17th > September > 1999 Archive

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Britain to host major Net summit

The UK is to stage a high level international summit next year to discuss how governments can use the Internet to deliver key public services. A thousand delegates from the G8 group of industrialised nations, developing economies and major trading blocs around the world will attend the World Internet Forum (WIF) at Oxford University in September 2000. Targeted at senior politicians, government officials and the IT industry, delegates attending WIF will explore how Internet delivered services can be used for the provision of social services, health, education and culture. WIF is the brainchild of MP Derek Wyatt and part of the aim of the conference is to bring IT companies and governments together under one roof so that they can explore together the potential of the Net. "Digital technology is moving faster than governments can handle," said Wyatt. "Politicians have to understand that the Internet is not something that they can play catch-up with. "We are urging governments around the world to get involved so that can develop the Internet for every one of their citizens," he said. Film director Lord Puttnam will chair the summit. ®
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Sun, NTT to intro Java mobile games phone

Sun and NTT DoCoMo are to begin tests of a Java cellular phone system which can be used to download games, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper. The newest version of the i-mode cellular phone service will be tested in Japan in conjunction with Bandai games, and the service is intended to go live before the end of the year. DoCoMo already offers some Bandai services via I-mode, which currently claims 1.4 million users for banking and email services, along with entertainment from Bandai. The latter currently include downloadable screensavers (on mobile phones? Yes, we know, but this is Japan folks) and quizzes. ®
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Who will pay extra $200 for i820-Rambus PCs?

System builders and integrators, faced with the imminent introduction of the i820 Camino chipset which supports Rambus RIMMs, are likely to wait and see rather than build machines using the expensive memory modules. Yesterday, we reported that Intel will release two mobos to coincide with its 27 September launch -- the Cape Cod and the Vancouver. One supports RIMMs while the other has support for SDRAM using PC-100. But prices of Rambus are currently prohibitively high, meaning that people buying PCs, and people making them, will have to be convinced of the benefits of the new memory technology. Intel is positioning its Cape Cod and Vancouver mobos against its 440-BX2 chipset, which is, as we have already reported here, both in very high demand and in very short supply. Both Intel mobos have the same feature set, except that while the Vancouver VC820 supports Rambus, it doesn't support PC-100. And while the Cape Cod CC820 supports PC-100 SDRAM, it doesn't support Rambus. Both will support the 533B and the 600B Pentium IIIs to be released 27th of September next, will have AGP 4X capability, Ultra ATA/66 support, Instantly Available PC (STR), use an Audio Modem Riser (AMR) and support both 100MHz and 133MHz system buses (that is, front side buses). Both will use the 242 Slot 1 connector, which will be displaced in late October, November by the FCPGA-370. (See separate story). As previously reported here, there are some doubts as to whether Rambus will give any performance benefits using the Camino i820 boards over the older, BX chipset using PC-100. Major PC vendors are keeping their cards close to their corporate chests and have not yet declared which machines they will launch using Rambus. It was a claque of these major vendors which caused Intel to reverse its decision on the up-and-coming PC-133 standard earlier this year, expressing concerns over pricing, yields and performance on the expensive silicon. ®
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Slot 1 close to death as Intel's plans for CuMine unfold

Sources close to Intel's plans have revealed that when it introduces Coppermine technology next month, the chips will use a different naming convention as well as extra silicon bells and whistles. Documents seen by The Register show that Intel plans to release a whole rash of .18 micron processors, not only at higher clock speeds, but also with 256K of on die, full speed level two cache. The processors will have the naming conventions E, B, and EB, to distinguish them from current Pentium III Slot 1 processors. However, it will be some time before Slot 1 parts disappear entirely, and Intel will run the two lines in tandem, cutting prices as it ramps up its production. The "E" designation represents the Coppermine family, while the "designation" refers to parts supporting the 133MHz FSB (front side bus). Intel will produce 550E and 500E MHz parts which only support a 100MHz FSB. It will reserve the EB designation, that is Coppermine supporting the 133MHz FSB, for its higher priced parts. Intel is positioning such chips as an upgrade opportunity for its dealers, in other words, allowing them to make more money. The Socket 370 used in the new Pentium III families is called the FC-PGA370. The FC stands for "flip chip", a packaging method which Intel has talked about before but which is by no means new. IBM Microelectronics has used the technique in the past. It allows for better contact with motherboards. This implies, however, that Intel's 810e chipset is likely to be released concurrently with these new parts. ®
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Today's hardware site roundup

