6th > July > 1999 Archive

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Fibre channels incompatible, HDD company claims

A year ago From The Register No. 85 -- a year ago. A senior executive at Quantum has said it is delaying the introduction of fibre channel products because of incompatibilities between different offerings. John Barnes, regional director of Quantum Europe, said today: "We do have a programme for fibre channel but also a programme for Ultra SCSI 3." He said: "This is a market issue - we're backing both horses." But, he said: "I'm not sure a standard for fibre channel has been sorted out yet. Not everyone's fibre channel works together." That meant, said Barnes, that corporations were reluctant to adopt fibre channel devices and technologies for fear of finding themselves with conflicting kit. "There may well be a case for fibre channel between boxes but SCSI might be inside the box," he added. ®
The Register breaking news

Internet set to bring down society

Opinion The Daily Mail yesterday published a full-page story about the corrupting influence of the Net under the headline 'SUMMER OF DISCONTENT'. In an inflammatory piece that will only serve to fuel the prejudice of its readers, the Mail alleged that the Internet is spreading anarchy among the nation's mild-mannered middle classes. "A demo everyday as children of the middle class spread anarchy via the Internet," it cried in alarm. "The activists who use the hi-tech tools of the Internet and mobile phones are determined to create a summer of discontent," it continued. What utter tosh. Rather than shooting the messenger, the Mail has decided to shoot the horse that carried the bearer of the news. The fact the information is published on the Net is hardly a reason for right-minded folk to turn into placard-waving anarchists. People who want to take to the streets will rant and rave and demonstrate regardless of whether the information is published on the Net or in some hastily cobbled-together paper pamphlet. Such arguments only find favour among people who wish to censor knowledge and free thinking. Some come on you guys at the Mail, is this the best you can do? ®
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Cyrix has real chance now…

An industry analyst said today that he expects good things from Cyrix, provided it can keep to its existing roadmap. Joe D'Elia, senior microprocessor analyst at Dataquest Europe, said that he thought the combination of chipset company Via and Cyrix would produce good technology. He said that Cyrix had somewhat languished under the National Semiconductor stewardship, but that he thought that would change. D'Elia said that if Cyrix kept to its roadmap, which includes the Mojave and Gobi processors, he expected a family of fast and low priced parts to do well in the 2000-2001 timeframe. ®
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AMD tilts to PC133 – 1Ghz Athlon, SMP by 2000

AMD may be poised to jump onto the PC133 bandwagon, company exec Drew Prairie seems to hint in an interview last week. Speaking to CPUReview editor William Henning Prairie commented: "DDR SDRAM seems to make more sense than RAMBUS." That puts flesh on our earlier scoop: K7 to get PC-133 support from Via Although Prairie made no firm commitment on AMD's behalf, and Henning stresses that this is his personal view rather than a company policy, it does suggest that the company may go with support for the Via-Cyrix camp instead. Henning himself comments: "In general I expect RAMBUS to be a flop; currently the price is ridiculously high compared to SDRAM, the latency for accessing the first word is higher than with SDRAM and as a cost cutting measure memory bus width of only eight or sixteen bits are proposed. That would be moving backwards! RAMBUS would look good with a sixty four bit wide bus if they can get the latency down... until then my money is on DDR SDRAM - PC133 DDR SDRAM would currently be significantly faster than RAMBUS memory!" Prairie is non-committal about many things throughout the interview, but there are a few other nuggets. He says he expects AMD to get to 1GHz Athlon in 2000, following on from 650Mhz in this quarter and 700MHz in Q4. Hundreds of thousands of Athlons will ship in Q3, and the aggregate level will top 1 million by year end. And there'll be SMP motherboards "before the middle of next year." ®
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Rise processor has FP problem

Reliable sources said today that there is a floating point problem with the Rise 266MHz processor. According to the sources, the glitch is similar to the FDIV bug which plagued Intel's Pentium chip four years back. With some calculations, the source said, the processor will throw up erroneous results. Although there currently seems to be no fix, the sources said that the problem will be addressed in the 366MHz and 400MHz parts, when they arrive. ®
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MS to turn IE Favourites into giant Data Mountain

