14th > May > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

NSI beats-off domain legal challenge

Network Solutions (NSI), the former exclusive domain name registrar for .COM, .EDU, .NET, and .ORG, breathed a sigh or relief after it successfully defeated yet another legal challenge - from two rival birthday balloon vendors who both wanted the same domain name. NSI managed to persuade federal judge David Hamilton to dismiss allegations of antitrust liability by Bruce Watts of Green Forks, Indiana. On Watts' facts, he may have a trademark violation claim, but the previous registration of the domain name birthdayballoons.com will stand, and Watts will have to pay NSI's costs. The significant result of the case (and it is the fourth of the type) for registrars is that the judge confirmed that they are immune from antitrust violation claims for domain registration. But for businesses, the decision does not resolve the ridiculous position that for .COM domains, registration is still first-come, first-served, even if there is a pre-existing registered trademark. It takes expensive and often difficult trademark passing-off litigation to overturn the registration. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, the chambers of commerce control the issue of .NL domains, which seems to eliminate most trademark problems and cybersquatting. There is an important side issue that affects NSI, but this has not been much publicised. The Department of Justice began an antitrust investigation of NSI two years ago to determine whether NSI's "Who is" database is solely owned by NSI or not, in response to a complaint from PG Media. Earlier this month NSI received official notification from the DoJ that it was being investigated, but as is so often the case, events have rather overtaken the situation initially examined by the DoJ. NSI was first given the management of domain name registration in a contract from the National Science Foundation in 1993, and this ran until September last year. After some hassles, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) oversaw the transition from an NSI monopoly to a group of registrars (New domain name system kicks off) but all is not harmonious. NSI appears still to be the only .COM registrar at the moment because it has been reluctant to provide the software to make it possible for the additional registrars to access the "Who is" database. In January, NSI stopped access to some data in the database to discourage cybersquatters from buying names for resale. Only when the US Department of Commerce, the new regulator that took over from the NSF, got shirty did NSI restore access to the database last month. The present impasse is more likely to be resolved by negotiation than litigation, but NSI, a wholly owned subsidiary of Science Applications International Corp., whose revenues were $93 million in 1998, has managed to upset many in the community. ®
The Register breaking news

AOL, Hughes to team to compete with Gates' Teledesic

AOL is discussing a $1 billion investment in Hughes Network Systems to help the development of a two-way satellite service for high-speed Web access, Spaceway. This would give the company a stake in one of the next century's broadband satellite networks, and further the "AOL Anywhere" goal. Today, satellite communication has been at best a downloading operation, with upload via a landline (the AOL deal anounced earlier this week (Earlier Story)
The Register breaking news

Allaire Confusion for Linux after MS deal

Further to our story about Microsoft's friend Jeremy Allaire (Allaire scores DNA deal), some interesting additional information has come to light, for which we thank reader Case Roole. It seems that Allaire liked the idea of porting to the non-Windows world, but its ColdFusion server, which was developed for NT and Solaris was not exactly up to scratch. In fact ColdFusion was so unreliable with Solaris that Case had to write a program to check the server every 15 minutes, and reboot it if necessary. On Allaire's discussion forum last autumn, somebody asked if there would be a port to Linux. This was met with a flat "never" and that would have been the end of it, except that Allaire himself dropped in to say that if there were sufficient demand, he'd consider it. Slashdot picked this up, and soon there were several hundred requests. Allaire said it would be done. Time passed, and in mid-March Allaire announced a server stub for Linux, which was more of a proxy server that could run on Linux than a proper port. It turns out that the Solaris port for ColdFusion uses Bristol's Wind/U for porting to Solaris, which in itself is interesting in view of the litigation between Bristol and Microsoft. Microsoft is trying to stop Bristol's Wind/U development. Allaire said it intended to write a native version of the server for Linux, but the omens are not good, especially since the link on Allaire's web site to an article "Announcing ColdFusion support for Linux" now shows an empty page. The ColdFusion Linux stub FAQ still says that a full port will be part of the next major release, the date of which has not been determined. Nor does this square with Allaire saying in its FAQ about ColdFusion and Linux that "Linux represents a key emerging platform and marketplace" and that "Allaire will focus its Linux implementation on taking advantage of key existing features and services in Linux" and that "Allaire intends to use and support Linux internally". So what's going on here? Well, Allaire made a declaration to support the Microsoft claim that IE was integrated with Windows, although he effectively negated this in a second declaration in which he described how an Allaire product used image display functionality from LeadTools, adding that he did not consider the imaging services to be part of the operating system. Of course the functionality relationship is technically identical to the way Microsoft said IE3 was "integrated" into Windows 95, which suggests that Allaire had been seduced by Microsoft. In return for vague promises of present and future collaboration, could Allaire have been persuaded by Microsoft into abandoning plans to port to Linux? If so, it hasn't got round to announcing it. This would not be the first time that Microsoft has influenced a developer not to port to a product that was seen to present even minimal competition. There was a time when IBM really thought OS/2 would take off if it could only persuade enough developers to port, but we all saw what happened there. Lambs should not lie down with lions. ®
The Register breaking news

