13th > May > 1999 Archive

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Compaq faces storm over VMS VS10 pricing

Sources perilously close to Compaq’s plans said that when its VMSstation is announced in June, an entry level box will cost well over $7,000. The VS10 has been long awaited by a set of corporate users who need and use the VMS operating system, but none expected this type of price from Compaq. And users are also well up in arms over the pricing of the DS 10. If corporations buy the entry level box with OVMS, rather than Compaq’s Tru64 Unix, it costs them an extra one thousand bucks… ®
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IBM Micro-Cyrix agreement takes further twist

A Year Ago From The Register May 1998 A row is set to erupt between NatSemi-Cyrix and IBM after Big Blue said it would offer the same processors to the market but at a lower price. That could precipitate the end of the agreement between both companies, as National Semiconductor prepares to fabricate all parts itself. One source said it was on the verge of announcing its own Slot One solution to attack Intel on its own ground. A few days ago, it emerged that IBM Microelectronics had difficulty in setting up its distribution programme in Europe. IBM Microelectronics is set to inflame the situation further by asserting that its products have better packaging, testing and distribution than the same chips from Cyrix. The company today announced the release of two chips in its 6x86MX range. These processors are produced as part of a joint agreement with National Semiconductor-Cyrix. The company said both the PR300 and the PR333 are currently sampling to customers, with the processors available in volume next month. But IBM Micro appears to be selling the products at a lower price than the Cyrix parts, which are practically identical. A statement said: "At an even lower price point, the IBM 6x86MX uses the same design as the IBM manufactured Cyrix MII-300 product...while providing customers consistency with the Cyrix design, both IBM products benefit from IBM's unique packaging and extensive testing processes to ensure high quality and reliability." IBM also said that its own distribution operations are designed to meet volume availability requirements of PC system integrators and resellers, while its system design expertise provides manufacturers and resellers with "unparalleled technical support". Two years ago, a row broke out between Cyrix and IBM Microelectronics when the former's channel partners complained that Big Blue was selling the same processors were being offered at lower prices. One distributor said: "Cyrix has been shipping these products for a month now and this [announcement] is not really news. IBM is re-positioning the product to make it slightly different. This is really a part time thing for IBM Micro. It won't be long before National stops using them to fabricate the parts." He added that in his view National was readying its own Slot One solution which was where the market was and in the meantime was continuing to ship Socket Seven parts. AMD, however, had found itself in a cleft stick because it did not have a Slot One product. However, he said that it was still unclear whether or not a deal signed between IBM and AMD some weeks ago would allow the latter to bring out a Slot One solution. At press time, AMD was unavailable for comment. ®
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Web sales make big bucks for Big Blue

IBM claims that doing business digitally has added $20 billion -- around a quarter of Big Blur's annual revenue -- to its balance sheet. In the first quarter of this year alone the company said it did $4.5 billion over the Web. Telling financial analysts the good news in New York yesterday, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner must have been swollen with pride as he spoke of Big Blur's metamorphosis into an "e-business". Perhaps it is just a coincidence, then, that at about the same time as Gerstner was delivering his carefully crafted messages, Michael Dell, head honcho of Dell Computer, was giving a masterclass on how to flog things on the Web. "Ingredients to a good ecommerce strategy include diving head first into the Internet, avoiding channel conflict, and realigning the sales force," Dell is quoted as saying by CNet. No doubt he also mentioned, although in passing, that Dell makes $14 million a day flogging its kit over the Web. He also used his speech at the Network+Interop show in Las Vegas to have a subtle dig at his competitors including Compaq and HP, reported CNet. ®
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Great Satan of Software moves in on SMEs

Microsoft has expanded its Direct Access scheme for resellers following growing channel interest in the scheme. The software heavyweight is offering a CD with its £199 package, which offers advice and product information to those selling to the SME market. This adds to existing products and training. There are also seminars taking place in London on 17 and 18 May. The CD is an online booklet offering advice on how issues like the Euro and the Web affect small and medium businesses. Microsoft said Direct Access was now targeting 21,000 resellers in the UK. There are currently 10,000 resellers involved in the scheme. Resellers receive a box with 30 software offerings, described by one Microsoft reseller as "a techie sweet shop", from which they can choose 13. These 13 products, for internal use or demonstration purposes, are worth around £4000, according to Microsoft. VARs also get one free training seminar and the opportunity to attend the quarterly briefings on technology and market updates. Ian Brooks, MD of Cardiff reseller IB Business Development, applauded the scheme: "More vendors need to realise that the SME market is different to selling to larger companies. It isn’t a matter of simply using the same business techniques on a smaller scale." Direct Access originally started last February as Net Results. It expanded into a more complete programme due to channel interest in selling to the SME market. ®
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Branson bids to make round the world non-stop Webcast

