17th > May > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Philips, LG contemplating LCD deal

Asian wires are reporting that Dutch company Philips is in talks with LG over a possible equity stake in the Korean company's liquid crystal display division. According to the Korea Herald today, Philips could take a stake in the LCD division of LG. The newspaper quotes an LG representative as saying that it was in discussions with a foreign company over an equity investment. While LG owns just about all of its liquid crystal division, such a deal would raise foreign capital it needs, while squaring with Philips existing product portfolio. ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft's seven year slog versus temp staff

Some insight into how Microsoft may react if it loses the case brought by the Department of Justice is seen from a detailed examination of just how the company has behaved in the class actions brought by Microsoft contract staff. The battle has taken seven years, and Microsoft is still wriggling. In December 1992, some 'perma-temps' filed an action, later recognised as a class action, to seek benefits given to Microsoft staff, but from which they had been excluded. These consisted primarily of the right to buy Microsoft shares at a 15 per cent discount; the Microsoft pension plan; and health benefits. The essence of the claim was that they did the same work as Microsoft employees, but that Microsoft had chose to designate them as temporary staff. Until 1990, Microsoft had paid the perma-temps directly, but got into trouble with the IRS for mis-classifying them as independent contractors. Microsoft's argument was that the workers had signed contracts which were not negotiable and were a condition of engagement, agreeing that they weren't entitled to participate in the programmes. In the District Court in Seattle, the perma-temps essentially lost the case, following a ruling by Judge Judith Dimmick. On appeal, the workers won their case by a majority of two to one in the autumn of 1996, but Microsoft asked for a further appeal hearing in July 1997 before the full 11-judge appellate panel -- but lost most of the case again. David Stobaug, the perma-temps' attorney, said that "The court affirmed the ancient legal principle that you are what you are" and not what Microsoft wanted them to be in its creative contracts. It also turned out that the contracts had not been prepared by Microsoft's legal department. The District Court was given the task of determining the remedies, with decisions about the right to participate in the pension plan being left to Microsoft's plan administrator, since some perma-temps had become employees of an employment agency, and no longer worked independently, they lost the right to benefits from Microsoft from when they became employed by the agency. Lobbying Washington State Meanwhile, Microsoft had been funding the Washington Software and Digital Media Alliance to persuade the (state of) Washington Department of Labor and Industries to remove the provision for time-and-a-half for overtime. One of the employment agencies used by Microsoft was also a member of the Alliance, but was not informed of the move by Microsoft (and Boeing) about the overtime rule change, which demonstrates just how arrogant Microsoft can be in its relationships. Microsoft was treating the perma-temps as employees in every respect except compensation and benefits. A second action was started in 1998 in the Seattle District Court, because part of the claim from the earlier action was disallowed last July by Judge Dimmick: she decided that only around 250 perma-temps who had worked for Microsoft from 1987 to 1990 were eligible for benefits. Around a third of employees at Redmond are what Microsoft calls third-party agency employees. Not content with the prospect of having to pay compensation and give perma-temps benefits, Microsoft appealed to the Supreme Court, and lost. The Supreme Court did not give an opinion, but decided that the appellate court decision should stand. In January this year, Judge John Coughenour said that Microsoft's contract language was "outrageously arrogant". Microsoft has added a clause that said: "Even if a court or government agency determines that temporary personnel and Microsoft have had a common law employer-employee relationship at any time, temporary personnel... will not be entitled to receive any different or additional pay, or any benefits, insurance coverage, tax payments or withholding, or compensation of any kind." Furthermore, any perma-temp filing a lawsuit against Microsoft would be obliged either to resign or abandon the claim. The judge suggested to Microsoft lawyers that they should "suggest to their clients that they do the right thing". In a most unusual move, the judge himself decided to have another hearing twelve days later. Normally, a judge waits for either side to request this. MS decided that from 3 May this year, it would increase the number of employment agencies it uses from five to fifteen, allegedly to give perma-temps more flexibility. In addition, Microsoft said it would look more favourably on agencies that gave benefits to them, such as medical insurance, paid holidays, training, and a retirement package. Nor would the workers have to agree to a non-compete clause. Last week's unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals in San Francisco confirms that around 6,000 employees will receive benefits. They must have worked for at least 20 hours a week for five months in any year since 1987. Costs over $20 million Although the cost to Microsoft is not finally known, an estimate put it in the $20 million range, but this seems low, and we estimate it could amount to several hundred million dollars, if the average period for holding shares were used, instead of an arbitrary one-year period. Meanwhile, the District Court in Seattle is still considering the pension benefits for the perma-temps. It's important to note that the action hasn't been about stock options; the issue before the courts has been the discount the perma-temps were not allowed on share purchases (because Microsoft's share price has risen considerably), and because most perma-temps could probably argue that they would have used 20 per cent of their income for shares. Even now, Microsoft is not giving up and is seeking a review by the full panel of appeal judges. The appellate court said in its decision that Microsoft took "a scatter gun approach, laying down heavy fire but consisting largely of blanks". The decision also awarded past, present and future perma-temps the 15 per cent discount on share purchase, health insurance, and matching payments for 401(k) retirement plans. With Microsoft finding it difficult to attract new staff (there are 2,000 vacancies at the moment), the recent increase in salaries and share options may help somewhat, but some of the brightest potential recruits are being attracted to small start-ups where they could quickly become fabulously wealthy. MS president Steve Ballmer's 29 April billet doux to Microsoft employees telling them that stock options would be increased, and salaries pegged to a point where Microsoft was paying at the bottom of the top third of employers. This may not be enough however, even if Microsoft did not get up to some tricks in applying the increases. Shares of major Internet players like Yahoo and Amazon have gone up 10 to 20 times Microsoft's increase - and most galling of all, Sun's shares have increased around 50 percent more than Microsoft's over the last couple of years. It also doesn't help that Microsoft's share price has fallen back some 17 per cent from its recent high. This saga shows how Microsoft has been able to drag out the perma-temp cases for nearly seven years, spending vast amounts on legal costs, and treating these workers in a most cavalier fashion. There is every indication that the same kind of intransigence will continue to be used in the Department of Justice's case. ®
Graham Lea, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

