30th > September > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Gates outlines how smart devices will eclipse PC

The latest instalment in the Bill Gates PR offensive, an article published in Forbes, provides rather more signposts to where MS is going than is usual for one of the lad's visions. The short piece - on convergence, allegedly - indicates that the eclipse of the PC may soon be upon us. Now, we know Bill has people to write articles and speeches for him, and he even has plenty people who can think for him as well, but although that means his journalistic career is really somebody else's, it doesn't mean all of the output should be automatically ignored. It's self-serving and partial, certainly, but there's sometimes red meat in among the fluff. Now, "Bill" (as we'll call the anonymous scribe) is seeing a near future of broadband wired and wireless bandwidth and "seamless, universal connectivity." Currently we're in a period of "hybridisation," hybrid electronic devices being "PCs, WebTV, cable modems and smart phones." Yes, that's a weird and partial list, but the point Bill isn't quite making successfully is that convergence so far has meant that multiple functions have been moving into single pieces of electronics. We could add that they've not being doing it either very fast or very successfully. "But this is only the start," says Bill, wrongly, as he proceeds to explain why it's really the finish. Smaller and more powerful processors, "advanced software" (no, we don't know what this means either) and "exponential growth in fibre and wireless bandwidth... turns convergence on its head." This superficially clever piece of phrasing is of course meaningless. What Bill really means is that convergence on single devices stops being important: "It means that although computer, telecommunications, and consumer electronics technologies will come together, the next generation of smart devices mostly won't." Cut to the chase. Bill sees a proliferation of diverse, smart, connected devices that will "take the power on your desktop and make it available wherever you want it." This is not of course original thought, but it's highly significant that Microsoft is now thinking it. The company is accepting that the action in the future will to a great extent be in appliances and the network. All of your data will be available to you wherever you are, and intelligence within the network will filter what you get, depending on context. So "if you're watching a game in the ballpark" you get player profiles and hot-dog order forms (N.B. Bill, some localisation needed here) and not your tax return. So you can see Microsoft's agenda. It's still developing PC operating systems, but all of those projects for smaller and pocketable devices, set-top boxes, the MSN Web Companion and wireless devices are actually where the company really intends to bet big. And although the importance of local processing power remains practically an official religion at Microsoft, the universal connectivity aspect is clearly going to erode that, and the company will wind up agreeing with Larry Ellison - didn't it demo an NC just last week? In his article Bill only touches on the server end of the deal once, lightly, but the implications are clear here as well, because - although he's not tasteless enough to say it out loud - it clearly has to be Microsoft server software that's running the server farms that store the data and figure out what to send/show you, when. We're not saying the plan is going to work, of course, because as yet Microsoft doesn't have any kind of hold on either the client or the server end. The mobile phone companies aren't going to roll over, as they've decisively demonstrated over the past couple of years, and despite Microsoft spin to the contrary, NT hasn't been winning the server wars. But it's worth paying attention, just in case. ®
John Lettice, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Games developer to eat insects if bugs infest software

If you think you've had your fill of the millennium bug, spare a thought for Jason Whong, marketing director of games developer Ambrosia Software. He could be seeing more than his fair share of bugs when we enter the new millennium. So convinced is Whong that all the software Ambrosia will ship in late 1999 and early 2000 will be bug-free, that he has pledged to sit down to a meal of actual bugs should any fixes or patches need to be issued. Crazy? Probably, but it's a cut-throat world, the games market and a marketing man's gotta do what a marketing man's gotta do to get some good publicity. If it all backfires though, at least anyone with a buggy copy of any one of Ambrosia's games will have the satisfaction of knowing their not the only one left with a bad taste in their mouth. The creepy-crawly crunchfest is scheduled to take place at MacWorld in New York next year. Andrew Welch, president of Ambrosia said: "We think that if everybody made someone accountable for the bugs, the world's software would improve dramatically." We agree, but we're not sure Microsoft could find room for that many new employees. ®
Sean Fleming, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Is Monterey Unix's revenge?

