18th > July > 1999 Archive

Via Apollo Pro 133 mobo sales start

Motherboards using the contentious Apollo Pro 133 chipset have started appearing in Japanese electronics stores. According to this site, the chipset is being implemented in the Aopen AX63 Pro mobo at ¥16,800. The motherboard and chipset will support the 133MHz front side bus (FSB) which, according to the blurb is overclockable to 155MHz. Via's chipset is currently a matter of litigation between it and chip giant Intel. Intel was forced to delay its own 133MHz FSB implementation because of problems with its Camino i820 chipset, which is not now expected until September. There is an army of other Taiwanese mobo manufacturers which have similar products ready to ship, when they feel the time is right. ®
Mike Magee, 18 Jul 1999

Bristol case: how MS escaped the guilty verdict

MS on TrialBristol's antitrust claim against Microsoft appears to have foundered at the first hurdle, with the jury deciding that there was no "relevant market" for operating systems for either technical workstations or departmental servers. If there's no relevant market, then there's no monopoly, so there's no antitrust case to answer. A Bristol spokeswoman expressed puzzlement at the jury's conclusion here, "since this was not a point that was even contested by Microsoft." The key to the jury's decision, which effectively ruled out any need to consider the major antitrust action any further, and narrowed the case to deception under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (Microsoft was found guilty of these, and fined $1), was a verdict form they were given in order to help them reach a decision. The verdict form The form begins as follows: "1. Has Bristol proven that a relevant market exists for operating systems for technical workstations? "(If you answered 'Yes' proceed to Question 2. If you answered 'No', skip to Section II, which begins at Question 10.)" The same question is asked of the departmental server market, and as the jury answered no in both instances, that was the end of the matter. The balance of the debate in the jury room must therefore have been over the "deceptive act" that Microsoft was decided to have committed. It's not yet clear which of the numerous possible deceptions put forward in the evidence this applies to, or indeed whether the jury felt that it was all one big deception, but that the damage caused was negligible. Nevertheless, it seems that the jury was baffled by the definition of operating systems markets, and has come down in favour of the Microsoft argument that in business you play hardball, but that using all the ammunition you have to manoeuvre for position is OK, because everybody does it. Legally this is sustainable so long as no monopoly is proven, because it is the misuse of a monopoly that antitrust law hinges on. So although the Bristol verdict will undoubtedly have helped Microsoft's morale, it doesn't have any effect on the other outstanding antitrust actions. The major DoJ one still looks likely to go against Microsoft, and although the Caldera one hasn't even started yet, Caldera has already produced a lot of grisly evidence. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
John Lettice, 18 Jul 1999

