8th > July > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Success expected for Be IPO

In the next few days, punters will be able to throw money at Be Inc's IPO, which was filed with the SEC in May. Be is expecting to raise $57 million and to trade on NASDAQ. Be's income in 1998 was $16.9 million. There's little doubt that the IPO will succeed, but greater doubt as to whether BeOS will hit the big time. Since CEO Jean-Louis Gassee, a former president of Apple's products group, failed to make progress in the Apple OS market, he switched his focus to Windows, and Intel decided to take a 10 per cent stake in Be, if only to upset Microsoft. As with OS/2, the clincher will be the extent to which Be can attract developers. IBM failed to do this, although its attempt was rather half-hearted. But the environment now is different. Although Linux has its slavish devotees, and quite right too, there is room for an OS that is specially geared for media freaks. If you want to operate multiple audio, video and image processing and Internet access simultaneously, then Be could be the answer. Gassee's rationale is that the operating systems from the 1970s and 1980s were not architected to support audio, video, image and 3D animation, because of hardware limitations. The Be strategy will be to establish partnerships with the key industry players; to focus on Internet appliances; and "to be" everywhere as the standard for digital media and Internet computing. BeOS is being sold to OEMs, retail, and directly to users. So far, Be has relationships with Hitachi for including BeOS with two models in its Flora Prius machines, marketed to enthusiasts in Japan (as hobbyists are called nowadays), and with Fujitsu for its Silverline PCs for the professional and enthusiast market in Europe - and especially in Germany and the Nordic countries. Gassee appears to be avoiding the mistakes of Apple and Microsoft by encouraging the sales of third-party applications through its BeDepot.com website. Microsoft's claims during the trial about the great threat posed to Microsoft by BeOS should not taken too seriously. Although Be will not disclose how far it has penetrated, it is believed that BeOS is on between 50,000 and 100,000 machines. The obstacle Be faces is that most OEMs are effectively prevented from offering BeOS, not because of a clause in their licensing agreements for Windows, but because of what it would cost them in lost market development agreement (MDA) discounts for loading only Windows. This is the iniquity that Be must fight, but there is evidence that Microsoft is very much in the business of avoiding controversy as the first round of its trial comes to a conclusion. ®
Graham Lea, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Why is MS software so bloated? MS developer asks

Microsoft has been asking itself "Why is Microsoft software so bloated, so full of junk, sucking up megs of space on my hard drive, hogging memory, and taking forever to load?" Why indeed. But the answer Microsoft gives in the current issue of its webzine Slate avoids any true response to the questions people have been asking since Windows 3.0 and its applications began to appear. The rhetorical question is nothing but a new PR approach by Microsoft: admit what cannot be denied, make a joke of it, and then try to slip in whoppers in mitigation. The author, Andrew Schuman (no relation to Andrew Schulman of Undocumented DOS and Windows fame) is apparently a "boy developer" at Microsoft and one of those responsible for Outlook 97. But his explanation ("Sadly, it is you, the customer, who demands bloat, forever clamouring for new features") is just untrue, as we all know. That 200 megabytes for MS Office 2000 is there for another purpose: to keep OEMs locked into Microsoft's premature hardware obsolescence programme, which keeps OEMs buying more Windows of course. PCs last for ten years or more, but Microsoft has been using software bloat as a ruse to persuade users to buy new kit every two or three years. This didn't start out as a deliberate strategy - the inefficiency of Microsoft coding just created the natural possibility, which was then encouraged. Happily for the OEMs, they like selling three or four times as many PCs as ought to be necessary too. Microsoft then sold the notion that users needed the latest version of its software, and used its licensing programme and pricing to manipulate OEMs and software vendors into advocating upgrades. Schuman admits: "The day that Redmond fails to convince you to upgrade - i.e. to buy a product that the malcontents call bloated - is the day that Redmond becomes a ghost town." Microsoft deserves better recognition for its programme to obsolete hardware with bloated software. ®
Graham Lea, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Giz a job, giz a virus

The majority of computer viruses -- the digital equivalent of the clap -- are transmitted by people applying for jobs. That's the conclusion of a piece of research by Star Internet which claims that a growing number of corporate computer virus infections are caused by home users submitting their CVs via email. Despite recent lessons from Melissa and Explore.Zip, Star has found that a large number of organisations have not installed any form of anti-virus protection. And a surprisingly large number of the infected emails were sent by job hunters from anonymous Web-based email accounts such as Hotmail. "The increasing problem with viruses attacking corporate networks is due to a number of factors, but mostly the rapid growth in home Internet usage brought about by free Internet services," said Jos White, marketing director at Star. "New home users are encouraged to download files, but then often send these to their work addresses, or friends in the office. Viruses can also be hidden within other seemingly innocent documents, such as job applications. The responsibility lies with companies to ensure foolproof protection, as home users don’t have any real reason to worry about it," he said. With this in mind, The Register has gone on extra special alert just in case it gets bombarded with CVs from unknown sources. You know who you are. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