Over at JC's, there is some very interesting information about copper technology -- both AMD's and on the Alpha. JC quotes a Taiwanese press report as confirming IBM is fabbing copper Alphas -- we reported this much earlier this year. It also adds that IBM has displaced Samsung as a supplier of Alphas. This is unlikely to be true -- our information is that it is a second-source deal. AMD has succeeded in producing copper K6-2s at Dresden now, the piece adds. We like Kyle Bennett because he's a bit, OK a megabit, of an iconoclast and this piece is right up our street. Electromigration has become the buzz word of the day, and this is a letter from an Intel employee about overclocking. The Intel bod was replying to Kyle's amusing "We don't care what you do with chips in the privacy of your own home" style. Over at Sharky Extreme, there is a review of a Wintec notebook which seems to be as close to a mobile PC games machine as you can get. The boys over at AMD Zone report that Asus is readying an Athlon mobo. The site also mentions that Falcon is to introduce a range of Athlon PCs soon. AMD Zone is based on Austin, and listen to the radio adverts. AMD is advertising for CPU, chipset and mobo engineers. Have they lost some, then? That's what we reported last week... ®
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Dealer sells 1000s of overclocked Celerons – with guarantees

Intel's thought police are likely to have a fit after it has emerged that a dealer in Italy is selling massively overclocked Celerons -- with his own guarantees. That emerged after a story about the electro-mechanics of overclocking written by Pete Sherriff yesterday. (Overclocking -- just say no) According to the dealer, he has sold 2,000 PCs using 300a Celerons clocked to 450MHz or more and tested in the last six months. He has provided guarantees to his customers and claims that only two pieces have been returned, and that because people tried to run the machines at over 2.6 volts. He said: "Overclocking is our customer business. Instead of buying a cpu at $300-400, they buy a cpu at us$ 100 and have better performance. If after ten months it doesn't work, they'll buy another one, and have only lost $100. He pointed out: "If you bought a Pentium III/450 in March, you saw the price decrease every two months. After ten months you have lost much more than $100 and you also have an old CPU." He is now contemplating extending his unique business model to AMD parts, he added. An Intel representative said: "Intel has a very clear position on this, we spend a lot of resources on ensuring we deliver high quality products, a key element to this is testing that a processor reliably operates at its specific frequency. By overclocking your processor you can potentially damage your processor and/or motherboard whilst also invalidating any warranty offered by Intel. "Customers need to be aware that they are sacrificing reliability for the sake of a few dollars! With the current 466Mhz Celeron Processor costing $99 and a 500Mhz Pentium III Processor costing $251, we offer excellent performance suite all budgets - and with a warranty." ®
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White House cypher proposal could upstage Congress