Nokia-Bridge deal delivers mobile finance data

Nokia has announced a deal with Bridge Information Systems that will allow mobile phone access to Bridge's real-time financial information systems. Wisely, the partners are pushing the service first in Asia-Pacific, home of obsessive interest in stock and currency movements. The deal allows the BridgeConnect financial information service to be accessed using the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) on WAP-enabled mobile phones like the Nokia 7110 media phone. The service, according to Nokia, will be simple and cheap for cellular providers to implement. BridgeConnect delivers real-time financial information, news headlines, currency rates and stock movements, and can be customised for regions and markets. Users can also set up personal portfolios, and so will have the ability to be intensely irritating in bars and restaurants. ®
The Register breaking news

Qualcomm-MS bid for cellular data starts trial

Wireless Knowledge (WK), the Microsoft-Qualcomm wireless joint venture company, has announced the first trial of its Revolv mobile data service, in conjunction with Canadian outfit Bell Mobility. Although WK says it isn't committed to particular standards, the Bell Mobility trial strokes both partners adequately. The Canadian company is committed to the Qualcomm-backed CDMA digital wireless standard, and as Revolv is intended to allow mobile executives to access Exchange, corporate data and Internet via wireless, Microsoft BackOffice is the other major watchword. The service is scheduled to go commercial in the summer (Canadian summer, presumably), but Bell Mobility is already offering it to wireless carriers on an OEM basis. This suggests that Bell is putting a fair bit into the project, and may well turn out to be critical to WK's ability to get the service out to a broader community. We should also be looking for WK to announce some deals with GSM services, and services outside of the US. This could prove to be tricky, as the CDMA-BackOffice tag won't help the sales pitch in the rest of the world. ®
The Register breaking news

Creative denies move into European PC sales

Lisa Peres, European channel marketing manager at Creative, said today that her company has no plans to extend sales of PCs into Europe. But the fact that it is already doing so in Singapore and South America has caused disquiet amongst rival graphics board manufacturers. One UK distributor of rival graphics products said: "How do customers feel when they discover that they're major suppliers compete against them? Creative Labs has launched its own range of PCs. We do not know if these are for sale in Europe yet but they are in Singapore and South America. Reports reach us that they are selling well. How long can it be before they also start selling in Europe?" Creative executives told The Register last week it had no plans to sell machines in Europe and that the scheme, in Brazil, had existed for two years. It had seen a market opportunity there. ®
The Register breaking news

More details leak on Matrox G400

The nice people who run hardware site Kbench in Korea have pointed out to us it has a set of Matrox G400 32Mb benchmarks on its site. And indeed it has. According to Kbench, the benchmarks used a Pentium II overclocked from 400MHz to 448MHz, a Gigabyte GA-BX 2000 board using the 440BX chipset, 128Mb of six nanosecond SDRAM, a Quantum EX 6.4G hard drive, and the G400 32Mb card which uses six nanosecond SGRAM. "G400 is very strong in 32bit and 1024x768 above resolution," says the Webmaster. "Matrox has claimed the G400 is under NDA till May 20th. But we are authorised by our distributor. The benchmarks compare the G400 from Matrox with the TNT-2 and the Voodoo 3. Go here for the benchmarks, and here for the games performance. ®
The Register breaking news

MDR flees Ziff for Cahners

MicroDesign Resources, the people who publish The Microprocessor Report, seem to have been sold by Spliff Davis to the Cahners Electronic Group. We know this because we received an invite to a seminar on June 10 where Dirk Meyer, chief architect of AMD's K7, will demonstrate the beast. According to MDR, Meyer will present new features that will allow the K7 to meet the needs of different market segments. He will also explain the architectural tradeoffs his team made and the features that are responsible for the chip’s high performance. ®
The Register breaking news

ASA sinks teeth into channel advertisers

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) minefield exploded in the face of several IT companies this month. Objections were raised to a Simply Computer’s ad in a glossy supplement claiming: "We won’t be beaten on price." Yes, you know the one –- guarantees to refund the price difference if the product was found cheaper at a rival. The ASA decided that the "subject to not selling below our cost price" condition attached to the ad actually invalidated Simply's "cast iron guarantees" on rock bottom prices. AC Computer Warehouse was getting strife for advertising a PC that was "Ready to Go", yet had the Windows 95 software only partially installed which stopped the customer accessing the Web. The computer also came minus a licence and CD-ROM. The complaint was upheld and the offending Cheshire company asked to state the limitations of the product in the ad. Three objections were raised against Granville Technology Group. The only one upheld was against a PC finance package previously advertised in the national press. The ad's "pay nothing until July 1998 Interest Free Credit" claim was misleading because of the conditions which accompanied it were in very small print. These stated this offer was "on home and media models only". The ASA said the type used was tiny and could easily be overlooked. The Lancashire VAR pleaded innocent, saying it had mistakenly run an old ad and that it usually used a larger font in the ads. It was asked to be more vigilant in future. Sage received a slap on the wrist for an advert that implied over a million companies in the UK used its accounting software. It acknowledged the claim was wrong and meant to say over a million companies worldwide. The naughty Tynesiders had also claimed that over 80 per cent of accountants would recommend Sage software. But the survey used was five-years-old. The ASA ruled the report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants "was likely to be out-of-date", and asked Sage to state the date of the survey if they intended to re-use it. Two computer game ads were also deemed either offensive or distressing. The campaigns for Eidos Interactive's Akuji the Heartless and Activision's Tenchu Stealth Assassins were not considered acceptable. Though the games themselves were thoughtfully left to run riot with the minds of the nation's youth. ®
The Register breaking news