GMT chief slams BA Y2K stunt

Reader's Letter In your story BA tells Y2K bug to take flying jump, it is claimed that I have missed the point of BA's mid-flight rollover test, but I would contend that it is they who have missed the point, not I. I am sure that any right thinking adult believes that BA, their pilots, and their insurers will not allow any millennial flights to occur if there is a significant risk to human life. The notion that it is necessary to prove this to the public is both a waste of shareholders money and irrelevant. The fact is that this expensive stunt has proven nothing. As I explained to the London Evening Standard when they asked for my opinion on this flight of fancy, there are still considerable obstacles to a successful flight from London to Paris (let alone destinations further afield). 1. The Travel Agent booking your ticket 2. Pink Elephant's Long Term or NCP's Short Term parking 3. Your train / tube to Heathrow 4. The ability of BA's ticketing system to issue your ticket 5. The ability of BA to reseat passengers from other airlines who are unable to fly and have been off-loaded onto BA flights 6. The check-in terminals 7. The ability of Airmiles to get your Airmiles correctly awarded 8. The bag tag printers 9. The flight information screens at Heathrow 10. Baggage handling either at Heathrow 11. Air traffic control en route 12. The ability of the fuel company to fuel the aircraft 13. The ability of Sky News to get the correct tape to BA for the in-flight news service 14. The in-flight catering service and their suppliers 15. The aircraft entertainment system 16. Arrivals information for those meeting you in Paris 17. The Metro transportation to Charles De Gaulle (CDG) Airport 18. The car parking at CDG 19. Baggage handling at CDG and best of all 20. Your Travel Insurance. According to the recent "Facts not Fiction" booklet produced by HM Government page 12 "Travel Insurance - If you have a claim arising as a result of the Millennium Bug problem, for example, you are prevented from travelling, your journey is delayed for any reason or your baggage is lost.. most travel insurance policies will not cover you." So I conclude that the BA test was a (not) cheap publicity stunt to try to bolster confidence in the (admittedly) great Y2K work which BA has done. However flying in the first quarter of 2000 will be problematic for many other reasons (as shown above) which BA is almost powerless to correct. And with no insurance, would you really want to fly anyway? If the insurance companies don't want to cover the risk - why should you? ® You can check out Greenwich Mean Time here
Karl W. Feilder, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

CPUGate: the details

The US Commerce Department, currently being sued by Charles R. Smith in the Eastern District of Virginia, does share some of the same concerns as the plaintiff. For example, the Dept of Commerce announced that IBM had entered a guilty plea for the illegal export of a super computer to Russia. It was fined $8.5 million, the maximum, for selling one of its machines to a Russian nuclear weapons lab called Arzamas-16. On April 18th, the Commerce Department fined Compaq $55,000 for exporting kit to several countries including China, without export licences. And on the 26th of December, a Hong Kong reseller for Sun sold a super computer to a Communist China lab, but the machine was to go to the Yuanwang Corporation -- a part of the Chinese Army. Sun managed to get the supercomputer back in this case. That's the documented history. However plaintiff Smith has entered evidence to the court which is not so public. One is a list of Chinese military officials compiled by the Commerce Department including People's Liberation Army (PLA) generals Ding and Huai. Another is a memo from Colonel Blasko, a Defense Intelligence Agency official, to Commerce officials Deliberti, Albanse and Isbell. That states that Yuanwang Corp and Great Wall Industries and other PLA companies including China National Nuclear and China North (Norinco), are significant to the defence conversion. The plaintiff alleges that Tandem sold over $100 million of computers to the PLA company Great Wall Industries in 1994. He alleges that the Department of Commerce knew of contacts made directly with PLA owned companies like Great Wall and Yuanwang. Smith alleges that the US Defense department knew that the Commerce Department had issued licences for technology transfers to Chinese military units covered by the State Department's International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) under the Arms Control Act. Smith claims that the Commerce Department is not authorised to issue such a licence. That, he says, is backed up by a Defense Department report stating that the Commerce Department had issued licences to the Chinese military. That report, says Smith, said: "This was clearly beyond the scope of Commerce export control jurisdiction because only the Department of State is authorized to issue licenses for defense services". Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP) members such as IBM, Sun and Compaq, sought Commerce officials to approve transfers of computers to military end users in Russia and China. Smith claims the Commerce Department is illegally withholding document on these allegedly illegal transfers. Plaintiff Smith makes a number of allegations against White House advisor John Podesta, including conflict of interest because his brother Anthony Podesta, the owner of Podesta Associates, had his employee Kenneth Kay director of the CSPP, engaged in secret meetings inside the Commerce Department and the White House. John Podesta, alleges Smith, directed and controlled computer export and computer security policies with a direct financial impact on Anthony Podesta's client the CSPP. Smith also alleges that the Commerce Department is withholding documents on CSPP activities. Smith's most serious allegations come in articles 14 and 15 of the filing. He alleges that the US government sponsored projects with the Chinese army including corrupt activities such as paying for lavish meals, expensive foreign luxury cars and Swiss bank accounts. Article 15 says: "The violations documented by plaintiff in this reply, and in the original complaint, show the actions taken by the defendant, White House officials, the CSPP computer companies and foreign military officers includes evidence of criminal activity via financial gain, and direct conflicts of interest. Plaintiff asserts that bribery, as defined by the Travel Act 18 U.S.C. 1952(a) (3) (1998) and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act...is the primary reason for US government officials to withold records." The remaining articles of the suit claim that some activities are covered by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act 18 1962-1968 (RICO) through violations of Section 120.9 of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation and other cases. Smith wants the court to order the Commerce Department to prepare a so-called Vaughn index of all documents that are being withheld... ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Merced: the case for the defence

