kernel does not support hardware RAID controllers and SMP at the same time. In addition, there are comments in the Red Hat Linux 5.2 source code noting that the SMP code is effectively Beta-level code and should not be used at the same time as the RAID driver. For this reason, we upgraded to the Linux 2.2.2 kernel, which has full support for both hardware RAID controllers and SMP to be used simultaneously. As of the date this report was written, Red Hat did not ship or support a product based on the Linux 2.2.x kernel." There's certainly some justification for this, but look who's talking. For inexperienced users it's probably reasonable to say that the installation of a large-scale Linux server system supporting both RAID and SMP is non-trivial, and this isn't helped by the fact that Linux is very much a moving target. But an inexperienced user who tries to do this, rather than hiring experienced Linux support that knows what it's doing, is a maniac. A user without serious NT experience trying to do so is the same. In support of its case, Mindcraft lists six Linux kernel updates so far this year. We know from the Halloween papers that Microsoft really sees this development momentum as a massive advantage for Linux, so flipping it on its head in this way is cynicism of heroic proportions. There is of course absolutely no danger that NT users will be threatened by anything like this rate of change - mind you, those NT service packs just seem to keep coming. The main challenge to the Mindcraft report however comes at the technical level. According to the Linux Weekly News critique: "no adjustments were made to the 'bdflush' and 'file system cache size' parameters supported by the 2.2 kernel," possibly accounting for a factor of two performance improvement in Samba, which was used for the fileserver test, when these are set correctly. The survey also used Windows clients rather than NT - Windows clients will tend to drive the results in favour of NT, while NT clients go better with Samba. LWN continues: "Their Samba configuration sets the widelinks parameter to 'no'. This setting increases the system call overhead for file name lookups considerably. The penalty is especially severe on SMP systems. "Their Apache configuration disables KeepAlive, an important real-world optimisation. (It has been pointed out that the tests do not use KeepAlive in any case). The Apache configuration is also not suited to large loads. It initially starts 10 servers, and MinSpareServers is set to 1. In particular, quick response to sudden, heavy loads will be reduced by this configuration. It is not an 'enterprise' configuration." Eric Green at Slashdot meanwhile points out that the system was probably running out of file handles, and that increasing them would improve performance, while there's also a possibility that running both systems on the same disk (which was the case with the test) would give whichever system was on the outer part of the disk a 1.5-2 times transfer rate advantage. Mindcraft's claims that it searched for support in newsgroups have also been questioned. According to Samba project member Jeremy Allison: "I just did searches on DejaNews in comp.protocols.smb, the samba mailing lists and also in the samba-bugs Jitterbug database (isn't it nice that we keep records of all email we get :-) looking for a request for help from Mindcraft with respect to their benchmark tests. Or even *any* email from Mindcraft. The only Mindcraft references I found were discussions of their previous benchmark trashing Syntax running on Solaris when benchmarked against Windows NT." Register reader Luca Lizzeri however suggests Mindcraft may have sought support under the pseudonym will@whistlingfish.net, but now tells us his eariler suggestion that peter@flyingsaucer.org is a possible ringer was a joke. Great domain name anyway, Peter... ®
The Register breaking news

