28th > May > 1999 Archive

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FTC investigators recommend action against Intel

A year ago From The Register, a year ago The US Federal Trading Commission is likely to decide to bring antitrust charges against Intel next week, following a recommendation to this effect by FTC investigators. This recommendation will be placed before the five FTC commissioners, and although Intel is said to be lobbying intensively, it seems unlikely that they'll overrule their staff. The case to be brought initially will be relatively restricted, but broader and longer term FTC investigations continue, so Intel may well face more extensive action some months down the line. At the moment however the FTC is focussing tightly on the issue of Intel withholding technical information from three customers with whom it had legal disputes. This happened to Digital last year, and although that action was settled out of court, the FTC has continued to follow up on Digital's complaints. The Digital dispute was however followed up by one with Intergraph; so far this has gone against Intel, with Intergraph winning an injunction against the company in an Alabama court, and successfully beating-off Intel attempts to move the case to another state. Intergraph has also broadened its action into a full-blown antitrust complaint. Observers view the impending FTC action as quite different from the DoJ's against Microsoft, largely because of its restricted nature and the apparent absence of metaphysical 'what is an operating system' type issues. But the Microsoft case began narrowly, and is now moving into its second, 'war on all fronts,' phase. The Intel action will have similar potential to grow. Intel's defence of its action in withholding information has in the past been that it is unreasonable for the company to be expected to maintain normal business relations with companies accusing it of theft (Digital) or theft and blackmail (Intergraph). But as is the case with Microsoft, Intel's dominant position means that it is physically impossible for most hardware companies to survive without having a relationship with Intel. So even if it is in general it is unreasonable to have to do business with people who're suing you, legal minds will be drawn inexorably to the conclusion that Intel is a special case, because of its monopoly position. At which point the monopoly itself may become an issue, and the long string of accusations (at least as long as those against Microsoft) of monopolistic and anti-competitive conduct will come into play. Just as was the case with Microsoft. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel's pricing fork gets sharper

Our friends at Techweb are reporting that Intel now intends to pull its pricing forward, in a bid to both put pressure on rival AMD and to sell more parts. According to the report, Intel will also push forward the release of its 500MHz Celeron. Cuts intended for July and September have been dragged forward to early June and August, the report claims. Our Intel desktop chip prices table should be viewed to make sense of the report, if correct. ®
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Direct Rambus further delayed

Intel may now be forced to revise its chipset plans, following information from a reliable source that Direct Rambus yields are likely to be slim in Q3. Earlier this year, Intel said that there would be a slight delay to Direct Rambus parts, with shipments coming on stream in Q3. But our source, close to Intel's future plans, said that realistic volumes of the memory parts are now unlikely to arrive until Q4. That will put further pressure on Intel to adopt stop gap measures to support the PC-133 standard, something it has vowed all year it will not do. ViA and other rivals to Intel, predicted that yields would be slim and prices expensive on D-Rambus earlier this year. That was behind its and others decision to push hard on PC-133. ®
The Register breaking news

MS play the standards game with BizTalk

When Microsoft says it is working "with the industry" to create the BizTalk framework, you get suspicious. In a keynote to the TechEd developers meeting in Dallas this week, Microsoft VP Paul Maritz showed how Microsoft was "driving the standard" (in this case XML) as the way to ensure that aspects of the standard enter a cul-de-sac, resulting in a pseudo-standard controlled by Microsoft. Maritz likes to characterise XML as a way of describing data in a structured fashion, doing for data what HTML did for pages. Maritz described how Microsoft has made the BizTalk extension of XML into an "open process that anyone can participate in" by publishing schemas. BizTalk was first announced by Gates in March and was in effect an admission by Microsoft that it was falling behind in e-commerce. Microsoft describes BizTalk as "platform neutral" and says it is "committed to working collaboratively with leading customers, vendors and industry consortia". It's interesting that "industry consortia" should be last in the list, but it's no surprise to find no reference to BizTalk at the W3C website. The importance that Microsoft attaches to its proprietary BizTalk protocol (for that is what it is) is seen from the fact that there are 35 tracks at TechEd devoted to it. The supporters of BizTalk are far from being widely representative of the industry: there are only 24 of them listed at the biztalk.org web site (controlled by Microsoft), and they are mostly Microsoft friends like Dell and the ERP vendors. Microsoft is busying itself producing an XML-based BackOffice server to be available "in mid-1999". It is an extension of Microsoft's so-called commerce interchange pipeline features in Site Server Commerce Edition 3.0. This initiative by Microsoft is reminiscent of the Microsoft-controlled Active Group, which sheltered for a time under the umbrella of the Open Group. We have not seen the last of these standards-corruption moves by Microsoft. ®
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Maritz at TechEd – still embracing and smothering

