11th > October > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Rise not shining in chip desperation derby

Internet jockeys now routinely trot out phrases suggesting that they're at the leading edge of technology, with the pace a constant gallop towards a winning post which moves so fast that they can never cross the line. But those hip and cool cyber wallahs are living in a slightly different universe from the grumpy and curmudgeonly folk in the world of microprocessors. This branch of the industry has always had a reputation for having the roughest, toughest sales people in the computer industry. The reason for that is because the cost of making chips, without but especially with fabrication plants (fabs), is very high. Winners may make huge profits but the cost of entry, and the long history of chip failures, puts many venture capitalists and entrepreneurs right off their power breakfasts. It's so much easier to mount an Internet nag, float it, and then watch the hack sprout wings, with its share price floating away like Pegasus. Losers in microprocessor design end up in the knacker's yard. Spare a thought, then, for Silicon Valley startup Rise, caught in the crossfire as AMD, Intel, Via, Cyrix and IDT grabbed most of the chip headlines during the course of 1999. Rise, headed up by CEO David Lin, who met at CeBIT, the world's biggest computer show, in March, had high hopes for the future of his mp6 family of x86 compliant microprocessors during 1999. But last week, according to newswire Cnet, at the last minute it pulled a presentation at the Microprocessor Forum in California. According to this piece, the reason for the late withdrawal was because Rise is re-thinking its strategy due to the intense price war in the industry. There may be more of a malaise in the company than just that. We met Lin again in June, at the Taiwanese computer buyer trade fair Computex. He proudly showed us samples of the Tiger microprocessor, a Socket 370 chip, and at the same time said that the company had two design wins, due, he said, to the fact that the Rise design meant that PCs could run without fans. Just an aisle or so away from the Rise stand, a marketing executive from IDT Centaur told us that company had changed its chip strategy, and would aim its microprocessors at the information appliance market. Just a week or so later, IDT said it wanted to get out of the x86 biz. Sure enough, so it did. Lin told us at CeBIT and again at Computex that he believed that there was still a considerable market for low-end x86 chips for notebooks and desktops, and cited market figures showing the growth of the PC industry. He had, and we believe still has, some grounds for that view, despite increasingly frantic price cutting from Intel during the course of this year. One of the problems Rise has is that without heavy investment it cannot produce the volumes of processors needed to make design wins and earn a reasonable crust, particularly given that Intel has transformed its Celeron family into a very low priced processor with MIPs guts to go with it. And that also appears to be part of Rise's problem. The processors it has made do not offer ritzy, glitzy features with megahertz to match. Rather than attempt to compete directly with the giants of the x86 industry by introducing S370 chips, Rise may have done better to concentrate on the notebook and set top box business, where there is a far better chance of making wins. Where, indeed, are the design wins? And how can Rise continue without them. Our sources say Rise still has a future, although the Tiger processor is as endangered as the real creature. It is likely to speed upgrade its mp6 366 part, as well as designing better cores. Comdex may be the venue for such announcements. However, if its team of designers is up to scratch and the technology has a future and a clutch of good customers, it's likely the firm will be snapped up. Although it may be too early to write a Rise obituary, but the claws of its Tigers need to be quite a lot sharper if the firm is to cut it in what is a very feline, rather than equine, market. ®
The Register breaking news

VA Linux files IPO, Intel invests in TurboLinux

Intel has reinforced its status as the sugar daddy of Linux developers with an investment in TurboLinux (formerly Pacific HiTech), whose primary focus in the past has been the Asain market. TurboLinux is however now building up it US operations. Meanwhile another Chipzilla Linux chick, VA Linux, has filed for IPO, as widely expected. Intel started the whole thing just over a year ago with one of its "small, undisclosed" investments in Red Hat (which itself has now successfully IPOed), and since then has played an important role in focussing attention on the Linux market. Intel's initial investment in Red Hat has been followed by investments by the company in other Linux companies, and has certainly encouraged numerous other industry heavyweights to put cash into Linux distributors. One could almost start to think of Intel as a kindly, forward-thinking, philanthropic company, if it wasn't for the fact that its "small, undisclosed" investments in this and other areas generally reap rich rewards. Intel certainly seems to know how to pick them, but considering its position as one of the major drivers of the industry's direction, you'd kind of expect it to know what was going to be mega, right? VA certainly falls into this category, because although its most recent numbers are grim enough to make you mistake it for a Web stock, it's engaged in the Trillian project, which is intended to implement Linux on IA-64. This has backing from Intel, IBM, HP, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, and surely ought to be a long-term money-spinner. ®
The Register breaking news

