2nd > July > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Microsoft, AOL giving users free PCs

The free PC is almost upon us, with AOL, Microsoft and Prodigy all promising to give them away, effectively, in exchange for a three year commitment to use their services. Does this mean Microsoft intends to cut off the entire PC industry's air supply, browser style? Could happen. All three companies are experimenting with a kind of subsidy model similar to the one used for mobile phone sales. Hardware is heavily discounted or free so long as the user signs a contract to use the service for a minimum period, and three years seems to be what MS et al are going for. AOL is offering a $400 rebate on eMachines PCs (the bargain-basement Korean-built range) to anyone subscribing to CompuServe for three years. Prodigy, another of the US biggies, is offering a discount on any PC bought at the Best Buy chain, while Microsoft has been running a test offer with Staples. This is only a pilot, due to end on Saturday, but it's likely to be extended. Microsoft is offering a $400 rebate. PC hardware companies are also tipped to introduce similar plans in conjunction with ISPs, but it's not as yet clear when the experiments are going to extend out of the US. The approach could however give the paid-for ISPs a useful weapon in the fight against free ISPs in the UK. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple sues Koreans over iMac knock-off

Things are clearly entirely back to normal at Apple, post-turnaround. Not only is it selling machines again, it's suing its competitors, just like the good old days. The company has filed in San Jose District Court against Future Power, Daewoo Group and Daewoo Telecom over an Intel-based iMac lookalike, the E-Power, launched at $799 at PC Expo last month. Silicon Valley-based Future Power is a joint venture company backed by Korean Daewoo. Apple claims the E-Power copies the iMac's design, and is demanding punitive damages. Suing over the design of a computer might seem implausible, but Apple's iMac is so distinctive that anything in similar packaging is going to look like a knock-off. Somewhat implausibly, considering that the E-Power is a dead ringer, and was pitched as an iMac-style machine at PC Expo, a Daewoo statement yesterday said: "Our product is based on a totally different concept from the iMac." The total difference is not specified. Like the iMac, the E-Power comes in five colours too. If Apple can make the suit stick, it will help the company head-off impending waves of Korean-built iMac clones, using those nasty x86 things and undercutting Apple's nice margins. Yes, the good old days are back... ®
The Register breaking news

IPO bags AskJeeves a tidy sum

AskJeeves -- the upper-class meta search engine that lets you ask Jeeves the butler to trawl the Web for you -- has completed its initial public offering (IPO) of 3,000,000 shares of common stock at a price of $14 per share. The shares started trading yesterday on NASDAQ and rose quickly to more than $77 a share before falling back to $65 -- a rise of 364 per cent on the day. The company sold all the shares and the IPO was managed by Morgan Stanley & Co Incorporated, BancBoston Robertson Stephens Inc. and Hambrecht & Quist LLC. The underwriters have an option to purchase up to 450,000 additional shares from AskJeeves. ®
The Register breaking news

SK scraps CPU tax

South Korea is scrapping import duties on CPUs from August 1. The current CPU tariff is 4 per cent -- adding around $1.5 million in extra costs for every million units imported. Not a huge burden, then. More of an irritation, not to mention a covert tax on the domestic population. Under WTO rules, South Korea was supposed to kill the CPU tariffs on January 1, 2001. It's getting rid of them now, in an attempt to stimulate domestic consumption. And about time, too. South Korea has no indigenous PC CPU production, so what exactly is it protecting? (Samsung of course builds Alpha -- but the country is not exactly in much danger of being swamped with that technology, is it?) Despite recent problems, the country remains the world's eleventh biggest economy. And the country's electronics and semiconductor manufacturers are huge beneficiaries of a liberalised global system. ® See also: Korea imposes retro-duties on CPUs
The Register breaking news