Opinion Paul Maritz, self-demoted in March to looking after developers, had his first major outing at Microsoft's TechEd meeting in Dallas this week. It's interesting to see how his role has evolved, since he was one of the two principal Microsoft mastiffs (the other being Steve Ballmer). It is quite understandable that after the pasting he took during the first session of the Microsoft trial, he would want an easier life -- at least that's what his chums have been saying. Readers will recall that Maritz was accused of threatening to "cut off Netscape's air supply", and it was Maritz who wrote the smoking-pistol email that said: "To combat [Netscape] we have to position the browser as 'going away' and do deeper integration on Windows. The stronger way to communicate this is to have a 'new release' of Windows and make a big deal of it." And it was Maritz who said that he wanted to keep Sun's version of Java "from getting established" in the industry, and that Microsoft would "kill HTML by extending it". So this mastiff has an interesting pedigree, but does he still bark in his new role? The short answer is "yes", and he can still work an audience. Maritz is one of the few Microsoft execs who has ever coded in a real job - even at St Andrew's University it transpires. He knows (knew?) a few things about Algol 60, as well. So what could be better than to try to establish his street cred with the remark that he "still surreptitiously writes code every now and again", but if this is true, it must be a sad come-down to write in VisualBasic. Looking at Maritz' sub-text, he spoke of how Microsoft went from first generation architecture with "very high quality implementations of the key protocols HTML [and] HTTP and building those into our operating system". That's a generous way of describing being late to the party and not having the time to corrupt the standards. But "building them in" is pushing it: "gluing them on to screw Netscape" is the truth, as we all now know from abundant evidence. The history of the development of Microsoft's architecture for the Internet is now being rewritten. Microsoft likes to call this architecture Windows DNA, which now means Distributed interNet Applications Architecture -- one of the sillier names that Microsoft has introduced, although it does have a Gatesian pseudo-knowledge ring to it, but it ain't deoxyribonucleic acid, and the analogy is ridiculous. A better name, and one that could be broadly applied to all Microsoft's so-called architectural efforts, would be "design-as-you-go", or DAYGO (TM). An example of DAYGO architecture would be a thatched Palladian house with twin towers, one Norman and the other a space needle, prominent solar panels, mock Tudor windows, and an adobe garage with a portico. An example from the DAYGO IT world would be Windows. It was amusing that Maritz chose to cite Boeing as an example of a company that had applied DNA, especially as he had just mentioned COM and DCOM (Boeing is a prominent CORBA user). Scott Vesey, a Boeing product manager who was originally named as a trial witness (and appeared on video), was characterised by Microsoft as a low-level employee because Boeing did not want to distribute IE with Windows 95. It preferred Netscape, so had to use the earliest version of Windows 95, which does not have IE. Maritz announced that an in-memory Data Engine (MSDE) would be a DNA [DAYGO] product. It became clear that Microsoft has decided that to encourage SQL Server use, it would be a good idea to have a junior version that was "100 per cent SQL Server compatible" (allegedly). It will be included in Visual Studio and the developer edition of Microsoft Office 2000. Let's hope users have a better time trying to go to SQL Server from MSDE than has been the case with Access. We can't wait for the first reports as to how quickly MSDE engine runs out of steam and needs the SQL locomotive. There were several demonstrations (and they apparently "worked"), although the audience had to take a great deal on trust about alleged loadings, and Microsoft's previous record does not allow it the benefit of doubt. We must however protest at the use of phrases like "I am very excited" by almost every microserf, and by our American cousins generally. Apart from being overdone, it doesn't necessarily mean in English what they think it means. But to continue. Maritz said that Microsoft was integrating its interoperability services "to transform any protocol to any protocol, any data source to any data source, any component architecture to any component architecture, and do it bidirectionally". So can we really expect to have good conversion from TCP to Novell's IPX, from all those incompatible MS Word formats to WordPerfect, and from COM to Corba? It looks as though Maritz may live to rue the day he made this statement. How long do we have to wait for this nirvana? Well, Maritz said it will be "delivered in beta form later this year", so there we are. But does this mean it will get into Win2k? And let's remember that Brian Valentine said the previous day that Microsoft would put in its service packs only bug fixes, and not include late-shipping code that didn't make the release. The next theme that Maritz took up was standards, by which is meant the abuse of standards of course. Immediately after Maritz uttered the name of XML - the "classic" Internet standard that he said is emerging [but how can it be "classic" if it is emerging?] - than he was on about extensions. As we all know, this is what Microsoft calls "driving the standard", which can be paraphrased as "corrupting the standard so that it will only work with Microsoft software". Microsoft evidently has plans for XML extensions with its BizTalk initiative, but to use the word "standards" in the same context is unwise (see separate story). Maritz said that "we use standard industry off-the-shelf components" for Microsoft software, but he was evidently using that special Microsoft definition of "standard", which to everybody else is better rendered as "proprietary, non-standard protocols". Microsoft is evidently feeling left behind in the e-commerce world compared with the likes of IBM and Sun, so Maritz arranged a demonstration of electronic commerce, Microsoft style. The best that Microsoft could come up with was a purchase of what was called "industry stress release" tools, to wit(less) Close Combat, Russian Front, and Combat Flight Simulator. It was neither simulation nor stimulation: it was just pathetic, especially as Maritz called it a demonstration of "the new Internet standard for business-to-business application integration, realisation of e-commerce". Another demonstration showed how developers who spoke Chinese could be found by searching on "Chinese" in a developer's database: never mind that there are very different versions of Chinese. It is now becoming embarrassing for any testing facility with integrity to agree to test on behalf of Microsoft, in view of what we have seen emerging from the court and otherwise about test results to order. Those putting themselves at risk, so far as Maritz' presentation was concerned, included the National Software Testing Laboratories (in itself suspect, because it is a commercial organisation disguised as a institution), and RSW Software. The "new" technology that Microsoft is putting in Windows includes fail-over and load balancing. Certainly fail-over was used in Digital's OpenVMS in the early 1990s, and readers may well recall earlier usage. So far as load balancing is concerned, this was being described for Unix in 1982, so Microsoft is not so far behind as you might have thought. Then there was the Apricot VX9000 series of blessed memory from the early 1990s, for example, that could have up to thirty 80386 processors in a single Unix operating system (up to 108 MIPS), with dynamic load balancing, autoconfiguration, and automatic failure detection and compensation. It used TCP/IP for networking as well. Such accomplishments are of course unknown to the average TechEd attendee, which is why Microsoft is able to get away with the reinvention of Unix capabilities. The attendees even greet such reinvention announcements with applause. The embrace of Microsoft is becoming a bear hug. Not only does Windows Update automatically configure and update software, there are also plans afoot to do the same thing with MS Office, and probably Visual Studio and MS Developer Network. Another aspect of the creeping control that Microsoft exerts is seen in Microsoft's desire to ensure that all discussion between developers is on a Microsoft-moderated newsgroup. Maritz certainly shows no signs of having eased up on his relentless desire to "invent" and control everything in a wholly-Microsoft world. Every day, life at Microsoft is getting closer and closer to the world Orwell described in '1984', the land of Big Brother. ®
The Register breaking news

