15th > September > 1999 Archive
Oracle, Sun, Cisco and Exodus are pumping £5 million into a kick-start up venture called business-incubator.com. Essentially this is a branded portfolio of services designed to get new British companies up and running on the web. Pay up £15,000 for three months, and in you get hardware, database software, network infrastructure and web hosting facilities. The Incubators will also supply consultancy services to help young companies manage their data. Interested? Register here. You’ll get the yay or the nay within 48 hours. ® Tune into Cash Register and turn on to our daily Net Finance News
eBay is in the news again -- and for all the wrong reasons -- after it confirmed that etchings from a convicted serial killer were being offered for sale through the online auction house. Fifty-four-year-old Arthur Shawcross, who was convicted of murdering 11 women in Rochester, New York back in 1991, now faces a disciplinary hearing later this week to see whether he is in breach of prison rules about running a business from jail. Not only could he lose prisoners' privileges including his pens, pencils, paints and easel, he could even be transferred to another prison and face the prospect of a much tougher regime. According to the Nando Times, Shawcross has been sending drawings, oil paintings, portraits and autographs to dealers in return for sundry items such as clothes. In turn, some of these items have found their way onto eBay as part of a macabre auction of artwork. One of the items for sale was a signed poem called "Ostracized" and signed index cards for a "female serial killer groupie". Although eBay reported this latest incident to the authorities and closed down the sale as soon as it was discovered, there appears to be no end to the PR mishaps that has plagued the service. Most recently hoaxers have attempted to auction babies and kidneys. Last week Michael van Swaaij, European VP of eBay told The Register that eBay would not tolerate such behaviour and would prosecute anyone engaged in this type of activity. ®
Hacks who were deafened at the rave-style launch of AOL's subscription-free ISP Netscape Online (NSO) last month were given a sleek metallic mouse complete with a capital "N" tattooed on its back by of thanks for turning up. Unfortunately the little squeaker delivered to The Register went belly-up less than 24 hours after it was plugged in causing one "old faithful" Fujitsu PC to freeze three times in a matter of hours. Is this a metaphor for NSO or just another example of more crap marketing tat offloaded onto journos in the hope they'll write something nice?
ilion's board has approved a £40.2 million cash bid from Landis, just one day after its rival said it was considering going hostile. ilion's directors can be satisfied with their efforts to extract more money from Landis. Last week the networking equipment distie said it had terminated talks with unnamed parties (but known to include Landis), because their offers did not reflect the "true" value of the company. In July, ilion rebuffed a 140p per share offer from Landis (today's bid is worth 160p per share). The Landis bid also represents a 70 per cent premium on ilion's share price on 14 April, the day before ilion announced it was in preliminary talks with prospective buyers. Shareholders owning 46.1 per cent of the issued share capital have committed to accepting the Landis offer. The Landis/ilion combine represents a major consolidation of the European networking equipment distribution scene. Assume redundancies. ® Related story Landis prepares to go hostile on ilion
If major computer manufacturers were surprised with the speed the Internet took off, they've also been astonished by the rise of Web sites, which often beat the thick monthlies stone cold on news and reviews. Press relations will never be the same again... Here's a daily report of what we've spotted since we last looked, 24 hours ago. If you're not in this roundup, it doesn't mean we're excluding you, and if you have information you think deserves a wider audience, please email us. AMD Zone reports that MicroStar's revised mobo supports the Athlon 700, a further confirmation of its closeness, as reported in The Register yesterday. It also says that Tyan's Dual Athlon board will support FireWire, and has onboard SCSI 3. Legacy support is minimal, and the dual boards may be Slot B, rather than Slot A. Over at AnandTech, there are more reports of the surfacing of the Athlon 700. It says that AMD will wait for Intel to go for CuMine before formally announcing the product. It will will also socket Athlons soon to compete with the Intel Celeron line. The site has an abstract from a report about Microsoft's X-Box which we reported last week. SharkyExtreme has a review of Skywell's Magic Theater Pro, a surround sound kit for the PC platform. It has also updated a report on 3dfx's texture compression technology. At JC's news, there is some information about the Pentium III "B" suffix we reported a few weeks ago. JC also mentions the Athlon 700 in passing and asks if anyone has called AMD for confirmation. Our information yesterday, however, is pukka -- the OEM does not want to drop himself in it by allowing us to publish his name... The estimable Kyle Bennett at HardOCP points to a Turkish site which has more pix of the up-and-coming Intel Camino i820 boards, this time from Asus. Kyle also reviews a Guillemot video card on his site. CPU Review on Monday reported that mobo prices for the Athlon are beginning to fall. William Henning also says he's gathered nearly 13,000 signatures for a petition he organised about Celeron SMP... ® If you've news for The Register, send mail here to be included in future roundups.