Blue Macs – IBM decides on merit

Four years ago From The Register No. 19 -- four years ago A couple of months back we ran a fairly crazy piece about IBM building PCI PowerMacs for Apple, but last week it started to look less crazy. It seems IBM is going to be running up machines of this class for Radius instead. So where does this get us? It's not exactly epoch-making that IBM is doing contract work, because the company has a lot of plant and a lot of manufacturing expertise, and if an outfit like Radius suddenly wants to roll out finished PCs it's obviously going to need to hire both of these. Logically, you'd expect IBM to be able to pick off a few of the new entries in the Mac cloning field. If IBM bought a stake in Radius (which Radius was loudly denying would happen, to the accompaniment of disappointed share-selling, last week) it would have been more dramatic, but there isn't at the moment an obvious point in Gerstner doing so. It can't yet be clear to him that Mac clones are going to sell like hot cakes (this is hardly clear to anyone outside of Apple), but there's obvious manufacturing synergy between building PowerMacs and Power Personal machines, and as and when IBM does build Macs of its own to sell, the experience will come in useful. And ultimately, if IBM can get the sums right it coiuld always pitch for Apple's manufacturing business, couldn't it? Apple has been becoming a software company for years, and when it finally makes it, it will surely at least ask itself what it's doing in manufacturing. But Scott McNeally is far more interesting. Another Register story that looked a little crazy at the time was that Solaris for PowerPC would be out in late May, to the accompaniment of the big IBM PowerPC launch and much Netcentricity from Sun. Fair enough, the May announcement got canned, but only slipped to June, ie now, and the merry pranksters at Sun have already started their own version of attack marketing. Splenetic IBMers have been forced to run around denying that it's the company's intention to dump AIX and switch to Solaris, as this is apparently what the Sun SWAT teams have been telling its customers, and it's clear from this that McNeally reckons he can steal RS/6000's clothes, probably build PowerPC machines of his own, and end up in a dominant position he can use to finally beat Microsoft. This isn't as dumb as it might seem, either. IBM's AIX people have pretty much their own customer set and although they'll have to build different sales channels if they want to take advantage of a growing mass-market, it's not entirely clear they have the cability to do this. Motorola's PowerPC resellers currently report an eery lack of competition from IBM, despite the fact both IBM and Motorola are currently shipping AIX, and that customers are in many cases currently salivating at the prospect of Solaris' arrival. So if hardware sales DO take off, and IBM's Sleepy Hollow division continues to snooze, Scott could win big. ®
The Register breaking news

DRAM prices keep on falling

DRAM prices are continuing to fall across the world, the latest price survey from ICIS-LOR reveals. Average prices fell between 3 and 6 per cent between June 4 and June 11, according to the Reed- owned market research firm ICIS-LOR produces a 30-day rolling average trade price for 64Mb DRAMs (PC100, 8M x 8) in North America, Europe and Asia And between May 13 and June 11, the North American average was down 3.01 per cent, Europe fell 4.14 per cent, while Asia slumped 5.87 per cent, compared with the 30 day average for DRAM prices on June 4. As of June 11, the 30-day rolling average price of 64Mb DRAMs in the respective regions were $6.90, $7.15, and $7.06. Memory modules prices were also down, with 64MB PC100 DIMMs averaging $40.26 for North America, down 2.37 per cent, $43.06 in Europe, down 2.24 per cent, and $40.17 for Asia, down 4.69 per cent. All prices are paid by so-called "prime buyers", in other words major OEMs and brokers. ® See also: Our last DRAM price crisis story Infineon exec damns DRAM glut-feeding Koreans
The Register breaking news

Thomas the Tank Engine in porn mix-up

Thomas the Tank Engine's owners were all steamed up this week after discovering the character was connected with net porn. Britt Allcroft have started cracking down on unofficial use of the grinning choo-choo on Web sites after it was linked to several porno pages. And the official site, where kiddies can create their own pages, will get a revamp. According to an article in yesterday's London Metro newspaper, untold distress had been caused to many of the many of the nation's youngsters. The problem stems from the use of the expression Tommy Tank, a favourite among Cockney rhyming slang aficionados. "We have had reports of children being shocked at some of the things they have seen," a Britt Allcroft representative said. We suppose the Fat Controller could take on a whole new meaning in certain cyber situations. And as for a Tommy Tank….®
The Register breaking news