Stealth marketing is evidently being used for an alternative to Win2k that did not even get a mention in the oral evidence at the Microsoft trial. It is uncertain if Microsoft wanted no mention of it, or whether Microsoft's lawyers were unable to understand that the real threat could be Project Monterey. This industry standard Unix operating system initiative for the IA-32, IA-64 and IBM Power PC processors already has a lot of weight behind it, and could prove to be Unix's revenge. The OEMs giving support are Acer, Bull, CETIA (a Thomson-CSF subsidiary), Compaq, IBM Netfinity, ICL, Motorola, Samsung, Sequent, and Unisys. There is support from 33 ISVs, including Baan, BEA, Computer Associates Compuware, DataPro, Informix, Infospace, Micro Focus, Netscape, Novell, PeopleSoft, Pick, Progress, Rational, Real World, Risk Management, Software AG, SAS, and Take Five. Cygnus Solutions is developing, in conjunction with IBM, GNUPro tools for AIX and Project Monterey on IA-64. SCO, as the volume market leader for Unix with UnixWare7 is collaborating with IBM to enhance IA-32, and to co-develop for the IA-64 market. Meanwhile IA-64 Linux, Trillian, development is being led by VA Linux Research with support from Cygnus, HP, IBM, Intel, and SGI. Within the last month or so, both 64-bit W2K and Monterey/64 were demonstrated on Merced without a software emulator, so all things being equal they may well be released around the same time. Sun has only got as far as demonstrating Solaris with an emulator on the IA-64. Rajiv Samant, IBM's Unix brand general manager claimed that Monterey/64 is ahead of HP-UX for the same reason, although Intel says it is serious about its support of HP-UX. IBM currently offers three Unix systems, AIX, SCO, and Linux, and the company's vision is of a triangle with Linux at the base, running on Netfinity servers and mostly used for file and print, mail and collaboration. The second layer is AIX + RS/6000 (or UnixWare + Netfinity) being used typically for transactions such as retail and branch banking. The top layer is AIX + RS/6000 SP for ERP transactions and e-commerce. The boundaries between the three layers are not intended to be solid, but in general, transaction value is likely to increase up the triangle. IBM has recently clarified how it will manage Sequent, a leader with high-end Intel-based Unix, which it bought for $810 million. As the developer of DYNIX/ptx, its jewels are the NUMA-Q 1000 and 2000 servers and the NUMACenter, which IBM and its partners will start selling immediately. On the development side, NUMA technology should help IBM to offer larger SMP processors as synergies are identified. NUMA works with Intel and Power chips. Before the merger, IBM and Sequent were collaborating in Project Monterey, so both companies are aligned. The NUMA-Q team will remain intact, but the Sequent name looks like being subsumed in the IBM brand. Sequent has a development team in Eau Claire, Wisconsin that will continue its collaboration with Microsoft. IBM plans that the Linux application execution environment will provide most Linux APIs and ABIs for AIX 4.3.3 + Monterey/64. Linux applications, which IBM says can be readily recompiled for high performance on AIX/Monterey (or can run as binaries without change) will go some way to providing an application portfolio (for which read "overcome the applications barrier"). The target date is the first half of next year. IBM will offer the Red Hat Linux distribution for its ThinkPad 600E, and plans to offer the Caldera, SuSe and TurboLinux on other ThinkPads. It also has a Developer Kit for Linux in alpha, with Java 1.1.8 and a preview version of VisualAge Java for Linux. There were around 50,000 downloads of IBM's DB2 for Linux in the first nine months. There seems to be quiet confidence, at least in the IBM camp, that only Monterey/64 will give high performance on Merced from day one. However, it will effectively be a new operating system, with the probability of an extra portion of bugs initially, so take-up is likely to be somewhat slow at first, until the reports of early users are positive. Microsoft may well out-market and out-ship Unix in terms of the number of systems running Win2k, but in terms of sales revenue, Unix may well continue to hold its own or even accelerate. The big opportunity will arise if W2K is found to be significantly unreliable. Linux is being positioned by IBM as a worthy junior partner in Monterey, and not as a serious competitor in the same way as Win2k. For price-sensitive organisations without too many high-value transactions (like the oil company Amerada Hess that reckons it has saved $3 million by moving from Unix to Linux), Linux will prove attractive as it works well with less-expensive servers. Using Linux on the desktop does not give such dramatic financial savings, and such users are mostly the Microsoft-averse. Despite the chumminess of the Unix camp towards Linux, Unix still looks somewhat divided while Sun and HP keep remote from the Monterey/64 effort. Some cosmetic collaboration could make a considerable difference to the perception of the nearly-unified Unix, but perhaps that is too much to expect. ®
Graham Lea, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Bluetooth to figure in French high-speed mobile data