Taiwanese mobo manufacturer Tekram said it will build a mobo based on the up-and-coming Intel 82C810e chipset. The board uses Slot 1, has a 133MHz front side bus (FSB) and will support Intel clock speeds up to 733MHz -- and that's what we'll see very soon. It will also support 500MHz Celerons. The board comes with integrated 3D AGP, AC97 audio, and an MC97 modem upgrade. The board supports IDE 66Mb/s, includes 133/100 MHz display cache support and has five PCI and one PCI/ISA slot. Tekram's 810e board also supports Suspend to Ram and APCI BIOS implementations, which Tekram describes as "deep sleep yet communicating". We know how it feels. ®
Reports that AMD is set to cut prices on the 4th of October next were neither confirmed nor denied by the firm today. Yesterday, we reliably reported that AMD has already started shipping volumes of a 700MHz Athlon. When it does ship this part, in the near future, price adjustments are inevitable. According to information which a dealer claimed he received from a European AMD distributor, prices of Athlon K7s will fall as the company readies its faster 700MHz Athlon. The information, which we were unable to verify at press time, is that the Athlon 500MHz will fall to $220 ($258), the 550MHz to $320 ($465), the 600MHz to $490 ($637) and the 650MHz part to $880. We have no information, so far, about the price of the 700MHz. (Prices are approximate -- after conversion from a European currency. The prices in brackets are the approximate current prices). Robert Stead, European marketing director at AMD, said: "We don't pre-announce price changes publicly, but I will ensure that you are informed as soon as any changes are made." If the reports are true, the reductions will mean a further headache for Intel, which has spent the last three months adjusting its prices in a bid to compete, aggressively, with its much smaller competitor. Further, and again depending on whether the information is correct, the price cuts mean that AMD is not responding blindly to Intel's moves. A price of $320 for an Athlon K7 550 demonstrates it is deliberately targeting the chip giant. We will attempt to get further information during the day. ®
Microsoft will officially ship Windows 2000 Release Candidate 2, intended to be the final widespread beta, today, but the company has reportedly removed component load balancing from the Advanced Server and Datacenter Server RC2 code. This raises questions about Win2k's scalability and clustering ability, although the company claims the matter is simply a packaging decision. We at The Register propose to have one of our uncharacteristic attacks of believing Microsoft at this juncture, and we'll tell you why. Load balancing is important to scalability, and scalability has been a running sore for NT for years. So if Microsoft pulls it from the beta one is naturally inclined to suspect that it doesn't work properly yet. But Microsoft has also laid out its plans for multiple versions of Win2k, with feature and pricing escalators attached. So the packaging decision could have been to move this feature upscale in order to differentiate more between the capabilities of the different products. Component load balancing will now ship as standard with the AppCenter Server, scheduled for mid-2000, the idea no doubt being that if you want heavy duty enterprise servers, this is the one you buy. Pulling it at this late stage will of course cause some trouble for companies who were banking on it for an early Win2k rollout, but the code is still available as a free extra from Microsoft, so they're not completely sunk. Suspicious minds might reckon it won't be free when AppCenter ships, however. Meanwhile, other reports suggest that Microsoft, having slipped two weeks in shipping RC2, might be winning the 'ship in 1999' war after all. Paul Thurrots WinInfo says that the build number is 2128, three ahead of what was generally expected last week, and reckons "microsoft is finally shaking off the rumours that it won't RTM Windows 2000 this year." Nate Mook's Betanews (See story) meanwhile reports another piece of jettisoning from RC2. The autologin feature has gone, he says, because although it was handy, it "caused a massive security hole to exist on the system when running the telnet server." Woops. Microsoft hasn't been having a lot of luck in this field recently, having last week had to post a fix for another massive telnet security hole, in Windows 98, here. ®
Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun, dropped in to the IDC European IT Forum in Paris by satellite (again), but he did update his one-liners: his latest is that "W2K will be a greater disaster than Y2K". McNealy pointed out that conventional brokers who scorned online trading because the size of their client's deals were often an order of magnitude greater than those of E*Trade or Schwab would run into trouble when their clients died and their children put the accounts online elsewhere. There was no room for such complacency, he noted. "Have lunch or be lunch" was getting a bit tired, but "Those who snooze will lose" updated it. The situation concerning broadband was not as bad as was made out, McNealy claimed. Each month, enough fibre to encircle the world three times was being laid, despite around half the world's population dying without having made a telephone call. To McNealy Dialtone has become the Webtone, and he wants narrow band to be near-free, with broadband charged economically. So far as who was in charge was concerned, it was the Web. Microsoft was trying to be in charge, McNealy quipped, but the rest of the world wanted open, multi-vendor systems. It was an HTML world, not one dominated by MS Word; Java and not Visual Basic; and browsers, not Windows. Of the $3 billion of venture capital distributed in Silicon Valley in the last quarter, McNealy didn't think any of it was for packaged software. Pure