26th > May > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Computer games to end dyslexia

Dyslexics should be encouraged to play more computer games, top boffins have declared. The likes of Quake may hold the key to helping those who have the condition through the use of sound. Reading difficulties associated with dyslexia stem from the way the brain handles sounds, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The research backs up theories that computer games could train the mind to recognise sounds like "ba" and "da" with greater accuracy. How these types of short, quick successive noises are processed by the mind contributes to early speech and reading problems. "The way that the brain processes sound in poor readers is very different from its processing and representation of rapidly changing sound inputs in competent readers," said Professor Michael Merzenich, University of California. Researchers from UCSF and Rutgers University have already developed computer games aimed at helping young dyslexics. They make use of animation, funny sounds, computer-modified speech, point-scoring and prizes. ®
The Register breaking news

Bavaria convicts former CompuServe boss in porn case

A year ago From The Register No. 79 -- a year ago CompuServe's former German boss has been handed a two year suspended sentence following conviction in a pornography case. Felix Somm was prosecuted in a Bavarian court for complicity in 13 cases of spreading pornography via the Internet, but says he plans to appeal. Somm's case is at the centre of a long-running battle between CompuServe and the Bavarian authorities, and although it's now at least debatable whether it could have been brought under current German federal law (which was amended last year), has global implications. Germany now regards Internet Service Providers as carriers, rather than publishers who can be held responsible for content accessed via their systems, which is the position ISPs prefer and in line with global regulatory trends. Bavaria however doesn't agree with this approach - its police force actively seeks out illegal material on the Internet, and in sentencing Somm the court made it clear that it intended to enforce its view of the law electronically. For Germany's heavily decentralised administration this may present a difficult constitutional clash between the federal government and its largest state, but if Bavaria does continue its campaign it will cause major problems for ISPs operating in the state, and conceivably for operations anywhere in the world. A further sign that the 'liberal' approach to Internet regulation is not yet global policy meanwhile came last week, when a British academic sued UK ISP Demon Internet over the content of a newsgroup carried by the company - here again the issue to be decided will be whether Demon is a carrier or a publisher. ®
The Register breaking news

Win98 and IE broke Sun copyright – judge rules

MS on Trial Microsoft infringed Sun's copyright in both Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 4.0, a judge ruled yesterday. The ruling, issued prior to the next session of the Sun-Microsoft Java lawsuit next month, is 'non-binding and tentative, but is effectively an indication of the judge's current views. Judge Ronald Whyte said that these and other Microsoft products infringed Sun's copyright by failing to comply with the licensing agreement with the company. But he also ruled that Microsoft was able to develop related technology provided it doesn't rely on Sun's intellectual property. Judge Whyte has previously ruled that Sun is likely to win the case, so the latest rulings tighten the screws somewhat. The views he expressed yesterday do not however help Microsoft much in contingency planning. A full-scale ruling will be made after oral arguments on 24 June, but at the moment it appears Microsoft could carry on as normal, work on non-infringing compatible technologies, or both. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

AMD gets all heavy-handed

Reports are flying around like confetti on our favourite hardware sites that AMD has put the wheel clamps on breaches of its K7 non disclosure agreement (NDA). Leaks are feverishly being plugged by the chip contender, after AnandTech and FiringSquad produced authentic benchmark information+photos in the run up to the launch of the EV6 based K7. According to reports we have seen and verified, AMD is eager to stem any further leaks, hence the heavy handed action it seems to be taken. It's a bit like patched Bunny Suits, really. There are so many K7 evals out there that it will be quite impossible to prevent the truth getting out. Shame we didn't sue AMD, after all… ®
The Register breaking news

x86.org awards Register prize

Robert Collins, who runs the influential Intel Secrets site, has said that our story yesterday about Intel registering the loop deserves a prize. (Story: Intel registers loop to prevent people going inside) So he is sending us, in the post, a mouse mat, a tee shirt and a hat. Once we get the items, we will post a picture of a Register editor wearing them. But meantime, while you're all salivating over the thought of seeing Magee in an outfit that isn't a bunny suit, here's a quick taster. ® See also Intel makes The Register sweat IV
The Register breaking news

