14th > October > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Compaq now a victim of anti-Dell move to Taiwan

Earlier this year, we reported that Compaq had revisited all of its relationships with its Taiwanese OEMs and had struck hard deals in a bid to compete successfully with Dell and its direct doings. It's a surprisingly little known fact that boxes sold by many of the big PC manufacturers are mostly built using components which come from Taiwanese manufacturers. In the old days (five years ago), many of the parts were built on the small island itself, but latterly have been outsourced to mainland China, where the average salary of a PC worker is $30 a month. But the deal which Compaq struck, which looked like it might be a good one, has come back to haunt an already haunted firm. According to the Wall Street Journal, Compaq, like HP and Dell before it, has now acknowledged the recent earthquake on the island will have an affect on its ability to supply the lucrative Yule market. Although Compaq says the difficulties will cause only spot delays, it is more bad news for Ben Rosen's firm. Insiders tell The Register that its next set of results, due out in two or three weeks or so, will not show much of a turn round. Of course, it is not just the Big Q which is having PC troubles. Both Dell and HP have said they will be affected by similar problems. And, almost unnoticed, Big Blue said last weekend that it was axing a large number of jobs in its PC division. Many of these firms have all their PC eggs in a Taiwanese basket, when just across the water, mainland China continues to rattle its sabres. A few years back, Her Brittanic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II complained that she had an annus horribilis. Just what is it about soccer teams, royalty and computer firms that makes them liable to such cruel twists of fate? It can't just be bad management, but we are loath to accept the astrological explanation... ® See also Quake ripples affect HP, Dell Compaq silence deafens everything
The Register breaking news

Athlon 700 price to crash: AMD, Intel war escalates

A fresh round of price cuts from both AMD and Intel is set to benefit consumers shortly but will draw more blood from the protagonists in an increasingly bitter struggle. Sources said that AMD will drop the price of its top-of-the-range processor, the Athlon 700MHz part, from around $835 to a rather spooky $666 on the 24th of October. There is also likely to be a 750MHz part introduced soon -- AMD has always said it will scale its Athlons quickly. That large price reduction will be reflected in AMD's other range of processors, and is a clear attempt to distract the market's attention from Intel's introduction of .18 micron (Coppermine) technology for mobile, desktop and Xeon processors, which is set to take place the day after. But Intel is continuing to press on with its aggressive policy of slashing processor prices. Sources close to the firm said that it will once more cut Celeron chip prices on the 7th November. The low-end parts are already bargain-basement items, but Intel can afford to take the hit on Celerons as it ramps up Coppermine PIIIs throughout this year and well into next. Although we believe that Intel will revisit Pentium III prices on the day of its Coppermine launch, there is a much bigger price revision expected on the 12th of December next, we can confirm. On this day, Intel will take a fine toothcomb to its lengthy list of Pentium III processor and select further candidates for the Gulag. The big revision on the 12th of December will allow us to stand on the Pentium II platform and wave the successful processor a fond farewell. Although we do not yet have details of the Celeron drops on the 7th November and the Pentium III arrangements on the 12th of December yet, we will have, soon. ® See also Intel Coppermine mobiles: we got the prices Coppermine: we got the prices
The Register breaking news

Via hit by chipset glitch

Reliable sources at customers of chipset manufacturer Via are reporting that the initial stepping of product is displaying bugs which will have a knock-on effect on motherboard, and therefore PC, shipments. Via production has also been adversely affected by the Taiwanese earthquake, the sources add. Despite bullish statements by the Taiwanese government about the integrity of fabs and the quick restoration of supplies to firms in the Hsinchu science park, our information is that delicate re-alignment of equipment is taking longer than expected. The source said that the problem with the Via chipsets is related to Northbridge, with the Taiwanese firm promising that it will be able to supply a further stepping in the first week of November. That will have a knock-on effect as mobo manufacturers and vendors will take some time to validate the new stepping, when it is received. Meanwhile, there is still no news from Intel or Rambus about whether they have, indeed, fixed the glitch which caused them to scrap the i820. Earlier this week we reported that Intel was advising its PC customers to use Via chipsets as a short time measure until the Rambus problem was resolved. Several PC manufacturers have since contacted us to confirm this was the case. For the last two months, manufacturers and distributors have been hit by a number of problems, including shortages, which has prevented them ramping up for Yule as they would have liked. Via was unavailable for comment at press time. ®
The Register breaking news

Samsung breaks 1Gb flash barrier

Korean web site Comtimes is reporting that Samsung has today announced it has managed to create a 1Gb flash memory. Earlier this year, Japanese firm Toshiba said it had managed to put 256Mb on a flash module. According to Comtimes, the Samsung process works at 2.5V and uses a 0.15 micron process, so making it suitable for notebook computers. That is, if the price is right. Market research indicates that the flash memory business will be extraordinarily lucrative over the next three years. Demand is being fuelled by MP3 devices and digital cameras, with units shipped this year expected to run into 400 million, reaching over two billion pieces by the year 2002. Samsung already has a large share of the market. The company did not say when the first 1Gb modules will be shipped. ®
The Register breaking news