Oftel to force BT to cut cost of Web calls

BT is to come under mounting pressure from the telecoms regulator, Oftel, to cut the cost of Net access in the UK. But before anyone gets too excited, it will be at least two-and-a-half years before any agreed cuts would be introduced. Oftel has just started its review of a new pricing formula for BT's virtual monopoly, a spokesman said today. One of the things Oftel will examine is the increase in traffic -- and the massive shot in the arm it gives BT -- generated by the astounding growth of Internet use in the UK. A report in today's Guardian quotes another Oftel representative who said: "The forthcoming review of BT's price controls will consider a wide range of issues, including the impact that growth of Internet traffic has had on the levels of BT's profits. "The review will also look at forecasts for future growth in calls to the Internet and the revenue this could generate for BT. "Another important consideration will be the level of current and future competition in the various markets that BT operates in, including Internet access." Earlier this month BT announced it made £136 profit a second. According to BT's own figures, the number of local calls made during the last year has doubled and that increase is down to Net use and this figure could double again to 40 per cent as more and more people hook up to the Net. ®
The Register breaking news

Hagan to take Fujitsu to uncharted waters

Fujitsu Computers has brought in Brad Hagan as product business manager for its UK consumer channel. Hagan joined from rival PC manufacturer Acer, where he was PC product business manager for the home and business channels. His responsibilities will include boosting notebook and desktop sales, and creating new consumer channels. Fujitsu has redoubled its efforts to target the home market since last August, when it started selling PCs through supermarkets Tesco and later Sainsbury's. A survey earlier this month by Dataquest highlighted the Japanese vendor's aggressive use of non-standard channels. A Fujitsu representative told The Register that Hagan, who replaced Lawrence Knott, had been hired to find new channels for the consumer market. Fujitsu also sells its PCs through the BT ClickFree and Egg Web sites. Users logging onto BT ClickFree can order one of three Fujitsu computers pre-loaded with the BT ClickFree connection. Financial services company Egg -- part of Prudential -- has mailed all customers with PC offers, she said. Fujitsu also turned a few heads last November when it announced it would be selling PCs from a Texaco petrol station near London’s Tower Bridge. Hagan had a key role in Acer introducing its products to the consumer channel in February 1996. Charles Bows, Fujitsu UK marketing manager, said this experience would be beneficial in Hagan's new role. "This appointment strengthens our consumer team and Fujitsu's commitment to finding new and innovative channels to market. Brad has over five years' experience and we are delighted to welcome him on board." Lawrence Knott has moved within Fujitsu to work in account management. ®
The Register breaking news