IE5 security hole plugged

Microsoft has produced a patch for the latest IE5 security hole. The problem (IE5 security hole leaves PCs wide open), discovered last month, gave those pesky "malicious Web site operators" the ability to gain access to the computer of visitors to their sites. This feature was designed into IE with the intention of allowing Web page authors access to computers in the local domain, but with a little twiddling it turned out to be possible to do the same for computers on other domains too. Microsoft's initial response to the discovery of the hole was to advise users to disable Active Scripting. But the patch is now available here. (Continued, next huge security hole). ®
The Register breaking news

AMD, Intel deny mobo muscle allegations

Allegations that Intel has used its muscle in the market to deter Taiwanese manufacturers from producing motherboards for AMD microprocessors were denied by both companies today. On the contrary, AMD has said that it is very pleased with the response of the Taiwanese mobo makers, with more partners coming on board quicker than it expected. The allegations re-surfaced on USENET towards the end of last week, with correspondents suggesting that companies including Gigabyte and GVC were not putting their shoulder into marketing AMD-ready motherboards. Back in August, Tom's Hardware Page had alleged undue pressure on the manufacturers, which Intel refuted at the time. An Intel representative repeated his company's stance this morning, saying that nothing had changed since then. Intel maintained an ethical stance in the marketplace. Rana Mainee, AMD's European research director, said: "We do not know of any outright pressure." Market perception as AMD rolled out its Athlon K7 products may have been that there was not enough motherboard support, but, Mainee said, his company was pleased with the way things were going. He said that all of AMD's original motherboard partners, including Gigabyte, had performed well, while newer partners, such as GVC had moved faster than expected to support the Athlon. Two or three other new partners had also exceeded AMD's expectations, he added. "On the whole, we've cleared this hurdle from a market perception point of view," he said. The motherboard manufacturers, he said, had a lot on their plate because of delays to Intel's i820 chipset. But they had also overcome these problems, he added. "The 820 has caused some motherboard people a fair amount of additional workload," he said. "Since launch, I've been very happy with support from all of our motherboard manufacturers," he added. However, although that may be the position, it has not placated a number of people in different geographies. Over at this site, a petition has been organised attempting to persuade mobo makers to more actively support AMD's Athlon processor. ® See also: i820 derailed as Intel goes Rambust
The Register breaking news

Via piles pressure on Chipzilla with chipset intro

Chipset manufacturer and up-and-coming processor contender Via will today announce the intro, in volume, of its Apollo Pro133A chipset. The chipset, which is the subject of litigation by Intel's large legal department, supports AGP 4x, the 133MHz front side bus, PC-133 and the ATA66 bus. Via claims it is the first to market with this type of solution. Major OEMs and mobo makers have already started shipping the Via chipset in volume, the company said. The move is likely to upset Intel because of the further delay it announced to the Camino i820 chipset because of problems with Rambus a couple of weeks back. Just two weeks earlier, Intel was forced to announce it would, in the future, give support to the PC-133 memory standard. Via had a large part to play in promoting the PC-133 standard, which many Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers favoured over solutions suggested by Intel. At autumn's Intel Developer Forum, senior VP Pat "Kicking" Gelsinger said his company was more paranoid about Via than its x86 microprocessor rival AMD. The chipset from Via is backwards compatible with previous PC standards, and the company claims that it gives a 33 per cent boost over PC-100 solutions. Intel vehemently denies PC-133 offers this level of performance. ® See also Why Intel and Rambus are so close Intel shifts to 133MHz bus next year Intel in full cunning strategic retreat over PC-133
The Register breaking news

