6th > May > 1999 Archive

Lucent chooses Netscape for wireless Web portal

Lucent has hopped into the Netscape camp in order to build an Internet portal for mobile phones and organisers. The limited screen real estate of these devices means that they're going to need special-purpose Web technologies if they're going to browse the Web, so potentially this is a major win for Netscape over Microsoft. The new portal will be called Zingo, and will use Netscape's Custom Netcenter to build a home/start page for mobile users. So you could say that's another design loss for Microsoft, and a win for Netscape, which is presenting Netcenter as the raw material for other companies to produce their own customised portals. Lucent is working with Spyglass and Canadian outfit Wyrex Communications on the portal, and will be offering it to network providers. Zingo will use Spyglass Prism technology and Bell Labs' PhoneBrowser to turn HTM into voice content. A beta will be on show at Supercomm 99 in Atlanta next month. ®
John Lettice, 06 May 1999

Siemens turns to Fujitsu JV to save PC business

Siemens' embarrassing attempts to exit the PC business (Siemens seeks partners for PC plant) seem to be back on track, with the prospect of a joint venture company with Fujitsu. The German giant, which found out it hadn't been doing as wonderfully as it had previously though last year, has already tried and failed to pursue this route with Acer. But Fujitsu looks more promising. Siemens' deal with Acer had been planned on the basis of Acer expansion in Europe. This would soak up overcapacity at Siemens PC plant, which would be transferred to Acer, and Acer would make Siemens-badged machines, allowing for a painless and dignified exit for the German giant. Unfortunately, Acer turned out to be not that unstricken either, and backed off when it found the numbers didn't add up. Fujitsu is currently an entirely different animal. It's been pushing hard on low-cost sales in Europe, and Fujitsu PCs pop up in supermarkets all over the place. German reports say the joint venture company plans to double capacity to 4 million over the next year (N.B., Siemens only shipped 1.4 million units last year, so you can see the problem), and that must be music to Siemens' ears. Fujitsu can certainly soak-up numbers of this kind, and maybe, as the company maintains, it can make money out of low-cost volume PCs. But we've heard that one before, haven't we? ®
John Lettice, 06 May 1999

IBM-Moto PowerPC deal isn't dead – honest

The IBM-Motorola PowerPC alliance isn't dead after all. But that's what it says in the press release, so it seems reasonable to maintain one's doubts. The two partners have induced one Keith Diefendorf, editor in chief of The Microprocessor Report, it says here, to assuage our doubts about the ongoing viability of their PowerPC deal by giving good quote in the announcement of their new Book E PowerPC architecture. By providing a roadmap for future products Book E does indeed make it clear that the partnership is still in business, but the roadmap is for embedded PowerPC. The two companies started a joint embedded PowerPC effort in September 1997, and both have been pursuing this class of chip since. In between times their roadmaps for non-embedded PPC (one major customer, Apple) have diverged more than somewhat, so the latest effort to stay in step on embedded says nothing about the variety of chip that concerns Apple most. The reverse, in fact. There's little or no prospect of profit for either company in the continuing pursuit of mainstream CPUs, and the more effort they put behind embedded (which in any event was something of a bolthole for them to duck into when they recognised the mainstream effort had failed), the less future the other stuff is likely to have. Book E is specifically aimed at extending the use of embedded PowerPC into networking infrastructure and telecommunications, providing enhancements to the architecture while maintaining backward compatibility. IBM and Motorola are of the view that PowerPC processors are "becoming the processors of choice under the covers of more and more types of electronic products." That however doesn't mean they're yet a raging success - unless you compare them with the other PPC flavours... ®
John Lettice, 06 May 1999

Red Hat hires top Netscape exec – did we say IPO?

