15th > October > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Satan's little helpers get hammers out to i820 mobos

Information from insiders close to Intel's plans is painting a picture of feverish activity as staff get rid of a third slot to fix an embarrassing problem with Rambus memory on i820 motherboards. It reminds The Register of Santa Claus surrounded by hordes of gnomes and elves frantically attempting to make toys quickly so that good children will be able to get tangerines, apples and i820 motherboards when they open their stockings on Christmas Day. Intel is now telling its customers it has a solution to its own problem with Vancouver (VC820) motherboards but is warning them that the boards probably will not now be available until Q1 of next year. However, our information is that the solution is no solution at all, and it's more of a sort of explanation. That's backed up by other sources on the Web. Intel will fix the problem with the i820 Rambus third slot by getting rid of it. If you want three slots, you're going to need another chipset. This will anger many in the industry. Over at HardOCP, the boys have a more technical version of this which says that low launch voltage exceeds the specification and derates RDRAM drive strength. It's something to do with position sensitivity. Be that as it may, it's going to take Satan's little helpers, and all of those mobo manufacturers and PC manufacturers, more than a week or two to come up with a two RIMM solution. Our source said he was told to expect the Vancouver motherboard early next year. So the kids might get their tangerines and apples in their stocking but an i820 mobo from Intel looks set, as we suggested last week, for Q1 2000. ® See also Rambus fixed? We'll wait and see Timing problem renders all Camino boards virtually useless How the whole Rambus thing looks
Mike Magee, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Rambus performs well in Q4

Rambus shares crept up to just under $73 last night in anticipation of the company releasing its financial results for the fourth quarter. The firm, which specialises in fast memory technology (cough), recorded an increase in both revenue and profits, year on year, despite its recent problems. It showed revenue of $12.3 million for Q4, compared to $9.7 million in Q4 1998, while profits almost doubled, with operating income rising to $3.4 million compared to $1.8 million. The share price has toppled since the middle of the year, and suffered a steep decline after Intel admitted there was a big problem with RDRAM memory two weeks ago. Financial analysts on Wall Street have warned that investing in Rambus, short term, is risky. But several firms are saying that shares in the company represent a good long term investment. The Rambus business model is entwined, apparently inextricably, with the Intel business model. Not only is Intel an investor in the company, but the contract between it and Rambus means that Chipzilla has to use all of its best endeavours to promote the technology. Some have speculated that there are even closer links between Rambus and Intel, with the former possessing a set of interesting patents which the latter needs to pursue its own technology roadmap. Meanwhile, Intel's shareprice showed signs of rallying after it tumbled to $72 earlier in the week. Yesterday, it announced it was buying DSP for $1.6 billion. ® See also Why Intel and Rambus are so close
Mike Magee, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Localtel savaged by BBC's Watchdog

Electrical retailer Tempo is to cease stocking software offering Internet access via its ISP Screaming.net. The decision was announced on Thursday night's edition of Watchdog after the flagship BBC consumer affairs programme broadcast a damning investigation into the ISP. Only last month, Tempo withdrew CDs from its stores after it took the decision to ensure that existing users benefited from improvements in its service. It's unclear whether last night's announcement on national TV is a new moratorium or just an extension of the old one. Localtel, the telco that runs Screaming.net with Tempo, did not escape from the jaws of Watchdog and was singled out in the report for delivering poor service. In a test carried out by the programme makers it claimed it took almost 15 minutes to connect to the Net using Screaming.net. But the most damning criticism came when customers went on record to say how much they'd been overcharged by the Surrey-based telco. Those interviewed said they'd been charged for the off-peak toll-free calls to the Net when they should have been free, inflating some bills by several hundred pounds a month. Watchdog produced documented evidence that showed unless these bills were paid Localtel threatened legal action against the individuals. Indeed, the intervention by a high profile TV programme such as Watchdog should be regarded a warning to other ISPs to get their services in order. There is a tangible mood of discontent among many UK Net users that they are simply receiving a second-rate service. What's more, they're not afraid to complain. More and more Net users are threatening to report failing ISPs to consumer groups and trading standards authorities if their requests for improved services are not met. Only yesterday, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint from a Net user against The X-Stream Network after it made false claims about its 0800 service. Some AOL UK members who are threatening strike action against the service provider have also said they're prepared to report the Net company to Watchdog. And Scottish-based ISP 08004u has received a visit from Trading Standards Officers in Dundee after users complained about its service. Having witnessed the success of a determined band of Screamers to get their grievances heard on terrestrial TV it can only be a mater of time before another Net company has its dirty laundry washed in front of the nation. ®
Tim Richardson, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Priceline's MS lawsuit: shark versus shark?