Virgin boss and oh-so-nearly-non-stop-round-the-world-balloonist, Richard Branson, is staring in his own Webcast next Tuesday to let ordinary people quiz him about his life, the universe and everything. Aides close to the UK entrepreneur said they want the broadcast to be "even bigger" than similar events hosted by Prince Charles and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. The audience can ask him just about anything they want -- everything from his daredevil lifestyle, the Virgin business, his desire to go into space... The Webcast ties-in with the official opening of the online version of music retailer Virgin Megastore in the US, although music buffs in the UK will have to wait a little longer before the store is open for business this side of the pond. Branson is no mystery to facing the cameras. Apparently, he has a part in the new Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me. ®
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Lotus boss accused of ‘intimate relationship’ with PA

Just be pleased you're not Jeff Papows today. On top of the problems about his fantasy heroism as an aviator and chucker-back of live grenades, plus our story yesterday that noted that Notes was seen by the US Army as a secure product when Exchange wasn't, the news today is that he's been caught between two women. Sharon Ricci, Papows long-term executive assistant, who's worked with him at four companies for 15 years, has been accused of work-place bias, because she and Papows have been having "a long-term intimate relationship". As a result of this, the complainant, a Ms Arlene Greene, claims that the relationship helped Ricci and gave her undue power over senior female staffers at Lotus. Greene was terminated in October, supposedly because of staff reduction, although she claims that she was fired because she complained about work-place bias. Lotus says the complaint to the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination is without merit, while an embarrassed IBM dived for cover and wouldn't comment. What surprises us about all this is why Papows is still in the helm at Lotus. We have a theory: but what do readers think? Information most welcome: Graham_Lea@compserve.com ®
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MS ‘temps’ win court action over stock purchase plan

If you think Microsoft is tough with its competitors, you should try being a contract employee working for the company through an agency in the Seattle area. After a long and very bitter fight, the US Court of Appeals yesterday overturned two earlier decisions by the District Court and allowed another 5,000 or so contract employees to participate in the company's stock purchase plan. Previously, only 600 employees were allowed to participate in the plan (which is different from the stock options scheme) and gain the standard 15 percent discount. The contract staff are in reality full-time staff, since many have been so employed for years, and their work is indistinguishable from that of actual employees. Class action suits were filed in 1992 and 1998. Microsoft slightly improved its standard contract in January after being criticised in the District Court by the judge. This is one of those occasions when nobody in Microsoft can be found to offer any comment. ®
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MS grabs medic Web site, invades Sweden

Whatever prompted Microsoft to start spending its cash (and it could have been just a whim, since the company is not noted for having much of a business plan) it is doing it with all the enthusiasm of a pig chasing truffles. Nothing is left unsniffed, it would seem. The latest truffling ground is WebMD, a subscription-based Internet site for health care professionals and consumers, which is rumoured to be a $300 million investment opportunity for which Microsoft would get a 27 per cent stake. DuPont was an initial investor when WebMD started up last October, committing $220 million over five years. The indecent haste results from WebMD going public later this month. These vertical portals already seem to show more revenue-raising potential than the broad, horizontal ones, whether they are customisable or not. After all, who would pay a subscription for a horizontal portal? Another truffle hunt is on at Sendit AB, the Swedish mobile Internet technology company that has a product somewhat like Microsoft's Hotmail. Sendit is being offered $127.5 million, which works out at around $1.24 million per employee. A particular attraction for Microsoft is that Sendit uses NT and BackOffice for its servers for a GSM network. The Sendit Board is recommending acceptance. Another rumour that surfaced in Die Zeit is that Microsoft may put $1 billion into the Deutsche Telekom cable network. DT is scheduled to sell 286 million shares next month as it ever-so-slowly privatises itself. The special interest of course would be for the CE producer to push more CE. Microsoft's midsummer madness, as we noted yesterday, gathers pace. Recent deals include: Nextel - $600 million; AT&T - $5 billion; NTL Ltd - 5 per cent of the cable company for $500 million in February; and Comcast - $1 billion. The value of the Telewest acquisition has not been disclosed: although AT&T had valued it at $3.5 billion, it is thought that MS paid much less - possibly around $2 billion. The numbers for this will likely move around if the $4 billion CWC deal goes ahead. How the regulators will view these moves remains to be seen, but if all these deals were to go through, they would easily add up to $15-20 billion. But Microsoft's cash pile continues to growing at around $2 billion/quarter. ®
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MS-backed US law could destroy consumer rights to redress

