29th > June > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Is it a bra, or an anti-mugging device?

First the Armageddon Bra, a wearable computer that warned its owner of impending nuclear attack. Now we have the Techno Bra, designed for women too scared to walk the streets at night. Combining a heart monitor, GPS positioning, Chantilly lace trim and underwiring, the Techno Bra vibrates silently when its heart beat is raised. And -- get this -- the bra will send an alert to the police station , unless its occupant switches the damn thing off. This will go down a storm with Our Boys in Blue. It’s a good thing the bra can tell the difference between exertion – caused by running for the bus – or trauma – such as missing the bus. Techno Bra designer Kursty Groves reckons it could even go into production. We guess that it would be more useful for women prone to heart attacks. We also guess that, unlike the Armageddon Bra, wearers can wear the Techno Bra under their clothes. The Techno Bra incorporates technology from Nokia and Proactiv, which has something to do with "sports electronics". See also: Mobile phone can save you from a heart attack
Drew Cullen, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Daewoo pumps up PC production in Europe

Daewoo is to outsource PC assembly in Europe to an Korean affiliate. Daewoo said the move would reduce its PC building costs in Europe by half. Currently it relies on third party companies to assemble its PCs in Europe. The unnamed Korean affiliate has set up a assembly plant near Paris, capable of handling 30,000 PCs a month, as its part of the Daewoo deal. Daewoo aims to sell one million PCs in Europe this year, and two million in 2000. ®
Drew Cullen, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Final MS witness sinks slowly, boringly