software and marketing organisations were doomed, McNealy thought: what was needed was "clicks and bricks" - with the bricks apparently being Sun's hardware, or content. On the subject of nuclear power plants, McNealy was of the opinion that mere mortals should not be instructed how to operate them - and the same was true for PCs. After all, 40 per cent of AOL users only used AOL on their PCs, some 50 per cent of home PCs were languishing because the would-be users had forgotten how to use them - especially CTL-ALT-DEL. PCs were just too complex, the man from Sun said. So far as software was concerned, most should be near-free he suggested, which gave him the cue to announce that in the first week and a half of Star being available free from Sun, there had been more than 250,000 downloads. One of the downloaders was McNealy's father-in-law, who had been using MS Office (which McNealy said was why he still called him "father-in-law"). Star was "just" 65Mb, though - alright for some with fibre access, but tough for others. A portal version of Star will be available in the next few months, McNealy said, adding that it was not necessary to have 40 million lines of code to run a browser. McNealy had a new joke about Linux: there were more people developing with it than the entire population of the state of Washington. One of McNealy's envisaged uses for embedded devices was to give him control of any car driven by his son, so that it could be kept below 100 mph - and to know when his son had been downtown rather than in the library working, something he hoped would be recognised as great parenting rather than an invasion of privacy. Questioned about the small number of thin clients (about a million in 1998) compared with PCs (perhaps 100 million), McNealy noted that "it takes as long to unravel a hairball as to ravel it, and Windows had been around for 20 years. It would still be some time before PCs were back in the hobby clubs again. ®
The Taiwanese press is today reporting that Dutch firm Philips will shift its entire LCD monitor production to the island. According to the organisers of the Computex trade show, Philips will produce half a million LCD monitors in this year, representing around 12 per cent of global volume, but will make a million LCD monitors next year. Local manufacturers of panels will provide 40 per cent of Philips' volume, next year, according to the same source. Back in July, Philips struck a deal with South Korean firm LG Electronics, in which it took a 50 per cent share in its LCD business, an investment amounting to over $1.6 billion. There appears, therefore, something of a logical inconsistency in these positions. But Bob Raikes, director of analysis at Meko, which specialises in this segment of the market, said that there was a difference between panel production and complete monitor production. He said: "Philips monitors is already based in Taiwan, and this refers to the production of cased panels, with power supplies and the like." While Philips has a joint venture in Japan, production there was not high. Raikes added that while there was a shortage of LCD panels and monitors, and supply was somewhat tight, the situation was "not as bad as some manufacturers would like us to believe". He added that PC notebook manufacturers, rather than single sourcing, were relying on multiple manufacturers to supply their demands. ®
Our intrepid correspondent Graham Lea has returned safely from the IDC bash in Paris. But something's bugging him. "Can anyone confirm that Tim Koogle, CEO of Yahoo (who gave a boring speech), wears a hairpiece or wig?", he asks. "I tried to get near enough to snatch at it, but he escaped." Trichologists can contact Graham direct here.
In the wake of poor sales and a viscous HDD price war, Seagate has announced that ten per cent of its worldwide workforce is to about to bite the bullet. The 8000 or so jobs will be cut over the next nine months and the disk drive vendor hopes the action will save it around $150 million a year. The company will take a $200 million hit in its current quarter to cover the restructuring. Back in June, Seagate added it name to the increasing roll call of disk makers struggling to make ends meet. Last month, Seagate was accused by rival Quantum of cutting its prices to force competitors out of the market. Most of the jobs to be cut will come from factories in the Asia-Pacific region, although the US and Europe won't escape the axe. Seagate says it is building a smaller, more technically aware workforce for the future, buy then who isn't? This is not the first major round of lay-offs to hit the Seagate workforce. Last year, 10,000 jobs went to the wall. The company continues to blame an unexpected fall off in demand and general downward pressure on prices for its troubles. ®
A sharp increase in demand for domain names and related services has catapulted NetBenefit into the black, a sure sign of the UK's growing appetite for the Internet. Sales at NetBenefit were up 73 per cent to £1.97 million during the year to 30 June turning a loss of £3852 in 1998 into an operating profit of £254,357. Since year-end, the company reported that sales have increased by 80 per cent year on year. NetBenefit MD Jonathan Robinson said: "This has been a tremendous year for NetBenefit [where] we've seen massive growth in sales and profits." NetBenefit floated on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in June when it raised £4.48 million to fund growth. The company said plans to transfer NetBenefit onto the Full List were at an "advanced" stage. The company recently bought French domain service Voxpop and also has an office in the US. ® For the latest "ker ching" on the Web tune into Cash Register and turn on to our daily Net Finance News
