UpdatedConfusion now surrounds a law suit Intel took against chipset manufacturer and chief rival Via Technologies. The federal action was filed against the Taiwanese company in the US on the 28th of April last. Sean Davidson, a marketing executive from Via in Taiwan, has emailed us since we first filed the story early yesterday, to say: "There are no details from this end other than to say that it appears that the supposed lawsuit was the result of a misunderstanding from one of their legal counsels. "Intel did contact our US office to clarify the mistake and apologise for the inconvenience. According to our US office, as soon as the mistake became public Intel filed dismissal of the suit. Other than that VIA has no public statement on this matter," said Davidson. So it appears that Intel sues people by mistake... According to US wire Semiconductor Business News, following up our story, the law suit is being held "in abeyance" and filing it last week was an error. It may re-file the suit. The "mistake" concerns chipset support for Slot One technology. Next time, if there is a next time, the suit might be filed "on purpose". At the same time, Motorola and Intel appear to have settled their differences, following an allegation that the latter had stolen trade secrets from Motorola. (See original story: Motorola legals Intel) That case centred around an allegation by Motorola that Intel had gained access to PowerPC secrets after it poached staff from its Somerset, Austin, facility. Details of Intel's action against Via are scanty. Today is a bank holiday in the UK and public relations staff were not available for comment. The Taiwanese chip firm has crossed swords with Intel before. And, over the course of this year, Via has caused considerable headaches for Intel because of its support for the PC-133 and later PC-266 memory standards, which the chip giant has re-iterated it will never support, despite problems with Rambus. In early April, Via and S3 patched together a strategic agreement to cooperate on graphics chipsets. This also antagonised Intel, which viewed S3 as its close partner. Neither Motorola nor Intel would reveal details of their settlement. ®
An article posted on The Register last weekend has highlighted the hype mill in the industry over future K7 performance. After we posted comparisons between the K7/500 and the Pentium III, allegedly from an Acer engineer, we contacted AMD for clarification on performance. Our story drew an unprecedented number of readers but many cast doubt on the veracity of the figures. Now, we have received a response from an executive at AMD US, which will only add fuel to that fire. Said Drew Prairie, a marketing and communications executive: "Any supposed "leaked" benchmarks would be rumor or speculation -- something I can't comment on officially. When we release official benchmarks, I'll make sure the numbers are sent to you." The statement is set to increase anticipation in the market place. Intel engineers have stated that they are "disappointed" so far by figures they have heard. So it seems we're going to have to take the old route to news stories and contact PC customers of AMD which do have samples. Await an update. Meanwhile, Ace's Hardware Page has written an article about the K7 in the enterprise, which follows up on our own analysis posted yesterday. Newer readers to The Register might also like to take a look at this story we published in January, which has slides outlining the AMD K7's part in the Alpha scheme of things. (Story: Samsung Linux plans emerge as Alpha and K7 take shape) ®
One of Dell’s key service partners, Wang, has been bought by Dutch services giant Getronics. The deal is worth around $1.36 billion, with the combined company worth an estimated $5 billion. Wang is the world’s number five IT services company and this deal saw its shares valued at more than 14 per cent more than the closing market price yesterday. Getronics is paying $29.25 per share for the 46.7 million outstanding Wang common shares. Despite its size, things haven’t always gone smoothly for Wang - in 1992 it filed for bankruptcy. It now has a turnover of around $3 billion and employs 20,000 people. The company pointed to falling demand for its wordprocessor machines as a reason for its struggle to survive in the early 90s. It got out of hardware manufacture to concentrate on services. ®
A year agoFrom The Register No. 75, May 1998 A US market research organisation has slammed the quality of Compaq notebooks and claims Dell is now challenging IBM as the top mobile vendor. Technology Business Research (TBR) monitors corporate satisfaction with IT equipment and has released a quarterly report on the market. It surveyed over 200 US corporate buyers of notebooks, representing an installed base of two million desktops, servers and notebooks. It shows that general satisfaction in the corporate marketplace over notebook reliability, technical support, repair time and global services has fallen. According to its latest survey, IBM continues to lead in customer satisfaction and loyalty but Dell is catching up with Big Blue. Customers using ThinkPads scored IBM "significantly higher" than its competition, claimed TBR, with the exception of total cost of ownership (TCO), volume discounts and delivery times. IBM also gained customer satisfaction points for reliability and durability. Dell too, improved its position compared to the previous quarter surveyed, "significantly" said TBR, in TCO, delivery and reliability. Dell holds the same position for customer loyalty, a whole eight points ahead of Compaq’s loyalty ratings and 11 per cent above Toshiba. According to the survey, there is more and more evidence that Dell is cutting into the corporate notebook market. But the survey held glum news for Compaq. According to the survey, its customer satisfaction scores declined substantially quarter on quarter, particularly in the service arena. Other complains were about product design, price/performance, repair time, overall hardware quality and technical support response. According to TBR, a large 44 per cent of corporate customers who had switched from one vendor to another dumped Compaq, blaming poor service, poor reliability and pricing. Toshiba maintained a more or less stable picture but improved on reliable deliveries. However, price/performance issues continue to represent one of Toshiba’s weaknesses in the sector. ®
The departure of Eckhard Pfeiffer as CEO of Compaq two weeks ago could spell a sea change in the company's chip strategy. Pfeiffer, a long-time fan of Alpha technology, promoted the platform vigorously during his reign at Compaq. But strife between two networking divisions -- one from the old Digital guard and the other from the old Compaq guard -- helped cause his downfall.
