23rd > July > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Capellas gets top job at Compaq

The Compaq triumvirate moved to squash speculation yesterday evening by naming chief operating officer Mike Capellas as its new CEO. But the decision is likely to surprise many who had hoped Compaq would recruit a top flier, perhaps from outside the industry. The 44 year old Capellas only joined Compaq last summer and will have a hard act to follow after the firm sacked veteran Eckhard Pfeiffer earlier this year. Capellas has worked for both SAP and Oracle in the past. However Ben Rosen, the company's chairman, is known to operate with an iron rod and it could be that Capellas will be far easier to control than an outsider. ®
The Register breaking news

Asus site hacked

The Asus web site has suffered a hack attack. Over at the site, there is a message in French protesting against demonstrations about the Kosovo war and the displacement of refugees it has caused. Asus is a Taiwanese company but this site belongs to the US arm, based in Milpitas. The message has been up on the site for at least the last eight hours. ®
The Register breaking news

Philips flags in Q2 – jam tomorrow?

Philips Group's second quarter was far from Earth-shattering: sales growth was a mere 1 per cent over the year-earlier quarter. This was thanks to North American sales, since there was no growth in Europe, and the market in Latin America is depressed. Philips employs 228,000 people. Sales declined 2 per cent in Q2 to 7.3 billion euros, with profits declining 42 per cent to 271 million euros, following the sale of Polygram and some one-time charges. The sales growth rate for the last five years is only a little over 5 per cent/year. Net income was over 2 billion Dutch guilders for 1994 and 1995, 600 million guilders in the red for 1996, 5.7 billion guilders in the black 1997, and a much improved 13.3 billion guilders in 1998. Cash at the end of June was 3.648 billion euros, but the debt reduced this to just 162 million euros. The 31 December 1998 cash level was nearly double this. Sales in the consumer products sector - Philips biggest sector by far - were up just 6 per cent in 1999, while the semiconductor sector has fallen 6 per cent, and components fell 1 per cent. Geographically, the US accounts for 23 per cent of sales, followed by Germany with 9 per cent, the UK 7 per cent, followed by China, France and the Netherlands. The 50-50 joint venture with LG Electronics of South Korea for active matrix liquid crystal displays is expected to be finalised this quarter: immediate profits are anticipated. Despite Philips innovative achievements, its growth rate has been very slow. It would appear that there would be considerable merit in splitting the Group into separate businesses, with separate boards, so that more and better attention could be given to the dynamic businesses, and so that mature businesses like lighting were not allowed to drag down the results of the IT businesses. ®
The Register breaking news

MS-EDS buddies operations deepen

EDS has broadened its relationship with Microsoft. The plan is for EDS to "design, deploy, manage and support Microsoft-based server and desktop infrastructure solutions" for NT Server and Exchange with EDS' Distributed Systems Management offering. To achieve this, EDS will train and certify up to 7,000 MCSEs or MCSDs in what is claimed to be the largest MS certification decision to date. EDS has 120,000 staff. EDS will be given preferential ("early") access to MS software. The alliance was announced jointly by Jeff Heller, CEO of EDS and Microsoft President Steve Ballmer. Exchange was not suitable for EDS' requirements initially as the global address list in Exchange was not large enough. Microsoft fixed this for EDS, apparently, although there were still other problems with the product. The relationship raises again serious questions about the impartiality EDS and the wisdom of employing the firm, in view of undisclosed commissions that EDS will doubtless get from the arrangement. There have been many reports of contractual problems between EDS and its UK public sector clients in the UK, and elsewhere. It would appear that in most of these situations, Microsoft software had been deployed. Microsoft is also deploying its consulting services arm, which it admits is biased to only Microsoft products, to increase its take-home pay from joint deals. Internally, EDS has "standardised" on Microsoft software, which calls into question not just its independence but also its ability to advise about Unix, Apple, NetWare or Notes and other non-Microsoft systems. Another aspect of this deal that should interest competition authorities is Microsoft's practice of giving preferential access to beta software to "strategic partners", especially as Microsoft itself refers to Windows and Office as "the standard". This is a good reason for Judge Jackson to declare Windows to be an essential facility and to introduce regulations that do not allow prior access to Microsoft's partners. The EDS-Microsoft relationship has been building for 12 years, and as a result of the recent deal, EDS is perhaps now best viewed as a Microsoft systems integrator, rather than an independent organisation. A strange EDS Web page attempts to set out the advantages of using EDS and Microsoft: "become part of the Internet revolution" it says; "grow your business through more effective communication"; and "turn your employees into knowledge workers" it exhorts. Just how the Microsoft relationship helps the EDS client is not clear, but another Web page that sets out EDS' criteria for strategic partners does provide some insight as to how EDS benefits: the partner must "be willing and able to establish an economic linkage". It is also comforting to read that "EDS invented the electronic services industry" in its "more than 35 years" existence. It probably invented television too. ®
The Register breaking news

