12th > August > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Merced Linux expected Q1, as IBM joins Trillian

IBM has joined the Trillian project, which was put together by Intel earlier this year in order to implement Linux on its IA-64 Merced architecture. Trillian is currently being worked on by VA Linux Systems, one of the several Linux companies Intel has put money into, IA-64 co-designer Hewlett-Packard and SGI. The addition of IBM adds heft to Trillian, although it's not immediately clear what Big Blue will bring to the party. In common with WAM (World Apart from Microsoft), IBM has been embracing Linux heartily recently, but its motivation could be anything from putting a mark down for Merced Linux to a full-scale transference of its efforts away from RS/6000-AIX. Getting out of its PA Risc involvement is of course one of HP's reasons for being involved in IA-64. According to Intel VP Sean Maloney at LinuxWorld yesterday, Trillian is expected to have initial versions of 64-bit IA-64 Linux in the hands of developers in the first quarter of next year. This will put Linux on an even footing with 'conventional' OS developers as far as Intel's next generation is concerned, and will give it an excellent chance to overtake Microsoft. Microsoft is unconvincingly committed to shipping a version of NT/Win2k for Merced when Merced ships, but at best (if it makes the deadline) this will be a hybrid of 32-bit and 64-bit code. This will only likely be a marketing problem for the company initially, as Intel doesn't expect 64-bit take-up to be fast, but it will leave it with a lot of ground to make up over the following year. ®
John Lettice, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

DoJ files on MS: ‘broad pattern of unlawful conduct’

MS on Trial The DoJ's counterblast to Microsoft's 'findings of fact' document, leaked earlier this week, has now been filed. At this stage of the trial the rivals lodge rival documents giving their interpretation of the facts established during the trial, and these are then considered by the judge. Microsoft span its 450 page version of events to selected press over the weekend, but the DoJ declined to play this particular ball game and held off its 800 page document until Tuesday, when it was due to be filed. The DoJ reiterates its claim that Microsoft "engaged in a broad pattern of unlawful conduct with the purpose and effect of thwarting emerging threats to its powerful and well-entrenched system monopoly." The case breaks down into several major themes. First, that Microsoft's 90 per cent OS market share gives it monopoly power, second that the company attempted to stifle growth of Java and potential rivals in the browser market, and third, that the company's activities had injured consumers by stifling innovation and impeding price decreases. The DoJ document is shot through with embarrassing internal documentation from Microsoft which lends support to these claims. Faced with this Microsoft's defence has taken an intriguing (some might say, desperate) approach. The company's own finding of facts relies heavily on the written evidence provided by its witnesses. This was fairly comprehensively dismantled by the DoJ in cross-examination, and the subpoenaed MS documents played a major part in undermining it . Microsoft, however, argues that all of this can be categorised as mere courtroom theatrics, and should therefore be discounted. The judge is thought unlikely to agree with this standpoint, however, and this will be a problem for Microsoft. The judge intends to deliver his decision in two parts, first with a finding of facts of his own, and then (possibly early next year) a final verdict. Appeals in such cases are generally made on the application of the law (i.e. part two of the judgement, here), rather than on the judge's finding of facts, so if the judge comes down for the DoJ in part one, MS will come under increasing pressure to settle, and there will be increasing speculation about possible remedies until the final verdict is delivered. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
John Lettice, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Component shortages threaten mobo manufacture

The organisers of the Computex trade fair in Taiwan are reporting that local manufacturers face a severe shortage of components. That is set to lead to a severe shakedown in the market by year end, according to the organisation, which shelters many local manufacturers under its wings. There is already a severe shortage of TFT panels, which has had an adverse impact on PC manufacturers' sales of notebooks, as reported here earlier. The report claims that there is not only a shortage of Intel BX and ZX chipsets (which we will confirm later), but resistors, flash memory SRAM, graphics chips and various TTL (transistor-to-transistor-logic parts). If true, that presages price increases not only for the many large companies like Compaq, IBM and Toshiba, which source from Taiwan, but also for end users. Paradoxically, microprocessors are unlikely to be in short supply and prices are set to continue falling. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Iridium defaults on debt