MS RemediesSpeaking at Ralph Nader's Microsoft remedies conference, Jean Louis Gassee, CEO of Be (a developer of an alternative operating system to Windows), started by praising Microsoft for its achievements, but went on to add that "power corrupts, and monopoly power corrupts absolutely". Although Microsoft claims it wants to innovate, in reality it wants to prevent innovation, to protect its monopoly position, he said. Microsoft is bringing about the Balkanisation of Windows. Gassee criticised Microsoft's licensing practices for Windows, where optimal prices could only be obtained by OEMs (through rebates) if the OEM did not displease Microsoft in any way, such as by installing competitive software. Gassee said he had seen grown men quake when threatened by Microsoft. Microsoft was a monopoly, Gassee said, but for PC OEMs, if Microsoft said a thumb pointing down was pointing up, so be it. Microsoft's strategy, Gassee noted, was one of "no crack in the wall", lest the water get in and begins to weaken it. Turning to his own operating system, Gassee said that it took less time to launch BeOS (18 seconds) than to launch Outlook Express (30 seconds), so switching operating systems in a dual boot arrangement was realistic. As for browser integration, Gassee thought that the argument was "passee, as you say in English". What Microsoft had done recently was to add a new wing to the Roach Motel: file formats. "Windows begat Internet Explorer; Explorer begat a dialect of HTML, which is proprietary to Microsoft, so if your server does not speak that dialect of HTML, there's a problem". With Office 2000, the file format is also a variety of HTML -- another way for Microsoft to control standards. Gassee noted in an aside that French academics complain that Americans exert control through three tokens: the language (at least, the American variety of it); Walt Disney; and the almighty dollar. So far as remedies were concerned, Gassee suggested that Microsoft's OEM contract prices should not be secret. He added that if Microsoft was forced to form Baby Bills, he would buy Microsoft stock. There will be a need for regulation, Gassee concluded. In the opinion of Ed Black, President of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, Microsoft did not accidentally stray over antitrust boundaries: it was wilfully planned by senior executives, permeated the highest levels, and Microsoft's conduct was flagrantly illegal. He thought it to be important that any remedy ensured that Microsoft did not have to be taken to court again and again by the DoJ. Black thought it to be important that detailed conduct remedies must address the problems systematically, and that Microsoft was unlikely to alter its present behaviour patterns. The endgame should be not just to hurt Microsoft, but to create a dynamic industry with open standards, and not distorted by monopoly. Ted Johnson, co-founder and vp of Visio, was another Microsoft-proposed speaker. Bravely, he had even developed software for Windows 1.0. He thought that it was inappropriate to be discussing remedies before a guilty verdict, and presented a mock court order that would isolate the operation of Microsoft products from all other products: "a Microsoft OS can only run Microsoft applications" or "Microsoft servers can only serve web sites approved by Microsoft", for example. The irony, missed by Johnson, was that this was Microsoft policy: to develop a Microsoft-only world. There is an increasing number of Microsoft products where interoperation is deliberately made impossible. He also observed that the hot standards were Internet ones, and that these were being developed with support from Microsoft through W3C [but he seemed to rely on not being challenged about what Microsoft was doing to subvert the process, all in the name of "driving the standard"]. In the miscellaneous facts department, Johnson noted that the documentation for Windows 2000 would consist of a stack of paper 125 feet high. Johnson managed to negate an argument from Lebowitz, since he said that the cost of supporting Windows 3.x, where Microsoft was competing with itself rather than operating in a court-imposed regime, was higher than Lebowitz had suggested. ®
MS RemediesA deposition from senior Microsoft employee Phil Barrett contained the admission that the "integration" in Windows 95 could be likened to using "bubble gum and bailing wire", according to a lawyer speaking at the Nader Microsoft Remedies conference. Giving an update on progress in the Caldera case, Steve Hill of Snow, Christensen & Martineau demonstrated some major discrepancies in the various explanations that Microsoft had used in an attempt to explain away its actions. Hill characterised one of Microsoft's problems as being "cultural incivility", and observed that there is a need for good faith on both sides - but this is like asking a fox to be friends with some chickens. Microsoft's PR had characterised Caldera's filings as taking snippets out of context. Yet when Caldera filed the complete Microsoft depositions, Microsoft had objected to this as well. Clearly, things are not looking well for Microsoft in Salt Lake City where the trial will be held next year. Hill drew attention to the negotiations between Vobis and Microsoft, after Vobis (then dubbed "the Compaq of Europe") had decided to use DR-DOS instead of MS-DOS. Microsoft offered Windows to Vobis for $35, but it would only be $26 for MS-DOS and Windows (with $9 of this being for MS-DOS). The licence would be a per-processor licence, with a minimum commitment. For a time, Vobis decided to offer customers a choice of DR-DOS or Microsoft-DOS. What Microsoft did not know - and what