Nokia goes down the toilet

It's so much easier when our readers do the writing...although we think it's a bit wierd when people refer to themselves in the third person. A Register reader claims Nokia 8110 owners can breathe a deeper sigh of relief when going to the toilet, after the mobile survived a schoolboy style dunking. As he was expecting an important phone call, Ben Rose slipped the handset into his back pocket before going to download a large log file. "I'd just undone my trousers and proceeded to sit down when I heard a loud splash." Amazingly when he retrieved the phone the LCD display was still on with a message asking him to insert his SIM card. "After a quick dry out with a paper towel and a wipe of the SIM connectors, it powered up first time. I didn't want to use the hot air dryer for fear of cracking the screen." Rose invites any other mobile manufacturers who wish their units to be "dunk tested" to email him here. ®
Ben Rose, 11 1999
The Register breaking news

Phreaker with £100k phone bill avoids jail

UK phone phreaker Paul Spiby was handed down a sentence of 100 hours community service and two years' probation by a judge at Southwark Crown Court last Friday. Spiby was caught after he used a phone link to Nicaragua to run up £106,000 worth of free phone time over a 64-day period two years ago. He was facing 14 sample charges of extracting electricity. He was told by Judge George Bathurst-Norman that he narrowly escaped a prison sentence, according to a report in The Guardian. The judge went on to commend Spiby on his technical skills and advised him to stay on the right side of the law in future. Now aged 20, Spiby is planning to go to university. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel to come clean on i820, Rambus tomorrow

Intel will tomorrow morning US Satan Clara time hold an analyst briefing at which it is expected to clarify its position on the vexed future of the Camino i820 chipset and Rambus memory technology. As we reported last week, the indications are that it will admit that product is at least three months away. Sources have told The Register that at last week's Microprocessor Forum, Rambus executives were spreading rumours that Intel has isolated and reproduced the near fatal "Camino/Rambus Bug" under a narrow set of circumstances. Now they say Intel must reproduce it with all combinations of motherboards, RIMM vendors, memory capacities and speed grades. Rambus hopes that no additional problems will surface during the process, our source added. Neither company can afford the bad publicity. Thus far in its short life, Rambus already has some serious image problems. It is seen as extremely complex, carries a serious cost penalty and lacks a noticable performance advantage. Micron and IBM, the two OEMs which have already launched Camino alternatives using a Via chipset, probably quite coincidentally, are both semiconductor manufacturers, DRAM manufacturers and Rambus licensees. Compaq, Dell and Gateway do not have such benefits. There is further evidence that more top OEMs are standing back from Rambus. According to highly reliable sources, because the launch of Camino was such a cockup, many PC manufacturers saw Dell's aggressive pricing for its up-and-coming Rambus-based line. That is pushing them further towards PC-133. However, the most astonishing news from one of our normally reliable OEM contacts today, is that Intel is actually advising customers to use Via chipsets in the short term. Intel would never publicly admit that. Another source has told The Register that Micron delivered a DDR SDRAM presentation at the Microprocessor Forum behind closed doors, using its own so-called Samurai chipset for x86 workstations and servers for production next year. If it succeeds in its cunning plan, we are likely to see graphics controllers in Q1 of the year 2000 supporting DDR memory, while in Q3 there will be UMA desktops. That would give DDR a big push in the bid to establish itself as an industry standard. Meanwhile, further evidence has emerged that the Seven Dramurai coalition announced at the Intel Developer Forum last month is crumbling. According to insiders, Samsung, NEC and Hyundai have acknowledged they have put a hold on Rambus production. Toshiba is continuing, but that could be because it will manufacture the memory for Sony. ®
The Register breaking news