MS marketing spins and respins in Linux attack

Updated Confirmation that Microsoft accidentally shipped the beta of its attack on Linux (MS declares war on Linux) has arrived, in the shape of a further goof from the marketing department, followed by a swift amendment. Not counting any changes that have got by us, we calculate we're now on MS Linux War 3.0. When version 1.0 shipped, down at the bottom of the NT advantages list it read: "Why don't we address the int'l and accessibility point?" There's obviously some reason why not, because this bit has now been deleted. Send suggestions for its restitution to billg@microsoft.com. This change had been made by the time a plucky reader made it to the site, but he found another one. "NTFS provides a 64-bit file system which is capable of file sizes up to 264 (must be larger than 2GB)," it says. Or at least, it said, because they've fixed that one now too. But we have a GIF, and the complete version 1.0 we saved earlier. Well, yes, but 264 whats? For 264, the latest amended version now reads two to the power of 64 (no way am I risking the ASCII on that), and we have happily achieved the larger than 2GB imperative with "Much larger than 2GB." We really think MS marketing ought to look up how much larger though. Any more, team? If MS can get it up to version 3.1 the OEMs might start buying it. Unless of course they're worried about the rate of kernel changes. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel aims to be number 2 server manufacturer in Europe by year end

Intel plans to be #2 to Compaq in European servers by the end of 1999. Chipzilla, as every schoolboy knows, doesn’t make computers, oh dearie me, no. It makes the bits that go inside the things and it's the OEMs that actually build systems. Except, that is, for the server market where the chip behemoth has been quietly selling almost-ready-to-run boxes to customers for ages. These systems include case, power supply, CPU and so on. Just stick in a hard disk, a graphics card and bung a badge on the outside and bingo - you’re a server supplier. Intel has always maintained that the thinking behind this is that building a server is a damned sight more complex than throwing together a desktop system and that servers require considerably more sophisticated cooling arrangements including lots of BIG fans and internal ducting to make sure the cool air reaches the vital organs. These Intel vanilla systems explain why many OEM Xeon systems bear an uncanny resemblance to each other – they’re all Intel inside, big time. Now, reliable sources close to Intel in Europe have revealed that Chipzilla is already in fourth place for server shipments in Europe thanks to growth in the region of more than 110 per cent since the beginning of 1998 – about five times the growth rate of the server market overall which moved Intel up from eighth place. At the moment, analysts estimate that Intel is shipping something in excess of 85,000 units a quarter, Dell manages 83,000, IBM 93,000, HP 100,000 and Compaq over 205,000. If Chipzilla meets its targets, those computers it doesn’t make should generate a cool $1 billion from Europe this year. Can it be long before Intel bites the bullet and starts selling its own systems to end users? Register Factoid #550 You can buy a PC with an Intel badge on already – the TeamStation videoconferencing system.
The Register breaking news

Microsoft allies with broadband outfit to push NT

We've no price tag on today's Microsoft cable deal as yet, but it's an alliance with would-be broadband cable Internet provider At Home Corp., the US outfit that's aiming to provide services to small and medium-sized cable operators. As announced the deal is a strategic technology partnership intended to "accelerate the deployment of broadband Internet services." Microsoft provides At Home with "support and resources to assist in marketing," while the pair will combine to incorporate NT Server into AT Home's network. For Microsoft, At Home seems to be a bit of a punt. The company had 460,000 cable modem subscribers in North America as of the end of Q1, and so far hasn't exactly seemed to be storming the citadel. It has a pretty wide range of agreements with cable outfits (including AT&T, another recent Microsoft partner, and ultimately At Home's largest shareholder), and says 15 million customers in the US are capable of receiving its services. As the networks get upgraded, this number will increase, so the At Home subscriber numbers should increase in parallel. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel and Silicon Storage settle lawsuit

Silicon Storage Technology (SST) and Intel have settled their legal differences out of court. SST and Intel entered into the legal fray in November 1997 over flash memory technology. But now the lawyers have been sent back to their offices after both parties agreeed to a neutral mediation, with Intel and SST both saying they are pleased with the settlement. There are no details of the settlement, but SST said the result would not affect its financials. ®
The Register breaking news

Cyrix sale rumour mill ramps

There were conflicting reports on US wires yesterday evening that Taiwanese foundry TSMC was considering buying the Cyrix fab. One wire quoted a TSMC executive as saying it was interested in buying the fab while another wire quoted a TSMC executive as saying wasn't interested in buying the fab. But, in the process, a National executive confirmed that it was talking to several companies, as we reported earlier this week. (Story: AMD could buy Cyrix business) And Eurotrade which covers the Taiwanese market in quite excellent detail, said that a TSMC spokesman had confirmed that it was in talks to acquire the South Portland fab. ®
The Register breaking news

