12th > October > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Linux guru Raymond accused of ‘vulgar Marxism’

In an ill-tempered article Nikolai Bezroukov has mounted a personal attack on Eric Raymond, author of The cathedral and the bazaar and well-known Linux luminary. Raymond is accused of promoting "an over-optimistic and simplistic view of open source, as a variant of socialist (or to be more exact, vulgar Marxist) interpretation of software development". Raymond thinks that's a bit thick, since he professes to be a Libertarian, and Bezroukov's evidence for this surprising claim is thin to the point of being invisible. Raymond, who is an OSS evangelist, has only begun an examination of the open source phenomenon, and he can be prone to make generalisations that are too specific. He assumes that "a wealth surplus" makes it possible for many programmers to live in "a post-scarcity gift culture". To a fair extent this is true in the US, but the fuller facts are that many players live on the bread-line with absolutely minimal income. Raymond's analogy that the cathedral is analogous to the place where traditional, proprietary programming takes place, while the bazaar is where open source software (OSS) development occurs, is very helpful but it was not intended to be a formal, rigorous approach to defining open development processes. Apart from some rather ill-founded remarks, perhaps in the hope of gaining attention, Bezroukov has little to offer in his elementary and rambling attempt to establish that the scientific community is a better paradigm for OSS than the bazaar model. Rather, his attack seems to be motivated by some personal psychological factors centred around his experience (presumably as a scientist in the Soviet Union), as a result of which he declares himself to be against the Marxism that he claims to detect in Raymond's work. In attacking Raymond, Bezroukov makes the mistake of trying to shoot the messenger. He attributes phrases to Raymond that he does not use in his writings, as well as incorrectly paraphrasing his views: this is carelessness of a high order. He brings no credit to First Monday, a soi-disant "peer-reviewed journal on the Internet". If there are in fact any peers involved, they should be dismissed, for they have failed in their responsibility and the journal should apologise for its failure to reach an adequate editorial standard. Bezroukov's arguments were not checked for logic or consistency, nor was the error-infested text sub-edited properly. One suspects that the publisher (it's hard to say "editor") thought that such a pot-boiling attack would gain attention for the webzine: it did, but not to bring any respect. "Like a scientific community, open source inherits some of the same and important problems including Lysenkoism," Bezroukov tells us, and refers to some of the worst excesses of the pseudo-science at the All-Union Institute of Plant Breeding in the 1930s, when Lysenko was able, with Stalin's encouragement, to substitute politics for genetics in plant breeding, with dire results. Bezroukov seriously overstates his case, and leaves one with the feeling that he is making a rather pathetic cry for attention, rather than a serious observation. What is interesting is Bezroukov's motivation for the attack. It seems that Bezroukov, who is an Internet security analyst at BASF and a part-time academic, is concerned about the problems of OSS failings (and one suspects, resentful of Linux's success). It is schadenfreude, partially forgivable because there are of course problems with the open source development model that are understandably minimised by developers. Bezroukov's failure is an attempt to introduce an alternative model that is not credible, or consistent, and without using an appropriate methodology. He also has insufficient understanding of western psychology and the sociology of organisations to establish a more credible alternative. Torvalds 'burn-out' Bezroukov says that "Burnout of OSS leaders like Linus Torvalds is all too common to ignore". Nor does he like the "cult of personality", ignoring the evidence that Torvalds had it thrust upon him and largely shies away from it. The "super-sized ego problems" that Bezroukov claims exist do not appear to be more common than those of the cathedral-style developers. "In a sense, with Linux, Torvalds 'switched camps' and start [sic] playing the role of a political ABM/BTM (anything-but-Microsoft/better-than-Microsoft)-style leader in the course of promoting his idea of 'world domination'," Bezroukov postulates. He has a section about Microsoft, having decided earlier that "Microsoft is important for the open source movement in many ways" - but probably not in the ways that he envisages. He suggests that "every powerful social movement requires an enemy, a target that can be used as a powerful unifying force" and says he is not surprised that a large proportion of Linux and OSS people "hate the 'Evil Empire'", which he sees as "a revolt against Microsoft". So why did Bezroukov sound off? To have his 15 minute of fame? To get some strokes? Or because he hopes in some unfathomable way to be wooed by Microsoft? He has already received a strong whiff of the grapeshot from Linux devotees. Raymond's response is dismissive, commendably brief, and to the point. There are of course many interesting non-technical issues to examine about OSS, which Bezroukov would be better advised to pursue than to make personal attacks. One issue concerns how developers react as they find that they cannot keep up with every development in Linux as they used to. This crossover point has certainly now been passed. Will it result in a tendency to produce Linux dialects? Do many who find the pace too swift become involved in supporting Linux users, and teaching? We do not really know at present. There are better methodologies to refine models like the cathedral and the bazaar, but Bezroukov is not the man for the job. The disciplines that perhaps offer most value are psychology, for the individual motivation aspects, and sociology for providing a framework for describing the organisational issues. A glance at sociology texts such as Henry Mintzberg's The structuring of organisations points out that in an Adhocracy (for that is probably the best pre-existing structural description of the open source movement), Hedberg et al described the "palace" and the "tent" instead of the cathedral and the bazaar - and this was in 1976 in Administrative Science Quarterly. Perhaps the difference between Bezroukov and Raymond could best be summarised in a speculation: that Bezroukov would argue against such a "palace and tent" model delineated by professionals in organisational structure, whereas Raymond would be delighted to know that he had independently discovered something that had in general terms been previously described. ®
Graham Lea, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel's Xeon chips to migrate downwards

