27th > August > 1999 Archive

Sports Internet gambles on Surrey Group

So what do you do when you are a Internet "sportal", when you have a stock market listing but next to no revenues? This one's a no brainer: you buy a bookmaker. Latest merger on the block is Sports Internet, which is buying Surrey Group plc for £19.7 million in shares. For the faint-hearted Surrey shareholders there is a cash and share alternative, that values the company at £15.6 million (a piffling four per cent higher than yesterday's closing mid-market quotation price). Sports Internet is to integrate Surrey into its Planetfootball and Opta football statistics business. Gambling-wise, racing is the big thing in the UK, but the Government's nine per cent tax on transactions is driving phone-based bookies overseas to seek more congenial locations (Surrey's telephone-based gambling business is conveniently situated in the tax-free shelter of Alderney). Government intransigence will drive the growth of UK gambling over the Internet and over the phone. The bigger game is overseas -- South East Asia for generates huge soccer gambling revenues -- much of which hangs on British soccer results. A safe Internet haven would bypass all the problems associated with endemic gambling corruption in that region. So Sports Internet has everything to play for. ® Daily Net finance news from The Register
Drew Cullen, 27 Aug 1999

Web precursor Xanadu project goes open source

Project Xanadu, a 1960s hypertext vision and the industry's most delayed vapourware, is putting some of its code on the Web as open source with an X11 licence. Ted Nelson, Xanadu's guiding light, invented the terms hypertext and hypermedia in 1963 but failed to develop a working system incorporating it. Despite this, he and his ideas have had a seminal influence on the invention of Lotus Notes (Ozzie Clark acknowledged inspiration from Nelson), and indirectly on HTML and the Web. It is probably best to consider Nelson's xanological structure to be just an abstract idea, rather like the Turing machine. He was trying to develop a universal knowledge system with much greater elegance, structure and stability than the Web. So far as the development of the Web was concerned, Tim Berners-Lee did not apparently know about Nelson's work when he did his work, although he was probably familiar with HyperCard (created by Bill Atkinson), a product that used ideas from Nelson. Xanadu claims some credit for influencing a number of other products, such as Microcosm, Hyperwave, the Imedia system, and Crit. Nelson also thinks that the development of Andreessen's Mosaic were influenced by his work, although his view of browsers is that they are very silly since they are a window for looking at a large parallel structure, which is not shown in a useful way. Nelson says that his work was intended to stop something like HTML (and especially XML), because of its deficiencies, but he sees a role for HTML to be an output format , like Postscript. He remarks that trying to fix HTML is like trying to graft arms and legs onto a hamburger. The development model for Xanadu was the very opposite of that for Linux. There are many trade secrets, some of which are only being disclosed this week after Nelson announced at the O'Reilly Open Source convention that the Xanadu technologies were being put into the public domain. Work on the Xanadu idea started around 1960 and proceeded erratically with help from a changing handful of loyal first-generation hackers, mostly based in San Jose, but latterly with collaborators in Southampton, Japan and Australia. The Xanadu team invented its own terminology which to the uninitiated sounds in some ways like 18th century rifle drill. Nelson was ahead of his time, since there were no adequate object platforms in the early stages of his work. The use of ParcPlace Smalltalk was problematical because of the runtime fee. The Xanadu code - at least 300,000 lines in C++ or Smalltalk - mostly dates from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Whether it will provide anything of value today is hard to say. Nelson is very critical of software designers for their simplistic models which result in it being impossible to retrofit anything better. He points to the failure of the Web to be able to deal with two-way links, the problem of version management, and link management. However, the Web "has taken the niche that the Xanadu project was aiming for," Nelson says. Hypertext publishing as implemented on the Web, compared with the Xanadu visualisation, is like a conversation where two people are talking about "moving into space", but one means moving into a new office and the other means the colonisation of the solar system. Nelson describes himself as a contrarian, and he certainly has interesting if idealistic ideas. The lasting benefits of his work are his encouragement to consider what are now seen as alternative approaches, but which when his ideas were developed were innovative. Nelson's lifestyle and tangential views have provided plenty of good copy over the years. He delights in inventing terms like "cybercrud" [putting things over on people using computers], and is a fruitful source of one-liners: "No-one's life has yet been simplified by a computer. "In 1974, computers were oppressive devices in far-off airconditioned places. Now you can be oppressed in your own living room. "Bell Labs created Microsoft by charging $25,000 for Unix. If they'd charged $50, Unix would be the world standard. "What are video games so much better designed than office software? Because people who design video games love to play video games. People who design office software look forward to doing something else at the weekend." Nelson brings some refreshing views to such mundane things to metaphors like clipboards, which he observes you can't see; hold only one object; and whatever you put there destroys the previous contents. Most of Nelson's work has been devoted to what he calls a parallel universe, where documents are not independent, but have relationships that are not shown explicitly. The work has practical value in dealing with version control, which is only primitively handled by existing commercial software. Issues concerned with copyright, publishing and micropayments for authors have been overtaken by events like the open source movement, of which Nelson approves. For the new generation of hackers interested in knowing how the original hackers worked, there is no better introduction than a June 1995 Wired feature by Gary Wolf entitled "The curse of Xanadu". Nelson's present concern appears to be to get intellectual credit for his work, and putting it in the public domain is more likely to bring this about than the excessive secrecy that previously existed. The Udanax.com code is now being released for developers, but the server code, called Udanax Gold, is at present unusable "by those who haven't lived through its history" so is not being released at present. Perhaps one day there will be something better than the Web, and if there is, Nelson's ideas may well play a significant role. Register believe it or not factoid: Nelson's book Computer Lib was at one point published by Microsoft Press. Oh yes. ®
Graham Lea, 27 Aug 1999