IBM exec outlines MS plan to throttle OS/2, Lotus

MS on Trial IBM exec Garry Norris yesterday detailed a Microsoft campaign to throttle OS/2 in the run-up to the launch of Windows 95. IBM and other PC companies, including Compaq, were threatened with higher prices if they shipped rival products as well as Windows. Norris, program director for software strategies with the IBM PC Co, was involved in extensive negotiations over IBM's Windows licensing deals from early 1995 until 95's launch that August. Microsoft was obviously playing hardball, as Norris claims that that IBM didn't get its final deal until 15 minutes before the launch. An $8 price reduction, he said, was secured for "exclusion of OS2 and expedited shipments of Windows 95." Other manufacturers, including Compaq, agreed not to sell OS/2 after Microsoft threats, said Norris. This is not of course strictly correct, as OS/2 was available from various PC companies, Compaq included. But it wasn't always that easy to obtain, so Norris may be right in some senses. Norris achieved instant fame earlier this week (Earlier story) when it was revealed that he'd kept a detailed diary of two years' negotiations with Microsoft, and his testimony seems to be providing the clearest picture yet of how Microsoft used its muscle against PC manufacturers, via a mixture of threats, inducements and hard cash. He came up with some useful numbers, saying that IBM had been paying $9 a copy for Windows 3.1, but that initially with Windows 95 Microsoft wanted $46. The 3.1 fee was probably the lowest price paid by any OEM, while the $46 was higher than rivals. "Microsoft told us repeatedly, `Because you compete with us, you're going to get unfavorable terms and conditions,'" he said, backing it up by saying payments to Microsoft had risen from $40 million in 1995 to $220 million in 1996. Compaq's higher discounts are justified by Microsoft as being because of greater volumes, but this can't have been the case in earlier years, before Compaq shipments passed IBM's. He also provided evidence of linkage by Microsoft between operating system and application sales, claiming that IBM would get better prices if it didn't ship Netscape Navigator and Lotus SmartSuite. For Microsoft Office bundles he was charged "IBM's price" of $250 per copy, considerably higher than the Compaq or HP price. Microsoft might have some justification for claiming volume discounts here, if IBM was shipping fewer copies of Office. "Microsoft repeatedly told us that as long as we were shipping competitive products, such as Smart Suite and OS2, we would not be treated the same as Compaq and others," he said. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

Memory chips sold at less than cost

Taiwanese manufacturers are being forced to raise prices as a result of swingeing tariffs imposed earlier this week by US authorities. And, at the same time, Taiwanese and other memory companies are being forced to sell their processors below cost, a UK distributor has claimed. Mosel Vitelic responded to anti-dumping tariffs by raising its prices by 10 per cent on Wednesday. It is suffering under a 31 per cent US import tariff. (See Huge tariffs levied on Taiwanese DRAM firms) Alan Stanley, managing director of Dane-Elec UK, said: "I assume this is connected with the tariff. All of the Taiwanese companies are losing money on DRAMs. They're selling them at less than their cost of manufacture." He said there were only two companies worldwide able to manufacture DRAM at a price where they could make money. As a result, many memory manufacturers are cutting back production on chips, he said. ®
The Register breaking news

BTInternet and the free call fiasco

Opinion Subscription-based ISP BTInternet is still telling people that it will start offering toll-free access to the Net as of five June. A customer services operator told me this morning that BT was going ahead with the offer after I phoned to say I had received my BTInternet software but that there was no mention of the free offer. "Yeah, that's right," said the operator. "You'll get free calls for weekends from the 5th of June." I asked him for more information after he mentioned something about BT ClickFree. Thirty seconds later -- after he'd excused himself to speak to his supervisor -- he denied that free calls were being offered. "But you just told me they were," I said. "Yeah, that's just press speculation though," said Talbot. "Press speculation? You're a BT operator and you're telling me something about BTInternet based on press speculation?" "I'm sorry. You'll have to wait until BT makes an official announcement," he said. "When will that be?" "I'm sorry..." "But I was told two days ago that BT was going to offer free calls. That's why I asked for the software. Two minutes ago you told me you were offering free calls and now you've changed you mind. What's going on?" "As far as I'm aware it's just press speculation," he said. "Press speculation!" "I'm sorry," he said. If BT didn't play such a vital role in the lives of ten million Net users in the UK this episode would be comical -- farcical even. But it's got beyond a joke. BT is deliberately misleading people about pricing policy. ®
The Register breaking news

Nintendo profit hits six-year high

Nintendo appears to be doing rather better than its video game rivals, Sega and Sony. Yesterday, it announced the highest profit it has reported in the last six years. Profit for the year ended 31 March reached Y165.2 billion ($1.35 billion), up 4.9 per cent on last year's figure. Revenue increased by a slightly higher margin, rising seven per cent to Y572 billion ($4.67 billion). Nintendo cited the release of the Colour GameBoy and new games for the N64 as the prime drivers of its increased profitability. It may not be shipping as many units as Sony, its main rival, but at least by focusing solely on video games, its profitability hasn't been dragged down by poor performance in other areas, as Sony was. Poor Sega, meanwhile, is struggling back to profitability after being left behind in the console market through pressure from Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's more advanced but less well supported by third-party software developers N64. Sega is now pinning its hopes on the 128-bit Windows CE-based Dreamcast, but sales have been less than spectacular. Nintendo said it expects to continue improving its profitability through the current financial to March 2000. It certainly has a lead on Sega. Dreamcast may be technically more powerful, but the N64 has more titles. The Sega machine has also yet to demonstrate it really is sufficiently more powerful than the N64 to make it a better buy. However, Sony continues to ship bucketloads of PlayStations, and the upcoming PlayStation 2, due at the end of the year, a full 12 months before Nintendo's own next-generation system, codenamed Dolphin, could well eat into N64 sales. ®
The Register breaking news

Sony adds data protection to 1394

Sony is to build copy protection protocols into its next IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire) chips, the CXD-3204 and CXD-3205. Sony's chosen security scheme is the Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP) protocol, also backed by Matsushita, Intel and Toshiba. Getting DTCP into shipping product will give the technology a major lead on its main rival, XCA. XCA, backed by Zenith Electronics and Thomson Consumer Electronics, centres on the use of a smart card to decrypt digital data. That allows the encryption scheme to be regularly renewed, simply by issuing new smart cards to device owners. DTCP protects data passing through the 1394 channel from interception, duplication and unauthorised manipulation. Adding it to a 1394 interface chip is seen as a major boost for the connectivity technology in the wider consumer electronics arena, connecting video and hi-fi units as well as the more commonplace Firewire devices like digital camcorders. Many observers now believe the last obstacle to 1394 becoming the standard method of connecting consumer electronics kit has been crossed. ®
The Register breaking news