Chip giant Intel is expected to announce shortly a subtle change in its strategy on its high-end Xeon processors, bringing the server family much closer to the desktop family of chips. That has emerged after an investigation into the pricing of new Coppermine Pentium III and Xeon processors, which Intel will introduce in the week of the 25 October, as we exclusively revealed two days ago. Price lists seen by The Register show that there is not a great deal of price difference between a Coppermine Xeon and a Coppermine Pentium III. The price for ten boxed Coppermine Xeons at 733MHz is $865 each, while the price for ten boxed Coppermine 733MHz/133 is $805. Meanwhile, the price for ten boxed 667MHz Coppermine Xeons is $688, while the 667MHz PIII/100 is $632. A 600MHz Xeon is $533 when bought in quantities of ten boxes. These Xeons have 256K L2 cache, while the Pentium IIIs have 256K ECC cache and active cooling -- fans to you and me. The pricing shows a shift away on Intel's part from its clear differentiation between desktop and server processors. The company has always maintained that its Xeon family is intended for the high end of the market and prices in the past have been much higher than desktop processors. But there is a great deal of similarity between the technology of a Xeon and a Pentium III. Both are IA-32 chips. That has led to mutterings from customers about why they should pay through the nose for a processor just because it has a fancy, pseudo-Greek name. There could be several factors behind the move. Intel is now largely pushing its Merced-Itanium technology as the choice for high end servers. At the same time, boffins at the company are feverishly working away engineering its Willamette IA-32 processors, now expected next year. Given these future introductions, it will be important for Intel to introduce further differentiations in its processor line. An Intel representative would not comment on the re-positioning. But, he said, the Slot 2 cartridges used by Xeons, include built-in manageability, in the form of temperature sensing. Whether this rather subtle difference will lead customers to pay extra for Xeons is a different matter. In the end, unless they are into building systems themselves, they will be somewhat at the mercy of PC vendors, who are likely to continue toeing the Intel line. There is another aspect to this. The i840 Carmel chipset, intended for both workstations and servers, is expected to be announced in a few week's time. This will also allow Intel to create new differentiations in this marketplace. We have also learnt that Intel will offer a merchandise incentive programme (MIP) payment to its resellers of around $30 on chips costing over $600, of around $20 on chips costing between $300 and $500, and of $10 on processors costing less than $300. That means the prices of the parts will end up being cheaper for authorised members of this channel programme. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

MS to hike enterprise pricing 50 per cent – Gartner

A Gartner report just released warns that the cost of Microsoft software to enterprises will go up 50 per cent by 2002. The increase will be not from increased prices, but from changes in the terms and conditions that will adversely impact major users. The report claims that Microsoft will start charging 20 per cent more for non-perpetual licences. This is of course the holy grail for Microsoft -- to get as many guaranteed revenue streams as possible. It failed to achieve this with MSN, and with financial transaction fees, but there is no holding back stock-option-incentivised Microsoft operatives. Blowing away the mist, this claim is nothing but a guess. John Connors, Microsoft vp worldwide enterprise group, said at Gartner's ITexpo in Orlando that Microsoft hadn't yet announced W2K pricing, "but like the rest of our software, it will be very reasonable". Of course. Connors did admit that Microsoft is in the process of "simplifying" the licensing and pricing of its software, which sounds like a euphemism for an effective-price hike. According to Gartner, Microsoft is cutting back on home-use entitlements, concurrent use entitlements, and tightening up on maintenance deals, with the net effect being an increase of 224 per cent over five years in a 5,000 desktop situation. Nor is Gartner sure that Microsoft will be able to manage eight operating systems in 2002. These suppositions, which have much in common with water-cooler talk, depend on there being no negative outcome in the Washington trial. That is a considerable premise: in any interim injunction pending an appeal, there is likely to be a freeze on many practices, and the chance of Microsoft being able to slip through such an increase -- a prima facie demonstration of monopoly pricing -- is not great. If it were true, it would be good for Microsoft's office suite rivals. It might well cause some considerable changes in corporate purchasing strategy: those making such decisions often know nothing about software of course, but they do understand the numbers. ®
Graham Lea, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