Gates pushes vision of ‘Web-centric’ PC

At the tail end of Microsoft's analysts meeting this week Bill Gates rolled out the next instalment of his vision - in this case, it's the Windows Web-centric platform, apparently. As with most of Gates' visions it sounds more advanced than it's likely to turn to be, and besides, it's sufficiently far down the road for it not to be necessary for Microsoft to give it clear form. Gates wasn't giving out much information about the project, but said that more details would be made public at Microsoft's developers conference next February. February is not a long way away in normal terms, but in Microsoft years it's way, way down the line. The new platform, says Gates, will combine Internet, PC and phone, so we can figure out what it's likely to be from there. In hardware terms it's obviously going to be appliance-like. Gates referred to universal plug and play as an enabler, telling analysts: "Universal plug and play says that you combine all these devices. No one has filled that space and we've undertaken this initiative in order to do that." This is of course outrageous tripe - USB, Firewire and Device Bay have been trundling along without Microsoft support for some considerable time now, and Gates' bid for leadership with UPnP looks remarkably like another attempt to rewrite history after the event. If Microsoft had been less tardy in shipping support for these technologies we'd be a lot further along the Road Ahead than we are. Gates also envisages more natural interfaces, including voice and handwriting recognition. These, however, are standard pieces of Microsoft future technology that are frequently referred to by His Billness, but which mysteriously never seem to make it into shipping products. The most important aspect of Microsoft's new platform will almost certainly be a minor piece of work - the removal of legacy device support. This is intended to be introduced in next year's Millennium rev of Win9x, but has been telegraphed by Microsoft and Intel in the PC9x documents for several years. If shipping PCs don't support ISA devices, and other unpleasant bits such as serial and parallel ports, then they'll be easier to manage and the designs can form the basis of the kinds of 'Concept' PC Intel showed at Vegas last year. Adding the software support for replacement expansion systems has been the hard part for Microsoft, but taking out legacy support oughtn't to be that difficult (taking out Dos support would be a lot harder, but MS isn't going to be doing that for a while, we'd reckon). So even Microsoft can't blow the 'no legacy devices' script too badly, and Millennium could well be the operating system that starts to support the kind of hardware Gates was talking about. Significantly, Microsoft does have a bunch of "New PC" white papers up on the site at the moment, but when you go through them there doesn't really seem to be any new material. They're largely the usual disconnected projects that might or might not go into future operating systems, and the core document boils down largely to an exhortation to PC designers to stop putting in ISA devices, because you can't do proper plug and play with ISA. A more radical implementation of Gates' latest vision might ship with the real next generation operating system, Neptune, but only if Neptune ships in the first place. Neptune is Microsoft's next attempt at the ill-fated NT-based consumer operating system, but contingency plans for yet another rev of 9x, should Neptune fail to deliver, already exist. So The Register's take on the latest vision is that it's more of the same. Microsoft will make incremental modifications to the 9x platform, trying to ship these on at least an annual basis, while the big one will remain somewhere out in the middle distance for some time to come. We say "at least an annual basis," incidentally, because it appears that Millennium isn't going to be too radical, and seems to be going into beta right now. That would give it a chance of syncing in with the 'no-legacy' and 'Concept' devices the hardware companies are expected to be showing before the end of the year. ®
The Register breaking news

Amiga to choose MIPS claims rival

Wolf Dietrich, head of Amiga upgrade developer Phase 5, yesterday revealed some intriguing evidence that Amiga, Inc. has chosen MIPS as the basis for its upcoming Linux 'multimedia convergence computer'. Dietrich's case centres on the similarity between Amiga's work and graphics specialist ATI's set-top box reference design development. As previously reported by The Register, ATI has been very keen to move beyond its 3D accelerator card roots and into broader markets for some time. One such are is set-top boxes, and the company recently licensed MIPS' CPU architecture for its work here. It's also using the expertise it acquired late last year through the purchase of system-on-a-chip developer Chromatic Research for the ancillary chip development. Meanwhile, Amiga's next-generation box is believed to contain ATI's 3D graphics technology, and while the CPU has yet to be revealed -- Amiga president Jim Collas is expected to announce the chip this weekend -- the company has been seeking programmers with MIPS experience, Dietrich claimed. The other favourite for Amiga's choice is the oh-so-mysterious Transmeta CPU. There's clearly much synergy between the two companies, and Dietrich reckons that Amiga's upcoming computer and the ATI set-top box are essentially the same thing, Amiga having presumably licensed the hardware from ATI. Dietrich is of course not entirely impartial about all this. Yesterday, his company announced wide-ranging support for the QNX operating system recently dumped by Amiga (much to the irritation of Amiga fans) and a PowerPC-based machine that will, in Dietrich's words, compete directly with the Amiga. Speculating further, it's not too hard to see the cash-rich ATI perhaps even cutting a deal with Amiga owner Gateway for the company. Gateway has always had a rather laissez faire relationship with Amiga -- having bought the company it never really appeared to known what to do with its acquisition -- and it might well be open to an offer from ATI. ATI, of course, gets a computer hardware brand -- albeit one now of little value to anyone other than Amiga traditionalists -- plus system design expertise that nicely complements its own. Such a move would tie in neatly with the rumours doing the rounds on the Amiga fan Web sites that Amiga, Inc. will soon cease to be an independent company. It was assumed that meant Gateway would pull the Amiga into its own business -- not a bad idea, given the relative strength of each other's brands -- but it could equally point to a sale to ATI. Meanwhile, we await Collas' weekend pronouncements with interest. ®
The Register breaking news

Trident sues Via on three counts

US wire Techweb is reporting that Trident will file suit against Taiwanese chipset manufacturer Via in the US today. According to the report, the suit will be on three counts including alleged fraud, alleged patent infringement and alleged breach of contract. Via is also being sued for allegedly poaching 25 Trident engineers, the report adds. Trident's CyberBlade graphics technology was integrated into several Via chipsets as part of a partnership which also involved sharing technology. According to Techweb, officers of the law have searched Via's Taiwanese offices as part of an investigation into the alleged poach of staff. Via is already being sued by Intel over alleged patent infringement. Looks like the lawyers are going to have a very busy summer... ®
The Register breaking news

Rainbow replacement for Blue Screen of Death launched

A US programmer has come up with a unique cure for Windows' infamous Blue Screen of Death', according to a report on Maximum PC magazine's Web site. Well, sort of. Nathan Lineback's neat Visual Basic application, BSOD Properties, won't stop your PC from crashing, but it does let you express yourself by allowing you to chose you favourite colour for Windows' irritating interruptions. Green Screen of Death, Red Screen of Death, even a Black Screen of Death are possible, according to Lineback. Alas, while the software works fine on Windows 95/98, NT users won't have much joy, admitted Lineback. "This program makes use of some old Windows 3.1 options in the system.ini file that have been long forgotten, but are still present in Windows 95," he said. ® BSOD Properties is available here
The Register breaking news