Microsoft is backing awesome legislation which absolves software producers from virtually all liability for their products. Even if it's shipped with a virus, doesn't match a demo, is just plain defective, or so bug-ridden it's unusable, American consumers will have no right of redress under the proposed rules. Microsoft's EULA (end user licence agreement) is draconian enough, and experience has already shown that refusal to agree to it does not readily result in a refund for the software product. But what's in the wind is far worse. The US Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) defines fair trade practices across US states, but Article 2B, now in draft and which covers all software sales, licensing, support and maintenance contracts, is seriously slanted against consumers. It effectively removes from software producers any responsibility for their duff software. And apparently Microsoft thinks the open software movement will have to support this restrictive approach. A paper on copyleft (as it is called, to distinguish open products from copyrighted, proprietary ones) by Microsoft lawyer Robert Gomulkiewicz, who is chairman of the UCC 2B working group of the Business Software Alliance, has just appeared in the Houston Law Review. In it, he examines why, in his view, the open software movement will need to rely on Article 2B and so become like proprietary software developers. After a contorted argument that tries to set out why open source licences are unlikely to succeed, he goes on to claim that Article 2B will be necessary. The result is likely to be, he apparently believes, that open source developers will end up playing by the same rules as the Microsofts of this world. The drafting of Article 2B is being done by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, and the American Law Institute. Some commissioners now recognise that the proposed law is not balanced, and the ALI has passed a resolution that it should be fundamentally revised. However, there are strong forces pushing it, and the present version may find its way to state legislatures either later this year or early next year. There is an active campaign against the present form of Article 2B, spearheaded by lawyer Cem Kaner (summarised in his book Bad Software [Wiley, 1998]) and supported by consumer advocate Ralph Nader amongst others. The problem has been that Article 2B drafting (there are 200 pages of it) has been carried out by publishers, with no input from consumers, and has become extremely unbalanced. By and large, US law of this type tends to find its way into other countries - or US companies try to insist that a contract is drawn up under US law. This should be resisted. The US has already unilaterally extended intellectual property law by granting absurd patents for software. It is time for the European Commission to produce a useful Directive, instead of some of the nonsense we read about, to deny recognition of US software patents in Europe. Of course, software companies claim that there is a great deal of piracy, and produce unfounded claims as to its volume. We have become mightily suspicious of these headline-grabbing claims, and suspect that piracy is at a very much lower level than is claimed. Gomulkiewicz argues that the most effective way of protecting open software is to embrace it with the same laws that are used for proprietary software, which is likely to have the effect of suffocating it. Microsoft is not alone in pressing for this legislation: all proprietary software companies want it, since it will give them indecent powers and take away reasonable rights from consumers. The consequences, should Article 2B be enacted, will be to confirm and to provide legal protection for a licensing model that limits users' rights, and allows publishers to introduce non-negotiable terms that are unlikely to be known (and certainly not understood) before the sale has been made. Even worse: the terms can then be enforced against the purchaser. Article 2B is fundamentally flawed, and Microsoft's interest in it does not bode well. If it is allowed to continue unchecked, the losers will be consumers, and quite likely the open software movement if Gomulkiewicz is right. One effective remedy that could be used by Judge Jackson if he rules against Microsoft would be to ensure that Microsoft is not allowed to get away with selling upgrades until a previous version functions properly. But Microsoft is well aware that Article 2B is probably a defence against any such remedy. ®
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Sun unveils Solaris Linux compatibility

Sun yesterday put the next stage of its plans to have Linux applications run on Solaris into place. The company has been collaborating to produce enhancements to the lxrun Linux compatibility program, and using lxrun for the Intel edition of Solaris it is now possible to run Linux applications unmodified. Sun will also be providing free development tools to make it easier for developers to achieve source code compatibility between Linux and Solaris. According to Steve Ginzburg, lxrun source code maintainer, Sun's contributions have already proved "invaluable," and its continued involvement "will increase the visibility and accessibility of lxrun." Lxrun for Solaris on Intel is available immediately, with information at Sun's site. Software development tools for the Sparc version are planned to be available next month. ®
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Nintendo deal could mean big PowerPC presence in home

IBM's PowerPC deal with Nintendo, announced yesterday, could turn out to be a lot bigger than $1 billion. A related deal also announced yesterday, between Japanese giant Matsushita and Nintendo, could give PowerPC a giant heave into the home electronics/networking arena. The two companies have agreed to "a comprehensive collaboration in the area of digitally networked home electronics." This means convergence products, with Matsushita providing the DVD technology for the new Nintendo machines, and Nintendo extending the functionality of those machines into home electronics and entertainment, including areas such as broadcasting, telecoms and storage. The deal probably also takes Nintendo into the set-top box arena (Matsushita builds them already, and pointedly also mentions its claimed expertise in digital video cameras, mobile phones and broadcast systems. Matsushita has already been pushing its Home Information Infrastructure (HII) home networking plans in Japan, and suggests the addition of game functions to DVD products will add the ability to distribute and receive games, music and other media. The new Nintendo machine, meanwhile, looks plausible. It will be out late next year, and will have a 400MHz custom PowerPC chip, manufactured at 0.18 micron using copper technology. Graphics will come from a 200MHz custom chip designed with ArtX and it will use high-speed memory technology with bandwidth of 3.2GBps. ®
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Nokia starts push into wireless LAN

Cellular phone giant Nokia is mounting a major push into the broadband wireless LAN market, with 2 megabits per second products due in Q2 in the US and Q3 in Europe. The company will be putting out IEEE 802.11 compatible PC Cards and LAN access points which use the 2.4GHz part of the radio spectrum. Nokia modestly describes the initiative as being intended to "move wireless LAN products towards [the] mass market." But don't get too excited - that's Nokia code for 'charge high prices to the early adopter market.' The PC Card is going to be an almost reasonable $295 in the US, but the access point (i.e., base station) will be $1,295. That's not going to be particularly attractive to people who want to link a couple of machines in the home or a small office. The numbers stack up better if you're thinking of a larger operation, which will allow the access point to support something in the region of its 30 maximum users. But we're getting there, and Nokia usually cuts its prices after hitting people for about 12 months. The wireless connection for the products is good for about 100 metres in-building, and three to four times that outdoors. Nokia intends to jack speeds up to 11Mbps when the standard's set, which according to our calculations means faster products next year, and those price cuts on the current ones. ®
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Gates in talks over $1 billion Deutsche Telekom deal