MS on Trial Gross generalisations based on insufficient knowledge of the industry were the hallmark of rebuttal evidence by Dean Richard "Schmalensee" Schmalensee. It fell to Michael Lacovara to examine him for Microsoft, an unenviable task. Dean Schmalensee had a ready denial for anything he was asked to deny, and confirmed everything he was asked to confirm. At $800 an hour, for hours and hours, that's pretty easy work. It was not realistic for Schmalensee to say in one sentence that IE has zero incremental cost to consumers, and in the next sentence that Windows 95 "was available for a price less than $63" implying this was a consumer price. He went on to claim that "Windows 98 is available ... for $2 more, on average". Lacovara tried to repair the earlier damage caused by the defence's refusal to define an operating systems market, because on any definition it can immediately be shown that Microsoft is the monopolist. His tactic was to ask Schmalensee to trot out Microsoft's latest definitions of an OS and a platform. The Dean on platforms Schmalensee said: "The term 'platform' is more evocative than the term 'operating system', I must say. A platform is something on which other things rest. And in this industry, a platform is a piece of software that provides functionality - APIs, in the parlance. It can be used by the writers of other software. So an API provides a platform on which - sorry - a platform provides an interface, a set of functionality, a set of APIs, and a set of standards, but, traditionally, a set of APIs that can be used by other programs. It can be used by other software developers. An operating system operates the computer, schedules the process, runs the disk drive, runs the printer, manages the interfaces and so forth. "Operating systems, typically, are platforms. Many platforms are operating systems. But, conceptually, there is a difference, and an important difference." It was particularly interesting that Schmalensee did not specifically list browsing as a characteristic of operating systems. Schmalensee twittered on about how including more features to Windows raised the barrier to competitors, but suddenly his song was stopped by Judge Jackson: "Would any of these features function as a platform?" he asked. Schmalensee waffled about Quarterdeck's DESQview having some multitasking. In fact of course, Quarterdeck released a multitasking windowing environment called DESQ in May 1984 that could run several DOS programs simultaneously: this was later re-released as DESQview. It is also worth noting that Microsoft used its Windows network device driver to sabotage DESQview and prevent it being loaded into higher memory. Of course, Microsoft's own software experienced no such problems, and Microsoft knew it would take a great deal of reverse engineering to unravel this, causing a critical delay between Microsoft's release of a product and Quarterdeck achieving compatibility with the new Microsoft product. The consequence was that Quarterdeck stopped marketing products that rivalled Microsoft's. Therese E Myers, CEO of Quarterdeck, told the WSJ in December 1992: "We found it to be too difficult. The issue was quite a bit that OEMs had to be loyal" to Microsoft. Microsoft produced some confidential documents from the AOL-Netscape merger, and quoted Goldman Sachs' due diligence report as saying that Netscape would have 100 million users by 2002, and that it already had 50 million users. Due diligence is a procedure that is used to protect companies against shareholder suits as a result of an acquisition. Firms like Goldman Sachs are sometimes used to undertake this, in the belief that heavyweight merchant bankers must be right. The reality of course is that they lack industry experience and are more prone to error than well-informed people in the industry. The Dean on design AOL witness David Colburn had made it clear that AOL's plans were not yet firm, so that Goldman Sachs' forecast was not merely unfounded, it was irresponsible as well. Schmalensee claimed that users were not restricted from adding programs to the start menu, in direct contradiction of earlier evidence. Schmalensee also offered his interpretation as to how the plaintiffs believe IE should have been designed: "I think they believe that Microsoft should have developed Internet Explorer, not as a part of the operating system, but as a stand-alone application." This is an interesting attempt at deceiving the court: Microsoft of course used Spyglass Mosaic as the browser in IE1, with very little change. IE was and is being developed as a separate product, and not as part of Windows. The welding togther, as everybody now knows, has been done by Microsoft to drive Netscape's browser from the market. There was a great deal of criticism by Schmalensee of DoJ witness Franklin Fisher's testimony. Although he was marginally better than Schmalensee, in both cases their technical evidence is so flawed that it should not have been admitted. It was completely unconvincing for Schmalensee to go against admissions from Microsoft's witnesses that the distribution of the Netscape browser was readily achievable by downloading, as though this was as good as OEM distribution. A collection of Fisher's writings was offered as a defence exhibit, but were not accepted by the court. The DoJ's David Boies successfully objected that if they were for the purpose of trying to impeach Fisher, they should have been used earlier. It turned out that Fisher was in court at the time, presumably there in an attempt to curtail some of Schmalensee's wilder excesses. Naughty Schmalensee also claimed that Colburn had said that Netscape had not produced a componentised browser, when in fact Colburn had said that a beta version was delivered to AOL in September 1998. Lacovara failed to get accepted 25 pages of how (in the view of Schmalensee's young helpers, for it was clear that he does not get his hands dirty in these matters), Netscape was not foreclosed from distributing its browser through the ISP channel. Boies objected to this being against the principle of rebuttal testimony, and Judge Jackson agreed: he ruled the exhibit inadmissible. Of course Microsoft will have to pay for the work anyway. So far as predation was concerned, Schmalensee said that if successful, it would have the result that competitors were removed as a constraint on behaviour. Since that is what had happened innumerable times (All those DOS utilities, DR-DOS, OS/2, Navigator...) Schmalensee was quite wrong to claim that there was no predation. Later, he said: "The appropriate test [predation] has two parts... the first involves an act that is a deliberate money-loser, as the phrase is there, pricing below costs in the classic instance. And the second component of the test is that that act makes sense - only makes sense - as part of a strategy that (a) will extinguish or has extinguished competition; and that (b) will permit recoupment of the losses after competition has been extinguished." Judge Jackson began to side with the DoJ, noting that a smaller competitor cannot afford to compete at a low (or negative) price indefinitely, and referred to this as "long-term predation". There seemed little doubt he had made up his mind about this. Schmalensee gayly continued lauding the fact that a key Netscape document that Microsoft had obtained during its raid on the AOL-Netscape merger documentation was under seal, thinking that he could attach any innuendo he wished to it. It was too much for the judge, and he promptly unsealed the key information. This showed that Netscape was "willing to spend up to $10 per download (in a high case scenario) via promotions, contests, incentives and advertising to stimulate downloads." This was hardly surprising, and of course arose because Microsoft had decided to price IE negatively, forcing Netscape to do the same. Schmalensee controverted Gates' statement that IE was a "no-revenue product" by claiming it generated revenues "as a part of Windows". But steady on, Schmalensee, where's the revenue for the Apple version, and the stand-alone versions? By the morning of Schmalensee's second day, he must have been feeling a little tired, since he launched into a "suppose we have a market with ten operating systems of comparable size..." but that didn't work because his client was a monopolist, whatever it said. Schmalensee also forgot that he wasn't a computer scientist, or even an engineer, and suggested that "Microsoft combined the functionality of its MS-DOS products with the functionality of its Windows 3.x products, and some new features. It wasn't combining code. It was combining capability. And produced and integrated --an integrated product. "It offered additional benefits to consumers and to ISVs." Lacovara encouraged Schmalensee to witter on about the future, but it had little relevance, since the Complaint concerned what Microsoft had done, although any remedy would need to be effective in the future. Microsoft needed to show that there was no applications barrier to market entry, in order to show there was no monopoly in an antitrust context. Schmalensee claimed there was no barrier, and thereby confirmed his ignorance of the industry. Schmalensee threw in the PalmOS as a rival to Windows CE, but did not mention that the synchronisation programs for transferring data to and from a PC ran under Windows. The defence runs out of steam Lacovara ran out of useful things to ask, so continued by elaborating the defence rather than rebutting earlier evidence. His purpose was to take as much time as possible, in order to put Boies under pressure to conduct his cross-examination quickly, as the judge wanted the testimony finished last week. It didn't help. Dean Schmalensee had not produced a coherent argument that was going to help Microsoft' case. Microsoft, as usual, has only released a few exhibits, mostly impressions of web pages. There are a few things of interest however. A summary of the proposed AOL-Netscape deal to the AOL board on 17 November 1998 gives an interesting private assessment of Microsoft's situation in the enterprise: "[The deal] offers us a 2-year window while Microsoft is handicapped by its weak traffic [on MSN], poor NT scalability, and lack of directory technology." AOL's strategy was to keep users on its own web site for as long as possible, which was no surprise. Another exhibit shows how Microsoft could break even on IE if the price of Windows were increased. So much for Microsoft never ever charging for IE. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Graham Lea, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Linux, open source baffles MS witness