made Gates absolutely furious - was that Vobis had prepaid for copies of DR-DOS, so when Vobis finally gave in to Microsoft's financial blackmail, Joachim Kempin had to agree to pay $50,000 to buy the remaining copies of DR-DOS. This transaction was disguised as a credit in the accounts. Documents relating to some of these matters were destroyed deliberately by Microsoft's country manager, Hill alleged. After Microsoft had finally made Vobis a DR-DOS free zone, Microsoft doubled the price for DOS when the contract was renewed. Caldera was hoping to get injunctive relief against Microsoft, Hill said. The findings of law and the conclusions of fact could be used by other litigants [which is not the situation with the DoJ case]. During the Washington trial, the statute of limitations is suspended, so that grievances older than five years can be brought to court. If Caldera is successful, as now seems likely, Microsoft will be able to look forward to many more fun years in court. ®
MS RemediesThe lawyers speaking at Ralph Nader's Which Remedies? meeting had a better grasp of the situation than the economists, but those from a traditional antitrust law background did not seem to appreciate just haw obdurate a company Microsoft would be in compliance, or even if it were split. Those like Gary Reback who had crossed swords with Microsoft in court were in a better position to appreciate what could work. Glenn Manishin of Blumenfeld and Cohen (and author of the SIIA remedies document) explained why he considered structural relief preferable to conduct remedies. The latter left serious risks for enforcement, as well as the interpretation of the scope and definition of any consent decree [as has been seen already]. There is inconsistency in the use of terms like horizontal and vertical splitting of Microsoft and its products. Horizontal splitting is mostly used to describe remedies where initial line drawing is required to split operating systems from applications and content. It has already been seen how Microsoft has been able to play with the boundary between the OS and application with the "integration" of IE into Windows. One of the undesirable results of such horizontal splitting would be to leave Microsoft with OS monopoly pricing power, and the potential to return to its old ways. Vertical splitting seems generally to mean dividing Microsoft into Baby Bills. Manishin saw this as a clean mechanism for eliminating anticompetitive incentives, and avoiding intrusive government oversight. With so-called vertical divestiture, there is no need for judicial line drawing or product definition. Manishin thought that the risk of OS fragmentation was largely illusory and would be offset by new compatibility-enhancing products. He was not concerned at the complexity of the employee and stock-splitting issues. If there was one thing that united all present at the meeting, it was that the government should not be involved in technical line drawing. Microsoft has deliberately mischaracterised this as the government designing software, of course. It seems that in the ongoing secret discussions between Microsoft and the DoJ (which cannot really be regarded as negotiations, in view of Microsoft's intransigent attitude), Microsoft is only willing to concede some minor conduct remedies which would not eliminate any of the seriously anticompetitive practices. There was also much cynicism as to whether the court could prove to be effective in the detailed supervision of Microsoft's conduct, so that conduct remedies were not generally favoured by those present. Essential facility arguments were mentioned, but not examined in detail. Manishin said that reasonable and un- discriminatory access to the essential facility was needed, but someone has to determine what is reasonable. Gary Reback of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati has proved himself to be a formidable legal opponent of Microsoft on several previous occasions. He noted that there was concern amongst Microsoft acolytes that Microsoft had done such a poor job of presenting its case. Reback's response was: "That's the truth: that what you see in court is the true Microsoft ... There's no surprise about that." Reback thought that the best remedy would be one that did not require judicial monitoring. It was widely admitted that the DoJ did not do a good job of monitoring, since it is not a regulatory agency, but is a law enforcement group. Consequently, monitoring consent decrees is not high on its agenda. The business conduct remedy ("thou shalt not ...") would bring all manner of problems, Reback considered. "Thou shalt not bundle" would not work, he said, noting that the same week Microsoft claimed to be having settlement talks with the DoJ, it announced it would bundle its media player with Windows. If the remedy does not address such issues, what is the point of the trial, he asked. Source code licensing would create problems, since if compatible versions of Windows were produced, they would be playing catch-up all the time, and wouldn't do very well because nobody is prepared to build a business around them. Nor would MIS directors be willing to stake their companies on them. This argument by Reback is of course the answer to Lebowitz' theoretical excursion into the economics of more versions of Windows. In theoretical mode, Reback said that so far as the cost of competition was concerned, if it were true that the additional costs of breaking up Microsoft might result in 6 per cent higher costs, as Lebowitz had suggested, it should also be born in mind that there are enormous costs in trying to keep up with Microsoft's products. Reback thought it worth 6 per