Both French and German implementations of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) wireless data are set to go live next year, and in the case of the French one at least, Bluetooth phones will be a part of the service. Germany's T-Mobil is carrying out trials of GPRS using Motorola equipment, and France Telecom has already completed trials with Motorola for its Itineris service. (Register factoid: France Telecom seems to have got its head together now, but when it first implemented Itineris it didn't data-enable it because, er, it didn't think anybody would want data) Having tested the system at CNET (Register factoid 2: CNET is France Telecom's R&D outfit, and not a little-known US Internet news service) FT has now gone on to filed trials in Lille, northern France. At the moment Internet access is being achieved via an infra-red connection, but FT anticipates being able to use Bluetooth next year, which means the handset companies must intend to have volume production of Bluetooth phones by then. ®
John Lettice, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Ingram launches UK components division

Ingram Micro UK yesterday announced a new components division headed up by Pieter Waasdorp. The Components Business Unit is the fourth arm in the distributor's latest business model. Waasdorp, director of the unit, has been at Ingram for five years. He was previously the company's European mass storage business manager. Meinie Oldersma, Ingram Micro MD, said: "Having carefully analysed the components business we believe this marketplace represents an exciting area of opportunity for us." In June, Ingram Micro UK cut staff in its Milton Keynes office by ten per cent as part of its company re-jig. ®
Linda Harrison, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft jump-starts streaming media offensive

Microsoft yesterday upped the ante in its bid to dominate the streaming media market when it announced what it's calling the Windows Media Broadband Jumpstart (WMBJ) -- its answer to Apple's QuickTime TV initiative. Both ventures, of course, are targetting the streaming market leader, RealNetworks. Apple's approach is to leverage its superior content playback technology, QuickTime, as a streaming system through its partnership with Akamai, which uses a clever mirroring software and a stack of servers located around the world to make it appear that streamed QuickTime has more bandwidth than it does. Earlier this week, Microsoft announced it had struck a similar deal with Akamai through a $15 million investment, and yesterday took the plan a stage further with WMBJ. Like QuickTime TV, WMBJ pulls in a host of well-known content companies who will offer their streamed audio and video offerings in Windows Media Technology (WMT) format. Of course, those already offering content in QuickTime and/or RealSystem G2 format will continue to do so. They're goal is to get their content to as many viewers as possible and that means they'll never want to stick with any one format. However, WMBJ goes a stage further than QuickTime TV by bringing on board cable companies, including RoadRunner, TimeWarner and MediaOne. The idea here appears to be to match RealNetworks' Real Broadcast Network, which utilises major US telcos' networks -- MCI WorldCom, AT&T and Sprint -- as high-speed backbones to improve the delivery of its streamed content. To a degree, that's what Microsoft and Apple get from Akamai, but by brining the cable guys on board, the Beast of Redmond gets access to faster end user Net connections. In return, the cable companies get better access to content they can market to potential subscribers. Meanwhile, the content providers get guaranteed delivery to the cable companies' Net customers through the cable portals. In short, WMBJ is a neat two-way deal brokered by Microsoft between the cable companies and the content providers, with Microsoft gaining because it gets big-name support for its technology. It's classic Microsoft mindshare mining, and it hopes to stockpile enough of it to bury RealNetworks and, to a lesser extent, Apple. The deal with the cable companies also prepares the ground for the point at which real TV-style content -- as opposed to postage stamp-sized grainy, frame-skipping video -- is delivered across the Net. Apple is likely to get there first, in terms of providing software that can deliver the right level of image quality, but if Microsoft already has the delivery guys hooked into WMT, Apple's technology lead may not count for much. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Red Hat ready to launch Linux 6.1 this week

Red Hat will launch the latest version of its Linux distribution this week, according to US newswires and, in effect, according to Red Hat itself, which has organised a press tour to promote the new release. It probably feels it needs to hype up the release a bit, what with Corel getting closer to the release of its major mainstream-user oriented Linux distribution and the new version of Red Hat Linux being just a point upgrade, taking the software to version 6.1. The release will offer improvements to the installer, including the ability to gobble up bandwidth by pulling the latest versions of apps and utilities off the Web rather than the CD, extra network management tools and presumably the usual round of kernel upgrades and bug fixes. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

