29th > September > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Via chipset found lurking in IBM PC

IBM showed off its Autumn collection this week, though admitted it had been forced to withdraw one of its proposed PCs at the last minute due to technical hitches at Intel. Big Blue treated the press to a sneak preview of its "secure" PC range and its first mini-notebook for the UK, along with a new ThinkPad line, at its London South Bank offices. IBM said it had been all fired up to announce a desktop PC supporting Rambus memory with the i820 -- aka Camino -- chipset from Intel. But Chipzilla's decision to can i820, for the time being at least, put paid to that. "We'll adopt the technology when it comes to market," said Steven Loeschorn, IBM worldwide brand marketing manager, commercial desktops. "But for now, we have to wait for Intel." Luckily for IBM, it had not based its entire Autumn range on Intel chipsets. It was able to announce the PC 300PL line of desktops, aimed at the corporate mainstream, which will be IBM's first foray into non-Intel chipset desktops. The machines will use an embedded security -- or encryption -- chip on the motherboard. They will run on the Pentium III 500MHz or 533MHz processors. But for Big Blue's first tentative steps away from Intel, it will use a chipset design which has been licensed from Via Technologies, the AGP 4X/133 chipset. The PC 300PL systems will have 64MB or 128MB of memory, 10.1GB or 20.4GB hard drive, with an RRP starting at £993. IBM claimed these would be "the world's most secure commercial PCs", including features such as secure e-mail, digital signatures and data encryption. It also announced the IBM PC 300GL desktop PC, using up to PIII 600MHz and aimed at the commercial market. These lines will be launched in the UK on 19 October. IBM also announced the ThinkPad 240, an A5-sized notebook weighing just 1.3kg and measuring 25mm. It has a 300MHz Celeron chip, 64MB SDRAM that can be expanded to 192MB, and a 6.4GB hard drive. For its new ThinkPad i Series notebooks, which come with a home TV DVD player, Internet buttons and keyboard light, the vendor has taken a leaf out of Apple's book. The laptops will have their own range of optional snap-on coloured covers. These nifty notebooks will be available from next week and are aimed at very small businesses or users who want a machine for both work and home. There will be three models, with Celeron 400MHz or 433MHz, 12.1in or 14.1in TFT display or 13in HPA display. The covers are available in seven colours including Mars Red Metallic, Eclipse Blue Metallic or even Andromeda Green. ®
The Register breaking news

Gates' stake in MS drops 4.5 per cent

Bill Gates' share of Microsoft has dropped from 19.8 per cent to 15.3 per cent since 29 January, according to Microsoft's proxy statement released yesterday. He held 787,055,600 shares worth $72.5 billion at the closing price of $92.125. Mrs G has 214,460 shares worth $19.8 million. The couple gave around $15 billion to their private charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this year. We estimate that Bill has around $13 billion in non-Microsoft investments, which could be useful for a rainy day. Paul Allen is still being the second largest shareholder with 260,723,896 (5.1 per cent, worth $24 billion); Steve Ballmer has 239,626,854 shares (4.7 per cent, worth $22 billion); and the remaining executive officers and directors have a mere 0.6 per cent of the shares. Former Microsoft president Jon Shirley, a Microsoft director since 1983, currently has $930 million in Microsoft shares and has been in and out of the billionaire's club as Microsoft's share price has gone up and down. On 10 September there were 5,141,508,124 common shares outstanding, held by 93,850 shareholders, giving a market capitalisation (excluding the preference shares) of $474 billion. As previously announced, Jill Barad, a board member since 1996, is leaving the seven-member board, and the search is on for a replacement - almost certainly female. The directors had received only a pittance in the past, but shareholders will be asked at the AGM on 10 November to approve a stock-option plan for non-employee directors. The compensation committee believed that Bill "is paid a reasonable salary" and bonus, but at $633,373 it was less than hard-man Herbold, who took home $926,158 (down on the previous year's $1,108,090 mostly on account of his bonus being reduced by $208,624). Ballmer's wages and bonus were $660,573. Although this compensation is trivial in view of the shares they hold (Herbold's exercisable and unexercisable shares are worth about $200 million), there may be some subtle messages here. Since Gates' and Ballmer's bonuses increased, COO Herbold may be just a teeny bit out of favour: he is paid more because of the deal he was able to negotiate when he joined Microsoft in November 1994. Gates was keen to not to be paid a very large sum, because of the criticism this would invite. Memo to the compensation committee: Ballmer should be paid more than Herbold since he is running the company. It is noteworthy that Bill Neukom, the general counsel, is not in the big league so far as salary or share options are concerned. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple demands Web sites kill iMac II pics