A sniggering reader mails us the URL for Microsoft's fabled research division, claiming it's a blank page. This may be the case if you look at it on a Mac, but we can see it fine. "This URL is supposed to provide a glimpse into Microsoft's next-generation user interface," he says. But "at least on my Mac, the page comes up blank." We're not sure what MS research has been doing to Macs, but there's some very weird stuff visible to plain old Win95 and Navigator. "Data Mountain," it says here. "An alternative to IE Favourites or the Explorer." MS Research is apparently oblivious to the irony of substituting a data mountain for your favourites list, but if you like data mountains, click on the link and you can download a 1.5Mb word document on it. Something of a mountain itself, right? The unfortunately named UI, the pictures indicate, seems to heap little snapshots of all your favourite URLs in a kind of 3D mountain shape across your desktop. Nightmare, we reckon - they'll have little cartoon guides wandering across the desktop, pointing at them and talking to you, next. But funny we should say that, because here we have the Persona Project: "In an initial prototype, an expressive 3-dimensional parrot named Peedy responds to user requests for music." Ask it for Madonna songs, and it'll tell you what it's got then play it. Really useful, right? You can download a 116Mb AVI of Peedy in action, if you want. But we hope this one flies - if this "parrot" turns out to look too much like a vulture, we're letting him have it right in the look and feels. ®
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ITU says ‘yes’ to ADSL

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) yesterday at long last ratified ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) as an international high-speed datacomms standard. Thanks to the technology's adoption in the US, ADSL was always destined to emerge as the next connectivity standard after ISDN and analog modems, but the ITU support should at least ensure the move to the higher speeds offered by ADSL runs more smoothly. ADSL offers connection speeds of between 1Mbps and 7Mbps on standard cabling, though new equipment is required at telephone exchanges, ISPs and to connect PCs to the system. Today, British Telecom bowed to public and regulatory pressure and announced that it would, after all, begin rolling out ADSL services to its customers. Until now, BT has been doggedly trying to wring out as much business as it can out of ISDN before moving on to faster systems. ®
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LocalTel ups the Tempo for Screaming.Net

The telco behind Screaming.Net has responded to growing criticism from users about the quality of its service. In an email to Screamers -- a term of endearment used to describe those who use the service -- LocalTel acknowledged that there have been difficulties connecting to Screaming.Net. The Surrey-based telco also conceded that users have experienced slow data transfer rates at peak times, a point voiced by a number of readers of The Register who have complained about the sluggish service. To combat these problems LocalTel has announced it is upgrading its system to cope with the increased demand. Among the measures… * A faster firewall is due to be installed this week, which LocalTel claims will "improve the connection times that users face when logging in"; * Additional email servers are due to be installed; * A new bank of cache servers is to be installed which LocalTel claims "will dramatically improve the access times to Web sites and commonly downloaded files"; * As more and more users join the service, LocalTel has promised that "extra lines will be added ahead of their connection to ensure that all users obtain trouble free logon"; * Also in line with user connections, the bandwidth available across the system will be increased yet again to further improve performance. If the upgrade works then tens of thousands of Screamers will at least feel as if the frustrations of the last couple of months will have been worth it. What is still difficult to understand is why Screaming.Net is struggling with its technology in the first place. At its launch in April, the smiling faces behind the ISP said they would limit the number of users signing up for the service by staggering the supply of CDs made available to the public. By doing this, they claimed, they wouldn't encounter the problems that had befallen similar rushes to join other services. Still, best laid plans and all of that… ®
The Register breaking news

Still no 0800 decision – AOL

AOL UK has confirmed it is still running trials on different price plans and services and that users will have to wait up to eight weeks before any formal decision is made. The online service provider (OSP) was responding to a claim from one Register reader who said he'd received a CD from AOL offering toll-free 0800 access to the Net for £30 a month. "Looks like AOL has started rolling out 0800 access now," said Jad Phillips on The Register bulletin board. "I got an AOL start-up CD for 0800 access in the post yesterday, the only problem is it costs £30 a month." But a spokeswoman for AOL UK confirmed that this was merely part of AOL's ongoing trials to examine different packages and pricing schemes. She said the OSP was looking at half-a-dozen different pricing options in all and that any decision to proceed with a new pricing schemes would be made at the end of the summer. In June AOL denied it was set to offer toll-free access to the Net although it did confirm it was holding trials. Later that month German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that AOL Europe was set to launch a new subscription-free ISP service in the UK and Germany called Netscape Online. ®
The Register breaking news

