8th > October > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Why the UK will always be second best on the Internet

The prime minister goes around the country trying to persuade the business community that the Internet is a good idea; a second senior exec walks out of one of the UK's top companies complaining of a lack of Web investment. While '.com' is worth millions, '.co.uk' can't scrape together the price of a cup of tea. Americans have a very simple strategy which almost always works in their favour: if something looks, feels, smells and tastes better than what currently exists, they'll buy it and then, crucially, use it. And so it is with ADSL. ADSL makes the Internet go much, much faster than it does at the moment. It needs two things: a box at the end-point and a bigger box at a telephone exchange. That's about it. Now, compare these two approaches and decide which one's better. Approach One: Work on the technology until its reliability is assured. Start selling to big business. Make consumers aware of the technology. Offer cut-price DSL boxes for consumers to wire-up themselves to get the technology installed faster. Approach Two: Spend six years testing the technology. Wait until the government forces you to release it. Try to stop anyone else from using it. Make bold, contradictory statements within days of one another. Withhold as much information as possible. Delay. Delay some more. Charge over the odds. It doesn't take a genius to realise that approach number one belongs to Bell Atlantic and approach number two to good old BT. If you live in the US you can now go and by a DSL box from a store for $99 and have 640Kbps downstream for $50 (£30) a month or 7.1Mbps for $190 (£115) a month. If you live in the UK, from March next year you should be able to pay someone to fit the box for you (prices yet to be confirmed) and for 512Kbps you can expect to pay £40 per month, or, for the extravagant, a whole 2Mbps for just £150 a month. Incidentally, the senior exec mentioned at the beginning of this piece came from none other than BT. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Samsung man slept with DJ – official

What's going on? They're all at it in the IT industry. Earlier this month we told you how a top exec from ICL had been exposed as having slept with actress Jenny Agutter - she of The Railway Children fame. Now we can reveal that Trevor Duplock, marketing director of Samsung, based at the Korean giant's Surbiton offices, spent the night with former BBC Radio One DJ Lisa I'Anson. Of course, there's more to this than meets the eye. It was all done to raise money for the UK charity NCH Action For Children. Duplock, I'Anson and others slept rough in London's Finsbury Square as part of the Byte Night event which was billed as "uniting the IT industry to tackle youth homelessness." According to reports, more than £150,000 was raised. ® See also: ICL man slept with actress -- official
Sean Fleming, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Dell to jump component queue by pressurising Taiwanese

After being marked down as a potential prime victim of the Taiwan quake (Quake hits Dell) Dell is coming back and playing hard-ball. From what CEO Michael Dell was saying to analysts yesterday, the company is going to make sure its potential component shortage is going to become other people's actual component shortage. Dell's a big ("preferred") customer for Taiwanese suppliers, and is therefore "in a wonderful position to exert its leverage," said Dell. Which of course means that suppliers who want to carry on doing business with Dell in the long term (and who doesn't?) are going to be pressurised to make sure Dell's at the head of the queue. He didn't mention the Rambus problem, but as Dell's one of the companies that's been hit by this, we can expect similar pressure to be exerted to speed the execution of any U-turns Dell makes. Few other companies are strong enough to take a similar position. Compaq, IBM and HP are big enough to get themselves promoted up the queue too, but aside from buying power they'll need to employ flexibility and ruthlessness. Compaq? Maybe, but IBM and HP? Gateway? Whatever happens it's clearly going to be the PC companies further down the pecking order who catch most of the fallout, if Dell has his way. Fascinating to see that even after those long years wandering around the world being visionary, pure steel still lurks behind the smile. ®
John Lettice, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

How many people does it take to (not) market an IBM PC?

IBM's PC marketers look like they are going to be ex-IBM PC marketers, following the company's decision to put up to 10 per cent of PSG, its 10,000-strong PC division on the jobs scrap heap. Nearly all the lay-offs will come from marketing, -- overlapping positions will be eliminated on the return of the company's consumer business into the group PSG fold. That's a hell of a lot of overlap. IBM last year lost $1 billion flogging PCs, and it seems reasonable to infer that a big chunk of this came from selling through the retail sector. Now, the company is going to push consumer sales much harder over the Web. ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Pizza service turns Couch Potatoes into e-Potatoes

Boring old Couch Potatoes can become trendy new e-Potatoes by ordering pizzas through their TV remote control. Fewer calories spent on talking, means more energy saved for eating. The service is supplied courtesy of Domino's Pizza, which is launching the UK's first Digital TV pizza delivery service on Sky Digital. It's rolling out the service to the Internet -- "soon". The Web production company doing the donkey work behind the scenes is London-based Fernhart Media. ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

3Com tipped to join Symbian – a bridge to MS and/or Palm?