Software pirates still at large in UK

One in three of all business software applications is being used illegally in the UK, according to the latest research from the Business Software Alliance (BSA). Software piracy in the UK cost industry £290 million ($465 million) last year -- an increase of £80 million ($130 million) on the figures for 1997. And according to the BSA, the loss was "one of the highest experienced by any country in the world". Paradoxically, the report -- which was prepared by the International Planning Research Corporation -- also found that the 1998 UK software piracy rate was 29 per cent, down two percent on 1997. This suggests that while piracy rates may be falling, losses to the industry are continuing to grow in line with the size of the software market. The figures make grim reading for the software industry. It appears to show that there is a hardcore of offenders and that the programmes in place designed to deter the trade in counterfeit software are having little effect. "Almost one in three pieces of business software is being used illegally and this rate is totally unacceptable," said Mike Newton, campaign relations manager, BSA UK. "Software piracy continues to harm software developers and European economies and to impact on jobs. When are people going to understand the damaging knock-on effects of illegal software on their own business and on others?" he asked. Some in the software channel have argued that there isn't a level playing field in the industry and that encourages the trade in hooky software. For many years, an exclusive band of Microsoft's major OEM partners -- Dell and Gateway are two names that spring to mind -- have been able to buy MS product at significantly lower prices than smaller system builders. ®
The Register breaking news

Virgin spammer settles out of court

A Surrey businessman who used his Virgin Net account to send out thousands of unsolicited emails has agreed to an out of court settlement with the UK service provider. Adrian Paris, trading under the company name ProPhoto UK, offered to settle the claim by agreeing not to open an account with Virgin Net or spam its 250,000 customers. He also agreed to pay £5000 in costs and damages. But while Virgin Net is claiming victory in what it claims is the first such action of its kind against a spammer in the UK, it doesn't necessarily stop Paris re-offending. Bibliotech -- a small London-based Net company that pledges to act against anyone who bombards it customers with junk email -- is currently chasing a number of spammers through the US courts. But unlike Virgin Net's watered down approach, Bibliotech takes a far tougher stance, seeking legal assurances from spammers that they will stop sending junk email altogether. Virgin Net business development director David Johnson said: "Mr Paris offered us everything we sought in the writ. While we would have ideally liked the court to have had the opportunity to set a clear precedent for the future, in light of the recent changes to civil procedures in the UK courts, we had no sensible choice but to agree to settle by way of a consent order. "The fact remains, however, that the case sends a clear and strong message to would-be spammers and raises the profile of this issue which will have to be addressed by the courts or the Government soon." Virgin Net sued Paris in April for breach of contract and trespass. He also disrupted the ISP's computer system and caused Virgin Net to be blackholed by the Real Time Blackhole List, a mailing list set up to enable other ISPs to reject mail from mail providers which permit bulk emailing. ®
The Register breaking news

Acorn's Web (News) Pad makes late debut

Pictured above is the Acorn NewsPad, courtesy of a reader who has hung on to the pix. The reader said he saw one working at an Olympia show in 1997, but wasn't allowed to touch it. The thing bears an uncanny resemblance to the National Semiconductor Cyrix jobbie that was in our office a while back... ® See also Intel's WebPad …
The Register breaking news

More heads roll at Compaq Central

Influential DEC and Compaq watcher Terry Shannon is reporting that another head or two have rolled at the beleaguered firm. One of the latest departures, however, will be a heavy loss for the Big Q. Shannon says in Shannon knows Compaq that techo guru Bob Supnik will hand in his bezel on June 11. And at the same time, Shannon reports that Jim Totton, VP of NT enterprise systems technologies and methodologies, has fled what he describes as the DECQuest coop. Meanwhile, it seems that lawyers, as if they didn't have enough to do at Compaq already, have insisted that Shannon inserts a sentence on every page disavowing his influential newsletter from the Compaq Computer Corporation. The Big Q obviously hasn't got a funny bone in its whole body, after Eck "Hair" Pfeiffer went… ®
The Register breaking news

Intel can't access Net at Internet World

A quick call to our local Intel rep to check out when the IA64 manuals are available has uncovered a strange anomaly. The rep is down at UK show Internet World and when we asked him about Merced and trademarks, he said he wasn't able to access the Web. And this is at Internet World… He did say however that the IA64 manuals posted by mistake on its FTP site would be available on its Web site later today, after the HP-Intel joint announcement. He also said that Intel would take all appropriate steps to protect its intellectual loop property... ®
The Register breaking news