Updated Apple today set its lawyers at the heels of a pair of Mac-oriented Web sites following the publication of a series of pictures showing the upcoming 'C2' iMac in its three configurations. US-based AppleInsider and German site MacNews both posted a shot of the 400MHz special edition iMac DV, with is sleek metallic silver casing, early this morning. MacNews also posted full-frontal shots of the standard C2 iMac in each of the five colour schemes the consumer computer currently ships in. A selection of 'from the rear' pics completed the selection. Soon after, however, Apple demanded the sites remove the pictures alleging their publication breached the company's copyrights. The lawyers are also believed to have threatened to sue for damages amounting to any loss Apple might take to iMac sales before the C2 machines are officially released. MacNews discretely removed the pics -- but AppleInsider made no bones about the fact that Apple had demanded the images be pulled from the site. Some of MacNews and AppleInsider's today appeared on a Dutch Mac site, but by early evening they too had been pulled at the request of Apple's lawyers. Apple's official line on rumours is not to comment, but the two sites' publication of the C2 pics clearly reveal the new iMac to be something more than mere speculation. That said, the published specifications of the new machines remain unofficial, and while the company can't now deny the existence of the C2, it can keep mum on what the boxes will contain. Apple's concern over the publication of the photos is understandable, and it does, after all, have a right to protect its intellectual property. However, with iMac sales tailing off -- at least in relation to other desktop PCs; the iMac has been missing from PC Data's list of the top five best-selling PCs in the US retail and mail order channels for the last two months -- it would be hard to prove that the appearance of the pics has harmed the company let alone to what degree. And Apple should take some comfort in the fact that users are clearly interested in the iMac and how it looks. When, for instance, was the last time anyone took a keen interest in what the next Compaq or Gateway box might look like? All of which is a sign that Apple really needs to get a move on and release the darn thing. ®
The Register breaking news

Network Solutions buys ICANN's cooperation

A contract approved by Network Solutions and the US government will permit the registrar to administer .com, .net and .org domains for another four years, though a bit less profitably than previously hoped. The company will charge its competitors $6 per year for access to its database, a significant drop from the $35 it's used to charging for registering new domains. NSI will also pay ICANN $1.25 million to keep it afloat, and has agreed to future financial arrangements of up to $2 million per year, a good deal less than the $1 per name, or roughly $5 million per year, ICANN had proposed earlier. Of course the $2 million is still a good deal more than NSI had wished to pay, but the spirit of cooperation seems to have infected all concerned. ICANN will get some money; and NSI will get to limit ICANN's power a bit. In exchange for the payoff, NSI has achieved some mild influence over ICANN decisions affecting it; a full two-thirds majority of ICANN members must now support any new policies bearing on NSI. ICANN interim chairwoman Esther Dyson professed her satisfaction that NSI will keep them solvent; Network Solutions CEO Jim Rutt expressed his satisfaction that ICANN will not be in a position to act as a "legislator" of the Net. It was a wonder they didn't kiss. Well, almost. The final hurdle will be ratifying the contract during ICANN's next meeting in November. This is hardly a foregone conclusion, considering the open contempt with which the two organisations have treated each other in the past year. But if it comes off without a hitch, the two antagonists will be well on their way towards a resigned coexistence, which is about all that can be expected under the circumstances. ®
The Register breaking news

How much does MS need to dampen down its stock price?