Red Hat's campaign to add weight to its management has continued with the hiring of Eric Hahn, formerly of Netscape, as chief technology officer. He arrived at Netscape when the company bought his company, Collabra, and was general manager of Netscape's server products division. A couple of weeks ago we noted that Red Hat seemed to be hiring the kind of expertise it would need for an IPO (Red Hat COO could signal IPO). Hahn's addition sort of relates to this, because although he will have an obvious and direct role in growing Red Hat's business in the ISP and high end server end of the business, he's not going to come cheap. Before founding Collabra (from whose sale he will have made a buck or two) Hahn was GM of Lotus' cc:Mail division. To induce him to join Red Hat, we reckon, stock options will assuredly have been waggled. "I'm thrilled and honored to be able to work to advance this important new paradigm for building and delivering world-class software," the lad tells us, but fails to say "and vested." ®
John Lettice, 06 May 1999

Semiconductor sales hit $11.16bn

Global semiconductor sales hit $11.16 billion in March, an increase of 6.7 per cent on the same month last year, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. That figure also represents a rather less impressive 2.4 per cent increase on February's sales. The Association cited the improving Asian market as the key factor in the increase -- sales in Japan were up 8.1 per cent and 11.8 per cent in Asia Pacific, compared to 4.8 per cent and 3.2 per cent for the Americas and Europe, respectively. ®
Team Register, 06 May 1999

Free phone Web access picks up Tempo

Electrical retailer Tempo has denied that fighting has broken out in its stores among customers desperate to get their hands software for its groundbreaking subscription-free ISP Screaming.net. A report in today's Mirror has been dismissed as nothing more than sour grapes after the tabloid newspaper launched its own branded ISP service, ic24, last week. But a spokeswoman for Tempo did confirm that 53,000 disks had been snapped up in just four days as Net users in the UK fell over themselves to take advantage of free off-peak calls to the service. There have been no reports of fighting in newsagents as Mirror readers squabble with one another to get details of the red top's ic24 service. Around 15,000 people have already switched to LocalTel -- the telecomms company behind Screaming.net -- in its first week. But the launch of Screaming.net has not been without some setbacks. Some users encountered busy tones last night when they tried to log on to the service. And the help desk has been under pressure from the sheer weight of calls from Net users with registration problems. A spokesman for LocalTel, Doug Walker said: "In a perfect world we would have loved to have handled all the calls." "We have had some people who were frustrated and I appreciate that this is not good." More CDs containing free Screaming.net software have been dispatched and LocalTel has added a further 450 ports to help cope with demand. ®
Tim Richardson, 06 May 1999
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Liquid Audio tunes into Net IPO frenzy

Digital music delivery company Liquid Audio is to go public -- a brave move, many would have thought, in the face of increased competition from some very big players indeed. Liquid Audio gave little away about the upcoming IPO -- it simply specified a June/July timeframe for the issue, and promised pricing and quantity details at the end of this month, courtesy of a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Liquid Audio was formed back in 1996, and quickly emerged as a company going places in the commercial online music distribution business. The trouble is, MP3 (MPEG 1 Audio Layer 3) soon afterward became the de facto standard for music downloads, and Liquid Audio has been battling to make its mark ever since. Still, that has allowed the company to push itself as the acceptable face of online music distribution, doing its damn best to beat the hordes of Internet music pirates the recording industry fears are lurking out there. And LA's Liquid Music System provides pretty much everything the indsutry might want from a digital distribution system: rights management, anti-piracy measures and control over dsitribution. What has hindered that has been the recording industry's near total lack of understanding about how the Internet and the online music business works. That lead to a kind of 'ignore it and it will go away' attitude, which worked just fine until MP3 came along and forced the business to take note. Now the industry is pondering on the opportunities for business the Net offers -- primarily pulling sales away from the retail channel and building links directly between buyer and label -- everyone and their dog is developing systems for it to use. Microsoft is pushing hard with Windows Media Technologies, IBM has its Sony-supported Electronic Music Management System, RealNetworks is promoting RealJukebox and Universal is working on its own system in conjunction with InterTrust, a system that will also provide it to fellow music industry giant BMG. That leaves Liquid Audio facing some very stiff competition indeed. Still, if the online music market is going to be as big as numerous pundits are predicting, there may well be plenty of room in the pond for a relatively small fish like Liquid Audio. If estimates of the online music business are broadly correct -- Market Tracking International, for example, reckons it will be worth $550 million next year (total music sales will reach $44 billion) -- and the major dominate online as much as they dominate sales on CD and other media, you're looking at a market of just $82.5 million for Liquid Audio to bite into. That's a lot of revenue. Much will depend not on technology but on artists. The majors are already planning to build online rights into their contracts, if they're not doing it already, and that's going to limit the opportunities for the likes of Liquid Audio. Given the company has yet to make a profit -- it lost $8.5 million on revenues of $2.8 million in 1998, $6.2 million on revenues of £256,000 in 1997 -- and unless it gets some big name signings, either artists or labels, that's situation isn't going to improve much. ®
Tony Smith, 06 May 1999