MS VP maps out Win2k futures

Microsoft is turning into a developer control freak, as well as a dream factory. Having sold the idea of Windows 2000 before the product is released, the company has been dropping some hints as to how it will control W2000 applications development. Microsoft's love-in for developers, which it calls TechEd, is being held this week in Dallas. Analysing the sub-text of the keynote addresses and events gives a more reliable picture of what is happening in the Microsoft world than PR releases. Brian Valentine, VP of the business enterprise division, spent much of his keynote on the work that other companies were doing in order to plug some of the gaps in Windows 2000. IBM's role in all this is to provide server cluster support and maintenance technology, but is IBM a wiser organisation than when it first negotiated with Gates? Only time will tell. Sequent seems to be providing "workflow management technology". Valentine came from the Exchange 4.0 development team ("one of those other products that took us just a little longer than we expected"), so his special skill is with product delay management. He worked the audience, but it was uphill work: the religious fervour is diminishing somewhat and being replaced by a greater sense of realism, it seems. Valentine launched into the official formula for what's been wrong with previous versions of Windows: scalability, reliability, manageability and availability. But then he added another one, supposedly resulting from what developers had been saying: "One of the key things you've told us is interoperability is key". What Valentine was hinting at was that Microsoft developers - its army of unpaid sales people - will have to see themselves as "strategic partners" instead of "software vendors". Although the word "Linux" did not pass Valentine's lips, it was a hint that Microsoft could not have a strategic role with developers who also developed Linux applications. Valentine's version of the four Windows 2000 versions is that there will be a Professional Workstation and three server versions: Standard Server (departmental server), Advanced Server ("mirrors the enterprise server that we have today"), and Data Center Server. Later he claimed that "embedded Windows is another product line" - except that it wasn't because "we're taking Windows and moving them [sic] into those devices [e.g. handhelds, medical control devices]". Microsoft's goal is "to make sure that many of those devices as possible can also be running Windows" which is a far cry from embedded Windows being a current product. How many believed Valentine when he claimed "We're not going to keep anything secret, and we're not going to hide anything, so as we learn things, we'll roll them out". He admitted that Microsoft had eliminated "75 reboot scenarios" in its effort to reach the goal of never having to reboot the system, but it was clear that W2000 cannot be a 24x7x365 system: after all, goals and achievements are rather different things. On the reliability front for applications, Valentine's logic seemed to be (our paraphrase): "You've told us you want us to be more reliable. So we are." Valentine wanted W2000 "to be 100 per cent more reliable the day we ship it than NT4 SP5". As an example to prove that Microsoft delivered unreliable software, Valentine said of NT4: "... it's a lot more solid today than it ever was when we shipped it two and a half years ago." Therein lies the lesson for W2000: as it's perhaps twice as big as NT4, it is likely to take five years before it approaches stability. So far as future bug fixes are concerned, Microsoft has bowed to pressure to put in its service packs only bug fixes, and not late-shipping code that didn't make the release. There was just a hint that Microsoft would only work with selected ISVs, and we can guess that soft-core Linux developers will have a tough time catching Microsoft's eye. The joke is of course that hard-core Linux developers (and we should not forget developers of FreeBSD and other splendid open source code in these days of Linux euphoria) specifically do not wish to have any relationship with Microsoft. Microsoft's brave talk for the Data Center version is it will support "up to 32-way multiprocessor systems ... four-way clustering [in the first release] ... we'll go well beyond four way". Exchange and SQL Server "will support true load levelling across clustering". It's a shame we all have a limited lifespan and may never see these plans in practice. It sounded like the preliminary specification for Windows 3000, but building dreams has always been a Microsoft speciality. Valentine explained another control mechanism Microsoft had dreamt up: "If applications follow the rules, we'll give them Gold Label certification from Microsoft." It was clear that Microsoft would also run a programme to advise punters not to use applications without a gold label. We have yet to see just what conditions Microsoft will require for certification, but it is worth recalling a couple of previous tricks: with Windows 95, the logo was only sold (not given) if the application worked (unnecessarily) with NT as well. Well, there was one exception: Microsoft's own Windows 95 applications didn't have to run with NT to get the logo. Valentine said: "We have a large effort going on in giving you a global directory" but it did not sound at all as though the product was complete except for final debugging. He added: "We've built in directory synchronisation with Active Directory, so we'll have Exchange synchronisation and Active Directory - and NDS synchronisation the day we ship it." Again, it did not sound as though he was speaking about a finished product. What was clear was his concern over NDS: the marketing approach is to call NDS a legacy directory, and use what he referred to as a "Director Synchronisation Manager" to manage replication between the Active Directory and Novel NDS. It didn;'t increase the credibility that Novell was constantly misspelt. There was a broad hint that network management tools for W2000 were not ready: "We're still investing heavily in server and network management. We're going to learn a lot from Windows 2000." There was an admission that the Briefcase feature of Windows 95 "was pretty challenging to use, because the way you used a file when you were connected was different than the way you used it when you weren't." So that's official. What Valentine presented did not sound like the last act of the W2000 opera. And there's no sign of the fat lady. ®
The Register breaking news

KGB acts like Web Big Brother

Russian ISPs will be forced to let the country's security service monitor their networks, under new plans. And they will have to pay for the privilege. The Russian Federal Security Service (the successor to the KGB) says the move will facilitate field operative work in in computer networks. SORM (in Russian, the System for Conduct of Investigations and Field Operations) is a set of regulations and technological equipment facilitating access of the Federal Security Service to all computer communications and internal documents of Internet providers. The technology provides an effective mechanism to by-pass a constitutionally required process of court authorisation for wire-tapping of electronic communications. For more details go here. And for tax audits and death threats, check out this week's NTK.NET ® Andrei Fatkullin is a reporter on Russian wire Computaterra
The Register breaking news

Wireless-enabled Psion due this summer?