A reader has replied to a story we wrote yesterday that claimed Merced compilers were in bad shape. Story: Optimisers not optimistic about Merced Here are his comments: "I agree that Merced will only execute instructions in order. Load instructions just queue the request to memory. They do not wait until the result is available. If an instruction which requires that data executes before it is available then that instruction will stall and all the instructions behind it will stall. "Now this sounds very bad but it is not in practice. Firstly all compilers will always put as much space as possible between a load and its use. Secondly in an Out-Of-Order(OOO) execution processor if an instruction stalls then other instructions can issue BUT this in practice is limited. "Usually only a handful of instructions will be issued because they are relying on the results of the stalled instruction. "The gap between CPU speed and memory speed is now so vast that a few token instructions executed out of order only fills a small percentage of the wait. "The main disadvantage of the Merced is when data resides on the second level cache then the Out-Of-Order execution processor may fill those few cycles more efficiently. "To make a processor execute Out-Of-Order adds a lot of circuitry and can slow down the clock speed. I assume Merced uses these released resources for other kinds of optimisation." ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Net bigwigs team up to push IP 6

Many of the leading names in the IT, telecoms and Internet industries have come together (right now) to promote the adoption of the latest iteration of the Internet Protocol, version 6. Banding together as the IPv6 Forum, the 40-odd companies see IP 6 as the basis for a faster, more secure network which, in an apparent mood of Blairite frenzy, the Forum is calling THE NEW INTERNET -- their capitals, not ours. Currently, the Internet is founded on IP 4, but Forum members claim that has now come as far as it can be taken. It's not entirely clear what happened to IP 5, but the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the body responsible for specifying Internet protocols, has prepared IP 6 -- it's been working on it for the last five years -- to take version 4's place. Cellphone companies seem particularly keen on IP 6 -- they view the standard as a key requirement for integrating cellular networks into the wider Internet to allow portable devices to take their place as fully fledged Net access tools alongside PCs and workstations. "Today, the number of cellular handsets already far exceeds the number of fixed Internet terminals; IPv6 is the only viable architecture that can accommodate the coming wave of Internet capable cellular devices," said Pekka Ala-Pietile, president of Nokia. Adopting IP 6 will, of course, bring about some upheavals, which is probably why the industry feels the need to gear up and promote its use. However, it will resolve some important issues the Internet as it stands will have to face in the very near future. The key problem here is the limitations IP 4 places on the number of available addresses. It's widely predicted that were going to run out of these pretty soon, though for some observers address sharing and unused address culling procedures will put off the point at which the limit is reach for some time. The Forum's response to that while that's a fair point, it makes more sense to adopt a technology without the limitation as soon as possible, and before changing everyone's software becomes a real logistics problem. According to the IPv6 Forum version 6 will also "more flexible address assignment policies, multicasting design, and security features to become basic components of the evolving Internet. "IP 6 also offers features that facilitate the deployment of new qualities of service, which are needed to serve an expanding array of applications that require multiple classes of services, priority, and bandwidth assignment." So there. ® See also IETF drafts near-final HTTP 1.1 spec
Tony Smith, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Future encrypted chips could handcuff end users

Report A UK-based organisation has called on chip manufacturers to allow public scrutiny of their future plans to allow owners of PCs control of their systems. Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties UK said that future microprocessors might include the ability to carry out cryptographic processes that could prevent applications from running unless signed with the correct cryptographic key. But, warns the group, while such features could provide benefits, such as virus protection and for corporations to ensure only the software they had authories were run, there are dangers in this approach too. The authors of the report warn that users would not know such chips were reliable, and would also want to know who is controlling such features. If manufacturers, such as Intel, determine whose signature can validate a software program, PC owners are denied the right to manage their own systems. Users may also want to write their own programs or run programs written by developers who don't have an agreement with chip manufacturers, the report says. There are also reliability problems, the authors say. "If signing processes are to built into chips, or if chips are to run encrypted code, we need owner control of them and also publicly accountable scrutiny of the way the technical and procedural mechanisms work," the report says. More details can be found here ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Coach party set to picket LocalTel

Angry users of Screaming.Net are planning to picket the offices of LocalTel in a bid to "have it out" with the directors of the telco. A coach-load of Net users is already planning to make a 450 mile trip on Friday 23 July to LocalTel's offices in Godalming, Surrey in the hope that direct action will get some results. They want to meet MD Jeremy Stokes face to face to find out what LocalTel plans to do about the continuing poor service offered by the technology company behind Screaming.Net. They don't believe the recent improvements made to the service are having any impact. "We are more than unhappy with the service," said a posting on the anti-LocalTel Web site, VocalTel. "We want to go back to BT, but are not prepared to pay the rest of the year's rental when the service provided so far has been so bad." The organisers of the rally appear to be gaining support and want other Screamers -- the name coined by the users of Screaming.Net -- to visit the offices on other days in order to maintain pressure on the telco. A spokesman for LocalTel said he was unaware that the action was being planned. LocalTel failed to provide any further comment before press time. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