Hamburg patent lawyers Hauck, Graalfs, Wehnert have filed a claim with the German patent office to trademark the word Linux, according to Germany's c't (story in German). The news service says that a spokesman for the partnership confirmed the application. c't also notes that Linux is listed in the German Markenblatt (listing of brand names) dated 9th September under the software category. The trademark is said to be owned by Roy Boldt of Hamburg systems house and consultancy ChannelOne, but so far c't has been unable to contact him for an explanation. But establishing ownership of a trademark in one country isn't always a great deal of use. Linus Torvalds owns the Linux trademark in the US, but he seems not to have gone on any kind of global offensive. German regulations allow three months for objections to the application, and no doubt there'll be plenty. And even if any one company did manage to get hold of the Linux trademark, actually trying to stop anybody else distributing software under the label would be a sure-fire way not to sell any software yourself. ®
Reuters, the world's biggest news wholesaler, is getting into retail. It is pumping in £20 million into an own-brand 24/7 global news service, The Guardian reveals. Reuters research suggests "that there is demand among high-net-worth individuals for a readable, fast service that can provide 24-hour news", according to The Guardian, in a piece that bears all the hallmarks of a PR-engineered leak. This is fatuous stuff for the media pack -- Register research indicates there is no demand from anyone for an unreadable, slow service. And that didn't cost us a penny to find out. The Reuters retail site will link into all its original material and it's taking on 20 journalists dedicated to the site in the first stage of the operation. The company hasn't worked out all the details yet, The Guardian says. So let's make some educated guesses. The site will supply also personal finance news and advice, and at some stage, tie up with an online share-trading operation. Conflicts of interest means that Reuters risks losing some of its wholesale news customers. But this will be a small price to pay if it succeeds in establishing a successful retail site. The company has the muscle and the name to push into the online retail jungle. But does it have the flair? Reuters is not exactly noted for its retailing prowess. And besides, the Net space for Finance/News/Share Trades is looking increasingly crowded. Lined up against Reuters already are Motley Fool, which today received a $25 milllion VC injection, Raging Bull, Silicon Investor, TheStreet.com, and more traditional rivals like Bloomberg and FT.Com. ® For the latest "ker ching" on the Web tune into Cash Register and turn on to our daily Net Finance News.
There's yet more shenanigans at 08004u -- the flat fee freephone ISP -- The Register can report. After going belly up less than 24 hours after launching the service, some people trying to access the site have been directed to the personal ICQ homepage of a 16-year-old schoolboy. "The visitor counter raced up to 50 in ten seconds," reported one Vulture Central reader, but that's still far short of 08004u's claim that it site was being bombarded with 37,000 "hits" a second. Today, 08004u is directing punters to a Microsoft Personal Web Server 4.0 page. Happy days... ®
Does Yahoo! understand the interests of a business audience. Not a lot judging from CEO Tim Koogle's dull performance at the European IT Forum in Paris. It was less than riveting to hear how Yahoo! had continued to follow its original business plan and strategy from the days of six employees in 1995. Did we believe that? Not a word of it. History always gets to be written by the victors. Perhaps this was another retrofit to show how great the foresight of the founders had been. Koogle summarised Yahoo!'s position as one where "the model seems to be working, but the company needs some close management". Of course. There were some Yahoo numbers: an 80 million plus audience, 65 million unique registrations, 310 million page views/day (in June 1999), 19 international Yahoos in 10 languages, but (just) 33 per cent of the traffic was non-US. Yahoo'!s acquisitions were profitable in just two quarters, the whizz ex-kid said, and its revenue was increasing better than linearly. In response to a question, Koogle agreed that there was no single element that enabled Yahoo to keep ahead of competitors, but being an early mover had probably helped quite a bit. He had a number of bottom lines, and a good store of off the shelf cliches. Yahoo! "changes the way people live and work" and "Do you Yahoo?". Yuck. No. ®
Amiga president -- and now CEO too, you'll notice, unlike ex-pres. Jim Collas -- Tom Schmidt yesterday posted his take on the future of his company and the Amiga platform. The much-anticipated statement was short on detail, big on vision, but one thing is very clear: Amiga Inc. is no longer a hardware company. Schmidt's strategy is in contrast to Schmidt's predecessor, Collas' plan, which centred on both hardware and software technology as the basis for an entire line of computer products. So how does the new approach play out? Essentially, Amiga Inc will develop the software created for the company's 'multimedia convergence computer' (MCC) but offer it to OEMs keen to break into the emerging information appliance market. Presumably the hardware hasn't entirely been abandoned -- it will simply be demoted to reference platform status. The point is, Amiga won't manufacture anything -- other people will (hopefully). The trouble is, right now everyone and their dog are devising and building reference designs for Net access-oriented set-top boxes -- this is not an empty arena Amiga is stepping into. That said, Amiga does have some interesting ideas here. Most set-top box designs currently in the works are essentially cut-down PCs running multi-purpose operating systems like Linux, BeOS or even Windows CE. Those OSes support browsers and Net