The sudden flurry of leaks concerning the Japanese market and Symbian, normally an extremely close-mouthed company, is easily explained. There's a combination Psion-Symbian roadshow happening in Japan, folks, and they're leaking like crazy. Symbian boss Colly Myers has been doing interviews in Tokyo, as indeed has Psion Asia-Pacific head Charles Cousins. On top of that the high command from Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola were around for yesterday's Matsushita announcement, so Tokyo was leak city. Myers doesn't seem to have blabbed directly, but Cousins promises a Japanese, upgraded version of the Psion Series 5 within the next 12 months. Crucially, he commits to it being sold in mobile phone shops as well as electronics stores, and says that in addition to the standard Psion built-in features will have Internet connectivity. Well leaked, Charles. That means a new Psion machine for Western markets rather sooner, and should also mean that some form of dual-track Psion/Symbian product rollout schedule will emerge. It is now, note, two years since the Series 5, and that's pretty much a standard Psion interval. So it'll be announced this summer. The Symbian aspect obviously has to relate, given that Psion and Symbian seem to be touring Japan in close concert. Matsushita opted for Symbian yesterday, while Sony is reported in today's Japanese press to be planning devices using Symbian's EPOC OS. That will be a particularly interesting development, as Sony has been close to Qualcomm, Microsoft's partner in the rival Wireless Knowledge operation. So a Sony deal would be likely to take Symbian into CDMA territory, and maybe closer to an understanding with Microsoft. ®
The Register breaking news

Allegations of fraud rock ilion

ilion is to instigate legal proceedings against an employee following the announcement of financial irregularities totalling some £500,000. The group issued a statement at 8am saying the board had discovered "an irregular transaction in the UK business which potentially could result in the Group incurring a loss of the order of £500,000". One hour later the networking distributor issued another statement: "The loss relates directly to the individual transaction and not the Group’s trading performance for the year." ilion said the company had "suffered a setback", and that a full investigation of the circumstances was being conducted as a matter of urgency. "Lawyers have been instructed with a view to commencing legal proceedings," it added. ilion had forecast around £5 million profit for this year. Today's announcement would knock this down by ten per cent. Industry analyst Richard Holway offered this comment: "Why is it that networking companies like Azlan and ilion seem to encourage this kind of activity? "At Azlan, this kind of problem was of course caused by lax management control." An ilion representative told The Register no comment could be made because of the process of litigation. Further announcements will be made as the situation develops. ilion lost its chairman and CEO Wayne Channon last December after a string of profit warnings. Channon resigned, saying it was time to go, in the infamous "throwing himself on his sword" incident. In April the group admitted to being in preliminary talks over a buyout. ®
The Register breaking news

Hardcore Web porn banned down under

Asia-Pacific could be the focus of a tsunami of moral righteousness in the wake of Australia's decision to outlaw hardcore porn on the Internet. Politicians in Australia's Senate have piggy-backed existing legislation covering film classification to outlaw sexually explicit and violent content on the Net. Earlier this month Japan's parliament voted to outlaw child pornography on the Net. Japan is believed to be the source of 80 per cent of all kiddie porn on the Net. The Australian Broadcasting Authority, which polices the content of films down under, will have the power to order service providers to pull off sites containing porn. It will even have the power to block unsuitable material from being imported into Australia from foreign Web sites although exactly how this will be done is not yet clear. But ISPs in Australia aren't happy with the new legislation, which still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives. "Filtering content will be slow and expensive and may disadvantage us compared to the rest of the world," said James Steele, of the Web company Interactive Multimedia speaking to Bloomberg. ®
The Register breaking news

IE uninstall witness makes MS trial comeback

MS on Trial The next stage of the Microsoft trial, the rebuttal phase, due to commence next week, will see a rematch between Edward Felten, he of the IE uninstaller, and MS VP Jim Allchin. Attempts by Allchin to undermine Felten's program last time around resulted in one of the most spectacular Microsoft own-goals of the trial. Felten had produced a prototype program which could be used to remove Internet Explorer from Windows, and in his earlier testimony in the trial he had set out to prove, relatively successfully, as it turned out, that IE and Windows could be separated, and that there were no real technical reasons for them being integrated. As part of his evidence Allchin had shown a video of a test which, apparently, proved the contrary - that Felten's program degraded the performance of Windows and disabled features. But that video turned out to have been inadvertently fiddled by MS marketing, and an embarrassed Allchin had to host an overnight rerun in a Washington hotel room. This test was deeply unconvincing, and wasn't helped by the aroma of fraud that hung over the whole episode. Felten is coming back as a rebuttal witness at the DoJ, with the mission of causing more damage to Allchin. Clearly the DoJ feels his evidence is a key plank of its case. So Microsoft's defence lawyers will need to do a more successful job of discrediting him this time around, which means this could turn into the grudge match of the trial. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