MS on Trial Dean Richard Schmalensee claimed that the threat of Linux (to Microsoft) after the AOL-Netscape merger had increased, but did not explain how this could be. Schmalensee admitted he had found it "frankly hard to keep up with all the developments in Linux", and was puzzled that "serious corporations are spending serious money on Linux" investments. He disagreed with the DoJ economist witness Franklin Fisher who had said in January that "the notion that operating systems such as Linux... [is] really going to succeed in taking away much, if any, of the business from Microsoft Windows, is a joke. Schmalensee contradicted himself about Linux: "One of the interesting issues with Linux has always been ease of use, and that issue is being increasingly addressed in two ways: first, by vendors shipping - OEMs shipping Linux pre-installed, which deals in part - which deals with Linux's traditional difficulty of installation; and second, with the development of a couple of graphical user interfaces that makes Linux more attractive on the consumer side." Later, Schmalensee controverted his "ease of use" comment about Linux and claimed it was "difficult to use". It seemed unlikely that he had used it, and for him to be put forward as an expert was ridiculous. Schmalensee said he had studied the open-source movement "a bit" in preparation for his testimony and found it "a fascinating phenomenon ... quite extraordinary" but to an economist "it is a little bit surprising that this works, frankly, but it does seem to work". He clearly could not understand why it worked, especially without capital investment. It posed long-term competitive constraints on Microsoft, he thought. Schmalensee's problem of course was that economics was the wrong discipline to bring to bear: sociology and psychology were far more relevant. Although some OEMs were offering Linux machines, "for a large OEM making a choice, choosing a single system, I believe Windows, at present, is the only viable alternative." This was an unwise statement for Microsoft's witness to have made, as it was only one step from saying that Microsoft had a monopoly. Schmalensee had no idea whatsoever about how many PCs were loaded with Linux, but he was happy to characterise Linux as a major threat to Microsoft. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Graham Lea, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

AMD pitches 3DNow at embedded market

AMD has made its pitch for the set-top box and appliance markets with the first shipments of the K6-2E, the first member of AMD's embedded x86 family to include 3DNow and MMX technology. The company has priced it at $59 for the 300MHz version, and $56 and $55 for the 266MHz and 233MHz respectively. Low power versions are $69 for the 266MHz and $66 for the 233MHz. AMD is pitching the 2E at the likes of central office switches, high speed routers, industrial comtrol systems, information appliances and point of sale, but the incorporation of multimedia capabilities in low-cost embedded x86 silicon will help spur the development of new applications and classes of appliance. The chip supports Socket 7 and Super7 designs, and uses a split pane voltage design that allows the processor core to operate at a lower voltage while the I/O voltage operates at 3.3V. ®
John Lettice, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

MS browser stats based on dud data

MS on Trial Much of Microsoft's defence has relied on some data - the so-called MDC data set - that is now realised to be seriously duff. Microsoft's economics expert, Dean Richard Schmalensee, admitted that he might not currently be up to speed on statistics, and indeed he wasn't. Schmalensee reworked data that should have been presented with confidence levels at a certain probability, following criticism from the DoJ's economist witness Fisher about this. Schmalensee should not have said that "One reason we work with quarterly data, instead of monthly data, was to reduce margins of error and... to increase sample size", because aggregating data cannot decrease the error from invalid data. In fact the revised exhibit shows very well why Microsoft was reluctant to use confidence levels: in one graph, at the end of the study period the result is 6 million Netscape browsers, plus or minus around 2 million, at 95 per cent probability. This is meaningless, especially when the data is examined: the telephone questionnaire shows the fundamental design errors in the survey. It was disingenuous, and deliberately misleading, for Schmalensee to claim that "I used the MDC database because that's really the only available data that relates to how - that tells us how individuals got the browser." The data are incapable of showing anything useful, and Microsoft knew this. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Graham Lea, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Moonlighting witnesses should resign their posts

Opinion Dean Richard Schmalensee of the MIT Sloan School of Management, best known for his 1978 article on the ready-to-eat breakfast cereal industry, has abused his academic position by spending far too much time as a consultant, against the interest of students at MIT. He also brings discredit on MIT for acting as a mercenary for Microsoft. He has proved many times that he has insufficient knowledge to be dubbed an expert, and under cross-examination by David Boies it has been seen that his opinions are based on his desire to please his paymaster. He has brought antitrust economics into disrepute (if that is possible), and put it on the same plane as astrology, so far as his opinions are concerned, and appears to have used numerology rather than statistics to support a data set that does not stand up to examination. His teaching duties towards students, and his leadership of his school, must have suffered as a result of the considerable time he spends on his own consultancy work, for Microsoft and other clients. He is retained by Microsoft not just for the case brought by the DoJ, but also for Caldera v Microsoft and other Microsoft cases. If MIT believes it is a progressive academic institution, and if it does not wish to prohibit private consultancy, the time has come for it to franchise its academic posts and to make the incumbent's pay for the their job titles. Antitrust mercenaries - and Professor Franklin Fisher is another - should resign their academic positions and see how they manage to fare in a real world, where experts are really experts. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Graham Lea, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Teenage hacker cracks CurrantBun