Motorola goes live with 200+ node Linux cluster

Motorola is designing next generation semiconductors with the aid of a 200+ node cluster Linux system capable of 0.5 teraflops in peak floating point performance. The system is from Atipa Linux Solutions, and uses Red Hat as the OS. The existence of a system of this size makes it clear that Linux is going places in terms of scalability. Motorola will use it at its Los Alamos National Labs to enhance atomic and device scale modelling for next generation semiconductor devices, and according to company senior research engineer Roland Stumpf, "the turnaround time for some of our simulations will go down from days to hours." Atipa, founded in 1994, supplies pre-configured Linux servers, workstations and clusters for business, education, consumer, scientific and engineering and government customers. ®
John Lettice, 27 Aug 1999

MS ActiveX security holes publicly demoed

Several security problems with Windows 98 were embarrassingly exposed at a security conference earlier this week. At the 8th Usenix Security Symposium in Washington DC, Richard Smith of Pharlap Software showed how ActiveX controls designed to help technical support could be used to gain access to users' PCs. Smith has been pointing out the problem for some time, exposing it on HP machines as early as July. It would seem to bee more a case of fundamental design flaws than bugs per se, but that of course makes matters worse. Problems of this kind are likely to become more common, as computer companies increasingly use the Web for online support, remote installation and remote control, and faulty trust relationships drive a coach and four through security. Smith demoed the security holes on Compaq and HP PCs, but it's likely to be considerably more widespread than that. HP itself posted a patch for the problem on its Web site earlier this month. ®
John Lettice, 27 Aug 1999

Intel's Barrett proposes bus jaw-jaw rather than war-war

The long running bush-war over the future shape of bus technology looks set to come to a peaceful conclusion, as Intel CEO Craig Barrett offered a laurel branch of peace at a Dell jamboree yesterday. The dispute pitched mighty Intel, Dell and Sun, with a solution they call NGIO (new generation input/output) against the equally mighty IBM and HP and not so mighty Compaq with their Future/IO proposals Barrett went out of his way yesterday to suggest that the rift might be healed in the near future at a Dellfest yesterday. He suggested that the two camps were working closely together to attempt to reach a solution. Chipzilla will probably use its Intel Developer Conference which starts in the US next week to pour oil onto troubled water. ® See also Intel stirs up bus row IO battle of giants to make tiny firm rich All becomes Santa Clara as Texas Micro merges with Radisys Talks over IO cooperation collapse
Mike Magee, 27 Aug 1999