MS trial may resume next Monday

MS on Trial Judge Jackson was not able to send his drugs case to the jury last week, so it will be next Monday at the earliest before the Microsoft case resumes. But there are now other problems about scheduling: David Boies, the DoJ's special trial counsel, is booked for another case starting on 7 June and which is anticipated to last two weeks, although it may be possible to postpone it. It is a year this week since Attorney General Joel Klein filed the current case against Microsoft. With six rebuttal witnesses to be heard, it is probable that the court will be in session for at least four weeks, since the court is not being presented with testimony, so there will be primary examination before cross-examination. Six to eight weeks are more likely, but this would then probably cut across holiday plans. Microsoft will play every card it has, as its chances of prevailing now look rather slim. Judge Jackson may decide to sit on Fridays, as he did previously when he was pushed for time. He has indicated that he would allow a month for each side to prepare closing arguments - and this was probably the time when he was expecting to sneak off for a holiday. It is clear that Microsoft will press the general line that the matters brought up by the DoJ are mostly moot. For its part, the DoJ should argue that this has no relevance: the case is about Microsoft having contravened section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and that if found guilty, Microsoft should expect to have to pay for its misdemeanours in a manner to be decided by the court, after a further round of pleading from both sides. The delay helps Microsoft in some respects - most observers will have only a hazy recollection as to the nature of the complaint. In addition Microsoft is consolidating its "integration" of IE into Windows. On the other hand, there has been plenty of opportunity for Microsoft to compromise with the DoJ, and there are no signs of this happening - and this tends to reflect badly on Microsoft. The most surprising non-development is that the DoJ has not announced formally any investigation of Microsoft's recent spending spree. It is clear enough to those in the industry that Microsoft is laying the foundation for trying to lever its way into new monopolies - for Windows CE and quite possibly for cable in some countries in the future. It is interesting that Article 86 of the Treaty of Rome, part of the foundation for European competition law (it concerns the abuse of a dominant position, which would include leverage from a dominant market into a non-dominant market) may be tougher than US law, in this case. If the EC officials are more or less given their heads, and Karel Van Miert or his successor decides to let the officials have their way, Microsoft could find itself being investigated in a far more unpleasant fashion. The prospect of simultaneous dawn raids on all Microsoft's offices in European Union countries, and the examination of all Microsoft's documents (and not just those it chooses to disclose) would drive fear into even the most stony-hearted miscreant. ®
Graham Lea, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Red Hat Linux 6 gets AMD thumbs up

Hardware site CPU Review has just posted its review of Red Hat Linux 6.0 on an AMD chip, but says its support for sound cards still leaves a lot to be desired. William Henning, the reviewer of the package, also said he thought it was a shame that the price of the software has risen to $79.95. But on the positive side, Henning says that the stability of the product is excellent, while it is given away with a stack of software. The review recommends that if wannabes wannabe happy, they should stick with a SoundBlaster 16 or 64, and other standard components. Go here to see the review, which uses an AMD K6-2/400 part as its microprocessor core. ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

You can buy a 550MHz Intel Inside PC now

Intel has now released us from the spurious embargo we were not under last week when we met up with that nice Mr Otellini in the gruesome Landmark Hotel. (Story: Intel's Otellini outlines chip strategy) We (and other journalists there) couldn't be under that embargo because we'd already written about the 550MHz Pentium III yonks ago. Today Intel formally releases its 550MHz Pentium III at a cost of $744, while prices of its other chips fall, in inexorable fashion. (Story: Don't buy an Intel Inside PC) But while the Great Satan of Chips was not looking, its little brother AMD quietly upped the ante by cutting prices on its parts over the weekend. (Story: AMD carries on cutting prices) Expect the next price cuts on Pentium IIIs in July, and pin this graph to your board. ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Nokia teams with Fujitsu sub for wireless data