System builders form new alliance

White-box system builders have a new trade group in the US, aimed at promoting contact between themselves and component vendors. The Atlanta-based North American System Builders Association (NASBA) formed this week and aims to give smaller PC assemblers a united voice. It represents independent system builders with 10 to 100 employees under one organisational umbrella. Tom Collins, president of NASBA, said: "The association will open communication between system builders and technology vendors that has never existed in the channel." The organisation, which claims to be the world's largest collection of independent system builders, aims to rid the industry of unfair business practices and monitor unethical or illegal conduct. No mean feat. It wants to create methods for standardisation and communication between members and manufacturers. It will develop programmes and services such as a referral exchange, product exchange, technology hotline, volume purchasing opportunities and discount group insurance. Keith Warburton, executive director of the Personal Computer Association (PCA), the industry group for resellers in the UK, welcomed the move. "The more mature industries have trade associations. The fact that there are trade organisations starting in the PC industry shows how the business has grown, and can only be a good thing for all of us," he said. ®
The Register breaking news

NEC debuts NT graphics accelerator

NEC has launched what it is claiming is the world's fastest 3D graphics accelerator for NT-based workstations. The NEC TE4E Graphics Accelerator scored 30 on the industry-standard Viewperf ProCDRS-01(1) benchmark. It will come as part of NEC's Express5800 workstation range, and will be pre-loaded on to the 5800/55Wb and 5800/56Wb high-end machines. It is being billed by the Japanese vendor as offering a two and a half times better performance than existing NEC graphics accelerators. According to US business wires, Ryuichi Kuki, General Manager for NEC's Workstation and Server division, said: "NEC is well qualified to meet customers growing requirement for high performance 3D. NEC is able to combine deep expertise in graphics engineering with state-of-the-art semiconductor process technology to deliver the world's fastest 3D graphics performance." The TE4E is aimed at users migrating from Unix-based systems to NT, it is based on CMOS VLSI chips developed by NEC. It has a special-purpose geometry engine, the GA400, with 64Mb of local memory; and a new rendering engine, the PEC, which has data transfer speed of 3.6Gb/second to the frame memory and 64Mb of texture memory. ®
The Register breaking news

No PC slowdown, says Dell

Michael Dell, thirty-something billionaire chairman of a certain well-known PC vendor, has said he sees no sign of a slowdown in the PC market. While sales in Europe were growing slower than in the US, Dell said that sales into Asia were looking particularly strong. He was speaking during a broadcast Q&A from the offices of US brokers Edward Jones. He claimed that Dell is now worth around $6 billion in Europe and that it is now level-pegging with Compaq for the number one spot in the UK PC sales chart. He said that Dell Europe is as big today as the whole of Dell was only three and a half years ago. "In Europe, we have a business that's roughly $6 billion in size. Essentially, in the UK, we're pretty much tied for number one. We actually have more market share in the UK than we do in the US. Our models work better there than in the US. The interesting thing to me is that we've been able to continue growth at a very elevated rate even in a mature, supposedly competitive market." Dell pooh-poohed any notion that the PC market is in decline, casting a poor light on many of his company's rivals in so doing. Of late, Compaq has picked up the nasty habit of blaming poor financials on the supposed fact that the PC market has begun to stagnate. But if Dell is to be believed - and Wall St seems to believe him - something is wrong with Compaq's explanations. "The PC business to me looks like it's alive and thriving. We have a 10 per cent market share globally. We think we can grow that considerably over the next several years," he said. ®
The Register breaking news

Computacenter beats off BT challenge

Computacenter has retained the BT account for another three years. The reseller fought off competition from ICL and Compel for the UK's biggest PC supply contract, worth an estimated £60 million a year. It has also secured an option from BT for another two years worth of PC business. Better still, it is teaming up with BT to sell software and services to the telco's customers. Unlike PCs, this is an area where Computacenter might actually make some decent coin. Computacenter lists eCommerce solutions, supply chain re-engineering and "innovative maintenance offerings" as areas where it will work with BT. What will Syntegra, BT's system integrator sub, will have to say about this relationship. ®
The Register breaking news