Blair outbids Gates on Net platitudes

Bill Gates made another sales call on Tony Blair yesterday in Downing Street to see how he was progressing with his computer lessons (Blair admits to being a two-fingered typist and technophobe), and perhaps to find out whether he was going to mandate the use of Microsoft software for UK Ltd, starting in the schools. To Bill's chagrin, Tony hasn't even started his computer lessons, despite having promised to do this a month ago. Nonetheless, a confident prime minister was able to reassure the nation that Britain can "lead the world in exploiting e-commerce, but only if we act now. Government is committed to playing its role, and business must do the same, seizing on the new opportunities with imagination and ambition. Too often in the past, Britain has made a good start in new industries only to see others overtake us. We cannot afford to let that happen again." Who writes this stuff? And who pays any serious attention to it? Appointing an Internet Czar does not exactly switch the country to Net commerce. A tougher stance on telecom pricing by Oftel could do more for e-commerce than all these platitudes. Gates also addressed a meeting of "top executives" and gave them the benefit of his experience in these matters. Since MSN is a flop, and Microsoft itself was a late Internet starter, this was a bit rich - but maybe that is the point. Tevye remarked in Fiddler on the Roof that "When you're rich, they think you know." Robin Bloor of Bloor Research sagely remarked that it wasn't Bill Gates evangelising that would wake up CEOs: it would be the deterioration of their competitive positions. ®
The Register breaking news

Free monitor promo to kick off in US

A US company is to give-away 100,000 "free" monitors to help launch itself into the online advertising market. Broadscape will offer the 19in colour monitors to US consumers from March next year, with plans to introduce a similar offer in the UK by the end of 2000. Using the same principle as US company Free-PC.com, applicants get free kit in return for agreeing to provide personal information to the company. The monitors will also display customised adverts when users are online. This will consist of an ad messaging frame on the right hand side and bottom of the screen, run by Broadscape's Always on Top software. When users are not online the adverts will disappear, leaving the full 19in screen. There is a minimum agreement of ten hours online usage per month for 36 months, although users are free to use any ISP. Broadscape said it had signed a deal with MyWay.com, a CMGI affiliate, to provide customised content, including the Altavista search engine, for a co-branded start page. The monitors will be built and serviced by KDS, part of Korea Data Systems. The New Orleans company had already received 9000 applications via its Web site, according PC World News. Broadscape CEO Anthony Salvaggio said: "We wanted to have something that is technologically trouble free. [ISP] deals are too complicated. This way we don't have to worry about people getting busy signals." But Broadscape applicants will never quite escape the advertising loop. At the end of the 36 months users will get to keep the monitors, but ads will continue to be displayed whenever they are online. ® Details of the monitors on offer can be found here
The Register breaking news

Big Blue backs PowerPC G4 with production deal

IBM made a surprise comeback to the desktop PowerPC market yesterday, when it was announced -- albeit by Apple -- that Big Blur would be fabbing PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) CPUs. It's not yet clear whether this is simply a little arm-twisting on Apple's part to get IBM to produce extra chips, or whether this is a commitment on the IT giant's part to the G4. Back in July 1998, IBM pulled out of its partnership with Motorola in the development of PowerPC chips for the desktop PC market, choosing instead to concentrate on processor for the server and embedded markets. At the time, one of the reasons for the break-up was Motorola's advocacy of AltiVec, its vector processing system that rivals Intel's Screaming SIMD Extensions technology. Motorola was keen on competing with Intel, IBM felt that the technology didn't have much of a role in the markets it was interested so it had no interest in developing AltiVec or supporting it in its chips. And, lo, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at Motorola. With hindsight, IBM's move was ill-judged, but it certainly made sense at the time. By the end of 1998, the two companies had made up, and IBM was saying it could well support AltiVec at a future date, maybe, perhaps... What has made IBM's move away from AltiVec seem the wrong call is the company's more recent contract with Nintendo to create a PowerPC chip for the games business' next-generation console, codenamed Dolphin. Nintendo's console is being designed to compete with the Sony PlayStation 2, which is based on a Sony-Toshiba designed CPU, the Emotion Engine, which has its own vector processing system... So suddenly IBM needs the very technology it spurned 18-odd months ago. Part of the deal to get may well have centred on a commitment to produce G4 CPUs, which is great news for Apple, at least in the medium term. The Mac maker will have to wait until sometime in the first half of 2000 for IBM to get the volumes up. Getting IBM in on the act could also provide a boost to the G4's clock speed, provided the company applies its silicon-on-insulator process technology to the chip. Indeed, it could even offer parts at higher clock frequencies than Motorola, which could shift Apple's allegiance away from an operation it has already publicly criticised for its inability to ship sufficient volumes of 7400s. Now that is going to make for some interesting Mac market politics. ®
The Register breaking news

The Register PR bunny of the month award

Proof, were it needed, of the mental acuity of the World's puff merchants reaches us from chip design behemoth DeCadence. Chief European spin paramedic Andrew Thomas enquired at his local garage about modifying his gas-guzzling Jag to use unleaded petrol, only to discover the mod had already been made by the car's previous owner -- three years ago. In that time, the hapless puffmeister has clocked up some 90,000 miles using leaded petrol at 25 pence a gallon more than the fuel he could have used which at a rough calculation means he's spent at least £1,000 more than necessary, knocked a massive hole in the ozone layer and caused lead-related brain damage to hundreds of children who will now have no choice but to become PR bunnies when they grow up. ®
The Register breaking news

