4th > July > 1999 Archive

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Secret CompaQ memo shows depth of Unix commitment

Any doubts that CompaQ is revising its Unix-Alpha strategy have been dispelled by a memo issued by the triumvirate running the firm. But CompaQ is revisiting it. On Thursday, the office of Ben&Frank&Ted issued an internal memo to staff showing how committed CompaQ is not only to Tru64 Unix but to the Alpha chip. The memo, forwarded to us by an insider at the company, shows that CompaQ will invest more money in Tru64 and Alpha. At the same time, our insider said, it will push the proliferation of Alpha-Linux servers. Here is the memo in full:- "From: Office of the CEO Sent: Thursday, July 01, 1999 11:15 AM Subject: Amended: UNIX Leadership Strategy "To: Compaq Worldwide Team From: Office of the Chief Executive Subject: UNIX leadership strategy "One of our most important tasks during the past few weeks has been to review areas where Compaq needs to invest for growth. In some cases, we need to expand our skills and capabilities. In others, we have opportunities to improve our market position and better support our business strategies. In each case, we are focused on incremental investments that will make Compaq even more competitive. "We want to let you know about one critical decision in particular. After an intensive evaluation of the competitive environment and the strength of our own solutions, we are expanding our commitment to Compaq Tru64 UNIX running on AlphaServers. This includes an additional $100 million investment in software partnerships, marketing and field programs. Our goals are very simple: to significantly increase our UNIX market share and to support our NonStop eBusiness strategy. "Tru64 UNIX on Alpha is not only strategic to Compaq; it is also highly valued by our customers. A recent customer satisfaction survey by Datapro, a market research company, ranked Tru64 UNIX Alpha systems number one in overall satisfaction, system reliability, performance, lowest initial purchase price and lowest maintenance cost. And customer demand for UNIX continues to grow as companies move more of their business operations to the Internet. That is why Tru64 UNIX on Alpha is a cornerstone of our NonStop eBusiness solutions. "Today, Compaq is behind Sun, HP and IBM in overall UNIX market share. But we see an opportunity to become one of the top UNIX companies by driving for leading positions in selected markets, including business intelligence, Internet and communications, high-performance technical computing and business applications. "To achieve these goals, we are taking several actions. "First, we are communicating our Tru64 UNIX on Alpha strategy and investment decisions throughout the company to make sure that everyone understands the significance of our commitment. Many of you will play a role in communicating our direction to customers, partners, analysts and the press. Our objective is to build market confidence in our Tru64 UNIX on Alpha strategy and solutions. "Second, we are increasing our marketing investments for Tru64 UNIX on Alpha at the local level. We will double the number of Tru64 UNIX and Alpha field specialists. And we are committing additional dollars for Tru64 UNIX on Alpha product advertising. "Third, we will develop enhanced relationships with key independent software vendors to expand the market for our combined product offerings. This is particularly important since the first decision most customers make is which application to use, followed by the best platform on which to run it. We will increase our joint marketing funds with our software partners by 400%. "Fourth, we will ensure that there is strong, end-to-end alignment across our sales and marketing teams. This includes goal alignment, aggressive sales training, competitive selling programs and the support of senior executives in the field. It also means making sure that our product, solution and service strategies are fully aligned. The Enterprise Solutions and Services Group and Sales and Marketing are working closely together to drive this alignment. "Like our enterprise competitors, Compaq will continue to support customers with a variety of solutions. Our UNIX strategy includes an aggressive program to make sure Compaq platforms are the best for running Linux, and continued support for SCO UNIX. We will leverage our leadership position with Windows NT, including the best interoperability with UNIX. "What is most important is our ability to deliver a broad range of NonStop eBusiness solutions. With our increased commitment to Tru64 UNIX on AlphaServers, we are sending a message to our enterprise customers that Compaq will invest in solutions that meet their needs. Your support is crucial to make this strategy work. "Ben Frank Ted" ®
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Cyrix-Via shrinks socket seven die on M2-400

Our friend Daiki has alerted us to the fact that Cyrix has released the M2-400 processor in Japan. But, he points out, although it seems to have a smaller die size than the previous M2, it has 321 pins rather than 296 pins. The M2-400 could use a .18 micron rather than a .25 micron process, but, as Daiki points out, we don't know because Cyrix-Via hasn't told us... Daiki helpfully points to pictures of the M2-400, go here now to view them. ®
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AMD Athlon K7s go retail in Japan RSN