Microsoft launches MP3 killer

Microsoft last night launched itself into the digital music arena with the long-awaited unveiling of Windows Media Technologies 4.0 (WMT), which the company has just made available in beta form on its Web site. At the core of WMT is the MSAudio compression scheme, which the company claims generates files half the size of those produced by MPEG 1 Audio Layer 3 (aka MP3). It's interesting to note that Microsoft has gone back on its earlier claim that MSAudio offered superior sound quality to MP3 -- now it's merely "equivalent quality", confirming reports from Register readers who have already tried the software. Still, in the usual Microsoft 'have cake, will eat' way, the Great Satan of Software cunning pulled out a report from the National Software Testing Laboratories which handily reported that 71 per cent of subjects sat down in front of a PC found MSAudio files sounded better than MP3s when compared with the original audio track, and 81 per cent reckoned it sounded better than RealNetworks' RealAudio G2 format. Of course, "a multimedia PC" in and "office environment" is hardly a sound basis for genuine audiophile testing, and we're forced to wonder why a software testing company was used instead of a hi-fi specialist. Backing up WMT is a new version of the ubiquitous Windows Media Player, which will handle not only the new compression scheme, but WMT's enhanced audio and video streaming technologies. It's notable that Microsoft didn't make too big a deal of these beyond claiming the streamed audio offers "FM Stereo quality", which isn't as precise as it sounds. Real's G2 and the upcoming QuickTime 4.0, which adds MP3 playback and streaming support, don't have much to fear from Microsoft's offering. Windows Media Rights Manager brings to WMT tools for content publishers to determine what kind of licence users have been granted when they download a music track. It all sounds pretty flexible but it has a sinister dimension. Microsoft is clearly attempting to treat music in the same way it treats software: we own, we're just letting you use it for a while. Licensing music rather than selling a copy of it, as is currently the case with CDs, isn't likely to win much support among serious music fans, and may well act contrary to US law such as The Home Recording Act. This permits the user the right to copy music tracks for personal use. This may be impossible in Microsoft's system, which seeks to prevent copyright infringement by preventing duplication rather than by taking legal action against those who make illegal copies. Microsoft is essentially assuming guilt before innocence. De Rigueur for a major IT industry launch is a heap of companies pledging to support the new technology, and WMT was no exception. Support came predominantly from Web-based content providers (Excite, Bloomberg, broadcast.com, CNN, Fox and so on) ambassadors from the music industry were few, just a handful of independent labels -- the lack of a 'big five' presence was telling. Cleverly -- or not so cleverly, since we spotted it -- Microsoft's list of WMT backers was extended by counting some companies more than once. Still, support is likely to grow as WMT moves out of beta testing and Microsoft begins to shower the Net with Windows Media Player 4.0. It's that ubiquity that's going to make life difficult for the likes of RealNetworks, much as earlier Microsoft moves made things difficult for Netscape. Nevertheless, Microsoft made no statements about taking WMT cross platform, so that still leaves other OSes to Real. RealNetworks is the main target here, since it's clearly streamed content that Microsoft is most interested in offering. A separate announcement, made with Reciprocal, the digital rights specialist Microsoft recently gave $15 million and whose rights management system provides the basis for WMT, stated that Microsoft is "looking forward to working with the [music] industry's Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) to further define requirements for software systems that will make high-quality music accessible over the Internet". Still, that's likely to be more Reciprocal's line than Microsoft's, and it will be interesting to see when -- or, indeed, if -- Microsoft supports the SDMI's proposals. ® See also a2b unveils latest digital music player, format RealNetworks buys Xing MP3 technology RealNetworks backs IBM digital music system Sony president announces Netman digital music player
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Seagate Q3 profits up

Hard drive manufacturer Seagate continued to distance itself from last year's financial turmoil with its latest quarterly results, posted yesterday. The company posted a profit of $82 million for Q3 1999, ended 2 April, after taking a $60 million hit for the closure of its plant in Livingston, Scotland. This time last year, Seagate reported it had lost $129 million, largely thanks to major restructuring charges. Last quarter, Seagate made $104 million, so but for the $60 million restructuring charge, the company is clearly becoming healthier. Revenues for the 1999 third quarter were up 7.7 per cent on the same period last year, reaching $1.81 billion from $1.68 billion. Seagate president Steve Luczo said he was generally pleased with the results -- "I think we're pretty far down the road to recovery," he said -- but warned that upcoming changes in the company's US accounting procedures would hit its reported revenue next quarter. The changes will prevent Seagate from recognising revenue until product has been sold by its North American distributors. ®
The Register breaking news

Gates: ‘store your digital life records on the Internet’