Troubled satellite cellphone company Iridium's woes worsened yesterday when it defaulted on its latest loan payment. After three deadline extensions, Iridium was due to pay back $800 million and a further $750 million from a second loan, triggered by its failure to repay the first. In three days' time, the company has to find $90 million to make an interest payment on bonds worth $1.45 billion. It has already had the deadline on that payment delayed. The sound you can hear in the background are Motorola executives panicking as they realise they may now have to deal with the very real possibility that Iridium is going to enter insolvency -- and that Moto will have to pick up the tab. Motorola has been desperately trying to rally fellow Iridium investors to support the ailing satellite company financially. Last week, Motorola president and COO Robert Growney claimed negotiations with other Iridium partners had gone well. However, at the same time Chase Manhattan Bank, which arranged the original $800 million multi-bank loan, said it would give Iridium no more leeway -- unless Motorola can be persuaded to pay it $300 million in loan guarantees. And it's entirely possible that it will. In its last financial statement, the company said it expected to take a major hit to back up Iridium in this quarter. It paid out $206 million to Iridium in Q2, and said it expected that to increase significantly in Q3, the current quarter. ® See also US government props up Iridium Motorola demands help keeping Iridium in orbit Iridium fires 80 staff Iridium to cut call charges Iridium granted 30-day reprieve
Tony Smith, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Amiga to develop games consoles, digital music players

Amiga's information appliance strategy appears to have become much more broad-based than the company's focus on its multimedia convergence computer has suggested. According to Amiga president Jim Collas, cited in today's Wall Street Journal, the company plans to develop a whole line of devices, including digital music players, games machines, wireless Net access kit and servers, all of them will aimed at home use. "There's a new computer revolution on the horizon that has to do with making computers a natural part of everyday life," Collas told the paper. The WSJ said the devices would be priced in the $100 (the games machine) to $1000 (the server) price range. However, Amiga will not necessarily make the machines itself -- it wants to license the designs to consumer electronics companies, said Collas. To what extent that plan is about transforming Amiga from a manufacturer into a design house remains to be seen, but it does suggest the company is moving away from its roots more quickly than the Amiga community might like. While Amiga fans might be pleased that the company will survive, they might not be too keen on its adoption of a platform that's way different from the one they know and love. Amiga's upcoming Operating Environment should make possible general purpose computers like the original Amiga, but you have to wonder whether, on the basis of Collas' WSJ comments whether that's where the company wants to go. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

SGI releases XFS file system to Linux community

SGI yesterday followed up on its promise to wholeheartedly support Linux and the open source community -- it released under the General Public Licence (GPL) those portions of its XFS journaling file system that it owns. The decision to release XFS under an open source licence was announced last may, but the actual release of the software yesterday was an important signal that SGI is serious about its support for Linux, part of CEO Rick Belluzzo's recovery strategy for the company. XFS will bring to Linux a file system that not only tracks the location of files within a storage medium but records file access activity and how the location of those files changes over time. That ensures a system's state can be more fully restored after a crash and guards against data corruption in the event of, say, power failure. That's a significant addition to Linux's feature set, and will give it a significant lead over rival operating systems. So far, the BeOS and OS/2 Warp Server are the only mainstream OSes with a journaled file system. SGI said the first open source sub-set of XFS is now available from the company's Web site. More components of the software will be released when SGI is sure they don't infringe other developers' copyrights -- portions of XFS belong to Bell Labs/Lucent and the University of California at Berkeley, among others. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