Chipzilla in 133MHz FSB bet hedging shocker

Despite gingerly dipping its corporate toe in the PC133 DRAM water, everyone’s favourite chip behemoth seems to lack conviction on either those nice fast DRAMs or the long-awaited Camino i820 chipset, due to arrive any eon now. The venerable BX chipset (which should have been headed for the chip gulag by now had not Camino veered off the roadmap and into a ditch) seems to be being groomed to scale heights never originally planned for it. We remember about a year back when Chipzilla’s official line was that 500MHz was as high as the BX would ever go. Now as we all know there is a 550MHz Pentium III part already here and a 600MHz just around the corner, this is obviously not the case. And just what Intel plans for the BX and its trusty 100MHz FSB can be seen when installing the latest BIOS for its own brand Seattle2 BX mobo - the options for processor clock speed include 550 and 600MHz, but also, rather amusingly, include support for 650, 700, 750 and 800MHz. We now await the arrival of an Intel BX motherboard supporting a 1GHz processor - September, anyone? ®
The Register breaking news

Great Satan of Four Part Harmonies born

Mr Capellas, the new CEO at the Big Q, must be humming happily to himself today in four part harmony. Eckhard Pfeiffer was the CEO of the Great Satan of Haircuts because of his frequent changes of hair style. And so Mike Capellas is now CEO of the Great Satan of Barber Shops... Lucky his name isn't spelt Cappella -- that means Nailhead ®
The Register breaking news

Windows 2000 in Intel chipset screw-up

Intel does not like making disclosures about codenames it has not yet decided to talk about. But at Computex earlier this year, we talked to a very nice chap on the Chicony stand, who was happy to tell us about Bannister, also known as the Intel 440MX chipset, a mobile Celeron platform. Microsoft, like Intel, does not like talking about Windows 2000 except to those people who sign its fearsome non-disclosure agreements. But we are given to understand that there is a big problem installing Windows 2000 RC1 to a new system using Intel's Bannister chip set. The OS hits text mode setup, gets as far as "Starting Windows 2000" then stops with a long and gruesome error message with loads of hex in it and which ends INACESSABLE_BOOT_DEVICE (sic). Apparently, Intel has not provided any drivers for Windows 2000 and Windows 98 SE installs fine to the platform. The question is: "Will Windows 2000 support this chipset in a future release, or does Intel need a good nagging?" We'd nag Intel, but it doesn't acknowledge the existence of the codename for the mobile Celeron chipset which is an unannounced product. ®
The Register breaking news

Free PCs drive sharp upturn in US PC market

The 'free' PC appears to be having an effect on the US computer market already, according to the latest research from market analyst PC Data. The company, which monitors PC sales through US retail and mail order channels, found that computer sales rose 35 per cent during June -- an in the last two weeks of the month, in particular -- an increase it said it had not expected because of the traditional seasonal sales slowdown. PC Data named the 'free' PC the cause of the upturn, not so much because of the huge numbers of people turning to such offers, but by driving PC prices right down. According to the stats, the average price of a Wintel PC fell 20 per cent to $890. Still, PC Data's research also suggests that there may be a backlash against ultra-cheap computers as some consumers worry about the quality of the kit. Certainly, the company found that Apple's iMac continued its run of strong sales -- it was the third best-selling desktop PC in June -- despite costing around $600 more than the most popular machine, a Hewlett-Packard. During June, Apple achieved a retail and mail order marketshare of 11.2 per cent, said PC Data. That put it in third place behind Compaq (29.1 per cent) and HP (24.7 per cent). IBM came fourth, with 9.9 per cent. In fifth position, with 9.7 per cent of the market, was eMachines. Apple's position is not at all bad given its machines are available in fewer stores than its Wintel rivals. PC Data analyst Stephen Baker suggested that free PC offers are appealing to "buyers who don't want to pay anything up front". Apple has been running a similar hire-purchase style scheme since late last year, suggesting that it may well be tapping, at least in part, into the same group of buyers. ®
The Register breaking news

Via's K7 roadmap makes Platform99 appearance

Via disclosed more details of its roadmap plans at a conference in Silicon Valley held earlier this week. At the Platform 99 conference, the Taiwanese company confirmed that it was supporting PC133 and AGP4x for the Athlon K7 processor. Earlier this year, we reported from Computex that such a chipset was on the way. (See K7 to get PC133 support from Via) Thanks to AMDZONE for pointing us to details of the slides which are on PC Watch, a Japanese site. PC Watch has posted thumbnails of photos of the relevant slides. ®
The Register breaking news

Early adopters hit Win98SE bug

Propellorheads everywhere just can't resist upgrading to the latest and greatest operating systems and downloading and installing the latest and greatest versions of BIOSes. Intel panders to these geeky needs by releasing a new BIOS rev for just about all its mobos every month or so. Shame then that those users who have installed the latest and greatest Win98SE should find to their dismay that it is incompatible with Chipzilla's Seattle2 mobo in the USB department. The Intel support website carries the following caveat: "A halt during shutdown has been discovered only when running WIN 98 SE on BIOS version P12. As a workaround to this halt, users running WIN 98 SE should use the BIOS version P11. Any WIN 98 SE user wishing to continue using BIOS version P12, should enter BIOS P12 setup and change Legacy USB support to 'Enabled'. A new BIOS is being prepared that will resolve this issue." Some Toshiba notebooks are also reported to suffer a hang during shutdown when using Win98SE, so this looks like a Microsoft feature rather than an Intel one.. ®
The Register breaking news