Today's Microsoft mega investment story is for a $1 billion stake in Deutsche Telekom or its cable TV operations. According to German newpaper Die Zeit today, His Billness has been deep in talks with DT chairman Ron Sommer, and the pair envisage a broad alliance covering Internet, online services and mobile phones. DT is a whopper in all those fields, and indeed in cable TV, although it has clashed with the German authorities over this, so if Microsoft can get in there, it could mean serious business. Presumably 'broad alliance' is code for DT promising to use lots of CE set-top boxes, Microsoft e-commerce software and CE-based mobile phone services (a happy coincidence, given the Sendit purchase). But wouldn't $1 billion be cheap for all this? Talks with DT could well turn out to be more complex, and less amenable to producing concrete results, than some of the other deals Microsoft has been doing. The German giant has is own vast money pile, so isn't gagging for Microsoft dollars, as some other over-extended outfits are. On top of that, DT's money pile can be viewed as effectively infinite, because its ever-so-slow privatisation can continue to yield cash for a long while yet. So Microsoft is going to have to make it clearer what it can do for DT, and cash doesn't necessarily answer the question. ®
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Fly Me, I'm Virgin Net

Virgin Net has decided to shift its Net strategy and reposition itself instead as a portal jammed with content rather than as a conduit for people to hook onto the Net. The decision by one of the most familiar names in the business is an indication of just how competitive the provision of Net access has become in the UK. Sources at Virgin Net told The Register that the Online Service Provider (OSP) was not about to dump its ISP function -- or its 200,000 customers who get a leg up to the Web using Virgin Net. Nor will it stop recruiting new subscribers. Instead, the Web company believes there is more to be gained by becoming a destination site providing content and e-commerce opportunities—not least with the opening of Virgin Megastore Online in the US earlier this week. "Virgin Net is focusing on entertainment and leisure," said a spokeswoman. "That's what people come to Virgin for -— music and travel." The shift in emphasis by such a well-known service provider could well be mirrored elsewhere in the industry although exactly who might be next is anyone's guess. But with the Net industry in the UK on the brink of yet another Freeserve-style revolution as service providers such as X-Stream Networks and Screaming.Net offer subscription and toll-free Net access, Virgin's decision to focus on content and e-commerce should not really come as a surprise. ®
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Intel's Otellini outlines chip strategy

Paul Otellini, general manager of Intel's architecture business group, paid a whistle-stop visit to London today and outlined the company's business strategy. He also mentioned a new product which comes out next week which we're not allowed to talk about. So go here to find out about the 550MHz Pentium III. Otellini said: "Two years ago, we realised how important the Internet would be. We were looking for the new killer application. It appeared underneath us and it was the Internet." He said Intel's transition from the Pentium II to the Pentium III would be the fastest ever. "Very soon we'll have .18 micron on the Pentium III for both desktops and mobiles and that will give us economies of cost and speed," he said. He said that the Intel architecture will be the premier method of accessing the Internet. Although Intel is committed to developing the StrongARM platform, he said no one was entirely sure how successful the so-called appliance market would be. "It could be a zero billion dollar business," he said. He said that Intel had not yet had a chance to look at AMD's K7. "We look at every product competitively," he said. "Intel's major goal is typically to displace our own products and to bring out new products that better the old ones," he said. On Intel's pricing on the Celeron processor this year, he said: "We'll be as competitive as we need to be at the low end. We've always made money on the Celeron, it's a profitable product for us. You can't sell below cost -- it's illegal in the US. We don't aim to squash anybody, we aim to be competitive." He said Intel was happy with the progress of the IA-64 platform. "We announced the $250 million fund [earlier this week] to work on the next layer of applications for smaller companies that may not have the financial means to port ," he said. "I'm comfortable wthat we'll have enough target applications at the time of the Merced launch," he said. "IA-64 will be faster and more cost effective. We're trying to move to places where IA-32 does not yet reach." ® See also Intel's desktop chip prices Intel's mobile chip prices Intel's server chip prices
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Intel back-tracks on IEEE1394 support