Intel buys stake in US broadband network

Compare and contrast - Microsoft is spending billions on a string of deals with cable and other communications-related companies. Intel, on the other hand, has plans for Internet 'server farms' and has just agreed to buy $200 million worth of US broadband network provider Williams Communications. Intel's money is smaller potatoes, obviously, but it's far more targeted. Where Microsoft is to some extent leveraging (if we're going to be nice about it) its position in convergence markets and (maybe) giving encouraging broadband networking to take off, Intel is planning to spend its billions directly on a network of data centres. These will need high speed networks to connect to, hence the investment in Williams. Williams itself filed for a $750 million IPO last month. The point of Intel's data centres is also a lot clearer than is the case with Microsoft's investments. They'll provide scads of server power in a growing worldwide network, and Intel will be pitching for outsourcing deals with ISPs and other outfits that need Internet, 'websourcing' and remote application hosting. As Intel says, all it wants to do is sell more chips - but there's an awful lot of stuff it seems to get into in order to do this. ®
The Register breaking news

R&D focus brings VideoLogic to profit

VideoLogic Group has seen its first profitable year since flotation. The UK company posted preliminary results of £1.8 million profit for the year ended 31 March, against last year's loss of £2.3 million. Gross profit was £9.5 million, compared to last year's £6.5 million, according to a company statement. Gross margins increased to 83 per cent. Trevor Selby, VideoLogic finance director, told The Register the success lay in the move towards technology research and development. Technology sales grew in excess of 50 per cent, including royalties on one million chips sold by NEC to Sega for the Dreamcast console in Japan. The company has also changed its name to Imagination Technologies. Overall turnover was down from £12 million to £11.5 million, but Selby said the conversion from a systems based to technology model had driven profits growth. VideoLogic used to make graphics boards, using other companies’ silicon. Now it designs software and circuitry inside chips, raking in royalties from every chip sold. "This transition has caused the breakthrough in profit, we have converted from 30 per cent gross margin to 83 per cent. We are very heavily R&D oriented," said Selby. VideoLogic is based in Hertfordshire, and over 100 of its 136 staff are engineering specialists. It also has offices in the US and Germany. Sega Dreamcast sales will boost overall turnover in the future, said Selby. He predicted royalties would go through the roof upon the console's introduction to the UK and the US in September. The company will also be hoping that last month's alliance with STMicroelectronics will help it break into the PC market. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel board alliance pushes PII in embedded market

Intel's Applied Computing Platform Provider (ACPP) program has finally broken surface, after being accidentally preannounced by program member Texas Micro last week. (Intel mystery alliance) The deal, basically, seems to be to encourage a strictly-regulated group of third party board vendors to push forward Intel standards in specialist/embedded sectors. Intel refers to this area as 'Applied Computing' and categorises it as consisting of retail and financial transaction terminals, industrial terminals and communications systems. The company announced the ACPP program yesterday, alongside a low power Intel Pentium II targeted at the sector. According to Intel embedded general manager and VP Tom Franz: "An exploding need for connectivity in the high-performance market segment of non-PC applications is driving the transition to standards-based building blocks," and the low-power PII is of course one of these building blocks. But a swift read of the ACPP FAQ produces some closer pointers as to what Intel is up to. Q: "Do ACPP products use non-Intel components? A: All ACPPs provide solutions using Intel components [i.e., no]." And: "Intel is working closely with the ACPPs to make sure that the latest Intel technology is made available to the applied computing market segment in a timely manner." That is, as fast as possible. Q: "Does the Intel Applied Computing Platform Providers program support legacy Intel Architecture-based products? A: No. The Intel Applied Computing Platform Providers program is focused on providing the latest technology to the applied computing market segment; however, Intel continues to support legacy Intel Architecture components." So it's an Intel scheme to get a gang of nine highly trusted partners to push Intel's new generation standards into the market as fast as possible, and dump the legacy stuff entirely. The full gang of nine consists of Advantech, Force Computers, Motorola (no, seriously), Portwell, RadiSys, Teknor, Texas Micro, Trenton Technology and Ziatech. ®
The Register breaking news