MS to start Millennium beta today

The first beta of Microsoft's Windows 98 replacement OS, codenamed Millennium, should go into beta within the next few hours. The company emailed beta testers yesterday telling them that the code would be available for download shortly, and that beta kits would be sent to them at the end of the week. So very shortly it should be possible to answer two key questions about Millennium. First, how far Microsoft intends to go in terms of legacy removal, and second, how likely is it that the company will meet its shipping targets for the new OS. The two questions relate, of course. Millennium will probably be a relatively simple rev of Windows 9x. Microsoft certainly intends to remove support for legacy ISA devices and may go as far as trying to knock parallel and serial on the head too. That ought to be relatively straightforward. But some observers believe that Microsoft may also intend to do something far trickier - remove legacy Dos support. This would be a rather larger task, and would involve a fair bit of work on the OS kernel. Once Microsoft had got rid of Dos support life would be a lot easier, as quite a few technical issues would have gone away, and the company might even find itself closer to the on/off convergence of operating systems on the NT kernel plan. But the Millennium time scale argues against Microsoft doing too much heavy engineering. The company's expected to put the OS through first beta testing fairly rapidly, and to move on to a public beta in Q4. It needs to have stable, near-finished code by this time if it's to catch the next generation of hardware that's expected to be unveiled late this year. If it actually achieved this, it might be feasible to ship Millennium in the early part of next year, and there's at least one person in Redmond who'd be happy about this. If you read up on the history of Microsoft's OS development, as documented by the DoJ trial subpoenaed emails, on several occasions you'll note that OEM chief Joachim Kempin has lobbied (unsuccessfully, so far) for the next rev to be available at the beginning of the year. Historically ship dates have tended to slip into Q2-Q3 (or go back whole years), but this time, just maybe, Kempin will be happy. ® See also: Gates pushes vision of 'Web-centric' PC
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Diamond posts disappointing Q2 figures

Diamond Multimedia yesterday posted disappointing Q2 results, but at least the figures suggest S3's acquisition of the company should go ahead as planned. Diamond reported revenues for the quarter, ended 30 June, of $128.7 million, down 34 per cent on the $172.3 million posted for the same period last year. But while revenue fell, the company's loss improved -- this time it lost $5.4 million; last year it lost $8.3 million. That implies that the company's plan to improve its business -- primarily by moving away from low-margin products like low-end 3D graphics cards and modems, and toward more profitable areas like digital music and home networking -- is beginning to take effect. The final income figure Diamond posted was actually $10.8 million, thanks to a charges incurred in the process of converting its RioPort division into an independently operating business. RioPort, which focuses on the MP3 digital music market, will be spun off during the current quarter. Curiously, Diamond made no reference to its upcoming purchase by 3D graphics specialist S3, which last month launched a $180 million buyout bid for Diamond. Rumours had emerged that the deal may be off, suggesting it may well have been simply a way for S3 to avoid being aggressively acquired by rival graphics company 3dfx. Equally, the success of the RioPort division might well suggest that S3's bid undervalue Diamond. The current results, however, suggest at least that if S3 is still interested, the deal should proceed. Apart from the anti-3dfx angle, the move is still a sensible one for S3 as it struggles not only to regain its former glory but to compete in a market that's forcing technology developers and hardware manufacturers to come together, as 3dfx and STB Microelectronics did. ®
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iBook to pull in the punters Apple desperately needs?

Analysis Interim CEO Steve Jobs didn't spill the beans on Apple's upcoming ISP initiative and Palm Computing partnership at yesterday's MacWorld Expo keynote, but what he delivered instead -- QuickTime TV and the iBook consumer portable -- more than made up for them. Ranked in terms of their importance to Apple's success, Jobs' announcements score very high marks indeed. First, the iBook. We have to admit a certain personal satisfaction here, having accurately anticipated the consumer notebook's real name back in April, but the iBook's real appeal lies in the fact that it's a very important product for Apple. Jobs spoke yesterday about finally filling in the gap in the company's product matrix, but that belies just how big the hole in the product line the iBook's absence created. To see why, let's just go back a year to a point just before the iMac was launched. During Apple's second fiscal quarter of 1998, it shipped around 647,000 computers, all of them professional-oriented products. Twelve months down the line, and Apple's 1999 Q2 saw shipments rise to 905,000 units, an increase of around 40 per cent. That sounds great, but of those Q2 1999 shipments, 487,000 were consumer-oriented iMacs. That leaves 418,000 shipments of professional computers, a decline of 35 per cent. There's obviously been plenty of user base cannibalisation going on here, but that was always to be expected, and Apple did at least manage to win around 258,000 converts to the Mac platform. The message for Apple is clear: it's the iMac that's attracting people to the Mac, not the professional products. If the company wants long-term growth, it has to move further into the consumer space, which is exactly where the iBook comes in. There's no doubt that the iBook will cannibalise sales of the PowerBook G3 (which is probably why Apple wanted to ship the latest G3s well in advance of the iBook), though it will be interesting to see just how the $900 price difference will be balanced by the iBook's lack of internal peripheral bays and PC Card slots. Equally, it will be interesting to see whether those factors are as important to consumers as they are to professional notebook users. For all the iBook's plus points, like the original iMac, there are some major flaws, most notably its 6.7lbs weight, in part due to the fixed CD-ROM drive. And just what on Earth was Apple thinking about when it decided to offer a computer without a microphone socket? However, if the iBook can bring in as many new users -- whether new to the Mac or new to computing, period -- as the iMac, that's going to mean some really good news for Apple's marketshare and its future. Extrapolating from Apple's Q2 1999 sales figures, had the iBook been shipping throughout that quarter, it could easily have pushed Apple's unit shipments growth up to 65 per cent or more, and that's higher than even Dell's industry-leading 50 per cent growth rate. Of course, the iBook won't ship in volume until September, so it will be some time before we see just how well it has been received, but Apple clearly has high hopes for the Christmas period, if CFO Fred Anderson's recent bullish comments about future growth, predicting double figure growth quarter on quarter, are anything to go by. Of course, as a hardware company, you'd expect Apple to be keenly watching unit sales. However, Jobs' strategy takes in other market opportunities, which is why yesterday's QuickTime TV announcement was important too, if not as obviously so as the iBook launch. The Internet streaming media market is just such an opportunity. Right now there are two key players -- RealNetworks and Microsoft -- an emerging entrant -- Apple -- and a number of others who probably won't ever amount to much, thanks to the size of the main contenders. Apple wants to dominate this market, and that means beating Microsoft and RealNetworks. So far, it has been gunning for the former, but yesterday's QuickTime TV announcement drew a bead on RealNetworks. Microsoft is interested in streaming media because it wants to sell more copies of Windows 2000 (aka NT). Apple's plan of attack centres on offering QuickTime streaming technology as open source software to encourage the generally anti-Microsoft Linux and free software communities to adopt the technology. That move not only promotes QuickTime by increasing the amount of QuickTime material available on the Web, but it also helps make Linux appear an even more attractive alternative to Windows NT. It also makes the MacOS more attractive, since the MacOS X version of QuickTime Streaming Server comes will a rather nice, easy-to-use interface. Even if only a few companies shift from PCs running Linux to MacOS X Server, that's still good news for Apple's bottom line. In a sense, Apple's strategy apes Microsoft's own: giving product away to ensure it's dominance. Apple, however, can get away with it because it not only lacks Microsoft's huge marketshare lead, but because it's target is, well, Microsoft. Making QuickTime Streaming Server really cheap also hits out at RealNetworks, which wants to sell its server software and content creation tools. But with over 80 per cent of the market, RealNetworks is largely safe from that kind of action. Now, that marketshare has arisen because RealNetworks is the original Internet streaming media pioneer, so while QuickTime may well be a better video and audio playback technology, RealNetworks has been able to win plenty of support from the major content providers. To beat RealNetworks, then, Apple needs high quality QuickTime content, and so, just as it made it easy for server administrators to adopt QuickTime, by opening the server software, now it's making it easy for content providers to adopt the technology by providing a high performance channel for that content. Apple has already signed up a host of top players, including the BBC, Bloomberg, HBO, Fox, and Disney its subsidiary channels, such as ABC News and ESPN. All these moves encourage users to choose QuickTime as the best way of viewing online streamed media. That, in turn, persuades more content providers to support the technology (as does the inexpensive nature of the server software), which means they spend more money on third-party QuickTime authoring software, so Apple makes more money from the licences it sells to companies like Adobe. It also gives the Apple brand an even higher visibility and, again, that makes it easier to sell computers, which is, after all, where the real money is to be made. ®
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Could NatSemi SOCs threaten Celeron's existence?