IBM exec reveals MS sales quotas for Win95

MS on Trial Inside information on Microsoft's determination to push Windows 95 into the market in its first year was revealed yesterday via - strange but true - questioning from Microsoft's attorneys. In questioning IBM exec Garry Norris the defence team seems to have been trying to show that IBM hadn't met its Windows 95 commitments, but this led to Norris revealing what these were. IBM had signed up to ship 300,000 copies of Windows 95 a month, although Norris says he didn't think IBM customers would switch to 95 at anything like that speed. This was typical of the period; most of the manufacturers with large numbers of corporate sales didn't anticipate a fast transition. In early 95, on the other hand, Microsoft's intention was to push 95 into the market, whether customers wanted it or not, and to just turn off supplies of Windows 3.1, if that's what it took. IBM's 300k a month commitment would have been similar to the deals other manufacturers signed, so although prior to launching 95 Microsoft was reticent about likely sales levels, the reality must have been that it knew pretty much how well the product would perform, because it knew how many copies the PC companies had promised to ship. These promises were thoroughly incentivised, too. IBM's contract provided for the company being charged an extra 20 per cent per copy, if it didn't make the numbers. But as it turned out, Norris says Microsoft didn't force this payment when IBM failed to make quota. ® Complete Register trial coverage
The Register breaking news

K6-III/500 shipping, will cost £299

Updated A number of hardware sites are claiming that AMD has already started shipping a K6-III/500MHz chip. The reports say that the part will be available in .25 micron, with the price likely to hover just over the $475 mark. The processor will cost £299 in the UK. You can find that information by going here and doing a quick search on the K6-III. The pricing positions the K6-III/500 directly against the Intel Pentium III/500... AMD was unavailable for comment at press time. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel's Merced may never see the light of day

While awfully clever folk argue about Merced's emulation of IA32 –- will it be software or hardware? (It'll be full-blown hardware, guys, just trust us on this one), they're ignoring a far more interesting question. After Willamette, Chipzilla's next IA32 part is codenamed Foster and is scheduled to appear alongside Merced in mid 2000 (although the way things are panning out, it'll likely appear before Merced). Foster will offer markedly superior performance to Merced when running 32-bit applications (up to 2x according to some sources), because the Merced IA32 emulation will simply be a complete 0.18 micron IA32 processor dropped onto the same piece of silicon –- a next generation Celeron perhaps? So now for that interesting question: Will the IA32 Foster wonder chip offer IA64 emulation? Well, not in hardware, but a 32-bit IA64 software emulator already exists for developers who just can't wait for real 64-bit silicon. A 32-bit processor offering 2x Merced performance on 32-bit apps (which, of course, includes the IA64 emulator) would make a very attractive alternative to Merced itself. What price Merced never appearing at all and Foster with IA64 emulation becoming the entry-level processor paving the way for the first 'real' IA64 processor, McKinley (double the performance of Merced), in 2001? Answers on a postcard please. ®
The Register breaking news

AMD trademarks own name

In what appears to be a colossal oversight, AMD has only just registered the words Advanced Micro Devices as a trademark. The application for the trademark was taken out on the 12th of March last. Just think what hay others might have made out of the oversight. Other trademarks recently registered include GigaNIC. So we'd better watch out for that product too. So far, AMD's ALEREON.COM has not made an appearance on the Wibbly Wobbly Web. Keep an eye out for it. We have reason to believe this is part of a huge AMD marketing push against Intel's Celeron. ®
The Register breaking news

Iridium one step from bankruptcy

Troubled satellite mobile phone service Iridium yesterday admitted the full seriousness of its financial crisis and confessed that bankruptcy was one of the very few options left open to it. As the company prepares to face the music -- it is about to explain to its bank how it intends to pay back the $800 million it owes, a payment deferred by two months last March -- recently appointed CFO Leo Mondale yesterday said the company is "considering a restructuring rather than a bankruptcy". Mondale added that Iridium is currently negotiating hard with creditors, banks and its major shareholder, Motorola, to seek permission to restructure the company. "We believe our strategic partners will support us," he told attendees of the Banc of America Securities Growth Telecommunications Conference, held this week in New York. Understandably, Mondale was bullish about the company's future -- after all, at this stage there's little point in being anything else. "The fact that I'm here today ought to be indicative that I think we'll still be operating next week," he said, though many among his audience might well have viewed the company's viability a week further down the line more doubtfully. "We were having difficulty in marketing and selling," said Mondale, "but we have accomplished a lot of things. I think the situation we're in now is one we can get out of." "We are satisfied we have identified the problems," he added. All very well, but what is Iridium's management, led by interim CEO John Richardson, doing about them? The restructure is clearly the first stage -- two weeks ago the company employed investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette to advise it on cutting costs and restructuring its debt -- and it has been giving its sales team a good kicking. What about second stage? The answer unfortunately is that right now the second stage doesn't matter. If Iridium doesn't get permission to restructure, then closure will be left as the only real choice the company has left to it. ® Register Factoid Staff morale is clearly (and understandably) rather low at Iridium, and disgruntled Websters must be losing their respect for their senior staff. What else could be reason behind filing the photo of chairman Robert Kinzie under the highly deferential name "suit1.jpg", and CFO Leo Mondale as "suit3.jpg"? But who is "suit2", missing from the site -- and what, we wonder darkly, was his fate? See also Iridium CEO breaks orbit Iridium gets 60 day reprieve
The Register breaking news