NetWare 5 sales see Novell earnings rocket

Novell saw second quarter profits double thanks to soaring sales of NetWare 5. The network software vendor posted net income at $38.7 million for the quarter ended 30 April, up from $19.3 million the previous year. Sales grew 20 per cent to $315.7 million from $262.3 million. Improved business conditions in Asia-Pacific saw revenues soar 23 per cent to $26 million. Turnover in Europe, the Middle East and Africa rose 35 per cent to $105 million, and was especially strong in the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands. The number two maker of network-management software said US sales increased 13 per cent to $169 million. "It was really pleasing to see that our international business is running quite a bit faster than the US," said Dennis Raney, Novell chief financial officer. "Novell is on its way to becoming a growth company again," said Eric Schmidt, Novell chairman and CEO. "We had planned for growth, but the market's response to NetWare 5 has exceeded our plans. "Novell has never had a stronger new product." Novell was also benefiting from new Web standards-based products and partnerships, that had led to higher performance levels in the California company’s business, said Schmidt. ®
The Register breaking news

BT axes call charges for Web access

Updated As revealed exclusively by The Register earlier today, BT is to offer toll-free access to the Internet. News of the decision leaked out ahead of an official announcement although there is no indication when that is due to take place. Staff at BT were caught on the hop by today's story and have not returned any calls all day although a spokesman did say: "We haven't made a formal announcement about it yet." Starting Saturday 5 June anyone with a BTInternet account will not have to pay a penny during the weekend for Internet access. An operator at BT's Internet Services help desk told The Register today: "Weekend calls for BTInternet customers will be free from 5 June. "Each weekend it will start at midnight Friday night/Saturday morning and run until midnight Sunday night/Monday morning. "We were just told yesterday about it," he said. He also asked whether we would like to receive information about the new service and software to subscribe. Apparently, it's in the post and we should be getting our copy within four days. So watch this space for more details. It's not all good news though. BTInternet customers still have to pay £11.75 a month for the subscription-based service. But this will entitle them to 48 hours of free calls every week. The change in BT's pricing structure has already stirred up a frenzy of activity in the UK Internet industry. A spokesman for the Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications (CUT) which lobbies for the introduction of fairer telecom tariffs said: "We welcome anything BT does to bring us closer to our goal of unmetered access for Net users. "But I'd like to know why they're only offering free calls during the weekend and not during all off-peak times. "Surely, BT has now conceded the argument that unmetered Internet access is a viable working model," he said. Competition from the launch of screaming.net -- the subscription-free service from Tempo and LocalTel which gives people toll-free off-peak calls to the Net -- is thought to be one of the factors behind BT's decision. No one was available from BT to comment before going to press. Only this week BT's Internet spokesman told The Register that BT was not trialling 0800 number access calling newspaper reports that it was as "pure speculation". ®
The Register breaking news

Oftel out of loop as BT plans free Web calls

The UK telecomms regulator has been kept in the dark about BT's decision to offer toll-free Web access. No one at Oftel had a clue that BT was about to drop its biggest bombshell yet sending the UK Net industry into spin of speculation. The first anyone at Oftel knew about it was when The Register called them this morning to comment on the telco's monumental move. A spokesman for Oftel said: "I can confirm we have not been notified by BT about any offer for free calls to the Internet." Ordinarily, BT has to give Oftel 28 days notice before introducing pricing changes to give other telcos a chance to appeal or alter their tariffs. Details are still sketchy about BT's decision to offer free calls to the Internet at weekends. But the spokesman said: "If the offer is being done through [its subsidiary] BTInternet then they don't have to notify us. "That said, usually they do - but for some reason they've decided not to," he said. Oftel said it would "monitor the situation" for the time being and will not be launching a full inquiry into BT's decision unless someone makes a complaint. But BT's decision today does raise some interesting questions. Not least, whether the new service will be cross-subsidised by BT and whether it would have an anti-competitive effect on the marketplace. What's more, if BTInternet's new tariff is self-financing other ISPs should be able to follow suit and offer similar packages for Net users in the UK. No one from BT was available for comment. ®
The Register breaking news

Matsushita confirms Universal digital music deal

Universal has formed a pact with AT&T, Matsushita and Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) to combine their online music distribution efforts, Matsushita said admitted today. The tie-in was predicted by The Register earlier this month. The deal will combine Universal's digital music distribution efforts and its artist roster with BMG's own back-catalogue (both BMG and Universal, formerly known as Polygram, are two of the world's 'big five' music labels), AT&T's cable network and Matsushita's consumer electronics divisions. That puts the combined enterprise ahead of other players in the game. Sony's tie-in with IBM, for example, is comparable but lacks the distribution channel that AT&T brings to the Universal team. AT&T gets something out of the deal: possible support for its ailing a2b music format. Despite AT&T assurance to the contrary, the format's future remains in doubt ever since half of the division that develops it jumped ship for Microsoft-backed Reciprocal. Universal has publicly said it will begin offering a full online music service by the end of the year. Sony, meanwhile, will begin a more basic, singles-oriented scheme in the summer. ®
The Register breaking news