connection utilities, and that's all you need for your appliance, right? Not necessarily. Amiga's appliance software plan seems to be to offer a much wider range of facilities, encompassing everything from Net access to operating as a digital VCR, if its latest patent filings are anything to go by. Amiga sees the information appliance as something more than a box you use to view the Web -- instead, it's a kind of control unit for networks linking all your home entertainment kit to each other and to the Net. It's a clever idea, and one that Sony has on its mind for the upcoming PlayStation 2. And by moving to a business model that's centred on licensing rather than on selling boxes, Amiga Inc. can slim itself down to focus on a single core competency: technology design. Given the extent to which the Amiga brand has faded from the mind of the general public, Schmidt's plan makes a lot of sense. Essentially he's saying that the company needs to change, to adapt to a consumer IT market that's radically different from the one in which the Amiga was originally launched. The trouble is, the Amiga community itself is focused on that old strategy of desktop computers, largely because that's what its members have been using all these years. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's becoming increasingly clear that Amiga's goals and those of the community are widely divergent and that a parting of the ways is going to have to happen. In fact, it probably already has. This week's announcement of the formation of the Phoenix Platform Consortium (PPC), a community-driven body that hopes to take control of the old Amiga platform, suggests that the community no longer believes it can get what it wants from Amiga Inc. And vice versa. Amiga Inc. can't get what it wants -- the level of sales it needs to survive long-term -- from the community. It needs the community's developers -- who else is going to write application and utility software for the new platform, at least in the short term? -- which is why Schmidt's sales pitch stresses getting the Amiga concepts into other platforms rather than getting people to buy Amigas. In Schmidt's mind, Amiga is a concept rather than a platform, so he's effectively saying it's now little more than a brandname that can be attached to any technology. But how realistic is Schmidt's goal? Certainly, owning a stack of information appliance patents will help because it will force other set-top box vendors to cough up royalties to Amiga. But making money from patent licensing is not the same thing as making Amiga software technology ubiquitous. Schmidt's model here is clearly Sun's Java efforts -- ie. a cross-platform technology enabling software -- but Java has been around for years and has yet to gain any ground outside of the corporate IT world. Much of Amiga's software technology appears to be based upon or sit on top of Java and its networking sidekick, Jini. So if they fail in the consumer arena, you can be pretty sure Amiga will too. ®
The modest title that Bernard Vergnes, the old-timer who has been put out to pasture as chairman of Microsoft Europe, took for his talk at the IDC European IT Forum in Paris was "Changing the world through software". Gates' vision statements that had driven the company were duly trotted out by his obedient servant, from computers on every desk and in every home [Vergnes admitted that in the early days. the "home" part had often been dropped], through DNS, and a Web life style, to Ballmer's more recent idea of empowering people with great software [40 million lines, for example], anytime, any place and on any device. McNealy said in his talk that Microsoft had stolen this slogan from him. Fortunately for Microsoft, the visions did not have to work, because the monopoly did. Another area for Microsoft where Vergnes saw opportunity was in teleconferencing: all those unnecessary meetings cost $56 billion per year in the US alone, he noted. The great future fields would be a Windows-driven Web-centric platform and a natural interface that allowed voice recognition, visual recognition, and handwriting recognition. We shall see. ®
The unthinkable is happening in the DRAM market: prices are shooting skywards. A modest increase in the last couple of months has been eclipsed by spot market prices hitting $15 only two days ago, according to DRAM price gurus ICIS-LOR. Ed Bateman, product manager at memory manufacturer Hypertec, said: "In many cases prices have more than doubled – especially for more sought after parts, such as PC100. If you look at the interest surrounding Rambus, the manufacturers are now focussing an increasing amount of attention on this, consequently supplies of other parts will become reduced." Bateman also pointed to increased demand from the PC makers. "The average desktop PC now uses 100MB of memory, so there is a healthy demand." In the wake of painfully low prices, caused by manufacturers churning out memory like there was no tomorrow (and for some of them there really was no tomorrow) many DRAM makers have cut back on production. Following the inexorable laws of supply and demand, a lack of supply at a time when demand is still healthy, has seen prices go up. Writing for The Register, Alan Stanley, MD of memory distributor Dane-Elec, said: "Worldwide memory overproduction was flooding the market, resulting in constantly falling prices. Not surprisingly, the manufacturers soon grew tired of having their fingers burned. Some got out of the DRAM business altogether, while others cut back production. The problem was simply that they could not make money." One such vendor to cut back on its DRAM commitments is Fujitsu. It is now in discussion with Infineon and Micron to secure DRAM supplies without having to re-enter the market big time. Click here for full story. ®