Credit card-less Net payment scheme to go global

UK e-commerce operation Magex, which hopes to become the standard for making secure payments via the Internet, now has some competition, from Hong Kong-based company New Media Corp. Last week, New Media announced it will be rolling out its NetCharger software in 40 countries during the next three months. The launch follows trials in Italy and the US. NetCharger allows users to pay for goods and services bought on the Internet and have the cost transferred to their phone bills. That saves them from having to transmit their credit card details over the Net, says New Media. It also makes it easier to make payments that would otherwise be too small to be cost-effective for merchants if paid by credit card. It's that 'micropayments' opportunity that Magex, launched last month with much fanfare, hopes to cash in on. Magex, however, has a couple of important advantages over New Media's scheme. First, it’s a subsidiary of a major British bank, NatWest, so it has a certain trust value, and second, it builds in a copyright protection system, supplied by Intertrust, to appeal to online publishers. In short, it's trying to appeal to punters and suppliers. That's a clever move, since the system can only really succeed with a micropayments e-commerce arena, and that's not going to happen unless suppliers such as music companies, market research operations and publishers, have a secure, cost-effective way of selling their products that way. Magex is a credit card-based system -- you may hand over virtual currency for a news story, but ultimately the transaction gets billed to your Visa or MasterCard by Magex. New Media, on the other hand, is targeting countries with relatively low credit card penetration -- the company has its eye on China in particular. ® See AlsoMagex to trial online music sales
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Taiwanese mobo makers up in arms over 810

A report in Asian magazine Eurotrade is suggesting that the number of errata (bugs) in the 810 chipset is causing many Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers to complain vociferously. The magazine says that follows another fix for the 810, for the real time clock (RTC), which Intel confirmed to us yesterday was shipping. An earlier problem with the 810 chipset caused incompatibilities with microprocessors which caused machines to hang. The magazine reports that SiS (Silicon Integrated Systems) is picking up business from Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers, angry with the problems. ®
The Register breaking news

Musicmaker.com readies $420 million IPO

US custom CD supplier Musicmaker.com is set to make its IPO following a three-month delay incurred when the company went into takeover talks with British music giant EMI, one of the world's 'big five' music labels. In the end, EMI bought just half of the company, in exchange for Musicmaker.com gaining the rights to EMI's back catalogue of recordings for a five-year period. Since Musicmaker.com is also edging its way into the digital distribution of music, the deal also gives EMI access to the expertise it will need if and when it decides to go down that route itself, as almost all of its fellow major labels are. Musicmaker.com's renewed IPO effort will see some 8.4 million shares offered on Nasdaq. According to today's London Times, the IPO was to have taken place last week, but was further delayed because of concerns raised by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The initial share price was not revealed, but the Times said analysts reckon Musicmaker.com will raise between $360 million and $420 million. Musicmaker's IPO follows a spate of Internet music companies rushing to cash in on the interesting in Net stocks, most notably online music vendor MP3.com and music software company Liquid Audio. Curiously, Liquid Audio is also EMI's chosen technology partner for its own online music endeavours. ®
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How to get a parasite out of your socks

Our favourite spin doctor at chip design Decadence explains to us what parasite extraction is. According to him, you find these parasites when two trannies line up together in your sock (system on a chip) and cause unwanted capacitance. So how do you get these parasites out? You use software tweezers. Gasp. ®
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Heavy Metal headbangers play virtual guitar on the Net

Lock up your daughters, get out your leathers and start headbanging because thanks to Iron Maiden, heavy metal is getting its own site on the web. Managed by media group Sanctuary, the Iron Maiden web site has an average log on time of 90 minutes and gets five million hits a month. Although there are only an estimated 10 million metal heads around the globe, the scence is not well catered for in the mainstream. Fans are so hungry for the slightest glimpse of long hair or the sound of clashing guitars, that any new site is bound to be a hit. Sanctuary says it has had considerable interest from advertisers already. Sales of merchandise and tickets will bring in the rest of the money. It is investing £500,000 in setting up the site. ®
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EU ‘undermines’ Web commerce