Simon Meredith writes…

This is the first in a series of regular, weekly columns from Simon Meredith. Simon is one of the most well-known and well-established channel journalists in the UK. Each week, here on The Register, Simon will turn his attention to some of the burning issues of the day. More information about Simon’s work can be found at his Web site. This week: Don’t panic Compaq! Is IBM about to enter the chip war? Are PCs ready to go timeless? Hard times not over for distribution yet Don’t panic – it’s not over yet! The idea that Compaq will now have to go direct with its PC business might seem to have gathered momentum in the past few days. But the change of management is unlikely to bring any paradigm shift in the company’s policy according to European sources. This is pretty good news if you are customer or one of Compaq’s channel partners. But it is not certain information as yet and you must now hope that Compaq’s management resist all temptation to push the panic button as Wall Street squeals and waves its arms around. There may be some relatively short-term changes in the UK – which is unique in Europe in having embraced both mail order and direct business with open arms. June is the time set for the changes and what we are likely to see, unless plans change (which they can), is a similar idea to the Presario hybrid direct/indirect idea we saw two years ago. But we should not be too harsh on Compaq. What is happening to the company right now is also happening to all the other PC vendors. In the UK, most of the big name indirect vendors are finding life difficult. One leading PC distributor told me recently: “Talk to all of the big guys at the moment and they are all not doing their numbers and they are all starting to panic.” Panic is an important word here and it is of course, what they must not do. But what then does Compaq do about the weeks of stock currently still in the channel? In all probability, it is mostly made up of PIIs and Intel has been TV advertising the PIII for several weeks now. Dell is also invading living rooms with its excellent ‘be direct’ campaign. Compaq needs to improve its performance one way or another. There is a strong temptation to use direct tactics and attack the market and this is what Compaq may try to do. But Dell’s rivals must not panic. Across Europe at least, the signs are that they have no need to panic. Compaq still has around 17 per cent of the market across the EMEA region; Dell and IBM both have around 9 per cent. They have a long way to go before they catch Compaq. It looks different in the UK where Dell’s share is double the European figure and around 30 per cent of all machines are sold direct or off the page - in the desktop sector at least. To the strategy makers in the US and in the UK, the picture may seem more desperate than it really is as Dell makes hay in the markets that like to buy direct. But elsewhere it simply is not happening and nor is it likely to happen. One senior vendor in Europe I spoke to recently, said that he thought it would be a mistake for Compaq to try to impose a hybrid model on the market – that this would only upset resellers by forcing pricing issues. Much better to go down the route Compaq has followed in Germany where it has launched a Prosignia desktop aimed at the mass market with a very aggressive price point. Another hybrid attempt to address the advance of direct sales in the UK will only result in disgruntled dealers and will remove very little cost from the channel. Compaq then has to do one or the other. But abandoning the channel would probably be suicide. Better to take cost out of the channel by getting the channel to do the assembly and the distribution. The question then is who should do it – the hybrid resellers, or the pure distributors? But that’s another debate. Also, there is the question of where Dell goes next? It is selling mainly into the corporate market and there is no current evidence to suggest that it is doing better with SMEs than anyone else. Many SMEs do want a local supplier – a supplier they can see and visit. Will Dell then, hit a corporate market ceiling eventually? Probably, and can it really offer the broad and consistent services that the big companies need? If Dell takes the lead in the PC market, will it become the company that everyone wants to take down a peg – just like IBM was once and just like Microsoft and Compaq are today. Users may start to be nervous of having too many eggs in Dell’s basket and what then if Dell tries to diversify, buy big enterprise companies and services businesses and turn itself into something other than a direct PC supplier? It will then be following Compaq’s footsteps. Dell’s rivals must not panic – they must simply listen to what the customer wants and respond. Compaq in particular must not panic, it must stick to its long-term aim of becoming an enterprise player, tighten up its brand image again – and stay with the channel But it must also take cost out and be quicker to market. It must not be