SGI pulled a neat trick yesterday, doubling the number of job cuts it intends to make in its restructuring programme, yet claiming it's only laying off the 1500 staff it said it would last month. How was this feat of mathematical dexterity achieved? The addition 1500 jobs will not be axed -- the company will simply pack those staff into its Windows NT workstation and Cray supercomputer divisions. And, as it hopes to sell both operations off in the very near future, SGI manages to rid itself of 3000 unwanted people but by taking a redundancy hit for only 1500. Smart, eh? The plan is unlikely to upset any of SGI's shareholders since the process of selling the Cray and NT divisions will push the company's upcoming Q2 results into profit. SGI's CFO, Steve Gomo, also said the company would grow in profitability through the second half of the fiscal year. SGI's second quarter ends 31 December. The sale of the both operations is proceeding "quite well", said Gomo, who added that buyers will be announced in the very near future, possible later this week in the case of the NT division. ® Related Story SGI to spin off Cray, NT workstation biz, graphics expertise
Following its decision to cut back on its own DRAM production last year, Fujitsu is in talks with Micron and Infineon to secure memory supplies. According to reports, Fujitsu is saying that negotiations are on-going and that no deals have yet been struck. NEC is also understood to be talking to Micron and Infineon for the very same reason. Micron already supplies NEC with some memory, but should either one of these proposed contracts come off it will be a significant boost for the two western DRAM makers. ® See also: DRAM prices rocket on spot market
Mickey Mouse, Goofy and all the Disney gang are to be employed to teach Europe's youngsters about steering clear of strangers on the Net. In a reworking of the popular fairy tale, the three little pigs will warn kids of the dangers of the "big bad wolves" that stalk the Net. According to Reuters, Disney Online will launch the education programme today in Paris. Disney's French language Web site will be the first to carry the warnings. Britain and Germany will get their safe surfing messages next week. Kids will be warned not give out any personal details -- regardless of who they think they're talking to. The move is designed to clean up the Web and help stamp out paedophile activity. Last week AOL UK announced it had created a "walled garden" of safe content where children aged 2-12 are free to roam without fear of coming across disturbing or adult material. And in July, the Health Education Authority launched a Web site designed to help children assess the usefulness of information they find on the Net. ®
Microsoft is buying graphics software specialist Visio in a $1.3 billion stock deal. Visio will operate as a separate unit within Microsoft's Office Productivity Group. It will also continue as a "separate but complementary brand". What does this mean -- MS Visio 2000? And... there's not really much more to say, really, which is why this story is a Money Nib® NBNib is the Brit-hack term for a very short story. It stands for "news in brief".
Speech Recognition. Will people use it? Will it be as good as a keyboard? IBM answers a resounding 'yes' to both questions. Research conducted by MORI found that 63 per cent of respondents would swap their keyboard for voice recognition technology, given half the chance. Surprisingly, nearly as many (60 per cent) RSI-prone touch typists would trade too. A puny 28 per cent said they'd rather keep hunting and pecking on their keyboards. The survey was prompted by the launch of IBM's Via Voice Millennium, which will be in UK shops by October. IBM says that the major improvements in this version from the 98 version, are the accuracy and ease of use. More research, from NSTL (National Software Testing Labs), which benchmarked the performance of Via Voice, found users were 57 per cent faster on average than typists, and had fewer mistakes in completed documents. The demo was rather impressive, much as I hate to admit it. While we watched, the software only got two words wrong, and commands only needed to be repeated a couple of times. Some of the things the company has done with the technology could not be demonstrated for us, because the hurricane off the coast of Florida has meant that the server there is down since the lab was evacuated. The product is available in three versions: Standard, Web and Pro, costing £39.99 and £59.99 and £119 repectively. ®
Red Hat has selected Tech Data subsidiary Computer 2000 as its first UK wholesaler. C2000 will carry all currently available versions of Red Hat Linux, including the newest, Linux 6.0. Red Hat has recently drawn criticism for behaving in a corporate manner in the non corporate world of techies and hackers. See story. ®
BT has published its wholesale rates for ISPs looking to offer broadband ADSL services in Britain. In a leaked report obtained by The Register BT will charge ISPs £1,065 a year for a 512kbit connection and £1,590 for a 2MB line. That works out at £90 a month for a 512kbit connection and £130 a month for 2MB line rental. All the figures quoted by BT are exclusive of VAT and do not include any mark-up by the ISPs to cover their overheads. One ISP looking at offering ADSL said privately that the "absolute minimum cost to the customer for a 512kbps line would be £150" which means the cost of a 2MB line could be well over £200 a month. A spokesman for BT said he was "unable to comment on commercially sensitive information". However, later this afternoon BT finally conceded that the information was accurate but stressed that these were the charges for the business end of the market and did not apply to home users. He maintained that the wholesale price it would charge ISPs for a domestic service would remain nearer £40 a month. Exact pricing details are scheduled to be published by the end of the year, he said. In July BT announced that London, Cardiff and Edinburgh were among ten cities earmarked to be equipped with ADSL technology by March 2000. It said the wholesale prices for service operators will range from around £40 to £150 per month. ®