Nokia has bought "certain research and development units" of Fujitsu's Teamware Group, but both parties are shadily non-specific about precisely what they are. The cellular giant is picking up a couple of units, totaling 70 staff, and "certain" (that word again) wireless information management software products. It's pretty clear what's going on here though, and as Nokia isn't by any means picking up the works from Teamware, there's probably a bit of alliance-firming going on in the background. Nokia has been involved in cellular data development for some time, and at some point in the near future it (and its friends in Symbian) is going to have to come up with some noisy counterblasts to MS-Qualcomm's Wireless Knowledge. Teamware has been piloting a server-based wireless Internet application, ByeDesk Link, in the US since last year, and intends to start a similar service in Europe this year. It's aimed at major companies, content providers, ISPs and "GSM-based cellular carriers" (our italics, Teamware's words). ByeDesk seems to do similar wireless data things to those offered by Wireless Knowledge's Revolv, but it's multi-platform (Palm is included), GSM, and isn't dependent on MS BackOffice at the server. So it's on the other side. But ByeDesk itself is not part of the Nokia deal, so we can presume Nokia is picking up server end and infrastructure-type technology and expertise that is associated with it. The two companies will no doubt co-operate closely (they're awfully chummy anyway) in the rollout of ByeDesk and similar in Europe later this year. ®
John Lettice, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

MS denies it's buying users with its billions

In an analysts' conference call on Friday Microsoft CFO Greg Maffei denied that the company's current spending spree was intended to buy customers for Microsoft standards. The splurge count now stands somewhere in the region of $15 billion (we haven't added in any of Greg's weekend shopping yet), but it would seem that the loud sound of minds changing about platforms many of the happy winners are currently emitting is entirely coincidental. Microsoft has been splattering dollars all over the broadband, wireless and cable markets, and in most cases the deals have been presented in the form of alliances intended to accelerate the uptake of... etc. etc. Microsoft alliances to accelerate uptake always involve the use of Microsoft platforms by the new ally. So in the case of one of the smaller ones, Nextel, the ally buys into the Microsoft vision for wireless data and its earlier commitment to Netscape's Netcenter gets quietly dumped. The deal with AT&T meanwhile coincidentally increased that company's CE commitment from 5 million units to 7.5-10 million. And in the past couple of days Cable & Wireless, confirming that it is in talks with Microsoft, has started to move away from its commitment to NCI. A previously done deal is once again up for grabs. So Greg's full of crap, right? Well, yes and no. If anything, he's full of Microcrap. He confirmed on Friday that Microsoft is targeting cable, broadband, wireless and telecoms infrastructure investments, and that it is building strategic partnerships. Microsoft could therefore be kidding itself that its primary objective is to get broadband, pervasive, total data communications to take off faster. As this happens, then obviously Microsoft will benefit from vastly increased sales. This is of course an investment script that's been pinched from Intel. But the difference is that when Intel invests to get things to take off, there's always a pretty obvious sales increase for Intel associated (without any serious strong-arming, if you'll pardon the expression), while faster take-off for broadband et al is quite likely to help a stack of other outfits rather than Microsoft. Until the spending spree, Microsoft really wasn't doing very well in these new platform areas. Another, associated difference is that Microsoft is institutionally incapable of conceiving of a situation where it enters a strategic alliance to further something and that doesn't automatically mean Microsoft sells stacks more stuff. Microsoft by definition believes that its platforms will dominate wherever it puts them. So you could look at the associated platform commitments in one of two ways. There's the brutal one, which goes 'I'll give you $5 billion if you promise to buy 5 million of these,' and there's the less brutal one, which from a Microsoft perspective says that an ally who doesn't believe CE and Windows are going to win has several screws loose, and therefore probably oughtn't to be an ally. We're not going to pursue this crazed nonsense any further right now - too much Microsoftthink and you need to go lie down. But as is frequently the case, Microsoftthink doesn't play terribly well outside Redmond. Maffei held that conference call because Microsoft needs to respond to the widespread (and entirely unsurprising, outside Redmond) conviction that MS is blowing billions on buying franchises. The US authorities haven't reacted to this, yet, and nor have the European ones, yet. But as Microsoft buys more (which it will), then one or both undoubtedly will. And we'll be off again, on the next major clash. ®
John Lettice, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Action 2000 figures show widespread Inaction 2000