The lawsuit Priceline launched against Microsoft this week has all of the components needed to make it a Redmond classic for nostalgia buffs. There's a lengthy negotiation period while Microsoft considers investing, the break-off followed by the launch of a rival service, and then the Bill Gates outburst.
Team Register, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

LCD drought set to worsen

TFT LCD panel shortages are set to worsen due to an impending components drought, IDC is warning the industry. Serious shortages of key components including motherglass, display driver ICs, condensers and colour filters will bite into LCD production over the next year. The situation will hit the notebook PC and LCD monitor markets, which are both moving towards new LCD sizes and technology, IDC research warned. Most items will remain in short supply until the end of next year. Motherglass demand is expected to outstrip supply throughout 2001. IDC forecast that 19.2 million portable PCs and 3.9 million LCD monitors would be shipped in 1999. It said LCD supply problems would impact both markets, and may affect the devices’ sales growth in 2000. Taiwanese LCD panel, notebook and LCD monitor makers would struggle to meet demand from PC makers, it said. But Taiwan would still produce around half the world’s notebooks, and 33 per cent of LCD monitors, for 1999. The study also warned of a dearth of LCD display preventing prices falling in these markets. "Given these developments, entry-level TFT-based notebook pricing may stall, as 14- and 15-inch TFT LCD panel supply remains limited," said Randy Giusto, VP of IDC worldwide desktop and mobile research. He also issued a warning for the desktop market. "PC vendors see the 15-inch LCD monitor as the potential sweet spot of the LCD monitor market, and this continuing shortage will delay transitions from CRTs to LCDs on the desktop," said Guisto. ®
Linda Harrison, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Mobile Squelcher jams cellphone calls

Fights are going to break out over this: Hong Kong inventor Anil Vora is marketing a cheap and cheerless device that can jam mobile phone signals and disrupt calls. Vora came up with idea for the Mobile Squelcher (cost: £18) after becoming very irritated indeed by mobile phone users conducting private conversations in public. This guy needs to get out less. Somehow, we can't see too many Guardians of the Peace and Quiet putting their life in Mobile Squelcher's hands by using the gadget on, say, a packed commuter train. And while it may be legal to buy Mobile Squelcher, it is certainly illegal to use it -- in the UK, at any rate, where authorities discourage broadcasting on unauthorised airwaves through hefty fines. Finally, isn't there another Mobile Squelcher-type gadget already on the market. We recall stories about a similar device launched earlier this year in, we think, Israel. Unfortunately, our memory and search engine failed us. So if anyone can point us in the right direction email us here. ® Related story Man beaten to death for using mobile phone in pub
Drew Cullen, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Mr Modem goes to work at Carphone Warehouse

Networking and comms vendor Microcomputer Research (MRi) has signed Carphone Warehouse as a distributor for its PC Card modem range, Mr Modem. Mr Modem will now be putting in an appearance in all Carphone Warehouse's 200 stores. Until now, according to MRi, Carphone Warhouse has only stocked modems in two stores. There are two modems in the Mr Modem range. The PC card is Mr Modem PCMCIA 56K, priced at £89, and a 1456USB variant for the desktop, Mr Modem USB, which doesn't need an external power supply and is priced at £59. Carphone Warehouse will sell the PC Card modem. In September, MRi signed Tandy as a reseller of its Mr Network DIY networking kit. MRi is fast becoming one of The Register's favourite companies as it calls all its products Mr, which we take to be a sign of good manners. Both Mr Modems offer download speeds of up to 56kbps, upload data transfer rates of 33.6kbps and fax speeds of 14.4kbps. ®
Sean Fleming, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Corel chief charged with insider dealing

Corel saw its CEO Michael Cowpland charged with insider dealing yesterday. The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) charged the head of the Canadian software vendor with three counts of violating the Securities Act. It also laid one count against Cowpland's personal holding company, MCJC Holdings. Cowpland will be in the dock at the Ontario Court of Justice on 22 November, and if found guilty faces porridge or a hefty pay out. The maximum penalty is two years in jail, a C$1 million (£604,780) fine and three times any profits made from the dealings. Cowpland is charged with acting on information not available to the public. Part of his predicament springs from him selling a third of his Corel shares in 1997 for C$20.5 million, weeks before the company's $32 million third quarter loss report sent its share price plummeting by 40 per cent. Trading in Corel shares was halted on Nasdaq and the Toronto Stock Exchange before the announcement. Stock will resume trading today, though is expected to take a beating. Cowpland denied he had violated securities laws, saying he had offloaded the shares to pay off personal loans. "I am looking forward to finally having a chance to clear my name by responding to these matters, which are now more than two years old," he said. Analysts said the charges may prompt a call for Cowpland's resignation from Corel. But the charges will not be easy to prove. Duncan Stewart, fund manager at Tera Capital in Toronto, said: "Making the allegations is easy, proving them is, in all cases, unless people are genuine dunderheads, almost impossible. "Very few people write memos to themselves saying: 'Did insider trading today' and then mail them to the OSC." ®
Linda Harrison, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Iomega continues to shed red