In a major about-face, Intel has joined the IEEE1394 (aka FireWire) patent pool, the self-appointed consortium of PC and consumer electronics vendors which jointly controls FireWire intellectual property and charges royalties accordingly. At the same time, the other poolers announced their new 1394 tarriff, designed to counter bad publicity prompted by Apple's orginal decision to license FireWire on $1-a-port terms. Intel's surprise move came some three months after the Great Satan announced USB 2.0, which it reckons will dominate PC-peripheral connectivity and demote 1394 to little more than an interface for digital cameras (see Intel snubs IEEE 1394 for USB 2.0). Speaking at the Intel Developers Forum, Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's desktop division, went as far as to claim FireWire, aka IEEE 1394, could quickly become a "niche" technology. However, it now appears Intel is rather less dismissive of the standard, and wants in. It joins original patent pool members Apple, Sony, Toshiba, Philips, Matsushita and Compaq. Other recent recruits include Canon, STMicroelectronics, Mitsubishi and Zayante. This time round, Gelsinger claims: "IEEE1394 enables the PC to add tremendous value to consumer electronics devices." Clearly, Sony's decision to build FireWire -- or iLink, as it calls the technology -- into the upcoming Playstation 2, which is likely to be offered as something more than a games console, and the increased interest in 1394 has persuaded Stan to get closer to 1394. That said, the original licensing issue was highlighted by Gelsinger at IDF as one of the chief reasons why Intel was pursuing USB 2.0 instead of 1394. The concern over licensing was prompted by Apple's move to charge manufacturers $1 for every 1394 port installed in a system. Pressure from key FireWire supporters then forced Apple to place its IP into the hands of the patent pool (see Apple caves in over FireWire licensing). The patent group's new royalty fee comes in at 25 cents per system, regardless of the number of FireWire ports installed. Of course, joining the 1394 patent poolers is one thing, throwing your full weight behind the standard is another. It will be interesting to see how Intel's move on FireWire affects both the specification and market positioning of USB 2.0, when it's unveiled at the next Intel Developers Forum in September. ® See also Third fighter joins FireWire, USB 2.0 fray 1394 Trade Association replies to Intel Firewire snub
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We demand our D Notice from MI6

Security agency MI6 has slapped a D Notice on the press which effectively gags newspapers from printing details of its operatives. We wrote a story about the Web site that posted information on the agents yesterday, but we're a bit disturbed we haven't yet received a D Notice in the post. In the days of the disastrous Suez Crisis, the UK government gagged stories appearing in the press about the invasion debacle. Papers responded to the ban by printing papers with white space where the stories should be. So here's our story about the spies, written in invisible cyber-ink, below. ®
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Web site names UK spies

British spies’ lives were put in danger today after their true identities were splashed over the Web. A US-based Web site publicly identified agents working for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the nation’s overseas intelligence gathering arm, formerly MI6. Government officials were swift to open an investigation, threatening to remove the information or shut the site down. Editors were this afternoon urged not to publish the URL or the list of names published on it. Rear Admiral David Pulvertaft, defence advisory notice secretary at Whitehall, said: "Such action could put lives at risk." He added: "How the information was obtained is also very worrying." It is unclear if today’s disclosure is related to a similar incident last week, where ex-spy Richard Tomlinson also threatened to publicly reveal Britain’s top moles. The government managed to secure a court injunction on that occasion and closed down his Web site. Former MI6 agent Tomlinson wanted to reveal MI6 names and office locations in revenge for what he saw as an infringement on his freedom. The situation raises fears over the abuse of cyberspace, where publication is generally free and without worry from censorship. ® Click here to email Linda Harrison
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Vanguard breaks into Direct Rambus market

Vanguard said today that it has succeed in developing .19 micron 128Mbit and 144Mbit Direct Rambus memory chips. It will now move into mass production of the parts at its fab in the Hsinchu Science Park on the island. At the same time, Vanguard also announced it will manufacture .19 micron 128Mbit SDRAM chips. ®
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Sony Music backs MS' digital delivery format

Sony has selected Microsoft's Windows Media Technologies (WMT) to drive its first foray into digital music distribution, due to go live this summer. Sony Music Entertainment, the Japanese giant's US-based music and video subsidiary (it's dominated by Americans because it used to be CBS Records), will initially offer singles for the same price as US punters pay in stores -- around $3.49. Sony didn't specify whether the singles will ship online first, and appear in stores later, or whether releases will be made in parallel. Of course, Sony took the opportunity to point out it will be the first major record label to sell purely digital products -- a dig at Universal, which plans to move into digital distribution before the end of the year. You can expect Sony to be bullish about this, but since music fans buy on the basis of artists, not recording companies, you can't help wonder if Sony, like Universal, is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Sony didn't say which artists will be represented in the digital world. Microsoft is guilty of this too. It claimed that Sony's choice will encourage many more users to download its software. The trouble is, no amount of Maria Carey singles on MS Audio 4.0 will encourage Marilyn Manson fans to download WMT. The choice of Microsoft technology is interesting, given the music business' general distrust of the Great Satan of Software. However, it's clear Microsoft made some moves to allay fears that it wants music executives' jobs, primarily by allowing the Sony some input into the level of security the software provides. At the same time, of course, Sony's hardware arm has its own music security system, MagicGate, which is being made to interoperate with IBM's WMT rival, Electronic Music Management System (EMMS). Sony Music is itself working with IBM by providing content for the EMMS public trials due to take place in San Diego, California next month. The point here is perhaps that Sony Music realises that there will be multiple formats and multiple delivery technologies -- at least for the short to medium-term -- and it needs to embrace a number of them if it's to get its music out to the maximum number of potential buyers. With the Secure Digital Music Intiative (SDMI) set to supply a series of guidelines that 'legitimate' digital music distributors will want to follow, multiple interoperable solutions would appear to be the order of the day, until both music and technology companies can finally agree on a single format and copy-protection, dsitribution and right management frameworks to back it up -- the online music equivalent of the CD Red Book. At the very least the digital distribution business will need universal players, applications that can handle every format. No one, after all, would put up with a CD player for Sony's disc and another for EMI's titles, and increasingly users will become equally averse to multiple software players. And goes double for fans who want to download music not via PCs, but their hi-fis. Much will depend on the SDMI's recommendations, due in draft form in the same timeframe as the Sony online launch. ®
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Official secure music scheme to kill all non-compliant formats