An official report from UK government sponsored body Action 2000 shows that there's still a lot of work to do for a large number of organisations to become ready for the year 2000. While our air traffic control and road traffic control systems seem to be safe enough, questions still remain about other elements of basic infrastructure in the country. According to a graph published by Action 2000, hospitals, fire and rescue systems and police services all show elements of "severe risk of material disruption" meaning that there may not be enough time to fix systems by the 31st of December next. Only 48 per cent of police forces across the country have been independently assessed, and of those, nine per cent fall into the red zone. The fire services are in better shape, with only two per cent falling into the red category, while in hospitals and healthcare, nine per cent fall into Action 2000's "red zone". The organisation quotes David Gilbertson, assistant inspector of constabulary in England and Wales, as saying: "It is crucial that forces that are currently coded as "red" address the problem urgently." Action 2000 does not break the police forces at risk out by name. ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

AMD to intro three K7s and it will be June

A reliable source close to AMD's plans who attended the E3 show last week has confirmed that information we posted about the K7 chipsets is correct. At the same time he said that AMD was bang on the button for a June release and would come out with 500MHz, 550MHz and 600MHz versions at launch date. System vendors, however, will be the first to get their hands on the parts, as AMD continues to ramp up its production during the rest of the year. As reported here, AMD will use the Irongate chipset for the first few months, while the Taiwanese vendors develop solutions for motherboards. ViA and ALI are likely to be first off the mark, with chipsets available in the fourth quarter of 1999. ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
hands waving dollar bills in the air

MP3.com confirms IPO

Internet-based music company MP3.com announced details of its long-awaited IPO last week. The company, which has been at the forefront of MP3 activism for some time -- it sells CDs, but promotes them by offering sample tracks in MP3 format -- hopes to raise $115 million through the offering.
Tony Smith, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

MS, Xerox to port Windows to photocopiers

Microsoft and Xerox spin doctors have tipped off The Wall Street Journal early to the two companies' technology alliance to be announced tomorrow. According to the paper, the two Satan -- one of Software, the other of Photocopiers -- will sign a diabolic pact to ensure Xerox's digital copiers can more easily be connected to Windows NT/2000-based networks. The agreement will see Xerox base its digital copier equipment, which combines printer, fax and scanner facilities in a single unit, on Windows NT, presumably the embedded version Microsoft has been working on for the last six months or so (see Microsoft readies embedded version of NT). At the moment, Xerox uses a Unix-derived OS for its copiers -- according to the WSJ's sources, that OS will ultimately be replaced by NT. The two companies will also design "software applications together", a term so vague as to be meaningless. Presumably what we're really talking about here are the drivers to make the copier plan work. It's telling that the company's spinsters invoke the great Xerox Palo Alto Research Center as the host of thus co-operative coding venture -- Parc is usually trotted out when companies want people to think they're doing something really cutting edge. Parc 'co-operation' with Microsoft isn't new, of course. It developed the concept of the graphical user interface, which Bill Gates pinched round about the same time Steve Jobs was planning to nick it for Apple. Gates retained Parc's multi-button mouse, though its use of contextual menus were longer coming -- even longer on the MacOS. The 'leak' to the WSJ means, of course,that there's now no longer any point in the massed ranks of hacks, assembled by Xerox and Microsoft, being flown out to the US, but we suspect sufficient quantities of beer will laid on to keep them happy... ®
Tony Smith, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Whistleblowers wanted for Insurance fraud site

People are being encouraged to snitch on con artists and fraudsters, following the launch of a new Web site by the Association of British Insurers. Believed to be the first site of its kind, www.fraud.org.uk is designed to make it easier for people to grass on their naughty neighbours. And this should cut the massive £16 billion bill for insurance claims paid out each year by ABI members. But the site itself -- which was launched officially today -- isn't all it's cracked up to be. If you want to share our schadenfraude, check the site here. Of the dozen different links relating to different frauds, which includes arson, credit card and social security frauds, half have no information and are simply labelled "under construction". And the secure mechanism to report someone seems to be suffering early glitches, too. When this finally does work, perhaps someone will report www.fraud.org.uk to itself for such a shoddy piece of work. A spokesman for the ABI confirmed that the new service could bring out the nastier side of some people who may use the service maliciously to report others but hoped people would be sensible. Despite its lofty ideals, the site will not cater for the hoaxes and scams that have become the scourge of the Net. No doubt this will come as a disappointment to many people. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Primary schools pump up RM profits