Analysis Intel engineers, as we speak, are scrabbling desperately to come up with their own version of a system on a chip (the Timna), but it is likely that National Semiconductor's Geode SOC has a clear lead of a year on the competition. But that poses questions as to what Intel will do with its Celeron processors faced with the rise and rise of so-called Free PCs. For the whole of this year, Intel has relentlessly pursued a strategy of dropping prices on its Celeron family (essentially the same chip as a Pentium II), while bringing out speed enhancements. However, our information is that NatSemi is likely to price its Geode family at around $20-$30, according to the quantities bought. It does not take much imagination to foresee a spate of very inexpensive PC-compatible devices that cost less than the price of a high-end Celeron. Although NatSemi is claiming that it is not positioning the Geode in the PC marketplace, there is nothing to prevent large outfits like Acer using it as a way of achieving volume at the very low end. Indeed, Stan Shih, CEO of Acer, said at a keynote speech at last year's Computex that he wanted to proliferate such PC compatible devices at rock bottom prices throughout segments of the market so far untouched by consumer hands. NatSemi is positioning the Geode as a chip for set top boxes, Internet devices, Web PADs and the like. And, of course, this is precisely where Intel wants to be, too. Graham Jackson, a National European marketing director, agreed there was some overlap between information appliances the low end PC market. He said: "We had this concept of PC on a chip and it changed quite soon to become the information appliance on a chip, and we decided not to compete in the low cost PC market." However, he said, there was nothing to stop NatSemi customers using the Geode in such devices, particularly given the fact that it has analogue output. Given that, how long has the Celeron got to go before it's got to go, if you see what we mean? ®
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Canadian firm swoops on JBA

JBA Holdings has agreed to a cash bid from Canadian software reseller GEAC Computer, valuing the company at over £90 million. GEAC will pay 250 pence per share for the Birmingham-based software vendor and AS/400 house, according to a statement to the stock exchange this morning. The offer will be made by ING Barings on behalf of GEAC UK, a GEAC subsidiary created to make the offer. It represents about 71 per cent above the closing mid-market price of JBA shares on 13 July, which was the last dealing day before JBA said it had received indication of an offer. The move values the company at around £92.5 million. GEAC already owns one million JBA shares, or 2.7 per cent of JBA share capital. The JBA directors said they considered the deal "fair and reasonable and unanimously intend to recommend JBA shareholders to accept the offer". The JBA group makes enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, specifically for mid-sized enterprises. GEAC, based in Markham, Ontario, provides software and systems to large and mid-sized businesses, including the ERP, property management and banking sectors. Douglas Bergeron, GEAC president and CEO, said: "We are enthusiastic about the opportunities for JBA within the GEAC Group, and look forward to developing the joint group’s position within both the mid-sized and large-sized segments of the global ERP market." JBA made a pre-tax loss before exceptional items of £14.5 million for the year ended 31 December 1998. Earlier this month it announced a company re-jig to split the group in four. It also cut its global workforce by eight per cent to 3000. ®
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IBM M-II x86 chip rises from the ashes….

One small component in our story yesterday about Time introducing a so-called Free PC is a very small component called the 300 IBM M-II microprocessor. (Story: It's time for another free PC) Readers with long teeth will remember that under the terms of a deal between Cyrix and IBM, half of the silicon was doled out to Big Blue's Microelectronics division. Big Blue then went on to do and say ridiculous things, such as their M-II was "better" than Cyrix's M-II, flood the channel with cheap M-IIs and other underhand tricks of that ilk. But it appears that the IBM version of the Cyrix chip is not dead, if the Time spec is anything to go by. Are there, then, thousands of these little Big Blue processors sitting in warehouses, ready to emerge in future Free PCs to come? We think we should be told... ®
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BSA accused of dancing to Microsoft's tune