It may have briefly returned to profitability during the first quarter of its current fiscal year, but trendy storage specialist Iomega has clearly fallen back into its loss-making rut. Yesterday, it posted its Q3 results, which showed a loss of $78.3 million on revenue of $356.6 million (down nine per cent on the same period last year, but up a little on last quarter). That's worse than last year's Q3 loss of $14.8 million and Q2 1999's $61.7 million. Last quarter's loss was increased by a massive $41.9 million restructuring charge -- this time round the charge fell to $20.5 million, though the company's new chairman and CEO, David Dunn, warned that the Iomega's next quarter would take a further restructuring charge of around $7.5 million. The Q3 results also included non restructure-related items totalling $12.7 million and $51.3 million transferred to the company's reserves to offset future taxation. Still, Dunn reckons the company will be back in the black next quarter. Iomega is betting its future on its 40MB Clik! drive, which it's now pushing as a removable storage medium for notebooks, rather than the consumer electronics devices it was originally designed for. Sales of Clik! drives are unlikely to counter the collapse in Jaz Sales, which continue to fall by a double-figure percentage, since the company has yet to make any money here thanks to promotional costs. Q4 profitability will largely depend on sales of Clik! and ZipCD (the company's CD-R product) picking up sufficiently to cover what Iomega is spending on advertising. Iomega's Zip and Jaz sales are profitable, but with Jaz shipments falling and Zip shipments pretty much static, they're not likely to contribute too much to the company's growth. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Ericsson, Symbian, Palm lead wireless Web alliance

Palm's dance card at Geneva this week has been pretty full. Hot on the heels of the Palm-Symbian and Palm-Nokia deals, today we have the announcement of a GPRS alliance consisting initially of Ericsson, IBM, Lotus, Oracle, Palm and Symbian. Nokia and Motorola are mysteriously absent from the initial roster, and the mystery is somewhat compounded by the claim that "The GAA was established in June with an open invitation to the industry." This would appear to have been an extremely quiet open invitation, as nobody much seems to have noticed it at the time, although the organisation's Web site does have a release dated 22 June on it. This however couches it very much as an Ericsson initiative, and in the interim a lot of work will have gone into broadening it enough to make it credible. Nokia's absence can possibly be explained by the different nature of the portfolios of the two rivals. Nokia has been heavily involved in its own server application development for some considerable time, and may not feel the need to share its secrets with the others. Another absence, Microsoft, is less surprising, but sources tell The Register that MS was indeed poised to sign up, but pulled out. If this happened at Geneva, it might have been caused by the shock of Palm's foray into cellular-land. The alliance itself, styled the GPRS Applications Alliance (GAA), is intended to boost the development of mobile Internet applications using high speed GPRS (General Packet Radio System) as transport. Several European networks are poised to offer this as an add-on to GSM next year, but the GAA also seems to be aiming at the rest of the world. "GPRS," it says, "is a first, vital step for GSM and TDMA operators in the evolution to 3G (third generation) mobile networks." TDMA is technically a near relation of GSM, and is widely used in the USA and South America - by AT&T, among others. Active support for GPRS on TDMA (which is actually the number two world standard) will therefore aid take-off of mobile apps in the US, on both TDMA and the local GSM flavour, PCS1900. ®
John Lettice, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Sun announces record levels of smugness as Q1 results rocket