Creative unwraps 3dfx Wrapper

Creative Technologies yesterday released the first beta Wrapper, a utility that maps calls from one 3D acceleration chipset's API to another's, in this case to allow 3dfx Voodoo-based games to run on nVidia's Riva TNT chip. However, the company is being very cautious about the release, even going as far as to claim the software isn't a Wrapper, according to a report in Maximum PC. And well they might -- only last month, 3dfx set its lawyers onto Web sites posting independently developed Wrappers. 3dfx's claim: that the developers infringed its intellectual property rights by developing their software. Creative's attempt at a Wrapper -- sorry, "pure transition layer and nothing more", as Creative brand manager Jim Carlson would have it -- is called Unified. It translates calls made by a game to 3dfx's Glide API into Direct3D calls. Unified was developed using only publicly available information, claimed Creative, so 3dfx should have no beef with Creative. And, indeed, 3dfx was playing it cautious too: a company spokesman, cited in the Maximum PC report, said 3dfx would evaluate the matter shortly and determine whether or not legal action would be appropriate. The Creative wrapper is likely to be released free of charge, but tied in to Creative's own TNT and TNT2 cards, even though it will technically run with any Direct3D board. ®
The Register breaking news

Linux fans never do any work

Employers beware. When hiring new techies, think twice before giving the job to an applicant wearing a Linux beanie hat. Exhaustive research by The Register's statistics division has revealed that any news story posted on the Web containg the L word is immediately pounced on by Torvaldians worldwide who obviously have little else to occupy their time. The UK news aggregation site, NewsNow.co.uk, posts a continually-updated list of the top ten most frequently-hit stories from numerous news sources. Invariably, all ten slots are occupied by Linux stories. This one will be on the list soon. We will appraise you of the number of hits obtained. ® Want to harrass The Sherriff for his insolence? Email him here. Intel is not an investor in Pete Sherriff
The Register breaking news

Freeserve adds share buying to its service

Dixons has just forked out $15 million for a 13 per cent share in GlobalNet Financial.com to bolster the content provided by its highly successful ISP Freeserve. Within months it appears the electrical retailer-come-Internet company will start offering an on-line sharedealing service to rival established firms such as Charles Schwab. According to reports, the service will cover all stocks and shares listed in the UK and the US and could also lead to a wide variety of other financial products including mortgages. Of course the deal has a reciprocal value for GlobalNet Financial.com giving Freeserve's 1.1 million subscribers access to its Web site UkiNvest.com. "We believe a closer relationship with Freeserve will help us expand at a much faster rate as well as maximise our equity value over the long term," said Stanley Hollander, president and CEO of GLBN. As part of the deal, Freeserve has the option to increase its stake in GLBN to 19.9 per cent. ®
The Register breaking news

Developer community to standardise PowerPC Linux

A gang of independent programmers developing PowerPC versions of Linux are seeking to unify established and emerging Mac-oriented distributions of the open source OS. Described as "a loose coalition of developers", the LinuxPPC Developers (LPD) organisation wants to ensure future releases of LinuxPPC (no relation), Yellow Dog Linux and other yet-to-be-formed distributors can base their distributions on a common core. The plan, said LPD project manager Mark Hatle, is to ensure application compatibility across PowerPC-based systems, including not just the Mac, but Mac clones, RS/6000 systems, the BeBox and PowerPC Reference Platform (PReP) machines. "Without a common base to work from," said Hatle, "there is a lot of duplication of effort in the community." To prevent that duplication, LPD has released its first Reference Release. Based on Red Hat Linux 6.0, LPD's offering includes version 2.2.6 of the Linux kernel, the glibc 2.1.1 pre 2 library, egcs 1.1.2, the Xfree86 3.3.3.1 X Windows engine, and the Gnome 1.0 and KDE 1.1.1 GUIs. Future releases, aimed not at Linux users but Linux distributors, would be developed and co-ordinated by the LPD -- essentially the organisation sees itself as a kind of Mozilla.org for PowerPC Linux development. "The Reference Release is the first step to ensure that every Red Hat-style distribution is compatable," said Hatle. ®
The Register breaking news

DRAM prices plummet

English language newspaper The Korea Herald is reporting that prices of memory chips are dropping through the floor. Quoting a Ministry of Commerce spokesman, the Herald says that spot prices of 64Mbit parts are hovering around the $9 level but could drop to $8 apiece. And it's SDRAM which is giving most cause for concern. Eight by eight chips have dropped to just over $6. Richard Gordon, senior semiconductor memory analyst at Dataquest Europe, said: "We saw Q4 and Q1 pricing as being reasonably stable but in the middle of Q1 they went down significantly." He said the PC-100 parts cost around $9 but was heading towards $7. "It's as little as $6 on the spot market," he said. Part of the reason for the prices dropping was because US company Micron had aggressively ramped during the year. "It's because they have a very low die size and they're flooding the market," Gordon said. He said Dataquest had expected more stability through 1999. "It looks like they'll stabilise at $6 or $7 in the contract market." ®
The Register breaking news