The music industry has planted a timebomb in Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) to nuke all non-compliant files at a time of the business' choosing, according to a source close to the SDMI. The source, cited by MP3.com (and therefore not what you'd call a friend of either the SDMI or the music majors behind it), claimed to have attended recent SDMI sessions held in London. What emerged, said the source, was a two-stage strategy covering the transition from today's open music world into the highly secure future the music industry wants to see. The first stage will see the definition of SDMI compliance -- not a digital audio format in its own right but a framework for what formats must provide. Clearly, current MP3 files, for example, will not come up to scratch, and neither will songs ripped from CDs, MP3.com's source reckons. Stage one is pretty much what was anticipated. Player software and hardware devices such as Diamond Multimedia's Rio will play both SDMI compliant and non-compliant files. However, stage two will kill the latter. Described by the source as a "Millenium Trigger", it's essentially a software switch that can be activated at a later date -- the source suggests by some kind of dark conclave of music industry execs -- and will prevent non-SDMI files being played by or generated from SDMI devices. The plan appears to be to allow the music industry to add protection mechanisms to standard media, including CDs, and when that's done to flip the switch and activate full copy-protection on a worldwide basis, instantly. From that point on, SDMI-compliant CDs could be pressed with their 'do not copy' bits set. Of course, since all those CDs you've been buying for the past 15 years were not designed with SDMI compliance in mind, they'll instantly become redundant. Having persuaded music buyers to replace their LPs and cassettes with CDs, the music industry forces them to repeat the process, at least if they ever upgrade their hardware. How they will square this will their own 'CDs provide a lifetime of listening enjoyment' claims (our italics), will remain to be seen. They will probably argue that 'lifetime' refers to the disc, not the listener. In the US, at least, listeners may be protected by the Home Recording Act and the principles of Fair Use, which allow you to make copies for personal use only of recordings you've bought. Music fans in the UK and the rest of Europe have no such protections, and territory-level encoding, such as that employed in the DVD format, would ensure that less secure files for the US could not be used elsewhere. Of course, all this sounds remarkably X Files, and MP3.com's source certainly paints as some great music industry conspiracy. That said, the music business has been pursuing its full copy protection Holy Grail since the early 80s, and only the reluctance of the consumer electronics companies to follow suit has prevented that goal being achieved. But with the consumer electronics people now on board, thanks to the prospect of the new, online market, it's clear the future will be one that's highly copy-protected. And since we're just talking digital data here, the principles of the SDMI could equally and as easily be applied to software. Is it time, perhaps, to stop buying music and software, until the situation gets sorted out? That's the last thing any of these industries want, so it's no wonder they're being so secretive over SDMI. ® You can read the MP3.com source's full statement here
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Will the FTC re-open Intel investigation?

Just a few months after the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) effectively shut the door on an investigation into alleged anti-trust activities, it now seems perhaps that decision was a trifle premature. IDT said a few days ago that it would need outside financing to prop up its ailing x.86 project, and Cyrix said it would get …
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‘Show you can beat NT’ – MS declares war on Linux

Microsoft has issued what amounts to a declaration of war on the Linux community, issuing a public challenge to a Linux versus NT shootout, to be hosted by PC Week Labs. Microsoft seems to have been seriously needled by Linux criticism of an MS-sponsored study carried out by Mindcraft (Linux camp slashes out at survey), and claims Mindcraft has now agreed to redo the tests, and to meet all of the conditions required by the "top Linux creators," Linus Torvalds included. Coincidentally the challenge, issued here yesterday, is supported by recent tests published by PC Week and PC Magazine. NT seems to do awfully well in these, and Microsoft says they "corroborate the Mindcraft findings." According to Microsoft, in challenging the validity of the earlier tests Linus, Alan Cox and Jeremy Allison demanded a re-run, where they could configure and tune the servers themselves and be present to ensure the tests weren't rigged. The tests should be run at a neutral location (come on, ZD surely qualifies?), have third party witnesses, and be run on lower-end hardware and using NT Workstation and Win95 clients. Mindcraft is said to have agreed all this, with those nice people at ZD also qualifying as independent witnesses. But "the Linux community [has been] slow to respond," booms Microsoft. "It's time for the Linux folks to step up to the challenge and prove that Linux is capable of achieving better results than those published in the Mindcraft report." War drums? We think we can hear them... ®
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Spy leaker accuses Government of hype