New IE5 security hole leaves PCs wide open to hacking

The latest addition to IE5's list of security 'issues' is a corker. The problem, detailed by Microsoft here, allows a "malicious Web site operator" to gain access to the computers of people visiting the site. It uses the IE5 "download behaviour" feature, which is intended to allow Web page authors to download files for use in client-side scripts. This is intended only to apply to files in the same domain, but a server-side redirect can be used to bypass this. The net effect is that our malicious operator (who are these people anyway? - name the names) can get access to files on both the user's machine and the user's local intranet. There isn't a fix so far, although MS says it's working on a patch. In the meantime, it recommends stopping the download behaviour by disabling Active Scripting. A helpful Register reader who's done this reports that it isn't necessarily the ideal solution. He sends us a GIF of what happened after he applied Microsoft's workaround - it's an error message saying "An ActiveX control on this page is not safe. Your current security settings prohibit running unsafe controls on this page. As a result, this page may not display as intended." As far as we can see, apart from the error message, it doesn't display at all... ®
John Lettice, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

AOL users are revolting

Senior executives at AOL Europe have tried to quell a rebellion among its users after the service provider effectively conceded it had postponed indefinitely plans to introduce flat-fee 0800 access because of the "regulatory structure" in the UK. It also warned that if it did introduce 0800 access across the board it could put AOL UK out of business. The stark warning came as senior executives tried to appease a hardcore group of AOL UK users who blasted the online service provider (OSP) for its decision to introduce 24/7 1p-a-minute dial-up access to the service. Many feel betrayed that AOL UK will not be introducing flat-fee 0800 access despite trialling the service since May. The mutiny among users was inflamed still further when it became apparent that those people who are already taking part in the 0800 24/7 trial will still be able to get access to the Net for as little as £14.99 a month -- including the cost of dial-up phone calls. The Register has learnt that that there could be as many as 50,000 people taking part in the 0800 trial although a spokeswoman for AOL UK declined to comment on whether this figure was accurate or not. Among the notice board messages posted to AOL UK editor Dominic Wells, one AOL UK member wrote: "I think it is disgusting that there will be some people on here who are allowed to have total free 0800 access. "If 0800 is not a viable option then how come those on the 0800 trial are allowed to keep it?" Another enraged member wrote: "AOL promised us 0800 access and they didn't deliver. Other companies can do it. AOL could if they wanted but instead they opt to blame the phone companies. "Why, when we phoned up to ask about it, were we given some bullshit telling us that we would get 0800 access before October?" AOL UK maintains it is still committed to 0800 access and that the current regulatory framework in the UK needs to be altered before it can introduce a service at realistic pricing levels. In statement issued to AOL UK customers, AOL European VP and general counsel Clare Gilbert wrote: "We would like to go further and offer access for a monthly fixed price including phone access, whilst ensuring that the price is affordable for our members... however, the current regulatory structure prevents us from offering the bundled price to our entire membership." Addressing claims from some members that AOL UK had created an "elite group" of users who could gain flat-fee unmetered access to the Net Gilbert said: "We can take the financial uncapped risk for a small number of trialists. "However, if we converted all our members to a bundled flat rate for accessing AOL, the potential cost to AOL in running the 0800 service could put us out of business." ®
Tim Richardson, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Sotec unveils un-iMac-like eOne design

Sotec, the Japanese distributor of eMachines' eOne PC, this week unveiled the computer's new look, designed to get the increasingly litigious Apple off its back. And the big change? Well, there isn't one -- eMachines has simply dropped the machines blue plastic panels in favour of silvery, 'Millennium Blue' ones. The redesign was announced by Sotec last week after the Tokyo District Court agreed with Apple's demand that the machine's distribution in Japan be halted until the Mac maker's trademark infringement case against Sotec could be judged. The change was made even though Sotec denies Apple's charge. Apple's beef with Sotec centres on the eOne's remarkable similarity to its own iMac. Apple is pursuing similar action in the US against eMachines and its Korean backers, Korean Data Systems and Trigem. Apple Japan said it was taking a close look at the 'new' eOne to see whether it believes the machine still infringes the company's trademarks. Meanwhile, the not-so-blue eOne could soon replace the current version in the US too. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Computacenter 'preps £250m Synstar bid'