SiS licenses Rise x86 technology

Taiwanese chipset company SiS has licensed a whole raft of x86 technology from Rise, to help it grow its integrated solutions business. SiS, like Via, is a competitor to Intel in the chipset business. The licence deal means Rise is in a better state to continue developing technology, while it gives SiS more ammunition to better fight its chipset corner. Yesterday, we reported that Rise had not given up the ghost on its x86 family, but that it needed an injection of cash to keep it moving. SiS has its own fabrication plant, and also has a cross-licensing deal with Intel for the chip giant's P6 technology. No financial details of the deal between SiS and Rise were disclosed. ® Related Stories Rise not shining in chip desperation derby
Mike Magee, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

PC Science stock sold by administrators

The leftover stock of defunct PC manufacturer PC Science is going on sale today in Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire. Joint administrative receivers Julian Whale and Peter Terry of KPMG instructed the tender sale of the company's stock of finished goods, components and kit. Viewing will take place until 4.30pm this afternoon, with a five per cent buyer's premium applicable. The 1050 items of kit will be displayed in the company's former warehouse in the nearby town of Yarm. A KPMG representative was unable to say how much money it was hoped would be raised from the sale. PC Science went into receivership in July, leaving up to £8 million of debt. At the time Terry said it was hoped the business, which had 180 employees, would be sold as a going concern. PC Science came under investigation from the Serious Fraud Office to see if there were any criminal undertakings in the running of the business or in its demise. The SFO this morning confirmed the enquiry was still ongoing. Details of the sale can be found here. Tenders close on Friday at noon. ®
Linda Harrison, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Rambus fixed? We'll wait and see

Forbes magazine is claiming that Intel and Rambus have found a solution to the technical problems which have dogged the introduction of Chipzilla's i820 Camino chipset. According to the report, which can be found here, wiring specifications which caused the difficulties have now been solved. But Intel has so far unable been to confirm a solution has been arrived at. According to a representative in the UK, engineers are still working to fix the problems. The problems with the introduction of the i820 chipset have caused major problems and cost many PC and component manufacturers headaches and money. A slate of large PC companies, including Dell, were readying systems based on the already delayed chipset when an unexpected problem caused thousands of motherboards to fail. Yesterday, we reported that Intel was briefing analysts today about the Camino/Rambus debacle. Intel also delivers its financial results later on today, but Forbes reports that the company may wait until Friday to make any formal announcement. It also adds that Rambus CEO Geoff Tate would not comment. If the reports are correct, many of the players in the debacle will breathe a sharp sigh of relief. As a result of the debacle, which has lasted throughout this year, the Rambus share price has recently slumped and closed at around $70 yesterday. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Dell pumps $8.5 billion into Samsung for LCDs

Dell today followed Apple's example and pumped a pile of cash into Samsung to ensure the direct PC vendor gets as many LCD screens as it needs over the next five years. That said, Dell's investment dwarfs Apple's. In August, the Mac maker sent Samsung a cheque for $100 million -- Dell's comes to $8.5 billion. Samsung will use the cash injection to finance the construction of a new LCD production facility and to "continue its research to improve the technology", the company said. In return, Dell will be supplied with Samsung LCD products for the next five years, and for that kind of money you can expect Dell to come top of the customer list. With LCD screens currently in very short supply, that should considerably improve Dell's ability to ship notebooks and LCD monitors. That was Apple's motivation: to ensure it had sufficient displays to allow its supply of iBook consumer-oriented notebook to meet demand. Such a shame, then, that iBook OEM AlphaTop's production of the portable has been badly hit by the Taiwanese earthquake. Ah, bitter irony... Demand for LCDs is certainly growing at a massive rate. Samsung reckons orders for LCD panels to nearly double over the next 12 months, from four million this year to seven million during 2000. Samsung said LCD sales for 1999 should exceed $2.1 billion, well up on 1998's $850 million. ® Related Stories CRT displays -- not as dead as you'd think Samsung slips laptops its 16.5in whopper
Tony Smith, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

MS touts free service calls – - for channel

Microsoft is pumping £1 million into the UK channel to promote sales to small businesses. From today, the software giant is offering a free phone support service called Direct Access Business Critical Support. Resellers can speak to Microsoft engineers about problems their customers are experiencing. Microsoft said this investment was the first of a series of services it would be offering its 40,000 UK resellers. Kate Batson, Microsoft channel development and small business manager, said small businesses were often without the resources to deal with IT problems, which heaped pressure on resellers to offer support. "Business Critical Phone Support will further strengthen our relationship by providing resellers with a valuable resource to address small businesses critical issues quickly and cost-effectively," said Batson.®
Linda Harrison, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

08004u publishes customer records by mistake

The personal details of some 200 Net users were published on the Web after a lapse in concentration by UK ISP 08004u. The names, addresses, user names, passwords and other sensitive information were mistakenly published last week when technicians at the Dundee-based ISP switched servers. According to David Banks, 08004u's MD, the information was only visible for five minutes before it was deleted -- and only contained the details of some 40 or 50 people. However, The Register has received a document believed to be a copy of the rogue file, and it contains the personal information of some 200 08004u subscribers. What's more, some of the people on the list have been telephoned by unnamed persons pretending to be those responsible for "hacking" the information. In one case, the mystery telephone caller with a Yorkshire accent read out the name, address, phone number and choice of username and password to one of the victims. He said he could have accessed the credit card details off the server as well, although The Register has found no evidence that any personal financial information was made public. "This server's wide open," he said before hanging up. Attempts to trace the caller has so far proved unsuccessful. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Gateway cow maddens mothers