cent to have competition. In addition, the cost of maintaining Windows 9x and NT compatibility was high for users. Game, set, and match to Reback. The cost of the Microsoft monopoly was very great: trying to keep up with Microsoft's products, with Microsoft adding and then subtracting APIs during development. Reback suggested that the goals should be: to liberate the OEM channel (freedom to bundle by the OEM); unbundling relief (to stop what happened to Netscape from happening again); access to information (so that Microsoft cannot prevent others from producing software to run on Windows, or benefit from undisclosed calls for example); proscription on acquisitions, for a period of time (to prevent Microsoft buying, for example, the number four player, and putting numbers one to three out of business). Microsoft had made it very difficult for hardware manufacturers to make new equipment work with Windows, since the manufacturer is beholden to Microsoft for an API. Microsoft should not have the right to decide what is developed - basis of capitalist model: that's what capitalism is. Joe Simons of law firm Rogers & Wells noted that bad remedies can be worse than not bringing a case at all, since the miscreant sees it has got away with it, and becomes even more anti-competitive. He noted that Microsoft is apparently willing to agree to a consent decree containing some conduct issues, but was not willing to give up its power to "innovate" [which seems to be synonymous with "monopolise"], nor would it accept any break-up of the company. It was appropriate to talk now about the remedies needed, since there could be a consent decree at any time. Judge Sporkin received hardly a mention at the meeting. [Sporkin had opposed the first Microsoft consent decree, since in his view it was too narrow, but he was overruled by the Court of Appeals. Should there be a consent decree again, it is likely that there would be many responses during the Tunney Act period when there is an opportunity for public comment. The Court of Appeals in DC is a very political court that has shown itself to be opposed to antitrust law. It ignored the provisions of the Tunney Act that were designed to stop cosy deals between the DoJ and a miscreant when it overruled Judge Sporkin on spurious grounds. However, this time around, if there is a consent decree, it is less likely that the court could get away with the same trick, without there being blood on the streets of Washington.] Simons noted that most large companies have antitrust compliance programmes, but it had emerged during the trial that Microsoft had no such programme. The problem that Microsoft presented was that there was not just a disagreement about the law: Microsoft would not accept the court's result, as had been previously evidenced when Gates said that the consent decree would change nothing at Microsoft. Microsoft had flagrantly (and contemptuously) provided copies of Windows without IE that would not work, when it had been shown that it was possible to remove IE functionality from the so-called integrated product. ®
MS RemediesRalph Nader, the legendary American consumer activist who came to fame in the 1960s for declaring war on General Motors and winning, has turned his attention to Microsoft's business practices. Nader's Which Remedies? meeting in Washington on Friday was the second in the Appraising Microsoft series that Nader had sponsored (the first was in November 1997). Microsoft had been invited to co-sponsor the meeting and to provide half the speakers, but had again declined to do so, although some speakers who reflected Microsoft's viewpoint had been suggested by Microsoft, and they accepted invitations to speak. The purpose of the meeting, at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, was to discuss appropriate remedies for dealing with Microsoft, should Judge Jackson find for the DoJ. Four groups expressed their views as to what remedies should be imposed on Microsoft: consumer advocates, economists, lawyers, and the industry players. A constant problem was any lack of agreement on terminology, so that, for example, when the breaking up of Microsoft into separate companies was discussed, this was variously referred to as creating Baby Bills, structural remedies, and vertical breaking. It proved easier to get general agreement about the goals for dealing with Microsoft than the means by which this could be achieved. Remedies directed specifically against Gates did not find much support. The more general feeling was that it was necessary to remove the ability of Gates to be able to use market power illegally. There was only one mention of decapitation as a solution, but a long-term ban, as in securities cases, on Microsoft conducting certain business practices, such as acquisitions, was thought to be appropriate. It was perhaps surprising that although the open source software (OSS) movement had gained a great deal of momentum, most speakers did not appear to have analysed in any detail how this might impact possible remedies for dealing with Microsoft. A practical aspect of getting to grips with Windows source code, as has been suggested if Windows were judicially declared to be an essential facility, was its formidable size. Unfortunately Richard Stallman, the originator of the GNU licence and viewed by many as the founder of the open source software movement, was unable to be present because he was in Australia. But there is a need for an OSS/Linux view to be taken into account during the formalisation of any proposed outcome. If there was any agreement, it seemed to be a common desire that the government should not be involved in technical line-drawing to