Northern ISP to charge service abusers

Manchester-based ISP GreatXscape has denied it is planning to charge subscriptions for people who abuse its toll-free service -- for the moment at least. However, it is investigating how to deal with the small minority of people who abuse the service using it only to receive toll-free off-peak dial-up access to the Net. GreatXscape is only able to offer the 0800 service if people switch accounts to its telco Telnet. The voice calls they make, in effect, subsidise their time online. Some Net users, however, have been restricting their use just to dial-up access (most usually if they have a second phone line just for Net access) and this is undermining Telnet's business model. In many cases it is business users looking to cash in on toll-free access. Paul Dutton, GreatXscape's operations director, confirmed the ISP was looking into ways to remedy the situation. "It's like offering someone a fiver and them stealing the whole wallet," he said. "We're looking into it at the moment but we do need to make a commercial decision," he said. One of the options is to charge persistent offenders a subscription fee for the service although he hopes it won't come to that. GreatXscape -- which is partnered by ISP Planet online -- has signed up 30,000 users since it was launched in August. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple Q3 profit down to $111m

Apple has once again pushed up its profits by offloading ARM shares, it emerged yesterday when the company released its Q4 financials. The Mac maker reported a profit of $111 million, a smidgen up on last year's $106 million. However, knock off the $37 million it made from selling ARM shares and a $21 million "favourable impact" and add back the $16 million restructuring charge (or "contract cancellation charges related to previously outsourced services and a previously discontinued business", as Apple put it) plus a stack of other such items and you end up with a profit of just $90 million, not as good as last year but at least a tad higher than Apple had been forecasting. That said, it's a long way off the previous quarter's $203 million, though that figure was considerably inflated by a $89 million ARM share sale. For the most recent quarter, which ended 25 September, Apple's revenues were $1.34 billion, down 14 per cent on the same period last year. In the previous quarter this year, Apple recorded revenues of $1.56 million. Still, if Apple's figures are down this time, the prognosis still remains reasonable for Q1 2000. Apple has blamed its relatively poor showing this time on problems with component supply, but while the quarter saw the announcement of the iBook consumer portable, a revived iMac line and the Power Mac G4, both heralding some good pre-orders, only the G4 has been shipping for any significant part of the quarter, and then in only one of its three configurations. Q4 should see sales of iMacs, iBooks and G4s ramping up, though whether they will reach the levels Apple has previously been anticipating remain to be seen. Unexpected problems with the supply of PowerPC 7400 chips and the effect of the Taiwanese earthquake on Apple's iBook manufacturer AlphaTop could well limit Apple's ability to meet demand. Still CFO Fred Anderson was confident that "with our product transitions during the September quarter behind us, and an order backlog of over $700 million, we're poised for a very strong December quarter". Regarding the quake, Anderson said: "There was no structural damage to any [Apple] production facilities; they are all fully operational... [We] lost one week of production with iBooks and iMacs in the September quarter." For the full year, Apple made $601 million on revenues of $6.13 billion, up from $309 million and $5.94 billion, respectively, in fiscal 1998. The trend here is good, but Apple needs to avoid getting complacent. While the company's profitability has nearly doubled, it's sales rose just three per cent. Profitability is good, but Apple has to work harder to increase sales if it wants long-term viability. ® Related Stories Big Blue backs PowerPC G4 with production deal Apple hit by 'PowerPC G4 can't reach 500MHz' bug Apple demands Web sites kill iMac II pics
The Register breaking news

Sun to triumph over MS in Web wars – StarOffice chief

The traditional $300 software package is doomed, and in the race to replace it with a service model Sun will triumph over Microsoft, says Star Division founder Marco Boerries. Speaking in London in his new capacity as a Sun VP* earlier today, Boerries opened up on the company's strategy for application service provision and the forthcoming StarPortal software. And let's hear it for the Rebel Alliance: "I truly believe Sun is the only company left on the planet who's able to change the rules." Sun bought Star Division, along with its StarOffice productivity suite and StarPortal earlier this year, and Boerries' division is a key component of the company's strategy. The way Sun sees it, he says, is that "the classical business model of a $300 application with a $200 upgrade every 18 months will be over soon," its demise triggered by the explosion of devices connected to the net. He reckons that in three to five years there will be about a billion of them. The price, footprint and mobility of these devices will turn software into a service (by a probably not very bizarre coincidence Steve Ballmer was bashing the same drum yesterday) delivered via a portal. That allows you access to all of your information wherever you are, whatever device you're using. Note that the point here isn't so much that you're renting application time on the Web - the apps are really a process, and it's misleading to think of StarPortal as simply a Web-ised version of the StarOffice suite. "It's an integrated work-space where you aggregrate all of your information resources," says Boerries. StarPortal is going to go out to customers in December, and Boerries expects live services to be kicking off by about April. Microsoft will be pushing down a similar road, but he's insistent that Sun is much further ahead, and has substantial advantages. Steve Ballmer started talking about putting Microsoft applications on the Web shortly after Sun announced the StarOffice purchase, and claimed MS had been working on it for two years but, sniffs Boerries, that would make it the first time Microsoft hadn't talked about a product two years before it started developing it. StarPortal will also be smarter, so if you want to access a POP mailbox "the server knows how to get to the data, knows what kind of device you have, and trascodes the data so it only sends what you require." Server-based software, he argues, is good, and particularly so when it comes to something as slim as (or slimmer than) a Palm. Sun can also, he says, afford to just get the service rolling then just wait until it can reel in server customers. It expects quite a lot of StarPortal customers to start out with Linux and NT servers, but as traffic increases (with all of these devices getting connected, it surely will), they'll start to run into a wall, and then they'll start to move to Sparc and Solaris. That's a pretty down-the-line Sun script, but it has a certain plausibility to it. ® * Boerries presumably has a very wide businesses card. His official title is (deep breath) vice president and general manager, Webtop and Application Software Software (sic) Products and Platforms Division -- Sun, don'tcha just love it?
The Register breaking news