So much for the Single Market. EU proposals to improve consumer rights could torpedo ecommerce retail development in Europe. Eurocrats want to introduce the right for consumers to sue companies in breach of contract in the country they live -- and not as at present - the country that the company operates from. The extra expense could cripple small ecommerce retail operators. The European Commission proposals are intended to bring two existing European Union Conventions concerning consumer contracts up to date for the Internet age. But they fatally flaw the EU's recent ecommerce directive, which articulates the principle of home-country control for companies selling internationally over the Internet, opponents argue. If they pass in to EU law, companies will have to cope with consumer contract laws from 15 different countries. But it's a big if. Four senior Eurocrats have declared their opposition to the proposals and they still require rubber stamping by the Council of Ministers. So there's everything to play for on the lobbying front. First off the block is an 11-strong group of organisations representing advertisers, direct marketers and Internet service companies. It says the proposals would "undermine existing legislation and contradict the basic objective of the EU: to create the internal market." But consumer campaigners quoted by the FT claim companies have nothing to fear from the revisions, which "merely make it possible for consumers that have been cheated over the Internet to appeal to a court in their country of residence". ®
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AOL strikes Euro DSL satellite provision deal

AOL is moving into broadband satellite services in Europe, with the announcement of a joint venture between AOL Germany and German Internet outfit Strato Medien AG. Strato is the Internet subsidiary of ISDN and broadband specialist Teles, whose products will also be integrated in the joint venture. The agreement will be worth DM75 million (around $35 million) over two years, and will include integration of products, including broadband satellite Internet services via Teles skyDSL. This service provides speeds up to 4 Mbit/s, and according to Teles, skyDSL will be the exclusive broadband service. This takes us into interesting territory, as on the announcement of skyDSL at CeBIT earlier this year, Strato said: "Every Internet subscriber in Europe may use the skyDSL service. A small reception antenna and a skyDSL card for the PC are all that is needed. The availability of skyDSL over TV cable - instead of antenna - is in preparation. TELES is presently conducting negotiations concerning the use of the d-boxes of the Kirch Group, too, for the skyDSL service." So does AOL have a European service ready to roll? skyDSL is priced at 100DM a month, and sounds tempting. Strato already runs a joint venture with AOL Germany, having been providing value added services such as domain registration, electronic shopping and unified messaging services, covering fax, email and cellular, since March. ®
The Register breaking news

Oftel urged to postpone number change

The telecomms watchdog, Oftel, has been accused of mishandling the management of telephone numbers in the UK by MPs sitting on the trade and industry select committee. In a report published yesterday, the group demanded that Oftel delay the overhaul of the country's telephone numbers and codes until further analysis is carried out. The influential group of backbench MPs said Oftel failed to consult widely enough when drawing up its proposals but stopped short of delivering a full-blown condemnation of the industry watchdog. But the introduction of the new numbers is already at an advanced stage, Oftel has warned, and any delay would have a severe impact on the provision of telecomms services in the UK. The director general of telecommunications, Dave Edmonds said: "It is highly unlikely, therefore, that significant change can or should be made to what is now known as The Big Number campaign." While the select committee and Oftel battle it out, time is ticking away for companies who have to decide whether it's worth changing their systems to cope with the number changes, or just to wait and see what the bureaucrats decide. Edmonds also said that "customers need more information about the changes not less", a view supported by The Register which discovered recently that only half of UK companies are aware that new telephone numbers and codes are being introduced in less than four months time. The whole affair is rapidly turning into a shambles especially since Oftel maintains that unless the changes go ahead, London will run out telephone numbers by summer 2000. "It is a mess," said James Murray, director of the telecoms services company Alternative Networks. "It definitely could have been handled better," he said. ®
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Small firms must be helped online, Parliament says