A teenage hacker broke into the CurrantBun.Com Web site at the weekend and bagged a rack of personal details about The Sun's online readers. David Habanec -- an 18-year-old telecomms worker from London -- bragged about the computer software loophole to his cyberfriends before hacking into CurrantBun.com for himself. He then published the personal details of 50 people on an Internet newsgroup, although the actual usefulness of the information he stole has been questioned by executives at CurrantBun.Com. Reports elsewhere that the hacker was a 15-year-old schoolboy have been dismissed by Habanec who admitted he wanted to mislead people about his true identity. The episode has caused acute embarrassment at The Sun's Wapping HQ. Currant.Bun.Com, which has more than 100,000 users, has assured people that no other personal information was stolen and that the cybercrime only affected a small number of people. The police have been informed and it is understood the Computer Crime Squad at New Scotland Yard is looking into the case. "A small number of customers' email addresses, passwords and names was accessed in the last two days by an individual and we are contacting those customers to give them new secure access," said a statement from red-faced officials at CurrantBun.com. "No further customer information has been obtained, and the relevant authorities are now involved. This only affects some of those users who registered this weekend." Although the action has been widely condemned by the Internet community, many are puzzled as to why Habanec has already coughed up to the cybercrime. In an exclusive interview with The Register, Habanec said he did it to gain notoriety among the Internet community and as a revenge attack against Cheshire-based Telinco, the company that provides the network for CurrantBun.Com. More details on that exclusive Register interview with teenage hacker David Habanec will follow shortly. ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Samsung unveils 1 Gigabit DRAM

Samsung yesterday confirmed it has produced a 1Gb SDRAM part using a 0.13 micron process. The company said the part was ready to go into production, but it did not say when it will begin to do so. More likely it will use the technology for 128Mb and 256Mb parts, making them more competitive with rival DRAM vendors' chips -- Samsung is betting that prices for 128Mb and 256Mb parts will fall as quickly as those of 16Mb and 64Mb parts did. The move also allows the company to extend the life of its existing 0.18 micron production equipment. ®
Tony Smith, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

IEEE finally ratifies 1000Base-T

The IEEE has finally dotted the Ts and crossed the Is on its IEEE 802.3ab standard, known less formally as Gigabit Ethernet over copper cabling or 1000Base-T. The spec. was to have been ratified earlier this year, but a dearth of physical layer chips prevented manufacturers from shipping product. That in turn persuaded the IEEE to hang fire on final ratification until the supply situation was rectified. The new standard describes how Gigabit Ethernet communications can take place over four pairs of CAT-5 copper cabling of up to 100m in length. Gigabit Ethernet has already been defined for fibre-optic cabling, but the new spec. allows the technology to be implemented over users' existing cable infrastructures, which is likely to speed its adoption. ®
Tony Smith, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

I did it to show off, says hacker

Speaking exclusively to The Register's Tim Richardson, the man behind last weekend's attack on CurrantBun.Com explains why he did it and what he hoped to achieve. But with the threat of criminal charges hanging over him, David Habanec must be asking himself if it was all worth it. The teenager who claims to have hacked into the CurrantBun.Com Web site at the weekend before stealing the personal details of 50 people has spoken exclusively to The Register about why he did it. David Habanec -- an 18-year-old telecomms worker from London -- said he "wanted to make a name for himself". "I came across the loophole by chance," he said. "I wanted to prove a point. I admit it, I wanted to show off. I wanted to make it look as if I was some clever boffin," he told The register this morning. He admitted that he had a run-in with the Cheshire-base ISP Telinco that prompted him to close his account. This altercation was, Habanec said, partly to blame for his attack on CurrantBun.Com, owned by The Sun and hosted by Telinco. Telinco warned Habanec to stop misusing newsgroups after the ISP received hundreds of complaints from users about Habanec. This prompted the telecomms worker to leave Telinco before he was booted out. Since then, it appears he has harboured a grudge against Telinco. But he stressed that revenge was not the main reason behind his actions. Although Habanec understands the seriousness of what he has done there is little sign of any remorse. He spoke to The Register this morning as he was on his way to work. Sitting on a bus somewhere in London on a wet grey day, Habanec seemed almost unruffled by the whole affair. He accepts that he's in trouble and is aware that he may face prosecution under the Computer Misuse Act. But in Habanec's eyes he's achieved what he set out to do. He wanted people to sit up and take notice of him... and they have. The question now facing Habanec is, was it worth the price he may now have to pay? ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Creative Labs to dump S3

Creative Labs has become the first graphics card vendor to fall out with S3 following the 3D accelerator chip developer's announcement last week that it intends to by Diamond Multimedia. Creative launched its Savage 4-based 3D Blaster card in the Spring, but yesterday the company said the product would be discontinued when it introduces its Autumn product line. The move mirrors Creative's reaction to 3dfx when that chip vendor bought board maker STB. That acquisition put 3dfx into direct competition with Creative, and indeed Diamond, which also dropped its Voodoo-based products. S3's deal with Diamond was always likely to generate a similar reaction among board vendors, though S3 has said it doesn't intend to can Diamond boards not based on its chips. That said, the examples it cites tend to be only those chips its own products don't directly compete with. How many rival chip vendors will be happy with that remains to be seen. Fellow card maker Number Nine has said it will continue to offer its Savage 4-based SR9 board, according to Maximum PC magazine. ®
Tony Smith, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Merced silicon unlikely to arrive until Q3, Q4