Shocking allegations of corruption have been levelled against pirate software watchdog the Business Software Alliance. These claims come from the magazine Mother Jones, which has published an article concerning a piracy case that was filed and then dropped against Antel, the Uruguayan national telco. Back in 1995, the BSA caught the phone company with $100,000 worth of unlicensed software, from Novell, Microsoft and Symantec. The BSA's lawyers filed a suit but instead of waiting for a ruling from the judge, the suit was dropped in 1997, when Antel agreed to replace all the pirated software with legal Microsoft products. The report says: "Antel's situation suggests that when the BSA cracks down on piracy overseas, it's Bill Gates who turns out to be the pirate. Representatives from rival firms complain that Microsoft is abusing its power within the BSA to speed its global dominance." The article then quotes Brad Smith, which it describes as a Microsoft attorney. He said: "I am not aware of any instance where that has happened." His sentiments were echoed by BSA representative Diane Smiroldo, who said she found the allegations "hard to believe." However, Mother Jones includes remarks attributed to Eduardo DeFreitas, a BSA lawyer in Uruguay. He said: "Microsoft told me to stop working on the case because they would write an agreement with Antel." The magazine also claims that Novell is just one software vendor to have parted company with the BSA. In another case, in 1996, Australian shipping company Toll Holdings was taken to task by the BSA for piracy. The case concerned illegal software from Novell, Lotus, Symantec and Microsoft, the final settlement included fines payable only to Microsoft and Symantec. An un-named Novell official is quoted in the article as saying: "Toll offered to legalise on all Microsoft products if [the BSA] dropped the suit." In Slovenia, Microsoft's country manager, Aaron Marko, is also the representative of the BSA. 96 per cent of all software in the region is pirated, and Marko says that because enforcing anti piracy laws is so difficult in the country's court system, he often offers discounted Microsoft software to replace pirated goods. The Mother Jones reporter asked Marko if he thought of this as a conflict of interest he responded: "BSA is trying to find the pirate. Then it is a question of marketing and product awareness to see who will get the legal market share." Mike Newton, a spokesman for the BSA UK, said that the notion that the BSA is a Microsoft puppet is an old slur in which there is no truth. "The BSA is one member one vote," he said. "For example, the current chairman is an Adobe employee. We operate on a consensus basis which means that if one member disagrees with a course of action planned, it can veto it." Newton was unable to comment on the cases mentioned in the article, but said that the BSA often finds it more effective to settle out of court. The company caught with illegal software will be required to destroy the pirate material, and pay a settlement fee to the BSA. ®
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Cheap PCs will damage MS software sales, says CFO

Cut-price PCs may finally start to erode Microsoft's dominant position in the software market, company CFO Greg Maffei suggested yesterday at the company's analysts meeting. Maffei appears not to have floated the possibility of rival operating systems breaking into the market, but he was clearly concerned that the need for manufacturers to force the total price tag down would hit the company's applications revenues. Over the past few years Microsoft has been determined not to cut the price of Windows to OEMs, while PC prices have fallen. This on its own has meant that the company's slice of total revenue per PC has increased as a percentage, while bundling of Microsoft applications software on these PCs has given the company even more of the total. As you may have noted from our trial coverage, there does appear to have been a certain amount of linkage between bundled Microsoft applications and discounts on Windows licences. But from what Maffei says now, it seems clear that Microsoft won't be able to combine continued high pricing for applications bundles with holding the lion's share of the applications market. The company is unlikely to cut its prices to maintain market share, because it can still derive a lot of revenue from the corporate market, where Office is the de facto standard, so the likely result will be more bundling deals for rivals like Corel. Although Maffei appeared to be concerned about applications rather than operating systems, Microsoft should also start to come under pressure on the OS front, for similar reasons. As prices go down further, the company is going to face the choice of either cutting prices, or losing share. Maffei also had some interesting things to tell analysts about Windows 2000. As you may recall, when Microsoft introduced the Corporate Preview Program beta of Win2k earlier this year, strange stories started going around about Microsoft having an "internal" target ship date of October for Win2k. Officially of course it wouldn't go any further than 'on target for the end of the year,' but there seemed to have been a bit of briefing by the spin-doctors, nevertheless. Well, this is precisely not what Maffei has been telling the analysts. Windows 2000 is expected to be released to manufacturing at the end of calendar year 1999, he said. So it might be finished by then, but with OEM testing and actual manufacturing and distribution to be taken into account, February looks more realistic as a ship date. That's not what Maffei said of course, but the clear implication is there. And it could get worse. He did say that a "revenue upside" from Windows 2000 was expected in late financial year 2000. That means he's not expecting to earn money from it until late Q2 next year. ®
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Rose contributed to Pfeiffer's ousting

A source formerly extremely close to Compaq said last night that John Rose, ousted from Compaq shortly after Eckhard Pfeiffer was outside, had persuaded the Great Satan of Haircuts to buy Digital. And it was a huge mistake, apparently. The mistake was so big that many thousands of individuals in Compaq Europe could possibly lose their jobs in the next six months, said the source formerly intimate with Compaq. Apparently, this is what happened. John Rose persuaded and reminded Eckhard Pfeiffer of his egregious plan to become a $100 billion corporation by the end of the century. Eck demurred, but Rose persuaded him. And so the deal was done. And, according to the former-employee-of-Compaq, that recruited many so-called Alpha employees, described by the man as "the enemy within". The Alpha evangelists got the ear of the CEO, explained our mole. We will be listening in to the Compaq conference call where Capella explains all. ®
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Doncaster guy not a Doncaster geezer at all

Sources close to one of the 50 HP branded cabs that now exist in Londinium told us a terrible tale yesterday evening and it turns out to be true. We were in the back of an HP taxi on our way to the Reading Jazz Festival when the news hit us. Hugh Jenkins, who now runs HP's enterprise server division in the UK, and formerly known to everyone as a bluff and dry Yorkshire geezer, was actually born in Wendover. The story is interesting in the extreme. Hugh is very interested in British game cricket and so was his dad. His dad was rushing his pregnant wife to the Scarborough, Yorkshire, cricket festival, when Hugh's mum said: "We have to stop here". Here turned out to be a Little Chef in Wendover, where Hugh was duly delivered, as a boy. In the old days, you had to be born in Yorkshire to be able to play for the County team…and that's why Hugh's dad was in such a hurry. By a bizarre fluke, Hugh and our local Intel rep, both went to the same club in Doncaster, checking out the talent. But that's a different story… ®
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Free PC no threat, says channel