Ditch the jargon and cut costs, that was the message from yesterday's Parliamentary IT Committee (Pitcom) committee meeting on ecommerce and small businesses. The meeting, entitled "The Quick and the Dead, Ecommerce and Small Firms", was held between members of Pitcom and the IT industry, looking at how to encourage small businesses to go online. Andrew Boswell, ICL chief technology officer, said the government must keep the Internet message simple and relevant. "The language of the Information Age can be very off-putting to people who can't identify with it," he said. Boswell also said early adopters needed to be encouraged. [Isn't 'early adopter' a bit jargony? Ed] He asked for the introduction of a Queen's Award for Ecommerce to complement the existing Electronic Commerce Awards, started by the DTI this year. Private sector advisory groups, such as small business advisors in banks, must also encourage small businesses to get online, he said. "These must be trained and activated as evangelists for electronic commerce." The other speaker at the meeting, held in the Houses of Parliament, was head of Sage's software division, Mark Searles. The first hurdle was getting small companies to understand exactly what ecommerce was, he stressed. They should be sign-posted to free Internet access, and educated on the importance of ecommerce to their business, he said. "It needs to be easy and cheap to get online," said Searles. "The barriers have to be taken away, and the small business mindset changed. We need to give ongoing support to small businesses and remove the fear factor." But difficulties still lay in government itself, the committee said. The ecommerce idea needed to be sold to the rest of government and the public sector before real progress could be made. MPs needed to be persuaded to use email, official forms needed to be downloadable from the Web, and the government should become a cyber role model. ®
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Watchdog bites into BT monopoly

BT is set to lose its telecomms monopoly in the UK, although consumers will have to wait at least two years before they can benefit from increased competition. That's the conclusion of a report published today by telecomms watchdog Oftel; it calls for BT to open up its local networks to allow other telcos to deliver broadband access -- aka unbundling the local loop. But even then, BT will still have a virtual stranglehold over the nation's telecomms services by virtue of its massive lead in the sector. After six months consultation Oftel has rejected BT's plea to hang onto the local network and lease out the lines to other telcos on a wholesale basis. Instead, Oftel has recognised that competition is simply not working and that for consumers to gain any real benefit local services must be wrenched from BT's grasp. The report reads: "Under Option 2 Oftel would mandate a form of 'unbundling'. BT would be required to make its local copper loop available as a leased circuit to other operators. Operators would be able to upgrade the loop to provide higher bandwidth capacity by installing equipment at BT's local exchange and at the customer's premises. "This is consistent with our policy that competition is the best route to giving consumers the best possible deal in terms of choice, quality and value for money." A spokesman for BT welcomed the news and pointed to yesterday's announcement that it had placed an order an order with Alcatel and Fujitsu for ADSL hardware as proof that BT has the country's best interests at heart. [How touching. - Ed] BT plans to give almost six million homes and businesses the option of tapping into this broadband technology by next spring. That's despite the fact that BT threatened to hold the country to ransom and delay the introduction of ADSL if it didn't get its own way. The spokesman also denied that the announcement was timed to coincide with the publication of Oftel's report. It's just a mere coincidence, he said. A final decision about the future of ADSL is expected to be made by late in October. ®
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Alien Life Form found on Seti site

Alien watchers who came together over the Web to search for extraterrestrial life may be disappointed to learn that the site co-ordinating the experiment has been hacked. Then again, they may not -- since this may be just the proof they were looking for in their quest to discover whether or not we are alone. For they may interpret this -- along with crop circles and other such unexplained phenomena -- as proof that ET does exist. For them the publication of a picture of furry TV puppet Alf (which stands for Alien Life Form) on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at Home (SETI@home) Web site, could well be a sign that other beings are trying to get in contact with Earth. Then again, it might just be a childish prank by someone out to have a laugh. Either way a message on the SETI@home Web site confirmed that the site was vandalised and a picture of the TV puppet creature Alf was published in its place. "Someone broke into our Web server and replaced our home page with a picture of Alf," read a statement from the alien watchers. "This understandably caused concern about the security of our FTP servers. These are highly protected, but we will double-check our security mechanisms." SETI@home is a scientific experiment that harnesses the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). ®
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MS UK extends free Win98 SE upgrade to OEM PCs