Analysis: How MS used the WISE Trojan Horse against Unix

MS on TrialBristol may yet appeal after its loss against Microsoft (as of Friday, it hadn't come to a decision on this), but as the case stands it serves as an awful warning for companies doing business with Microsoft. A nice little business took it into an alliance with Microsoft, then it got sucked in deeper, and then the carrots started to disappear, replaced by the stick. For Bristol, and for small developers in general, it's a depressing tale. Since its formation in 1991 Bristol has produced Wind/U, a set of libraries and utilities which allow software developers to implement their Windows applications on Unix, OpenVMS and S/390 platforms. This was originally an independent initiative, but after various Microsoft approaches Bristol signed a deal with the company in 1994. This licensed Bristol Windows source code under the Windows Interface Source Environment (WISE) programme. The hook The good news for Bristol and its customers was that by having access to source Bristol could improve the performance and compatibility of Wind/U. The bad news, as it transpired, was that it made the company dependent on continuing access to the source code. This access was vulnerable to changes in pricing, restrictions on the code Microsoft was willing to give out, and changes in Microsoft policy. All of these factors were clearly identified in the case Bristol made. Microsoft had originally identified WISE as a mechanism which would help it get NT established in corporate networks. In the early days of the OS Microsoft needed to accept that there would be co-existence (NT's market share was then vanishingly small), so WISE was useful. It also acted as a mechanism for controlling that coexistence. Microsoft then saw Sun-backed efforts such as WABI and PWI as real threats that could wrest control of Windows APIs from it, so it favoured WISE as an 'official,' controllable version. Once WABI and PWI had bitten the dust, Microsoft started using WISE as a weapon against Java. Documents authored by Microsoft's Bob Kruger and produced in court support this. One is headed "WABI death knell," while "An Open letter re PWI" says: "another virtual API bites the dust. Good riddance." Kruger's then boss, Dan Neault, meanwhile explains Microsoft's long-term objective: "[I]f customers will only develop supporting code near the services this code supports, Msft should make available on UNIX APIs in those technology areas where new development is going to happen, so that it can easily be moved to NT when customers will accept NT services for those areas now deemed unacceptable." That is, Microsoft saw WISE as a mechanism for positioning itself so that Unix to NT migration would be eased for the time when customers would accept NT. On the Java front, the email traffic covers Neault, Paul Maritz and Bill Gates himself. Gates urges Maritz to co-opt Unix and "avoid the Java interfaces becoming the primary ones the ISVs use," and Maritz responds that Neault is doing this through "Windows APIs on Unix" (i.e. WISE). Marketing material from the time makes it clear that Microsoft was positioning WISE as a long-term initiative that licensees and their customers could have confidence in. That meant continued access to the source at reasonable prices, and access to it on future versions of Windows. But the honesty of this pitch became somewhat dubious. But Bill starts to wonder By 1996 Gates is wondering if "by creating cross-platform solutions we risk weakening the Windows franchise - hurting ourselves rather than let Netscape hurt us." Neault's staff are writing that they want "the WIN32 layer to be fairly mediocre in performance and feature coverage. We want it to be just good/cheap/timely enough to get a lot of people to use it," and that "we don't want it to work too well. A non-objective is total redeployment of Windows on Unix." The result of this was a reduction of the technologies Microsoft was prepared to ship, to "an apple core of technologies." This hit the server side particularly, where Bristol was strongest. Neault actually devised a list of technologies to "jerk" from the source, describing it as a "beautiful" list which removed "the technologies that third-parties are going to try their damnedest to put on Unix." Some more emails show where Microsoft was at. Says our old friend Jim Allchin: "What we're trying to do is to get Netops to add NT services to their existing Unix networks and to migrate over time all of their services to NT." Maritz tells Gates that Microsoft can now switch from the carrot to the stick, while then WISE manager Ramesh Parameswaran suggests developing "COM+ stub APIs on Unix and `receiving' service on NT Server. This approach will help ISVs who want COM+ services on Unix and will start migration to NTs since NT Server will be required to provide the COM+ services." Neault's loyalty code Pricing strategy also changed, increasing substantially but with the addition of a royalty waiver programme which introduced further carrots and sticks. (MS enemies list)Here's Mr Neault on the subject: "We need to consider approval of [waiver requests]in light of criteria along the lines of the following: 1.Do we want to help these specific applications in the marketplace? 2.Do we want these ISVs to flourish (e.g. are they avoiding things that are to the Windows detriment)? 3.Even if 1 and 2 aren't the case, is it important/is this waiver needed to move these ISVs to a single Win32 codebase? 4.Do we want these ISVs to change their behaviour (quid-pro-quo - possibly requiring a press release attesting their loyalty)? [ah, a signed confession] 5.Does the application under consideration exceed criteria above beyond the extent they build demand for a platform that is competitive with Windows?" The fact that Bristol's rival, Mainsoft, accepted the restrictions and prices of Microsoft's new licence agreements was an important plank of Microsoft's defence. If Mainsoft accepted, then what was wrong with Bristol? Wasn't the company just - as Microsoft argued in its closing statement - being greedy? Furthermore - and this is why the failure to convince the jury a monopoly existed was important - doesn't Microsoft have a right to decide on the technology it licenses, and how it is priced? Bristol argued that the changes to the licence agreements were an unfair use of monopoly power, and that by agreeing them Mainsoft became "an active aider and abetter of Microsoft's deliberate scheme to restrict competition." The contract with Mainsoft, said Bristol, was unlawful. The terms and conditions Microsoft was willing to offer Mainsoft and Bristol certainly did deteriorate over the years, and this process was certainly driven by top level Microsoft executives' desire to damage potential competition (WABI, PWI, Java) while using WISE as a Trojan Horse to allow NT to infiltrate Unix markets. It also seems clear that, having been hooked on the source code, Bristol and Mainsoft had little room for manoeuvre. Mainsoft had first been promoted as a lever against Bristol, but later Microsoft deemed the ploy had been sufficiently successful for there to be no need to "further anoint" the company. Carrot and stick again. Sue or co-operate? Mainsoft chose to co-operate and play by Microsoft's rules, while Bristol chose to sue, and - so far - Bristol has lost. Nevertheless, although it lost the antitrust action, its summary of its original complaint remains eminently valid. Said the company: "As applied here, the antitrust laws prohibit a monopolist from using its monopoly power in one market as a lever to gain a monopoly in a second market. The violation consists of creating a Trojan Horse by marketing the WISE program as the guarantee of an open standard for ISVs, and then hobbling that horse to assure that ISVs who accepted the invitation to 'innovate' using the Win32 APIs would not be able to run their programs on Unix servers. Microsoft achieved this by restricting WISE licensees to an 'apple core,' and specifically by excluding technology necessary to support server applications." Bristol, with the aid of Microsoft's internal emails, made it clear that all this happened, but failed to convince the jury it was illegal. Bristol now, with justification, argues that Microsoft did engage in anticompetitive activities (despite Microsoft's triumphant claims of vindication). But what, in light of the verdict, can the remedy be? ® Complete Register Trial coverage
John Lettice, 18 Jul 1999