distracted by a struggle for percentage shares of the US and UK markets and by Wall Street’s insatiable thirst for more and more short-term EPS gains. If it does it will make them at the expense of its long-term success. ® What if … …IBM chips into the 64-bit war According to some sources close to the company, IBM is about to throw its hat into the 64-bit ring by bringing copper technology to the Alpha development project. IBM is apparently planning to use copper to take Alpha speeds way beyond anything achievable right now. This will complicate an already complex situation even further and it may be worth trying to clarify your own position in all this before you go any further. Alpha is the 64-bit processor developed by Digital and available since 1992 that runs VMS, Unix and NT. That chip is currently made under license by Samsung, Mitsubishi and Intel; the latter bought Digital’s Alpha fab in February. Compaq (Digital) uses the chip in many of its servers, of course. Compaq is also a major Intel customer. So is IBM. So is HP, which is in league with Intel on the development of the IA64 Merced processor, bringing to the party its PA-RISC architecture. Well, so what? The future of the server and the desktop – that’s what. One day, everything will go 64-bit, though not for some time of course. We need operating systems and applications to catch up. Intel has dominated the desktop market for the last few years and has been accused of being monopolistic in its behaviour – even by some of its best customers – from time to time. Every vendor would like an alternative supplier. In the desktop market they have had to settle for AMD and Cyrix. HP and Sun have always, until the last few months, done their own thing – but now both are lining up with the Intel development (Sun is putting Solaris on IA64). IBM of course, has had PowerPC but that alliance is in shreds really now. Power PC is more or less back to being a proprietary Apple chip. These companies have to go somewhere with their platforms. Users want to know that they will be around and properly supported for some time. Compaq meanwhile has bought Digital and the excellent Alpha development, putting it, potentially, into direct conflict with Intel’s future developments. Even though Intel makes Alphas, its position there has to be seen as a hedged bet. Digital was trying to sue Intel before all this happened remember – for stealing some of its ideas. Intel made counter-claims, it all looked very nasty until Compaq stepped in! Where does this leave us? Intel chasing after Alpha - owned by Compaq but made by Intel – and, critically, other powerful manufacturers; and now possibly, by IBM as well. IBM, with its advanced copper production technology, may be able to speed up the development of the Alpha processor and send it zooming beyond 2GHz. This might steal the thunder which Intel has been trying to work up about all of its developments. Intel has an impressive road-map laid out and is using aluminium and well as copper technology. The key to who wins will probably depend in the end on who gets to run 64-bit NT first and who runs it better. With IBM on board, the prospects for PowerPC will take a dive, as HP’s PA-RISC has already with the Intel alliance. Sun’s Sparc chip looks increasingly isolated as well and Sun may have to do something about that. In short, these companies and their product ranges – especially when running a specific form of Unix - are increasingly looking like proprietary systems providers and the process of isolation is accelerating. If NT is going to be the main applications server of the future, the platform of the future will be dictated by how well it runs that system. Microsoft – with close Compaq and Intel ties – will have to be even-handed as it is under the close scrutiny of the US authorities. If the Alpha speeds up and pulls ahead of IA64 then Intel might get be miffed with Compaq and IBM. It can make Alphas but Intel does not have to like it. If so, where would that leave Compaq and IBM? They already use AMD and Cyrix processors and rumours about a buy-out abound as Intel’s smaller chip rivals continue to struggle. But there is also talk of some very fast benchmarks coming out of the AMD K7 and that poses a direct threat to the PIII. Meanwhile, an IBM alliance with Compaq would draw the lines more clearly in this market and make choices about future platforms a little easier. Alpha and Intel both look safe and so does NT – for both. But are you ready to put really critical applications there? Lots of companies are still putting in Unix for critical apps, as NT is not proven. Those companies using such systems though – and their reseller partners – must make sure that they feel confident about the long term future and the support they will receive on those products. ® PCs to go timeless? This is not some strange way of beating the millennium problem. It is an approach that the PC market could adopt in order to solve some of its problems by offering PCs that come with all the necessary