InvestIN.com brings US stock day trading to UK

Daily Net Finance Update 12 August 1999 Dallas-based stockbroker InvestIN.com is opening a day-trading office in London on Monday enabling investors to deal in US stocks online. But adrenaline junkies who want to ride the roller coaster of day trading have first to prove they know what they're doing before being let loose by the doormen at InvestIN. According to the FT, day trading is unlikely to garner the same following in the UK as it does in the US. Which means that the chances of a day trader gunning down as many people he can before turning the gun on himself when he loses his shirt are pretty slim.
Team Register, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Shareholders demand court bans S3/Diamond merger

A gang of shareholders in Diamond Multimedia have sued the company in an attempt to block its takeover by 3D graphics specialist S3. The shareholders claim S3's $200 million acquistion through a share swap undervalues Diamond's stock. S3 is offering one of its own shares for 1.9 Diamond shares, but the shareholders described that as a "bargain basement" price. The suit, filed with the Santa Clara County, California Superior Court states: "The intrinsic value of the equity of [Diamond] is materially greater than the consideration proposed." That, they claim, means Diamond's directors have failed their statutory obligation to maximise the value of the shareholders' stock. Do the shareholders have a point? Arguably not. S3's acquisition proposal was made before Diamond released its most recent financial results, for its second quarter, ended 30 June (the acquisition proposal was made on 22 June). The figures showed the company's revenues had fallen 34 per cent year on year despite an improvement in Diamond's loss. Diamond is betting on the success of its RioPort digital music division, which produces the Rio MP3 music player. However, RioPort is being prepared to be spun off, probably through an IPO (assuming recent Net stock price falls haven't dampened investors' spirits too much), so the rest of Diamond doesn't look too promising as an ongoing business. The company was hit hard by the increasing commoditisation of 3D graphics cards and modems, and price wars in both markets. While it is looking toward some potentially more profitable areas, such as home networking and Net access devices, it may be some time before both business get Diamond back to where it once was. That's less of an issue for S3 which primarily wants Diamond as a board manufacturer, part of its plan to compete more fully with ATI and 3dfx, both of which design graphics chips and build boards based upon them. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

ilion figures let down by UK – again

Last month, ilion announced that trading during the first half of the year had been what it called satisfactory. Interim results for the six months ending 30 June are now out. Turnover was up 10 per cent to £132 million and while that must have been cause for some celebration over in Chessington, it's hardly the 'record high' that was referred to last month. The UK was, again, a source of trouble for the networking distributor, with sales down 35 per cent - pretty much as expected. Pre-tax profit was £610,000 - down from last year's £1.16 million. According to analyst Richard Holway, ilion's share price crept up by 4.5p this morning to 111.5p, which is a far cry from £4 two years ago but much better than the low of 42p last year. However, it is still lower than the 114p Landis was offering for each ilion share when it mounted its failed takeover bid in July. ilion chairman Michael Sayers described the second half's prospects as encouraging but said a takeover was still the favoured outcome for the company. In June ilion lost its UK Cisco franchise, considered by many to be the distributor's only remaining trump card and the main reason why anyone would be interested in a takeover of the group. With that gone ilion was left facing a tough battle. Around the same time that Cisco pulled the plugs on ilion, the distributor became embroiled in a legal battle with Cisco reseller Ciscom after an alleged £500,000 fraud was uncovered. ® See related stories: Cisco fall-out sees ilion sue Ciscom ilion says no thanks to Landis bid offer ilion loses UK Cisco franchise Ciscom employee fined £1000 for abusive email
Sean Fleming, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Wall Street votes for Linux in Red Hat IPO