Bill Gates displayed his famous tin ear once again when, on donating $20 million to Massachusetts Institute of Technology he announced that in the future people will store their "digital life records" on the Internet. We presume that's version 1.0 of this particular claim, as in recent times Microsoft's performance has led us to believe that it should read 'in the future Microsoft will collect and store people's digital life records via the Internet.' Bearing in mind that we need to cater for Register readers who keep telling us we're far too hard on Microsoft around these parts (they account for approximately 0.1 per cent of our fan mail) we should justify that. Note first that Microsoft has progressively tightened up the Windows installation and registration procedure, making it more online and more compulsory as it goes along. Note also that this data now goes via Microsoft (this is compulsory in the most recent versions of the OEM licences), that Microsoft has been caught swiping information it hasn't asked for a couple of times, and that the sole publicised major innovation for Windows 98 Second Edition (see yesterday's news) is an "improvement of the initial out-of-box experience." This is Redmond code for screwing the registration process down tighter again. And finally -- for the moment, anyway -- note that the new-look peripatetic visionary Gates was last year promising OS innovations that would integrate database functionality and position Microsoft as a giant storage and backup repository for use across the Web. Bill wants your digital life records, unquestionably, and if he gets your DNA structures as well the only thing that'll save you is the increasing length of Microsoft development cycles. But enough of Nostrodamus for today. Bill's $20 million is going towards a new Gates Building for the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, and Bill has also thoughtfully donated the blueprints for his (surely his and Paul Allen's -- ed) Altair Basic to MIT's Time Capsule of Innovations. The Time Capsule, it says here, contains 57 (do we detect Heinz sponsorship?) innovations in the field of computer science, and will be in the Boston Museum of Science for the next two years. And here's the best bit. The Time Capsule is shaped like a paper bag made out of lead, and they're going to put stuff in it for the next 35 years. We begin to wonder how big MIT's surrealistic concept budget is... ®
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Palm widens scope for cloners

Palm Computing president Robin Abrams this week restated the company's plan to license the PalmOS platform to third-parties, but this time the message came with a clear change: the current licensing regime is far wider than the one set in place six months ago by then acting general manager Janice Roberts. Palm's original licensing model was a pretty tight affair, designed to attract Palm cloners to markets Palm itself isn't active in. The company's favourite example was Handspring, the business formed by Palm co-founders Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins to create a PalmOS-based handheld for consumer and education markets (see Palm founders drop hints about Handspring handheld). Now, said Abrams, speaking at the Demo Mobile 99 conference in San Diego, "broad licensing is critical" and went on to predict Palm clones appearing "six to nine months" down the line. After taking over the 3Com subsidiary, Abrams split the company into separate hardware and software business units, clearly paving the way for the kind of broad licensing programme she has in mind since it ensures the company shouldn't be dragged down as a whole if the hardware side is hit hard by competing Palm clones. Abrams didn't say who would be cloning the Palm, but the rumour mill continues to favour Apple, which has been working closely with Palm ever since interim CEO Steve Jobs tried to buy the company off 3Com. Apple brings to the deal its Newton technology, killed off by Jobs, and wireless networking expertise, some of which may already have found its way into the upcoming Palm VII. ® See also Palm to hit 60 per cent share by 2003
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Gung-ho US lawyers attack German Web man over holiday picture