services, support, maintenance – everything. PCs which are also upgraded every six months automatically. There is some talk of such a service being offered in the channel now, perhaps with the backing of main distributors. This is not a new idea. Corporate buyers have been fretting about TCO for years and bundling the cost of the PC upgrade, OS and apps upgrades, training, break-fix, support and so on, is only one step on from outsourcing. It has not happened yet because most companies still view PCs as commodities. HP is about to release a study into what users think of PCs and the word is that they have pretty damning opinions. PCs are just boxes to be purchased at the lowest possible price according to many of them. Confirming the blasé attitudes, Computacenter told me last week, that brand matters less and less to the corporate buyers - the product is the same under the skin – what matters is the vendor’s backup and support as far as buying decisions are concerned. So Compaq, Dell, IBM, HP and Siemens are probably all safe there. Then there is the complexity issue; when are you going to upgrade to Office 2000, to NT 2000, to Pentium III, to IA64, to Gigabit Ethernet or ATM? Who supplies maintenance, support etc, is there an existing relationship with that supplier. It can be a real headache trying to sort it all out – which is why a lot of companies outsource it all. So why the talk about ‘timeless’ PCs now? That has a lot to do with the direct/indirect war and the increasing difficulty of making one desktop look different to another. Management utilities are not enough anymore, there has to be something more – something ergonomic (space-saving small footprint PCs are now making a comeback) or something that will address TCO. This is where the timeless idea comes from but, for the most part, it is still the industry pressing the idea, rather than the user demanding it. One of the sadder aspects of our industry is that it takes falling sales to mobilise changes that will have a real impact on the benefits that IT can bring to a business. ® Hard times not over for distribution yet Distributors have to move with the times – they all know that. But the most recent events have been very distressing for the sector. The situation at Osmosis is going to receive plenty of coverage in the trade press and will be well documented enough there. But why has it all gone wrong? This company has been a Microsoft DSP for ages and seemed to be doing good business. But it was also in too many other non-profitable areas. PC components and white box PC manufacturing – a dangerous game still. And from having almost £200 million sales and 125 people, it has now shrunk back to 20 heads and £50 million expected sales. At least MD John Fenton has come out and said he will try to pay everyone what they are owed. He deserves some credit for that. We have also seen in the last week or so, Datrontech’s Q1 figures reveal a disappointing performance due to forays into Eastern Europe – particularly in Poland. Such adventures are proving to be highly dangerous. It did not work for Azlan, it has not worked for Datrontech. It must be said though, that the company would not have done anywhere near as badly had it not been for Poland. It has had a decent Q1, say insiders. But the list goes on ; the problems of CHS have also been well documented and then of course there has been the continued struggle for control of ilion. There have been no new developments there as yet and the smart money must go on an MBO. At Ideal, after some difficult times last year, the company seems to be getting back on track but, like most distributors, it had a tough start to the calendar year. Ingram Micro has not found it particularly easy going either in Europe with its growth slowing down considerably. Northamber has been plodding along but very quiet since its ill-advised television appearances. Only Computer 2000 seems to have come up smelling of roses. Where is it taking its increased share from though? With a market growing at perhaps 14 per cent, where does 27 per cent (admittedly for the last financial year) come from? The answer, probably, is the other distributors for the most part. Being able to move with the times and offer a broad base of products is vital now. Low cost component markets are harder to compete in. The margins have fallen out of the networking business, PCs are going direct and hybrids are moving in with BTO programmes. Unless you are in a niche, you are in a tough market in which resources - and people – are everything. The difficult times are not over yet as the PC market continues to rumble over the direct sales route and vendors look to reduce costs. Product sales have hit a wall as companies focus on Y2K and summertime is upon us all of a sudden. With product-based reseller businesses struggling as well, this could be a long hot and difficult summer for many distributors and we can expect to see more poor figures, lay-offs and takeovers before the rains return. ®
Simon Meredith, 06 May 1999