RM (Research Machines), Britain's top IT reseller to the education sector, saw soaring spending by primary schools boost interim sales by 41 per cent. The Oxfordshire-based company recorded £71.1 million turnover for the six months ended 31 March 1999, against £50.5 million for the same period in 1998. Pre-tax profit was up to £2.5 million, compared to £600,000 the previous year. Earnings per share grew to 1.9 pence, up on last year's 0.5 pence. RM said its own sales to primary schools surged by 140 per cent, due to the government pumping funds into the area since last April. Richard Girling, RM's CEO, forecast the quick growth in this area continuing for the next two to three years. The UK education market was responsible for 95 per cent of RM sales for the period. Much of this spending stems from the government's Standard Fund, a four-year plan to invest £700 million in IT in primary and secondary schools. Much of the cash, aimed at getting schools hooked up to the National Grid for Learning, has gone to the most needy institutions -- primary schools. Tim Pearson, RM software and integrated systems director, told The Register: "Primary schools will continue to get the lion's share of government funding for IT. They have a lot of catching up to do on secondary schools." According to Pearson, the group will also keep its hardware manufacturing business. "Our volume in this area is growing, though it is becoming less important to the company's finances," he said. "Maybe things will change one day if hardware standards improve," said Pearson. But at present RM needs to keep a degree of control and offer a complete package to schools. Pearson was optimistic about the second half of the year, adding that the company was not fazed by the many new rivals trying to cash in on the education sector. ®
Linda Harrison, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Caldera backs standard Linux ‘degrees’

Caldera has joined fellow Linux distributors Red Hat, Pacific HiTech and SuSE in sponsoring the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), a body seeking to develop a standard certification for system users and administrators. The LPI's plan is to offer examinations to test candidates' knowledge of the OS, but keep the test process separate from the training process. That structure allows people working their way through corporates' in-house programmes or courses offered by third-parties, to join self-taught Linux specialists in seeking a common certificate of competence. "Anyone who knows the information should be able to get a quality certification," said Linux International (LI) executive director, John 'Maddog' Hall. LI is represented on the LPI's advisory council, along with the organisation's other sponsors, now including Caldera, and which also takes on board support operations like Linuxcare and publications like Linux Gazette and Linux Journal. The LPI's first set of examinations are due to be delivered in the third quarter of the year -- candidates who pass will be "certified to have in-depth knowledge of the Linux OS and kernel, with broad-based knowledge of the Linux industry as a whole". Further examinations will cover specific Linux distributions. All of which should improve Linux advocates' attempts to shore up the open source OS' initial success in the world of corporate computing, with the materials they need to show Linux is a 'serious' OS. The formation of the LPI back in October 1998 foreshadowed KeyLabs' plan to offer a standard certification of Linux compatibility for hardware (see KeyLabs touts 'official' Linux marque). Again, that plan is based on increasing Linux's appeal to corporate finance people who might not otherwise consider it a viable platform. Unlike KeyLabs, however, the LPI is a non-profit making organisation. ® The LPI can be contacted at its Web site
Tony Smith, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Compaq to climb higher Himalaya

Influential newsletter Shannon knows Compaq is saying that Q will introduce its most powerful and expandable Himalaya server so far. According to Terry Shannon, veteran DEC/Compaq analyst, Compaq will roll out the NonStop Himalaya S72000, which will support between four and 16 MIPS chips. He says that this will offer 20 per cent more performance than the existing S70000 system at the same price as the S72000. Clusters will be able to link over 4,000 chips and up to three Pb (petabytes) of storage. It will be less than $200,000 for an entry level configuration and will include items including the Kernel OS, the NonStop SQL database and the Storage Management Foundation software. Shannon also confirms in the latest issue of his excellent newletter that Compaq, through a New York legal firm, has instructed him to insert the words "not authorised by, affiliated with, or endorsed by Compaq Computer Corporation" on his newsletter. We find this more than a tad heavy handed. For example, here in the UK, there are titles like IBM Today or the old DEC User that never got the legal treatment. Ah well. ® RegiStreak K2 The word Himalaya is a Sanskrit compound noun and means "Abode of Snow".
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

0800 ISP claims 90K pre-launch registrations

A company claiming to offer toll-free access to the Internet has registered almost 100,000 people in just 14 days. The head of Freecall-UK, Richard Jay, told The Register that he hopes to build an online community similar to Tripod or Geocities. What makes it different, he said, is that communities can earn credits that can be redeemed for toll-free access to the Net. He said he intends to generate revenue by selling web and advertising space and by running direct e-mail campaigns to its members, although he insisted that people could block spam at anytime. "Our ultimate object is to create a virtual community where people can go to source information, shop, or just 'hang out' in virtual cafes and listen to music, watch videos or pop into one of the various video chat rooms," said Jay. "We want to create virtual communities up and down the country—and even internationally—who will to a large extent manage the content of their own 'communities' and the businesses which trade there," he said. The service will be launched on Wednesday when a new site is due to be launched at Freecall-UK. Jay gave assurances to the Net community that he would not tolerate anyone spamming other Net users about the service, something that has riled many people and has become a focal talking point in several newsgroups. "Anyone caught spamming will be removed from Freecall-UK and banned for life," he said. Last week The Register reported that Jay and his family had been threatened and that the matter was now in the hands of his solicitor. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Wherever I lay my overdraft, that's my phone