A palpably apprehensive, sweat-soaked bundle of Clinton-administration luminaries held a press conference last night to tout the White House's latest end-run around Congress in the realm of crypto exports. US Attorney General Janet Reno looked as if a gun were pressed against her back as she recited, with painful reluctance, the advantages of the President's new legislative proposal, the Cyberspace Electronic Security Act, or CESA. The Act authorises exports of strong crypto subject to technical review and exceptions for "hostile" governments. "The widespread use of encryption poses significant challenges to law enforcement and to public safety," Reno intoned. She mechanically repeated the DoJ mantra, that crypto inhibits the Knights of Righteousness in "stopping a terrorist attack or recovering a kidnapped child [where] encountering encryption may mean the difference between success and catastrophic failure." She regretted that the revised proposal now makes the touchy business of key escrow voluntary. She frowned; she fussed nervously with her ill-fitted spectacles; she grimaced and pouted. But she insisted it was a brilliant proposal. We think her lips were moving, at any rate. The message was clear: more and better crypto will necessarily mean more and better crime. To even the field upon which America's evildoers and heroes will do battle, the CESA authorises substantial allocations of money to the FBI's Technical Support Centre, which will dedicate itself to finding methods of obtaining evidence in spite of encryption. The FBI's score is nothing to sneeze at: a hefty US $80 million, to be spread through FY 2003. Law enforcement was not alone in its discomfiture. Deputy Defence Secretary John Hamre warned that the Department of Defence would "have to develop new tools" to compensate for strong crypto exports. The DoD is "the largest single entity that operates in cyberspace," he boasted, as if to confirm the worst fears of conspiracy theorists across the USA. Hamre regretted the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act (SAFE) proposed by Congress. "The only people who would be 'safe' if that passed would be spies, who would be free to export anything of national security interest without any surveillance at all," he quipped. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R--Texas) convened his own press conference shortly after, cautiously welcoming the Clinton proposal but at the same time making it clear that the SAFE Act would not be removed from the House schedule. "We welcome the White House effort here; we will look at it with a great deal of interest...but we know how well [the SAFE Act] is tuned, so we will proceed on that basis," Armey said. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R--Virginia), a co-author of the SAFE Act, attributed the White House reversal to mounting congressional pressure. "This has been a long battle, and we are going to see it through to its correct conclusion. But the changes being announced at the White House are very close to [our] legislation," he observed. But of course the Devil is in the details. "It remains to be seen how the administration will follow through, Goodlatte said. "Their announcement is very long on potential but short on detail, so we'll be watching very carefully to make sure that the regulations issued later this year will match the policy announced today." Goodlatte flatly contradicted the administration's core assumption that more crypto necessarily means more crime. He noted that strong crypto can actually reduce crime by effectively concealing such tempting targets as credit card and other financial information from prying eyes. A fair argument, but one quite useless on the Clinton administration and Reno DoJ, which can see only terrorists and kidnappers on the threat horizon. Perhaps those spectacles really do need adjusting. ®
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Acer talks up XC again

Stan Shih, chairman of Taiwan PC giant Acer, has been talking about his XC idea now for nearly two years. But, if reports from the island are to be believed, the XC platform is now likely to see the light of day, bigtime, in March of next year. Shih, at last year's Computex trade show, outlined his plans for the XC and said that the cheap, all purpose devices could revolutionise the PC industry, rejuvenate Taiwan, and put computing and Internet power into the hands of the masses. The reports say that Shih now says Acer has developed five platforms and over 12 XC products products will be released next March. He also projected sales of over a million XCs in the first year. ®
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Lexmark to source lasers from Taiwan

Reports in the Taiwanese press said that spun-off IBM subsidiary Lexmark is to use a local manufacturer to help produce its laser printers. The reason is likely to be cost reduction. Many US manufacturers use Taiwanese know-how to fulfil the demand for PCs and peripherals. The reports did not name which OEM will get the lucrative contract, which has the lion's share in the low end of the market. But the deal is expected to involve its Taiwanese partner producing as many as 15,000 units a month, starting in Q1 next year. Lexmark is expected to make its own announcement in two week's time. ®
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France opens probe into MS Windows monopoly

The French finance ministry has opened an investigation into Microsoft, according to the local press. Apparently it has come to the ministry's attention that it's well-nigh impossible to buy a new PC that doesn't come with Windows pre-installed, so the French authorities will be asking why this is, and whether it harms consumers. These two questions, readers of The Register's trial coverage will have noted, are inextricably bound together. Microsoft discount structures and MDAs (Market Development Agreements) make it prohibitively expensive for PC OEMs to ship rival operating systems, which results in a reduction in consumer choice, and in what is to all intents and purposes a monopoly of the desktop OS market (precise conclusion currently sub judice) for Microsoft. Microsoft can and does fix prices (search trial coverage for 'Kempin' for more details), so the FF64k question is whether MS fixes them nicely or nastily, and whether French consumers would be better off if they could get, say, Linux or BeOS PCs. But it's not clear how intensively the ministry intends to investigate. It says it's had quantities of complaints, and will be producing a report which, depending on findings, could be referred to antitrust authorities. If it finds things it doesn't like France might decide to go it alone, but ultimate responsibility will still lie with the EU. Brussels and the US antitrust authorities currently have a mutual agreement whereby they try not to duplicate investigations, and as far as the matter of Microsoft is concerned, the US is lead member. That of course could change if the result of the current antitrust trial is viewed as unpalatable by Brussels, but until the dust settles Europe's preference will be to avoid getting involved in a duplicate bust. Whether France will agree with this could of course be an entirely different matter. ®
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Flotation ahoy for Lastminute.com