Microsoft's market value is now bigger than the gross domestic product of all but ten or eleven countries (not bigger than that of Italy, as was erroneously reported by Dow Jones - the Italian GDP is more than twice Microsoft's market cap). But it may well be in the company's interest to keep the share price down - unfortunately, in light of recent events. Steve Ballmer's casual remark during a Q&A after a speech he made to the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Earlier story: String him up! last week may be viewed rather dimly by the Securities and Exchange Commission. If Microsoft bought any shares after Ballmer's comment ("There is such an over-valuation of technology stocks that it is absurd. I would include our stock in that category") and his response to a question as to what he thought the value of Microsoft's stock should be ("less"), then the SEC hard guys may not see it the same way. It does appear that Ballmer was speaking spontaneously in response to a question, but it was a particularly dangerous thing to have done while Microsoft is again being investigated by the SEC. Ballmer's remark (a replay of Ballmer's remarks can be heard here) sent the cost of Microsoft shares down 6.9 per cent, from an opening price of $96.875 to a low of $90.016. Since Microsoft constantly needs to buy back its own shares for stock options, there may be some suspicion that Ballmer's dampening of the share price allowed the repurchase of shares at an advantageous price. There is insufficient information to calculate precisely the value of the so-called employee option share overhang, but it is probably around $60 billion. Another reason why Microsoft would wish to keep down the value of its shares is to make it easier to achieve earnings expectations. CFO Greg Maffei has been making reassuring noises about financial analysts' estimates of 34 cents/share for the current Q1 (ending tomorrow), which would be up 28 per cent on the same quarter last year if this level is achieved. However, there is increasing suspicion that since quarterly results are not externally audited, Microsoft has a wide latitude as to the what figures it declares. ®
The Register breaking news

MS downscales Millennium plans – allegedly

Analysis The Register was tickled to see a Smart Reseller story earlier this week suggesting a massive downscaling of Microsoft's plans for Millennium. The downscaling - no new user interface, no task-based Activity Centers, and maybe Millennium is just going to be a point release to Windows 98 - matches The Register's predictions earlier this year rather nicely. It also (with the exception of the Activity Center stuff, which we'll get back to in a couple of days) matches what we know of what's been in the pre-beta builds of Millennium - to any one who's seen them, it seems pretty clear there's no real radical change from Win98 SE. What it doesn't match is the Microsoft OS roadmap laid out in an earlier, er, Smart Reseller piece by the er, same authors as the latest one. We at The Register have no highly-placed Microsoft sources, and frankly, we view this as a massive competitive advantage. Back in April Smart Reseller ran a story based on Microsoft documents it said it had seen. Check here for the story, and here for our take on it. Then, the word from Microsoft (or from its documents) was that Millennium was going to be "a key component of EasyPC," which is (was? - we'll cover this RSN as well) the easy to use PC spec Intel and Microsoft had cobbled up a couple of weeks earlier. We said at the time that, as Microsoft was saying EasyPC prototypes would be out by the end of the year, in that case Microsoft would have to get a move on with Millennium. The alternative to this was revealed last month, at Intel Develop Forum - Windows 98 SE is the OS for this year's models, so MS doesn't have to hurry after all. But that also means that if the damn things will run with SE, they can always run with a point release of SE. Confused? This is an MS OS strategy, after all. We're particularly smug about what we said next so, sorry, we're going to quote it extensively: "It seems clear that the new 'last' rev of Win9x, Millennium, will either be a nightmare to develop or will turn out to be just another service pack on steroids. [heh, heh] Similarly 2001's effort, the revived consumer NT (codenamed Neptune) will be a development pig - Microsoft's confidence in it actually happening can be gauged by the existence of a contingency plan to ship yet another 9x rev in 2001 after all, in the event of Neptune failing to make the grade and/or ship on time. "Microsoft is telling potential beta testers for Millennium that they should expect it to be 'legacy free,' i.e. that it won't include Dos support any more. That means a kernel rewrite, and doing this while maintaining compatibility with Win9x software (games being particularly important for a consumer OS) will likely cause plenty of headaches. [We correctly noted that a truly legacy free OS couldn't be achieved without massive engineering effort - the Millennium builds hide Dos from the user, but that's it, it's still there] "At the moment therefore we'd say Microsoft is going through its standard over-optimistic phase in developing Millennium - later, as the deadline looms, it'll quite possibly get scaled back to that service pack on steroids we mentioned. ZD predicts a public beta for late summer this year, but it's difficult to see how that would fit with a radical rewrite. [Did we call that right, or what?]" However, we're now sceptical about the notion that MS will downgrade Millennium to a service pack formally. Windows 98 was a service pack to Windows 95, and Windows 98 SE was a service pack to Windows 98, but they were both packaged as upgrades, and they both followed a pattern that has been documented extensively over the past year. Microsoft has big problems in making big leaps in OS software. But it also has demands in terms of revenue from OS software, and it really, really wants (hello again, MS OEM chief Joachim Kempin) to get customers to give it some money for software on an annual basis. The solution (so far) to this conundrum is to do an annual refresh of the Win9x code base and sell it. Because it's a reasonably solid and well-understood base, simply adding on the right number of go-fasters and gee-whizzes keeps things spinning, and alongside this MS can still run the scary monster development path, great entirely new operating systems that miss their ETAs by years. There are problems with this, of course. One day the music has to stop on Win9x. And maybe before that (maybe already) the customers are going to stop believing a service pack with added home networking is in fact a new operating system. If Microsoft felt this was happening, and if it also felt it could make Neptune work on time (ludicrously big 'if') then maybe it would downgrade Millennium in terms of marketing. But go back to EasyPC, and to the (far more important) PC2001 roadmap. The hardware will be having legacy devices ripped out, and Microsoft is committed (albeit only vaguely, but the Intel SWAT teams will nail them sooner or later) to coming up with something that can at least look credible to support these great new, easy to use platforms. If come second half 2000 MS is still peddling a point release of Win98 SE as the OS of choice for the new consumer platforms, it's going to look very silly indeed. That doesn't mean it'll build a great new OS on Millennium, no way, but the marketing machine will kick in to try to convince you it has. You don't have to believe, of course. ®
The Register breaking news