Bank managers will soon be playing Big Brother by calling your mobile phone every time you are in the red. Within weeks, users of telephone bank First Direct will be hit by the new service which sends text messages on balances and recent transactions. Messages appear twice weekly on two accounts. The scheme will expand in the next few months, calling customers every time they go overdrawn or reach a certain limit on up to three accounts. First Direct will also send information about specific credits or debits -- including salary payments or everyday expenses. The service will be free for the first six months. Financial masochists can then pay £2.50 per month for the privilege. First Direct is running the scheme through the phones it started selling with Cellnet at the end of last year. Initially, the cellular service will only be available to customers who have bought these handsets. The bank, owned by HSBC Group, said it may branch out to other digital mobile phone owners by the end of 1999. A First Direct representative told The Register: "This is not a compulsory service, and it is entirely up the individual how to tailor it. It is designed to help our customers with their finances." Peter Simpson, First Direct commercial director, said: "We have taken another step towards our goal of giving customers full control of how they conduct their banking." ®
Linda Harrison, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

The Register launches Microprocessor Trends

The first fruit of The Register's many microsites to come has gone online today. If you turn your browser to Microprocessor Trends, you will see the site has gone live. The site will cover semiconductors in a depth of detail, bringing information about DRAMs, CPUs, DSPs and other analog devices to your browser. It will also dig deeper into the major semiconductor companies' strategies and designs. The site comes courtesy of The Register. ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

BT stamps on freephone Net ‘trial’

BT has denied it is undergoing trials for 0800 toll-free access to the Internet. David Pincott, a spokesman for BT, said today that no such trials had taken place, quashing hopes that the telco was about to cut the cost of Net access in the UK. His comments were in response to frenzied newsgroup activity this weekend after someone published details of a toll-free number, username and password. Net users thought that Christmas had come, including two readers of The Register, who claimed they had successfully logged onto the Net using the number. "Someone leaked access details for a BT account on the Net on Saturday, spreading round the telecom related newsgroups," said one, whose name has been withheld just in case BT wants to bill him for the time he spent online at their expense. "I checked the leaked number userid/password and they proved to be valid. Did a traceroute and the first router that I hit belonged to BTinternet. "I phoned the BT Internet number on their site about the security breach and they acknowledged it was one of their numbers," he said. According to Pincott, though, the number was used in the past for a V90 modem trial and not to examine the potential of toll-free access. It simply allowed BT staff to dial in to the service without incurring any charges, he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel competes with its PC server customers

An internal Intel report on the size and value of the server market has demonstrated that the chip giant is still hell-bent on capturing market share from anyone -- even from its PC customers. Last week we reported on the extent of Intel's greed in attempting to sell more of its high end multiprocessors. (Story: Intel aims to be No. 2 server provider by the end of 99) Eckhard Pfeiffer, the ex-CEO of Compaq, complained bitterly when Intel introduced its Inside scheme, but now the chip giant is likely to be subjected to even closer scrutiny. The internal report, which The Register published last week, shows that server systems it builds for its smaller OEMs will cut into sales from the likes of IBM, Compaq, HP and even Dell. That is likely to push the triumvirate which runs Compaq into pushing its Alpha platform even more strongly, while IBM, Dell and even fabbing partner Hewlett Packard are likely to be a tad miffed. At press time, no one from Intel was available for comment. But it is a matter of record that Intel has built so-called vanilla systems in the past. Four years ago, one of The Register's editors saw plain vanilla PCs shipped out of its Leixlip, Dublin plant. At that time, the vanilla desktops were being sold by the like of distributors Metrologie and others. Obviously margins have shifted. Intel does that no longer. Margins are different these days. ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999

D Notice MI6 geezer-journalist gets nickers in a twyst

We were unhappy enough news bunnies to wake up early last Saturday morning and hear a debate about The Web. The debate, onBBC Radio Four was about whether names should or should not be posted on the WWW. And to that end they wheeled in one Mr Richard Hutchinson, a journalist on Janes, and also a member of the D-Notice Committee.
Pete Sherriff, 17 May 1999
The Register breaking news

Rambus Opera goes live…

A kind reader has penned a song which he says should be sung to the song of "Don't cry for me Argentina". That's probably a copyright issue, so we'd prefer it be sung to the song of "Boiled Beef and Carrots", which is hopefully out of copyright by now. If not, how about "Down at the Old Bull and Bush" which definitely is... Here is how Don't cry for me Otellini goes: It won't be easy You'll think it strange When I try to explain how I failed That I still need your love after all that I've done You wouldn't believe me All you will see is a technology you once knew Although she's dressed up to the nines At 600 and 700mhz with Camino I had to let it happen I had to change Couldn't stay all my life down at heel Looking out of the window Staying out of the sun So I choose IPO Running around demanding licenses But nothing impressed me at all I never expected DDR too Don't cry for me Craig Barrett The truth is I never left you All through my wild days Trading at 250 times earnings My mad existence with licencees I kept my promise Don't consider DDR And as for fortune And as for fame I never invited them in Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired They are illusions 133mhz SDRAMs are not the solution they promised to be The answer was RDRAMs all along I love you and hope you love me Don't cry for me Intel... (Geoff Tate breaks down, the crowd takes up his tune) Don't cry for me Intel.... The truth is I never left you All through my wild days My mad existence I kept my promise Don't keep your distance Have I said too much? There is nothing more I can think of to say to you But all you have to do is look at me to know That every word is true See, we do have readers wiff a sense of humour. Please don't sue us, you know you'll lose... ®
Mike Magee, 17 May 1999
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Singapore security nuts goad hackers