Datrontech to bring Novell to the SME masses

Novell today added Datrontech to its list of UK distributors with the launch of its Novell Systems Partner Programme. The networking vendor spurned its existing distributors to appoint Basingstoke-based Datrontech to target an untapped market. It will sell Novell NetWare for Small Business and NetWare 5 products, and offer Novell upgrades to OEMs. Novell has chosen the UK as the first place to bring the channel programme to Europe. It was originally launched in the US earlier this year. The company is targeting Datrontech's 4000 system builders not currently using Novell's UK channel. This is the first time the two have worked together, with Novell snubbing its existing distributors Computer 2000, Azlan and CHS. It is also the first time system builders will be able to sell OEM versions of NetWare for Small Business and NetWare 5. Dustin Newport, Novell EMEA distribution sales manager, insisted there was no conflict of interest among its distribution channel regarding today’s appointment. "We have not had a programme to address this market before. The Datrontech decision was deliberate -- we wanted a clear distinction when selling these products to a new market and new customers," he said. Newport said this market was expanding rapidly thanks to companies finding it easier to buy plug and play components. The programme is largely aimed at tier three and four OEMs selling to SMEs. Datrontech said networking had become one way to bolster flagging margins for system builders. Fiona Squire, Datrontech UK business manager, also outlined plans to educate its system builder market. Training seminars are planned at the Novell site in Bracknell, showing how to install products onto servers. Three people will be appointed to the sales and marketing side to visit OEMs, and a new Web site will detail product availability and technical Q&As. ®
Linda Harrison, 06 May 1999

What happens when free ISPs are overrun and can’t support their users?

CommentThe Register's Tim Richardson decided to put his email where his mouth is and sign up to Tempo's Screaming.net service. After losing all his old email and getting little or no help, he's not a happy bunny. Reports of fights breaking out in Tempo's stores may have been exaggerated, but then again... Tim writes: Screaming.net may be about to explode onto the ISP marketplace in the UK like a supercharged twister, but it's likely to make a lot of enemies if it doesn't buck up it's ideas and sort out its telephone support service. And fast. I have spent more almost 14 hours trying to speak to someone about problems I've encountered during registration. The most serious of these is why my Screaming.net email account won't send any email. The other, is how come I've lost all the old emails in my Inbox when I upgraded to Internet Explorer 5? It may be a simple matter of adjusting a setting here or reconfiguring something else there. Hell, I'll even hold up my hands and say that some of it may even my mistake, but then like most people, I'm not a software expert. But until I get to speak to someone at Screaming.net's installation hotline, I'm left getting increasingly annoyed at being left in limbo by an ISP that doesn't have the resources to support its own service. According to Doug Walker, a spokesman for telco LocalTel which underpins the service, I'm just one of a handful of people who's had trouble getting through. Truth is, LocalTel, Tempo and their overhyped progeny were unprepared for the fallout when they let this particularly popular genie out of the bottle. With all the pent-up frustration inside me, and countless other users, it's no wonder they called it Screaming.net. Is there any truth in the rumour that someone's about to release Pullyourhairout.net? ®
Tim Richardson, 06 May 1999