600MHz Athlon stomps PIII in ‘preview’ tests

Hardware news and reviews site FiringSquad has produced a highly detailed "preview" of AMD's 600MHz Athlon, with benchmarks attached. In most of these it excels, and FiringSquad describes it as "an amazing product of engineering. By scaling results, it's clear that in most cases the Athlon is a faster processor than the Pentium III, and it will easily earn its place in the annals of PC history." The site used a setup based on a 600Mhz Rev C Athlon, and threw a bunch of tests at it. It was substantially ahead of a 560MHz P3 in Quake tests (FiringSquad comments that its calling "looks to be truly one of gaming"), and although the two CPUs were pretty even on AGP tests, this appears to be a sign of AMD finally catching up with Intel here: "We can see AMD finally has a good AGP implementation," and Athlon's high-bandwidth architecture could allow it to establish a clear lead in the future. Winstone and Threadbench give Athlon slight leads, while those in integer tests are more substantial. FiringSquad's overall conclusion is that with Athlon AMD at last has a credible flagship platform it can build on. With the introduction of copper and increases in clock speed up to 1,000MHz in the foreseeable future, the company stands a chance of getting out of having to challenge Intel on price alone. The big question is how successful AMD is going to be in overcoming its history of product delays and poor supply. FiringSquad reckons it now has the technology to lead, but that it could still drop the ball. That basically means AMD has to get its ramp going fast enough to avoid getting caught out by a combination of the 600MHz P3 and further blizzards of Intel price cuts. Do you feel lucky, Jerry? ®
John Lettice, 18 Jul 1999

Korean .gov hits out at Sun for Y2K overpricing

Tomorrow's Korea Herald is reporting that Sun is coming under attack from government bodies for allegedly overcharging for year 2000 upgrades. According to the newspaper, which quotes an official at the Ministry of Information and Communication, Sun is using double standards by offering public bodies free upgrades but charging hospitals and other organisations large sums. The Herald reports that one Seoul hospital was asked to pay $30,000 to upgrade Sun PBD software to version 2.2, while other organisations have been offered the Y2K fix for nothing. Sun was slammed by the unnamed official for not following common business practices. ®
Mike Magee, 18 Jul 1999
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Intel's PIII/600 for sale – applies price fork to AMD K7

UpdatedIngram Micro will start selling the Pentium III/600 .25 micron processor tomorrow at a price of $705. This is for a boxed unit containing a heatsink and fan, so haggling for the processor only would bring it down to about the $650/$660 level.
Mike Magee, 18 Jul 1999