Win2k next year – we have a target launch date

It seems that The Register's take on W2000 being delayed until next year has got big stout running legs. (Story: Gates hints Win2k shipment will slip to next year) One of our friendly readers who seems to have inside knowledge of said plans but wants to keep his job, is claiming that a target launch date has been set for the end of January. He wrote: "On the completely hush-hush, plans are already being made for a full-blown Win2000 launch on Superbowl Sunday in late January. By then, it should already be in the channel, but the full (what they are calling "balloons and t-shirts") launch will be either Superbowl Sunday or early February." Oops again, if true... ®
Mike Magee, 27 Aug 1999

Action 2K slams MS and others over Y2K info

The UK's Action 2000 campaign group is setting its sights on software packages whose manufacturers seem to be unable to decide whether, or how, Y2K-compliant they are. And Microsoft products are strong performers in the list of shame. As we've pointed out here in the past, Microsoft has an unfortunate habit of both discovering millennium issues in relatively recent products, and of changing its mind about the compliance status of its products. Action 2000 says that software manufacturers are failing to provide clear information on their products, and they keep changing the information they supply about compliance. This is causing major delays to companies trying to tackle Y2K. Action 2000 so far has a list of 24 software packages where this information has been changed recently, and this list includes Word 97, Excel 95, Outlook 98 and Windows NT Site Server. A Microsoft spokesman conceded that there were problems in a BBC radio interview this morning. Action 2000 meanwhile has surveyed users, and found that 40 per cent of the UK's top 500 companies say that changes in compliance status of software have delayed their Y2K programmes. ®
John Lettice, 27 Aug 1999

SMP Alphas running at 833MHz

Despite the hoo-haa caused by Microsoft dropping NT64, and making the Big Q look more than a tad embarassed, Compaq and its partner Samsung are plugging away with the Alpha chip. Sources very close to supersecret labs said yesterday that Samsung Alpha processors clocking 833MHz without anything but air cooling are running in symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) configurations. The processors are stable at this configuration, and the sources added that the next step, to move the Alpha to 1GHz, was well within the labs' grasp. Presumably, the Alpha chips will be incorporated in those 8,16 and 32 way systems Enrico Pesatori, a senior Compaq VP, mentioned in passing at the beginning of last week. ®
Mike Magee, 27 Aug 1999

AMD resists Intel price cut pressure

AMD has denied claims that it will cut prices on its Athlon chip to match rival Intel's moves earlier this week. AMD said that rumours of price drops were untrue, and it would stand firm with its current prices. Rana Mainee, AMD's European research director, said Intel was following AMD's lead, and not vice versa. "We changed our prices two weeks ago, and Intel reacted to this action," he said. "We evaluate prices regularly, but I can confirm that there are no plans at the moment to make any pricing changes." Distributors Microtronica and Flashpoint both said were unaware of any planned Athlon price cuts. Mainee defended the decision, saying the speed of the Athlon chip made Intel's price cuts irrelevant. Last week, Intel said it would keep its 0.25 micron PIII at the same price of $700/1000, but cut its 550MHz PIII to $490/1000 and its 500MHz PIII to $255/1000. AMD seems to be sticking to its guns over last year's forecasts that it would resist downward pressure on prices. In December, Mainee told The Register that 1999 would see the situation come to a head: "We're not in a position today to resist [Intel's] market pressure. But sometime during 1999, we won't feel compelled to drop our prices when Intel does." ®
Linda Harrison, 27 Aug 1999

Linux does well on AMD Athlon platform

A reviewer on one of the Web's many hardware sites has installed Linux on an AMD Athlon K7 and reports good results from the experience. William Henning, over at CPU Review, installed RedHat 6.0 on a 600MHz Athlon machine after some problems with Mandrake 6.0. He believes the problems he had installing Mandrake are to do with it being optimised for the Intel Pentium platform. There were also some problems with lack of drivers, Henning reports, but benchmarks he ran showed that Linux trounced Win98SE. He awards Linux for the Athlon 9.5 out of 10. ®
Mike Magee, 27 Aug 1999