define product boundaries: the judicial hacking of Windows was not on. There was also much cynicism as to whether the court could prove effective in the detailed supervision of Microsoft's conduct, and conduct remedies were not generally favoured by those present. The turnaround over the last 18 months was marked - the controversialists are now the Microsoft supporters, rather than those who considered that Microsoft's market power should be reduced. There was no agreement about whether IE should be unbundled, with some thinking it too late, and others believing that unbundling remedies were appropriate. Bundling was seen as a way by which Microsoft maintains its monopoly and prevents operating system from being commoditised. Arguments that the best product wins were regarded as spurious, as was the myth that funding could be found to develop alternatives to such products as Excel. All in all, there remains some disappointment that more radical and innovative solutions were not discussed. There is an implicit assumption that Windows 9x and NT should be allowed to continue, despite their considerable shortcomings. Perhaps there was a residual desire not to do that much harm to an American icon that was acting like a naughty child. Punishment was rarely considered - and the present case precludes any financial penalties, and almost no attention was paid to restitution for the [alleged] damage that Microsoft has inflicted on its competitors. Many times it has been asserted that technology is somehow different from other industries (for example in the speed of evolution, and the tendency for monopolies to develop), and that different remedies are required in technology situations). But on the showing in Washington last Friday, only the tired old remedies were trotted out, for the main part. Some serious new thinking is required, and possibly some new law. ®
The Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications (CUT) has condemned the actions of a rogue member who sent spam to 25,000 people yesterday. Loose cannon David Hawker sent the unsolicited email to promote a European-wide cyberstrike due to take place on June 6. In open defiance of what many people believe to be the scourge of the Net, Hawker wrote: "If you receive this message then your email address is stored on my computer. This message is being sent out to about 25,000 potential email addresses from my email archives. I apologise in advance if this message is of no interest to you - this is a 'spam', but not the bad variety that most of us know about, rather it may be the first useful spam you've had. :-)" But CUT -- which campaigns for fairer telecomms pricing for Net access -- has condemned the act and apologised for the behaviour of one of its members. "I can only apologise profusely," said Erol Ziya, a spokesman for CUT. "Hawker did it without our knowledge and we do not endorse his actions in any way. I sincerely hope that it doesn't do too much damage to our campaign," he said. Ziya confirmed that Hawker will be reprimanded for his actions and could even be kicked out of CUT for sending the spam. Any decision to expel him from the pressure group will be taken on Monday when the CUT committee gets together for its weekly meetings. ®
The job cuts Iomega CEO Jodie Glore predicted a couple of weeks back the company would have to make have at last taken place. Late last week the removable storage Stan announced the closure of two "magnetic technology" development factilities in California. The work carried out at the plants will be moved to Iomega's Utah HQ. It was not revealed how many jobs will be lost through the shutdown, or whether it will be enough to ensure no further staff cuts are necessary. As an R&D site, it's unlikely staff will simply be laid off, but the company is likely to lose those members of staff who don't wish to move to Utah. The closures follow a run of poor financial results. Glore was appointed CEO last year and told to turn the company round. He's attempting to do that by reorganising the company, cutting costs and streamilining its operations. ® See also Iomega makes money again (ish) Iomega flogs off Ditto Iomega recalls 60,000 Jaz PSUs Iomega returns to profitability, begins reorganisation
The battle for control of MedaOne shows no sign of letting up. US cable operator, Comcast, put in a bid of $47 billion to buy MediaOne but this was trumped by AT&T's bid of $56 billion. If successful, AT&T would end up owning more than 50 per cent of Telewest. MediaOne owns half of UK mobile phone minnow One-2-One, as well as a 30 per cent stake in local cable TVer Telewest. Comcast has until Thursday to revise its bid and according to US reports, is hoping to enlist the help of Microsoft in the fight. Microsoft is a Comcast shareholder and has already said it is confident that it can outbid AT&T should it wish to. It now looks as though the software giant may create a tracking stock, which would be used to value its interests in the Web and communications. As well as keeping its new media investment interests separate from its core software business, this would put Microsoft in a position to engage in high-value stock swap deals such as the battle for MediaOne. The financial performance of Microsoft's Web-based businesses is thought to be under-valued in stock market terms, especially in light of the current love affair between the markets and all things Internet related. ® See also Microsoft, AOL enter MediaOne bidding war One-2-One to IPO
Linux support specialist Linuxcare took its latest step into the wide world of professional corporate IT, with the announcement today of a new CEO and its first round of venture captial financing.