Updated Red Hat beat the blues with its IPO yesterday, with its stock price tripling, despite clear evidence in the past few days that investors are becoming more sceptical about technical and Internet-related stocks. The Linux outfit raised $84 million on six million shares, after a last minute increase in its pricing from $10-12 to $12-14. With hindsight this move was amply justified. Red Hat ended the day valued at $3.48 billion. Not bad for a company that had sales of just $2.8 million in the quarter to 31 May -- during which period it lost $2.1 million. The shares ended the day at $52 1/16 -- an increase of 272 per cent. Red Hat CEO Robert Young and CTO Marc Ewing, each owning 9.1 million shares, are now worth $470 million on paper apiece. Clearly, although the Internet IPO phenomenon might be starting to burn out, the Linux factor is able to counteract this decreasing enthusiasm, and that's good news for the stack of Linux outfits waiting to IPO. Wall Street does seem to have decided to vote for Linux, so even if the Web bubble is finally starting to burst, the Linux industry should be well positioned to raise cash from investors for the immediate future. ®
John Lettice, 12 Aug 1999

IT blamed for killer stress levels

Technology is stressing everyone out, according to research by Kensington Technology Group. Systems crashes, data loss, email and voicemail systems were among the main culprits cited.
Lucy Sherriff, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Web site set aside for free AOL registrations

AOL UK -- a division of AOL Europe -- has received so much interest about its new subscription-free service, Netscape Online, that it's devoted Web space to handle the enquiries. Anyone interested in signing up to the ISP can leave their details at the pre-registration site. Alternatively, they can call freephone 0800 923 0009 and register their interest there. Those who do register in advance will receive priority response for Netscape Online software when the service launches later this month, AOL said. "We're excited about the overwhelming response to the announcement of Netscape Online, which we believe demonstrates not only the power of the pioneering Netscape brands but users' recognition of AOL Europe's commitment to quality, reliability and customer service," said AOL UK's new MD, Karen Thompson, in a prepared statement. Neither Thompson, nor anyone at AOL UK, would say exactly how much interest has been shown in the new service. Nor would they say exactly when this month it would be launched. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

NASA to Webcast meteor shower

Eclipse watchers who weren't blinded -- or half frozen to death -- by yesterday's solar event will have the chance to watch a meteoric firework display without having to wear those stupid cardboard-rimmed glasses. NASA is launching a weather balloon tomorrow complete with a Webcam so that stargazers can watch Perseid's meteors spark around the heavens. LiveOnTheNet.com has teamed up with NASA to broadcast the event -- by all accounts it should be quite a show. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

MP3 players mop up Flash supplies

The massive growth of the Internet-based music industry is having an unexpected effect: as manufacturers ramp up production of digital music players, supplies of Flash memory are reaching rock bottom. According to a report in EE Times, South Korea is rapidly running out of Flash chips. Memory producers are shifting production from 16Mb parts to 32Mb chips, and that's pushing prices down from around $1.50 per megabyte to $1 per megabyte, the paper reports. And the production shift is likely to ensure the increasing demand doesn't, for once, push prices up. Digital music players, such as Diamond Multimedia's Rio and Creative Technologies' Nomad, essentially use Flash memory as a removable storage system -- the devices do not contain regular DRAM. Demand is increasing to such an extent that Samsung has converted some DRAM production lines to turn out Flash parts, nearly doubling its Flash capacity. ® See also Memory claws its way back UK boffins unveil $35 '2300GB on a PC Card' RAM breakthrough What was last month's DRAM price hike all about? Samsung unveils SDRAM-beating SGRAM Apple slips Samsung $100m in LCD priority bid
Tony Smith, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Gamers aren't geeks, survey claims

Everything you've ever learned is a lie - computer gamers are normal human beings, not the malformed weirdoes everyone thinks they are. This startling revelation comes from a survey carried out for Computec Media. Key findings indicated that the typical gamer was a well educated, well paid, socially well-adjusted male who - more than likely - drives a nice car. That's a real one, BTW. Torsten Oppermann, CEO of Computec commented: "Hardcore gamers are only the smallest part of the market." The vast majority of those playing computer games - 84 per cent - described themselves as 'casual game players' who do not know how to rocket jump or circle strafe. (Good news for the serious Quakers out there – more frags.) The remaining 16 per cent said that gaming was a serious hobby. 80 per cent of the gamers were between 16 and 34 and nearly half had a college education. The most popular types of game were strategy, action and sports. Unsurprisingly, educational games finished an unimpressive last place in the popularity stakes. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Plastic HDDs on Sony horizon