Watchdog bares teeth at Net companies

The advertising watchdog has given three Net companies a good ticking off this month for publishing misleading ads. In the latest monthly report, Lycos.co.uk, Online Direct and the X-Stream Network were all subject to investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Rival search engine Excite.co.uk complained about a Lycos magazine ad that claimed it was the "No.1 e-commerce platform in Europe". The ASA ruled that Lycos' grand claim was "so vague that it was difficult to define and therefore substantiate" warning it could "mislead" readers. A secondary complaint by Excite was not upheld by the ASA. The X-Stream Network got its wrists slapped after claiming it offered free 0800 calls all weekend. The complainant challenged X-Stream after experiencing difficulties accessing the Net using the ISP's freephone number. Despite a vigorous defence by X-Stream, the ASA upheld the complainant saying that the ad didn't make it clear that free calls were available only at "specific times during the weekend". Elsewhere, Online Direct pulled its ad offering a "brand new PC for only £299.99" after it was discovered that purchasers also had to pay £30 for an on-site warranty, use OD's ISP for a year, fork out for at least ten hours of calls a month and cough up for delivery. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple downgrades Power Mac CPUs – but not their prices

Apple yesterday tacitly confirmed the existence of a major bug in the PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) when it admitted it had been forced to reconfigure its Power Mac G4 line -- downwards. However, the pricing for range remains the same. Each of the three models in the G4 family have been downgraded by 50MHz. Instead of 400MHz, 450MHz and 500MHz models, Apple's catalogue now contains 350MHz, 400MHz and 450MHz machines. Apple said the move had been made in response to Motorola's current supply of processors to allow it to meet demand for the Power Macs sooner rather than later. Apple admitted it would not be able to ship 500MHz machines until next year because the "500MHz G4 processor will not be available until the first calendar quarter of next year". The 500MHz Power Mac was original due to ship by the end of this month, but, as online magazine MacWeek discovered, a bug in the current G4 silicon prevents the chip from being clocked to 500MHz without experiencing corruption of the chip's data cache. The effects of the damage to data range from crashes to a significant reduction in the speed of the machine. However, despite knocking 50MHz off each model's speed, Apple has not knocked anything off their prices. Of course, with RAM prices rocketing, that's perhaps not surprising, as any gain in processor costs is balanced by an increase in the cost of memory. Still, actually offering a lower clock-speed -- the 350MHz version -- suggests Apple has to take what it can get because Motorola is having problems shipping sufficient quantities of 450MHz parts and possible even 400MHz chips. Like all other chip vendors, Motorola will test each chip that comes off the production line. Each chip is run through the range of clock speeds and is approved for operation at whatever speed it reaches: if it doesn't run at 450MHz, it's tried at 400MHz, then at 350MHz. Chips that don't operate at 350MHz are discarded. This process favours low clock speeds at the start of a chip's life but as production volumes and chip yields improve, the number of chips approved for higher clock speeds increases. Apple's problems, then, are not long-term ones, with working 500MHz parts due (albeit in low volumes) early next year once Motorola has fixed the 500MHz bug. IBM's entry into the G4 production business will help too, but that's unlikely to make any real impact until the second half of 2000 -- IBM has to go through the same ramp-up process itself. Still, that's little consolation for the many buyers who have ordered Power Macs at one clock speed and will now receive another. At this stage, it's not known whether only customers of the 500MHz will get reduced-speed machines, or whether the downgrade applies across the board. ®
The Register breaking news

Intel porno squatters want $400k – bare faced cheek

The porn site exposed yesterday for using Intel's name to promote online sauciness, has put its domain up for sale at $400,000. The cheeky owners of intel-inside.com had this morning removed their usual array of writhing bedroom images in favour of the following notice: "This domain is for sale. Price $400,000 -- USA Dollar. For your information last bid 14 October '99 $150,000, (From another Chip maker...)" Registered in March, the springboard site had been using the Intel brand name to attract customers to its links 50freepics.com and cybererotica.com. The Register today made contact with the owners of the intel-inside.com site. Via email, we were told that they had been contacted by "a very big chip maker" yesterday, who wanted to make a bid for the site. The emailer, who identified himself only as Thomas Puntman -- the registered owner of the site -- declined to disclose the name of the prospective buyer. But he did say he was willing to give Intel the chance to buy the site (and make himself almost half a million dollars into the bargain). Thomas added that he didn't feel he was infriging on the intel-inside trademark. "I never ask Intel to join the WWW (=freedom)," he wrote. Intel today denied that it was the mystery bidder for the site, but said it had got its lawyers on the case. "Following on from our comments yesterday, we took swift steps to make sure that there was no link between Intel and the site," said an Intel representative. "Obviously, we don't want our name to be abused in this way." He added that the bidding was "quite clearly a scam". Find out for yourselves. Offers for the intel-inside.com domain can be made at clubbyte@yahoo.com ®
The Register breaking news