LineOne's MD Andrew Burke has left the company -- but keep it to yourself, it's still a secret. It appears Burke has been replaced by Ajay Chowdhury and while there's no confirmation of where the new MD is from, one unconfirmed report suggested he's been bussed in from United News & Media -- one of the companies bankrolling LineOne. Amazingly, even people who work for the company don't know about it yet. "No, that's news to me," said one bemused and unhelpful member of LineOne's telephone support staff. And even LineOne's spinbunnies couldn't shed any light on the move, although one spokesperson said that the decision was by "mutual agreement" before being whisked off to a hastily arranged meeting. If their confusion is anything to go by, then LineOne is once again the victim of its own blundering. The company couldn't even handle the switch from being a paid service to a subscription-free Net provider without getting itself in a muddle. Just when it looked like LineOne was going subscription-free, Burke sent an email to all 80,000 members casting doubt on whether the online service would scrap its monthly fee or not Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he left, or was pushed -- both by "mutual agreement", of course. The following comment was received from LineOne's PR company at 13:40 BST today: "Andrew Burke has decided to leave his post as managing director of LineOne and pursue other opportunities. He is being replaced by Ajay Chowdhury who was previously managing director of United Interactive and a board member of LineOne. Andrew and Ajay will work closely together over the next eight weeks to ensure a smooth handover. Andrew has been managing director of LineOne since its inception in August 1996 and has steered the company to its current position as the UK's leading free online service provider* with over 200,000 registered members." ®
French consumer electronics giant Thomson Multimedia's US subsidiary this week announced its first digital music player, the RCA Lyra. However, the company's support for the controversial MP3 digital audio format, signalled last week by its acquisition of a 20 per cent stake in MP3 software specialist MusicMatch, was tempered by Lyra's 'play it safe' support for Microsoft's MP3 rival, MS Audio 4.0. However, Lyra also supports RealNetworks' RealAudio G2 format, so perhaps the decision to include MS Audio 4.0 is more about covering as many bases as possible than accepting Microsoft is about to dominate the online music format market. Still, it does suggest that RealAudio, MS Audio and MP3 are settling down as the only formats future players need support to gain a decent share of online music fans. And that suggests that lesser formats, such as LiquidAudio's LiquidTracks are increasingly being left out in the cold. The device itself is 4.5in by 2.5in in size and 7/8in thick. Lyra will ship with a 32MB CompactFlash card for storage, though it will also interface with IBM's 340MB CF-2 microdrive. A built-in graphic equaliser can be controlled from the device's backlit LCD, which also displays the device's folder-style file directory. Lyra will ship in the US in September for around $200. ®
As online stores began flogging Star Wars merchandise yesterday seconds after the embargo was lifted at midnight, many stores have reported a brisk trade in intergalactic toys. According to a report by the venerable CNET, the official Star Wars store -- Mos Espa Marketplace -- was overwhelmed by a "phenomenal' increase in traffic". Mos Espa Marketplace is only place on the Web where people can buy pukka Phantom Menace merchandise. But is The Register alone in thinking that George Lucas missed a heaven-sent marketing coup? Sale of merchandise for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace went on sale yesterday -- May 3rd. If Lucas had waited another 24 hours, it would have been today -- May 4th. We know it's a cheap shot but it made us laugh. May the fourth be with you. ®
RealNetworks' launch of RealJukebox yesterday grabbed headlines more for its support for the controversial MP3 digital music format, but that's really the least of the list of points that make the offline music player software important. The release of RealJukebox sees not only Real's numerous strategies to beat back Microsoft begin to coalesce, but the start of moves to consolidate the diverse online music market. Right now RealNetworks has around 85 per cent of the streaming media market. Microsoft wants a part of that business -- a very large part indeed, we'd imagine -- and last month launched Windows Media Technologies (WMT) 4.0 to achieve its goal. What separates WMT from Real's RealSystem G2 is its focus not only on streamed media, but on the download market, what you might categorise those as the online and offline markets. The former requires an active Internet connection to play content; the latter only uses the Net as an acquisition medium -- play back can take place at any time. Pundits can argue about whether the real future of online content is streaming or download, but in the meantime WMT sets Microsoft to command whichever approach wins out in the end. Real's strategy so far has been predicated on the view that streaming will win out. It's not yet clear which approach will dominate, or even whether it's a battle that's going to be fought. However, content providers are a cautious lot and will favour solutions