Rumours in the London market today suggest 3Com is poised to announce that it will take a stake in Symbian, the Psion spin-off consortium that is currently jointly owned by Psion, Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and NTT. Such a move would potentially conflict with 3Com's Palm Computing subsidiary, which is a competitor to Symbian, but it could have enough advantages to it to make a deal worthwhile. If Symbian will have 3Com, of course. Earlier this week Symbian CEO Colly Myers was happily saying the outfit now had the geographical spread it needed, which means that new candidates will either have to beg, or will have something very useful to bring to the table. But 3Com might well have this. 3Com is in deep with Microsoft in several areas at the moment, despite the fact that Palm competes with Microsoft. By doing a deal with Symbian, 3Com might therefore be able to start building bridges between the consortium and Redmond. And although Palm has been wildly successful, globally it's pretty exposed, from a wireless point of view. The Nokias, Ericssons and Motorolas of this world have been beavering away furiously in preparation for the great smartphone/communicator rollout, and Palm doesn't have the heft or the cellular expertise to be able to resist alone. So a deal might make sense. And Symbian might just do it. You could see synergies between Palm's market and the markets its shareholders are aiming for - there's obvious overlap between Psion and Palm, but that's not so clear for the others. Besides that, although Symbian has a broad ownership base, the owners (again except Psion) are all cellular companies. Having a big network company on board might therefore be useful. ®
John Lettice, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

MS minions bid for Bill airtime again – attorney washes cars

The items in this year's Microsoft charity auction are once again headed by a tour of Bill Gates' house, where the employee who makes the winning bid will gain a brief audience with His Billness. But there's some other chilling stuff there as well - how about getting chief counsel Bill Neukom to wash your car? On the other hand, why bother spending all that money now? As Bill N, known to his friends in the press as "a Microsoft attorney," has been masterminding the company's defence against the DoJ, you could just wait till after its all over then see him in his next job. If he can't wash your car, he can probably flip you a burger. But enough of cruel digressions. As we noted last year (Minions in bidding war to see Bill) Microsoft runs an annual charity auction where the staff bid stupidly huge amounts of money for all sorts of stuff. The co-ordinator last year foolishly blurted that many of them were willing to spend just to see Bill G, given that he was so busy. Last year's winning Bill bid was $42,525, and this year's might beat that. But we can't help noticing that last year they thought the tour would go for $50k. Oops. Also for sale is the "ultimate child's birthday party," in the Microsoft hardware room, which we're told houses some products that aren't on the market yet. Successful bidders should bear in mind that there's probably a good reason for that, but hey, they work for Microsoft so they know already. Or maybe they'd like a day with Microsoft's in-house art curator? Isn't it amazing that Microsoft has an art curator? The target for this year's auction is $15 million, while last year's achieved just over $12 million. Analysts more used to watching the company's quarterly numbers can confidently expect MS to beat estimates here as well. Microsoft itself matches the employees' donations, but rather cheese-paringly imposes a ceiling of $12,000 on the amount it will give per employee. Still, what a nice company...
John Lettice, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Ecommerce gets a big piece of the Action

Action Computer Supplies has re-jigged its sales force to put more muscle into its Internet business. The mail order reseller laid off 22 sales staff from its key accounts over the summer. But it has taken on 96 people over the same period to work in its telesales department. These Internet donkeys will handle Action's ecommerce sales, a department started by the company in January this year, as well as catalogue orders. An Action representative was unable to comment on how Web sales were growing because the company was in a closed period until its results for the year ended 31 August were posted. According to the Middlesex company's Web site, 12 per cent of Action's business is done via ecommerce. The company said it would bring the number of telesales staff to 100 before Christmas. The summer's recruits bring the number of Action staff to over 800.®
Linda Harrison, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Motorola biochip to fight super bugs