Judge re-rules for Intel in Intergraph patent fight

Intel did not infringe Intergraph's patents, a federal judge has ruled -- after already ruling that it did violate the PC vendor's intellectual property rights. According to Maximum PC, Intergraph's case against Chipzilla was thrown out in by Judge Edwin Nelson, who earlier this year ruled in Intergraph's favour. That initial ruling stated that Intel did not have a licence to use Intergraph IP, just as the PC vendor had claimed. Integraph had bought the patents from National Semiconductor in 1987 after it acquired them itself through its takeover of Fairchild Semiconductor. Intel's defence centred on a cross-licensing deal it had struck with Fairchild back in 1976. Nelson now appears to have decided he was wrong before, and consequently reversed the his earlier ruling. Intergraph said it maintains its stance on Intel's rights to its IP, and that it will appeal Nelson's latest ruling. Maybe the judge will change his mind again: eeny, meeny, miny, mo... Meanwhile, Intergraph's anti-trust case against Chipzilla continues, and is expected to go to trial June next year. ®
The Register breaking news

Families sought over Net to adopt UK kids

Pictures of British children looking for adoptive families have been put on the Web to spur on would-be parents. The move is believed to be the first time a British adoption agency has used real photographs of children on the Internet. The pictures, on the Derbyshire County Council site, include four sisters who have been split between two foster homes as a family could not been found. Social workers resorted to advertising on the Web because of a shortage of suitable adoptive parents. Although the sisters were said to have been in favour of the decision, anti-child abuse campaigners were said to be up in arms at the decision. And there were fears that the system could be abused. The Department of Health said it was looking into the matter regarding confidentiality issues. David Allen, chairman of Derbyshire's social services committee, told today's Daily Mail: "We thought long and hard before taking this step. These are ordinary children who through no fault of their own find they need new families. "We hope that by using pictures it will boost interest in their appeal." ®
The Register breaking news

MSN Europe to go subs-free

Microsoft is looking to drop subscription charges for its service provider across Europe, MSN confirmed today. Following the success of the subscription-free model in the UK, Georges Nahon, senior director for network solutions at Microsoft's Europe, Middle East and Africa business, said that MSN could not ignore that the models for Net access had changed. In essence, he was admitting that unless MSN adapted to the new order it would not survive. His views, expressed this week in Geneva, have been confirmed by Natalie Taylor, MSN's marketing manager in the UK. She said that MSN's operations in France, Germany and Italy were all to be examined to see whether it was viable to introduce a subscription-free alternative. Any changes would most likely be introduced within six months, she said. Taylor said that any new service would be based on MSNFreeWeb, which was launched in the UK in June this year in reply to the market domination of ISPs such as Freeserve. However, subscription-free services are not the be-all and end-all of Net access and there still appears to be a hardcore of users happy to pay for their services. For although MSN recommended to its subscribers to switch to the new subscription-free service only 15 per cent have done so, said Taylor. Who knows, there could be hope for AOL after all... ®
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Initiative seeks to ease Linux internationalisation

European Linux distributor SuSE today launched its effort to encourage the creation of a version of the open source OS that can be more readily localised for users in different countries. Dubbed the Linux Internationalisation Initiative (known by the tongue-twisting shorthand Li18nux -- go figure...), the plan is to develop a core set of APIs and Linux components that will allow any application that supports them to be installed and run on any localised version of the OS. Essentially, it's a system for supporting non-US keyboards and languages, independent of whatever Linux distribution the user happens to be running. Once the APIs have been formulated, they will be submitted to the Linux Standard Base for inclusion in the LSB 2.0 spec. The organisations are all well and good, and to be applauded, but why is SuSE making such a fuss about it now, two weeks or so after the LII was actually formed? Feeling short of press coverage perhaps? SuSE may be a charter member and sponsor, as it's release says, but so are almost all the other key Linux players, including Caldera, Red Hat, Mozilla and TurboLinux, and a stack of corporate IT heavyweights, such as IBM, Sun, Fujitsu, Compaq, Mitsubishi, NEC and SGI. ® More information on Li18nux (including, we hope, how to pronounce it) can be found here
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Intel to buy DSP Communications

Intel extended its interest in the embedded market today with an agreement to acquire of digital cellphone-oriented ASIC developer DSP Communications. The purchase will be funded through Chipzilla's capacious wallet with a cash offer that values the publicly-traded DSP at around $1.6 billion. Intel proposes to buy all outstanding DSP shares for $36 a pop. DSP's latest share price was $35.125, valuing the company at $1.4 billion, but these figures are now likely to rise in light of Intel's offer. Intel's interest in the company is clear: it reckons, not unreasonably, that cellular technology is rapidly becoming the basis for a new generation of mobile Internet access devices, and it wants a part of it. And to get in quickly, it's buying in the expertise of someone already there. DSP won't be entirely subsumed into Intel -- the company will continue to operate independently but as a wholly owned subsidiary of Chipzilla's Computer Enhancement Group. The company said it does not anticipate making any immediate changes to its product line, and staff will kept on as Intel employees. ®
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US ups the DRAM anti-dumping stakes