PC vendor Gateway was struck with its own form of Mad Cow Disease this weekend when it emerged the company's latest bovine-based promotional product, the so-called "Rubber Stress Cow", could prove harmful to children. Apparently, the foam rubber toy can easily be mutilated UFO-style by unsuspecting sproggs who could then choke on the dismembered remains. Whether this will subsequently induce bovine spongiform encelopathy in the wee ones remains to be seen. However, it's clear the spongy stress reliever isn't quite as safe as it might seem. According to Gateway, the toy is "designed to let you squeeze tension [presumably induced when your new PC fails to work properly] away". However, overly tense Gateway users will now have to seek other outlets for their anger -- the company said it is recalling all of the one million or so toys it has handed out. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel scores Nokia Linux set-top box deal

The Linux-based Internet-capable set-top boxes Nokia demonstrated last month are to go into production next year, using Intel chips. The news is obviously not terribly encouraging for Microsoft and for the low-cost chip outfits who were looking to set-top boxes for salvation (although most of them seem to have keeled over anyway), but it's worse than that - the whole European market may be poised to fall to Linux, with Intel grabbing a goodly share of it. Nokia is one of the supporters of the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) standard, which was unveiled in Berlin last month. Also on board are Sony, Philips, Panasonic, Canal+, the BBC and German research institute IRT. MHP is intended as an open, Java-based standard for next generation set-top boxes, and is at least in theory OS-agnostic. Some of its supporters are of course backing several horses, but the Nokia-Linux-Intel combination is likely to be influential - Nokia's mobile phone activities are more visible than its set-top and multimedia terminal efforts, but it's still a serious player there. Intel and Nokia aren't particularly specific about the systems they're designing. They say the first ones will be out in second half next year (which is also when MHP boxes are due), and they'll use "open standards and specifications including DVB, Internet protocols, ATVEF, and open source [software] including Linux and the Mozilla browser." But from what Nokia's said already it's pretty obvious that there will be multiple different implementations that can be used with cable, broadcast, satellite, mobile and landline telephony. Nokia's current pride and joy in this space is the MediaScreen, a tablet device that combines digital TV broadcast with a mobile telephony return pipe. When it rolls out, it'll likely also include Bluetooth, making it both a wireless home terminal and a mobile one that can be used in the car and elsewhere. ®
John Lettice, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

FT, Alcatel demo next year's high-speed wireless access

France Telecom and Alcatel have are mounting a live demonstration of high-speed GPRS (General Packet Radio System) wireless data at this week's Telecom 99 in Geneva. France Telecom intends to roll out GPRS to its Itineris mobile customers next year, offering wireless Internet access at up to 115kbit/s. The Geneva demo, according to FT, is a live implementation of the trial that's been running in the Paris area, based on Alcatel's GPRS end-to-end network platform. It's running various applications, including a multimedia tourist guide for Telecom 99 (presumably it tells you, no, you can't get a hotel or book a restaurant table), email, and image and sound transfer via the Internet. GPRS is effectively a GSM add-on, allowing a high speed data network to be run alongside existing voice ones (which of course currently also carry data at a feeble 9.6kbit/s). It runs on existing infrastructures, and in Alcatel's case this requires the addition of two elements, the SGSN (Serving GPRS Support Node), which manages mobility, encryption, compression and charging, and GGSN (Gateway GPRS Support Node), which provides interaction with external packet data networks. FT is also involved in GPRS trials with Motorola. Also at the show, Motorola and Alcatel have been demonstrating joint-developed UMTS 3G wireless. Alcatel is showing a "concept' multimedia terminal offering Internet access at 115kbit/s, which is less than 3G can theoretically do, but is an indication of how much GPRS is seen as being an evolutionary stage towards UMTS. Even if Alcatel hadn't called its concept the Evolution Mobile Vision. ®
John Lettice, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

O'Reilly, VA Linux, SGI to drive Debian retail push

VA Linux Systems, SGI and IT-oriented book publisher O'Reilly Associates have come together to push Debian's eponymous Linux distribution through retail channels. For Debian, the move will provide the organisation access with the same kind of mainstream exposure Red Hat and Caldera are already getting for their own Linux distributions. The involvement of O'Reilly is key here. As a book publisher it has extensive experience of the distributing product through retail, both through bookshops and computer stores. VA, meanwhile, will provide technical support to Debian's retail customers. Quite what SGI's input is remains unclear -- we expect it to be primarily financial. Of course, Debian is in a sense already on course for the retail world, thanks to Corel's decision to base its own mainstream-oriented Linux distribution on Debian's own. Still, there's value in the 'more the merrier' approach, and widening the variety of distributions available to a broader public than the online channel currently provides is good for Linux advocates' attempts to promote the open source OS as something other than just a geek toy. Still, the real winners here will be the likes of O'Reilly, VA and other companies seeking to exploit the commercial periphery of this broadly non-commercial OS. O'Reilly has a fine line of Linux titles, and the opportunities for book/software cross-promotion are considerable. VA, meanwhile, can offer extended support and service products to all those new users intrigued by an operating system that costs just $19.95. ® Related Story VA Linux files IPO
Tony Smith, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