Shares in Computacenter jumped five per cent yesterday on market speculation that it was preparing a £250 million bid for Synstar, Europe's biggest IT maintenance firm. According to The Times, the paper that likes to be known as journal of record, Computacenter had also "informally explored a merger with its rival Compel, but decided against it". Computacenter already operates a substantial maintenance business of its own, in the UK. Synstar's tentacles spread into Germany and France (where Computacenter has subsidiaries) and other European territories. Is the Times story true? We'll find out soon enough, if it smokes out a statement to the Stock Exchange from Computacenter. No statement = no truth. And what about the Compel informal merger talks splash? Computacenter's CEO, Mike Norris, has publicly stated his regard for Compel and its boss, Neville Davis. However, there is limited upside to be gained from merging with a company that does more or less the same things but is less than a fifth of its size. Granted, Compel would bring midrange thump and leasing revenues stream through its Hamilton Rentals business, but the downside is that half Compel's customers could jump (if such a merger were ever to take place). Synstar looks more of a goer -- it brings new revenue streams, new customers and enhanced geographic coverage. There is also some scope for cost-savings, by pooling Computacenter's UK maintenance operations with Synstar. The Times refers to Synstar's "high-margin" business -- a unusual concept for the highly commoditised third-party maintenance sector, we think. Synstar is also big into disaster recovery -- one of the less price-sensitive areas of the IT market. (Corporates haggle like crazy when they're buying hardware and then they're led like lambs to the slaughter to disaster-recovery cum insurance policy rooms). ®
Drew Cullen, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Ideal unveils new reseller services offering

Ideal Hardware is to launch a new range of financial services, including PC rental and leasing, it said today. The distributor will offer a host of value-added services, such as software licensing, specialised training and advanced technical support. It will also offer marketing services, including advertising and PR for resellers or suppliers, as well as human resources offerings such as staff recruitment. And there are plans for a fresh level of logistics support, including storage, delivery and warranty performance, the company announced this morning. Ideal said it will use a combination of in-house skills and outsourcing, to provide the new services. There may even be acquisitions to plug any gaps. Although it will keep the main thrust of its business in distribution, it said resellers and suppliers alike were asking for a wider variety of services. Ian French, Ideal Hardware CEO, said the distribution market was shrinking, predicting that there would be fewer players in the market in a year's time. He said distributors would have to adapt to market trends if they wanted to survive. "We have listened to suppliers and resellers and our conclusion is that the days of the multi-layered supply chain are numbered," said French. "With our new innovative services, we will be offering greater choice, flexibility and value, aiming to be an essential part of our partners' long-term business." French also hinted at an upcoming storage deal. He said storage still played a major part for the distributor, and was the second fastest growing part of the company, second only to its Compaq business. French said Ideal had been Compaq's number one distributor for eight out of the last ten weeks. Tim Wickes, who joined Ideal Hardware as its marketing director this month, said the whole scheme of services would be up and running within the next six months. The leasing and rental businesses will start before Christmas. The changes to Ideal's business follow a profit warning in June, when the distributor announced it was: "embarking upon a significant restructuring of Ideal in order to produce immediate material reductions in its cost base and improved efficiency of its sales teams." At the time, it described trading as "extremely disappointing" due to margin erosion. Ideal's parent company, InterX is to announce its year-end results on Monday. ®
Linda Harrison, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Nintendo selects S3 texture comp. for next-gen console

Top marks to S3 for rushing out a release informing us all of Nintendo's decision to license its S3TC texture compression technology in Dolphin, the in-development successor to the Nintendo N64. However, Nintendo will have to wear the dunce's cap and stand in the corner for paying S3 for technology it could have got from S3's rival, 3dfx, for free. A couple of weeks back, as we reported here, 3dfx unveiled its FXT1 texture compression technology under an open source licence, allowing anyone, including rival 3D vendors, to use it in their own products. Naturally, 3dfx claims FXT1 is superior to S3TC, and indeed its use of multiple compression algorithms depending on the nature of the texture to be compressed and its smaller compressed-texture format (check out our previous story for the full specs.) make it seem a better choice than S3TC, quite apart from its open source availability. Still, S3 loses some points too for its inability to offer a consistent message. In today's release, Andrew Wolfe, the company's CTO, said: "Our agreements with companies like Nintendo, Intel and Microsoft show we're an emerging leader [our italics] in the push to define video game and PC technology." Wolfe must clearly work for a different S3 than the one described by Paul Franklin, president of S3's Multimedia Business Unit, in a release outlining IBM's decision to use Savage 4 in its upcoming business PC lines as having returned "to market leadership in 1999". Leader -- or not-yet-leader? Come on, S3, make up your mind... ®
Tony Smith, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