Motorola is leading a development team working on a biochip that will form the basis of a machine used in the fight against bacterial super bugs. With a budget of $9 million, the three year project brings Motorola together with Arizona State University and CFD Research. Motorola will take charge of chip development and production. If successful, the chip will be used in a microfluidics device which will enable medical clinicians to quickly diagnose bacteria – a process which currently can be both expensive and time consuming. The planned device will be plastic and disposable. It will eliminate the need to send swabs and samples to laboratories for testing, instead bacterial profiling will be carried out on the spot. The market for such equipment is estimated to reach $1.3 billion next year. Jim Prendergast, Motorola vice president, said: "The incidence of life-threatening bacterial infections has been rising in recent years, along with increases in the severity and drug-resistance of bacteria." The device is predicted to have uses outside the traditional medical sphere, with applications in food production being a natural progression for its ease of use and portability. ®
Sean Fleming, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Camino to appear in Q1 2000, says Intel

Coppermine based Pentium IIIs will hit speeds of almost 800MHz sometime in Q2 next year, according to the latest leaks from Chipzilla’s roadmap. Internal Intel charts show a 733MHz (133MHz FSB with a 5.5x clock multiplier) part aimed at systems in the $1.5 - $2K price range and a mysterious '7XX' part for systems in the over $2K bracket. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to calculate that a 6x multiplier would result in a speed of 798MHz. Due to ongoing Camino misery, Intel has pulled the venerable 440BX chipset off the train to the gulag and now plans to keep selling the Seattle 2 mobo well into Q2 next year. Although only a 100MHz FSB board, the latest BIOS rev already enables the SE440BX-2 to support the first Coppermine PIIIs up to 700MHz. The troublesome Camino i820 chipset is now targeted for early Q1 2000 with the 810e entry-level chipset being pushed upmarket to support midrange systems as well as cheap ‘n’ cheerful Celeron boxes. We confidently predict that the 820 to fail to appear in this timescale – prove us wrong, Intel.. Little Celeron is billed to hit 566MHz by Q2 next year in systems costing between $900 and $1,000. Chipzilla sees the cheapest Celeron boxes costing less than $799 with a 500MHz processor. Evidence of continuing chipset woes can be found at the high end too, with 4 and 8 way Xeon systems being limited to a 100MHz FSB while faster 133MHz FSB parts will only run in dual processor configurations. PIII Xeons will hit 750MHz at 100MHz FSB and 1Mb or 2Mb level 2 caches for quad capable systems, while if two processors are enough for your needs, you can have an 800MHz 133FSB part with 256K of on-die cache. Real power freaks wanting 8way systems costing more than $50K will still be stuck with a 100MHz FSB and a relatively leisurely top speed of 550MHz until at least the middle of next year. ®
Pete Sherriff, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

DRAM prices start to drop

DRAM prices have fallen over 20 per cent since last month's high in the aftermath of the Taiwan earthquake. Memory Corporation was this morning quoting £140 for 128MB modules (PC 100), down from prices nudging £200 in the last week of September. Pricing from the Far East was more around £160 to £170 – a drop of 10 per cent, it said. Dane-Elec was quoting around $300 (£180) for the equivalent, against last Friday's price of $330 (£200). The industry seemed split over where the market was heading. Some distributors and OEMs thought the earthquake was still hitting the industry with general shortages. Alan Stanley, Dane-Elec general manager, said: "Prices may well continue the downward spiral, but they will go back up. "There is simply not enough product in the market." Other OEMs agreed, commenting that vendors seemed to be struggling with supply issues on other components and pushing back DRAM deliveries. Others were concerned that major players in the market were deliberately driving prices down. Richard Gordon, a Dataquest analyst, thought the worst was over regarding yo-yoing prices. "All the froth of the last couple of weeks over the earthquake is over and people seem to have seen sense," he said. Gordon said contract prices had started to firm up – at about $170 for a 128MB module – and prices in Q4 were back to where they had been in Q1. "Barring acts of God like the Taiwanese earthquake, we will see some softening of DRAM pricing right through to December. "But a lot depends on how close the market is to supply and demand and what the vendors do. "In our view, the market will have switched to undersupply – as opposed to the present undercapacity – by next year's Q3." Gordon described the possible uptake in orders following the i820/Rambus debacle as "a red herring" in terms of DRAM shortages. "There will be shortages anyway," he warned. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Dell gunning for iMac with ‘Webster’ Web PC?