Distributor ATL Networks yesterday predicted dealers would be pushing up the daisies thanks to the free PC. ATL MD Mark Randall's statements prompted a variety of reactions from the UK channel, most of which were unprintable. ATL Networks was formerly Techex Communications, a company some Register readers will be familiar with. That the PC is a business tool, used for word processing and spreadsheets, seemed to escape Randall's notice. A low-end "free" PC was not suitable as an office machine, resellers said. Business PCs needed to be part of a network. And not all home users' main aim in buying a PC was to access cyberspace. Games users needed a more powerful machine. Randall's comments were dismissed as short-sighted. "The PC is not a product sold in isolation," said Ian French, Ideal Hardware CEO. "About 80 per cent of the machines we ship end up on a network. And many businesses want higher spec PCs. "Most people with a PC want to get onto the Internet. But this is not the main reason for buying a computer. "The free PC hasn't rocked the US channel, and I don't expect it to rock the UK channel. I don't think it has any significant use in the business market," added French. Barry Neill, MD of London-based reseller Reliance Computer Services, dismissed ATL's comments about the death of the reseller as "rubbish" and "short-sighted". "People will still buy PCs for other reasons than to get on the Internet," he said. Neill said about 60 per cent of PCs sold by Reliance went for games or standard office use. Andy Brown, an analyst at IDC, said the free PC was a publicity generator, aimed at people who did not understand IT. "It's good for people who can't afford to buy the hardware, but it still works out expensive. Companies are trying to tie users into spending money over a long period of time. "I think there will be a lot of people diving in and not reading the small print," he warned. "Mostly, it's just a good publicity stunt." Gregory Cunningham, Cheetah Computers president, admitted there was an opening in the market for the free PC. But while these machines were good to access the Web, they were unable to use voice recognition software and other higher-end computer tasks. "This is not to mention how much slower these 'free' systems are," said Cunningham. Other Register readers commented on the "lucky dip" specs involved, and the fact that businesses rely on quality, not price. While all were agreed that resellers must get into services, none backed up ATL's conviction that dealers faced extinction. Randall defended his beliefs, saying that, although the free PCs offered at the moment were low spec, this was just the beginning and an indication of what was to come. "We will get higher spec free PCs that will be suitable for corporates. As markets mature, and bandwidth expands, there will be so many opportunities. "The free PC of today is just the first step down the road," he said. "In two years time no product-based dealer businesses will exist. The only way resellers will make money will be by providing some of the services provided by the telecomms and ISPs, and other technical services." ®
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MS-Intel issue roadmap for next year's Windows-only PC

The Microsoft-Intel roadmap for next year's PCs is out, and although the pair were showing severe signs earlier this year of zooming off in opposite directions, it's now pretty clear that they're back in sync. Earlier this week the two published the first discussion draft of the PC2001 design guide, and from the accompanying timeline it's clear that machines based on the spec will ship in the second half of next year, and they'll ship with Microsoft operating systems. That's something of a reversion to type, because a few years back the PC9x design guides did tend to channel manufacturers towards 100 per cent Wintel systems, with only sketchy recognition of non-MS operating systems. PC2001 as it currently stands is the most extreme yet - its cover page reads: "A technical reference for designing PCs and peripherals for the Microsoft Windows family of operating systems." That kind of undermines the support Intel has been giving to Linux over the past year, doesn't it? But it may be that we're about to see a fragmentation of design efforts, with the Wintel alliance pursuing a down-the-line Microsoft-only version with PC2001, and Intel pursuing other avenues independently (as indeed Chipzilla has been doing already). PC2001 picks up the ball from the announcement of the joint Microsoft-Intel Easy PC Initiative earlier this year. As we've said here before, Easy PC was essentially a collection of classic Microsoft add-on bells and whistles bolted uneasily onto an existing Intel plan, the Ease of Use Initiative. Easy PC was invented in the first place as somewhere for Microsoft to go, seeing as how the consumer version of NT got cancelled and MS decided to do a new version of Win9x (now going into beta as Millennium), so the details were going to have to be bolted on after the event. With PC2001, they're now starting to look more bolted. An Intel presentation which, despite being labelled "Intel confidential," is in plain sight on the Web, tellingly places the kick-off of PC2001 development as February 1999 (i.e., when the two announced Easy PC). It's to run through until a final spec in February 2000, when it will be published. But our nice man from Intel tells us some more interesting stuff as well. Says the presentation: "Change SDG [System Design Guide, i.e. PC2001] schedules to accommodate silicon schedules... 18 month lead time for silicon development," and testing in July 2001. This suggests that part of the deal between Intel and Microsoft has involved a trade-off to incorporate Intel hardware developments that are in the pipeline, and that these won't be ready until the middle of next year. So the Intel "Concept PCs" shown last year, which were an independent effort, may well show up in demo form from manufacturers this year, but it would seem likely that there will be another, far more radical rev, with tighter integration of hardware and software, for the second half of 2000. This will inevitably sync in with Bill Gates' Web-centric platform (Gates pushes Web-centric PC), which by a massive not a coincidence at all will be discussed in lots more detail in, er, February 2000. PC2001 includes the obvious stuff - no ISA, no floppy, no serial or parallel. It will have USB ports, but Firewire "is introduced as the standard for controllers and devices." So we're definitely jumping that way. It's obviously aimed at Microsoft's Millennium, but is also clearly heading in the direction of the next one, Neptune, or possibly of a revised version of Millennium to ship later next year. Or even of an appliance-oriented version of Windows. ®
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Palm boss promises colour screens