CIA recruits video game mogul for IT venture

The CIA has smartened its image with the creation of In-Q-It, a high-tech venture capital firm playfully named for the eccentric gadget meister "Q" of James Bond fame. As if to build further on the fun and games motif, the agency has chosen former Spectrum Holobyte and Microprose exec Gilman Louie for its CEO. The new company will invest in emerging technologies on the agency's behalf, and at times enter into strategic partnerships. The hope of course is to update the agency's IT systems at the speed of commerce, which defines technology, rather than at the speed of the defence bureaucracy, which spends much of its time scratching its head and wondering how it is that 13-year-old kids play with better flight simulators than the Air Force has got. The normally secretive agency is breaking with tradition by hiring a cultural outsider to run one of its ventures, and again by sidestepping its stable of stodgy, bloated defence contractors in favour a public company to be managed on the somewhat more libertarian Silicon Valley model. The nonprofit In-Q-It opens with a modest $28 million in federal money allocated by Congress last year. The CIA budget is classified, so it's impossible to guess what proportional investment of resources this figure represents. The experiment is interesting, but the question is whether technologies so often developed for consumer gadgets and entertainment will provide the CIA with much that it can use. Certainly the agency will benefit from improvements in Internet security and data processing; certainly the cultural experience will be of some educational value. And no doubt working for In-Q-It will be a fun assignment. Well, at least for those agents who don't mind taking orders from unkempt, cola-addicted pubescent geeks, that is. ®
Thomas C Greene, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Chips are down for RAM burglars

GSI has become the latest memory distributor to be hit by a DRAM robbery, but was today having the last laugh. The Essex company had around 500 memory modules stolen last night, comprising 32MB, 64MB and 128MB PC100 DIMMs. This is the second RAM robbery in the UK in as many days. Dane-Elec was stung in the early hours of yesterday morning. Both attacks come as DRAM prices, already rising as demand outstrips supply, have accelerated further thanks to the Taiwanese earthquake. The collapse in DRAM prices of previous years dramatically reduced the rewards of RAM theft -- time was when burglars would nick the memory from office PCs rather than the machines themselves. However, Dane-Elec and GSI's experiences suggest thieves may be once more targetting memory suppliers with a vengeance. GSI said the robbers were unable to saw through the bars on the metal security cage protecting the warehouse so they broke in through a window. But despite being a victim of crime, GSI was able to laugh at the thieves' own misfortune. According to Dean Johnson, GSI operations director, the robbers only got away with returns -- all the stock taken was faulty. Johnson said: "Luckily they only stole returned modules. If anyone gets offered cheap product that doesn't work, please contact GSI." GSI can be contacted on 01376 505700. In the meantime, the company said it had doubled its security measures. ®
Linda Harrison, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Sony signs Six for Stick

Sony today announced six other Japanese electronics companies have licensed its Memory Stick solid-state floppy disk technology. Aiwa, Fujitsu, Sanyo, Sharp, Kenwood and Pioneer will variously produce, promote and support in other devices Sony's answer to Compact Flash. That's a long way from the industry standard status Sony wants Memory Stick to attain, but definitely a step in the right direction. Sony's aim would have made the broad licensing of Memory Stick inevitable. The company clearly views Memory Stick as a mass-market storage system no different -- in marketing terms -- than cassettes, DAT, MiniDiscs or CD-RWs: standard formats for recording audio, video and/or computer data. Last week, Sony unveiled its Memory Stick-based Walkman, designed to play digital music tracks downloaded from the Internet. The company already supports Memory Stick in its Vaio notebook PC line and in various digital camera and camcorder products. ®
Tony Smith, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Massive recall hits Western Digital

Western Digital has recalled around 400,000 hard disk drives due to a faulty chip. The pulled drives are from the vendor's WD Caviar 6.8GB per platter desktop series, with capacities ranging by from 6.4 to 20.5GB. According to Matt Massengill, Western Digital's co-COO, the chips could cause the hard drives to fail to power-up after six to 12 months of full-time use. Around one million of the chips were manufactured between 27 August and 24 September this year. A representative of the company would not disclose the name of the chip maker. He said most of the drives in the UK were in the channel and had not reached the end user. ®
Linda Harrison, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