TurboLinux follows Intel's investment with VC cash

Linux distributor TurboLinux yesterday scored a $5.5 million investment from US venture capitalist August Capital, along with around $500,000 from investment bank Broadview. The deals follow Intel's investment in the company, made last week. TurboLinux (formerly known as Pacific HiTech) said it will use the cash injection to fund expansion: it intends to grow its senior management team and to hire more programming staff. Unlike Linux distribution rivals Red Hat and Caldera (rivals in the sense that they're all pursuing profit through markets associated with the open source OS, rather than the OS itself), TurboLinux is focusing on the high end of the market where it can add value to the basic OS through proprietary, commercial products rather than the provision of support services. For example, TurboLinux's upcoming site management software will costs users $995 for a two-machine licence, or $1995 for an unlimited licence. So far, that plan appears to be working -- TurboLinux claims to be in profit, something that neither Red Hat nor Caldera can boast. And analysts and investors agree that, if TurboLinux retains its focus, its revenues and earnings will continue to grow. As a privately-held company, TurboLinux's books are closed to scrutiny, but the company VP Lonn Johnston told US newswires the company's revenue is close to that of Red Hat -- ie. around the $7.2 million mark. Of course, how long TurboLinux remains privately-owned is another matter. With IPOs now well established as any IT company's route to second-stage financing, it will be hard for TurboLinux's management to resist the temptation, especially since its profit-making status could push the company's stock rather higher than that of loss-making (though better known, in the US at least) rivals like Red Hat. ®
Tony Smith, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

EU scraps global Net tapping plans… for now

Europe's plans to introduce a global wiretapping system including the monitoring of e-mails and the Internet are to be scrapped. The decision by the European Council of Member States to abandon the current text of the proposal is expected to be announced within the next two days before being formally set before the European Parliament on Thursday. According to senior sources close to the Finnish presidency of the EU, the European Council wants to redraft completely the text for the European recommendation on the Interception of Internet traffic, known as Enfopol. Britain and the Netherlands, alongside industry bodies such as the European Internet Services Providers Association (EuroISPA), have been lobbying for some time to get the draft dropped. Although the current draft looks set to be ditched, opponents to any form of government-sanctioned earwigging are still likely to be introduced at some point in the future. As it stands the current proposal would have allowed law enforcement authorities extensive access to communications performed via the Internet and other "new technologies". But opponents of the controversial text criticised it for being too vague and lacking in safeguards. In a statement today, Jean Christophe Le Toquin, president of EuroISPA, said: "The biggest flaw of the Enfopol proposal was that many of the points have not been clearly defined. "The current text calls for 'full time, real time access' to 'new' forms of communication, without even attempting to explain what exactly is or is not covered and would pay for the surveillance." While EuroISPA welcomed the news, it hopes that when Eurocrats embark on redrafting the next Enfopol document they will listen to -- and include -- industry experts as part of the discussions. Plans to proceed with Enfopol were postponed in May this year after it was decided that the introduction of a security blanket would simply be unworkable. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Times promotes Murdoch interests with call for Free Net

The Times dedicated a whole page of its grubby broadsheet newspaper (grubby, since the newsprint ink of this old media rag doth blacken the hands when ruffled) to the Internet war currently raging in Britain. At some length it spelt out how net users in Britain pay an arm and a leg to get online because unlike the US, for example, they have to pay by the minute. The Times even reserved the top slot in its leader column to comment on the lamentable state of Net access in Britain. "FREE THE NET -- Britain's Internet future is held back by outdated charges" it decreed loftily. "Although there are now more than eight million Net users in Britain, they remain timid creatures compared with their 80 million liberated American counterparts. "What holds British users back is their ever-growing telephone bills. Although with today's digital systems, the most expensive piece of telephony is putting in a line, while keeping it active once installed costs very little, Britain's old-fashioned charging system is geared to a past world of analogue exchanges and copper wire lines." The Times argues, at some length, that the current charging structure is a "disincentive to stay online" which "clearly militates against the development of tomorrow's e-commerce". In effect, The Times makes the case that every Net user in Britain has been banging on about for what seems like an eternity. Surely, with The Times now on the case it can only be a matter of time before the real cost of Net access in Britain is cut and the country's e-future is assured. Well, it would be if News International, parent of its paper sibling, hadn't announced yesterday that it had relaunched its currantbun.com site to become a portal for all its titles -- including The Times. The site, we're told, is to become the launchpad for News International's British domination of cyberspace and part of its mission is to get the rest of the nation's population online. It can only do that if the cost of universal, unlimited Net access is affordable. At the moment, it is not. Far be it for The Register to question the motives of Mr Murdoch's flagship title that it used its considerable weight to promote its own interests…so instead, we'll let our readers do it for themselves. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