Lastminute.com is to go public next year, according to the FT, in a move that could value the company at more than £400 million. The big pink one said the last minute bargain Web site will appoint Morgan Stanley Dean Witter as its adviser and that the offer will take place within the next nine months. No one at Lastminute.com was available for comment at press time but if it's in the FT then it must be true. Lastminute.com -- which makes its money by earning commission on the items its sells -- expects to generate £10 million in revenue this year. ® For more ker-ching tune into Cash Register and turn on to our daily Net Finance News
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Parents keep an eye on kids via Web

Bolton Nursery School in Greater Manchester has scored a nation-wide first, with a live Webcast from the children's playrooms via the school's new site. The site has been made as secure as possible - for rather obvious reasons - and parents need to enter usernames and passwords to access the video sections of the site. Nursery manager, Julie Fletcher, commented: "We previewed the site in March, and discussed the whole idea with the parents. We agreed to have a four month trial period with one camera." At present the site has only one live camera, which will film each area of the nursery for a month before moving on. The site has proved so popular with parents in the last two days that the school is thinking about extending the project. ®
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MS should embrace Linux, buy Sun, dump Win2k

Microsoft should break itself up voluntarily, buy Sun and release its own version of Wine, the API wrapper that allows Windows programs to run on top of Linux. This, chutzpah-riddled British Linux developer GBdirect tells us, is how the company can avoid collapse over the next few years and come up with an adequate response to the Linux tide.
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Digital TV – broadcasting with one hand tied behind its back

UK Culture Secretary Chris Smith pledged today that conventional analogue TV broadcasts will only cease when 95 per cent of homes have a digital receiver. He said the switch could take place sometime between 2006 and 2010, but told broadcasters at the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge that viewers' interests must come first. Broadcasters are keen to junk the old analogue system because it will free up valuable bandwidth which can be sold to mobile phone providers for megabucks. Each digital channel, although it is broadcast on the same UHF wavelengths as conventional TV signals, can carry six separate TV channels today and many more in the future as the technology is developed. But what Smith failed to mention is that fewer people can receive digital terrestrial TV today than the technology allows. This is due to the new digital broadcasts causing interference on the analogue channels which share the same transmitters. In the light of viewer complaints, the signal strength of digital channels has been severely reduced, thus reducing the area covered by each transmitter, A quick check on BBC and ITC websites reveals that for two main transmitters – Sutton Coldfield in the Midlands and Sandy Heath in East Anglia – analogue signals for all five main channels are rated at a stonking MegaWatt while the strongest digital channel is broadcast at just 10KW, with some being dribbled out at a puny 2KW. This means that it is far more difficult to receive a reliable digital broadcast, even in areas with excellent analogue coverage. Weather conditions can have a severe effect on reception and in digital terms, that doesn’t mean a fuzzy picture – it means no picture at all. One of the key benefits of digital is greatly enhanced picture and sound quality. Near perfect reception continues until the signal strength drops below a critical level – dubbed the digital cliff – when the picture simply vanishes. And the end result of keeping analogue users happy, of course, is that viewers will move to digital TVs much slower than is necessary, pushing that magical 95 percent market penetration figure further into the future. ®
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Matsushita to spend $300 million on LCD ramp up

Japanese consumer electronics giant Matsushita today said it plans to pump Y32 billion ($300 million) into TFT LCD screen production. Matsushita clearly reckons TFT displays mark the future of screen technology, not only for the IT world but for TV too. The bulk of the company's investment is going into a new TFT production line in it Ishikawa plant, Nikkei reported today, a part of which will be devoted to displays for widescreen TVs. Extra production lines will go on stream in 2001, the company said. Matsushita's announcement comes as demand for LCD screens has reached its highest levels ever -- to the extent that producers are struggling to meet monitor and TV manufacturers' requirements. This state of affairs isn't expected to be resolved before 2001. No wonder Apple slipped Samsung $100 million to ensure a smooth supply of LCDs for its upcoming iBook consumer portable and LCD monitor line. In the meantime, suppliers have been ramping up LCD production, most notably Acer and NEC. ®
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AMD takeover rumours re-emerge