AOL cans 0800 plans

AOL UK has indefinitely postponed plans to introduce 0800 access to the Net, effectively admitting defeat in its bid to reclaim the initiative against subscription-free ISPs such as Freeserve. The UK's second biggest Net access provider admitted that despite carrying out extensive trials it is simply not commercially viable to introduce a flat-fee 0800 service at current pricing levels. The company was adamant that it has done all it can to introduce a new model of Net access but said it was foiled by regulatory red tape and intransigence. News that the online service provider (OSP) was to introduce flat-fee 0800 access was made public in May and was seen by many as one way AOL UK could maintain a subscription-based service while wrestling back the lead it lost to subscription-free services such as Freeserve. Despite this latest setback, AOL has pledged to continue lobbying watchdog Oftel for changes to the telecomms pricing structure in Britain. It is also to conduct ADSL trials when the service is rolled out in Britain next year. Many AOL users began to fear that Monday's announcement that AOL UK would introduce a new pricing structure, signalled the end of the planned 0800 access service. From now on Net users who pay £9.99 a month for its unlimited price plan can access the Net for 1p a minute regardless of the time of day. For those people who use the service during the day it's a saving of some 75 per cent on BT's standard peak-time local rate call charges. Unfortunately for many people the new price pan is simply irrelevant. "We can't introduce 0800 [access] right now," said an AOL representative. "The trial prices we had are not commercially viable," she said. Although AOL UK wouldn't confirm exactly what the trial prices were it's believed they were levelled as high as £30 a month for unmetered access to the Net. "If we could have introduced it at this point we would have done so -- we've gone as far as we can," she said. "We can only introduce 0800 access if the regulatory climate changes but our ultimate goal remains the same -- to get unmetered access [in the UK]." No one from Oftel was available for comment at press time. ®
The Register breaking news

Timing problem renders all Camino boards virtually useless

More details are emerging on Intel's woes with the ill-fated Camino chipset. Electronic Buyers' News in the US reports that the timing problem with the Rambus RIMMs stems from the fact that some of the motherboard traces are up to 10cm in length, causing timing-related signal integrity problems. If this is indeed the cause of the problem, all existing Camino motherboards will have to be scrapped. It is not known if the trace lengths to the second memory slot are also long enough to cause problems. One extremely high tech kludge to get around the problem is reported to be the fitting of a cap over the offending third memory slot. This would prevent OEMs and end users from fitting additional RIMMs, but, as reported here yesterday, this would mean a maximum of 512MB of RAM for all i820 based systems - not nearly enough for the kind of demanding applications the chipset was designed to handle. One Intel insider who asked not to be named summed up the problem succinctly: "You'd have though someone would have thought to test a motherboard fully-populated with RIMMs. What a bunch of Muppets." ®
The Register breaking news