Gates in secret meeting with head of EC

Bill Gates is to meet the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, this afternoon, although the exact reason why remains a mystery. A spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed that the meeting was due to take place at 3.00pm but insisted there was "no specific point" to the meeting. They are just to talk about things "in general" and there are no plans as yet to make public the mutterings of this little tete-a-tete. So, just to get this straight, the head of the world's biggest software company is just swinging by to meet the big cheese of Euroland to discuss nothing in particular over a pot of tea this afternoon. How terribly civilised. Unfortunately, those brothers -- and sisters -- in arms at the Euro pressure group Save the Web doesn't see it like that. In a statement issued yesterday, Save the Web said it wants the detail of the private meeting to be made public. It also attacked Microsoft's record on open standards, criticising the company on how its approach has done little to help the development of the Net. Save the Web also mauled Prodi for agreeing to talk to Gates in the first place. In language that could at best be interpreted as protectionist -- and at worst bordering on xenophobic -- it questioned why Europe would want to speak to an American company in the first place. "Save the Web points out that Microsoft has never been in the vanguard of open standards and that this has not helped the Internet revolution and that Mr Gates cannot speak for the European Internet community," the statement rambled. "Save The Web urges Mr Prodi to pay at least as much attention to the European Internet community as to the American Chairman of Microsoft." No one from Save the Web was available for comment this morning. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple hit by 'PowerPC G4 can't reach 500MHz' bug

Apple may have a tough time shipping its upcoming 500MHz Power Mac G4, thanks to Motorola's apparent inability to ship a PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) that works at that clock speed. According to Apple-watching Web site MacWeek, Motorola's list of bugs yet to be fixed ('errata', as they're called in the semiconductor business) in the 7400 include a rather worrying data cache corruption problem that manifests itself in all versions of the CPU running at 500MHz or more. While 400MHz and 450MHz chips are 'safe' (since they're not being run at the higher clock speed) any attempt to overclock them to 500MHz -- whether by users themselves or by unscrupulous upgrade merchants trying to save money by selling cheaper chips at unrated clock speeds -- will invoke the bug. Long-term, Motorola claims the glitch will be fixed in version 2.8 of the 7400 silicon -- the chip is currently at version 2.6 -- but that's not likely to happen before December. Given Apple is supposed to be shipping 500MHz G4s later this month, the ship date promised by interim CEO Steve Jobs at the Power Mac G4's launch in August, this is going to make it rather hard to ship a 500MHz machine on time. Or rather ship a 500MHz machine that actually clocks at 500MHz. Apple can ship a 500MHz G4 and claim that it's able to do so because the chip inside has been rated by Motorola for operation at 500MHz -- even though... er... it can't run at that speed. Motorola's short-term fix is to enable a register within the chip which effectively slows the chip down to below 500MHz. Of course, Apple could disable the register, but the data corruption problem will at the very least push performance down to a point way below 500MHz anyway -- with the cache corrupt, the machine will constantly have to refetch data from slow main memory -- or at worst cause the machine to crash. Either way, the 500MHz Power Mac G4 will not offer 500MHz performance -- until it contains a version 2.8 PowerPC 7400. According to comments from Motorola Tech Support seen by The Register, the chip company appears not to be rating CPUs for 500MHz, so Apple (or anyone else, for that matter) isn't likely to be receiving 500MHz parts yet anyway. Of course, all chips ship with bugs, and Motorola's parts are no exception -- a few years back the 604e was released to repair some serious performance-limiting glitches in the original 604 -- but the G4's problems come at a tricky time for Apple, already having a job convincing potential buyers that a 400MHz G4 is faster than a 500MHz Pentium III. Clock rates are no way to compare the performance of different CPUs, but megaHertz remain one of the key purchase criteria, and with 700MHz Athlons already available and 700MHz Pentium IIIs coming later this month, the 450MHz PowerPC 7400 is increasingly being perceived as underpowered. ® Related Story Motorola speeds PowerPC to compete on clock speed
The Register breaking news

Acer Semi to merge with TSMC?