Having told the analysts how he was going to swipe everybody else's Taiwanese production yesterday, (See earlier story) Michael Dell also came up with some more information on the company's Web PC, codenamed Webster. He doesn't seem to have said much, but he said enough to make it sound like a pop at Apple combined with a serious bid for the free/subsidised PC market. Dell talked a little about Webster in August, hinting then that it would be a relatively low-spec (i.e. cheap/subsidised/free with an Internet connection contract). Now he reveals that it'll come in a variety of colours. So it'll be a groovy-looking colourful box, but presumably it won't look that much like an iMac. Dell says price and specifications won't be revealed until the end of November, from which we can presume a big launch at Comdex, and a rollout early next year. It may, given Dell's close relations with Microsoft, turn out to be a Millennium machine in that case. Millennium doesn't currently look like much of an improvement on Win98 in terms of simplification, but it'll certainly be pitched as such. Whether or not Dell goes with this as the OS for what's going to be presented as an easier to use PC will however likely depend on whether ship dates coincide. If Dell wants to get Webster out relatively soon, it would probably make more sense to stick with Win98 SE. It's not yet absolutely clear that Dell will go with a subsidised 'free' sales model for Webster, but that does seem to be the way Dell's headed. This week it introduced a $400 rebate on PC purchases for people signing up for a three year contracts with its Dellnet ISP service. ®
John Lettice, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

NT security busted by new virus threat

Worried systems managers are facing what is thought to be the first virus to integrate with NT's security protocols. Found in the wild, it is called WinNT.Infis and acts as a system driver. It resides in the memory and will infect files in systems running NT4 with the following services packs – 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Although not particularly destructive, WinNT.Infis will corrupt programs and invokes a series of NT application error messages. MSPAINT.EXE, CALC.EXE, and CDPLAYER.EXE are all likely to be rendered inoperable by the virus which will install the file INF.SYS in the /WinNT/System32/Drivers folder. The virus was spotted by two anti-virus companies – Kaspersky Lab and Central Control. A fix for the virus is available by clicking here. ®
Sean Fleming, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Gates foundation under fire from anti-abortionists

It seems that our article about Microsoft's and Gates' charitable activities was a hot button for many people, and there's more to report on the saga. A focus of the Gates Foundation philanthropy has been population control and planned parenthood, and not surprisingly this has resulted in howls of anger from pro-lifers. It is not our intention to enter this debate, but we would make the point that, surprisingly, this does show that Gates and his wife are following their own inclinations, since Microsoft PR would clearly have liked to steer him away from controversial donations. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is getting $5 million for its planned parenthood global partners program. This didn't go down very well with Pro-Life Infonet, who noted the paradox that Rory John Gates was born just two days before the gift to help the world cope with fast population growth. Says Pro-Life: "The International Planned Parenthood Federation has pushed pro-life countries to scrap their protective laws and worked with the UN to force many countries to accept abortion on demand or other population control programs". Pro-lifers are also criticising the UN for accepting the Gates largesse and thereby becoming more independent of the member states it represents. The Johns Hopkins University Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health received $20 million for training in "public health initiatives" which sounds like a PR toning down of what will amount to a birth control programme, especially as a 1997 donation of $2.25 million was to train family planning and reproductive health specialists from developing nations. The American Life League (ALL) decided to take some unusual measures, and commenced a series of 12 advertisements (a "course in population control for Bill Gates") in the Sunday editions of the Eastside Journal, Bill and Melinda's local paper. A Web site (www.billgateseducate.com) has the texts published so far. It has apparently been decided by ALL that 12 October will be the day on which the six billionth baby will be born, so further exchanges can be expected between those who see this as a cause for concern, and those who wish it to be celebrated. Gates has been invited by ALL to join the celebrations. Although Bill appears to be a protestant agnostic if not an atheist, Melinda Gates is a Roman Catholic - and they were married by a priest - so their stance is somewhat unexpected. Let's set these events in a Microsoft perspective. Everyone and his dog knows that corporate philanthropy is PR, but what is not understood very well in the US is that there should be a certain decency about how it is done. Not so with the Gates Foundation. It uses plenty of professional PR to milk the donations, and the timing certainly correlates with Microsoft's desire to influence public opinion. Microsoft is after all only partly playing to Judge Jackson, where what is in effect special pleading ("we've been naughty, but we've given wagon loads of money to charity by way of a penance" ) is unlikely to prove helpful. Much more important to Microsoft at the moment is a hearts-and-minds campaign and to use the charity card to lull a gullible public into thinking that at heart Microsoft is OK. Former Novell boss Ray Noorda scotched that one when he observed (paraphrasing) that to have a heart-to-heart, you had to have two hearts. Looking at the Foundation's actions over the last six months, and analysing press releases announcing donations, we see that when nothing was happening publicly in April, there were three releases. In May, as things were warming up for the June rebuttal hearings, there were 12 releases. In June, the number shot up to 20, but immediately dropped down to just four in July, when the trial was quiet again. August saw 12 and there were 13 in September, in honour of the findings of fact and the oral hearing. A recent move is an invitation by Craig McCaw of Teledesic (in which Gates and Microsoft have invested significantly) for Nelson Mandela and his new wife to visit Seattle from 7-9 December "to raise awareness of issues in Africa". The press release was jointly issued by Teledesic and the Gates Foundation. You can bet that Mandela will be given a large cheque. This looks like a PR blocking move in case Judge Jackson's Opinion is handed down around that time. As has been said before, charity begins in the home PC. Several hundred million PC users around the world have been a victim of Microsoft's monopoly exploitation, pricing policies and software quality. This charity money comes from these users - us - yet we have no say in what happens to it. Microsoft is indeed a world leader -- in exploiting philanthropy. ®
Graham Lea, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Branson's pickle as 120 workers lose their Virginity