EMI to announce digital music service

EMI, the UK-based 'big five' music recording company, will unveil its digital music distribution plans "in a few weeks", according to a report in today's Financial Times. EMI chairman Colin Southgate said the company has begun digitising its massive collection of back-catalogue recordings in preparation for online sales due to begin "by the end of the year". That puts its plans in the same timeframe as fellow big-fivers Universal and BMG's joint plans to open an online sales scheme (see ). Sony, meanwhile, is begin selling singles online this summer, with a full service to follow. Of the big five, only Warner has kept its plans close to its corporate chest. All the announced programmes also come within the planned launch period of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), which will is set to release a preliminary spec. this summer and a final version in time for the Christmas shopping spree. ®
The Register breaking news

World watches to see if Merced delayed

As expected, Intel has now released details of its IA-64 instruction set. The details were briefly up on Intel's FTP server last week before the chip company realised it had leaked them… Earlier this year, Stephen Smith, who heads up the Merced project at Intel, promised samples would arrive in June. (Story: Merced chieftain outlines futures) The aim is to encourage software developers to port programs for IA-64. That includes Merced. And if you want the whole lot, just go here, or if you prefer HP's version of events, go here. ® Intel Developer Forum February 1999
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Anti-MP3 scheme back-tracks on CD compatibility

The recording industry-led Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) could be back-tracking on draconian plans to eradicate existing music collections. Two weeks ago, at an SDMI session in London, details emerged of the organisation's two-step plan to eliminate the controversial MP3 format as a force in the digital music world (see Official secure music scheme to kill all non-compliant formats). Stage one would see the release of the SDMI specification, allowing devices to record and play back SDMI-compliant music formats and existing MP3 tracks. However, stage two, implemented through what a source close to the discussions called a "Millenium Trigger", would see devices reject non-compliant music formats. The plan, said the source, was to allow recording companies to begin issue digital tracks and CDs with SDMI-friendly anti-piracy data on board, then to "hit the switch" to block non-compliant formats. Unfortunately, for music fans -- but not, you'll notice for the recording companies, who get to sell your music collection to you all over again -- that would include existing, non-SDMI CDs. The reason? Phase two of the plan is designed to prevent people ripping CDs into MP3 files. However, it now appears that the SDMI is taking a more liberal stance, according to sources close to the organisation. Music fans will now be permitted to rip CDs, but the technology will prevent them from being posted on the Net -- or, rather, from being played back on someone else's equipment. Phase one and old files will, however, continue to be playable. "If it has none of the new markings, then it will be allowed in," the source told US newswires. "We're erring to the side of letting more in. What we're trying to avoid is a 'filling station' model, in which endless numbers of devices get fed from one CD." That means existing MP3s will still be played, as presumably will files illegally ripped from current, unmarked CDs and encoded using deliberately non-compliant MP3 applications. That defeats the object of the SDMI, you might think, but it may have a point. The source claimed the move is a sign the recording industry accepts it can't do as much as it would like to protect back-catalogue, so instead is concentrating on guarding new and future material from piracy. Given that most of the illegal MP3s circulating the Net cover recent releases rather than old stuff, the industry's plan makes some sense. It should also ensure our CDs collections remain safe. ®
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Eight other mystery Intel developers tip up

One of our nice readers has pointed us to a site which gives firm details of nine companies which are partnering with Intel on the Applied Computing Platform. Well, it was nine, but now it's eight, because Radisys took over Texas Micro at the beginning of the week. (Story: All becomes Satan Clara as Texas Micro merges with Radisys) Go here for the whole list, which Intel does not yet seem to have updated. ®
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Taiwan firm wins iMac notebook contract

Taiwanese PC builder Alpha Top Corp. is to build Apple's upcoming iBook consumer-oriented notebook, according to reports in the Far Eastern Commercial Times. The deal is part of Apple's plan to increase the number of Macs manufactured by third parties on its behalf. Earlier this year, the company signed a massive deal with Korea's LG Electronics to outsource all iMac production. That agreement saw the loss of 450 jobs at Apple's Cork, Ireland manufacturing facility as iMac production shifted to LG's South Wales plant. The Commercial Times report cited Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs as saying "he will increase the output of iMacs to account for 50 percent of the company's total within three years in order to maximize profits". The consumer machine already accounts for 20-40 per cent of the company's output, the paper said. As for the iBook, officially known only by its internal codename, P1, the paper cited sources who claimed the iMac-styled notebook will ship for under $1500, only a little higher than the iMac itself. Interestingly, Apple Taiwan representatives confirmed fears that the iBook's release is being delayed: it will ship in the "second half of the year", they said. That suggests a summer release like last year's August iMac launch -- just in time for the autumn school term, a key factor since Apple hopes to sell the device into the education market as a kind of electronic exercise book. ®
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BT accused of stifling competition