Speculation is mounting that chip maker Acer Semiconductor and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) -- the island's largest foundry -- are to merge. Back in June, TSMC revealed it would take a 30 per cent stake in Acer Semi, and now a full-blown merger is thought to be on the cards. Wire services have picked up on statements made by TSMC's chairman, Morris Chang, in the Taiwan-based Economic Daily News. Asked to comment on the likelihood of a merger between Vanguard and Powerchip, Chang said: "Mergers are a possibility. I'm not planning to do so, but I'm taking it one step at a time." Such speculation must be music to the ears of Acer chairman Stan Shih, who has expressed his desire to rid the Acer Group of its loss making chip division. Shih took over responsibility for running the chip division in late 1998 after it was identified as a black hole in the group's finances. ® Related Stories Acer attempting to sell semi division Acer-TSMC deal draws closer
The Register breaking news

Intel admits founder's Law on its last legs

Watch out, semiconductor people -- Moore's Law is about to be repealed. That's the conclusion of one Paul Pakan, a scientist at Moore's own company, Intel, published in an article in a US science journal called... er... Science. The gist of Pakan's comments is that while chip developers have been dutifully doubling the number of transistors in a processor every 18 months, in accordance with Moore's Law, for the process to continue, the transistors will become so small -- ie. they'll be made from under 100 atoms apiece -- that chip designers will no longer be able to control them. Actually, there's nothing new about Pakan's claim. Semiconductor design researchers have known for years that they will soon hit some major barriers to the ongoing miniaturisation of chip technology, not least of which is the fact that chips will soon run out of electrons to fill all the circuits they contain. However, it's curious that someone from Intel, of all companies, has actually gone on record to admit it. That said, there is something oddly anti-Malthusian about chip design. Just as Malthus predicted a couple of centuries back that by now we'd no longer be able to produce enough food to sustain population growth, early claims that semiconductor technology would come to a standstill have proved false, not just through the miniaturisation of chip fabrication processes but by the use of copper and silicon-on-insulator technologies. Still, even allowing for the arrival of similar approaches to extend process technology to 0.1 micron and beyond, there is an ultimate physical limit on the size of a transistor, as Pakan points out, so the sooner they can get quantum and/or optical processors to work, the better. ®
The Register breaking news

Profit slips as Ideal looks to services

Ideal Hardware saw profits slide for the year ended 30 July 1999, but said the company had turned the corner thanks to its new services focus. Ideal, the distribution business arm of the InterX Group, today posted pre-tax operating profits of £7.6 million, down on last year's £8.9 million. Sales grew by over 38 per cent – with UK turnover at £274.6 million (£193.5 million last year) and £43 million (£36.5 million) from mainland Europe. Overall pre-tax profits before exceptionals for InterX were £6.6 million, down on the previous year's £8.7 million. Turnover rose 38 per cent to £318 million, against £230 million last year. Earnings per share, after exceptionals, was 6.27 pence, from 28.13 pence. Exceptional costs of £3.7 million went into developing the IT Network, the group's Net-based products and information service. Restructuring costs within Ideal and InterX totalled almost £1 million. Ideal cut nearly 20 per cent of staff during the year – from 442 to 345, mainly in sales, product management and supplier services departments. This was part of its cost-cutting re-jig outlined in June, when newly appointed CEO Ian French admitted that critical errors of judgement at board level had left the distributor "dysfunctional and disorganised". James Wickes, InterX CEO, said margins had fallen significantly, resulting in "a material reduction in the cost base" and the end of 30 distribution agreements. "Market conditions in the second half of the year were challenging, particularly in the area of high-end storage solutions, which has historically been higher margin business," added Wickes. But he said investment in service areas, announced last week, would ensure that profitability and market share were maximised. The company also stated that the recent Compaq distribution agreement had kept turnover rising in the UK. ®
The Register breaking news