Over 100 people were out of a job this week after Virgin Net dumped them for a cheaper outsourcing deal. The Internet company was due to open a support centre in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, next month, but has changed its plans. It had already promised jobs to 120 people in the area, many of whom were due to start work later this month. On Tuesday, Virgin announced it had secured a more competitive deal with NTL, its existing customer services company based in Newport, Wales. The 120 prospective employees were contacted, but many had already quit their existing jobs to become born-again Virgins. They were venting their spleens in today's Wiltshire Times, saying Virgin had abused people's trusts and left them in a financial pickle. "My firm can't take me back. I have three kids, and right before Christmas I have been lumbered with a huge loan," said one. Another added: "Obviously, I accepted the job. You have confidence in an organisation like Virgin. I feel very let down." Virgin will pay one month's salary to all the spurned workers. Alex Heath, Virgin Net MD, said: "We are very aware of how distressing news like this can be and apologise for the uncertainty this may have caused. "Our priority is to help individuals find alternative jobs as quickly as possible." The company has set up a free helpline and a series of meetings with NTL and 7C to find people jobs at their call centres. A Virgin Mobile customer centre, due to open in Trowbridge by the end of the year, was unaffected by the decision. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Yahoo best sex site, according to Google

A kind reader points out more evidence of anti-Microsoft bias at Google, the fab new search engine. Try searching for "best computer made" and it throws up Apple at the head of the queue. For "best operating system", the search engine places Linux at top of the list. And "worst operating system"? Number One hit is "Welcome to Microsoft's Homepage". Google also up spins some interesting comparisons with rival search engines. Ask: "Best sex site?" and Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek turf up as prominent contenders. Untouched by human hands and you get results like this: isn't software amazing? ® Related story Microsoft's Satanic Majesty requests
Drew Cullen, 08 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

US senator Orrin Hatch priced at $45k

Former Miami detective Joseph Culligan, now a cybersquatter hawking Web addresses that might prove desirable to a more legitimate owner, seems to have made a mistake in trying to get $45,000 for senatororrinhatch.com. Hatch is the co-sponsor of a bill to protect trademarked names being misused in this way, with fines of up to $100,000 for cybersquatters acting in bad faith. Hatch is also the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee (and a friend of Utah-based companies like Novell and Caldera) He reacted bluntly: "That is extortion," he said. Hatch also noted that "It is simply fraud, deception, and the bad-faith trading on the good will of others". Culligan claimed he was trying to make a point - that the names of American officials, landmarks and treasures should be protected, but whether he thought this wheeze up after the Hatch episode is not known. Curiously an organisation called Friend-to-Friend, run by Rob Moritz, buys site names of famous people and offers them free of charge - more than 70, so far. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has debated the issue but appears to have reached no conclusion. It is probable that any attempt to inhibit freedom of expression will run into first amendment problems, particularly if it is clear that a site name is either critical or adulatory of a named person, rather than an attempt at passing-off. A further problem is that the US has no jurisdiction outside its territory, and complete international agreement would be hard to achieve. Tactical bombing of offending sites by massive emailing could be one weapon, but ignoring them could be more effective. ® Register footnote: If you, at time of writing actually tried the site in question, you get to a parody ofRudy Giuliani's senate race site Freaky.
Graham Lea, 08 Oct 1999