Palm Computing is to release not only two major updates to the PalmOS between now and the end of the year, but it will also release a Palm organiser with a colour display. Details are patchy -- actually, details are non-existent -- but that's what new Palm president Alan Kessler has promised readers of US magazine The Business Journal. Updates are expected, but the colour screen is a feature users have been demanding and Palm not supplying for some time. It has also been a key differentiator between the Palm platform and Windows CE devices, which have been colour-enabled for some time. Kessler apparently didn't say which Palms would get the colour treatment, but the Palm V has to be the obvious candidate. ®
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New Compaq CEO says Europe, Alpha integration disappointing

Mike Capellas, Compaq's new CEO, said today that the European wing of the corporation is underperforming. In a conference call with European journalists and analysts today, Capellas said: "Europe has been a great area of strength for us." But he admitted the last few quarters in Europe had been disappointing. And he also said that he would accept Compaq had not been as clear on its strategy in Europe as it could have been, particularly on its direct/indirect strategies. He also admitted that Compaq had still a great deal of work to do on integrating its Digital business with its traditional business. Compaq has 300 global accounts he disclosed, not forgetting the 8000 major accounts it has, worldwide. He said: "There is work to be done. You have to get your sales forces together. You shouldn't have two groups doing the same thing. The last thing you want to do is to integrate your pricing structure and your financials." So there is a big problem then... The new CEO did not have time to take our question about how important he thought the Alpha chip was, something that Eckhard Pfeiffer and some Digital acolytes tripped over this time last year... ®
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EMC and HP: store-rage mounts

A source close to HP's storage division told us today that the day before it developed its war against EMC, it removed the swipe cards from its former partner. The source, and he declined to be named but it's not Hugh Jenkins so don't target him, HP America, said that they found one poor EMC chap trying for 30 fruitless minutes trying to get into the HP offices.... ®
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Real world eclipsed by Web cast

The BBC is teaming up with the European Space Agency to show live footage of August's solar eclipse on its Web site for people who won't make it to Cornwall for the real thing. One pundit, seemingly unimpressed at the prospect of being able to watch the eclipse on their PC said: "Eclipse? Aaargh! We can all see the eclipse as it happens - it goes sodding dark, right? You can do this with a paper bag if you are not in the right place too*." But just in case you are interested, it will be hosted by Phillipa Forrester, who was in FHM's list of the world’s top 100 sexiest women this year. Not that that's relevant or anything. Any readers wanting to proffer alternate uses for their paper bag in the light of Ms Forrester's presence on the Web cast should keep such comments to themselves. (*Register DIY eclipse tip.) ®
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Lynx links Fujitsu to dealer channel

Fujitsu has appointed Lynx Technology as a reseller for its PCs and notebooks. The Derbyshire reseller, part of the Lynx group, has also become an Authorised Service Partner, allowing it to maintain Fujitsu's range of PCs. Paul Edgeley, Lynx sales and marketing director, said the company was impressed by Fujitsu’s committed to the indirect channel. Lynx vendors include Toshiba, IBM, HP, Compaq, 3Com, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Acer and Lotus. ®
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Dosh shines out of Sun's dot-com

Sun Microsystems saw profits surge 37 per cent and sales grow 22 per cent for the fourth quarter ended 30 June. Net income was $395 million, against last year's $288 million, excluding an acquisition charge. Earnings per share were 48 cents, compared with last year’s 37 cents. Revenues climbed to a record $3.5 billion. For the full 1999 fiscal year, Sun reported net income up 28 per cent at $1.2 billion, earnings per share were up 23 per cent at $1.42. Yearly sales were up 20 per cent at $11.7 billion. Including acquisition-related charges, profit for the year was $1.0 billion. CEO Scott McNealy said: "We continue to gain market share versus our competitors." "Sun's success has come as a direct result of our relentless focus on network computing," said McNealy. The UK saw growth of 19.5 per cent for the year. Shanker Trivedi, Sun VP for UK and Ireland, said the UK professional services had doubled its revenues over the year. "Perhaps most significantly, we have seen the emergence of the dot-com companies with new business models like boo.com and Egg, whose speed to market and innovation are based around Sun solutions," he added. ®
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Taxman at risk from Y2K bug

The Inland Revenue hinted it would not hit its September deadlines for Y2K compliance in Parliament today. The Serious Fraud Office, the Intervention Board and the Northern Ireland Prison Service were also behind schedule, according to a government statement. Leader of the House, Margaret Beckett, said: "Good progress continues to be made with work on the government's business critical systems and in most departments, the bulk of the work is already complete. "However I remain concerned that a number of programmes continue to show slippage. Four departments are indicating for the first time that they will not now complete their programmes until September or later. "The government will continue to manage the process closely. This includes ensuring that full business continuity plans are in place, and tested, by October." Beckett urged organisations not to be complacent about the bug, saying substantial work still needed to be done. ®
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Encryption keys handed to police

UK police will be able to demand access to encryption codes if they suspect criminal use of the Internet, thanks to the government's draft ecommerce bill. The bill was unveiled today with the stated aim of making the law in the UK e-friendly, so that within three years, the UK is the best place in the world to trade electronically. The general gist of the bill was that the telecoms industry would be simpler and more open, and that encryption and electronic signatures would be admissible in court. IT minister, Michael Mills, said that the bill would boost the public's confidence in the security of ecommerce. Communications once legally restricted to paper -– such as company statements to shareholders -- will be acceptable in electronic form. Also, minimum standards are to be set down for cryptography services, and amendments to telecom licenses should be simpler to avoid referrals to the Competition Commission. The most controversial part of the bill is the proposal that law enforcement agencies will be able to serve decryption notices on those suspected of using encryption for criminal purposes. Home Office minister, Paul Boateng commented: "Encryption is a double edged sword -- both vital to the ecommerce revolution and at the same time exploited by criminals to often devastating effect." Investigations into drug traffickers, paedophiles and terrorist were being hampered by encryption, he said. "Giving law enforcement access to decryption keys will help maintain their effectiveness in the battle against serious crime." The government also said that it hopes to have an ecommerce code and electronic hallmark ready by the end of the year. Details were published in a white paper on Thursday, which also announced a new Web site, the Consumer Gateway. ®