Once more, and as we predicted a week or so back, the Japanese market will be first off the starting blocks with sales of the AMD K7, now known as the Amazing Athlon. Thanks to our friends for pointing to the following place where the 500MHz, the 550MHz and the 600MHz parts are already priced up. According to Daiki, sales will start mid-July... The parts will cost ¥44,800; ¥69,800 and ¥89,800 respectively. The UK distributor and dealer market is being told early August for real K7 parts. ®
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PC133 delivers ‘awesome stability’

BX Boards has turned its screwdrivers on PC133 memory. With its usual thoroughness, the British-based hardware review site puts modules from Samsung, Enhanced Memory Systems, Crucial and Corsair through their paces. And the conclusions? Don’t throw away PC100, just for the sake of it. But if you’re in the market for new memory, buy PC133. This offers future proofing and "awesome stability" Finally, reviewer Andy Drake advises: "shop around and go for whatever is cheapest!" "Normally in a round-up such as this," he says, "I would be looking to make a buying recommendation. However these modules are hard to separate -- benchmarking the modules showed they all performed identically -- no surprise really -- and stability at 133Mhz was 100 per cent with all modules too." For the review in full, check out BX Boards here.
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MS COO explains racist slur in its software

Microsoft COO Bob Herbold has written an open letter to customers explaining the "unfortunate and isolated situation" that has led to the company being sued over racist images in Microsoft Publisher. (MS in frame over racist slur) It would seem that Microsoft has an unfortunate problem with the way its Clip Art Gallery search function works. Says Herbold: "Due to the way the Clip Art Gallery search function works, users sometimes find images that do not appear to be related to the search criteria. For example, searching for images using the word "bell" returns images of bells and bell peppers. "Dog" returns images of dogs and hotdogs, while "sun" returns images of the sun, sunflowers, and sundials." With hindsight, this would appear not to have been a particularly smart 'feature.' Microsoft is being sued because, when you search for "monkey," one of the pictures produced is of "a young African American couple posing on playground equipment commonly called 'monkey bars.'" From what Herbold says fixing the problem, and any similar ones, mightn't be too difficult, because the search function is fairly basic. 'Monkey bars' is one of only 18 keywords assigned to this particular photograph, so the problem can be fixed simply by deleting that keyword. But on the other hand, that would mean that anybody actually searching for 'monkey bars' wouldn't find them. And because the search function is picking up on partial matches there's no doubt still scope for giving offence by juxtaposition - so maybe fixing it isn't that easy after all. Microsoft is indeed issuing a "tool" which deletes the keyword, and "We are instituting a new process for reviewing our Clip Art Gallery." That's going to be an extremely tedious job for a pretty large number of Microserfs. ®
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MS paid economist witnesses' company $6m in 18 months

MS on Trial Attorneys in the various Microsoft trials are becoming increasingly fascinated by the relationship between MS and NERA, the outfit that employs (in addition to his day job at MIT) DoJ trial witness Richard Schmalensee and Bristol trial witness Richard Rapp. In the latter trial it was revealed last week that NERA had earned $6 million from Microsoft in the past 18 months. NERA, National Economic Research Associates, is a private organisation with expertise in economics and antitrust, and it does a lot of business with Microsoft. The DoJ had earlier had some sport with Schmalensee, the final rebuttal witness for Microsoft's defence, by trying to nail down even approximately the amount of money he'd earned by working for Microsoft (Does an MS star witness cost $1m?). The situation in the Bristol trial last week was rather different, with the $6 million coming up during court discussions of whether or not the number should be presented to the jury. Richard Rapp, the president of NERA, is testifying on Microsoft's behalf at the trial. He's on salary, so the amount he bills for work for Microsoft on the Bristol trial, and the amount other NERA employees bill, actually goes to NERA. Nor does the total of this billing add up to $6 million - that's for all of the work NERA has done for MS over the period, and there does seem to be quite a lot of it. Bristol's attorney argued that it would be valid to use the NERA billing figures and that "the very significant payments of over $6 million in the last 18 months... is a fact the jury should consider in evaluating Dr. Rapp's testimony. I think the fact that the organisation of which he is president, and whose very significant client from whom they wish to seek further business and with whom they have this ongoing relationship, I think that significant a relationship ought to be brought out to the jury." The defence argued that these figures would give the jury "a misleading impression," and that even the use of the total amount paid for work NERA has done on this specific case would be misleading. The judge did however concede that the "very significant" figures could be relevant: "I think that what Attorney Altieri [the Bristol attorney] suggests he wishes to pursue would suggest that relationship with Microsoft is one which perhaps NERA wishes to maintain because of the significance of the billings it has had and might hope to have." The judge then attempted to recess the court for the weekend, before realising it was only Tuesday. Rapp himself does not appear to have been particularly good value, if last week's trial transcripts are anything to go on. Rapp had contended that NT was gaining share in the workstation market because of lower pricing, and had produced the results of a weekend shopping expedition to prove it. He'd come up with a Compaq box running NT at $10,000, or running Tru64 Unix at $13,000. Point proved? Not exactly. Bristol attorney Altieri took him through the pricing of Exchange Server, MS proxy server and licences and forced a concession that these alone added up to more than the missing $3,000, as equivalents were bundled with the Unix machine. Warming to the theme, Altieri pointed out that BSD would have been even cheaper. NERA, incidentally, has mailed us suggesting we might like to improve our trial coverage by adding a link to NERA's trial coverage. Well of course, good people: Here it is. It includes the full text of Richard Schmalensee's testimony. Yum. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
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MS denounced by ZDnet readers – is it a Linux hit team?