Heavy-handed lawyers in the UK and US have forced a leading German software developer to close his Web site over a copyright dispute despite admitting that some of the allegations were false. Lawyers acting for IPIX (Interactive Pictures Corporation) have until this afternoon to substantiate the charges and submit evidence of any wrongdoing. If not, Helmut Dersch who owns the site, will re-open the disputed home page -- after he shut it down voluntarily last week – before contacting lawyers to discuss what action he can take against IPIX. In a strongly worded statement issued yesterday, Dersch told the photographic software company that it had five days to examine his site for any alleged breaches of copyrights, patents, or other rights. "If I do not hear from you by [this afternoon], and receive no satisfactory explanations, I assume there are no rights of yours violated, and I will reopen my site again," he said. And in a bizarre twist, once IPIX realised that Dersch was an expert in the field of imaging and virtual reality it tried to make up for its mistake in the most spectacular example of back-tracking seen in a long time. In a letter from IPIX's US lawyers, the company said: "We do not see why you and IPIX could not share information, enabling you and your Web communicants to benefit from this burgeoning technology. "Indeed, one of IPIX's engineers is eager to meet face to face with you to discuss the potential for mutual benefits." But IPIX's attempt to kiss and make up has just angered Dersch still further and he is livid at way he's been treated. "You have hurt me and my family," he told IPIX's lawyers. “You have caused, as you phrased it, ‘unquantifiable damage’ - you know better than I that your previous actions constitute criminal offences, at least here in Germany. I will soon find out how laws in your countries regulate these matters etc." The dispute arose after IPIX claimed that it "owned" a photograph of the Grand Canyon and its format that appeared on Dersch's site. It subsequently retracted the allegation concerning the photograph -- apparently, it was taken by Dersch while on holiday and the picture even has his shadow in it -- but maintains that it was recreated on the site using IPIX copyright protected format, allegations stringently denied by Dersch. Janson Harrison of IPIX in the UK conveniently ducked the issue insisting that all enquiries were being handled by IPIX VP Ed Lewis, in the US. Mr Lewis was unavailable for comment. ®
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Microsoft qualifications make your staff more attractive

Training Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) gives huge returns on investment, but may lead to your staff being poached, according to IDC research. Today’s report, presented at a London press conference, showed businesses training employees to MCP status raised their productivity while cutting PC failure by 50 per cent. IDC’s survey of 203 IS managers in the UK, Germany and France revealed a return on investment at four times the initial training costs. Findings in the research – which was commissioned by Microsoft - showed costs of $4,263 to certify one employee in the UK, $6,204 in Germany and $8,402 in France. Overall, server downtime outlay decreased 57 per cent, at around £138,000 per year with qualified staff compared to £321,000 without. Help desks also increased in efficiency – support calls costs were cut by 25 per cent, with productivity jumping from seven to 10 calls an hour per employee. IDC senior analyst Harald Himsel described the certification as "a preferred must." However, he admitted companies may lose employees once they had trained them. "Although money is not everything - on the contrary, certification is one of the means of keeping people - there is no conclusive evidence that it enhances staff retention." Microsoft skills and services development manager David Burrows told journalists that many corporations did not understand the value of getting training certificates. Many preferred to dig deeper into their pockets and hire already skilled freelance IT professionals rather than invest in training their own people, he said. "The general problem is that once people are trained, they are more attractive. If companies don’t offer pay rises or promotion, they lose the staff they have invested in," said Burrows. He added that he would like to see more long-term planning by management for its workforce. Burrows also commented on the general IT skills shortage, talking of the "untapped market" in the armed forces. In less than a year, Microsoft has brought 25,000 such employees into the US market. According to Burrows, this was something the company was "planning to replicate in the UK". ®
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Pfeiffer very unhappy about Intel Merced

Our stringer at Compaq Innovate said today that Eckhard Pfeiffer, CEO of the company, refused to demonstrate the Intel Merced emulator. Instead, Pfeiffer demoed Windows NT64 on the Alpha platform, while blatantly snubbing Merced IA-64 solutions, as predicted here. Pfeiffer, forced to demonstrate an emulation Merced platform at Winhec last week, chose the four CPU Alpha path at Innovate, our reporter said. Said our reporter, who chose not to be named: "Compaq reprised the April 7 WinHEC 99 demo with the same hardware and software used last week in Los Angeles. The hardware consisted of a 4-CPU AlphaServer 4100 with 7GB of memory; the software was 64-bit Windows 2000 with 64-bit SQL Server. "Compaq ran the same SQL query used in last week's demo with the same results: a SQL query that took ~11 minutes on 32-bit SQL Server completed in ~30 seconds on the 63-bit instantiation." He added: " Last week's demo took place in a carefully controlled environment: Steve Ballmer was the only person who had direct acess to the demo system. Here at Innovate 99 in Houston, security restrictions were a bit more lax. The 64-bit OS has the same look and feel as the Beta 3 release of 32-bit Windows 2000 we run in our home office... it just runs WAY faster." ®