MS-Lucent vs IBM-Nokia – rival ‘Web anywhere’ camps form

Rival camps vying for the 'Internet Anywhere' market are beginning to form, with near simultaneous announcements of alliances between Nokia and IBM, and Microsoft and Lucent. The Nokia-IBM deal is intended to further IBM's Pervasive Computing ambitions and accelerate take-off of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), while Lucent has become a licensed reseller of Microsoft Exchange, and intends to pitch it at the "pervasive" market. Lucent intends to use Exchange to sell unified voice, email and fax messaging to telecoms service providers. The company envisages users being able to access their mail from a range of devices, including mobile phones, and sees the system being sold to ISPs and ASPs, so effectively this is another stage in Microsoft's plan to establish itself in the mobile and application rental fields. The IBM-Nokia deal will initially allow IBM to market and distribute Nokia's WAP Server software on NetFinity PC servers, starting in Q4 this year. These will IBM's customers to extend their networks to mobile phone clients. But IBM has also licensed Nokia "core WAP technology" for integration into other IBM server platforms. These will clearly be aimed at larger scale networks and service providers. Where Microsoft and its allies are pushing BackOffice as the standard here, IBM's flavour comes under the Pervasive Computing banner. IBM will be building WAP technology into its Pervasive Computing middleware, which includes DB/2 Everywhere, SecureWay Wireless software and MQSeries Everywhere. Also in there we have Transcoding Services, which is going to be handy for service providers catering for WAP Web access. This software translates standard Web pages into something that's more readily understandable by small screens and low-resource platforms. ®
John Lettice, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Microsoft lifts wallets online

Microsoft today put its e-wallet online, allowing users to access this cyber credit card from any PC. The software company put its existing service on a website, allowing shoppers to buy from over 50 retailers participating in the scheme by simply keying in their username. Launched in July, the Microsoft e-wallet is designed to cut down the time customers waste when buying online. By registering their name, address and credit card number just once with Microsoft, users can buy goods from a variety of sites without having to re-enter repetitive data. Other companies such as AOL and IBM offer similar wallet services, but the information is stored on an individual’s PC. Microsoft said it has more than 50 retailers planning to use the e-wallet, including Dell, Cheaptickets.com and bookshop Barnes and Noble. The service, part of Microsoft’s online registration service Passport, will eventually be available to be accessed through mobile phones. Full details of the e-wallet, plus a list of the participating retailers, can be found here.® Related story hacking scare on hotmail
Linda Harrison, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Compaq silence on everything deafens universe

Analysis Since we revealed Compaq's local difficulties with NT earlier this autumn, the silence from the company has been deafening. It isn't just journalists from The Register who have had this experience - a straw poll amongst our IT press colleagues reveals a sad tale of silence and unanswered calls. And Compaq's share price on Wall Street has resembled an Ariana Eurospace rocket, sitting quietly on the pad and going nowhere, especially not stratospheric. It's currently languishing at around the $21 mark and has lurked in the low twenties for some good time now. So what is happening at Compaq? Right up until Eckhard Pfeiffer was dumped as the company's CEO, Compaq was very pro-active on the publicity front. When he left, the triumvirate headed by Ben Rosen, quite reasonably kept their heads below the parapet as the rest of the world speculated wildly whether Oracle's Ray Lane or Intel's Paul Otellini would get the high profile job. The surprise announcement of Michael Capellas as the CEO was briefly accompanied by a flurry of press activity, while, behind the scenes, senior exec Enrico "the cloak" Pesatori prepared the ground to dump Windows NT for Alpha. What do we know? The botched way Compaq handled the dropping of Alpha NT gave every single competitor the chance to leap into action and attempt to exploit the gaffe, according to Terry Shannon, editor of newsletter Shannon knows Compaq. He tells The Register that he has received many emails from European Alpha NT customers who were approached by HP, Sun, IBM and SGI as soon as the disaster went public. Dell, says Shannon, started to approach Compaq customers in the US about an Alpha migration programme. He says: "The one vendor these customers did not hear from in timely manner was Compaq itself." The Usenet forums were full of damaging speculation and criticism about Compaq. The way forward for customers disappointed by the Alpha NT decision was either to move to x.86 based NT systems or migrate to Tru64, Open VMS or Linux. Meanwhile, other areas of Compaq's business are veiled in mystery. We understand that its core Tandem business is performing well, and that's to be expected. Getting the blue screen of death when you're popping along to draw out beer tokens from your ATM doesn't play well with the big banks. And reports say that its PC server business continues to perform strongly. This business unit suffered intensively when it found its sales force competing against boys and girls from the previous DEC sales team. Earlier this year, Compaq re-negotiated its terms and conditions with its Taiwanese suppliers. That move was intended to give it a fighting chance against Dell, which was hoovering away PC sales because of Compaq's tardiness in moving to a direct model. We still await hard details about the further redundancies that Compaq is expected to make sooner rather than later. However, through this dank gloom, Wall Street analysts see some light, which hopefully will not turn out to be a will-o-the-wisp. In the last week or two, many brokers have switched from their previous position of hold to recommend either a moderate buy or a strong buy. We said some while ago that we felt the shares were undervalued and at around $20 or so, they're quite possibly a bargain. Pfeiffer, like anyone else, may have had his faults as Compaq's CEO. But he was aware that to satisfy both shareholders and customers his firm had to make sure it was putting out as positive a message as possible, and as regular as decorum allowed. So if Compaq is on the mend again, as we suspect, it could be that it is not doing nearly as well a job on the PR and marketing side as it should be. This is an Achille's Heel for the big Q and suggests, along with the Alpha NT debacle, that there's serious internal disruption on the marketing front. Pfeiffer may have been considered by many as rather a plodding, methodical speaker. But at least he talked. ®
Mike Magee, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Computer Prices UK does its bit to kill Rip-Off Britain