Sun continues to shine financially -- and executive heads continue to swell. Just look at its latest financial results, posted yesterday, which show its revenue grow 25 per cent year-on-year and its income rise by 138 per cent over the same timeframe. So, earnings for the company's first quarter, ended 26 September, reached $271.1 million, up from $113.9 million for the same period last year. Ignoring one-off charges, Sun made $274.8 million, a more modest increase of 39 per cent on the Q1 1999 pre-charge profit of $197.9 million. Charges incurred included $3.5 million for in-process R&D thanks to the Star Division acquisition and a $1.3 million tax provision relating to the same purchase. Revenue for the quarter was $3.12 billion, up from $2.49 billion. Interestingly, the quarter marks the seventh three-month period in which Sun profit has risen. Apple was just as gung-ho about it's own such quarter as Sun is today, and then look what happens: down come the profits. Perhaps Sun should learn a little humility too, but is this possible, we wonder? Sun's bosses were certainly so ebullient about this "blow-away quarter" that clearly Christmas has come early for the company that only last week said it was the planet's only true hope against Microsoft (in Redmond, where the shadows lie...) "It's starting to separate us from the pack," gushed Sun CFO, Michael Lehman -- presumably we can take it that this is official recognition that Sun has, until now, always been part of the pack. And "[Hewlett-Packard] should have been blaming Sun's sales force for their problems", said smug Sun president Ed Zander, referring to HP CEO Carly Fiorina's recent statement that her company's server sales would be down next month thanks to a poor effort from its sales force. CEO Scott McNealy completed the trio with: "The public challenge to Sun by HP, IBM and others would be even more of a concern if we were fighting against new and improved strategies, but we're not. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, we are very flattered." Indeed. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Action suspends shares – again

Action Computer Supplies has temporarily suspended its share trading pending an announcement. The mail order PC company made the statement to the stock exchange at 12:15pm today. No explanation was given regarding the forthcoming announcement. A representative of the Middlesex-based company was unable to say when further details would be available. Action's shares have plunged around 50 per cent from their July high when prices topped £3. Its shares were today suspended at 177.5 pence. The company is in a closed period until 21 October when its results for the year ended 31 August are expected to be announced. CSL analyst Clive Longbottom said: "Judging by the share price, it's probably going to be negative rather than positive news. "Action is pretty much on its own in the mail order market, but is getting nibbled at by the office supplies companies selling PCs. "Action aims at the SMB market and is likely to get hit by Y2K. Also, SMBs tend not to be buying networks from Action, but increasingly from places like PC World," he said. "The Action model is getting very weak." Action has been moving more towards being a Web-based company. There were several redundancies this summer during a re-jig towards online sales. "Insight already has the Web model in the US. But it bought Action for its mail order business," said Longbottom. The last time Action suspended its shares was in July, when it announced a revision to the proposed take-over by US giant Insight Enterprises. This took the deal from 0.16 per cent to 0.12 per cent of an Insight share for every Action share. At the time, the move was said to be due to a "material adverse change" in Action's trading conditions, and put a lower value of around £93 million on the company. ®
Linda Harrison, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Landis gets ilion at last

ilion Group today accepted the take-over bid from fellow networking distributor Landis Holdings (UK). In an announcement to the stock exchange, Landis said its cash offer of £40.2 million, or 160 pence per share, for ilion had been declared unconditional in all respects. By 3pm yesterday, the closing date for the offer, Landis owned 83.6 per cent of the existing share capital of ilion. And Landis said it had acquired a further 9.2 per cent of the company since the buy-out offer was posted on 23 September, that had yet to be re-registered as Landis stock. Landis still intends for ilion to apply to the London Stock Exchange for its shares to be de-listed and to re-register it as a private company. This cancellation from the listing is expected to take effect on 12 November. The acceptance comes after Landis was forced to up its bid for the rival when its 114 pence per share offer in July was rejected as "totally unacceptable" by ilion. ilion later agreed to the revised offer of 160 pence on 15 September -- which represented a 70 per cent premium on ilion's share price on 14 April, the date ilion announced it was in talks with prospective buyers. ®
Linda Harrison, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Quake pushes back iMac's Japanese debut

Apple has admitted it has been forced to delay the shipment of the latest version of the iMac in Japan. The company's Japanese subsidiary told the Nikkei newswire that it was working on the problem. This mere days after Apple Japan marketing director Naohisa Fukuda told the newswire: "[The iMacs] will all be in stores on 16 October without fail." So, instead of shipping the basic 350MHz iMac and the top-of-the-range 400MHz iMac DV Special Edition tomorrow, as scheduled, Apple will not make these machines available for at least two more weeks. And while the 400MHz standard iMac DV will make it to stores tomorrow, Nikkei sources claim it will be in so few numbers stocks will run out in less than a day. Sources also claimed that the would-be iBook (which is due to go on sale in Japan tomorrow too)buyers will not fare any better. The Apple spokesman did not specify the cause of the delay, but it's almost certainly the first tangible sign of the Taiwanese earthquake's effect on the Mac market. However, that should be the limit of the quake's effects -- according to Apple CFO Fred Anderson, "[Apple] lost one week of production with iBooks and iMacs in the September quarter". ® Related Stories Apple reverses CPU downgrade for existing orders Apple downgrades Power Mac CPUs -- but not their prices Apple Q3 profit down to $111m
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Pro-coup hackers crack Pakistan site