We've no way of knowing the source of the Microsoft documents ZD used for Friday's story on future versions of Windows (ZD Story). Maybe Microsoft leaked them deliberately to start the hype spinning again post Win2k, maybe they're real internal MS documents leaked without authorisation - but they seem to have had a bizarre effect. Microsoft historically has been a master of preannouncement, and whatever the provenance of the documents, their content wouldn't be out of place in a standard spin-heavy Microsoft presentation. It's all positive stuff giving a broad-brush and exciting picture of the road ahead, i.e. the material for a classic MS preannouncement. But humorously, down in the Talkback discussion section at the bottom of the ZD story, waves of apparently ordinary users are denouncing Microsoft; you have to get quite a way down the list before you get to a plaintive suggestion that maybe the story is on the receiving end of a coordinated attack by Linux hit-teams. For example: "Yawn. The hype is so thick..." "Here we go again..." "How much more Microsoft propaganda..." "Die Microsoft Die. Linux rules..." "Linux is the answer. Down with..." There's much, much more. Go have a look. Now, you can see a problem brewing here for MS spinmeisters. If they plant favourable stories (which they do) in the mags, these pesky discussion sections provide a handy interactive mechanism for the great unwashed to noisily voice their disbelief, thus undermining the favourable story through instant rebuttal. ®
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MS roadmap for next Win9x and consumer NT leaks out