that cover as many bases as possible. The launch of RealJukebox allows Real to catch up with Microsoft and at last offer offline as well as online content. But RealJukebox cleverly goes beyond that. When Real people talk about RealJukebox, they discuss it not so much as an application but as a platform. The idea is that RealJukebox will provide a single front-end to a user's collection of music and video files. The big problem with online music today is that you need half a dozen player to get the most out of it. If Izzy and the Smegs release their latest single on MP3, you need an MP3 player. If, however, The Globules sign up for Liquid Audio, RealAudio, a2b or MS Audio, you'll need a separate player for whatever format they've chosen. That may not matter too much right now, while the online music audience is 90 per cent techies, but it's going to become much more of an issue as more mainstream music fans join in. And this is where RealJukebox comes in, in that it theoretically allows users to replace all their standalone players for a single, multi-format system. RealJukebox has apparently also been designed to interface with various portable players -- Diamond Multimedia and Thomson/RCA have already signed up (see RCA unveils Lyra MP3 player) -- so what we have is a universal PC music system in the making, especially if Real doesn't ignore other computing platforms, including Linux, MacOS and even PalmOS, as it has done in the past. RealJukebox also offers hooks into e-commerce sites -- Amazon.com is a supporter -- so it's gearing up for the business side, too. And you remember Real's upcoming consumer friendly front-end for IBM's Electronic Music Management System, announced the day before Microsoft's WMT launch? It's RealJukebox to a 'T'. Add in Real's RealSystem MP -- it's MP3-based download system a handy CD ripper into the bargain -- and you've got the system online music fans have been waiting for. ®
A man is due to appear before a federal judge in Los Angeles today, accused of masterminding what is believed to be the biggest credit card scam in history.
One of the world's 'big five' recording companies, Universal Music Group, has signed InterTrust to supply the rights management software that will form the basis of its online music sales activities. The deal comes just weeks after Diamond Multimedia licensed InterTrust technology to ensure future versions of its Rio digital music player prevent music piracy. Universal's goal here is to develop and presumably sell systems which combine big databases of audio files with the mechanisms needed to sell copies of those files across the Internet and ensure those copies can't be duplicated further, at least beyond a user's rights to copies solely for personal use. In that respect, it's setting itself up against Microsoft, which is touting its Windows Media Technologies (WMT) platform, and IBM's Electronic Music Management System (EMMS). Curiously, Universal has been working with IBM on the development of EMMS, providing tracks for the upcoming public trials of the technology due to take place in the San Diego, California area next month. Universal has already agreed to manage online sales of another 'big five' company, Germany's Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), so it's setting itself to become a key music ecommerce player. Other 'big five' member Sony recently allied itself to EMMS, and is working with IBM to integrate its hardware-based MagicGate copy protection system into EMMS. Sony is believed to have agreed to work with 'big fiver' EMI, much as BMG is working with Universal. That leaves Time Warner -- will it side with one of its recording industry fellows, or back Microsoft's efforts? Bill Gates would probably kill to win its support for WMT, but given none of the big five are too keen on Microsoft -- they fear its domination of the online music business, as it has dominated the software market -- that's the least likely outcome. Time Warner is almost certainly awaiting the outcome of IBM's trials and no doubt the similar trials Universal and InterTrust are planning for the second half of the year. Since everyone and their dog is claiming they will ensure their solutions are compliant with the Secure Digital Music Initiative's recommendations, waiting for those recommendations to be published is no longer worthwhile. Of course, the one aspect all of these companies seem to have ignored to far is the client side. Online music retailers will be willing adopt various rights management and music delivery systems -- at least they will if they want to compete with the major labels selling direct -- but users aren't going to be too happy with a handful of player applications. Hopefully, the SDMI will have something to say on the matter by defining a standard mechanism whereby players can support multiple formats. In the meantime, expect RealNetworks to be pushing hard to win the support of Universal, Sony, EMI, InterTrust et al for its RealJukebox would-be universal player (see earlier story). ®