Don’t buy an Intel Inside PC

The Register Advisory Group (RAG) would like to remind readers not to buy a new Intel PC until after the weekend. As listed here, Chipzilla is chopping prices on Monday to make room at the top for the hot (literally) new P3 550 which will debut at $744. Other parts take a dive at the same time – the P3 500MHz drops from $637 to $482, the 450MHz is slashed from $411 to $268 as does the humble P2 of the same speed. The P2 400 drops to $193 from $234. Celerons are unaffected this time round but are scheduled to go down in the next planned price move on July 18. ®
The Register breaking news

Mobile phone can save you from a heart attack

Medical check-ups could soon be carried out via mobile phones, thanks to German technology. That's right, based in the town of Essen, heart specialist Dr Stefan Sack has come up with the perfect gift for affluent hypochondriacs everywhere -- a mobile phone that can tell you that you're having a heart attack. It's called "Handy for Hearts" (Handy is the German name for a mobile phone,) and it can beam your heart rate and ECG reading via satellite back to the nearest hospital. It uses global satellite positioning to pinpoint your exact location. In the throes of your heart attack, all you have to do is get your phone out of your bag or briefcase and hold it over your heart. Doctors can then call you back on your mobile and tell you how long you've got left, or whether the ambulance is going to get to you on time. The story appeared in the London Evening Standard and quote Dr Sack as saying: "The few moments in which a patient suffers pains can mean the difference between life and death. An ECG on the spot allows us to gather the necessary data instantly while medical help is despatched." Other countries with high hypochondriac populations –- namely the UK and the US -- are thought to be interested in trialing the service. At around £1000 a pop, the handset is not for poor people -– which is a pity because recent research has shown the poor to suffer the highest rate of heart disease. The Handy for Hearts is also likely to cost around £2000 per year to run -– which could be enough to give anyone palpitations. ® See also: Mobile phones rot your brain Government seeks last word on mobile phone health scares" Official:mobile phones won't maim your brain Mobile phone chip ends radiation fears
The Register breaking news

Launch of Mirror's ic24 sees IBM steal a jump on Compaq

The Mirror Group, Cable & Wireless Communications, Compaq and Microsoft stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a show of unity today to explain why the new ic24 subscription-free ISP service and portal was set to break new ground. Such a show of strength by some of the industries biggest heavyweights is indeed a sight to behold. The Mirror Group -- led by its flagship tabloid and with eight million readers across its other publishing interests -- brings content, a delivery mechanism and punters to the table. CWC and the Great Stan of Software bring telecommunications know-how and software, respectively. And Compaq? Oh, it brings hardware to the great partnership -- but not its own. At the plush briefing today the all-singing, all-dancing multimedia presentation was delivered using …wait for it, wait for it…an IBM ThinkPad. Is that the best product endorsement for Big Blur or what? Oh, how we laughed. Still makes me chuckle now just thinking about it... ®
The Register breaking news

Slapped wrists for Dell and Micron over ads

Dell Computer and Micron Electronics have been scolded over misleading PC leasing ads. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that the two direct sellers’ adverts violated federal laws. Its complaints covered Dell's Internet ads stating that users could buy a new PC via low monthly payments. What the ads failed to show was that payments applied to a lease and not to a purchase. In addition, the FTC claimed that Dell's TV and Web ads failed to clearly display the offer’s Ts&Cs. Micron Electronics was in trouble for failing to show enough information about lease costs, or even omitting the information altogether, in its magazine, newspaper and Internet ads. Both companies yesterday settled the Commission's grievances, agreeing to provide customers with "clear, readable and understandable" information in their PC lease ads, according to the Wall Street Journal. They were instructed to only refer to lease charges if also stating in the ads the total amount due when the lease was signed. No cash fines were involved, but any future offences could result in an $11,000 civil penalty per violation, said the FTC. Dell told InfoWorld Electronic the charges were: "Relatively minor and isolated, and they were easily addressed." ®
The Register breaking news

Toll-free Web access doomed to fail

Cable & Wireless Communications has no plans to introduce toll-free Net access in the UK and doesn't believe that the model is financially viable. Lance Spencer, MD of IP customer solutions and IP strategy at CWC made it clear at a press conference today that there was little future in toll-free access, although he did stress that the subscription-free model -- popularised by Dixons Freeserve - was here to stay. Asked whether CWC was planing to launch a subscription and toll-free Net access service similar to Screaming.net and The X-stream Network, he said: "CWC is not looking at the freephone model and we are not convinced about the viability of operating freephone numbers [to access the Net]." Spencer was speaking at a briefing about ic24, the new subscription-free service branded by the Mirror Group. But his denouncement of the 0800 model has been jumped on by the telco underpinning the Screaming.net service and regarded as little more than sour grapes. "I would be very surprised if CWC wasn't at least looking into offering 0800 number access to the Net," said a spokesman for LocalTel. "We gain our revenue from three different sources and from the business plans we've done our service is viable in the long term," he said. ® Click here to email Tim Richardson
The Register breaking news