The US plans to hike anti-dumping duties as high as 69 per cent on Taiwanese DRAM makers. Etron Technology will shoulder the biggest cost hike, with duties raised to 69 per cent from five per cent, according to Eurotrademag. The US Commerce Department also plans to up taxes on Mosel Vitelic to 35.6 per cent from 30.9 per cent, and on Nan Ya Technology to 14.2 per cent from 9.03 per cent. Duties on Vanguard will be cut to 8.2 per cent from 10.3 per cent. The US International Trade Commission is expected to reach a final decision on the matter next month, in what has turned into a tit-for-tat tariff game between the US and Taiwan. This will give DRAM vendors another issue to contend with -- according to a study by Semico Research, they will struggle with allocation over the new few months. Manufacturers will be trying to meet demand without the luxury of new fabs. The Rocky DRAM Roadmap: PC and Price Trends report said new fab announcements were expected by the second half of 2000. It stated that the future of RDRAM remained undecided, considering its dependence on chipset availability. And it predicted SDRAM 133MHz, followed by DDR DRAM, to be the logical progression after SDRAM PC100. However, Semico believed SDRAM would continue to be the lynch-pin in the market. ®
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Net secrets land aircraft engineer in gaol

A Chinese aircraft engineer has been gaoled for eight months for posting top secret information about a new aircraft on the Internet. According to AP, Guo Jian of the government-run Chengdu Aircraft Company didn't realise the information about the J-10 fighter was classified or of a sensitive nature. Although he was arrested in July he was not convicted until yesterday. The Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, which is based in Hong Kong, expressed some amazement that the sentence was not heavier. ®
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MS to switch to rental model with Win2k?

Microsoft's long-standing plan to switch over to an annual rental model for software sales could roll early next year, with Windows 2000 as the engine that drives it. As internal documentation that has made it into the public domain thanks to the trial has shown, the company has been trying to make the move for years, but from what Steve Ballmer was saying yesterday, this time it could really happen. Microsoft's president was speaking at a Gartner Group conference in Florida, and the main point he was making was that Microsoft intended to turn itself into "what I call a software service company". But it's the sub-text that's interesting -- what did he mean by that? Well in one sense, it's services, Jim, but not as we know it: "The software is going to have to transform itself from a CD to a service that continually takes care of itself and updates itself." Once you've written this software (if you can) it's not a bad life at all. Whereas what you'd call a software services company today would have a high technical support headcount, the model Ballmer envisages for Microsoft tomorrow has a very high level of automation. The software itself checks regularly for the availability of patches and updates, and knows where to go if something goes wrong. We've seen the signposts to this already with the introduction of the Windows Update Web service and the promises of self-healing software from Microsoft. Of course we're perfectly free to question the company's ability ever to get this kind of system working properly, but the context Ballmer places it in is important. Microsoft won't be selling software packages as such for much longer, and intends to derive revenue from automated, Web-based "service". He adds that he's as yet unsure whether customers will pay for this on the basis of usage or monthly fees, but whichever, you can see the switch to rental quite clearly. When does this happen? Ballmer says that Microsoft will be introducing a new pricing model for Windows, its Office suite and BackOffice, but doesn't give a time-scale. The company does, however, (as Ballmer himself has been saying) intend to get into the Application Service Provision market, and referring to the Microsoft's plans yesterday Ballmer said that as far as business customers were concerned: "We'll do the file sharing, we'll do the email, we'll update the software. We have to step up to the level of partnership." That does sound rather like an ASP offering, and as Ballmer was specifically talking about business, it seems plausible to think of an initial rollout to major business customers shortly after the Win2k rollout, or even as part of it. Win2k pricing has not yet been announced, and if Microsoft thinks it can make the new pricing model stick, this might be seen by the company as the time to go with it. It also has the need to get something plausible in the ASP market going in order to compete with Sun, which really means it needs the new services and new pricing models next year. Funnily enough, writing to Bill Gates in December 1997 Microsoft OEM chief Joachim Kempin recommended a switch to a rental ("annuity") model and suggested the switch should be made on the introduction of a new rev of the OS. He had 2001 pencilled in, but the rise of Web-based services wasn't something he was expecting at the time. As Ballmer was talking about business, that leaves a question mark over the fate of the rest of us. But not much of one. Microsoft clearly is trying to establish a situation where registration of software is compulsory, and where its systems are sufficiently capable to be able to handle upgrades and fixes automatically. It would also, as the good Joachim tells us, like to charge everybody a regular fee for the privilege. But it's going to be a difficult one to sell to the world in general, as opposed to a smaller number of business customers who might be induced to believe they're getting some kind of deal. So maybe MS wion't go the whole way with Win2k, but watch out for Neptune. ® Related 'Ballmer at Gartner' story MS stops customers from revealing MS software performance
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Apple still missing the mark on megaHertz