Organisers of a security conference in Singapore are challenging hackers to break into a Web server and leave their mark. If successful, the hackers could win $10,000 although the organisers of the conference believe this will be money well spent if it alerts people to the issues of Web security. "At the Infosecurity Asia exhibition, we will be displaying a score card on the number of times the unprotected server was intruded," said Mr Jimmy Lau, president of Reed Exhibition Companies, Singapore. "This will be used to illustrate why IT security should be taken seriously," he said. But the move has been described as the techie equivalent of waving a red rag to a bull by the director of Gen Technologies, who issued similar challenge to the hacking community last year. Then, it was to test the robustness of a security product. But while Access Denied remained intact, the man behind the product had his personal details at an unnamed credit reference agency altered by a hacker bearing a grudge. "They just need to be careful, that's all," said Christian Souter, of Gen Technologies. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 May 1999
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Computex in Taipei looms nigh

There's a trade fair held in Taipei, Taiwan, which fuels the worldwide PC industry and starts on June 1. So we decided to keep an eye on what was happening in Taiwan in the run-up to the show, which we shall attend. Today's news from Taiwan, in brief, is that the tiny island, coveted by Red China, will be the largest manufacturer of the ever-popular CD-R drives by next year, displacing Japan. Acer and A-Open (which makes great BX cases, we can assure you, and accommodates Intel Sun River boards adequately), will push the way. Soon, Davicom Semi and ZyXel will produce some super chipsets for 56K modems at a competitive price. Chip foundry TSMC, tipped to takeover the Cyrix fab, made sales in April of $163 million. Unlike US companies, it releases its yield figures. It sold 128,500 eight-inch wafers for the month. ®
A staffer, 17 May 1999
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Free software guru damns Euro software patent plans

Richard Stallman, free software proponent and founder of the creator of the recursively named GNU open source licence, has slammed plans by the European Patent Office to extend Euro patent law to software. Stallman's beef centres on the impact of such a measure on free software, but it applies equally to commercial development, whether that's full-scale off-the-shelf stuff or individuals' attempts to make a buck or two out of shareware. According to Stallman, the European Patent Office wants to introduce into EU law similar coverage of elementary software processes. That allows an individual or organisation to patent techniques, such as encoding a digital music file or compressing an image. Developing a specific algorithm and patenting that isn't the issue -- other programmers can write alternative methods of producing the same result. However, patenting a process can prevent anyone from even attempting to devise an alternative. Stallman cites Unisys' ownership of a patent on a compression algorithm used to generate GIF images. Unisys demands a royalty, and shareware and other authors have to pay that fee -- usually by charging the user more -- or face legal action. US developers of free MP3 encoders were forced to cough up royalties, even though MP3 is a global standard. European developers, because of the current state of legislation here, were not affected, Stallman said. The motion to introduce software patents into Europe is due to be debated on 24 and 25 June, but given the apparent lack of investigation into whether the idea is a good one or not, the pro-introduction argument seems likely to win the day. The EU's plan derives from its desire to harmonise and modernise individual nations' patent law into pan-European legislation. It's a worthwhile goal, as is the Union's desire to protect the intellectual property of member states' businesses. That protection includes "a proposal for a Directive to harmonise the conditions for the patentability of inventions related to computer programs... The proposal, to be presented before the Summer of 1999, would harmonise national rules and practices to the extent necessary to ensure that innovative software companies can obtain effective patent protection for their inventions in all Member States. Currently, this is not possible because of divergent approaches in different Member States". Stallman, for one, reckons much of the EU's plan comes from pressure from multinational companies with large numbers of software patents under their belts. Still, many of the software patent infringement cases brought in the US come from small companies who have filed patents but never exploited them until an alleged infringer comes along with enough revenue to make legal action pay off. Stallman is encouraging European software users and developers to voice their concerns and write to Euro officials, via the Free Patents Web site. Europe's patent law probably does need bringing up to date, but that process needs to take into account software that will not make a profit, ensure that patents can only be used by those who actually use the patent in their code and prevent code that becomes or is directly connected to an agreed standard from being patented -- in other words, avoid the flaws inherent in US patent law. Software patents perhaps aren't the issue -- but badly drawn up patent legislation is. ®
Tony Smith, 17 May 1999
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Eurocrats propose Net ratings system