ATI Q3 sales up 65 per cent

The world's biggest graphics accelerator company, ATI, yesterday posted profits of $18.6 million on revenues of $302 million for its third fiscal quarter, ended 31 May. That represents an increase in sales of 65 per cent over the same period last year, in line with the increases recorded in the company's previous quarters. However, profits were down: for Q3 98, ATI made $26.5 million. But since ATI had already said the cost of its November 1998 $70.9 million acquisition of system-on-a-chip developer Chromatic Research would be spread over coming quarters, the Q3 shortfall was no great surprise. Had ATI assigned $17.3 million of the quarter's profit on paying for Chromatic, it would have posted income of $35.9 million, an increase of 36 per cent on the previous year. Still, ATI can't afford to rest on the laurels of its good run of results over the last three quarters. While it commands the dominant share of the graphics accelerator market, selling not only its own line of add-in cards but flogging chipsets to PC manufacturers, rival vendors, most notably 3dfx and S3 have their eyes on the same markets. 3dfx's purchase of STB Microelectronics has put it into the add-in board market, allowing the chip developer to target OEMs more aggressively. Meanwhile, S3, now on something of a rebound -- actually any move away from a near total collapse is a rebound -- wants to take the fight to its old arch-rival, and so is busying winning OEM deals and recently announced its intention to buy Diamond Multimedia to give it board-building expertise too. All these moves have reshaped both 3dfx and S3 to resemble ATI more closely. Still, by being there already, ATI can spend its efforts diversifying further, which is exactly what its interest in set-top boxes based on Chromatic system-on-a-chip products is all about. And it is currently working hard to flog its set-top reference design to companies looking to break into the Internet Appliance and games console arenas. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

IETF drafts near-final HTTP 1.1 spec

The latest generation of Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (http), version 1.1 has become an official Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Draft Standard, the Web's governing body, the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) has said. HTTP is the protocol used to facilitate communication between Web browsers and servers, and has remained largely unchanged since version 1.0, based on the work done by Tim Berners-Lee (now the W3C's director) at CERN, became an official standard. Version 1.1 addresses some issues with the current version, most notably 1.0's inability to handle the major increases in traffic Web servers have been forced to cope with since the Internet became popular outside academe. According to the W3C, HTTP 1.1 was designed to "provide higher end-user performance while preserving the integrity and stability of the Internet using features including persistent connections, pipelining, caching, and IP address preservation". Security issues have also been addressed through the HTTP Digest Authentication system, which allows a Web server to authenticate a user while ensuring the user's password is not made accessible to hackers. As an IETF Draft Standard, HTTP 1.1 is now declared stable -- all known technical issues have been resolved and "has multiple interoperable implementations". In other words, it's as near as dammit final. In any case, most Web servers already support HTTP 1.1, based on earlier, Proposed Standard specs., so there's unlikely to be any upheaval when servers are updated with either the Draft or Final Standards. The wheels of the Net standards bodies may grind exceeding slow, but at least they're also exceeding sure. ® See also Net bigwigs team up to push IP 6
Tony Smith, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Apple ships Linux-enabled QuickTime Server

Apple's open source QuickTime Streaming Server software has been updated to support not only the company's own MacOS X Server operating system, but Intel-based Linux systems. The update allows software developers working with that platform to create Linux streaming media products without having to make changes to the core components of the source code, said Apple. At the same time, the update, which takes the software to version 1.0.1, doubles performance to 2000 concurrent media streams, the company claimed. And the pre-compiled MacOS X version is now available in French, German and Japanese language editions. Updates to QuickTime Streaming Server (the pre-compiled MacOS X release) and Open Source Streaming Server are available now, free of charge from Apple's Web site. The support for Linux on Intel comes largely from the open source community itself. Apple said over 14,000 copies of the open source version of QuickTime Streaming Server (the full release minus the MacOS-specific user interface code) since it was released ten weeks ago. Many of them will have been developers working on non-Mac platforms, but since Apple's goal here is to promote QuickTime rather than the MacOS, that may not matter too much to the company. What Apple wants to do is ensure QuickTime becomes the standard for Internet multimedia, and that means beating RealNetworks. Apple's approach is to get QuickTime on as many Net servers as possible, and right now that means supporting Linux. It can't ignore other versions of Unix and Windows NT, but that's the beauty of the open source model -- someone, somewhere out there will develop it for you. ® See also Open source server leads Apple streaming scheme
Tony Smith, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Receivers go into PC Science

Updated PC Science, the North Yorkshire manufacturer, has gone into administrative receivership. Receivers KPMG went into the hardware vendor's premises, near York, yesterday. What started off as a good year for PC Science -- it won the Asda contract in March -- has turned increasingly sour. It had its wrists slapped by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over a national press campaign, lost its contract to supply Argos with hardware, and started suing supplier Protac over the compatibility of its motherboards. Then Trading Standards Officers started looking into the manufacturer when customer complaints soared to over 400. That investigation is still ongoing, according to North Yorkshire Trading Standards. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) also became involved, and was looking at reconsidering the vendor's credit licence and aiming to better customer support levels. A PC Science representative this morning confirmed that the receivers were on the premises, but was unable to comment further. PC Science MD Charles Forsyth was not in the office as this story was posted. KPMG issued the following statement about Boroughbridge-based PC Science: "The company, which has achieved meteoric growth in the past few years, has found itself unable to finance its expansion. "The receivers are currently reviewing the position but believe it will be impossible to avoid some redundancies amongst the 180 strong workforce." "It is clearly early dates but I am hopeful that we can sell the business as a going concern", said joint receiver Peter Terry. The customer after sales service and support is operated by Target Computer Maintenance Limited. This firm was not subject to the appointment, said KPMG. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Net out to get us, delusional psychotics claim