Iridium woes worsen

Satellite phone service Iridium admitted yesterday it does not expect to gain the number of subscribers it promised its investors it would attract. At the same time, the deeply troubled company hired investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette to advise it on cutting costs and restructuring its debt. Iridium has until the end of this month to refinance its whopping $800 million debt. The company may have found itself a new CFO on Wednesday -- the previous incumbent, Roy Grant, quit recently -- but its time is beginning to run out. It now appears that Iridium's two-month 'stay of execution', which put back the debt refinancing deadline to 31 May, was granted on the promise of the company achieving a certain number of subscribers. Those projections are unlikely to have been on the scale of the 27,000 the company was predicting last year to reach by this point, but it's clear they are not going to be met. At the end of March, Iridium had 10,294 subscribers, over 7100 of them using its satellite phone service. That figure is unlikely to have increased radically since then, not least because of the quick departure of CEO Ed Staiano and the company's poor Q1 results (see Iridium boldly going... nowhere?). Iridium is not releasing numbers, but it did say yesterday that "expected subscriber ramp-up and revenue generation" were "lower than expected". ®
The Register breaking news

Can Linux avoid Microsoft's NT trap?

Opinion Microsoft's spinmeisters are no doubt highly satisfied with the progress of their assault on the Linux community so far this week. The 'put up or shut up' challenge is of course a trap - but yes, what is the Linux world going to do about it? Discussions of this so far seem pretty rational and realistic. It's generally accepted that Linux will perform better on low-end systems, so the Microsoft-Mindcraft offer of testing at this end is welcome. But it's also accepted that the PC Week Labs-hosted tests proposed will quite possibly show NT beating Linux on bigger systems. If it did so, that would allow Microsoft and Mindcraft, whose previous study came under heavy Linux fire, to say they'd been right all along. So what do you do? If you accept the challenge you'll quite possibly lose, and if you duck it you lose too. Microsoft has already accused the Linux community of being "slow to respond," so if nobody accepts on Linux's behalf (as has been pointed out, the notion of a community responding is pretty weird), Microsoft will just scream this louder. So far so good for the spinmeisters, but let's think for a moment about the narrowness of the battlefield, and who's choosing it. It's being pitched by Microsoft as a shootout between Linux and NT, with greater emphasis on scalability than is currently convenient for Linux. Other systems beat NT in scalability (that Ray Anderson of SCO mailed us just this morning boasting about UnixWare 7 doing this), but if you don't take them into account, and fight on ground favourable to NT, then you get a result that says "NT is the clear winner!" This is not rocket science. The scum of the software business (i.e., practically all of them except Ray) set up their benchmarks to show their products in the best possible light against the competition. They can set the tests up brutally, tuning one installation and not bothering too much about another, and this is what the Great and Good of the Linux world say Mindcraft did for its first, disputed report. But even if they don't do that, they can still choose the 'level' playing field that best suits their product. And why not? You're not going to pay for lab tests that show your product stinks, are you? Well, not deliberately, anyway. Think about how this works in the commercial world, and the possibility of a viable answer to the Microsoft challenge begins to emerge. Microsoft has chosen the territory it wants to fight on, but if it had challenged, say, Oracle or Sun, how would they respond? They would of course point out that the shoot-out was being planned deliberately for ground that favoured Microsoft, and fire back with alternative conditions and their own 'totally impartial' test data that showed how great their stuff was instead. But no, Linux doesn't have to be that despicable. Linux is likely to perform better and more cost-effectively at the low-end, so there has to be more weight insisted on here. As currently proposed by Microcraft, the low-end aspect looks like tokenism. Then there's cost of ownership, uptime (Microsoft's dangerous references to how good at this NT is have been remarked on elsewhere, and could be exploited) and so on. There's the whole artificiality of tests of this sort too - Linux does well in the real world, so some real world factors ought to be brought in. And instead of agreeing to Microsoft's narrowing of the field, why not broaden it out drastically? Why not say, 'look, if you want to prove NT's so great, why don't we turn this into a proper tests that shows the good points and bad points of all of the players? Why don't you let Novell, Sun, Oracle and SCO play too?' Put up or shut up? ® Related Stories: MS declares war on Linux MS marketing spins on Linux
The Register breaking news

Shareholders’ lawsuit pushes Merisel $21m into the red

Merisel has blamed its $20.5 million loss on years of legal wrangling with shareholders. First quarter net income for the US distributor was $491,000 without the charge. Sales for the quarter rose to $1.3 billion. This compared to the previous quarter’s $1.1 billion turnover and net income of $3.6 million. The company stated that it had entered into an agreement to dismiss the litigation pending between itself and certain shareholders and former shareholders. The fight is understood to have been running for years. Merisel also said it was discussing the possible reimbursement of legal costs with its insurers. Merisel chairman and CEO Dwight Steffensen said putting the litigation behind them would: "Serve to eliminate major uncertainties and management distraction". The company said expenses including higher operating costs to ensure Y2K compliance, and asset depreciation from its new SAP system, would effect its finances for the rest of 1999. "Given current margin pressures in the channel, we are driving initiatives that focus on increasing efficiencies, reducing costs, driving additional growth with existing infrastructure and differentiating Merisel from our competitors," said Steffensen. He added that Compaq’s decision earlier this week to keep Merisel as one of its four distributors in the US would help the company’s growth. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel holds line on Direct Rambus