Sony and chemicals firm Nippon Zeon have joined forces to make the world's first plastic disks for computer hard drives. Both companies saw share prices rise on the Tokyo stock market as the news spread. The local press was reporting that manufacturing cost of 5Gb plastic disks is expected to be 30 to 40 per cent lower than aluminium disks. Sony would not confirm the figure, but acknowledged that they would be less expensive to make. A spokesman said that this was because they did not need the same polishing process. He would not comment on a start date for commercial production. Analysts were not impressed, however, saying that it was not yet clear which of Sony's many proposed technologies would be best. The company is also discussing plastic disks with US based Castlewood Systems, and new aluminium and glass disks with Quantum and Western Digital. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

PCs learn to lip read

Scientists are teaching computers to lip read as part of research into improving speech recognition software at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The problem is that just like us, computers have trouble following speech in a noisy room. Whether we realise it or not, we compensate for reduced hearing by lip reading, and the idea is that computers can do this too. Alex Waibel, a computer scientist at the US university, has developed software that can do just that. Called NLips, the software improves the accuracy of speech recognition software to about 93 per cent. And it boosts the accuracy when there is a lot of background noise. Correct recognition falls to about 60 per cent if there is background noise. Waibel's software boosts this to 85 per cent. The software breaks sounds down into chunks called phonemes, like most speech recognition programs. Computer mounted cameras record lip movements and adjust for slight head movements. The footage is monitored by a neural network for 50 visual phoneme equivalents. The two streams of information are combined to produce the final text. Waibel told the New Scientist that the visual technology was hopeless on its own. It works so well because it is "looking at all these signals and capturing the perceptual world in its entirety, just as humans do." So far the research has demonstrated correct spelling of words, letter by letter, but the team hopes to move onto continuous speech soon and says that the transition should be uncomplicated. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

African-American site gets big four backing

Microsoft, USA Networks, News Corporation and AT&T have all dug deep into their pockets to help fund an online service for black Americans. The corporate giants have raised $35 million to fund BET.com which will be launched on 1 November. According to the New York Times, it will replace the existing marriage between Microsoft and BET Holdings, a cable media company that broadcasts content for a predominantly black audience. By providing news, email, e-shopping, and chat the companies behind the initiative hope that BET.com will help create new community on the Web. "Until now, African-Americans have found the Internet hard to use, expensive and at the end of the day they said 'There's nothing here for me,'" said Robert L Johnson, chairman and majority owner of BET. "We're going to change that," he told the NYT. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Red China masses half a million soldiers in Taiwan move

The South China Morning Post is reporting that China has assembled half a million soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Fujian province. The move is seen as a serious warning to Taiwan not to pursue what Red China sees as separatist moves. Yesterday, a senior Compaq executive warned that the worldwide IT industry would be jeopardised by any war between the Republic of China (ROC) and mainland China. With all respect to Compaq, that's possibly the least of our worries... (Story: Compaq fears for $7 billion if Taiwan and China fight) World leaders are attempting to cool the simmering pot. The story is here. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Aug 1999
The Register breaking news

Compaq to announce re-org Tuesday next

Troubled hardware giant Compaq is to hold a press conference Tuesday next spelling out how it will re-organise its enterprise division. There has been conflict between Digital and Compaq sales teams, which we reported earlier this year. The press conference will be hosted by Enrico Pesatori, a senior VP at the rejigged Compaq, at 10 a.m. New York Time. Michael Capellas, the new CEO of Compaq, said on his appointment that things needed changing in the enterprise division. Europe, in particular, has seen several major accounts suffering attrition from Compaq competitors. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Aug 1999