Telinco whacks AOL, chins Freeserve for confusing users

Cheshire-based ISP Telinco has lambasted AOL UK and Freeserve for introducing confusing new pricing structures earlier this week. It says the 10 hours of toll-free access a month offered by Freeserve and AOL UK's 24/7 1p-a-minute flat fee for Net access will only serve to muddle Net users. Throwing its own hat into the ring, it said it is within a month of announcing a "simple to use" 0800 service of its own. But a spokesman for Telinco refused to reveal any more details about the offer leaving many Net users in the dark about which service they should try. Elsewhere, AOL UK has been spending its members' hard-spent cash placing full-page ads in the national press. One ad takes a giant swipe at Freeserve saying: "Don't fool yourself into thinking that Freeserve means free access. At BT peak rate, it could cost you up to £24 for 10 hours online. With AOL, your Internet phone bill for the same 10 hours will be just £6. That's because our rate is a penny a minute whatever the time of day." And this from the company that didn't like The Register's spin on their postponed 0800 story… Some people simply don't like the away game. No one from Freeserve was available for comment. ®
Tim Richardson, 30 Sep 1999
The Register breaking news

IBM maps out company-wide Linux strategy

IBM has just held the first of a series of internal Linux summits to thrash out the company's Linux strategy, according to Joe Barr of LinuxWorld. The summit itself was IBM-only, but Barr managed to get an interview with the IBMer responsible for setting it up, and he seems to have been pretty forthcoming. (Full interview text) Robert LeBlanc is VP of software strategy in the Software Solutions Division, and is also responsible for developing the company's Linux strategy, which means he deals with Linux in all of IBM's units, including hardware, software and services. From what LeBlanc says IBM is both enthusiastic about and committed to Linux. The company is porting all its "key software products to Linux," and is considering supporting more distributions than the four it currently does, Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE and TurboLinux. He reveals that the possibility of IBM doing its own Linux distribution has been considered, but this would appear to be an unlikely move. "We are more worried about making sure that the Linux community doesn't diverge [like Unix]," he says. But he speaks fluent IBM - he says the company isn't going for its own distribution at this point in time. Barr tried him on porting SmartSuite to Linux, but LeBlanc responded only that the possibility was being looked at. He's not quite so good on the preinstall question. He says that IBM's licence agreements with Microsoft don't penalise it for preinstalling a non-Windows OS (we at The Register don't entirely believe him here), but that "contract terms" interfere with the company's ability to preinstall Linux. "We're just trying to make sure that there is no exposure to any of the IBM patents." Translated, this means IBM faces difficulties in putting its IP technology into the open source pot. That explains what went wrong with the Red Hat certification of the ThinkPad 600e, which happened despite the fact there weren't any modem drivers , but LeBlanc says IBM is going to fix that, and that there will be drivers. Beyond that, he says that IBM will do preinstalls, across the whole of the NetFinity and ThinkPad product lines. That means there will be a lot more code coming out of IBM, but he appears to want to play it out gently, with committed individuals within IBM associated with it when it happens. ® Full interview
John Lettice, 30 Sep 1999
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New Psion Revo for consumer market escapes early

A surprise Psion product aimed at the volume consumer market has escaped early in a mail order catalogue ad. Psion intends to announce the £255.31 (ex tax) Revo on Monday, but the fact that the catalogues are already printed indicates the company is trying to return to its old approach of not making announcements until it has sufficient volumes to get the product in the stores immediately. The Revo also looks like a resumption of another old strategy, that of putting out cheaper, lower-specced machines beneath the flagship product (in the handheld sector, this is currently the Series 5mx). Dare we hope that Psion has managed to get on top of connectivity at last? The catalogue ad says it has email and mobile phone managers, and the picture of the machine, which is Series 5-like, clearly shows a phone icon on the touch bar. Fingers crossed, friends. It weighs 200g, looks pretty much like the 5, and has 8MB of memory. The ad doesn't mention storage slots, so we'd guess there aren't any, but it does say it includes PC data synchronisation and docking station, and mains adapter. No pic of the docking station, unfortunately, but it's intriguing -- Psion docking previously has amounted either to a cable/IRDA connection (the Revo has IRDA and RS232), or a PC Card adapter, so it's not clear what the new docking station is intended to do. By a happy coincidence (?) the Revo should be hitting the stores in step with another big brother, the larger Series 7. This was formally announced earlier this month, and scheduled to go on sale by the end of September. ®
John Lettice, 30 Sep 1999