Amazon does privacy U-turn

Amazon.com has completed an embarrassing policy U-turn after outraging civil liberties groups in the US. The online bookseller's decision to create "Purchase Circles", which reveal what different groups of people have bought providing market intelligence and trends in purchasing habits, has come under heavy fire from critics. According to a statement issued last night, individual customers can now opt out of their purchase circle. Amazon said it would also remove a company-specific purchase circle at the company's request. Despite making the changes, Amazon still maintains that its purchase circles do not breach personal privacy. It claims that in order to preserve anonymity, it deliberately did not compile data for groups of less than 200 people. "Privacy is of utmost importance to our customers and to us," said Warren Adams, the retailer's director of product development. "While the vast majority of feedback from our customers indicates that Purchase Circles have been well received... some customers have expressed concerns, so we're letting people decide individually," he said. A spokeswoman for Amazon.co.uk said the UK branch did not currently have any purchase circles in place. She said she was unaware of any plans to do so. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Aug 1999

Tom's Hardware says Athlon can o'clock to 1GHz

Our friends over at Tom's Hardware Page have produced a guide to overclocking the AMD Athlon K7 processor. But, as we've cautioned before, you'd be as well not to try this unless you are very experienced. The guide to overclocking the Athlon was produced to allow experienced individuals to tweak the processor at speeds which could reach 1000MHz, says Dr Tom. The whole process would be much easier if AMD would release the spex to make use of the so-called "golden fingers", he points out. The article includes detailed diagrams for those willing to take the risk. If you mess up, AMD is not going to replace your processor, assuming you've got hold of one. ® See also Japanese engineer overclocks Athlon 500MHz to 650MHz
Mike Magee, 27 Aug 1999

Apple panic preps Power Mac G4 proxy

Reports on The Register back in July that Apple may not ship Power Macs based on the upcoming PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) appear to have been confirmed by sources within the Mac maker. Previously, we reported that attendees at an Apple publishing roadshow in Toronto had been told by company people that the Power Mac G4, also known by its codename, Sawtooth, would not be shipping until May 2000. That information came hard on the heels of claims from Motorola insiders that the chip company was having real problems getting its final silicon done on the PPC 7400. Motorola immediately contacted The Register to deny the rumours -- head of semiconductor marketing Will Swearingen promised the chip would get a major launch during calendar Q3 1999. We're already half-way through that period... Swearingen would not (understandably) comment on Apple's PPC7400 support, but his promise suggested the problem with the Power Mac G4 was not the CPU but the machines new motherboard design. And, according to Mac-monitoring Web site AppleInsider, it's now emerging that that is indeed the case. Reports there reckon that Apple is having a tough time getting Sawtooth up to production standard quality, and has fallen back on a safety measure to ship a version of the current Power Mac G3 with a PPC 7400 installed. The project's codename, Yikes!, tells you all you need to know about its urgency. Having to wait until sometime next year to ship a PPC 7400-based Mac won't do Apple any favours at all given the momentum building behind Intel's Pentium III and, more specifically, that chip's Streaming SIMD Extension (SSE) technology. SSE is geared towards accelerating multimedia and communications applications, as is the 7400's AltiVec technology. By all accounts, AltiVec is far better than SSE, and Mac developers are already building AltiVec support into their applications. Both facts will count for nothing if Apple can't ship a box that contains AltiVec until the middle of next year. According to AppleInsider, Yikes! will look like the current Power Mac G3, but coloured metallic grey rather than the G3's vivid turquoise. Well, it's better then beige, but it still sounds like a step back to us -- unless Apple's research suggests professional buyers don't like colourful computers because it makes them seem insufficiently 'serious'. The machines will also debut with new professional-oriented full-size keyboard and a decent, non-circular mouse. The Yikes! Power Mac G4 will be offered with 400, 450 and 500MHz PPC7400s. With Intel pushing up to 600MHz, Apple will probably have to go for the higher clock speeds simply so it doesn't appear to be lagging in performance, even though the chips are up to 30 per cent faster than the current PowerPC 750 and way faster than equivalently-clocked PIIIs. Of course, how much performance Mac users will get give the limitations of the current G3 motherboard remain to be seen. Certainly, the Yikes! boxes lack Sawtooth's support for Intel's AGP (Advanced Graphics Port), relying instead on PCI. AGP accelerates graphics performance by giving graphics data its own, dedicated channel between the processor and the graphics card. Yikes! may also ship with DVD-ROM as standard. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Aug 1999