It's official: the Internet is rapidly becoming public enemy number one -- at least to psychotics. That's the conclusion of a report published by the University of South Florida. Researchers at the college found that Internet-related fears have become among the most common delusions suffered by active psychotics. The typical sufferer has little knowledge of computers, but he or she still believes that the Net is somehow monitoring -- and, in worse cases, controling -- his or her life. One case study describes a 40-year-old man who shot himself in the face after beginning to believe that party or parties unknown had placed Internet bugging devices in his ears. The bugs could read his mind and exert control on his body, making his extremities jump whenever he pressed certain keys on a PC. Delusions like these will become increasing commonplace as the Internet moves further into mainstream society, the report warns. A cause for concern, surely, so we would like to recommend that any senior IT industry figures who suddenly come to believe they are being actively pursued by vultures -- particularly British ones -- should seek immediate psycho-medical advice... ®
Tony Smith, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Ziff family ordered to pay $55.4m damages to PC Mag founder

Ouch! the Ziff family has to cough up $55.4 million damages because its publishing house broke a promise to the founder of PC Magazine. Ziff-Davis had promised Anthony Gold that it would grant 80 per cent discount and free access to PC Magazine's mailing lists to his mail-order company, the now defunct, PC Brands. But it reneged on the deal, a Chicago jury found. Settlement has been a long time coming for Gold -- he filed suit against Ziff-Davis in 1988. And he's going to have to wait a little longer for his dough. Ziff family lawyers say they will appeal if they fail to overturn the verdict in post-trial motions. Damages were awarded against the sons of the late Bill (as in Billionaire) Ziff, through their investment vehicle Ziff Brothers Inc. They retained liability for the lawsuit, after selling ZD to Softbank. ®
Team Register, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

More on VNU's take over of CMP London

Not an awful lot of money is expected to change hands between VNU and Miller Freeman -- VNU will buy CMP UK and France lists, and will take on liabilities. Question is, how many will go before the takeover is completed? Word on Broadwick Street is that VNU only wants 35-40 CMP bodies. CMP has 157 staff in the UK. Junior hacks have little to fear (but you can keep your CVs rolling in). The same cannot be said for sales and publishing honchos. Fat salaries, contributory pensions and private health insurance are simply not VNU UK's style. Unlike CMP Europe, VNU actually likes to make a profit. And now an apology is due to CRN UK's sales johnnies, who are really doing rather well. It must be their rivals at MicroScope we were thinking of, when we talked of underperforming. In terms of UK channel pubs marketshare, CRN was number one in June and it has the audit figures to prove it, so there. Congratulations, all round. Will it be enough to save the magazine? We hope so, but there really isn't enough room for three channel weeklies in the UK.
The Register breaking news

UK's Dixons plans £200 Web (non-MS?) PC

British retail giant Dixons seems poised to make the leap into the Internet appliance market with a £200 stripped-down PC - possibly even a minimalist Internet access machine. News of the company's plans in this direction were revealed by company chairman Stanley Kalms yesterday, and they would seem to bode ill for Microsoft. Dixons announced impressive results, with profits up 9 per cent to £237.1 million for the year to May 1, but the PC side showed how knife-edge the business has become. The group as a whole sold 27 per cent more computers over the year, but increased revenues here by only 3 per cent. Kalms seems determined to ride this wave, and to increase volumes as prices plunge further. Previously, he said, Dixons had worked on the assumption that specification doubled and prices halved every year, but he now reckons this is becoming a six month cycle. Hence the projected Internet boxes. If Dixons is quick on its feet, it can lead the market in the UK rather than have to follow in the wake of downward pricing spirals. Kalms says many customers want only email, Internet and home applications, so Dixons will 'despecify' computers by removing other bundled software. This in itself isn't going to be particularly good news for Microsoft, as it rules out Microsoft Office bundles, but the notion of a Dixons "access machine" is even more of a problem. A stripped-down set-top box style device could (in fact, almost certainly will) be sold in conjunction with Dixons' Freeserve. At the moment, as AOL seems to be finding, going the non-MS route entirely with a network computer type appliance produces a more commercially viable package. Microsoft - so far - has remained largely immovable on the pricing of operating systems to the OEM market, and as hardware prices crash, the proportion of the selling price that goes to MS soars. Short of Microsoft making a major intellectual breakthrough as regards its pricing strategy, it seems inevitable that Dixons will look elsewhere for its "access machines." It could follow AOL to Liberate (which is what NCI calls itself these days), or it might play footsie with Microworkz (see separate story). Or then again, if Stanley Kalms and Craig Barrett are back on speaking terms, it might take an interest in Intel's plans for low-cost hardware (these also involve AOL and Hughes Networks). Barrett, bless 'im, held up Dixons as a primary reason why PCs were so expensive in the UK last year, and got threatened with a lawsuit by Storefront Stan for his pains. (Dixons threatens legal action) Exquisitely ironic, considering Dixons' current posture on pricing. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Publish and be damned – Register style

Time to squash the rumour doing the hack rounds that The Register pulled our CMP story earlier this week. The implication is that we were got at in some way. Well think again. Our first CMP story was posted on the front page by mistake -- you may be surprised to learn that not many people are interested in computer magazines, except people who work in computer magaziines. The CMP story is still there in our gossip column. Bootnotes is where put our all our stories about computer pubs, except for ZDNet -- who we hate (just kidding, Richard. We love you, really). ®
Team Register, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