An ex-spy who published a list of secret agents on the Net, accused the British government of hype yesterday. Richard Tomlinson masterminded the US Website which named over 100 MI6 agents around the globe. Government officials have been desperately trying to shut down the site. A senior Whitehall official said the action put lives at risk and was potentially "extremely serious", according to today’s Financial Times However, Tomlinson slammed the government’s reaction, saying it was "exaggerating" the damage caused. According to BBC Online, Tomlinson issued a statement yesterday claiming the information on his site was public knowledge. "Her Majesty’s government is over-reacting for public effect to stigmatise my efforts," he said. "The names of MI6 officers are the ones I cited in my affidavit on MI6 and Princess Diana." Tomlinson testified at the Paris inquiry into the Princess of Wales' death, claiming her chauffeur, Henri Paul, worked for MI6. The site, which seems to maintain its own server, lists 116 alleged MI6 agents. Yesterday saw a plea from rear admiral David Pulvertaft, head of Whitehall’s D Notice committee, to stop the publication of the URL or agent names. Following a rare public appeal to UK editors, Pulvertaft revealed his worries over cyberspace. "This has underlined the problem with the Internet – that it is unpredictable and uncontrollable," he said. Tomlinson joined MI6 in 1991 and served in Bosnia, Russia and the Middle East. He has made a number of unsubstantiated claims, including MI6’s botched assassination of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic seven years ago. Yesterday’s revelations followed Tomlinson’s threats to reveal secret agents’ names and MI6 offices. He wanted revenge on his former employees for what he saw as an infringement on his liberty.®
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Register Tracks Down 007-Turncoat Web Site

The Register has seen for itself the controversial site containing a list of British secret agents and frankly, we don't know what all the fuss is about. The design is poor, uninspired, with no pictures or neat little animations. It is very text heavy and could really do with an HTML makeover just to brighten it up a bit. If the Webmaster of this particular site had just spent a little time on it -- or even farmed it out to a design agency if they had the cash -- the site could have looked so much more inviting. That said, it must contain something pretty explosive because the British government is spitting blood over it. They're so red in the face they claim it could jeopardise national security and even threaten the lives of British secret service personnel. What's perhaps more dangerous is the long-term impact it will have on Government thinking about the Net. Yaman Akdeniz of Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties told The Register that it could lead to an anti-Net backlash by politicians although exactly how they could enforce anything is still not clear at the moment. The site, which was originally on Geocities before being closed down, has been mirrored and names have been posted in newsgroups. "The genie has been let out of the bottle," Akdeniz said rather poetically, so there's sod all anyone can do about it. A spokesman for the government has been in touch following The Register's request for a D Notice to stop us publishing anything that could endanger national security. "Fine, no problem, you can have one, I'll stick in the post but because of cutbacks it can only go second class. Is that alright?" he said. By the way, you can e-mail us until the bombs stop falling on Belgrade…we will not release the URL for the disaffected Web site. Our lips are sealed. We'd rather have our nails pulled out… you can't make us talk. Name rank and serial number -- that's all you'll get… ®
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Japanese site shows Millenium benchmarks

A Japanese company has screen shots showing just how fast its G400 accelerator is screaming along. Over at this place, is a screen shot showing a RAMDAC speed of 360MHz for a 16Mbits G400 board. Screamingly fast, we'd say. Why, oh why, doesn’t the famous Altavista Babelfish do translations from Japanese to English? ®
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Intel to expand Manila fab

An Intel UK public relations representative today said he was unable to confirm an Asian wire report that Chipzilla is making a further investment in the Philippines. Asia Pulse reported a Philippines government minister, Edgardo Espiritu, as saying that both Intel and Acer will expand their operations in the country. Intel has a fab in the Philippines but if the government minister is right, it probably means that there will be a refurb of its facilities to .18 micron technology. The chip giant is engaged in a worldwide effort to put more .18 micron technology in stream, with three or four fabs operational by the beginning of next year. But Intel is never specific about which fabs are going through a re-furb, and which fabs are not -- that being a sensitive issue. ®
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Radio chip mould broken by Cambridge firm

Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) will use a $10 million cash injection to "break the mould" on the single-chip short-range radio market. The spin off from Cambridge Consultants plans to take on the market via the financial backing by venture capitalists 3I, Amadeus Capital partners and Gilde IT Fund. CSR will be a "fabless silicon supplier", designing and engineering integrated circuits. Manufacture and testing will be subcontracted to Europe and Asia, according to a company statement. CSR designs single-chip short-range radios that allow wireless communication between products such as mobile phones, PDAs and PCs. It will be the first company to offer a fully integrated 2.4 GHz radio, baseband and microcontroller package on one CMOS chip. James Collier, co-founder and technical director of CSR, said: "CSR intends to break the mould of wireless system design". He claimed the process would cut the cost of ownership of quality digital radio by three. "The ability to connect numerous devices without wires can be applied to a whole host of applications, from cordless headsets for mobile phones to more innovative applications in the domestic environment, such as wireless light switches," said Collier. He described the interest in emerging standards such as Bluetooth as "proof of the potential for short-range radio". "Bluetooth is much lower in cost than alternative wireless standards and will often also allow a lower cost replacement for cables and connectors, especially when installation and maintenance is taken into account," added Collier. Cambridge Consultants is part of US consulting firm Arthur D. Little. Arthur D. Little brokered the deal between Korean firms LG Semi and Hyundai... ® You can email Linda Harrison
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Advertising Standards Authority desperate for online complaints…