Singapore hit by Compaq job cull

Compaq is to slash its Singapore budget in October, casting off 1600 of its 2600 jobs, representing a massive 62 per cent of its payroll. The company plans to sell its plant in Yishun in northern Singapore, and says that its redundant workers could find jobs with the new owner. Compaq officials would not comment on potential savings to the company, or on charges for the cuts. "It will improve gross margins and return to shareholders," said Tan Choon Seng, vice president for finance and strategic planning at Compaq. This is the latest in a string of jobs losses in the island's electronics industry. Disk drive manufacturers Western Digital and Seagate said that they would be shedding 4100 jobs in order to stay competitive. Seagate will move its operations to Malaysia. Singapore's economic recovery has been dependant on the electronics industry, but analysts say that the industry will continue to grow in the region, despite the losses. Electronics output increased by 20.7 per cent last year, including a 34 per cent increase in July on the previous year. The cuts will be completed by March next year, and are part of Compaq's worldwide belt tightening operation, aiming to reduce the workforce by 8000 overall. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Aug 1999

Chosen few to rake it in thanks to SDMI support

Everyone knows the digital music market is a licence to print money -- and none more so than the technology companies at the heart of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). Take Aris, developer of the watermarking system to be incorporated into Phase One of the SDMI's specification for protecting music held on portable playback devices. According to the Aris licensing agreement obtained by online music retailer MP3.com, hardware manufacturers who wish to use the company's watermark decoding software will have to cough up $10,000 per year to do so. If the vendors also want access to Aris' source code, the licensing fee shoots up to $25,000. What's more, if they want encoding software, that's another $10,000 per year, rising to $25,000 for the encoder source code, and -- get this -- licensees have to hand over to Aris 25 per cent of gross revenues made through the sale of development tools. Anyone concerned they might need technical help with Aris' software will be pleased to know that it's included in the fee -- well, four hours' worth is, at any rate. And that's only for the first year -- after that, Aris will bill you at a rate of $100 per hour phone help or $1000 per day on-site support. Of course, to us mortals, all that sounds horrendous, but to the companies planning to flog solid-state Walkmans to a new generation of music buyers and/or music encoding software to the music industry, such monumental fees are just a small fraction of their total income. That said, vendors have rebelled against excessive technology licensing fees before -- witness the trouble Apple got itself into over its $1-per-port FireWire IP licence -- so Aris could be forced to rethink its pricing plan, not least because the watermarking technology won't be a pre-requisite for SDMI support until Phase Two comes in. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Aug 1999

Online sales hit logistical brick wall

As e-commerce takes off, online retailers are being hit by the logistical nightmare of delivering the goods to their customers. A report from Forrester Research suggests that as the number of e-sales passes the two billion per year mark, companies will have to rethink their distribution strategies. The research company says that delivery of goods has not been a major concern, since online sellers have limited the number of products available. Three factors will put pressure on the electronic retailer: expanded product lines, the need to move large volumes of small parcels, and rising consumer expectations. "No one is prepared for the exponential growth in parcel deliveries that online sales will generate," said Stacie McCullough, an analyst at Forrester. "Firms that fail to attack order fulfilment with the same vigour as online selling will experience customer defection, funding attrition, and distribution nightmares." So what is the solution, according to Forrester? Companies must develop distribution systems that follow the package on its journey from the Web site, to the customer's front door. Customers also need to be kept informed of the progress of their order. Less than half of the companies selling online that were interviewed for the research made a profit on packages they shipped, and a staggering 85 per cent can't handle international orders (Global village? What global village?) because of the complex customs laws involved. ® Daily Net finance news from The Register
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Aug 1999