Chips makers gear up as power restored to Taiwan

The lights are back on in Hsinchu Science park in Taiwan a week after the earthquake that brought much of the island to its knees. Residential districts are not so fortunate, with many only getting power on alternate days, but the islands IT sector had put pressure on the Taiwan authorities to give industry the priority for reconnecting power supplies. This means that all the chip fabs based at Hsinchu now have operational power restored. The process of assessing damage levels and carrying out remedial works has begun and most chip plants expect to be operating as normal within a week. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) estimates that 90 per cent of its facility has been given the green light to restart production. Testing areas are said to back to maximum capacity, according to EuroTrade. Winbond has said that it now has full power in all sectors and that its production facilities at its Fab One are operating at 85 per cent capacity. This figure is more like 50 per cent at Fab Two, but Winbond said this should be rectified within the week. ® See also: Graphics cards, Intel chipsets hit badly in quake aftershock Massive quake hits Taiwan
The Register breaking news

Linux distributor Caldera delays IPO

Caldera is to follow fellow Linux distributor Red Hat down the IPO trail later rather than sooner. The company's plan to go public will now not take place until next year and not next month after all, according to sources cited by US newswires. The reason for the decision appears to be advice from Caldera's underwriters, who reckon that hi-tech stocks aren't as popular right now as they have been of late largely as investors are beginning to realise they're more than a little overvalued. The underwriters' advice to Caldera: wait a while. Caldera wants the money it hopes to make through the IPO for expansion. Like Red Hat, it realises the future for Linux distributors lies not in flogging more product per se, but in selling support services to business users. Or does it? It's interesting that Caldera president Ransom Love -- and that doesn't sound like the name of a romantic novelist, nothing does -- sees Caldera competing with major OS vendors, most notably Sun and Microsoft. Competing directly with these players, particularly Microsoft, means getting out there and marketing not only Linux but Caldera as the key Linux supplier. That takes money, and probably more than the company is going to make through its IPO. It's unlikely to do much better than the better-known Red Hat, which is still losing money hand over fist as it battles to build up a revenue-generating service operation. The telling part of Red Hat's most recent results is that the bulk of the company's revenue continues to come from product sales. Clearly people would rather pay Red Hat, Caldera and co. for complete Linux distributions rather than download and compile them themselves, so Linux can perhaps no longer be seen as an entirely free OS. If that's the case, Caldera can perhaps start to push up the price of its Linux distribution to the point where it costs around $99 -- the same as other, more mainstream OSes like Windows and MacOS. Couple that, more margin-friendly pricing and a larger number of Linux users, and perhaps Caldera could look to product for profit -- perhaps instead of the 'traditional' assumption that the only way to make money from Linux is through services... And if Caldera doesn't, Corel, as a retail software supplier and not a service-oriented organisation, almost certainly will. ®
The Register breaking news

When you wish upon a chipset

For obvious reasons, this story has a limited shelf life, so check out the links while you can Never let it be said Chipzilla doesn't look on the bright side, or at the very least bury its head in the sand. Obviously stunned into inactivity by the failure of Camino to appear on time (again), Intel's web sites still wear the rose-tinted spectacles of the hopelessly-optimistic. At its developer Web site you will see that the venerable 440BX chipset is still billed to hit the chip gulag before the end of the year, replaced by the all-singing, all-dancing, all-failing Camino i820. And at this address you will be amazed to discover that the i840 chipset for Xeons is due to appear at the end of Q3 99 -- that's tomorrow, according to our calculations. Now what are the odds against that happening, we wonder? ®
The Register breaking news