DRAM supplies dry up – OEMs face long wait

DRAM has been placed on allocation by most of the world's top vendors, with no signs of shortages letting up by Christmas. According to Electronic Buyers' News (EBN), the last four years of oversupply have been laid to rest, and manufacturers are admitting that they have sold out of memory. Last week saw Micron Technology telling the world that it would have no DRAM for the fourth quarter. Other vendors have put OEMs on DRAM allocation following underproduction problems exacerbated by the Taiwanese earthquake last month. In a survey by EBN, the only manufacturer not to be talking about allocation was Samsung. Though this seemed largely out of fear. Avo Kanadjian, senior VP of memory marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, was reported to say that the sudden shortages to hit the market meant talk of allocations "only can increase the panic". But Micron last week admitted it was on allocation across the board on 128M-bit and 64 M-bit DRAM, flash and SDRAM memory. "We're forced to turn away a large amount of business, and most of the other DRAM manufacturers are doing the same," said Don Baldwin, Micron VP. Toshiba said it had been warning customers for two months that there would be widespread industry allocation in the fourth quarter. Jamie Stitt, DRAM marketing manager at Toshiba America Electronic Components, spoke of "demand rapidly closing the gap with supply". "We're not surprised, and expect allocations to continue into the first quarter of 2000," added Stitt. Hitachi said current DRAM shortages would be evident for one more month, then full allocation would hit the industry. It added that every DRAM product across the board had sold out. Those surveyed agreed that the recent hype and panic buying had compounded the problem, while extra supply simply wasn't available. UK OEMs said today they were still able to get DRAM through distribution. Though sources seemed at a loss to predict how the situation would affect the market here. Because the UK is very broker-driven, no one knows how much stock is in the market. One source said it could take two to three months before the effect of allocation would be felt in the UK. "No-one knows where the market is going to go," he said. Prices rose to around $16 per 64M-bit chip today, up from $14 on Friday. ®
The Register breaking news

Fear and loathing in Euro telecoms market

EC Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, who in his declaration of interests for the new allegedly cleaned-up Commission declares membership of the administrative board of the Pori Jazz festival, announced in Geneva yesterday that the regulatory regime in Europe is causing the tail to wag the dog, and that the commission would issue a policy document later this month to address the shortcomings. Liikanen - officially dubbed commissioner for enterprise and the information society, but also in charge of telecoms policy - identified three key issues that were holding back liberalisation: high rates for local calls; lack of measures to discourage the overwhelming dominance of "local incumbents" (he didn't say France Telecom) to unbundle the local loop; and inconsistent regulatory frameworks in member states. Liikanen noted that although computing power is doubling every 18 months, transmission capacity was doubling every 12 months. He also thinks that there should be no regulatory distinction between voice and data traffic. As a Finn, it was almost compulsory for him to point out that in the early 1990s the Commission had forecast 40 million mobile subscribers by the end of the decade, when in fact there are more than 120 million today in the EU. According to an unidentified forecast, he thought that worldwide in 2004 there would be 600 million mobiles equipped for e-commerce. Last week, Sprint said "I do" to MCI WorldCom, in exchange for a promised dowry of $129 billion. For the Americans, this means there would be one less competitor in the long-distance market, if there are no regulatory objections to the merger. In Europe, this mega acquisition proposal has in its turn has concentrated thinking on some significant moves, one of which was that France Telecom's CEO Michel Bon said that the company was seeking to buy the stake in the loss-making alliance Global One held by Sprint and Deutsche Telekom - if the price was right - within two months. This would give the French the doubtful prestige of running some of Coca-Cola's telecoms. In order to maintain some price leverage, there are rumours that France Telecom might go after alternative companies like Equant instead. It is expected that France Telecom will sell its 10 per cent stake in Sprint for around $9 billion, since it does not like the idea of its holding being diluted to around 4 per cent if the MCI WorldCom deal goes through. Global One, which offers multinational voice and data services, has been under a cloud for some time, although Global One board member Fred Rucker said he thought the company was worth more than $10 billion. It was set-up three years ago by France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and Sprint when France Telecom and DT were buddies and needed a US partner. It wasn't intended to be loss-making, nor was it expected that France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom would be at each others' throats all the time, but that's how it worked out. Since Deutsche Telekom made a bid for Telecom Italia without informing France Telecom, with whom it was supposed to be in an alliance, the relationship has been very chilly, with both companies seeking to sell their small stakes in each other. France Telecom is currently seeking breach-of-contract compensation from Deutsche Telekom through the courts. The move was seen as an effort by Deutsche Telekom to shake itself free of commitments to the French. Deutsche Telekom is rumoured to be considering a bid for BellSouth, the Dutch Telekom operator KPN, or Energis. Ron Summer, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, said France Telecom could have its stake in Global One "for a good price", according to a comment published today in the magazine Focus. This wouldn't be a setback for Deutsche Telekom, he said, because the business wasn't dependent on the project. Deutsche Telekom also planned to sell its 10 per cent stake in Sprint. There is speculation as to what Deutsche Telekom would do with the cash for these disposals, with one possibility being to acquire some or all of SBC Communications, according to an unnamed source quoted in Welt am Sonntag. William Esrey, CEO of Sprint said that the company would sell its Global One holding to one of the other two shareholders. Meanwhile France Telecom has grabbed a $1.86 billion 17 per cent stake in E-Plus Mobilfunk (from Vodafone), the number three German mobile operator with a 16 per cent market share, and is likely to acquire it completely. Veba and RWE hold around 60 per cent, and BellSouth 23 per cent. There's an element of tit-for-tat about the move, since the company competes with T-Mobil, Deutsche Telekom's mobile company. France Telecom is also launching a new backbone, it said yesterday at Telecom 99 in Geneva, and has splashed out 300 million euros so far to link Paris with London and Geneva - with Madrid and Barcelona being added next month. The backbone was originally to have been a Franco-German venture, but the Italian manoeuvre by Deutsche Telekom stopped that. With the French and Germans trying to build separate international telecom empires, both are likely to fail in their ambitions to become major global players. Of course, whether these expansion plans would be funded within European competition rules is another matter. ®
The Register breaking news