iToaster BeOS box sells at $20 a month for Web and PC

Microworkz, designer of the $199 iToaster machine and a belated MS trial exhibit (MS exposes AOL BeOS PC plan), has announced a go-it-alone pricing plan for getting the machine onto the market. Not that this means the company won't be doing deals with AOL or other interested parties as well, of course. The iToaster is a stripped-down PC that looks like a piece of hi fi, and doesn't use any Microsoft software. It runs BeOS (for reasons of multimedia functionality), and the hardware is 32 megs RAM, 2.1 gig hard drive and a 266MHz Intel CPU. (Note the significance of that last bit - we'll chase it another time though). As a small start-up, Microworkz surely has to do deals with bigger companies in order to get its products out there in volume, and as the iToaster is a consumer Internet machine, AOL and maybe Dixons-Freeserve (Dixons £200 Web PC plan) might be logical partners. But although the company recently admitted it was in talks with AOL, it has also just announced a solo implementation of one of the approaches likely to be common for this kind of device. For $19.95 a month for two years, Microworkz is offering an iToaster, 15in colour monitor, tech support for two years and 150 hours of Internet access through its own ISP, Microworkz.com. This compares with an outright buy price of $199 plus $14.95 a month for Microworkz.com access. But it does look more like a toe in the water than a break for the big time. The company plans to start shipping a first production run of 10,000 units next week, but it'll likely need backing to ramp to more credible volumes. Which takes us back to AOL, and friends. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Those Silicon.com rumours

Is Silicon.com up for sale, or not? The Register always thought the IT newservice was set up to be sold, but hacks working there say it ain't so. NMTV, the company that owns Silicon, merely wants secondary finance to fund (overseas?) expansion, is the line they're spinning. Well we heard different. VNU insiders say the company ran the slide rule over Silicon, but balked at the £35 million asking price. As far as VNU is concerned, too much of the valuation depended on the people working at the company, we understand. VNU might not be interested at that price, but someone will be: NMTV is a successful Web start-up which generates decent revenues. With the right backing, it could deliver a platform for explosive growth. Set up one year ago (Happy Birthday, guys) Silicon.com shows what can be achieved with big budget sales and marketing. And more important, what can be done with focused, sales and marketing. But what about the product? After a shaky start, the news service is now reasonably timely and middling good quality -- although a little too vanilla for our tastes. (That obsession with serving corporates always makes for a bland read -- and this applies to IT pubs everywhere.) Silicon has some good technology -- the Bladerunner personalisation and tracking technology, developed by former parent Cromwell Media, is well regarded by marcoms people for its ability to produce highly qualified sales leads. And Silicon's TV section is now stable -- at launch time, it kept crashing the machines of users who tried to log on. Silicon has also uncovered a highly successful revenue generator -- the microsite. In essence, this is a quasi editorial-style informercial for companies. The concept is so successful, that other Web-based IT pubs will surely follow suit. But not The Register. That really would be a step too far. ®
Team Register, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Yahoo!, Broadcast.com beat expectations

Yahoo! and Broadcast.com both posted strong financial results, yesterday. Which was just as well since they're both about to merge, if Broadcast.com shareholders approve the deal. Yahoo!'s second quarter, ended 30 June, saw the company record profits of $28.3 million on revenues of $115.24 million, an increase of 156 per cent on the $45 million revenue it posted for the same period last year. Of course, the company made a number of major acquisitions during the period, including GeoCities and Online Anywhere, the result of which was to push its profit for the period into a loss of $15 million. Broadcast.com's Q2 results included a loss of $1.9 million on revenues of $13.5 million, a 138 per cent increase on Q2 1998's revenue ($5.9 million). For the same period last year, the company lost $3.5 million. The latest loss was just over half of what Wall Street had been anticipating, coming in at five cents a share, compared to the nine cents a share loss analysts had expected. Broadcast.com shareholders are due to vote on 20 July on whether to accept Yahoo!'s proposed acquisition of the company through a stock swap. Yahoo!'s original offer, made in April, values Broadcast.com at $5.7 billion. The deal would see each Broadcast.com share swapped for 0.77 Yahoo! shares, which is exactly how the two stocks matched up at close of play yesterday. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Male teleworkers do it all over the place

The vast majority of teleworkers are men, according to a study published by the Institute for Employment Studies. Almost 70 per cent of those working away from the office were male professionals in mid career. A teleworker was defined as someone who works from home at least one day a week. The authors of the report were clearly surprised by their findings as they had expected that women with children would account for the greater portion of telecommuters. But not only were men more likely to be taking advantage of comms technology that women, there were gender differences in the way people worked away from the office as well. Men were more likely to work from a variety of locations than women, of whom 41 per cent worked in the home. Those who do telecommute tend to be in the middle of their career, with 60 per cent of the teleworkforce are aged 35 to 47, compared to 47 per cent of the working population as a whole. They are also more than twice as likely to be in professional occupations, and are largely (34 per cent) from the financial and business services sector. It should not be so surprising that men are more likely to telework than women, or that those who do telework are from mid career professional positions. A certain degree of seniority is needed to take the decision to work away from the office, an it is in just these types of positions that women are under represented. Receptionists, traditionally a female dominated job, would be pretty useless working from home. What is more surprising is that people with disabilities are still under-represented. Despite the mobile office being hailed as a great boon for equal opportunities, disabled workers are represented in about the same proportion as in the conventional workforce, roughly nine per cent. The telecommuting phenomenon is more popular and growing faster in the UK than in the rest of Europe. In 1998 it accounted for just five per cent of the workforce, but the study estimates that the number of people regularly working away from the office is growing at about 200,000 per year. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Oz mini-OS to run Win32 .EXEs out of the box