Updated Microsoft UK has now put in place a mechanism that will allow all UK Windows 98 owners to get a free upgrade to Win98 SE. But the trouble is that it doesn't seem to have told the staff of the Microsoft Connection about it yet. A user trying to get an upgrade after reading about it on The Register tells us: "The person at the other end was very helpful right up until the point when I told him that I had an OEM copy of Win 98. He then told me that I would have to contact my OEM supplier and that it was entirely up to them as to whether or not I would get an upgrade." This is not true. See below. Earlier (MS gives SE update away for free) Microsoft's UK operation broke ranks with the US, which is charging $19.95 for the upgrade, and said that people who'd purchased retail Win98 could get the free upgrade. As this required a copy of a receipt, it wasn't then clear how people (i.e., most people) who got Win98 with their machine could get an upgrade. According to a letter to an MS OEM we've seen, it's now just a matter of calling the Microsoft Connection on 0345-002000, asking for the upgrade and then faxing through a copy of your Win98 Certificate of Authenticity. You'll only have to stump up for postage, and presumably this won't be $19.95 (although another informant tells of how he was hit for UKP12, a sum not unadjacent to $19.95, for postage for a "free" upgrade to Outlook 98). But as regards the OEM SE upgrade, it may take a little effort to persuade MS' operatives you qualify. Here's the text of the letter MS sent out, in case you need some back-up: "Thank you for your enquiry regarding OEM version upgrades to Windows 98 Second Edition. "The free upgrade offer is indeed now available to OEM customers. The procedure is as follows: "1 Customer calls Microsoft Connection on 0345 00 2000 and requests free upgrade. "2 Customer faxes through copy of Certificate of Authenticity and arranges payment of postage and packing charge by cheque or credit card. "3 Upgrade will be sent out within a week of payment being received. "Please feel free to pass these details on to any of your customers who would like to take advantage of this offer." ®
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World Bank bans Case Technology

Watford-based company Case Technology this week became the first company to be barred from World Bank financed contracts over allegations of corruption. Case received a permanent ban from being awarded the contracts, ordered by James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, on 2 July. A Dutch company involved in a bid with Case, Nepostel Consultancy, was also made ineligible for three years. Case was originally part of Anite Group until March 1997, when there was a management buyout at the company, then called Case Technology UK. In the same month UK networking company Anite sold its Danish Lan business, also called Case Technology, to Intel for $42 million. It is now a Wan manufacturer, specialising in voice and data convergence. Anite itself was formerly known as Cray Communications and before that, confusingly, also as Case Technology. Anyone lost yet? This week's ban originated from a bid that Case and Nepostel were involved in to supply a banking telecommunications network for the Central Bank of Turkmenistan in Asia. The World Bank's Sanctions Committee found Case had engaged in corrupt practices and that Nepostel engaged in fraudulent activities as defined by the Bank’s Procurement Guidelines. A representative of the World Bank was unable to give details on the corruption allegations against Case. Although he told The Register that the situation must have to be very serious to gain a permanent ban. Both companies disputed the charges. The story first appeared in the Financial Times, which said that since the Sanctions Committee was established in November 1998, the Bank has declared seven firms, including Case and Nepostel, ineligible to be awarded Bank-financed contracts. Case was the only one where corruption, rather than fraud, was cited as the reason. ®
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Cash back from Compaq

Compaq is giving users up to £330 when they trade in their old PC in an attempt to fuel hardware sales. The Y2Buy programme offer applies to customers who buy new Compaq gear before 30 September. It is aimed at users who want to replace old laptops, desktops, workstations and monitors with products that are Y2K compliant. Compaq will rebate up to £330 (ex VAT) on the trade-ins, as well as remove the old PCs and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. Users will receive a cheque within 28 days of Compaq picking up the old kit. Last month the PC giant issued a profits warning, warning that overall growth rate for business was slowing in Europe, and especially in the UK. reg;
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MS and the ASP business – Maritz memory fails again