Dirty Dozen picked for W2K

Microsoft has picked its dirty dozen for the UK launch of Windows 2000. The 12 companies in its Partner Rapid Deployment Programme (PRDP) group will push Windows 2000 out to corporate users keen to be among the first to use it. Some of the bigger names included in the list were Compaq, Computacenter, Hewlett-Packard and ICL. Notable absences from the list were IBM and Dell. The PRDP group will work on deployments and pilots, and will be trained in systems integration, training and support for Windows 2000 ahead of its launch. Anne Mitchard, Microsoft business and enterprise marketing manager, said those chosen had to show a large proportion of their business to be in services. The other companies on the PRDP scheme were Cap Gemini, Compel, Data General, ESOFT Global, Morse, OS Integration, Pygmalion Computer Group and Unisys. Mitchard said Windows 2000 would be launched by the end of the year. ®
The Register breaking news

Japanese chip makers look forward to a merry Xmas

Top Japanese chip makers have been upping prices to major PC vendors in preparation for the pre-Christmas stampede. NEC and Mitsubishi were among vendors reported to have agreed with PC manufacturers in Japan and worldwide to sell 64MB DRAM at Y780-Y880 a unit for September delivery. This represents a hike of around 14 per cent on the previous month, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on Saturday. IBM and Compaq were said to have agreed to fork out between $10.10 and $10.30 per unit for contract price chips delivered in the first half of October, up 50 per cent from a month earlier. But the two giants of the PC world fared far better than those paying spot prices. Thanks to the panic buying in the aftermath of the Taiwanese earthquake, prices touched $20 per chip at one point. Today spot prices were quoted at $16. ®
The Register breaking news