Fujitsu leads Euro PC sales growth

SurveyEuropeans are buying more PCs than ever before, if the latest Dataquest figures are anything to go by. During the first three months of the year, European PC sales climed 20 per cent on the same period last year. Driving that growth were sales into the home -- while business-oriented sales grew just nine per cent, domestic sales rose 57 per cent. Compaq, Dell and IBM emerged as the top three vendors, but Dataquest hightlighted Fujitsu for special attention, thanks to its aggressive use of non-standard channels, specifically supermarkets. It saw growth of 46.9 per cent between Q1 1998 and Q1 1999, beating even the perenial fast-growing Dell, which notched up growth of 43 per cent. Germany remained the biggest market, scoring unit shipments of 1.6 million. The UK managed 1.4 million, France 895,000. That said, given the cutthroat nature of the German market, where users generally care far more about price than spec. (the home PC market here grew 109 per cent, compared to Britain and France's joint 75 per cent), and the fact that Germany has twice the population of the UK, that suggests Britain is still the best place to do business. ®
Tony Smith, 06 May 1999

Spam scams shift from Net to cellphones

UK fraudsters have apparently changed their focus away from lucrative Internet scams and have begun targeting mobile phone users instead. One scam involves unsolicited premium line calls while another apparently swipes personal details from GSM handsets to nick free airtime. The first trick takes advantage of the group messaging facilities provided by cellphone provider Orange to its customers. A standard Orange voicemail option allows any customer to record a simple message which can then easily be broadcast to a list of other Orange customers. So male Orange users have been receiving seemingly innocuous messages from a well-spoken female voice --one 'Natalie', apparently -- inviting them to phone her back. Only in the closing sentence does this lady reveal that calls will be charged a whopping £1.50 per minute -- higher than even the phonesex lines advertised on TV and in magazines. The second scam appears to affect GSM 900MHz (Cellnet and Vodafone) users in the Thames Valley/Guildford area. A mystery caller phones unsuspecting mobile phone users, pretends to be a test engineer and invites the recipient to press either #90 or 09#. Allegedly this action will reveal the recipient's personal details which can then be used to make fraudulent calls at the victim's expense. At the time of writing Cellnet and Vodafone were unable to confirm or deny these rumours. ®
Tony Dennis, 06 May 1999

Indian debt collector calls in the eunuchs

A cure for the spectre of bad debt currently stalking the IT industry may lie in the back streets of Bombay. In this Indian city, a debt-collecting firm has taken to employing eunuchs to embarrass those slow at paying up. The six eunuchs currently employed threaten to remove their saris, bringing shame on offenders, their businesses and their families. For those sceptics out there, bear in mind that this scheme has generated £8,500 in just a few weeks – a tidy sum in rupees, whichever way you look at it. According to today’s Daily Telegraph, BR Shetty, director of the aptly named Unique Recoveries, said: "By the grace of God success is there. People don’t like to be humiliated. We are also giving work to these people. They are very educated but nobody will give them jobs." Shetty has hopes of expanding the business to chase credit card non-payers. "I am close to signing a deal with a foreign bank," he told the Telegraph. "If I win a contract to collect money for credit card defaulters, I will have to employ 100 eunuchs." There are believed to be 150,000 eunuchs in Bombay alone. Once guards to royalty, their lot is not a happy one in modern India. According to Zia Jaffrey’s The Invisibles, A Tale of the Eunuchs of India, eunuchs are seen as outcasts. They are often forced to make their living out of gatecrashing weddings or parties and embarrassing guests until they are paid to leave. ®
Linda Harrison, 06 May 1999