The guardians of "high standards" in advertising want more people to complain about online ads. Staff are twiddling their thumbs and generally looking for odd jobs to do in the Online Ads/Scrutiny Of department at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). "The ASA has received relatively few complaints about Internet advertisements and those that have broken Codes have been amended without the need for heavy handed sanctions," the ASA whinged in its monthly report. Of course part of the reason why this hand-picked crack team of experts has more time to kill than most is that because the ASA can't even summon up the energy to create an e-mail address for complaints. "If people want to complain they write to us at 2 Torrington Place, London, WC1E 7HW," said a spokesman for the ASA. "We don't have the facility for e-mail complaints," he said rather sheepishly. Heavens to Betsy, whatever next? ® Want to bother Tim Richardson?
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Intel fabbing for HP

Updated Intel has now confirmed it is acting as a foundry for its partner Hewlett Packard. Our resident cynic, Pete Sherriff, said: "It must be an Alpha". Intel's building Alpha chips for Compaq-DEC, he said. But Terry Shannon, industry analyst who runs Shannon knows DEC discounted that. Alpha chips already have an enormous amount of cache on them. It's not Alpha chips. And it's not Transmeta Five minutes after posting the original story, a perceptive reader came up with the possible answer. He said: "It's not Transmeta, because it's Intel's buddy HP. Intel fabs the PA-8500, as any attentive comp.arch reader knows (someone posted a couple of months ago pointing out that the published process characteristics for the 8500 are uncannily similar to the characteristics for Intel's fabrication processes). If Intel isn't fabbing the 8500, then who is? And the 8500 is famed for its huge L1 cache." A representative from Intel confirmed it. He said: "We don't seek third party opportunities but if someone asks us to fab for them we will look at it on a case-by-case basis. We are a foundry for HP and have been so for well over a year." A Register pin is in the post to our reader. ®
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Compucom closes Entex buy

CompuCom Systems has finally clinched a deal to buy the $1.8 billion Technology Acquisition Services division (TASD) of Entex Information Services. The $137 million cash sale ended months of speculation. It will push Dallas-based network integrator CompuCom to a decent size to compete in the hardware business. Entex will meanwhile be switched into a $500 million services only operation, according to Computer Reseller News. The acquisition included CompuCom hiring some of the arm’s inside sales force and account centre personnel in Ohio, and buying its Kentucky configuration and distribution centre. John Lyons, TASD president, will join CompuCom as V.P. of sales. ComputCom CEO and president Ed Anderson said product volume would result in a 2 or 3 per cent rise in gross margin for the company’s product sales. He described the buy out as "a textbook case of consolidation". "We like this acquisition because it helps us expand and leverage our co-location, extranets and virtual sales model with a great customer list in a Fortune 500 market," said Anderson. Entex said it would concentrate on growing its services business. The move follows Compaq’s announcement earlier this week to streamline its US distribution into four players, effective from August 1. Go here to see it. CompuCom said it would be used by the US vendor for major accounts.® Want to email Linda Harrison?
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Sega rallies BT, ICL for Dreamcast Net freebie

BT, ICL and Sega are joining forces to launch Europe-wide free Internet access -- snag is, you'll have to buy a Sega Dreamcast games console to use it. The console, which includes a modem and somewhere to plug your phone, is being branded more as a home entertainment centre rather just something that keeps kids occupied for hours. Ironically, such a service could help to further undermine AOL's European operation (see previous story) especially in those countries where the concept of subscription-free Net access is unheard of. At the same time, it's worth bearing in mind Dreamcast sales to date have been less than spectacular, even among the ususally techno-hungry Japanese. Sony seems to have very effectively nipped Dreamcast sales through its clever spoiling tactic of announcing its Playstation 2 well in advance of its shipment. Playstation 2 will also feature Internet connectivity, plus support for consumer electronics gadgets such as printers and digital cameras. In tone it will be more like an early 80s home computer than an early 90s game console -- in other words, it will be mainly used for games, but can at least do other things too. Meanwhile, as well as access to the Web, e-mail, and chat Sega is also planning to offer on-line shopping. Of course, the big hook for games' fans will be access to online games. "This will be another Internet first, as Dreamcast will be the first ever games console to make use of the Internet," said Derek Sayers, MD of ICL's Electronic Business Services unit. Last month UK-based Kingfisher and Group Arnault said they were to offer subscription-free Net access throughout Europe. Initially, it will only be available in France but both companies have plans to roll out the service throughout the rest of Europe, including the UK. ®