A little-known Tasmanian software developer, Trumpet Software, is on the verge of launching a major challenge to Microsoft: an new operating system that runs 32-bit Windows applications out of the box. Trumpet's software, PetrOS, is due to go Alpha next month, according to down under newspaper The Australian. The company describes the software as NT Lite -- it's essentially a 100Kb microkernel and a Win32-compatible API to run executables compiled for NT. There's also a 200Kb TCP stack. Of course, how the Great Satan of Software will react to this remains to be seen. Trumpet Software founder Peter Tattam said in an interview with The Australian that he had been unable to obtain a definitive statement from Microsoft on the matter. Tattam said would probably risk it, given Microsoft's generally benign attitude to similar projects. That said, Microsoft won't want to risk ending up facing another Linux. In any case, Trumpet appears to be playing for relatively small stakes. It will target the OS at the workstation market and embedded applications. "We want to be able to hit the workstation market. Even if we only get one per cent of the market, it would be very good for us as a company," said Tattam. In the meantime, there's still plenty of work to do -- PetrOS currently lacks a GUI. How that and other aspects of the OS are developed with depend on the public reaction to the Alpha release. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

The Register teams up with IT-analysis

Here's a plug for IT-analysis.com, a spanking new web site from UK consultancy Bloor Research. The community-based publication features daily news from The Register, good quality analyst opinion (particularly strong on software) and an "interactive analysis service". We think it's cool. Check it out. ®
Team Register, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Bus-load of complainants to meet LocalTel MD

The MD of LocalTel has agreed to meet disgruntled users of the Screaming.Net service when they descend upon the telco's Surrey-based HQ. Jeremy Stokes told The Register today that he was aware of the problems facing Screamers -- the name given to those Internauts who use Screaming.net -- and he said he was doing everything he could to put things right. "I will be here to meet them," he said. Stokes was responding to news that Screamers are planning to picket the head offices of LocalTel later this month in a bid to demand improvements to technical and customer service. Although LocalTel recently issued a statement announcing improvements to its service many Screamers have been sceptical. But Stokes reiterated that improvements were taking place all the time. "By 23 July we'll have installed an extra 3000 lines," he said. "I admit the service was slow but I'm confident that things will improve very shortly," he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

System builders fear Intel's wrath as K7 launches

The AMD K7 chip, aka Athlon, looks set to enter the market with a bang this August, though many PC builders fear Intel's wrath should they choose to use it. Among those launching Athlonian PCs are Compaq and Bolton-based reseller Dabs Direct. Dell, Viglen and Tiny Computers all told The Register they will stay 100 per cent loyal to Intel. Others who are planning to adopt the K7 chip, but asked not to be named for fear of the great Satan’s reaction, expected Athlon to be a lower-cost alternative to the Pentium III. Athlon is also expected to be around 25 per cent cheaper than the equivalent speed of Intel chip for 500 and 550Mhz variants, according to Dabs Direct. It has been told its first K7 500/550Mhz orders will be delivered mid-to-end August 1999. Those launching with the K7 will target mid to high-end home users. Compaq said it would only aim at home customers – such as gamers. Others said systems would be aimed at technical users, plus emerging high-power consumer markets such as MP3/CD audio and digital moving photography. "The 'what's new' brigade have placed their back orders already," said David Atherton, Dabs Direct MD. Another reseller said: "We will be targeting mid to high-end performance customers who have less brand loyalty than Intel think." Price points varied. One said it would launch systems starting at £999 plus VAT. Another said it was buying 500Mhz at $310, 550Mhz at $477 and 600Mhz at $714, and would primarily mark up about 20 per cent. Most said they still recommended AMD chips for the home market, despite AMD wanting a larger chunk of the small business and server sector. One said AMD did not have enough credibility in this market yet. K7 systems would be too expensive for many small businesses, said another. Rana Mainee, market planning manager for AMD Europe, refused to comment on availability apart from saying it would be "during Q3", as previously announced. He maintained the first K7 systems would target "small businesses as well as high-end home consumers." ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Hackers score another victory at Freeserve

Freeserve's portal was the victim of another hack attack yesterday, raising more fears that it has failed to seal a hole in its defences. Anyone who tapped in http://www.freeserve.net/index.html was faced with "Jon's Cheats and Download Page" instead of a genuine Freeserve page. The trespassing page -- which was still viewable this morning -- has now been taken down and replaced with a "404 not found" error message. The problem appears to have something in common with a similar security breach last week concerning a "serious security flaw in Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0". At the time, Dixons-owned Freeserve confirmed that a bug responsible for compromising the security of its service had been squished. A spokeswoman for the company confirmed that the relevant patches had been applied and that the system was now robust. No one from Freeserve was available to comment on yesterday's piece of vandalism. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Will Rambus fail?

We at The Register have had an advance peek at some of the presentation material slated for delivery at the Platform 99 Technology Conference to be held in San Jose on July 21st and 22nd. One of the analysts and a couple other presenters at the conference will be addressing critical DRAM related issues. Analysts from MDR and other industry figures will thrash it out, we're given to understand. We can't go and give our opinion because July is the so-called Silly Season in the UK. We will be covering the important conference off site. ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Embattled LocalTel takes swipe at BT