Microsoft's post Win2k operating system roadmap is back on track - but considering the size of some of the potholes, it's unlikely to stay there. According to documents leaked to ZD mags Smart Reseller and PC Week, there's one more rev of Win9x due next year, and then the consumer version of NT for 2001. (ZD story) Regular readers will recall that at WinHEC 98 his Billness described Windows 98 as the last rev of the Win9x line, and announced that Microsoft would converge on the NT kernel, with a consumer version of NT following the release of Windows 2000. The sheer nightmare of actually implementing a viable consumer NT resulted in the demise of that plan earlier this year, and a swift upgrade of Windows 98 Service Pack 1 into Windows 98 Second Edition. By pulling the plugs on the consumer OS, Microsoft caused a deal of confusion around WinHEC 99. A swift deal was done with Intel to produce the Easy PC "joint" initiative, which gave Microsoft something to announce. But if you picked away at this one it became horribly apparent that Easy PC was an initiative Intel had prepared earlier, that Intel had been expecting Microsoft to come up with data on Consumer NT and not, er, Win98 SE, and that the addendum to the joint PC99 spec would be out late, owing to a wrong operating system type situation. Red meat on Easy PC itself has been thin on the ground since it was announced, so it's highly significant that Microsoft now appears to be telling ZD that next year's rev of Win9x (codenamed Millennium) will be "a key component of Easy PC." That might be what Microsoft reckons, but practically all of the published work on Easy PC so far has been carried out by Intel under the auspices of Easy PC's Intel-only precursor, the Ease of Use Initiative. One particularly intriguing by-way under Intel's version of the Easy PC banner leads to the Intel Hardware Implementation Guide for consumer PCs in 1999 and 2000. This guide mentions Windows 98 a couple of times, but stresses that "much of the content applies to other consumer and business platforms based on the Intel architecture." So not only is Easy PC a la Intel not dependent on Millennium, it's not dependent on Win9x either. And, says Intel, much of the technology needed exists now, and the "Easier to Use PC platform" (relation) is "to be introduced in 1999." Funnily enough, the Microsoft Easy PC announcement said hardware companies would have prototypes out by the end of this year, so if MS wants these to run Millennium it had better get its finger out. But having its 'partner' singing from a substantially different songsheet is the least of Microsoft's problems with its newly leaked roadmap. It seems clear that the new 'last' rev of Win9x, Millennium, will either be a nightmare to develop or will turn out to be just another service pack on steroids. Similarly 2001's effort, the revived consumer NT (codenamed Neptune) will be a development pig - Microsoft's confidence in it actually happening can be gauged by the existence of a contingency plan to ship yet another 9x rev in 2001 after all, in the event of Neptune failing to make the grade and/or ship on time. Microsoft is telling potential beta testers for Millennium that they should expect it to be "legacy free," i.e. that it won't include Dos support any more. That means a kernel rewrite, and doing this while maintaining compatibility with Win9x software (games being particularly important for a consumer OS) will likely cause plenty of headaches. At the moment therefore we'd say Microsoft is going through its standard over-optimistic phase in developing Millennium - later, as the deadline looms, it'll quite possibly get scaled back to that service pack on steroids we mentioned. ZD predicts a public beta for late summer this year, but it's difficult to see how that would fit with a radical rewrite. Neptune, the consumer NT, is billed to include various goodies such as a new, Web-like user interface, more meaningful error messages, self-healing and self-updating features and so on. This stuff is relatively familiar, consisting as it does largely of standard bolt-ons that might or might not make it into Millennium or various other upgrades and service packs Microsoft might ship in the interim. But the big problem for Neptune isn't going to be the bolt-ons and go-fasters - it'll be building that consumer OS on top of the NT kernel while maintaining compatibility with Win9x software. Only a quarter of Win9x games run on Windows 2000, and it's difficult to see how Microsoft can improve that figure with Millennium. Earlier this year there was talk about Microsoft shipping a kernel upgrade for Win2k during next year, and we'd expect this to be justified in part by the kernel requirements of Neptune, but the whole thing is likely to be so messy that the next Great Leap Forward OS will slip, and the contingency 9x-based upgrade to Millennium will ship instead in 2001. So there you have it. Microsoft historically has had two operating systems, Win9x for consumer (plus) and NT for business. The plan was to converge these at Win2k, but that was postponed, so we've currently got Win98 SE and Win2k (RSN). The plan now is for convergence to take place on the NT/Win2k kernel by 2001. But the likely result will be a Win2k-based business OS and a Win9x rev for consumer in 2001. Plus of course, an ongoing convergence plan. Plus ca change... ®
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Curious synergy exists between Intel and AMD Athlon Web sites

We regularly receive notifications here of new Intel domains that come into being. Imagine our surprise, then, when we heard of a new one called Intel-Store, seemingly owned by the Intel Corporation, which looks startlingly like another site called AMD Athlon we noticed two weeks ago. (See AMD Athlon a struggle, a game: it's all Geek to us) Indeed, the resemblance is so startling that alarum bells ought to be ringing somewhere. Both are Network Solutions registrations. The "AMD Athlon" site was not registered by AMD, it appeared, and although the Intel Store one looks like it was registered by the corporation, we had our doubts. AMD Athlon, as we reported two weeks ago, is registered to Pattishall McAuliffe of South Wacker Drive, Chigago. Intel-Store.COM seems to be registered to Intel, checking the WHOIS server. So what gives? Will Network Solutions shortly be selling Intel Pentium IIIs and AMD Athlon K7s? ®
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Roll-up for the Amazing Micron DRAM inventory fire sale

Micron is conducting a DRAM fire-sale, after stock levels ballooned by two weeks. But don’t all rush at once. The US memory maker is gouging prices only for major PC OEMs. It hopes this will be enough to persuade these customers to swap from 32MB to 64MB onboard memory on budget PC lines. With inventory now standing at seven weeks, according to EBN (which broke the story), Micron plainly has a lot of DRAM to shift. In turn this will have a big knock-on effect on other memory manufacturers, which will have to cut their prices to compete. No wonder, the industry is unable to establish a reasonable floor for DRAM prices. And no wonder prices keep on falling. The irony of it is that Micron got itself into this mess by doing exactly what it frequently accuses Korean vendors of doing -- making the DRAM glut worse by overproducing. Micron was the agent of its own inventory misfortune. It pumped up DRAM manufacturing volumes earlier this year even though the market was already in oversupply mode. Micron is churning out as much as 47 million MB DRAMs a month, according to analysts quoted by EBN. ®