Check out Computer Prices UK before shelling out your hard-earned cash on new kit. The site, brainchild of whizz-kid Mads Hilberg, has been updated with a bright and breezy and very green design. Currently, Computer Prices indexes up to date retail prices on a big bundle of components, as well as prices from six leading UK PC retailers/ system builders. And it's adding new prices all the time. Useful for Brits and of passing interest to Johnny Foreigners who can see if reports of Rip-Off Britain really are true (when it comes to IT, at least). www.computerprices.co.uk ®
Team Register, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Oldest online info service goes portal

The Dialog Corporation, the London-headquartered current incarnation of the oldest online information service in the world, has made a desperate throw at producing portal services for business, science and technology in conjunction with Netscape. The sites looks rather bleak at present, but they are intended to appeal to online searchers who often lurk in libraries. Researchers are also being offered the possibility of paying for individual searches by credit card, instead of committing to a monthly minimum. Dialog previously ran into difficulties when it finally recognised that technology had long overtaken the possibility of continuing with connect-time charging for database searching. However, the company unintentionally got the pricing formula wrong, and lost around 10 per cent of its revenue as a result. Although Dialog searches tend to be more expensive than searches on other for-fee databases, it does have the advantage of having a large number of databases in one place, and flat-fee pricing plans for major users. Profits were down 77 per cent in Q1, and the delay in the signing off of the 1998 financial statements resulted in rumours that the accounts were to be qualified - which turned out not to be the case, although the notes to the financial statements are strictly for those addicted to such things. When the 1998 results came, they showed a below-expectations pre-tax profit of £5.6 million for the merged company, but a total debt of £154 million at the end of December 1998. Q2 produced revenue of £45 million, and net profit of £1.3 million. Chase Manhattan and Salomon Smith Barney are the new financial advisers for the restructuring of the debt, with Chase having put in $25 million, repayable in 2002. A deal with Fujitsu for it to use Dialog's InfoSort indexing tool is apparently bringing in revenue, but an earlier announcement that Dialog was working with Microsoft in the early days of MSN did little more than run up the share price for a time. The expectation is that the Fujitsu deal should yield more than £10 million in Q3, according to chairman Allen Thomas. Dialog had its origins in 1965 when Lockheed Missiles and Space demonstrated an interactive information retrieval system using a language called Dialog, which resulted in a contract from NASA to develop RECON, and subsequently gave rise in 1972 to a commercial service called Dialog. In 1988, Lockheed sold the service to Knight Ridder, a newspaper group that was unable to make much progress with the new-fangled technology and the crying need for proper Internet conversion, so sold it to MAID in 1997 in order to raise funds to pay for four new newspapers. At the end of 1996, MAID had a turnover of $34 million and a net loss of $19 million, which made the move by CEO Dan Wagner to acquire Dialog for $434 million a very bold one. However, the company was a marketing-driven merchandiser so there was hope - and gross indebtedness of $257 million after the acquisition and name change by MAID to the Dialog Corporation. The Internet conversion is now complete, but it was a tortuous business to convert ancient file structures developed 30 years or so ago into a modern system. In November, repayment of £6.6 million of senior debt falls due. The share price has collapsed in the last year from a high of $11.875 to a low of $3 in December, and is currently around $4.50. Whether Dialog represents a good buy at that price, or whether the risk is too great, is a matter of judgement. At least, the insiders have not been selling. ®
Graham Lea, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Time for Europe to stamp out software pirates, BSA says