Happy birthday to the notebook PC

Toshiba has launched a new line of portable PCs for the Japanese market today to celebrate the 10th birthday of the first notebook. The Japanese vendor introduced eight models and 16 variants. Among these was the Libretto ff 1100, which can record visual images and music and comes with a detachable C-MOS camera for digital photographs. It has a SmartMedia drive that supports the removable flash-memory. SmartMedia supports data recording from digital sources, including from digital still cameras. One novelty available on this model guaranteed to drive you mad is audible email. This changes the text message received via email into voice synthesis output. The Libretto ff 1100 supports a wired control unit that can be used to control the camera and music recording and playback. Today’s announcement also incorporates the DynaTop, a slim-line desktop computer that integrates the PC into the base of the monitor. It is designed to replace the conventional desktop – with 14.1" and 15" monitors, but easily portable. Toshiba launched a new series of DynaBookSS PCs, the B5-sized super-slim notebooks. These products all have an 11.3" low temperature polysilicon TFT display, and use DVD-ROM. In June 1989 Toshiba introduced the world's first notebook, the DynaBook J-3100SS, to Japan. ®
The Register breaking news

Toshiba touts for Web business

Toshiba UK is now selling PCs on its web site. Another nail in the coffin for PC dealer squealers? Not quite -- Toshiba is doing what it can to keep resellers sweet. It has set up links from its homepage to its resellers' websites -- keeping the channel happy while selling online. Toshiba says that it is acting simply as a gateway, directing the customer to the reseller. This sounds like a step option to us. If Toshiba were starting today, it wouldn't be starting from here. Toshiba's channel policy is interfering with its ability to make sensible decisions over its ecommerce strategy. Toshiba should let punters buy PCs direct off its own web site, if that's what the punters want. Toshiba is vouching for the security of the resellers' sites. Con Mallon, marketing manager at Toshiba commented: "Buying Toshiba PCs from our resellers online is as secure as any other route." More resellers are expected to sign up to the scheme in the future, provided that they meet Toshiba's security and availability criteria. ®
The Register breaking news

PCs over the Web from Toshiba

Toshiba has hopped on the ecommerce bandwagon and is now selling its PC's through its homepage. The company says that the move is about expanding customer choice, but with Dell claiming to generate around $18 million a day in PC sales over its Web site, you can see why Tosh is keen to do it. Toshiba has been careful to keep its resellers involved. The company has set up links from its homepage to resellers' Web sites, in an attempt to keep the channel happy while selling online. Toshiba says that it is acting simply as a gateway, directing the customer to the reseller. Toshiba is vouching for the security of the resellers sites. Con Mallon, marketing manager at Toshiba said: "Buying Toshiba PC's from our resellers online is as secure as any other route." Resellers are expected to sign up to the scheme in the future, provided that they meet Toshiba's security and availability criteria. ®
The Register breaking news

SGI still not for sale, shock

Another day has dawned, and SGI is still intact, and despite rumours to the contrary, we stand by our original story. The only thing that has happened is that Keith Watson, the sales and marketing vp departed. Kenneth Coleman was made svp of Global sales, service and marketing on Tuesday, and Jan Silverman's appointment as vp marketing for the computer business unit was announced yesterday. Silverman previously led HP's Internet, OS, microprocessor and platform marketing efforts, and Coleman -- ten years ago -- was also at HP. With CEO Rick Belluzzo having come from HP as well, it's beginning to look like HP cronyism at SGI. Rumours of some outfit sniffing at SGI occur every six months or so (HP and IBM are the perennial favourites), but it is pretty unusual to have senior appointments like this made if some deal is in the offing. A source close to the company told us today that SGI's development of NT workstations could be of interest to other companies, but that sounded a bit like a plug to us. The rumours of senior execs walking out seem to be just that -- the exec rank at the ranch in Mountain View appears to be holding fast. There's still nothing solid behind the rumours, other than a normal oscillation in the SGI share price. If you've know any better, please get in touch with Graham Lea. ®
The Register breaking news