AT&T faces trench warfare over US open cable plans

American telecoms Titan AT&T may soon find itself in a tedious, and costly, campaign of legal trench warfare, defending its right to snub opportunistic hangers on to its newly-acquired cable networks. The nightmare scenario follows a recent US federal court decision in Portland, Oregon effectively forcing AT&T to make broadband cable available to narrow-band ISPs like America Online. Interestingly, Judge Owen Panner declined to rule on open access as a matter of policy, but simply affirmed Portland's authority to regulate cable companies operating within its jurisdiction. "The issue is whether the city and county have the power to require access to the cable modem platform as a condition of approving AT&T's takeover of the cable franchises. To resolve the legal issue, I don't need to consider whether the open access requirement is good policy," Panner wrote. Unless his decision is overturned on appeal, AT&T faces a long, slow slog through the trenches exhaustively defending its cable network from every covetous municipality in America. Even Ma Bell's awesome legal militia would be spent by such a colossal undertaking. Since the Portland decision, Broward County, Florida's board of commissioners approved mandated broadband access for their independent ISPs, as did the San Francisco board of supervisors. AT&T flacks dryly characterised the actions as "unacceptable," as if they had been created arbiters of government behaviour. It's getting ugly in a hurry. Logic gets tortured beyond all recognition here because AT&T's best chance to escape taking on every county and municipal board in America would be a preemptive Federal Communications Commission or Congressional regulation upholding its right to operate cable networks as privately-owned assets. The terror there of course is that the FCC or Congress might well judge them to be national assets now that Gargantua has set to gobbling them up. And Portland is only round one; regardless of how the appeal should go, AT&T is going to face the Feds in the near future because the nation has taken notice - of broadband's advantages, of the extraordinary consolidation going on among American information and technology-related empires, and of the growth that open access might inspire among small to medium info-tech firms. It was with that inevitable reckoning in mind that AT&T Chairman Michael Armstrong courted the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. In a spectacular show of old-fashioned Yankee hucksterism, the former IBM salesman-turned-chairman fairly instructed several of America's most experienced and gifted politicians in the art of delivering a spiel. He wanted the Committee to understand the value for money that his mega-corporation is already providing the American consumer. He had the charts and graphs; he had the spotlight: "We're offering, at lower price, higher feature, and more function, a phone for Mom; a phone for Dad; a phone for the kids; a phone for the fax; a phone for the computer, with distinctive rings -- at only five dollars a line," he intoned, exploiting the slick, hypnotic rhythms of a master carnival barker. "A hundred analogue channels is going to become a thousand digital interactive channels; and of course the Internet is going to explode, and a whole new array of technologies is going to come." It was a consummate performance; and if the Judiciary Committee - which boasts such grandmaster rhetoricians as Orrin Hatch, Patrick Leahy, Strom Thurmond and Robert Torricelli - was awed by Armstrong's theatrical virtuosity, it remained a bit jaundiced on his core message. Congress is concerned that consumers and small to medium Web-related companies may get burned when the Internet "explodes" with broadband: US giants AT&T, Time Warner and Microsoft are so snug in bed now that their unholy union might well reach critical mass. Certainly they are companies that know how to dominate a market; certainly the word "monopoly" has been heard on the lips of more than one impeccably sober and socially-responsible onlooker. Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey is among those most jaded. Markey, who was instrumental in developing both the 1992 Cable and 1996 Telecommunications acts -- and, as we might imagine, has a fair grasp of the matter in both realms -- will introduce a proposal in the House later this week equating cable data with telephone data. He sees no reason to discriminate between the two. Much to AT&T's chagrin, Markey has said publicly that it would be a "mistake" to maintain two networks: the phone, which is open, and cable, which is closed. Markey's Chief of Staff, David Moulton, advised The Register not to expect a dramatic turn in the immediate future, however. "The FCC are watching this," he said, "but right now their signals are mixed." Moulton thinks it unlikely that the FCC would act before the Portland case goes through all its appeals. Certainly Congress won't jump the gun either. AT&T will have to slug it out in the trenches with greedy, perhaps vindictive, municipal governments for a while yet. And regardless of what may happen there, the White House and Congress are patiently waiting their turns to weigh in. Ah, but so long as Armstrong's promotional recitals remain as inspired as last week's, the show will be spectacular. ®
Thomas C Greene, 18 Jul 1999

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