Boffins at Cambridge University and Hitachi say their DRAM killer will be ready to go into production within five years. The device, called PLEDM (Phase state Low Electron hole number Drive Memory), may sound like something one would cough up after too many B&Hs, but it could have major implications for the future of electronics. PLEDM can instantly access and record vast amounts of data - a whole film could be stored on just one chip. It also consumes very little power, useful for the increasingly mobile world. DRAM has inherent limitations -- to provide a sufficiently high signal to noise ratio, it must be of a certain size, yet we want smaller and smaller components. The designers of the PLEDM had this in mind, and have come up with a new cell structure. Conventional DRAMs consist of one-transistor and one-capacitor cell, instead the new PLEDM cell uses two transistors to make a 'gain cell' in a smaller area. The boffins even reckon that one day, a fast non-volatile* PLEDM cell could replace a hard drive. *Memory is retained when the power is out. ® We like this technology so much that we've written aboutit before. Twice. On (nearly) the same day. Here are the links. Hitachi unveils DRAM, Flash killer Hitachi cracks 'movie on a chip' memory
A New York Court yesterday dismissed an IP suit concerning -- get this -- inkjet printheads, filed by Xerox against Hewlett Packard. Xerox says it will appeal. The spat concerns patent number 5,030,971, which covers Xerox's multi-colour thermal inkjet print-head technology, As is so often the case, the judge's ruling has not stopped the name calling. And Xerox and HP have indulged in some serious willy-waving in public, (albeit through the rather disappointing medium of the corporate press release). Xerox said it expects the ruling to be reversed on appeal, and notes that it has one of the world's largest portfolios of patented technology. In 1998, along with its Japanese-based partner, Fuji Xerox, the company earned 1,046 patents. This the fourth largest number awarded to any American company. In return, Antonio Perez, HP's president and CEO, declares that HP is the "acknowledged world wide inkjet technology leader and has developed substantially more inkjet technology than Xerox". So there. ®
From the look of things an IBM plan to offer Linux on ThinkPads has escaped early, spattering both IBM and Red Hat with a certain quantity of ordure. On Monday Red Hat completed Red Hat Linux certification testing on the ThinkPad 600e, and posted the machine as certified on its site, but unfortunately, under Linux some of the 600e hardware doesn't work, and more remains 'some assembly required.' And, er, that's what IBM's support site says in the most recent guide (also posted on Monday) to installing and running Red Hat 6.0 on the 600e. According to IBM only basic audio support is available out of the box. You can run power management if you recompile the kernel, but you'll find some devices won't work properly after a suspend/resume. IBM hasn't tested infrared compatibility, but says it has heard from some users who say it works OK. The internal ACP modem won't work, and "IBM has not announced plans for supporting the ACP modem under Linux." That's one's actually a corker. IBM's DSP modem is proprietary, and although drivers could no doubt be knocked up in a twinkling if IBM released details to the Linux community, it hasn't. Maybe it doesn't want to, friends. And PC Card services don't work out of the box either - you need a kernel upgrade, together with upgrades to PC Card and socket services. Now, the bizarre thing about all this is that this is pretty much the status quo ante. Pre-Red Hat certification you could get Linux to run on a ThinkPad, but it took some engineering and wasn't a job most ordinary consumers would be advised to undertake. Experienced users who wanted to run Linux on a ThinkPad would likely go somewhere like Linux on Laptops for advice and, wouldn't you know it, that's the first Linux resource IBM ThinkPad support directs you to. So questions are already being asked about how come Red Hat certified the 600e, and about what exactly (or under the circumstances, what approximately) Red Hat certification certifies. But we think that's maybe a little harsh. In Linux terms hardware being able to run Linux isn't equivalent to your being able to go into a store and buy a shrink-wrapped package that will install painlessly while you go have a coffee (or in the case of Microsoft software, while you type in increasingly long and convoluted security keys). So if you think of Red Hat certification as meaning you can run Red Hat on the machine, and you can, with effort, get most of the hardware supported, then the certification of the 600e is justifiable. We can also presume that quite a lot of the fault will lie with IBM's still-Byzantine systems. Big Blue undoubtedly intends to offer Linux on ThinkPads (in addition to Red Hat, we hear SuSE is climbing aboard in Germany shortly), and when it does it'll have support for its hardware (Register believe it or not: IBM still assiduously supports OS/2 on ThinkPads). So maybe we've just got a little bit ahead of ourselves. Supporting that DSP will be a tricky one though, if IBM wants to keep its IP to itself - the PC division might not mind, but of course it isn't that division that owns that particular IP, is it? Could be tricky... ®