Internet bigwigs are gathering in Brussels this week in an attempt to clean up the Net for Europeans. The move follows simliar moves by US Vice President Al Gore and by the Japanese parliament. It suggests that politicians around the world are beginning to wake up to the problems posed by Internet. The problem lies in exactly what content may or may not be acceptable -- and then enforcing such rules. Following the debacle surrounding the publication of British secret service agents, the operation of extremist political groups in cyberspace and the ever-growing market for sex online, it should come as no surprise that the politicians have a rocky road ahead of them. The hope is that representatives from many of the EU member states will ultimately create a generic rating and filtering system suitable for European Internet users. The two-day event is part of a year-long consultation project funded as a Preparatory Action to the European Union's Action Plan for Promoting Safer Use of the Internet. David Kerr, project leader and chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: "This first Expert Conference is instrumental in establishing a better understanding of the needs of end users throughout Europe and ensuring co-operation from many different sectors. "There has been increasing concern across Europe over the accessibility of material which may be considered harmful to children. "[We] will help develop tools giving users the power to control access to the Internet, particularly where children are concerned." "Using the electronic labelling system, PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection), INCORE seeks to provide a system that suits users from regardless of their nationality, language or individual preferences," he said. A follow-up conference is planned for September, when experts from all over the world will gather in Munich to finalise ideas for a future European content rating and filtering system. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 May 1999
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Mobile phones are a pain in the neck

Feeling your ears burning used to mean someone was talking about you. Similarly, a pain in the neck referred to a niggling individual who got on your nerves. Now both mean you have been chatting on the phone for too long. According to a top Nordic survey, 84 per cent of 11,000 mobile users surveyed suffered warmth behind the ear or even burning skin. Memory loss, dizziness, fatigue and headaches were also evident, according to the report in today's Metro newspaper. The year-long study was carried out by three organisations -- Sweden's National Institute for Working Life, SINTEF Unimed in Norway and the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority. It found nearly a quarter of those questioned had memory loss, nearly half reported headaches and almost two-thirds said they felt abnormally drowsy. Around a third had difficulty concentrating during or just after a call. Symptoms were worse in those under 30, or in the heaviest users. Researcher Dr Gunnhild Oftedal said: "There could be a range of factors for this but we can’t exclude anything related to radiation." A separate study has revealed that severe neck pain, or phone neck, is caused by tilting your head and talking into a phone for too long. Boffins from Surrey University found that using a handset -- be it in the office or on a mobile rather than headset -- increased the risk of muscle stiffening, inflammation of tendons and disc troubles. Hence the advent of earpieces, which can be plugged into mobiles, cutting radiation and leaving the head in the normal position. But if your earpiece is in, and your mobile is in your trouser pocket, where does that mean the radiation is leaking to? ® See also Mobile phones can save you from a heart attack 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
Linda Harrison, 17 May 1999
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Armageddon off with blood sports bra

The end may be nigh, but Japanese women are ready for it. Triumph International Japan, a lingerie company, has designed a hi-tech bra that warns its wearer of incoming missiles. The slinky undergarment contains a sensor on the shoulder strap, and an attractive control box which is alert to things falling from the sky. The "Armageddon Bra" is Superman underwear, as it needs to be worn on the outside to get the best performance for detecting incoming objects. The design has been sparked by Nostradamus' prophesy that a war would wipe out a third of the world's population this July. Triumph failed to explain exactly how the bra would protect the wearer from a nuclear holocaust. ®
Linda Harrison, 17 May 1999
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Tech trials delay new Net registrars

Rivals in the domain name registration field have had to delay business until June. Competition to sole provider Network Solutions (NSI) has been put off due to interoperability issues, according to TechWeb. On April 21 five companies were named to register Web addresses .com, .org, and .net. Industry Internet body ICANN said the test companies were expected to start registering URLs around April 26. But the five registrars -- AOL, the Internet Council of Registrars (Core), France Telecom, Melbourne IT and register.com -- are still waiting. NSI has been criticised of deliberately prolonging the process to keep the monopoly it has had since 1993. NSI spokesman Brian O’Shaughnessy objected: "It’s unfair to characterise that we have slowed down the process," he said. "This is new technology, new ground. There are security and stability issues." O’Shaughnessy added that problems in the security software was slowing registrations, but NSI was working to solve these problems. Each of the five companies had to cough up a $100,000 performance bond and $10,000 NSI fee before receiving the enabling software. This software must now be tested to ensure compliance with their own. "A significant amount of responsibility that had been assumed by NSI is being passed over to the registrars, some of which had never been contemplated, such as dispute resolution," said Ken Stubbs, Core chairman. "It's just a tedious process."®
Linda Harrison, 17 May 1999