Working samples of Intel's Merced processor are now unlikely to arrive until Q3 or Q4 of this year, several sources have now confirmed. An engineer at Intel, who declined to be named, says that problems with architectural teams mean that working processors are still difficult to improve. And separate sources at both Compaq and IBM have also confirmed that their companies have still not seen working examples of silicon. Both said that they were being told Q3 and Q4 for working silicon were the likely dates. The IBM source, said however, that Monterey was ready to go for Merced when working and booting silicon finally emerged. ®
Mike Magee, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Big Blue wins contract with God

Sources close to IBM today confirmed the company had won an account to supply Netfinity boxes to the Holy See (surely 'Holy C'? -- Ed) in Rome. The source would not say how large the deal was to supply the Vatican, but said: "This is not a worldwide network, it could be one of the largest deals in the universe." In other news from IBM, the company was showing its eight way Profusion SMP server on its stand, which is expected to be available in Q3 of this year. The machine comes with a bundled AI system management tool, at no charge, that burrows down into the network and will predict failures likely to happen in the future. The company was also showing its lightweight, slimline 270 ThinkPad, which has been launched in the States but will appear in the UK, again in Q3, and will cost around £1500. ®
Mike Magee, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

How DoJ is slowly extracting MS' secret documents

MS on Trial David Boies for the DoJ has been making steady progress in getting Microsoft documents that Microsoft wants kept confidential into the public domain. And Judge Jackson has made it clear that he will quite likely decide to unseal a good few more later in the trial. Boies made it clear that he did not like Microsoft's practice of manipulating the public record to look better, because at present Microsoft has been able to file a significant number of documents under seal. At one point the judge said that he would sustain an objection by Boies to a question unless Microsoft agreed to the unsealing of the document. He went on: "I hope that you are prepared and you understand that if and when I am publishing findings of fact in this case, to the extent that I find it necessary to use material in closed session, it's going to become part of the public record." Microsoft head trial lawyer John Warden lumbered up: "We understand that, absent some truly exceptional showing, that would have to be the case under the law ... and I assume that if your honour detects something that you think might be truly exceptional, we'll get a little - " Judge Jackson interrupted: "All I want you to understand is that nobody should proceed upon the assumption that it is forever foreclosed from public inspection." The problem for the public and media is that although the DoJ appears to be putting all documents it introduces that are not under seal on its web site (eventually at least), Microsoft is highly selective, and does not put most of them up. Nor are they available from the court office. Surely Microsoft does not have something to hide? ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Graham Lea, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

SDMI drafts digital music plans

The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) has announced its provisional specification for portable digital music players. As anticipated, the spec. calls for a two-stage implementation process: the first offering basic SDMI compliance, followed by an upgrade to screen out pirated files as and when the SDMI figures out which screening technology to use. The SDMI did not say when that will happen. Still, this approach does signal a softening of the organisation's earlier stance that it had to completely eliminate all music files not SDMI-compliant, a move threatened to render existing legitimate formats, including audio CDs, unplayable on SDMI-compliant equipment. The SDMI's new line will allow compliant players to use all existing music files, both legal and illegal. When the second stage of the process commences, users will have to upgrade their players to allow them to play fully SDMI-compliant music files. The screening technology will only block illegal copies of fully SDMI-compliant files -- existing dodgy versions and unprotected files will be permitted to play. Of course, the tone of the SDMI announcement suggests that users of SDMI-compliant devices will be able to do so freely, through a simple download, as and when they buy a fully SDMI-compliant file. That said, it doesn't say this explicitly, and it's not beyond the wit of the music industry to levy a small upgrade fee. For device vendors and music suppliers, the new spec. provides the basic architecture they need to handle the transfer of files to players and manage the use of those files. The spec. itself is currently only a draft -- the final version will be published in the second week of July. ®
Tony Smith, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Via buying Cyrix in bid to save PC133 from Intel?

Via Technologies' licensing spat with Intel gets more complicated by the day - according to US mag EBN, the company is in negotiation to buy NatSemi's Cyrix unit. (See story) EBN reports that NatSemi has confirmed it's in talks with Via, and suggests that the deal could be clinched as early as tomorrow (Wednesday). If it does roll, it will certainly put the patents among the pigeons. Intel launched legal action Via for the second time last week (See story), claiming the company was in breach of the deal it struck with Intel last November. Intel's move was undoubtedly prompted by its need to put the brakes on PC133 memory, and as we noted with some amusement in our report over the weekend, Intel broad-ranging cross licence deals with NatSemi appear to mean one thing when it's Intel that needs the patents, but another if a NatSemi customer does. Intel is of the view that Via's use of NatSemi fabbing for its chipsets doesn't put Via in the clear, licence-wise, although Via obviously thought the long standing Intel-NatSemi cross-licence covered this. But EBN reports that Via intends to buy Cyrix and pay NatSemi either royalties or cash for the use of the x86 cross-licence NatSemi has with Intel (N.B., this is another one). The upshot will be co-branded NatSemi/Via chipsets produced by NatSemi fabs, and shipping in July. So there's the cunning plan. NatSemi offloads Cyrix in time for its self-imposed 30th June deadline, Visa bounds free from Intel's restrictions on it shipping PC133 chipsets, and further legal salvoes are no doubt exchanged. ®
John Lettice, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