LocalTel has accused BT of working at a snail's pace, holding up thousands of Net users who want to switch telcos and take advantage of toll-free access to the Internet. Only 250 applications are being processed each day by BT, which claims it doesn't have the resources to process the applications any faster. Yet up to 3000 people a day are registering for screaming.net -- the service which offers free calls on LocalTel -- and the backlog is growing. In four weeks, more than 50,000 people have registered for the new ISP but only a fraction of them have been processed leaving many Net users frustrated and out of pocket. According to LocalTel's MD, Jeremy Stokes, the situation is "ludicrous" and he's angry that the company's growth can be choked by BT's go-slow approach. "The vast majority of calls that we are now receiving are from anxious customers wanting to know when their account is going to be transferred," he said. "Our customers are quite rightly demanding the service that we offered them. "We have done everything in our power to deliver the service and are now waiting for BT to take steps to rectify the situation," he said. LocalTel has complained to the telecomms watchdog and Oftel has said it will look into the matter. A spokesman for Oftel couldn't give any more information because a fire alarm went off mid-conversation. "I'd better go," he said, "I don't want to fry." There's no news whether it was a false alarm or not. Or maybe he was speaking on a mobile phone. BT has been quoted as saying that it underestimated the number of people wanting to switch telcos. But Stokes said that LocalTel's lawyers told BT months ago of their intentions. The company that reported last week that it makes £136 profit a second has given assurances that it will pump more resources into clearing the backlog. Earlier today The Register revealed that BTInternet is planning to introduce limited toll-free access for subscribers to its service. ®
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Free Web calls: BT speaks – not

Updated BT has refused to confirm news that its BTInternet service is to offer toll-free access to the Net as of 5 June. "We will make an announcement when the proper business decision has been made," said BT spokesman David Pincott, in response to the story that broke earlier today on The Register. The official line from BT is in sharp contrast to that of BTInternet's customer support staff. This morning an operator confirmed that BTInternet would be offering toll-free access the Net from 5 June. The operator even said he would send details of the service and the software in the post. To have the marketing bumph and software ready to be sent out sounds like the "business decision" has already been made. Still, this supports anecdotal evidence forwarded by Register readers who reported similar conversations they'd had with BTInternet staff. BTInternet customer support staff have now been gagged and are refusing to talk about the toll-free service. But this is not the end of the story. Speculation in a number of newsgroups over the last day or so pointed to BT ClickFree offering a toll-free service due to be launched 1 June. So far there is nothing to substantiate this claim. Speculation had been heightened further still following the publication of an 0800 number that provided free Net access for users. BT denied it was trialling a toll-free service claiming instead that it was part of a V90 modem trial. The Register subsequently received an email from a reader who said that the username and password of the 0800 service he was using was "btclickfree." Once again, there was no proof that this was little more than just a rumour. Yet BT's refusal to come clean on its 5 June launch, despite this journalist hearing it for himself, shows a blatant disregard for Net users in the UK. Either BT is going to launch a toll-free service or it isn't. If it is, then it should say so now and put an end to this you-don't-need-to-know-until-we-tell-you attitude. If it's not, then The Register wants to know why staff at BTInternet deliberately set out to mislead Net users when they said the service was due to be launched on 5 June. Is BT so afraid of competition from screaming.net that it would deliberately try and stall its customers from joining LocalTel with promises of toll-free access? The coming days and weeks are going to be very interesting. ®
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Windows NT can be tweaked for enterprises – official

Long standing Microsoft partner Amdahl said today the battle between it and IBM has hardly commenced. Charlie Abrahams, European MD of the newly spun off global services group, confirmed that NT is not as scaleable as customers might have wished but in certain circumstances can be "tweaked" for blue chip customers. Amdahl, the clone IBM mainframe company, now owned by Fujitsu, struck a deal last September after six months hard negotiations with Microsoft, Abrahams said. Fujitu's interim results are out this week. The deal allows Microsoft to come into Big Blue accounts, because Amdahl has access to those ones too, because of its clone IBM status. It gives Microsoft access to some top accounts. But Abrahams and his cohorts denied that just because it had struck a deal with Microsoft that meant it would necessarily recommend NT as a solution. For example, it is the second biggest reseller of Sun boxes in the known universe. It is a matter of relationships. Amdahl said it will recommend Linux in necessary cases to its large corporate customers. Those include Barclays Bank, British Airways, and a raft or host of other blue chip customers. Said newly appointed UK head of global services, Malcolm Fleming: "We would advise people to use non-NT servers, such as Linux, if it made sense." He added there were versions of NT that could be tweaked for customers, if they wanted it. This, of course, is not what Microsoft says on the record. Abrahams said: "Microsoft is very adversarial. The battle is between SQL versus DB2 and Exchange versus Notes." Amdahl, insisted Abrahams, was platform neutral. ®