The military coup in Pakistan has spread to the Internet. Only a few days after the Pakistan military deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the home page of the regional government of the Punjab has apparently been hacked by someone calling themselves the Islamic group of hackers (Al-Sooraj wing). According to reports on BBC Online, the Punjab site now hosts declarations of support for the new military government. The site also levels a series of insults at Sharif, calling him brainless and hairless. Two qualities which many world leaders have had to rely on as their stock in trade. The BBC report said all other official Pakistan Web sites have been taken down. The BBC also claims to have been inundated with emails from Pakistani nationals pledging support for the coup. ®
Sean Fleming, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

MS lobbies to slash DoJ antitrust budget

Microsoft is attempting to shut off the DoJ's air supply. Not Netscape's this time, and actually, not even the whole DoJ air supply - Redmond's beef is with the DoJ Antritrust Division - the section of the operation it's been having most trouble with. According to a report in today's Washington Post, Microsoft allies and lobbyists are pushing for Congress to cut $9 million from the Division's funding next year. Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft's director of government affairs, says the move stems from "some serious concerns about some of the DoJ's conduct" during the litigation, which you might translate as "we don't like it that the DoJ is winning". The antitrust division wants 18 more lawyers and para-legals, and has requested a budget of $114.3 million. At present, the Senate favours $112.3 million and the House $105.2 million. Senator Slade Gorton (Republican, Washington state) is the prime Microsoft cheerleader (Related story). His spokeswoman said that he was confident of getting the Senate figure lowered. The campaign to hobble the Division might be seen as a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but on the other hand it could suggest that MS sees a long drawn out appeals process, and still thinks it can undermine the DoJ's ability to fight it. Apart from Microsoft's direct efforts, it has also wooed Washington-based lobbying organisations by inviting them to a jolly three days of wining, dining and, er... sport in Seattle, with an "hour or so" of briefing that doesn't even mention the budget issue, according to Eric Gustafson of Citizens for a Sound Economy. Notwithstanding this omission, six of the organisations sent a letter to the House appropriations committee supporting a budget reduction. Meanwhile, we must await Judge Jackson's decision as to whether he will order Microsoft to pay the DoJ its legal costs, as it requested. ®
Graham Lea, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Fat and Fast – IBM drive breaks land speed record

IBM has pumped up the volume and turned on the accelerator with the 72ZX, the latest and greatest member of the UltraStar family. In terms of size, the 72ZX is a sauropod (Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus) of the hard disk industry, bulking up to a massive 73GB capacity. But when it comes to speed, the 72ZX has more in common with the Oviraptor, running at a nimble 10,000RPM. Two smaller sisters of the 72ZX are also launched today, the Ultrastar 36LZX and the 7,200 RPM, Ultrastar 36LP, which each store 36GB. They're all designed for servers. Very big servers, by the look of it. The drives incorporate GMR heads and support most interfaces you can think of, including a 2Gbit fibre channel interface. The 36GB Ultrastars will hit the streets -- in small quantities -- before the end of the year. The 73GB monster will launch in Q1, 2000. Pricing details will have to wait another day. ®
Drew Cullen, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Chipzilla risks humiliation with breakneck i820 launch