Here's a puzzle. Paul Maritz has been holding forth to VNU Newswire at TechEd Europe about application service providers (ASPs) and says Microsoft is only involved in the ASP business insofar as Hotmail, which he says outsources email for 50 million people, can be counted in the ASP class. But the good Paul seems to have entirely forgotten this. In January Microsoft introduced the Internet Connector Licence for Windows NT Terminal Server. This, for a budget $9,999, allows 200 concurrent anonymous connections to a Terminal Server host. It's an application service provision facilitator, right? It doesn't of course resolve licence questions regarding the applications these anonymous connections get access to, but it does point towards early resolution, if that's what the relevant software company wants to achieve. Another one Paul seems to have forgotten is MS' application hosting deals last month with Verio and Concentric Networks. Memory lapses during trial witness duty don't seem to have abated, it appears. Maritz seems to have said Microsoft won't be offering on-demand apps "until the software industry clarifies" pricing issues - bit of a first this, if it means Microsoft intends to let the rest of the software industry decide what prices Microsoft will charge. But here's another puzzle. One of the applications Microsoft might go for first, he says, could be email, where he says Microsoft is already an ASP via Hotmail. But Hotmail is free, so what email service would it be that Microsoft might charge for? Something associated with the Platinum version of Exchange, perhaps? A cruel observer might suggest Microsoft doesn't want to help kick-start the ASP business until it has Platinum and WebStore to kick-start Microsoft revenues with it. More info on this here, if you're interested. And here's today's final puzzle. According to the VNU story, in May Microsoft "joined 50 other vendors as part of the ASP Industry Consortium, a group planning to drive standards for the ASP business." Presumably this information came from Microsoft, because although it might be sort of true, it leaves some stuff out. Microsoft wasn't a founder member of ASP, but on June 22 was announced by the organisation as one of 31 new members who'd joined since formation on May 11. Small point, or did Microsoft realise its mistake? ®
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Biometric ATM debuted by NCR

NCR has developed what is being heralded as the next generation of cash machine (that's ATM, if you're in the US). Developed by NCR's Advanced Solutions team in Dundee, Scotland, the new machine is being tested in Canada. Called Stella the Teller, and featured on the BBC's Six O'Clock News TV programme in the UK, the machine does away with the need for bank cards. That's right, gone are the days of inserting your card and tapping in your ID number, followed by that tiresome practice of selecting which service you want. Instead Stella scans your eye and, by mapping the patterns that make up your iris, it can identify who you are. This represents a significant step forward in the fight against crime. Then Stella speaks to you: "Which service do you require?" You shout 'cash' - assuming you want cash that is. "How much cash," Stella asks you. You then shout back how much money you want. The mugger standing just behind you may ask you to speak up at this point, so he can work out if it's worth his while attacking you or not. This represents a significant step backward in the fight against crime. Technology. You just gotta love it. ®
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BA tells Y2K bug to take flying jump

The 'World's Favourite Airline' claims that it has vanquished the millennium bug, having flown a test flight with all systems set to New Year's Eve 1999. But according to a report in today's Evening Standard, some IT journalists and computer experts dismissed the British Airways (BA) flight as a publicity stunt, calling it "utterly irrelevant." Karl Fielder, chief executive of Greenwich Mean Time and a columnist for Computer Weekly, commented: "I am astounded that they should waste everybody's time on what is nothing more than a publicity stunt. We have said many times that the problem will not just occur on millennium night but in 2001, 2002 etc." Perhaps he was expecting the plane to crash. Who knows. Who cares. The Register asked BA what it thought about his comments and a spokeswoman said that he had obviously missed the point. "Of course it was a publicity stunt," she said. "We wouldn't have taken a plane load of journalists up if we didn't want it to get in the papers." Quite so. She said that the point of the exercise had been to dispel the notion that on the eve of the next century, planes will be dropping from the sky, and to reassure passengers that they would be able to return home from a trip booked over the date change period. BA is unable to guarantee that baggage handling will be working, but from this reporter's experience, that is not a problem exclusive to the millennium. Also, of the plane load of BA staff and reporters that flew through the simulated date change, not one person asked for a parachute. ®
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Micron says it has no problems with memories, whatever

Micron's DRAM operation in Boise, Idaho, today denied there was any problem whatever with its memory production. Rumours had circulated for the whole of the day that there was a major problem with its fabrication process but they were firmly squashed by a representative we spoke to. She said: "We have not had any significant returns of memory." Reports emanating from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson in Japan were just rumours, she said. She added that Micron had not shut down any fabs whatever and her company is still providing memory modules to its major companies. "I cannot respond to rumours and speculation," the representative added. So that's that, then. ®
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Apple's ISP plan may hit the mark