Analysis This analysis was written less than 24 hours before Apple announced IBM was to produce PowerPC 7400 processors, which just goes to show how quickly the chip biz moves these days... Back in January, at MacWorld Expo, interim Apple CEO Steve Jobs happily told the keynote crowd how the colour of a computer was way more important to consumers than the machine's megaHertz rating. Oh, how we all laughed in agreement. Oh, how Jobs' words are coming back to haunt him and us less than a year down the line. Why did were we in accord with Apple then? Because in addition to launching the multi-colored iMac, Jobs had already debuted what he described as "the world's fastest PC", the blue'n'white Power Mac G3, with its -- gasp -- 400MHz PowerPC 750 (aka G3) processor. At the time, the best Intel could field was a 500MHz Pentium III, and, as the Mac faithful knew, the 400MHz G3 -- the chip, not the computer -- was just as fast, if not faster. How times have changed. Nine months or so down the line, and Intel's arch-enemy, AMD (what, you really think it's bothered about Motorola?), has shipped the 700MHz version of its Athlon processor and Intel itself is readying the release, brought forward two or three months to counter the AMD threat, a 700MHz Pentium III. And what does Apple have? A brand spanking new Power Mac G4 that may be a really cool machine, but is having to compete with a 450MHz PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) processor. For all the earlier "world's fastest PC" and "first desktop supercomputer" hype, Apple's computers are suddenly looking rather underpowered. Now, the PowerPC die-hards will be quick to point out that the 7400 may only clock at 450MHz -- we'll ignore the 500MHz version, for now, since Motorola hasn't yet been able to get the thing to work properly -- but it's still offers comparable performance to the Pentium III. Well, sort of. A variety of third-party Web sites have done the numbers and found that for most applications, the 400MHz G4 offers the same performance as a 500MHz G3, and since the latter offers comparable performance to a 600MHz Pentium III, the 450MHz G4 won't be much slower than the 700MHz Intel chip. And the 500MHz G4, when it actually gets to that speed without corrupting the contents of its data cache, will be much the same. From a technical standpoint, that's a sound argument. However, from a marketing perspective, it plain sucks. Apple's real problem on the processor front is not that it isn't Wintel based -- the success of the iMac with Wintel and first-time buyers proves that -- but that the PowerPC line isn't perceived as being as fast as the Pentium. Why? Because, despite Jobs' comments, PC buyers do consider megaHertz the chief yardstick by which a computer's performance can be measured. Even Motorola seems to have finally figured this one out -- though not without some prompting from Apple, I suspect. At last week's chip industry shindig, Microprocessor Forum, held in San Jose, California, Motorola revealed it is developing a second-generation G4 chip to ensure the line is better able to compete on clock speed. That the decision to do so is relatively recent is clear from Motorola's September PowerPC roadmap, which lists the G5 (the multi-core G4-based chip codenamed V'ger) as the next release. The G4-II increases the number of stages in the pipeline through which an instruction must pass to be processed to accommodate the 700MHz (that number again) and up clock speeds Motorola plans to support. Adding the extra stages will, to a degree, reduce the speed advantage the PowerPC has over the Pentium III at equivalent clock speeds, but will allow it to go back to offering chips within 50MHz of Intel's top frequency. Of course, Motorola gave no indication of when the G4-II will appear beyond saying that it spill the shipment beans early 2000. Optimistically, the company could have 700MHz and up G4s out by this time next year -- given that the G4-II is a completely new microarchitecture and not a G4 with extras bolted on -- by which time Athlon and Pentium could easily be up to 900MHz, possibly even 1GHz. Meanwhile, of course, IBM is continuing to develop its own G3 line, and there's the very real possibility that an IBM G3 using the latest silicon-on-insulator technology, along with the copper interconnects it (and Motorola, for that matter) is already using could be faster than even the 500MHz G4. True, support for the G4's AltiVec system (aka Velocity Engine) will make a difference, but not much since its applicability to most applications is limited. And since the customised G3 chip IBM is developing for Nintendo's next-generation console is likely to support AltiVec -- it will have to, since Sony's Emotion Engine processor, the heart of the PlayStation 2, has a own vector processing engine of its own -- even that advantage may ultimately be limited. For the time being, then, Apple has a problem. Until Motorola ships the G4-II, it's going to have a job offering machines that run much above 500MHz. It can offer a 600MHz G4, but for all the extra 100MHz, it won't be significantly faster than the 500MHz machine. Or it can attempt to persuade people that multi-processing on the Mac really works by releasing a multi-CPU machine and hoping they don't notice that the speed advantage really isn't that great -- even with multi-processing MacOS X, doubling the number of CPUs won't double performance. And until Motorola gets the current G4's bugs fixed, Apple isn't even going to be able to offer a 500MHz Mac that actually runs at that frequency. And until Motorola... but that's the point: Apple is entirely dependent on one company, which is, of course, what the PowerPC Alliance was intended to prevent. With IBM out of the desktop market, Apple has to rely on Motorola to deliver the chips it needs, when it needs them and at clock speeds that it can realistically take to market. And Apple does need chips it can use to compete with Wintel. Indeed, now the MacOS has largely lost its superiority over Windows, it needs it more than ever. Sorry, Steve, but clock speed, not cute colored cases, are what's really needed now. ® Related Stories Apple hit by 'PowerPC G4 can't reach 500MHz' bug Apple demands Web sites kill iMac II pics
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AOL Germany blitzes its way to one million members