New Transmeta patent reveals x86-killer design

Another patent granted to Transmeta seems to have established what the mysterious outfit is up to pretty clearly. Briefly, the company's processor is intended to be faster than anything built using current technology, and to be able to run any of the operating software for any existing processors - faster than the original. This of course sounds like complete hokum, but Transmeta has the patent, US Patent Office number 5,958,061, and the application, which can be read here, explains in some detail how the company proposes to achieve this. Transmeta claims: "The present invention overcomes the problems of the prior art and provides a microprocessor which is faster than microprocessors of the prior art, is capable of running all of the software for all of the operating systems which may be run by a large number of families of prior art microprocessors, yet is less expensive than prior art microprocessors." The mechanisms described in this patent tally closely with those outlined in a previous Transmeta patent (Transmeta reveals radical new chip design). Transmeta won't be using "a microprocessor with more complicated hardware to accelerate its operation," but instead will be combining a hardware processing portion it refers to as a "morph host" and an emulating software portion, "code morphing software." These two, the company claims, will work together as a microprocessor "with more capabilities than any known competitive microprocessor." The relative simplicity of the morph host is significant, because it should mean Transmeta's fab costs will be a lot lower than the rivals it proposes to outpace massively. The morph host "includes hardware enhancements to assist in having state of a target computer immediately at hand when an exception error occurs, while code morphing software is software which translates the instructions of a target program to morph host instructions for the morph host and responds to exceptions and errors by replacing working state with correct target state when necessary so that correct retranslations occur." Losing it again? Yes, so are we. In English, it seems that Transmeta is going for simple hardware that can achieve very high clock speeds early on in the ramp, and using this to more than compensate for any speed degradations caused by using software rather than hardware optimisation. Multiple instruction sets can be built into software (although the company's description talks largely of x86, so it's clear who's being gone after), and Transmeta will also cache translated instructions in a "translation buffer," so the amount of translation needed is minimised. It may not however be the case that Transmeta's use of software will cause degradation, as the software itself includes go-fasters: "Code morphing software may also include various processes for enhancing the speed of processing. Rather than providing hardware to enhance the speed of processing as do all of the very fast prior art microprocessors, the present invention allows a large number of acceleration enhancement techniques to be carried out in selectable stages by the code morphing software. Providing the speed enhancement techniques in the code morphing software allows the morph host to be implemented using much less complicated hardware which is faster and substantially less expensive than the hardware of prior art microprocessors." Transmeta also includes what you might call a teaser: "As a comparison, one embodiment of the present invention designed to run all available X86 applications is implemented by a morph host including approximately one-quarter of the number of gates of the Pentium Pro microprocessor yet runs X86 applications substantially faster than does the Pentium Pro microprocessor or any other known microprocessor capable of processing these applications." Pentium Pro? So what? But remember, the application was filed in July 1996, so Transmeta undoubtedly has some far groovier stuff by now. To be fair though, Transmeta does point out that, although the application refers heavily to x86, the techniques are equally applicable to other platforms. But don't you think that, with the latest information going into the public domain, that Transmeta's secret is more or less blown? Might as well announce it then - over to you, Linus. ®
The Register breaking news

Cadence SoCs it to Net phones, MP3

With Chipzilla and co blethering on about how wonderful Systems on a Chip will be, DeCadence's developers up in Silicon Glen have quietly got on with it and taped out the first SoC chip aimed at the burgeoning Internet telephony market. Working for French telephony outfit Aplio, which launched its standalone Voice over IP (VoIP) phone in the UK earlier this year, DeCadence's new Trio chip contains an ARM7 32-bit RISC core, and two OAK DSP cores -- practically everything needed to build standalone Internet telephony and MP3 audio appliances, set-top boxes and smart phones. The phone plugs into a normal socket and establishes a connection through the web, then rings the caller and callee back providing International calls at local rates without needing a PC. While the existing Aplio phone costs around $200, the new chip is expected to chop the cost to less than $100. ® Little known Register fact: DeCadence is the only chip design company in the world named after a Steven Berkoff play.
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IBM climbs into bed with NTT for Net bundle