ICANN moves on cybersquatting

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that has control of the .COM. .NET and .ORG domains, took the first steps towards establishing a procedure to deal with cybersquatting yesterday at its board meeting in Santiago, Chile. ICANN was set up by the US Department of Commerce to internationalise and democratise the domain name registration system, which had previously been operated by NSI under contract. Mike Roberts, the Interim president, has 45 days to appoint a drafting committee and come up with some proposed working procedures for dispute resolution, starting with definitions of cybersquatting and acting in bad faith. An ICANN group has suggested that the maximum cost of dispute resolution be $900, split between the parties. WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organisation) wants special rights for so-called famous trademark holders, something that ICANN did not address. Reverse-domain-name-hijacking in which powerful organisations intimidate smaller domain name holders into surrendering their domain names is also of concern. ICANN is financially insecure because the $1 per registration that it was to have received from the 60-plus registrars is not compulsory until there is full democratisation, although some registrars have volunteered to pay. ICANN intends to establish a members-at-large group of 5,000 people who will elect nine directors to the ICANN board. A decision was deferred until a meeting in November as it was felt that more opinions must be sought before a method can be devised to make it possible for policy to be proposed by individuals. Since there will be no funding for these members, those who become active are likely to be self-selecting and from wealthier countries. A non-commercial domain names constituency was agreed, and it will be able to vote when the nine new board members are elected. US legal problems resulted in a decision to establish a new tier between the council of up to 18 people and the at-large members, apparently to limit the possibility of disgruntled members suing ICANN (a California not-for-profit corporation). Others see the move as a means by which the ICANN board buffers itself from accountability. The board voted to extend its maximum term to 30 September next year. It looks as though ICANN will have a difficult role to steer an acceptable path between micro-democracy loving individuals, the 60 or so registrars, and major commercial interests. ® Daily Net finance news from The Register
Graham Lea, 27 Aug 1999

Has Intel been caught sabotaging Intergraph?

Intergraph's return to the Federal Court in Alabama(Earlier story) over what it claims is Intel's failure to comply with the terms of a Preliminary Injunction could spell big trouble for Chipzilla. If Intergraph is to be believed, Intel has just carried on screwing up its business, despite what the judge says. Intergraph claims in a Motion to the court that Intel is not complying with the Preliminary Injunction Order of April 1998 that obliged Intel to provide inter alia information and samples to Intergraph. As a result, CEO Jim Meadlock says he has had to lay off 200 people and withdraw from the general-purpose server market. Specifically, Intergraph claims that Intel refused to supply Carmel chipset information, so that Intel's Brigantine motherboard had to be used instead. Competitors were given the information, Meadlock said. It was a double whammy, because Intel has now told Intergraph that it is discontinuing Brigantine sales to Intergraph. Meadlock also says that Intel has not fixed a bug in Marlinspike that was reported in March. And it also looks as though Intel will be in deep trouble for not giving Intergraph a letter certifying that Intel chips were used in its hardware. The letter was needed to meet tender conditions in Mexico, where Intergraph had been bidding for a multimillion dollar contract. Intel claimed it no longer supplied such letters, but Intergraph obtained a copy of two that Intel had supplied to IBM, and sent them to Intel. Seven months later, Intel provided a letter for Intergraph, but by this time it was of course too late to bid. Intergraph has also been excluded from product launches and from web sites mentioning manufacturers of Intel-based products. Chuck Malloy for Intel is claiming that Intel complied with the "letter and spirit" of the Order, but strangely he would not comment on the Mexico letter. It sounds as though Intel has been thoroughly caught, and will have to pay the price. In its Motion, Intergraph is asking for the appointment of a Special Master to supervise the Order until the case comes to trial in June. ®
Graham Lea, 27 Aug 1999