Be IPO based on set-top box role for BeOS

Be, developer of the self-styled 'media' operating system, BeOS, is to go public. According to unnamed Be shareholders, cited by Fortune, the company is on the verge of filing its IPO plans with the Securities and Exchange Commission. One of those shareholders will be Chipzilla, which already owns a stake in the OS developer. Fortune's take on the deal is that Be is about to redefine itself as a provider of information appliance operating systems, and thus persuade today's Net stock hungry investors that it should be viewed as a good buy alongside eBay, Amazon et al. The BeOS is a kernel-based operating system, so it's certainly feasible that the company could strip away all the stuff required to make the OS run on Macs and Wintel boxes to come up with a form factor suitable for appliances. And, given it was originally designed for Power Macs, that might make a cut-down BeOS a candidate for embedded PowerPC applications (see IBM-Moto PowerPC deal isn't dead -- honest). An embedded role might well tempt Be as it struggles to win the support of Windows users fed up with Microsoft product but not techie enough to tackle Linux. That's the approach Be took a little while back when it became clear it wasn't winning converts away from the MacOS. The problem for Be is that no matter how good your OS is -- and BeOS is good -- unless you offer good hardware support and can host a good range of applications, you're in trouble. Linux has won here by winning widespread user support and offering plenty of server apps. Be has to pull something really impressive out of the bag to change that. An Internet appliance role, as we predicted back in March, a wee while before Fortune got on the trail, might just provide the surprise Be needs. For Be as a company, meanwhile, an IPO would help it to add to the $40 million of venture capital funding and CEO Jean-Louis Gassee's redundancy money from Apple that it has already spent developing BeOS. ® See also MS is balkanising Windows, says Be's Gassee Be readies BeOS 4.5, consumer drive MS licences block Be's bid for PC market Intel to buy into Be
Tony Smith, 06 May 1999

New mobile operator to enter UK market

The DTI has announced that it is to let a new mobile phone rival penetrate the UK market. Five separate third generation licences for cellular phones are to be auctioned off by the Department of Trade and Industry. This will include a larger licence reserved for a new entrant, according to DTI telecomms minister Michael Wills. Wills made the statement in response to a Parliamentary Question from Ian Pearson, MP for Dudley South. Today's move will add an extra competitor to the field currently dominated by Vodafone, Cellnet, Orange and One-2-One. According to a government statement: "Increased competition in the mobile telecommunications market is expected to lead to significant benefits for consumers, including lower prices and the faster rollout of more innovative services." It could also pose a threat to fixed-line providers like British Telecom, according to industry analysts IDC. Today’s decision will put paid to BT's lobbying to keep the number of third generation, or Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (UMTS), licences to four in this country. Tim Sheedy, IDC research analyst for European telecommunications, said traditionally non-telecom centric companies could be in the running for the extra licence. Household names such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Virgin are possibilities, along with Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom. But Sheedy was uncertain of the US giants' interest in the UMTS licences, which allow mobile users to surf the Net, access email or hold videoconferences. "This is new technology, and US companies don't even know when or if it will be implemented in their own country. IDC doesn't expect this market to have great subscriber growth in the UK until 2002 or 2003," said Sheedy. ®2
Linda Harrison, 06 May 1999

MS to take $5bn stake in AT&T

Microsoft is to buy into AT&T to the tune of $5 billion. In return, AT&T will put its not inconsiderable weight behind Windows CE, according to a Reuters report today. Some kind of Microsoft investment has been on the cards ever since it expressed it interest in ensuring Comcast, in which it also has a stake, won its battle with AT&T to acquire US cable company MediaOne. Here in the UK, MediaOne owns half of cellphone service One-2-One and a 29.9 per cent stake in local cable company Telewest. That share in Telewest will now come be transferred to Microsoft, in exchange for a heap of Microsoft shares. The agreement to back Windows CE expands an earlier deal between the two companies which saw AT&T license the OS for five million set-top boxes connected to high-speed digital lines. Now, all of AT&T's set-tops will use CE, effectively doubling the number of CE-based boxes the telecoms giant will sell. AT&T said it will also license software Microsoft is currently working on that will deliver e-mail and interactive services over cable television. ®
Tony Smith, 06 May 1999

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