NTT, the Japanese telecoms giant, is launching a leasing business with IBM for online PCs. NTT will provide Web access for Y3980 ($37.50) per month in a bid to gain a larger slice of Japan's Internet market, according to today's Financial Times. The leasing rate will not include call charges, but will provide 100 hours of access per month. It compares to similar deals, which do not include PC rental, but charge from around Y2000 for 16 hours to Y3000 for 150 hours online. The service, due to be launched in co-operation with IBM, is aiming at netting 40,000 users by next April.®
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Misdials report Lastminute.com glitch

Lastminute.com -- the discount travel and gift Web site -- appears to have a problem with its online technology. Yesterday, The Register received two phone calls from lastminute.com shoppers wanting to confirm their orders. They were told to ring a number because the online ordering system wasn't working. Somehow, they ended up ringing The Register by mistake. What's more, this was not an isolated incident. Vulture central has received at least half a dozen calls over the last week or so from holidaymakers looking to book their last minute flights to exotic destinations. One bemused traveller said didn't want to cause any trouble for Lastminute.com yesterday when he realised he'd phoned The Register to book his cheap flight. "I'm not going to give you a story, I just want to book my holiday, that's all," he said before hanging up. Before slamming down the phone he did confirm that he was unable to book his holiday online but admitted he may have misdialled the number. No official spokesperson from Lastminute.com was available for comment. However, someone did admit that the server does "go down" occasionally. "It's bound to happen sometimes," she said. ®
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Finance watchdog calls for e-regulator status

UK financial regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) yesterday admitted its regulations for the Internet were outdated, and outlined a five-pronged plan of attack for improvement. The Authority said the Web had forced it to re-think its existing rules and that it planned to launch a strategy for "e-regulation". Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference, Howard Davies, chairman of the FSA, said: "We have to find a way of adapting our regulatory environment to new technology, not adapting the new technology to the old regulatory rules." The FSA's plan of action for regulating online financial activity includes: The setting up of a team to surf the net and spot problems. Educating customers on the pros and cons involved. The FSA promised that users would be able to run cheaper and easier checks on companies they wanted to do business through a re-vamped FSA website. Increased co-operation with regulators abroad to deal with offshore sites. Ensuring that saving and investing through the Internet was as safe as using any other method. Making sure that the rules were followed "by taking enforcement action, where appropriate, against those responsible for the content of a Web site". The FSA had previously been slammed by the industry for what was seen as its outdated approach to the Internet. It was feared the regulator's rules were based on paper and pen transactions -- and were not taking cyberspace into consideration. Davies said the FSA wanted "to debate actively with the industry" on the matter. ®
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S3 announces Mobile Savage design wins

S3 has said the notebook-oriented version of its Savage4 graphics chipset has been selected by "four of the top five notebook PC manufacturers". Fair comment, perhaps, but it's telling that S3 doesn't say which vendors have chosen its chips, or what machines they plan to put them into. S3's excuse for the lack of info is that the details will be revealed when Intel launches its Mobile Pentium III parts a wee way down the line -- which just goes to show how closely S3 and Chipzilla are nuzzling up to each other these days. Otherwise there's no connection between the two announcements -- one's graphics, the other is processors -- so there's nothing to stop S3 mentioning its partners even if Intel would rather it didn't. Except, of course, that S3 has been Intel's favourite 3D company for some time. We'd never suggest that Intel is plugging S3's graphics chip to all its PIII customers, so we won't. Presumably those nice people at S3 are way too nice to steal the fire from Intel's Mobile PIII launch. Aren't they? Meanwhile, S3 also said today that IBM has chosen Savage4 for its PC 300PL and PC 300GL series of business systems. S3 cited IBM's choice was, in part, based upon the graphics company's "return to market leadership in 1999". We suspect ATI might have something to say about that, given it controls around 70 per cent of the OEM market. We'd also be curious to know why PCs aimed at mainstream business require slick 3D accelerators. Presumably for all those crafty games of Quake III employees get up to in their lunch hour... ®
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Caldera signs Linux Net appliance deal with Fujitsu