Rumours are circulating in Germany that AMD may be snapped up by giant conglomerate Siemens. But AMD has said "it has no knowledge of such a move" and we think it's highly unlikely too. According to the speculation, Siemens is preparing to offer as much as $40 a share for AMD stock. That is double its current share value on the New York trading floors. We think this has to stay at the level of pure speculation. Reports have been surfacing over the last few days that its financial position is better this quarter than it was, but it is hard to see what Siemens would get out of the deal. The speculation may have been started by traders anxious to boost AMD's share price, which has only fluctuated a matter of a few dollars in the last six weeks or so. ®
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IBM, SCO confirm Monterey Merced boot

IBM and SCO have just confirmed they have successfully booted Monterey on Merced silicon. On Monday this week, senior executives at IBM said they were close to booting the OS. It is the first commercial Unix, IBM claims, that has booted on Merced. IBM/Sequent said it was committed to producing product based on Merced at launch time. ®
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Transmeta CEO scoffs at Amiga connection claims

Amiga community conspiracy theorists went into overdrive this week following comments from the boss of mystery CPU developer Transmeta during an interview with Time magazine's Web site. David Ditzel, founder and CEO of Transmeta -- and employer of Linus Torvalds, creator of the open source OS, Linux -- told the site that ex-Amiga president Jim Collas' use of Torvalds in a presentation earlier this summer was a "false alarm". Instead, claimed Ditzel, it was just a statement from Torvalds -- as creator of Linux -- supporting Amiga's use of the OS in its then upcoming next-generation multimedia computer. Claims to the contrary were "off-base", said Ditzel. Register readers may recall that the Linux connection was an option we ourselves put forward for the inclusion of Torvalds and Transmeta in Collas' presentation. Of course, the conspiracy theory mongers reckon that the real reason for Ditzel's comments is that Collas was signalling Amiga's choice of the Transmeta CPU. In turn, that annoyed the highly secretive processor company to such an extent that they canned the deal. And that ultimately led to Collas' sacking, as the theorists allege is the real reason behind the ex-president's resignation. The downside is that other conspiracy theorists would have it that Collas was booted out of Amiga because its parent, PC vendor Gateway, succumbed to Microsoft persuasion not to get involved in Linux. Still, Ditzel's own comments are sufficiently vague as to prove nothing at all -- Amiga's selection of Transmeta, or the idea that there never was any deal between the two companies are both valid conclusions from the CEO's statement. We tend to favour a middle course. Amiga was in talks with Transmeta, just as it was talking to other CPU vendors, most notably Sun for its MAJC (Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing) CPU, and possibly MIPS too. In fact, given Amiga's next-generation operating environment appears to contain at least as much Java technology as Linux software, the Sun chip was a more likely contender than Transmeta. Of course, since Amiga is now no longer a hardware company, the question of CPU is largely academic now. ®
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IT big hitters to out-eBay eBay

eBay looks set to loose its monopoly on auctioning macabre items such as babies, kidneys, and the etchings of serial killers. A gaggle of IT companies including Microsoft, Dell, Lycos and Excite@Home are to attempt to compete with the giant online auction house by launching of a network of different tat-for-cash sites. It's believed this is the only viable way to compete with the dominance of eBay. To create a new single site to compete with the brand domination of eBay would simply be too costly with no guarantee of success, say industry watchers. Harnessing the strengths of individual sites by sharing sale items and buyers, on the other hand, is thought to be the way forward. In real terms it means that the complete works of folk rock legend Jethro Tull put up for sale on Dell's auction site, for example, would be also available to anyone accessing Excite@Home. According to the WSJthe company behind this bold initiative, Massachusetts-based FairMarket, will receive a flat fee for providing the service plus a one per cent cut of each transaction. "The only way to survive in the auction business is to be networked and to start something much bigger," Scott Randall, FairMarket's founder and chief executive told the WSJ. A full announcement about the new project is expected on Monday. ®