MS gives Win98 SE update away for free – in the UK

If you thought Microsoft's Windows 98 SE upgrade strategy couldn't get any more complicated, you were wrong - Microsoft UK is giving it away free. This simplifies matters immensely for users who'd been puzzling over whether to download the free go-fasters or free service pack (as and when you can download that one) or splash out on the SE upgrade CD. Well it simplifies it in the UK anyway, but in a reversal of the usual situation, US users are still being charged $19.95 for the SE update for Windows 98. Microsoft UK's generous offer is available here, and simply requires you to fill in a form and fax it off together with your receipt from your original copy of Windows 98. Presumably, as the bulk of copies of Windows 98 shipped with new PCs rather than separately, the receipt for the whole PC will be acceptable. This isn't however going to be a particularly easy one for Microsoft UK to police; you can see why the company is so keen on getting all its users registered, and how little further forward it will have got by acquiring a large pile of copies of Win98 receipts. But why is MS UK giving it away in the first place? Well, if you reckon that connection sharing is probably the main attraction for going for SE rather than just the service pack, and you calculate how many homes in the UK are likely to want to run multiple sessions over a single ADSL connection... ®
John Lettice, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Email tax a ‘hoax’ claims US Postal Service

The US Postal Service has branded as "completely false" rumours circulating by email that the US government is planning to levy a surcharge on email usage. The email claims the per-message fee would be donated to the Postal Service to cover the $230 million in revenue it has lost as people send letters electronically rather than through the mail. It says that a Republican Congressman, Tony Schnell, has suggested a "20-40 dollar per month surcharge" on ISPs, while the government is considering a five cents a message fee. However, the Postal Service said that not only did it have no right whatsoever to levy such a charge, but that there is no Congressman Schnell. "No such legislation exists," it added. ®
Tony Smith, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Ciscom employee fined £1000 for abusive email

An employee of Middlesex-based reseller Ciscom has been fined £1000 for sending a sexually abusive email and hacking into a network to disguise his identity. Neil Campbell sent the offensive note to a female employee of Shropshire-based TNS Distribution earlier this year. The email included the phrases "I hate you" and "you horrible little c**t". He was found guilty of "malicious communication" by Oswestry Magistrates Court, Shropshire, last week. He was ordered to pay two fines of £500 -– one to the woman who received the message and one to the man he impersonated -– plus costs. According to a TNS representative, Campbell -– a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) -– hacked into the TNS network in March and pretended to be Keith Morris, a salesman at the distribution company. Ciscom claimed it was taking the matter very seriously and had issued a written warning to Campbell. Yet despite his offensive and unlawful behaviour, Campbell has not been dismissed by Ciscom. Criticism has now been levelled at the reseller, alleging that it condones Campbell's actions. A TNS representative said the woman, who is in her mid-20s and asked not to be named, had been caused "horrendous offence" by the act. Campbell, a former employee of TNS himself, is still working at Ciscom's Manchester office. A TNS representative said: "By still employing him, Ciscom is condoning the act." "We don't condone his behaviour," said a Ciscom representative. "We are annoyed he [Campbell] used our server to send the message, and he will be very closely watched." But Campbell will keep his job due to his qualifications. "CCIEs are a very rare commodity. We are willing to give him a chance for the other business benefits the CCIE bring to the company and customers," she said. "But he knows he is on thin ice." Despite his impressive qualifications, Campbell was undone by the TNS network security system, which detected the hack and discovered that the message originated from Ciscom’s email server. The matter was then reported to the police. ®
Linda Harrison, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Free PC spam offer mystery

Emails were circulating today offering free PCs in exchange for customer participation in multilevel marketing. The IT give-away spam was offering a 300mhz PC, with 36 speed CD-Rom, 3.2 Gb hard drive, 32 Mb Ram, Windows 98 and 14" monitor. It promised no credit checks, deposits or contracts, plus $800 when the user found two friends who each brought two friends onto the scheme. Never one to sniff at the promise of free money, The Register logged on to the "angelfire" URL provided to give more information. However, there was no sign of the free PC extravaganza. The email address, million@212.244.200.10, proved equally fruitless. Neither was there any mention of the company involved. Maybe not such a cyberheavenly offer after all. ®
Linda Harrison, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

So how much does an MS star witness cost – $1m?