Once more, Intel has maintained that it will not use PC-133 or PC-266 memory, despite increasing signs that Direct Rambus DRAM's horizon is receding. As reported here earlier, Intel will adopt a half-way house strategy to the slight delay in DRDRAM by introducing a PC-100 version of the i820 chipset. But sources close to the chip giant are telling The Register there is a plan to implement PC-133 memory if DRDRAM shows more signs of adopting a belly-up position. The source said: "Intel is an intelligent company. If I was Intel I wouldn't be putting all my eggs into the Direct Rambus market. I would have thought it would have a backup strategy." Intel, when contacted, said that everything remained unchanged on the PC-133 and PC-266 front. ®
The Register breaking news

Ballmer muses on opening up NT source code

Microsoft President Steve Ballmer suggested during a speech to CIOs and information industry executives yesterday that Microsoft might release some NT source code. His comments came when a questioner managed to slip one in about Linux. This is by no means the first time Ballmer has mused out loud about open source, without making any specific commitments, but he had quite a lot to say. Clearly he's been turning the matter over a lot, if he can spiel at this length in response to a simple question. So we'll look at the full text of his response, lest any mythology develops: QUESTIONER: "Could you please comment on Linux and the development model, and how it affects Microsoft strategy?" BALLMER: "Well, the Linux development model is interesting. I think we all got a chance to learn and study. Today, you know, as we assess Linux we see a reasonable amount of interest, more interest than I guess I would wish. I mean, we're competitive guys. More interest than I'd wish, but what it's caused us to do is really focus in and ask what is it about the Linux model that really rivets people. Initially some people thought it was the price, and I frankly don't think that's the case. In almost every application that we talk to people about, people want to have a good price, but the most important thing is that you get a platform that does the job, that is reliable, that does what is needed to get done. "Some people think it's the development model. Does the development model let Linux run more quickly, because you have a bunch of people throwing code at the thing? And that's been a little bit overstated, but only slightly. "I think there are some things that you get with that development model. You certainly get more people trying to add value at one time. That may mean some good work happens. But because of the openness [yes, he really did say "openness"] of the Windows system, there are plenty of opportunities for people to add to the Windows operating system today through their own dynamic link libraries and device drivers, et cetera. The place where I think we have something we must learn from Linux and must respond to is in the area of, excuse the word, open source, because it means different things to different people, but certainly the notion that there are parts of our source code that if we published, on some basis, whether we put it up on our Web site or licensed it to the kinds of customers in this room, would help you be more effective in your job, it would help you get applications built more quickly, it might help you support the deployment and management of applications that have been deployed in your environment. We see that fairly clearly as a requirement being expressed essentially out of people's interest in Linux. What is it that customers want? "And we're trying to figure out exactly what it means, and exactly what kind of licensing or no licensing, and which pieces of the source code. I don't think everybody really wants to sort of dig through the code that puts up menus, but there are parts of the system where if you had the source code I think people would feel they could be more effective. I'll pick on the database connectivity pieces for a second, because I think a lot of people who work in that area have found them complicated to understand. And so we do have the team off thinking through what kind of a strategy is appropriate to make our source code or parts of our source code more available to customers so they can be more effective at what they do. "I won't call that a full embrace of the open source model. On the other hand, we're trying to understand what it is that really brings the benefits. There are a lot of downsides with the open source model as well. There's a bit of chaos. You have four standards distribution. Things can seem like they're moving fast, but they don't necessarily respond to any given customer needs. People who bring it in almost all wind up having to have system hackers who want to go hack the systems. Many of you would prefer to have your people more productively deployed on the business needs. There's no way to guarantee response on fixes. "So there are some downsides to the Linux model, as well. We're trying to learn from the things that represent, I think, clear upsides and where change in our approach will benefit you." So there we have it. Microsoft recognises that it is challenged to open its NT source code. Whether this means that Microsoft would be prepared to publish some of the code as a way of stopping Linux remains to be seen. It is perfectly clear that Microsoft's desktop OS monopoly cannot now be broken by a rival product without some draconian legal handicapping, but the server space is quite a different picture. If Microsoft could really switch much of the Linux energy into picking over the Windows carcass, it might preserve and strengthen its position in the server market. Ballmer's Linux comment came after a sales pitch to the Tibco strategic directions conference yesterday. Tibco is the outfit that digitised Wall Street in the 1980s and made rather a lot of money in the process. Miscellaneous useless fact: TIB stands for The Information Bus. The only thing of interest in his main presentation was a reinvention of question parsing in SQL Server so that plain English (well, American actually) questions were turned into SQL (the language, not the product, that is - Microsoft's usurpation of the SQL name is a particularly dirty example of trademark plundering). Ballmer said that this so-called "English query" was "a good example of one of the technologies that's come over from our Microsoft Research Division and moved into product". The problem is that this is not research: it's very old hat, and has been done very many times by countless organisations. At least we know what Microsoft means by "research". The demo Ballmer presented actually worked, but he had to admit that the scenario "won't really happen". So there we have it: Microsoft "inventing" a business application that nobody wants, on his own admission. Ballmer was gracious enough to say that "There are still some applications ... where we haven't seen customers embrace NT. We know we still have a lot of work to do on reliability, on availability, on scalability ..." Nevertheless, Windows 2000 "remains on target to be shipped by the end of this year", but the weasel words were "we make no explicit commitments". ®
The Register breaking news