For a company which still likes to remind its employees of the FDIV flaw that caused early Pentia to lose their grip on mathematical reality, Chipzilla doesn't seem to learn (see Satan's little helpers get hammers out to i820 mobos). The knee-jerk reaction to early pressure at the low end from what Intel lovingly refers to as "imitators", resulted in the tragically-underpowered, cache-free Celeron being rushed to market. Had Chipzilla waited for the far superior Mendocino part, the precious Intel brand would have survived untarnished. Indeed, Intel was so paranoid about making Celeron II a success that it threw its entire marketing might behind the entry-level part to the extent that it became so popular that it took sales from the much higher margin Pentium II and put a sizeable dent in the bottom line. Now Chimpzilla has put the wind up Chipzilla's marketers with Athlon, it looks as if Intel is about to make the same old mistake of listening to its hysterical marketing folk rather than its engineers and take careful aim at its corporate foot again. Instead of taking a statesmanlike approach to the Camino glitch and doing a proper rework of the faulty i820 motherboards, Intel is again panicking and kludging together a fix which is no more sophisticated than pasting a sticker over the third Rambus slot that reads "Not To Be Used". The thinking (?) behind this move is to have Camino/Coppermine systems in the stores in time for Christmas, but who in their right mind is going to buy a motherboard that doesn't work properly? Surely even Intel marketeers aren't that stupid. The correct response to Camino's problems is to let the engineers put things right and launch a fully-working product in early 2000, but don'tcha just know in your heart that Intel will release the 820 while it still doesn't work properly? The problem with Intel stems from having had things its own way for too long. Ask any Intel insider what's wrong with the company and eventually he or she will say something about it being too inward-facing. In plain terms this means Intel cares more about what happens inside Intel than in the real world. Due to its near-monopolistic marketshare, the company has never needed to bother about the little people outside the ivory tower. Until now. With AMD apparently fixing its legendary inability to actually produce enough working chips -- at both the low and high end -- Intel actually has a real rival at last. How it reacts over the next few months will have a real impact on how the industry shakes out in the future: if Intel listens to its engineers it will steadily rebuild market share and dominate the market for the foreseeable future. If Intel listens instead to the people wearing red braces and white socks,the FDIV will really hit the fan. Intel's users and OEMs will not stand for another Pentium flaw, underpowered Celeron, or cobbled-together chipset. ®
Pete Sherriff, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

US Congress' electronic signatures bill clears hurdle

A virtual triathlon of civil contract lawmaking continues in Washington as legislators struggle to accomplish a deceptively simple thing: drafting consistent, national regulations for electronic transactions without affecting the status of paper contracts, and without trampling the rights of the states which, constitutionally, are empowered to decide such matters for themselves. Yesterday the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts and intellectual property adopted a more balanced approach to contract law governing e-commerce and digital signatures than one put forward earlier by the House Commerce Committee. The Judiciary version would grant the states power to exempt certain classes of contracts from being made electronically, as they see fit. The earlier version had been criticised for overstepping the rights of states to make exceptions. It would seem a small matter to require the states to recognise digital signatures where adult parties consenting to e-transactions want them recognised, but nothing is ever so simple in Washington. As usual, numerous interested parties are working at cross purposes. On the Right, the Republican Party, which is sponsoring both versions, is in fact sub-divided among those who jump at any opportunity to accommodate Big Business, and those who take a fundamentalist tack towards civil liberties and states' rights, so there is not yet a consensus on the Republican side of the aisle. This gets further complicated by the natural reluctance of all Republicans to enact legislation of which the Clinton Administration might approve, or from which it might extract PR brownie points. In the middle lies the Administration, and here again, far from unified. The President personally wants to do all he can to lubricate e-commerce, but the several bureaucracies over which he presides have their own pet objects which they want to see lubricated. Chief among these is a Justice Department concern that widespread electronic contract-making will lead to poor records keeping, and so expose the federal government to numerous legal liabilities. "These issues are important, because they affect the government's ability to enforce its agreements and programs and to defend itself from potential lawsuits," Deputy Associate Attorney General Ivan Fong told the committee in testimony on 30 September. "The issues are likely to take on heightened significance [because] the government is all too often a target of fraud... Agencies must be able to manage risks arising from the potential for fraud undertaken through the use of electronic records," Fong warned. Added to that are concerns by the Department of Commerce that the inevitable development of technical specifications for signature authentication will lead the US to a frighteningly "European" state of hopeless over-regulation. Commerce Department Counsel Andrew Pincus, who apparently never met a regulation he didn't hate, warned that giving preference to "particular types of electronic authentication by establishing specific technical requirements for electronic signatures" will lead the American business community towards something like the EU's Electronic Signatures Directive, which no doubt will pave the way for some sort of Socialist revolution. Europe can expect a fight with Uncle Sam over technical specifications for international e-contracts. Pincus made it clear that, "in the international arena [the US Commerce Department's] focus is on promoting our principles of minimalism and facilitation as opposed to governmental mandates and regulation as the basis for enabling electronic commerce worldwide." So, if inter-departmental squabbling doesn't derail the legislation, upcoming international disputes will be more than capable of doing so. Finally, on the Left (assuming there actually is a "Left" anywhere in the US government), a number of House Democrats suspect that enabling electronic signatures at the federal level will endanger consumers. The theory here is that online commerce encourages online contractual disclosure, and this in turn could cause full disclosure to be withheld from consumers who lack Internet access. It is a bit difficult to imagine this problem cropping up in the real world, however. Disclosure is always the vendor's responsibility. It's hard to imagine a judge penalizing some bilked consumer for not reading the "fine print" on line, when he has made a purchase through some other medium. No doubt there are vendors who will attempt such a sketchy defence, but surely there's little danger that any would prevail. The objection most likely conceals nothing more than stubborn foot-dragging and partisan nay-saying over a piece of Republican legislation. The bill moves to the House Rules Committee this week or next for compromise and reconciliation between the new Judiciary version and the older Commerce version. The Register's money is on the Judiciary version, as it more closely resembles a corresponding Senate bill, and therefore has some hope of one day escaping Capitol Hill as law. Assuming, of course, that the sponsors and signatories really want it to become law, an assumption which, judging by the behaviour of all concerned so far, is somewhat less than safe. ®
Thomas C Greene, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Xeon to beat desktop Pentium IIIs in MHz stakes