MS, Intel and friends want to keep your data safe

Microsoft and Intel have both managed to screw up over unique ID numbers, but here comes the second wave assault; with the aid of Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and IBM they've formed the "open" Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) "focussed on building confidence and trust of computing platforms in e-business transactions by creating an industry standard for security technologies in personal computing environments." And do you know, today's release doesn't mention unique IDs once. The TCPA is inviting other companies to join in to develop a "new hardware and software specification" that will result in "a more trusted and secure personal computing platform based on common standard." If we skip the ecstatic applause from the two rentaquotes in the TCPA release (no quotes from the principals, funny that) we start to get to what meat there is. "Companies [managing networks of PCs] need a common standard to simplify the way they deploy, use and manage security elements on personal computers." One might observe that, although that may well be, it has a lot more to do with a corporation's central control of its users than, er, trust in e-commerce. "The goal of the new alliance," it continues, "is to create a base-level security standard that would complement existing technologies, and enhance security at the level of the platform hardware, BIOS and operating system." Call The Register luddite, but as we see it this is addressing the issue of data security rather than trust. Sure, on a personal level you're worried about people getting at your data on your local machine or LAN, but that's an issue that could be fixed by companies (no names, no pack drill) writing software with less holes in it. Sure, you're worried about people you do business with misusing the personal data they glean from you, but that's a legislative issue, right? And finally, you're obviously worried about people stealing your credit card details, but can't that be fixed with a smart card or, if you want to get really clever, retinal image technology? We note that Compaq's keen on fingerprints - that works, so what's the rest of this guff about? The plotters propose a specification proposal for TCPA by second half next year, and say it will "help define security operations in several critical areas." These may (they're currently still investigating) include secure storage of confidential information, generation of random numbers used to create public and private (our Italics, that one's still rumbling then) encryption keys and electronic signing of data used to authenticate the identity of the sender. Scary, no? Not according to our friends. "Recognising that privacy is extremely important, the TCPA specification will allow a computer owner [note choice of word, corporate serfs - wouldn't you have preferred "user"?] to maintain complete control over information contained by the system." Trust them. ®
The Register breaking news

Taiwanese notebook makers bid for Hyundai LCD

A consortium of key Taiwanese notebook manufacturers is launching a joint bid to buy Hyundai's LCD division. Named among the interested parties are Clevo, Compal and Mitac. They have put forward a combined bid which is believed to be in the region of NT$5 billion, according to Taiwan's Economic Daily News. Hyundai has been looking to offload its LCD operation since earlier this summer. For the notebook makers this could be a shrewd buy, given the general shortage of screens for notebook PCs. The consortium approach allows the companies involved to spread the investment risk while still benefiting from increased access to screens. Screens make up around one third of the cost of notebooks and the price is predicted to rise as the effects of widespread shortages are felt. ® See related items: TFT famine runs until 2001 TFT shortage bites into notebook sales TFT shortage to push notebook prices up
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AOL UK users strike back

A small but militant band of AOL UK subscribers is threatening to hold a 24-hour strike in protest against the service provider's decision to delay the introduction of 0800 access. Although no date has been set for the direct action, it's clear there is a mood of discontent among some users against the service provider. What's not known is just how deep this feeling is among grassroots members or whether this latest outburst is just the result of a vocal few. A Web site has been set up to canvas opinion on the issue of AOL's new pricing structure. In the poll of more than 3,000 AOL UK users only 200 people (six per cent) supported the new "off-peak all the time" tariff. Almost 1,100 (34 per cent) people said that the new tariff "won't benefit me at all" while 1,400 users (44 per cent) complained "it stinks and I'm really angry". But despite the protestations, only six per cent of those people who took part in the survey said they would be prepared to leave AOL UK. While the results don't make good reading for AOL UK it is not known whether this is a truly representative sample of the service provider's customer base. A spokeswoman for AOL UK said she was unaware of any strike, maintaining instead that the matter was little more than a "storm in a teacup". ®
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CurrantBun goes stale, gets thrown in bin

News International (NI) has conceded that less than six months after launching its CurrantBun service, the ISP has gone stale and is in need of a re-design. It admitted as much after re-branding its site and stripping out all references to dried fruit. Most radical of all is that Bun.com, as it is now known, has ended its "walled garden" approach where Net users could only view the content if they were registered. It will spend £4 million in an ad campaign to publicise the new ISP. What's more, Bun.com will also act as a central source of all NI content including The Sun, The Times, News of the World and The Sunday Times. "Ultimately, Bun.com is a new generation ISP, which will set standards for others, through its ability to offer fun, entertaining and fresh content", said Alasdair MacLeod, MD of NI Digital Publishing. (Ultimately, I can't help but think I've heard that one before - Ed). "New and existing ISPs should be warned that it is this strong commitment to content that will give us a leading edge in the Internet war," he said. In a statement he went on to say that Bun.com represents a "significant challenge" to other players in the ISP market at a time when "established brands like Freeserve are losing customers because they are failing to provide good content". Sounds like MacLeod and his Wapping chums have already started the Internet war with a bun fight by lobbing a few small-but-perfectly-formed-bread-products over the fence. ®