Parents are becoming increasingly worried about what their children may stumble across on the Internet, according to the company that produces the Internet filtering software CyberPatrol. It reported that sales of CyberPatrol have shot through the roof as worried parents have tried to protect their children from the Net's darker side. Sales of the software have increased by 188 per cent during the last three months -- a rise that coincides with the massive take-up of Net access in the UK due mainly to the proliferation of subscription-free services. "The issues that surround Internet content have been around for some time, however, the influx of free services into the market means that this is now an even more pertinent subject," said Jim Mackonochie, MD of The Learning Company which publishes the software. "The concerns Prince Philip raised while on the recent Royal tour of South Korea regarding the eclectic nature of the Internet, and the potential hazard that the Internet as a medium presents to society, further brings this issue to the attention of all our minds," he said. CyberPatrol allows adults to block material from a dozen different dozen categories such as violence, nudity, explicit sexual material and hate speech. It can also stop kiddies releasing personal information such as names, addresses -- and mummy and daddy's credit card details. ®
Online Service Provider (OSP), Virgin Net, has attracted more than 50,000 new customers to its service in the last 10 weeks despite the fact that it only became subscription-free at the weekend. Although Virgin Net has been holding back until now to begin marketing the service it hasn't been able to stop the steady increase in its customer base. Since it made its announcement in February, Virgin Net has been migrating its existing customers over to a new digital network from backbone provider, and 49 per cent minority partner, NTL. Virgin Net claims that this new network will be able to cope with the expected hike in demand and provide users with the "most advanced IP network in the UK". The UK OSP has also reported that traffic has increased on its portal. It claims that it now has 800,000 distinct users of its site -- far more than the number of subscribers. This is contrary to at least one over excited report which got the wrong end of the stick by confusing the terms subscribers and users. Still, this won't bother Virgin Net or its publicity-hungry supremo Richard Branson who will have another opportunity next week with the launch of the Virgin Megastore ecommerce site. ®
If you ever doubted that there's one born every minute, this could be the proof you’re looking for. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has owned up to running its own Web investments scam. To coincide with April Fool's Day, the Commission ran a series of ads pretending to be a start-up company in need of backers, according to the London Evening Standard. The Commission acts as the industry watchdog and is on a mission to highlight the danger of Internet fraud. It claimed to be offering Y2K bug insurance, and said investors could look forward to profits in excess of 200 per cent. The bogus company was said to have been set up by Swiss businessmen. The report said that some 10,000 people visited the site and 233 of these were willing to part with cash, investing between A$10,000 and A$50,000 each. The total bagged by the scam -– A$4 million (£1.63 million). Not bad for a day’s work. Details of the scam can be found at the ASIC Web site. ®
Much of UK computer guru Sir Clive Sinclair's motivation for designing a new - possibly Linux-based - class of computer stems from disgust at current PC standard. He describes PC design as clunky, prone to repeated system errors and difficult to use. "The whole things a complete mess," he says. "I'm very tempted to design a computer that cuts through all that and I might do it. But it's difficult to know exactly what to do, I was at lunch with a good friend of mine, a journalist, Chris Bidmead (Earlier boost for Bidders' ego) and we were talking about this. He introduced me to Linux - not that I know much about Linux except what he told me and what I've read since - so I was thinking perhaps that'd be the way to do it." However, Linux might not be the way forward for Sir Clive, as he went on. "But I think perhaps not. Maybe the best thing to do would be to start with a completely clean sheet and design a computer today to meet peoples' needs. Start from scratch and say to people look, this isn't a PC compatible but it'll do everything you want - give it a try. Some will, some won't," he said. The difficulty of taking on the Wintel monopoly doesn't escape Sir Clive, but he thinks he may have found a sneaky way into the marketplace. "So, that's a possibility and I'm tempted to do that... It's daunting because getting something across that is not mainstream is difficult. But then perhaps one could sell it as a utility, a tool, so that it would sort of be a back door approach. You could sell it like an organiser and people don't necessarily expect an organiser to be PC compatible. But if you made an organiser, say, which happened also to do everything, then you've sneaked in the back door and people say I don't know why I use my PC I can do everything on this and stop messing around," he said. The prospect of a brand new Sinclair machine, nearly twenty years after the ZX series, may being tears of longing and rubber-key nostalgia to the generation of UK hackers he inspired, but the project may be a long time in coming. Sir Clive also spoke of the other projects taking up his time - including a new folding bicycle and plans for a personal flying machine. ® (A longer version of this interview appears on Times Newspapers' forthcoming Millenium web site)