26th > September > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Microsoft announces Millennium beta – by mistake

Millennium, the successor to Windows 98 intended to ship next year, looked like it made it into beta late last week, but was then almost immediately 'disappeared,' leaving nothing but a few wrong-footed reports and the odd copy of the original press release. The code Microsoft marketing had referred to as "Beta 1" turned swiftly back into the routine weekly build. It's not entirely clear what happened, but the explanation that it was a mistake looks plausible. The release came and went so fast (but here's a copy Paul Thurrott of WinInfo grabbed) that it's practically impossible to believe that some huge scary monster reared out of it and caused a rapid revision of plan. More tellingly the release itself doesn't include the statutory observations from a clutch of Microsoft rentaquotes saying how great the code is. So we'd guess this is the boilerplate release waiting for the addition of the right date and the right boilerplate quotes. It just escaped early. Not that last Friday was particularly early in the Millennium schedule. The last sighting prior to the Beta 1 goof was that Millennium was due later this month, and there isn't a lot of that left. It's therefore quite possible that the marketing people have been sitting there poised, ready to roll when the green light's given, but that for some reason the powers that be are hesitating. One of the things they may still be puzzling over is what to do about Dos. The builds of Millennium so far, which have gone out to a small group of testers, hide Dos from the user to some extent, but as Millennium is built on the Dos-based Win9x line, Microsoft can't go much further. The company has the option of hiding Dos, which is what it's doing at the moment, or disabling it. The latter course would break some apps, but would probably mean better performance and reliability. And then there's the difficulty of squaring what Microsoft is doing, and can do, in Millennium with what it's committed to do as part of the PC2001 spec and the EasyPC Initiative. Both of these are joint ventures with Intel, but there seems to be a little tension over the amount of software development Microsoft is actually going to do for them. The two originally envisaged an all-singing, all-dancing Win2k-based consumer OS shipping late this year on PC designs based on Intel's Concept PCs, which were first shown last year. Subsequent events have forced Win98 SE to be positioned as the OS for the first iteration of simplified hardware, but as SE's really just a bug-fixed and somewhat revised Win98, that's not ideal. A couple of EOU (Ease of Use) technology roadmaps that showed up at Intel Developer Forum recently point up the issues Microsoft is going to have to face (and currently seems not be facing with Millennium) in its OS development over the next two years. For this half of 1999 we have improved out of box experience, "legacy removal," instantly available and FlexATX platforms. The FlexATX hardware side will happen, and once Win2k is out of the door, we'll have some progress on the others. The extent of software legacy removal is still a big question. But note the damage the cancellation/postponement of the consumer version has done, and also note that improved out of box experience has a lot to do with what Microsoft will let PC OEMs do. The company has historically fought against them selling pre-configured PCs, forcing them instead to ship ones where the user has to go through the hoops of installing an OS that's already on the hard disk, so it'll be interesting to see how this changes in Win2k - it most certainly will have to change in Millennium, particularly as PC2001 says it's going to, and that pre-configuring will be permissible. But back to the roadmap. For first half 2000, blurring into Q3, we have "Consumer Connectivity," explained as "broadband to the home, in the home networking, digital video interconnect." That's Millennium, and it sounds pretty do-able so long as nobody tries to get too clever. The next one is less easy - that's Neptune, rev 2.0 of the consumer Win2k product. USB 2.0 (what Intel proposes as an alternative to paying IEEE1394 licence fees) slides in between Millennium and Neptune, and moving into the first half of 2001 we have Neptune itself. That's what the overheads say anyway, we don't believe it either. It'll have a new, task-based user interface, which will no doubt cheer up all the consumers who just got used to the Win2k UI in Millennium, and it'll include speech. And when it slips, do we get Millennium Plus 1? Ah... ® Related stories: MS and Intel's plans for next year's PCs Roadmap for Windows-only PC
John Lettice, 26 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft to unleash MSN Web appliance