Intel will implement higher MHz Coppermine speeds in its future workstation and server chips before it migrates that technology to desktops. That emerged from a briefing this morning with Raghu Murthi, director of marketing workstation products at Intel's plant in Dupont. Murthi also disclosed that Intel will implement up to five flavours of its IA-64 product line, and said that hundreds of systems will be in the hands of its partners by the end of this year, and thouands in early 2000. He said Intel will introduce faster Xeon speeds "a little ahead" of future desktop implementations. The company will continue to brand IA-32 products into the foreseeable future. Intel has already started sampling 460GX PCI sets for its IA-64 line and already has applications running on the chip in its labs, he said. "Compilers are in the productisation stage," said Murthi. "The chipset is very robust and meeting our expectations." He was unwilling to comment publicly on the 840 Carmel chipset, details of which we revealed earlier this week. However, all the indications are that as we said in our earlier story, 840 systems are due for roll out towards the end of this month. ®
Mike Magee, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Sun, Fujitsu to shore up Sparc in time for Itanium assault

Fujitsu has announced that it has come to an arrangement with Sun to ensure both companies' future Sparc-based hardware will conform to a common reference model -- or, as we say in the trade, will become fully compatible with each other. Essentially, the deal will ensure anyone who writes software to run on a Sun box will also be able to run it on a Fujitsu machine without having to tinker with the code beforehand. Sun will apparently have to make some changes to Solaris and its own hardware specification, but the drive for compatibility is clearly coming from Fujitsu rather than Sun. "This is not a time for Sun and Fujitsu to compete," said the deputy general manager of Fujitsu's Technology Group, Hisashige Ando. "We have to work together to make [software] development more efficient." Except given Sun's success in shipping Sparc-based serves, as shown by its better-than-expected results, what we're really taking about here is Fujitsu competing with Sun rather than the other way round -- on other words, Fujitsu stands to gain rather more from the deal than Sun does. What has prompted this move is clearly Intel's drive to develop its own 64-bit processor, Itanium, and get Linux running on it from the moment the chip ships. So perhaps Sun is a little more worried about Itanium than it would have us believe. Indeed, Ando admitted the move was made to expand the development of software for the Sparc platform primarily because of the impact what he called rival 64-bit architectures could have. Of course, to a degree the two companies' systems are compatible, but Fujitsu wants to extend that to provide programmers who need to get right to the heart of one manufacturer's hardware with the knowledge that they're also getting down to the basics of the other vendor's machines too. Primarily that centres on developing the platform's ability to support ever greater numbers of Sparc CPUs operating in parallel. However, one of the extensions Ando mentioned, according to EE Times, is the addition of "instructions... to improve multimedia applications, network security and the ability to do scientific calculations". That sounds suspiciously like bringing a technology not dissimilar to Intel's Screaming SIMD Extensions (SSE) to the platform. Intel has already said Itanium will support both MMX and SSE, so again the motivation here appears to be getting Sparc ready to compete with Chipzilla's product more effectively. The upshot of the two companies' co-operation will be a reference specification which should be completed by 2003, with a preliminary version due the year after next. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