There's one born every four seconds

Four seconds. That's the time it takes in Britain for a new mobile phone owner to be born. At the rate we're buying them, half the population could own a mobile phone as soon as the year 2001. But are we getting the best deals from the providers? Oftel, the phone regulatory body, thinks not. With the industry expanding so fast, Oftel says it will start to promote tougher competition and bring down prices. The watchdog will compel Vodafone and Cellnet, the two biggest players, to open their networks further to competitors. It will also investigate complaints that independent service providers get a worse deals when buying airtime that the two bigshot companies' own subsidiaries. Between them, Vodafone and Cellnet are estimated to have signed over 1.2 million new customers in Q2 this year. Vodafone has the lion's share accounting for 700,000 of the new clients. Orange and One2One also signed over 400,000 new contracts each. ®
The Register breaking news

Murdoch loves Web. True

Wasn't he supposed to be on honeymoon? The inexhaustible Rupert Murdoch is flogging mortgages over the Net, courtesy of a $22 million stake in a US-based online provider. He's stumping up the dosh through a joint venture between Epartners, his new Web investment vehicle, and Softbank, the hyperactive Japanese VCs-to-PCs conglomerate. What a difference six months makes. At the start of the year, Murdoch dismissed the hype and inflated valuations surrounding Net companies such as Yahoo! And AOL. There was no need to rush into the Internet economy, he said at the time Now our favourite media baron says: "My point was that traditional business models would be challenged and sometime destroyed. We are moving from an old model economy to a new world which is coming on us with lightning speed." "The world is changing very fast," he observed. "Big will not beat small anymore, it will be fast beating slow." What the company learns through the new venture will be applied to NewsCorp as a whole, he said, adding That the majority of NewsCorp's will Internet-related, in the future. ®
The Register breaking news

PC give-away from CompUSA

CompUSA -- the US's largest chain of computer superstores -- is following hard on the heals of AOL, Microsoft and Prodigy after deciding to give away PCs for nothing. For this weekend only shoppers looking for a PC can get $400 off the price the price of machine at a selected number of CompUSA stores. And it just so happens that CompUSA is flogging a 366-MHz MaxTech PC with an Intel Celeron Processor for, you guessed it, $400 -- so that means it's a totally, absolutely, unbelievably once-in-a-lifetime free PC. Well, almost. The catch is that people hoping to get a PC for nothing will have to sign up for CompuServe 2000 Internet Service for 36 months at $21.95. Well, that's fine if you want Net access but just hold your horses if getting wired isn't your idea of fun. Anyone with a basic grasp of maths can see that $21.95 for 36 months is a lot more than a measly $400 -- twice as much in effect. Anyway, CompUSA seem chuffed to be bits with the new promotion. "This new program represents an exciting new development for CompUSA and for our customers," said James F Halpin, the store's president and CEO. Not sure about Halpin's view of excitement though. ®
The Register breaking news

Orange debuts Wirefree data service

Orange has announced the launch of the UK's first wirefree data service, along with new tariffs and record customer growth. From 1 October, customers will be able to access Web services, including news and travel information through standard handsets, the mobile phone operator said. Orange will launch an ISP, provisionally called Orange World, providing a central portal. Existing second-generation mobile networks will use WAP (wireless application protocol), which allows data to be sent at speeds close to those available on fixed phone lines. Online banking and entertainment listings were also on the cards. At the same time, Orange announced new tariffs from 1 August, comprising of six simplified talk plans. Existing customers will automatically be changed to these higher value plans, it said. Orange gained 430,000 new customers in the second quarter. This totalled 800,000 for the first half of 1999, three times the previous year’s figures. It now has 2,962,000 customers. As a result, it upgraded its UK market penetration forecast. If growth continues at the current rate, 50 per cent of the UK population would own a mobile by the end of 2001, three years earlier than previously forecast, it said. "The fact that Orange will deliver third generation style services on our second generation network will create substantial competitive advantage for Orange," said Hans Snook, Orange CEO. The company said wirefree would increasingly extend beyond voice to data transfer, encouraging more than one subscription per person and leading to wirefree devices being embedded in palm tops, PCs, fax and other machines. "This will open new markets to mobile operators, and ultimately drive market penetration beyond 150 per cent," it stated. ®
The Register breaking news