Big Blue secretary busted for insider trading

An IBM secretary, who saw details of an upcoming takeover deal when photocopying documents, is being sued after she and a group of friends netted $1.3 million. Through Lorraine Cassano the gossip spread to 25 people, including a pizza man, a gynaecologist and an ex-teacher, all of who now stand accused of making profits from insider dealing. The Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) is hot on the trail of the group, many of them first-time investors, according to today's Daily Telegraph newspaper. The US body alleges that Cassano whispered confidential details of IBM's impending acquisition of Lotus, discovered in the New York office, to her beeper-salesman husband in May 1995. Mr Cassano then tipped off colleague Paul Green in a New Jersey hotel room three days before the deal was due to be announced. Seemingly unable to keep his trap shut, Mr Cassano also blabbed to computer technician Jerry Mazzone. Both agreed to buy Lotus stock and split profits with Mr Cassano. From there, the news spread like wildfire, and within six hours 25 people had bought $500,000 of Lotus shares. These included a pizzeria owner, a dairy wholesaler, a banker, a solicitor and a stockbroker. They picked up $1.3 million when Lotus shares nearly doubled on the deal's announcement. The SEC has filed a suit against all 25, but has already settled with several, including the Cassanos. They have been forced to not only give back their profits, but also pay penalties representing double their gains. An IBM representative told The Register: "We're very careful that this kind of confidential information is not disclosed by staff. "We do not encourage this kind of activity." Former teacher Josephine DeCiccio, who allegedly netted $48,000 from the deal, claimed she was an innocent victim. "I had no idea I was doing anything wrong. You could have overheard something in the grocery store and have had no idea that you could wind up in SEC headquarters." ®
The Register breaking news

FBI site still down after hack attack

Two days after dissident hackers trashed the FBI's Web site there's still no sign of life at spook central. A group calling itself Global Hell (gH) broke into www.fbi.gov on Wednesday in retaliation for nine of its members being arrested by the FBI for other government-related hacking offences. Reports also suggest that those gH members still at liberty have wreaked havoc elsewhere although exactly how many sites have been brought to their knees has yet to be confirmed. In a show of defiance one message read: "gH IS HERE TO STAY. NO ONE WILL STOP US." Ironically, in March the FBI published its fourth annual Computer Crime and Security Survey warning organisations to be on their guard against an increase in hacking activity. Shame it didn't take its own advice. News of the FBI's embarrassing security flaw coincided with a warning from Network Associates of a vicious email attachment currently doing the rounds that lets people hack into you system remotely. BackDoor-G -- which operates much like a Trojan Horse -- gains entry to a PC running Windows 95/98 masked by a spam email. Once activated, PCs are left wide open for attack by hackers. A statement from Network Associates reads: "Network Associates announced today that it has discovered a potentially dangerous new "trojan horse" program called BackDoor-G that could allow hackers to remotely access and control infected PCs over the Internet. "BackDoor-G, which has been confirmed in the wild, is the latest in a string of new hybrid security threats that blur the line between viruses, security exploits and malicious code attacks. "While not technically a virus...BackDoor-G has been given a risk assessment rating of "High" by [our] Anti Virus Emergency Response Team (AVERT)." ®
The Register breaking news

UN body moves to ban Web squatters

It looks like time is running out for cybersquatters after officials attending the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) conference in Berlin endorsed plans to outlaw the practice. But the vote of confidence by board members of ICANN is still subject to change. ICANN is the new body responsible for domain names. The proposals were published last month by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) prior to this week's conference. In the report, penned by Francis Gurry, the UN organisation outlined a series of recommendations aimed at curbing the abuse of trademarks on the Internet. But some critics of the new measures -- which would protect trademark holders from people trying to hold them to ransom -- believe them to be too draconian favouring large multinationals instead of smaller companies. ®
The Register breaking news

No breach of confidentiality, says Freeserve

Freeserve has denied passing information to one of its sister companies, after allegations that some customers had received unsolicited calls from PC World sales staff. Two months after The Register reported on this alleged breach of the Data Protection Act, Freeserve has finally completed its internal investigation into the matter. A spokeswoman for Freeserve was unable to provide a written statement about the inquiry. Instead, she said that no information was passed illegally between Freeserve and PC World and that there was no breach of the Data Protection Act. Operators of Freeserve's telephone support service do not have access to the ISP's customer database, she said. Therefore, they couldn't have had access to telephone numbers and contact details to tip-off PC World about any sales leads. "The customers in question must have supplied their telephone numbers to the technicians and would have been made aware that someone would have called them back," said the spokeswoman. "Freeserve's policy is not to sell people things on our technical support lines and this message has been reinforced with all staff," she said. Of course, if nothing underhand happened it seems odd that Freeserve should have to reinforce a message about something they're not already doing. ®
The Register breaking news