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) today called on Tony Blair to get tougher with software pirates. The group sent letters to the European Commission, the European Parliament and heads of member states – including our very own prime minister – to spur them into action to combat counterfeiting. The letters asked for a five-point plan to be put in place at EU level, via the BSA's Green Paper on Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy in the Single Market. The BSA said tougher penalties needed to be adopted. "To combat piracy effectively, it simply must be made more risky, embarrassing and costly to pirate than to obey the law," it stated. It also asked for the creation of an EU agency to handle piracy and a crack down on factories where CDs were copied – including the implementation of plant licensing and mandatory identification (SID) codes. Would-be candidates to the EU should be vetted for piracy issues, it said. And the state sector should set an example to the private sector and establish policies to stop the use of illegal computer software within its institutions. The BSA said it was waiting for a response. Well, at least it should keep spin doctor Alistair Campbell busy for a day or two.®
Linda Harrison, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Mobo giant hosts secret porn site

Updated A top US IT company has been unknowingly hosting a Danish pornographic Web site containing a clutch of sordid sex scenes. The hardcore material was discovered on one of the servers belonging to AOpen Inc -- the world’s largest motherboard and PC components manufacturer and part of the $7 billion Acer group, of Taiwan. Fourteen pictures depicting images of extreme depravity -- some involving teenage girls -- were discovered on one of the company's US FTP servers. Although officials at the company knew nothing of the porn material it is apparent that its security has been breached somewhere along the line. The company has been swift to remove the offending material. Less than an hour after The Register contacted AOpen to alert it to the problem, technicians at the Taiwan-based company swung into action to remove all the offending files. At the moment it's unclear whether the porn site was the result of someone hacking into AOpen's FTP server or whether it was perpetrated by an employee. Not surprisingly, the company has launched an investigation into the matter and is adamant it will get to the root of the problem. In a statement Loes de Vlaam, marketing manager at AOpen in Holland, said: "AOpen dearly regrets the fact that somebody seemed to have found access to our ftp server and posted some images that AOpen definitely [disapproves of]. "We have removed the images and are starting an investigation on how this was possible to have happened. "As soon as the method has been discovered we will make sure this will no longer be possible in the future. The site, called "Martin's hjemmeside" was crudely put together and displayed little flair for design. The Register has so far been unable to translate a large chunk of text which it believes could shed some light on the great Dane, Martin but a copy of the text can be found here. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Gates' WinCE mobile phone demo – vapourware again?

From the reports of his performance this week at Telecom 99 it would seem that Bill Gates has been embroidering the truth again. Which is maybe just a little bit risky, because the telecoms people tend to be rather more hard-bitten and cynical than his usual audiences. During a speech Gates mounted a demo of a Windows CE-based GSM phone browsing the Web. Allegedly this was a prototype Microsoft developed itself, and which will be available for trials in both GSM and CDMA flavours next year, but we at The Register have severe doubts about the first part, and feel that Microsoft is being unnecessarily vague about the second. Scratch development of a mobile phone is a non-trivial exercise. If you haven't got the technology then what you should do is go to one of several design houses in Cambridge (not a lot of people know this) and get them to do you one off-the-peg. This is what numerous tier two and below phone manufacturers do. Failing that, especially if you want to incorporate something non-standard like Windows CE, you cut a deal with an experienced developer and get them to put together the hardware for you. This is what Microsoft did with France's Sagem last May, and it was indeed just the other day that Microsoft and BT announced trials of a CE cellular system using Sagem and Samsung handsets (See story). Exactly why Microsoft would go to the trouble and vast expense of developing its own WinCE handset when the Sagem jv is ready to roll with a production service in Q1 is entirely unclear. It is however clear that Microsoft hasn't got the technology, despite rumours to the contrary. In the GSM field it's bought Sendit, a Swedish software outfit specialising in cellular email and Web access (i.e., software, not handset technology) and the UK's STNC, which developed the microbrowser (no hardware again) used in the "prototype" and now dubbed "Microsoft's" microbrowser. So it seems clear to us it must have been a Sagem, but there are a couple of worries. The demo showed the handset downloading high graphics HTML pages at 9.6kbit/s with apparent ease, but the phone didn't use WAP. The demo itself was an obvious fiddle, as the pages were cached, so we've got a number of problems here. First, why didn't it use WAP? Microsoft is a WAP Forum member, so unless this can be filed in the "only kidding" department, there's no religious reason not to. Maybe they haven't got it working yet, or maybe Microsoft is again getting caught out by its age-old belief that infinite bandwidth is just around the corner, so it can bloat if it likes. Or maybe Bill thought WAP pages were just too grungy for one of his vision pieces. Then there's the matter of the connection - didn't anybody tell Bill you can at least demo faster connections? Wouldn't any of the companies showing GPRS systems let Microsoft play? Or couldn't they get somebody to set up a demo multi-channel rig? And finally there's this caching matter. If the phone was able to cache feature-rich HTML pages then it's pretty easy to spot that its (and/or Windows CE's) hardware requirements are too large for the mobile phone business. In summary, we fear the cream of Europe's wireless techies will have spotted all the joins, and been severely underwhelmed. ®
John Lettice, 12 Oct 1999