Network Associates teams up with Nostradamus

Opinion If you believe all the twaddle about Nostradamus and his notion that this weekend will see the end of the world as we know it, then you need your head examined. But, in a strange kind of way, this great prophet of doom and gloom was almost right -- he was just out by a couple of days, that's all. You see my world nearly ended today. I've just spent the best part of six hours trying to fumigate a rather vicious little bug from my PC. Not my old steam-driven thing at vulture HQ -- no, no, no -- but my own personal "personal computer" at home that cost me a flipping fortune on the tick. And all because I caught the PC equivalent of the clap from some PR bunny at Consumers International who sent me a press release full of open sores and pus. But don't you worry -- being an IT hack does have its perks. Those nice people at Network Associates will always send me a copy of their excellent anti-virus software if I ask them nicely enough. The best bit of all is that I won't have to pay a thing. And do you know what? They did send me a copy of McAfee VirusScan Platinum -- but it was out of date. It couldn't touch my nasty little infection. Using the anti-virus software they sent me was like rubbing butter on a pustule when what I needed was a good dose of antibiotics. So instead of clearing it up in half-an-hour I've spent most the day speaking to tech support and downloading mega files from the Net -- and I ain't happy. Not happy one bit. Still, it's all fixed now -- I hope. I should at least be grateful for that. I suppose I should be also thankful that I'm just a hack. After all, just imagine if this episode had happened to someone with a proper job, an important job -- could you imagine the trouble that would have caused? ®
The Register breaking news

Quantum slaps OEM customers, chins Seagate

A senior executive at the Quantum Corporation said today that HP, IBM and Seagate will fail to deliver on their Ultrium tape storage solution. IBM and HP are major customers of Quantum's DLT tape storage, which the hard drive manufacturer acquired from the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), some years back. Quantum was at Marxist hideout Quo Vadis in Soho London, in an attempt to explain why the joint initiative between HP, IBM and Seagate -- dubbed Ultrium -- will not work. Senior executive John Barnes, based at Quantum Bracknell, insisted that his company's DLT solution was better than anything that the Ultrium consortium can and will offer. But Bill Boles, a senior executive at Quantum in the US, went far further than that. Boles said: "LTO [the consortium] does not have the capability Quantum has." Nor, said Boles, would the LTO Ultrium offering deliver the backup that large corporations need. He insisted that despite the size of HP, IBM and Seagate, Quantum would still be able to deliver backup storage, well into the next millennium. Boles said that the top five PC customers in the world used its DLT solutions. Those are HP, IBM Compaq, Dell, and Sun, he said. He said that Quantum, a $6 billion corporation, was unlikely to be taken over by any of these players above in a very lucrative market that is keeping the HDD company going. We wonder about that. ® RegisterRevolutionaryFact Before Damien Hirst (he of the halved cows) took over the famous Quo Vadis restaurant in Soho, London, it was owned by an old family, seemingly unaware of the fact that Karl Marx lived in the attic, a fact that's marked by one of the famous London blue plaques. In 1956 the then owner said to an acolyte: "You know all that crap in the attic? We wanna clear it out, so please do so." The acolyte managed to sell the Victorian furniture but reported back to the gaffer than no-one wanted to buy the books because they were all scribbled over. "Burn them, then," said the gaffer. And so Karl Marx' annotations were duly burnt in old Soho...