MS on Trial So often, the more that is charged for something, the poorer the value. So it is with Dean Richard Schmalensee's fees: he proved our maxim with his inept testimony. David Boies, special trail counsel for the DoJ, launched straight into an attack when he finally got to cross-examine Dickie last week. "How much money have you been paid by Microsoft?" Boies asked. Dickie huffed and puffed with embarrassment. He hadn't done the calculation. It had been going on for seven years. It had been intermittent work. "I just simply can't do it" he wailed. He couldn't (wouldn't would be more accurate) give a range or approximation. It became like an auction sale. Dickie started at $100,000, "but it may be substantially over that". Boies put in an alternative bid: "Over the last two years, has Microsoft paid you more than $250,000?" Dickie did not hesitate: "I think that is likely true." But there was more to come. Dickie bills NERA (a private outfit aka National Economic Research Associates, a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan) which then bills Microsoft. But Dickie also gets an annual retainer from NERA, and bonuses. Strangely, the economist did not know the basis on which the bonuses were calculated - but on reflection, that's perhaps not a surprise. What was a surprise was that Dickie had received a bonus of $100,000 in 1997, $200,000 in 1998, and would receive another next month. Dickie confessed his hourly rate was $800. Our estimate is that he was so ready to admit to having had $250,000 in the last two years that it is likely that the figure over seven years is considerably greater - say $500,000. With his bonuses, and ignoring the retainer, and assuming a 1999 bonus of $300,000, it is probable that Dickie has had at least $1 million in fees from Microsoft. We hasten to point out, of course, that in no way does this imply that Microsoft is buying Dickie's opinions. Nor, we suspect, will Judge Jackson buy them either. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Graham Lea, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel to sell own-brand Xeon servers via ISPs

Wasn't it just the other day a certain reckless Register hack suggested Intel would be selling Intel-branded PCs Real Soon Now? Well, a big hello to the Intel Service Provider Programme, which among other things will be selling Intel PIII and Xeon server platforms in "special form factors" via ISPs. The special form factor, of course, is rack-mounted, and from the ISP's point of view (as The Register recently learned) this is a sweet little number. ISPs charges per square metre for server space frequently exceed the price of toilets in downtown Tokyo, and ISPs can afford to be choosy about the hardware they're prepared to support in managed server Web hosting scenarios. Intel has obviously noted this, and noted that lots of ISPs are noting that they can make money, and very good margins, out of selling hardware to their own customers. Intel says six out of ten of the estimated 14,000 ISPs and ASPs (Application Service Providers) worldwide intend to be in the CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) market this year, so the latest Intel channel programme is designed to offer them a broad range of gear to do it with. This will consist of "a variety of Internet-tailored products and technologies sold by a dedicated channel sales and support team," says Intel. The wares offered will be infrastructure products, network cards, hubs and switches, routers, remote access concentrators and VPN technology. Then of course there are the InBusiness server appliance products, which are largely small business connectivity gear, and those big meaty servers. Course, as the big meaty server you buy from your ISP is something you're never likely to see, the actual badge on the front isn't an issue. Intel's PC manufacturer customers, of course, might not entirely agree. ®
John Lettice, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Silicon Spice, home of Pentium design chief, breaks cover

Seriously enigmatic chip start-up Silicon Spice has broken cover - slightly, and indirectly. The company has been running one of the Web's more minimalist Web sites for some time now, and that doesn't tell you much more than it's engaged in something seriously revolutionary in wide area communications. Click here to watch paint dry. But it has a goodly wedge of VC money behind it, and just over a year ago appointed Vinod Dham as president and CEO. The good Mr Dham brings serious cred in his wake. He masterminded Pentium development at Intel, then went via NexGen to AMD, and silly old AMD let him slip through its fingers. The latest news of Silicon Spice comes via a boast by electronic design automation technology and tool developer Axis Systems, which proudly announces that it has sold Silicon Spice some gear. Axis' Xcite verification system is to be used by Silicon Spice to accelerate its "functional verification process and to streamline [its] design debugging flow." Clear? Not exactly, but it does suggest Silicon Spice now has something to verify. There are however more clues. Axis tells us Silicon's next generation chips incorporate "System-On-Chip (SOC) design methodology with high gate count," while in a rare piece of blabbing Silicon VP of IC development Jim Miller says: "At Silicon Spice we are designing a very high gate count product that pushes the envelope in verification. We need a revolutionary verification technology to achieve our quality goals." But back at Enigma City, Axis VP marketing Steve Wang adds: "Silicon Spice is pushing the limits of design technology." Right... ®
John Lettice, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Shareholders blast BT over misleading offer

BT shareholders are up in arms accusing the monster telco of backing out of an offer of toll-free access to the Internet. Thousands of shareholders were invited to apply for free membership of BTInternet Plan Unlimited -- an "exclusive and valuable offer" which would have saved them £129.25 a year for Net access. But the prize perk for loyal BT shareholders was not all it seemed since those who were tempted to take up the offer and make use of toll-free calls at weekends have found out to their cost. BT has now said that the offer of free calls to the Web only applies to fee-paying subscribers of the BTInternet Plan Unlimited -- and not those who chose to take up the freebie. The small print reads: "Please note BT Internet Free Weekend access is not available on the BT Shareholder option. "If you wish to benefit from the BT Internet Free Weekend access -- which allows you to connect to BT Internet at weekends via a Freefone number -- you will need to select either the Plan Unlimited monthly or annual payment plans, which are chargeable options." One BT shareholder, who asked to remain anonymous, was so incensed he contacted The Register to warn others about the "offer". "Despite being offered 'Free BT Internet Plan Unlimited' for a year, I'm not actually entitled to all of the benefits of the service," he said. "What I'm really being offered is the 'BT Shareholder' option, not Plan Unlimited at all." He added that he was going to speak with trading standards to see if the offer breaches any advertising regulations. A spokesman for BT said the offer was made before the telco introduced limited toll-free access to the Net for subscribers of its unlimited price plan. He apologised if there was any misunderstanding and added that BT would take steps to clarify the situation. ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Going ULL for leather