Tests cited by MS prove flaws in Linux study – Linux Today

An article published earlier today by Linux Today fires back at Microsoft's challenge to Linux. Author Larry J Blunk points out that the PC Week benchmark cited by Microsoft in its challenge in fact supports the Linux community's objections to the earlier Mindcraft study. Mindcraft had been employed by Microsoft to conduct a test, and the results showed NT outperforming Linux. This immediately drew accusations that the tests hadn't been set up properly, and didn't provide an accurate representation of Linux's performance. Blunk argues that the PC Week numbers support these accusations. "PC WeekPC Week article, we find that the NT server achieved a meagre 150Mbps of throughput when tested against WinNT clients. In others words, the Samba/Linux combo outperformed Windows NT server by a very healthy 31 per cent when tested against Microsoft's self-proclaimed business class desktop product. PC Week goes on to state, 'More importantly, Samba had minimal performance degradation at higher client loads. In tests with 60 clients, Windows NT managed only 110M-bps throughput compared with 183Mbps for Samba.'" The key point Blunk makes is that these numbers effectively blow Microsoft's demand that the Linux community "withdraw their criticisms of the initial Mindcraft report" out of the water. The issue is clouded somewhat by the fact that the ZD benchmarks cited by Microsoft in its challenge are favourable to NT, but Microsoft is clearly going a FUD too far by implying that they agree with the Mindcraft test - they don't. That however doesn't make the challenge go away. The newer and (so far) undisputed test results must give Microsoft some confidence that if its challenge is taken up, NT can be made to come out on top. But note how cunningly the spinmeisters have folded two separate issues into one, blurring the join as they went. Oh, and a thought about level playing field tests set up by Microsoft. It doesn't take that long a memory to remember Jim Allchin plus supporting video crew and assembled attorneys trying and failing to claw his way out of the mire. That test strongly suggested that Microsoft was utterly incapable of differentiating between impartial tests and demos, so maybe the answer this time around is to just let Microsoft set things up. ® Related Stories:MS declares war on Linux Can Linux avoid MS NT trap? MS marketing spins and respins
The Register breaking news

You want God’s email address – we got it

A chaplain at one of the UK's most hallowed academic institutions has been accused of blasphemy after using the word "God" in his email address. The Rev Bruce Kinsey, (god@dow.cam.ac.uk) who looks after his flock at Cambridge University, shrugs his shoulders at those who condemn him for heresy and thinks they've blown it out of all proportion. In a statement Rev Kinsey said: "I have been using the letters G-O-D as a address for email to be sent to, not as a user name. "I am still listed as the Rev Bruce Kinsey in the university address book," he said. But speaking in The Guardian a fellow man of the cloth said: "It's tactless, tacky, needlessly offensive and not funny." ®
The Register breaking news

Software spin-off put on hold by Acer

Acer has put plans for a software spin off on the back burner due to worries over the new arm’s profitability. The Taiwanese PC manufacturer has delayed plans to expand the division as a separate software company due to no guarantee over earnings for the venture. An Acer representative said: "We want the software division to be more mature and able to stand on its own," according to today’s Wall Street Journal. In February, Acer announced plans to form an independent software firm before the end of April. Today it was reported there was no longer "any fixed schedule" for the venture, and "not a lot of guarantee" about future profitability. The vendor had previously held high hopes for the software enterprise, hoping it would shift business towards this more lucrative area away from the lower margin PC hardware business. Acer had aimed to target business outside the group and create a separate culture from the hardware side. Acer chairman Stan Shih wants 30 per cent of net profit to stem from software sales by 2010. But last year saw a dismal $76.4 million from that business – a fraction of the company’s net income. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel's Otellini says Ray Lane good president for Compaq

Senior Intel VP Paul Otellini came to London yesterday and saw us reading a newspaper called Shannon knows Compaq. He obviously had seen the newsletter before. He said: "Who is going to be the new CEO of Compaq?" We said: "Maybe Ray Lane but we don't think so, because he's earning enough already." Otellini was in a bad mood. He said: "Why shouldn't Ray Lane get the job?" We said: "Well Ray Lane earns enough already, doesn't he?" Otellini said: "That isn't the point. It's a challenge." We said: "Don't you want the job?" He said: "No, I don’t like Houston." This was all before the press conference. We were just chatting to each other, like you do, while waiting for a cold $30 (£17.95 + £5 per orange juice) power breakfast. Meanwhile, Compaq lawyers have insisted that Shannon use the standfirst "Not authorized by, affiliated with, or endorsed by Compaq Computer Corporation". Shannon refused to talk to us about the legal issue but it does beg the question why IBM doesn't get shirty when magazines call themselves IBM Today, or DEC User. Doesn't it? ®