Bug found up Bill Gates' ass

If you go to this Microsoft page, you are invited to submit a bug report for a product we didn't think was part of the software company's fundamental strategy. But, as we went to press, something was very wrong with the headline which reads: "Do you think you've found a bug in Microsoft Bill Gates Anus 2000?" Ahem. Piles of fun at Redmond, then... The bottom line is, we can't imagine the headline will be there for long, but at least it's recorded for posteriority... The trick, of course, as several readers have pointed out, is to put whatever you like in the URL, in the right place. Redmond is not brilliant at doing this CGI script stuff. ®
Mike Magee, 27 Aug 1999

Amiga ends ‘freedom of information’ policy

OpinionAmiga, inc. today scaled back its attempts to be rather more open with the Amiga community than it has in the past. Set in motion by Amiga president Jim Collas, Amiga Glasnost centred on regular updates on the company's progress both as a business and as a technology developer. However, according to the company's Web site, "for the next several months, the Amiga staff will be focused on implementing our business and product plans. We will not be discussing or commenting on future company directions during this time". So there... Still, given the grief Collas and co. have been given by the more conservative -- dare we say 'backward looking'? -- members of the Amiga community, primarily over the company's decision to base the next generation of the Amiga Operating Environment on Linux rather than the more AmigaOS-like (at least in the die hards' view) QNX, you can't blame the man for saying: 'To hell with this openness -- we'll just do what every other computer company does and keep our mouths shut.' It's notable that Commodore wannabe Iwin has suddenly taken the same approach. Ultra-minority computer systems -- sorry, folks, but that's what the Amiga is. For now... -- tend to be supported by people who are most insistent that their favourite system is the best, despite the fact it may have been long out-evolved by 'fitter' systems. That insistence on maintaining an identity in the face of the facts, tends to generate a proportionally higher number of users willing to toss their orb around, often without any real appreciation of the way the computer business works. One or two Mac users we could mention behave in just the same way, and the Mac is way more viable than the Amiga is right now. No wonder then that Collas who, to be fair, is probably doing what he can to maintain the viability of the Amiga platform, has got a little fed up with the carping of those who insist on living in the past, circa 1985. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Aug 1999