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony yesterday on the proliferation of hate speech through the Internet. The news is discouraging, but hardly a surprise coming from a country so racked by tribal conflicts and smouldering racial resentments. There are now approximately 600 Web sites, mostly American, devoted to sustaining ethnic division with varying degrees of vehemence, according to testimony. Committee Chairman Orin Hatch (R--Utah) opened the proceedings by registering his indignance. The "anonymity of the Internet," he observed, "is sheltering a league of misfits intent on marketing their brand of hate to America's future." ("America's future" is Yank code for "The Children", by the way.) Even more disturbing, Hatch observed, is the recent phenomenon of Internet hate groups directing slick appeals towards "college-bound middle and upper-middle class kids...the ones you would never expect to see marching in a neo-Nazi group." And perhaps this is all that's relevant here. No one ever imagined it would be worthwhile trying to reform the stereotypical turd-kicking, gob-spewing racist ploughboy; but college-bound middle and upper-middle class kids are another matter. Clearly, the flower of American youth is in peril. Co-chairman Patrick Leahy (D--Vermont) agreed, claiming that "the Internet has been poisoned by extremists and bigots." He proposed strengthening federal hate-crime legislation in order to "increase tolerance and understanding among all Americans." We are not sure how prosecuting a lot of ignorant yobs for expressing their bigotry might foster tolerance and understanding, but the Senator, no doubt, is a wiser man than most. Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., firmly delineated the line between hate speech, which is constitutionally protected, and hate crimes, which are illegal actions against persons or property. He urged the Committee not to attempt any form of Web censorship: "There was a time, not too long ago, when the civil rights movement was seen as subversive or offensive," he recalled. "Now that we are in the mainstream, and the bigots are on the fringes, we will not abandon the principles and protections that brought us to where we are today." The appropriate answer to hate speech, Henderson insisted, is not censorship but well-reasoned contradictory speech. "Reason will prevail over ignorance in the marketplace of ideas," he argued. Howard Berkowitz, National Chair of the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, D.C., announced that ADL has developed a filter which blocks access to Web sites advocating hatred or violence towards groups on the basis of sex, religion, race or sexual orientation. The filter, which can be downloaded from ADL's Web site, includes a "redirect" feature which presents to users accessing a blocked site context-sensitive links to related ADL "educational materials". Berkowitz suggested that the filter could be used in libraries and schools, but stopped short of advocating its exclusive use in such venues. More palatable to him would be a scheme whereby libraries and schools would make unrestricted Web access available to adults, but filter access for children under the age of fifteen. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, would take matters a bit further. Noting that only one in ten hate groups operate from their own domains, the Rabbi suggested that the problem could be vastly diminished if ISPs and Web hosts were to "get rid of the other nine." It would "put a significant crimp in the links" among online hate groups, he predicted. Cooper argued that shaming ISPs and Web hosts into disabling hateful sites "is an action which... all Americans are behind; the only question is, 'will the Internet community do this on their own or do they have to be pushed by the US Congress?'" "We prefer if we don't have to come to the government, but... possibly in [the area of hate speech] alone, some basic, common-sense regulations may be necessary," he concluded. Chairman Hatch proposed recruiting ISPs to enforce community standards by offering them "certain immunities from any liabilities that they might otherwise face." It is hardly clear whether that would fly, however. Any ISPs which go beyond offering some form of opt-in filtering are sure to end up in court; and any "immunities" the Congress thinks it can offer them for suppressing speech, however contemptible it may be, are likely to come to grief before the Supreme Court. Conspicuously absent from yesterday's proceedings were the Internet service providers themselves. Hatch noted that while several had been invited, all had "respectfully declined to appear." Hardly a surprise, as this was the mother of all no-win situations. No ISP wants to get involved in monitoring content, yet no ISP wants to appear tolerant of racism, ignorance and lunacy. Surely the best strategy is to step back and let Congress tie itself up in knots over this hopeless legal conundrum. ®
An Orange UK representative said today his company is looking to customers, rather than itself, to look after the intelligent ape called the Orang Utang. Since Orange UK launched a series of streetwide hoardings using decimated species the Orang Utang, because it is of an orange colour, he said a total of £35,000 was raised -- by end users. The £35,000 is a voluntary contribution from people subscribing to the Orange service and his company is not putting any money forward to save the intelligent ape, he confirmed. Nor, he said, could he name the apes, male and female, that are figured in the advert on almost every street hoarding in the UK. Orange is featuring at least three on the billboards. The representative said they did not have any names. They were merely apes, he claimed. The Orang Utang is one of the most threatened apes on the planet and possibly males and females of the species don't have mobile phones -- or habitats. A BT spokesperson described the adverts as the most cynical ever that he had seen. There are nearly six billion "superchimps" (humans) on the planet. Oh, and by the way, it took two hours of waiting time to get through to Orange Central... ®