Microsoft is planning to launch an Internet appliance - but it's not a network computer, honest. The company announced the MSN Web Companion last week at Richard Belluzzo's first major gig as VP for the Consumer and Commerce Group, but it was buried in a ton of other stuff, not least Steve Ballmer's attack on his own share price on the very same day. According to Microsoft the Web Companion will go into beta by the end of the year, and will be a CE-based device which is also "powered by MSN.COM." That is, it will be a cheap or free piece of hardware that goes out in conjunction with an MSN sign-up deal along the lines of those MSN and various other outfits have been piloting in recent months. Hardware companies building the devices haven't been named as yet, but we couldn't help noticing MSN's most recent deal was with Acer over the First PC Program, which was announced just a couple of days earlier. So it'll be kind of surprising if Acer isn't one of the companies that gets the gig. Dell, which is also messing around with appliances, and is extremely thick with MS and pro all things Web, would also make sense. Acer has also been going on about limited function XCs for a while, with CE as one of the likely operating systems. Deal, we think. Microsoft says the Companion will be used by consumers "for Web-based services, browsing and e-mail. It is designed for people who want a simple way to get on the Internet, and don't have a need for PC-based applications." It'll be available in desktop and laptop form factors. So you can see the proposed uneasy compromises from there. It's not an NC, because it just does Web stuff. But what's a Web-based service? Well, we've got some remote application stuff going there, haven't we? And isn't Microsoft supposed to be Web-ising its apps? So this nice little device could maybe do remote-running rented apps as well, and it starts looking more like an NC after all. But it also looks a bit like a WebTV, particularly as WebTV is supposed to be moving onto CE as its base platform. And the expression "desktop and laptop form factors" is in the Microsoft release, incidentally, so it's clear the company itself is having trouble with the positioning. ®
John Lettice, 26 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

BA scraps cheap fares for Net cargo

Here's a turn-up for the books. British Airways is turfing out cheap seat passengers to carve out more cargo space for goods ordered online. Passengers really are worth less than their weight in CDs. So guys, save a few pennies when you buy CDs, books and software from US sites, and lose a few hundred quid next time you want to fly across the Atlantic. British Airways will target companies such as Amazon, the Financial Mail on Sunday says. It's daft, isn't it? Here's BA thinking it can win business from a company that ships "large numbers of books across the Atlantic". And there’s Amazon.co.uk building a one million sqft warehouse in Slough. Granted, there are some incentives to buy from Amazon (dot.com, as opposed to .co.uk). Buy from a Web site, Stateside (more or less anything except books), which are exempt of tax in the UK), and you have to stump up 4 per cent import duty and VAT, set at a disgraceful 17.5 per cent. But get your CDs from Amazon.com and you may be able to get away with a little piece of tax evasion. HM Customs still appears to think that Amazon is a bookseller only. It'll catch up soon enough, but in the mean time... And what of British Airways? Scratch the surface of the Financial Mail on Sunday story and there ain't much elese. The article combines two publicly known facts, with a quote from a BA exec and proceeds to spin madly. First fact: BA is overhauling its fleet, replacing dozens of 747s with smaller 777s. These will carry the same number of first class, business class and full-fare passengers of their older and bigger sisters. However, there won’t be much room for budget fare passengers. But there will be an annual increase of(whisper it, gently) two whole per cent in cargo capacity. Second fact: BA has spent £250 million on a new cargo hub at Heathrow Airport. Here comes quote: "We want to be an important player in the supply chain for delivering time-sensitive goods" -- Kevin Hatton, MD, BA World Cargo. And there you have it, an entertaining Internet confection. ®
Drew Cullen, 26 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

BA scraps cheap fares for Net cargo

Here's a turn-up for the books. British Airways is turfing out cheap seat passengers to carve out more cargo space for goods ordered online. Passengers really are worth less than their weight in CDs. So guys, save a few pennies when you buy CDs, books and software from US sites, and lose a few hundred quid next time you want to fly across the Atlantic. British Airways will target companies such as Amazon, the Financial Mail on Sunday says. It's daft, isn't it? Here's BA thinking it can win business from a company that ships "large numbers of books across the Atlantic". And there’s Amazon.co.uk building a one million sqft warehouse in Slough. Granted, there are some incentives to buy from Amazon (dot.com, as opposed to .co.uk). Buy from a Web site, Stateside (more or less anything except books), which are exempt of tax in the UK), and you have to stump up 4 per cent import duty and VAT, set at a disgraceful 17.5 per cent. But get your CDs from Amazon.com and you may be able to get away with a little piece of tax evasion. HM Customs still appears to think that Amazon is a bookseller only. It'll catch up soon enough, but in the mean time... And what of British Airways? Scratch the surface of the Financial Mail on Sunday story and there ain't much elese. The article combines two publicly known facts, with a quote from a BA exec and proceeds to spin madly. First fact: BA is overhauling its fleet, replacing dozens of 747s with smaller 777s. These will carry the same number of first class, business class and full-fare passengers of their older and bigger sisters. However, there won’t be much room for budget fare passengers. But there will be an annual increase of (whisper it, gently) two whole per cent in cargo capacity. Second fact: BA has spent £250 million on a new cargo hub at Heathrow Airport. Here comes quote: "We want to be an important player in the supply chain for delivering time-sensitive goods" -- Kevin Hatton, MD, BA World Cargo. And there you have it, an entertaining Internet confection. ®
Drew Cullen, 26 Sep 1999