The Register has learned that LocalTel -- the wholesale telco retailer behind the Screaming.net ISP -- is to seek compensation from BT over the transfer of customers to its new service. Lawyers are finalising the exact details of the claim now but it appears LocalTel could be looking for a seven or eight figure sum from BT. The compensation claim comes after LocalTel accused BT of working at a snail's pace holding up thousands of Net users who wanted to switch telcos and take advantage of toll-free access to the Internet. At one point only 250 applications were being processed a day by BT despite the fact that up to 3,000 people a day were registering for the service. As a result, some people have had their phones cut off while others have received bills from both telcos. At the height of the problems the situation was describe as "ludicrous" by LocalTel's MD Jeremy Stokes. A spokesman for BT said he was aware that legal action may be in the offing but was unable to comment further. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Brave faces all round at ilion

ilion Group said trading was "satisfactory" for the six months ended 30 June, but it was still in takeover talks. The networking distributor's sales for June were at a record high for the half-year trading update. UK revenues were down on the same period last year. "However, the restructuring which was announced on 18 June has now been implemented and the early signs of an improvement in operating performance are encouraging," it said in a company statement. Sales from business in continental Europe showed over 50 per cent growth compared to the first half of 1998. France was now its largest trading operation, with businesses in Spain, Benelux, Germany and Austria developing rapidly, the group said. Working capital had "significantly improved" since the start of the year, mainly through a major stock cut and improved management of debtors. This had resulted in positive cashflow for the half-year and a less money owing. It added: "The board of ilion remains in discussions with a number of parties which may or may not lead to an offer for ilion." ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

NatSemi pre-announces IA on a chip pre-maturely

Famous UK national newspaper The Guardian, born in Manchester, England, made a mistake today because it was a week early with the news. But it transpired it was five weeks late with the story. A supplement of the newspaper broke a story about NatSemi's Information Appliance on a Chip, based on an invite it had. However, the newspaper was a week early in breaking the PR news, and also something like five weeks behind in breaking the story. Your supersoaraway site The Register managed to see the famous IA on a chip when it was in China, five weeks ago. (Story: NatSemi starts to fab System on a Chip) We followed that one up with a story about what NatSemi-Cyrix, as then was, was doing with its chip technology. (Story: Cyrix Socket 370 mobos revealed) We also secured a photograph of it and didn't break any embargos. The picture of the motherboard with the Information Appliance on a Chip is here (373K). ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Blind people struggle to use the Web

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is launching a campaign to raise awareness among Web designers of ways to make sites accessible to blind and partially sighted Web surfers. The campaign features a video, called 'Websites That Work' which details ways that advances in speech synthesis, and Braille display technology might be used to open up the Web to people with serious sight problems. Making computer technology available to everyone is a hot topic at the moment. In the US, research has found that 70 per cent of blind Americans struggle to secure employment. Campaigners place a hefty portion of the blame on the computer mouse, as well as slamming falling levels of braille literacy. In the UK, blind people are becoming increasingly "frustrated" bygraphical user interfaces which tended to be mouse operated, according to the RNIB. Microsoft says it has tried to address this problem by making its software respond to keyboard strokes as well as mouse clicks. Meanwhile, a helpline operator at the RNIB said that computer systems were largely accessible to people with sight loss and that employment problems were more likely to come from other areas. He said that along with negative attitudes, paper was still the worst enemy in the office, and that computers were "quite liberating". ® The RNIB site is here.
Lucy Sherriff, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Back Orifice 2000 shows its face

A new bug is set to plague our PCs from the rear with the unlikely name of Back Orifice 2000. This is a new version of the Back Orifice backdoor trojan virus, according Data Fellows, the developers of anti-virus and encryption software. Written by the Cult of The Dead Cow (did we just enter the twilight zone?), the BO2K lets outsiders access and change any information on Windows 95, 98 or NT machines. This can be done on a network or via a remote link through an invisible server programme. Outsiders can also spy on what users are doing. BO2K is expected to be revealed during the Def Con 7 conference in Las Vegas this month, and should be released a couple of weeks later by the Cult. Until then, keep your backs against the wall. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Victims of software piracy join forces

A cross-industry group today called for the UK legal system to be reformed to crack down on software piracy. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) teamed up with groups in the music, audio-visual, retail, manufacturing and PC games industries today to form the Alliance against Counterfeiting and Piracy (the Alliance). The group said it wanted to "present a united front against the rising tide of counterfeiting and piracy." Public and political awareness of copyright and trademark issues needed to be raised to make intellectual property as highly valued as physical property, it said. The Alliance will put pressure on the government to give some muscle to groups tackling counterfeiting. "Working together will put us in a much stronger position to combat effectively this growing menace," said Anne Edmonds-Smith, a BSA representative. The Exchequer lost over £1 billion in taxes to piracy last year, according to a survey by the Alliance. It also found over 90,000 Web sites selling illegal software in Europe. "Legal reform is a vital part of the Alliance's anti-counterfeit initiative. Certainly in the software end-user market, the laws protecting software publishers are inadequate. "If we are to work efficiently with the government to modernise enforcement regulations, it makes good sense to act as one body," said Edmonds-Smith. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jul 1999
The Register breaking news

Mitac to start selling online

Major Taiwanese manufacturer Mitac is to open up an e-commerce division, selling its PCs and notebooks direct, worldwide to any takers. The local press in Taiwan is reporting that Mitac's move could be a reaction to a decision Compaq made in recent days to demand 15 per cent price reductions from its manufacturers on the island. Compaq itself is going direct and wants to maintain its margins, such as they are. Mitac was a major manufacturer of Compaq kit but two days ago, a press agency in Taiwan reported that it, and FIC, were victims of a new deal the Houston company made. Q-Run has secured a major contract from Compaq to produce 200,000 sub $499 machines, almost forcing Mitac's hand. ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jul 1999