MS trashes own 64-bit plans by killing Alpha NT

AnalysisIt may be some time before we learn who really killed NT for Alpha, but it's the stray bullets that are likely to have hit 64-bit NT - Alpha and Intel versions - that will turn out to have been the real news. All of the evidence points to Microsoft's high end OS strategy now descending into chaos and delays, with the Linux and Unix camps deriving the major benefits of the great screw-up. Rewind to Steve Ballmer's presentation at WinHEC earlier this year and you'll see why the last week's breakdown in relations between Compaq and Microsoft is so damaging for the 64-bit project (See report). Ballmer said then: "We will launch a 64-bit version of Windows based on the Windows 2000 code base as soon as we can after the shipment of Windows 2000." This obviously doesn't commit Microsoft to a date, but the reference to theWin2k codebase is important because it indicates a close relationship between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Compaq's disengagement from the 32-bit version is therefore a problem. The demo accompanying Ballmer's speech was particularly relevant in light of this. There was a quick look at 64-bit code running (or more properly, sitting) on a Merced emulator, then a swift switch to something more operationally 64-bit running SQL Server on Alpha. It was absolutely clear that despite Microsoft suggestions to the contrary, the Alpha implementation was way ahead of the IA-64 one, and this suggests, if Microsoft was trying to maintain linkage between 32-bit and 64-bit development, that the Alpha version of Win2k was a critical plank in the company's 64-bit plans. But Compaq pulled the plugs on that, while insisting it was still co-operating strongly with Microsoft on a 64-bit Alpha NT implementation. That lasted for very nearly 24 hours, until the Microsoft counter-strike. Effectively what Compaq was doing was trying to reduce development costs, while at the same time (probably) making Microsoft an offer it ought to have trouble refusing. As Enrico Pesatori pointedly said in the leaked memo that revealed Compaq was abandoning Win2k for Alpha, "Alpha is the development platform for 64-bit Windows NT." One could loosely translate this as meaning that Compaq reckoned that Alpha was absolutely critical to 64-bit NT development, and that it could therefore pull the plugs on the old DEC NT joint development deal while carrying on with 64-bit development, maybe even getting some licensing revenue out of Microsoft while doing so. The Microsoft riposte itself is interesting, as are the circumstances of its release. The company announced it was cancelling development of future versions of 32-bit and 64-bit NT for Alpha, but also said that "Compaq, as well as our other OEM partners, will continue to work with us to deliver a 64-bit version of Windows for our enterprise customers based on the IA64 architecture." So although the two, er, allies are busily firing off salvoes at one another, they're both professing to be continuing with cosy joint development arrangements; they're just talking about developing two different things. Microsoft however hadn't initially had a response to the shock news of Compaq pulling out of Alpha Win2k. It issued a prepared statement on Monday, but didn't post it as a press release. Instead, it published it in a lower profile area, here. But even after the statement was published Microsoft's position wasn't entirely clear, because although the statement quite clearly said development was being discontinued, a spokeswoman on Monday told one reporter that Microsoft was still developing 64-bit versions for Alpha and Intel internally. That gives you an indication of the speed of Microsoft's flip-flop. So what really happened? We can presume that the events of the week had been preceded by white-knuckle negotiations between the two companies. The Compaq move may have leaked early by accident or design, but in all probability Compaq wanted to force Microsoft to deal. Instead, Microsoft did something that might turn out to hurt it more than it hurts Compaq. By announcing it was pulling development completely, and suggesting that Compaq's strategy was to migrate users to Intel platforms it was to some extent undermining Alpha. But Compaq has been getting more enthusiastic about Linux and True64 on Alpha anyway, so the damage only applies to existing Alpha NT shops. If the Alpha platform really is vital to 64-bit NT development, Microsoft is probably also inflicting far greater damage on its own 64-bit development. Its immediate plans are for a stop-gap mixture of 32-bit and 64-bit code to support Merced, but Ballmer's promise of a 64-bit version based on the Win2k codebase is definitely receding. And other matters are likely to cause further interference. Microsoft is already planning a revised kernel for Win2k after the initial shipment, and the NT/Win2k rebuild codenamed Neptune is also being developed, which will mean more kernel hi-jinks. The company will at least attempt to sync the development of the 64-bit product into these, but at the same time will have to pick up where the Compaq engineers left off, and probably disentangle itself from any Compaq intellectual property issues that are left lying around. Microsoft co-development deals, of course, generally leave Microsoft holding the IP, but there's no doubt still scope for the whole thing to go expensively legal. Delays? We confidently predict that not much will get out of the door until yet another new Microsoft OS roadmap is issued at WinHEC 2000. ®
John Lettice, 27 Aug 1999

How Microsoft hedged its 64-bit Alpha NT bets

We've now received copies of two postings Microsoft did on the same day about the future of 64-bit Alpha NT. Both appeared on August 24. In the first posting, Microsoft said: "This announcement does not currently affect our plans to develop and support 64-bit versions of our products on the Alpha platform. Compaq, as well as our other OEM partners, will continue to work with us to deliver a 64-bit version of Windows for our enterprise customers." In the second posting, Microsoft said: "There will be no future releases of Microsoft products for the 32-bit or 64-bit Alpha platform. This means there will not be 32-bit Alpha versions of Windows 2000, beginning with Release Candidate 2, nor will there be new 32-bit Alpha releases of SQL Server, Exchange, or other 32-bit Alpha BackOffice products. There will also be no 64-bit version of Windows or BackOffice developed for the Alpha platform. " And the current version of this release can be found here. It sort of combines the two, but misses out some bits about NT on Intel working faster than Unix systems on RISC platforms. One of the interesting facets to this is that Intel and its IA-64 Merced architecture now wins, if you want to use Win64 NT, that is... ® See also How a leaked Pesatori Alpha NT customer letter looks Leaked Compaq Q&A shows level of 64-bit NT Alpha chaos
Mike Magee, 27 Aug 1999

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