AOL Germany has notched up more than a million members -- the first time such a demographic milestone has been reached by the Net provider outside the US. The offspring of a joint venture by America Online Inc and Bertelsmann AG, AOL Germany claims its new pricing plan and the introduction of lower dial-up costs has helped fuel growth in the service. Uwe Heddendorp, CEO of AOL Germany, said: "Reaching this million-member milestone in record time underscores the strong momentum behind the AOL brand in Germany." Unfortunately, attempts by Heddendorp to talk-up the feat by saying it took AOL in the US nine years to reach the milestone -- instead of less than four years for AOL Germany -- are spurious for all the obvious reasons. Comparing the handful of Net users dotted around in the early 90s to the millions currently queuing to get online is simply an example of quoting statistics without context. Some might even say why did it take AOL Germany so long to hit the million mark -- after all, in the UK, Freeserve did it in a matter of week. Either way, it's just a shame that the champagne corks won't be popping in Britain. Despite AOL UK continuing to spend millions (seven and counting, according to some informed sources) on advertising its service, membership numbers remain stagnant at 600,000. Ho hum. ®
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Gas chips to replace semiconductors, predicts boffin

Forget solid-state computing devices -- fluid-state is the way of the future if work begun by a Berlin-based chemist is taken to its logical conclusion. According to today's New Scientist magazine, James La Clair has constructed a substance whose molecules, called SENSI, become fluorescent in the presence of Nitrogen and non-fluorescent when surrounded by Carbon Dioxide. La Clair's paper on the molecule posits its uses as the bases for a simple digital circuit: just by changing the gas around the molecule, you have yourself a simple chemical analog of binary 1s and 0s, with the molecule's binary state read by firing a laser it. If the molecule is fluorescent, it emits a single photon that can be detected -- if not, it doesn't. "This technology may some day lead to computers that only need gases and light to think," wrote La Clair. Not that the idea of using molecules to represent 1s and 0s is new, but La Clair does seem to have reduced the multi-molecule systems created by previous researchers down to a single molecule. That makes the development of microprocessor-size gas-based computing devices more feasible. La Clair's paper is also well timed, thanks to the considerable interest of late raised by an Intel employee's paper detailing the rapid approach of the physical limitations of current semiconductor technology -- circuits are becoming so small they will soon run out of sufficient electrons to work, and chip producers are running out of smaller wavelengths of light with which to etch chip circuits on the semiconducting materials from which they're formed. ®
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MS stops customers from revealing MS software performance

Microsoft president Steve Ballmer was caught on the back foot yesterday when Gartner Group analyst Tom Austin asked him about the "conspiracy of silence" -- a Microsoft contract clause which stops Microsoft's customers from giving out performance information about the Microsoft software they're running. "It sounds like a goofy issue to me," said Steve, and there can't be many people who'd challenge him on that. The effect -- far be it from us to say the point -- of the clause is to leave potential buyers forced to make their decisions based on Microsoft's claims. A Microsoft corporate customer would be unable, for example, to say how many clients could reasonably be run by SQL or Exchange systems. The issue is by no means confined to Microsoft, but the applause (from a hall full of corporate customers) that greeted Austin's question made it clear that the audience was all too familiar with the issue. Not so Ballmer, apparently. He said he "didn't know about legal requirements for publishing performance information". But having been convinced that the clause exists, he explained rather lamely that he expected it existed in order to stop competitors getting their hands on confidential Microsoft data, and then said he'd look into it. No doubt he'll now have to change it, whatever the corporate lawyers say -- if he doesn't, people will be asking him about it forever. Register added value MS performance factoid It has been suggested to us that Microsoft, in trying to sell Exchange to ISPs as part of an ASP solution, is fixing the number of users per Exchange server at 400. An ISP will count its users in tens, or even hundreds of thousands, of course. The 400 limit is not, claims our informant, a matter of Microsoft being determined to extract maximum sales revenue from them, but because "Exchange is just too much of a resource hog to work with more users than that". We'd like to be able to tell you our informant didn't work for S*n, but... ® Related 'Ballmer at Gartner' story MS to switch to rental model with Win2k?
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Win2k rollout sliding to February?

Last month teams of Register forensic experts picked over Dell's NT 4.0 upgrade plans and concluded they meant that Windows 2000 would ship in February, at the earliest. So it's with a certain satisfaction that we note that a story from our good friends at ZD with the usual reliable sources today tells us that Win2k will ship in - February. The Register's reasoning in our earlier piece, you'll recall, was that Dell was far too careful about money to offer free upgrades from systems shipping with NT 4.0 for longer than it had to. Dell promised such upgrades to Win2k "through February 2000," and that of course would be entirely pointless if Win2k systems were already shipping in January. Or even December. If Win2k shipped in June, on the other hand, that would be an awful lot of free upgrades for Dell to fulfil. So February it was. At the time this didn't entirely fit with the enthusiastic noises were discreetly being leaked from Redmond and related organisations, and since then we've been getting regular claims that Win2k is on target for the end of this year. But from what the sources are now telling ZD, that means (we said this last month as well - aren't we clever?) that Win2k will RTM (Release To Manufacture) before the end of the year, which means it makes 99, but production and the OEM rollout is Q1 2000. ®
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Celeron III, anyone?

It pays to read the small print. When we looked at some leaked Intel roadmap pictures last week, we concentrated on the usual stuff about clock and bus speeds. But on a second glance, another interesting factoid can be seen. The entry level Celeron systems arriving in the next six months or so bear the legend "Celeron III" and, in tiny type at the bottom, there's a note referring to Timna -- Chipzilla's first system on a chip (SoC) device. But it's not clear to which processors this refers. (Note to Intel: can you please make the graphics on your confidential documents easier to read -- our eyesight isn't what it was.) Are we to suppose that all Celeron IIIs will eventually be SoC devices? And whatever happened to the Celeron II? ®