Linux distributor Caldera Systems today confirmed press speculation that it has done a deal with Fujitsu to bundle OpenLinux 2.3 with the Japanese giant's server products. Actually, it turns out the deal only covers "many of [Fujitsu's] servers" -- in other words, not all of them. For instance, it's not clear how many of Fujitsu's server-supplying subsidiaries, such as ICL, will offer Caldera's version of Linux. Probably not, since the deal appears to focus solely on the Japanese market. In fact, when the companies' release says "Fujitsu will distribute OpenLinux 2.3... on many of its servers, including the GranPower series", it means only on the GranPower series. Still, it's not a bad deal for Caldera, since it emerges that Fujitsu's interest here isn't just in servers but in the broader Internet appliance market too. The two companies will "work together to offer a complete range of Internet appliances and devices", a curious move given that that's the role of Caldera Systems' sister company, Lineo. Caldera will train up Fujitsu's technical support personnel and act as support back-up for Fujitsu customers. Again, the focus is on the Japanese market, but Fujitsu did hint that it wants to broaden the relationship to cover the global server market. Fujitsu will also promote Caldera's own-brand end user training scheme in Japan, the Caldera Systems Linux Curriculum, based on the independent Linux Professional Institute's certification programme. ® Related Stories
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DRAM robberies are back

Dane-Elec today warned fellow memory distributors to keep DRAM under surveillance following a robbery at their warehouse. The Surrey-based distributor said it was broken into at 2am this morning. But the robbers were disturbed by a security guard and got away with less kit than they intended. Alan Stanley, Dane-Elec general manager, confirmed £100K-worth of 128MB and 64MB modules was stolen. He warn distributors to be "extra vigilant with their memory at the moment. "Be on your guard. And if you see any cheap product, be wary of it." Dane-Elec UK was turned over by villains seven months ago. DRAM robberies -- burglaries, ram raids(where villains rammed vehicles through warehouse doors and hijacks were common in Britain in the heydays of high memory prices (1994-1996. Looks like they're back. ®
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Child porn conference damns Net

The US Department of Justice today called for global laws on the child pornography to be brought in line with UK legislation. Speaking at a conference of representatives from the EU, North America, Eastern Europe and Asia, DoJ deputy chief Thomas Burrows sought a consensus that not only the production and distribution of kiddie porn but its possession should be declared universally illegal.
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Compaq to push Alpha volumes by ‘leveraging Linux’

Compaq Business Critical Server Division general manager Bill Heil has written a letter to customers reaffirming the company's commitment to Alpha "for the long term." This sort of thing is frequently the kiss of death for whatever it is a corporation is reaffirming its commitment to, but in this case the letter helps put some flesh on a strategy that Compaq has looked like it's making up at it goes along. As is clear already, Compaq is splitting its lines between "Industry Standard Servers" (i.e. little Intel ones running NT) and Business Critical Servers, Alpha, that is. Says Heil: "Alpha is absolutely key to our profitable growth and market leadership in the Business Critical Server segment." Loosely translated that suggests Compaq doesn't reckon much on the prospects of Intel and IA-64 being credible in this sector over the next couple of years, and therefore intends to make a strong play on Alpha instead. Heil gets more interesting when he gets on to Linux. Segmenting the product lines between Intel at low-to-middle and Alpha at the top would be simple enough, but it's more complex than that. "We will drive Alpha volumes by leveraging the growth of Linux," he says. That tallies with what Tim Yeaton was telling us about Linux-Tru64 co-existence the other day (Compaq aims Alpha at high end). Compaq can pitch Tru64 Alpha as the mission-critical, high-availability, highly scalable server platform while selling Linux Alpha workstations to run with it. We're not sure "leveraging" is a word entirely appropriate to the spirit of open source, but there you are. Heil goes on to commit to maintaining and extending Alpha's performance leadership, but here he's on trickier territory. Compaq's currently shipping 1-14 CPU AlphaServers based on EV6, but he only commits to a near-term upgrade to EV67 equivalents, and promises 32 CPU versions for early 2000. That means that the WildFire kit to be unveiled in a couple of weeks time (32-way WildFire set to roll) ain't quite with us yet after all. But there's the 1GHz-plus EV68 from Samsung, which he alludes to, without going as far as roadmapping it in, and "we have an exciting Alpha road map ahead of us, including EV7 and EV8 and beyond." We expect Q to come up with some advance dope on the EV8 Arana at Microprocessor Forum next week - stay tuned. ®