Web ad watchdog with no email

It will be at least a year before the advertising watchdog is fully tooled up with an email address to receive complaints about ads on the Internet. Earlier this month the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) complained that it didn't receive enough complaints about Net-based advertising. It's possible that since then it's finally dawned on someone that part of the reason for the empty in-basket may be that it didn't have an email address for complaints. If people want to complain at the moment they have to print out the offending ad and post it to the ASA. Aaaaahhh, how old fashioned. An ad watchpuppy said he hoped that by next year people would be able to send the ASA emails along with images of the ads in question. "There's much more to it than just setting up an email address," he yapped. So it seems... Here at The Register, we'd like to hear from anyone who has battled for a whole year to get themselves fixed up with an email account. ®
The Register breaking news

Craig Barrett caught outside Log Cabin

If you’re a lookin' for a restful kinda' hideaway where you can sorta get yo' stuff together, why look further than good ole uncle Craig’s Li'l House on the Prairie? Y'all can chill out with a spot of fly fishin', sink a few cool ones, or even develop a marketing strategy designed to consign AMD to the lowest pit of Hell where demons can chew on the… Hold it right there. Uncle Craig's Cabin is a cool kinda place, not at all the sort of vacation location where you think bad thoughts about the upstart scum who dare to threaten Intel’s plans for world domi… Hey, domination is a heavy word man. Here at Uncle Craig’s, we don’t like that kinda hassle – try a spot of fly fishing, ride a horse in a dumb cowboy outfit, sue a few far eastern scumbags who haven’t signed a licence to use the BX440 chipset… Whatever your holiday needs, Craig’s L'il House on the Prairie can almost certainly throw a whole shedload of heavy legal dudes in your direction. Uncle Craig's – you’ll never be able to afford to go anywhere else. Ahem... ®
The Register breaking news

C2000 brings back old hand to replace Cook

Computer 2000 has re-hired Julian Klein, who will replace sales director Paul Cook. The Basingstoke-based distributor said Cook had resigned "to pursue new opportunities." Graeme Watt, Computer 2000 MD, said the group was sad to lose Cook, who had been at the company for three years. Klein left Computer 2000 two years ago to join Apple UK as its sales director. He then moved on to Xerox as the company's channels director. His previous stint at Computer 2000 lasted six years in product marketing. Klein said: "It is currently an interesting time for distribution and Computer 2000 is clearly outperforming the sector." One of his aims would be to "increase the gap over the competition," he said. ®
The Register breaking news

Panic at Chipzilla central

Chipzilla likes to keep its OEMs appraised of price changes and new product introductions well ahead of time. Hardly ever does the chip behemoth move the goalposts. Well, hardly ever. The Register has in its possession detailed roadmaps and price lists stretching out far into the future (nine months at least) about clock speeds, form factors and prices. But the wheels come off when Chipzilla Central throws a wobbler due to upstarts like AMD and, er… AMD (no one else left?) having the barefaced cheek to introduce new chips and cut prices. When that happens, Intel has a rather sophisticated response. It just knocks a couple of months off the headings of its price move tables, so that price reductions scheduled for August now happen in June. Some of the more rabid publications might surmise that new and wonderful chips will suddenly be launched into an unsuspecting marketplace, but even the Great Stan of Chips can’t deliver a 500MHz Celeron next week instead of September, or a 700MHz PIII a week next Tuesday. Prices may change, but silicon moves more slowly. Especially at 133MHz FSB. ®
The Register breaking news

IBM confirms druggy E its trademark

Trademarks of the week IBM has obviously finally settled its difficulties with someone who said it owned the E-mark. We don't know if it's true outside the UK, but here the letter E is widely associated with hallucinogenic drug Ecstasy. Earlier this week, IBM managed to file the e-mark in the US and this is what it looks like. But IBM also managed to file a much more puzzling trademark. This is called Ultrium LTO, and Seagate, HP and IBM also seem to have a share in this. This is part of a joint initiative between the three companies to capture the lucrative DLT tape market, several readers have pointed out. LTO stands for Linear Tape Open. The interesting thing about the latter trademark registration is that IBM has registered it, the owner name is Seagate and the last named owner was Hewlett-Packard, in Bracknell. More information about Ultrium LTO can be found here. ®
The Register breaking news

Usenet demands ‘death penalty’ sentence for AOL

A group of German Usenet administrators are threatening to boycott AOL -- the so-called Usenet Death Penalty -- because of the online service's poor record on spam prevention. Their argument is that AOL's offer of up to 650 free hours of Internet access gives spammers the opportunity they need to get online, mail all and sundry with some highly dubious offers, and not have to worry about whether they ultimately get booted off the system. They also bemoan AOL executives' apparent unwillingness to do anything about the issue, or about proven spammers. Indeed, the ISPs allege, AOL's complaints system is automated and "despite the repeated complaints of many group users and set periods, the spam continues... AOL shows no visible attempt to terminate this network abuse". At the same time, AOL's use of 'screen names' rather than real email addresses makes it easy for spammers to post their unwanted adverts on Usenet and hide their real identity while they're at it, say the ISPs. And, indeed, in our own experience, the vast majority of spam received by Register staffers comes with the '@aol.com' suffix. The German admins are therefore proposing to nuke any attempt to post articles on Usenet from AOL accounts, and presumably -- our knowledge of German broke down at this point -- are asking other Usenet administrators and email server managers to do the same. ®
The Register breaking news