As far as acronyms go ULL might not appear to be all that dynamic at first glance, but it's been heralded as the most important issue facing the industry today. Unbundling the local loop (ULL) would allow telecomms providers to offer a wide range of services to homes and businesses using the existing copper phone infrastructure. Laurence Blackall, head of Global Internet –- and a senior member of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) – sees the ULL issue as vitally important. "We need to look at local loop unbundling -- it is the biggest thing we need to look at," he said. He was speaking at a reception last night at the House of Commons hosted by the minister for ecommerce, Michael Wills MP. His support for ULL was echoed by Tim Pearson, chairman of ISPA who introduced the natty buzzword to the canape-quoffing bigwigs. Most intriguing of all was the "hear! hear!" voice of approval from a BT bod standing at the back of the marquee overlooking the Thames. BT, of course, closely guards its 80 per cent of this precious LL market so this prompt to open up BT to competition must have be said in jest, right? Some joke. Anyway, since ULL is going to be on the tip of everyone's tongues, The Register has come up with a few of its own acronyms just to differentiate between different regional ULLs. If they ULL in Glasgow, it could be called GULL. In Hull, it would be… err… HULL and in Birmingham it would be BULL. Don't say you never saw that one coming. And you, a Register reader… ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Which? scheme has channel's Dabs all over it

Dabs Direct has become the latest channel addition to the Which? Web Trader scheme. The Bolton-based reseller joins Simply Computers and Evesham Micros in supporting this code of practice for online businesses. (See earlier story) The initiative, set up last week, has 22 companies involved in the scheme, involving businesses like easyJet, the bargain basement airline and cybercafe company. It lays down a set of conditions for the traders, including pricing and contracts. It is designed to allay customer fears over a lack of Internet security. Subscribers can take advantage of free legal advice if there are disagreements over transactions. Andrew Corner, Dabs Direct product marketing manager, told The Register the company had been looking at ways to reassure its customers about Web security. "We also wanted to allay fears that new customers have about ordering over the Internet," he said. "And the Which? Web Trader scheme will reassure these new customers not only that online shopping offers the lowest prices, but show them its convenience." A Which? representative said they had received over 50 applications to join the scheme, including around five other IT companies. ®
Linda Harrison, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Compaq flogs AltaVista for $2.3 billion

Compaq has confirmed that it has sold its AltaVista division to investment house CMGI. The deal was done by way of a stock swap, valuing the former Digital search engine business at $2.7 billion, the deal itself being worth some $2.3 billion CMGI gets 83 per cent of AltaVista and, by turn, Compaq ends up with a 16.4 per cent stake in CMGI - which owns 18 per cent of Lycos, one of AltaVista rivals. Which, in a roundabout kind of way, gives Compaq an interest in Lycos. Do try and keep up. The IT industry is nothing if it isn’t incestuous. Compaq gets 19 million common shares and preferred shares equal to 1.8 million common shares in CMGI, which will issue a $220 million three-year note to Compaq. The PC giant will also take a seat on CMGI's board of directors. Also included in the deal are Shopping.Com – which Compaq bought to add to AltaVistas resale value - and Zip2. ® See earlier stories: Compaq to sell AltaVista to investment house Lycos/USA Networks merger collapses
Sean Fleming, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

UK gov admits it lags behind on Web

The government has admitted that it is unable to keep pace with the development of the Internet and wired services. "The government can't move as quickly [as the Net industry] -- it is difficult for us," said the minister for ecommerce, Michael Wills MP. "I appreciate the government is slightly slow on its feet but we are developing ways to work with the industry," he said. The minister was addressing a reception at the House of Commons last night attended by senior figures of the Internet Service Providers Association and the Associate Parliamentary Internet Group -- or APIG. He confirmed that the ecommerce Bill -- or the Electronic Communications Bill, to give it its proper name -- was ready to be brought before MPs. It was just a matter of deciding the "appropriate Parliamentary process", he said. He also confirmed that the Bill would not contain "any provisions for key escrow" but he said that the government would be looking at the issue if encryption very closely. "I would like the industry to regulate itself but if that approach does not prove successful then the government will be forced to intervene," he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 29 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

NCD boosts reseller programme

Network Computing Devices (NCD) has added two tiers to its Diamond Partner accreditation programme. The manufacturer of integrated thin client hardware and software has launched the extra levels as part of a reseller recruitment drive, giving the Diamond Partner Programme three tiers. The new entry level, NCD Authorised Partner tier, is aimed at Vars which need support on small deals, but are not ready to become a Diamond Partner. The existing Diamond Partner tier offers resellers access to the NCD UK Web site, where company and product information, along with marketing materials can be found. The top level NDC Premier Diamond Partner level is by invitation only. Vars can participate in beta testing of new products and contact top US staff. David Perry, NCD sales director, said: "We have established channel partners who are highly successful. We want to involve them even more with NCD, while we increasingly want to help Vars working on their first deals or those who are looking to move into this market in a bigger way." ®
Linda Harrison, 29 Jun 1999