Analysis Apple's emerging plan to break into the Internet Service Provider (ISP) business may well prove to be one of the company's shrewdest moves. Doubly so, it the suggestions that it also intends to recast its own Web site as an Internet portal -- a virtual gateway onto the Web -- turn out to be true too. Apple itself is keeping its cards very close to its chest. Last week, a company spokesman finally admitted that it is readying some sort of ISP offering. He refused to comment any further, but did hint that this month's MacWorld Expo show, to be held in New York from 20 to 23 July, might be a likely venue for the scheme's launch. But whenever Apple's ISP plans are revealed, it can't happen soon enough. The Internet is evolving rapidly as a medium for doing business, and companies -- PC vendors in particular -- are going to have to take a very close look indeed at how they use it. And, according to Intel chairman Andy Grove, business who fail to do so won't be around for very much longer. Speaking at the Los Angeles Times' Third Annual Investment Strategies Conference last May, he predicted that within five years "all companies will be Internet companies of they will be dead". The Net is becoming so central to the process of doing business that soon no company will be able to operate without embracing the Internet. In Grove's view, embracing doesn't just mean what so many companies have already done and use the Internet as a communications medium or as another way of selling products and services, it means making the Net the main interface between a company and everyone it does business with, customers and suppliers alike. Of course, Grove's comments about unwired businesses actually dropping down dead should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, but the thrust of his argument is undoubtedly correct. The Net has given business partners the means to monitor the progress of their partnership. We could be talking here about a Dell customer checking the vendor's Web site to find out how far down the production line his or her new PC has reached, or about a finance director seeing whether product shipments are being handled more efficiently by DHL or FedEx. In either case, the Net has enabled a whole new level of communication between each party. For Apple, the message is that while it has a solid Web site, providing useful product information, technical data and software updates, and the AppleStore to sell Macs direct to customers, it now needs to go further, not only to ensure that it's ready to operate in the online world Grove has predicted, but to deal with something that's likely to really hit its bottom line: budget-price PCs and, more important, Internet Appliances. Which is, of course, where the ISP plan comes in. So how would such a scheme help Apple? It's now well known that most buyers of consumer-oriented computers are doing so to get onto the Internet. Apple's own research suggests that over 80 per cent of iMac buyers saw Net access at the main reason for purchasing a computer. Bundling a modem is the most obvious way of facilitating that desire to get online, but since users will also require an ISP, why not bundle that too? Now, an iMac buyer can choose an ISP from a list presented by the computer's Internet Setup Assistant, but the process could be simplified even further if he or she could get connected to the Net straight away through Apple itself. For Apple, that makes good financial sense. If users are going to be spending $10 or whatever per month to one ISP or another, it may as well be Apple that takes the money. After all, that's why it launched AppleLink and, later, eWorld -- to cash in on the then emerging professional and, with eWorld, consumer interest in the online world. The downside here is that users, even new ones, don't like such choices forced on them -- unless, of course, it's free. This is where an ISP plan gets really interesting. If Apple is smart, it will ignore the short-term revenue gains and play for higher stakes by truly bundling Internet access -- free of charge. It sounds crazy, but there's a precedent here: UK ISP FreeServe. Launched last autumn, FreeServe's business plan centres on building up a massive community of users by allowing them to get online for free -- all they pay are phone call charges -- then selling advertising Web space to companies eager to target that community. Since FreeServe's inception, other free services have come online, and a number of older ISPs have switched over to the free subscription model. No wonder, then, that in just six months, FreeServe has built up a subscriber base larger than that of AOL UK. All this benefits Apple in a number of ways. Firstly, it makes the iMac a more attractive product to buyers tempted not by budget-priced machines from the likes of eMachines and the occasional 'free' PC offer. Longer term, these may not prove much of a threat -- what will, however, are the kind of machines AOL is planning: low-cost, own-brand Internet access devices. Essentially, we're seeing the Internet bringing online services and traditional PC suppliers together into a single market. AOL is increasingly moving towards hardware, and companies like Compaq and Dell have started to move toward online services. Apple's ISP plan would take it the next step along that path. So here's the plan in full: offer free Internet access to increase the number of people buying iMacs to get online. Next, the Apple portal provides them with a place to start surfing and forms them into a community that in turn attracts not only the advertising revenue that pays for the free Internet access, but product suppliers -- information vendors, software resellers, e-commerce outlets -- who couldn't hope to reach so many users on their own. In short, what we have is exactly what Apple tried to do with eWorld all those years ago, but failed because that plan didn't take into account the importance of the Web. This one does. It also positions Apple itself as a company that does something more than make computers, and, more importantly, provides the basis for the exactly the kind of killer Internet business Intel's Grove was talking about. ®