Missing Iridium ‘suit’ located

Updated The Register's request for information as to the identity of the Iridium executive known to the company only by the mysterious moniker 'suit2.jpg' has already proved fruitful. One reader, Mat Simpson, sent us proof that the Mr Suit2 does exist, lurking hidden deep within the ailing satellite mobile phone company's Web site. Here's the picture: But who is he? We suspect it may be ex-CEO Ed Staiano, now departed from the company and, as a non-person, awaiting to be airbrushed out of the Iridium Party Manifesto. Updated And, indeed, that's who it appears to be, as another reader, who also probed deeply into the Iridium directory structure, discovered. Curiously, also missing is the ellusive "suit4", who turns out to be Marco Sentinelli, once VP of marketing and distribution. The reader in question was rather keen that his name should appear be plugged by The Register. Fellow Sun Microsystems oppos will no doubt know Steve Ferris already -- and will presumably treat this blatant attempt to grab 15 minutes of fame with the contempt it deserves. Still, thanks for the pic, Steve. Plaudits too to James Forrester, for his rather natty Prisoner parody: "Who are you?" "I am the new suit number two" "Who is number one?" "You are suit number four..." We'd just like to add that at this point, suit4.jpg, CFO Leo Mondale, gets swallowed by a huge inflated condom and is carted off to Silicon Village... ®
The Register breaking news

PalmPilot at the helm as 3Com takes new shape

3Com is to turn its back on some of its traditional product divisions in an attempt to boost profitability. The networking giant turned in disappointing results for its third fiscal quarter, and may sell older units and concentrate on higher margin business. CEO Eric Benhamou said the company needed a revamp to boost sales growth. The move to concentrate on its newer, faster-selling products, such as the PalmPilot hand-held computer, may start within a few months, said Benhamou. 3Com's earnings and profit were damaged by slow sales of its modems and adapter cards. Benhamou said it would be likely to shift those businesses, and has already begun diverting funding out of these areas. Some of these or other units will face the chop if they cannot be turned around. "We may sell some of those (businesses) to someone who can get a better return on their investment," said Benhamou. "We have a sense of urgency to give higher returns to our shareholders." One analyst told Bloomberg that 3Com's reorganisation would revolve around the market-leading PalmPilot, sales of which so far total 4 million. 3Com was itself the subject of takeover rumours last month, with buyers said to be queuing up to get a chunk of the network heavyweight. ®
The Register breaking news

The naked civil servant – online Down Under

Red-faced politicians in Australia will have to sort out their own back yard before preaching to the rest of the country against accessing adult material on the Net. For Net users working within the Aussie government bearing .gov.au domains have been indulging in cybersex right under the noses of their prim politicians. Earlier this week do-goody Aussie politicians voted to outlaw sexually explicit and violent content on the Net. But the down-under owner of a US-based porn site has written to a top Aussie minister telling him that government proxy servers and domains are being used to access her hardcore site. Explicit Bernadette.net has a member's only area featuring Webcams displaying some seriously saucy stuff -- exactly the kind of hardcore smut Aussie politicians have voted to ban, in fact. "A current total of 4,316 individuals are using government-provided Internet access to view pornography during work hours," said the site's owner Bernadette Taylor in a letter to Aussie government. Taylor told Newsbytes of the hypocrisy of such heavy-handed government measures and said that it simply "illustrated the inadequacies" of trying to censor material. On Sunday, Aussie Net users, ISPs and civil liberties groups will join forces to protest against the legislation. ®
The Register breaking news

Toshiba sets its sights on system builders’ business

A range of white box PCs due to be launched early next month, will see Toshiba competing directly with SME-friendly system builders. The move, planned only for the US at present, will target the SME market, which is currently largely supplied by smaller, independent system builders. This is a change of tack for Toshiba, which has previously set its sights on playing in the same markets as PC giants like Compaq and Dell. The Toshiba Equium 3200 is a line of build to order mini-tower PCs, designed to fit underneath a desk, with only the monitor visible on top. They will be co-branded with resellers, who can set their own prices as Toshiba will not publish a list of recommended pricing. The 3200 adds to Toshiba's current Equium 7100 PCs, aimed at the corporate market in the US and UK. In the UK, there is also the 3000 range, launched in October, which targets the SME market. Colin White, Toshiba UK desktop product manager, told The Register that the Toshiba UK office would be watching the scheme very carefully to see how successful it was. "There are no plans to co-brand PCs in the UK at the moment. But that is not to say it will not happen," he said. The line will be launched in the US on 7 June. The same range will be launched over here mid-June, but not with the same build to order initiative, stressed White. "This is one of the worst industries to be in. You can't please everyone all the time. Yes, this will put us in direct competition with some system builders, but it is a case of survival," he said. ®