StarOffice chief: why Sun community source beats GPL

Sun's Community Source Licence (SCSL) model has come under fire from the open source community as an unsatisfactory halfway house, and quite possibly a trap at that. At Sun, StarOffice founder Marco Boerries is the one who's most obviously in the firing line in this area, and speaking in London yesterday he took it on the chin, and explained why he thought that the Sun approach beats GPL in the long term. Boerries' company was bought by Sun earlier this year, and the way he tells it he was given virtually total flexibility in terms of the business and licensing models he'd apply with the division that formed from it. Sun has a number of SCSL (pronounced Scuzzle, apparently) initiatives on the go, but the StarOffice/StarPortal operation Boerries runs is the most fully-formed, and highest profile -- so he's in pole position. Prior to the Sun takeover Star had been giving StarOffice away for personal use, but still charging for business. Post takeover it became free, under the SCSL model, but that needn't automatically have been the case; Boerries says he could have taken it fully open source if he'd wanted to. "I was asked if it was OK [to go SCSL]," he says, and "I believe it protects our customers better than GPL." He's willing to take the question head-on: "The argument is that [with SCSL] the [open source] community makes Sun rich. Well, the community makes Red Hat rich -- no community member has really joined in that." (The Red Hat IPO, that is) Sun clearly won't get anything like the same level of developer support by pursuing SCSL as it would by going GPL, but Boerries points out that in some areas GPL can be inherently more of a problem than SCSL. Sun, as a commercial company whose products include intellectual property licensed from multiple sources, needs that control, because it's completely impossible to give away the whole lot without the agreement of everybody who actually owns it. But GPL can fall down for similar reasons, in Boerries' view. "One big problem with GPL is that it's hard to give the customer indemnification and product warranties." So long as open source software really is open source then this oughtn't to be much of a problem, but where are the guarantees that it is? "You can submit source that's been stolen," he says. Indeed you can, and even if it's not stolen it's by no means absolutely the case that the code that goes into the open source pot has no IP ownership attached to it in some shape or form. Which takes Boerries on to the next leg of his argument. So long as it isn't possible to sure about all of the ownership of the code, it's foolhardy for suppliers to give customers guarantees and indemnities about it. In the diffuse open source world as it currently stands, that's maybe not too much of a problem. But as installations get larger and customers more conventional/big business, maybe Boerries has a point. "If you want to sell to government and large enterprises, you have to be wary about that." ®
John Lettice, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Apple reverses CPU downgrade for existing orders

Updated A red-faced Apple made a very sudden about-turn last night and reversed its plan to ship existing Power Mac G4 orders with lower-spec. CPUs but for the same price. According to reader reports posted on the MacInTouch Web site, would-be buyers who contacted Apple after the processor downgrade was announced, are now being told that requests for 400MHz and 450MHz machines will be now be supplied as ordered. Anyone who ordered a 500MHz Mac will, however, still have to take a 450MHz model. Apple has no choice here, thanks to Motorola's problems shipping a PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) that will run at that speed. However, they will get $350 knocked off the price, or be offered the choice of getting a new configuration 450MHz for the full price. The extra $350 for the new 450MHz model gets you an extra 128MB of RAM. Apple's original plan was to cancel all Power Mac orders, and force direct buyers and dealers to reorder from a new, downgraded range of machines. Announced at 400MHz, 450MHz and 500MHz, the G4 line will now be offered at 350MHz, 400MHz and 450MHz. Other reports from buyers appear to have had the downgrade reversed only because their machines have reached a certain stage in Apple's build-to-order process. One reader was yesterday promised a public statement from Apple clarifying the situation, but that statement appears not to have been posted on the company's Web site. We contacted Apple UK for clarification, but as yet we have had no response. ® Related Stories Big Blue backs PowerPC G4 with production deal Apple Q3 profit down to $111m
Tony Smith, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Woman walks away from $70k online gambling debt

A Californian woman has had her $70,000 online gambling debt rubbed out by two leading credit card companies. This bizarre act of charity came about after the woman, Cynthia Haines, was sued by MasterCard, Visa and her bank Providian National, for running up debts which she failed to repay. Haines, in an act of audacious optimism, then counter-sued saying it wasn't her fault at all that she had sat at home running up huge bills while gambling over the Internet. Oh no, instead it was the fault of the credit card companies for letting her do it in the first place, according to news service CNET. The culture of blaming everyone else and never taking responsibilities for your own actions seems to have reached epidemic proportions in the US. Rather than being told to quit whinging and repay her debts, Haines walked away from the $70,000 hole she had dug because, it transpires, gambling over the Net is illegal in her home state of California. MasterCard and Visa are unable to collect online gambling debts according to Californian state law. For those of you who fell off your chairs a few seconds ago, here are the main points again. A woman in California counter-sued MasterCard and Visa after she ran up $70,000 in online gambling debts, saying it was the credit card companies' fault for letting her do it. She doesn't have to re-pay the debt. Here in London, staff of The Register are considering taking legal action of their own. A number of high street retailers could come under fire for stocking so many nice things and therefore enticing us to spend our money in their establishments. And as for the pub down the road, oh boy is it in big trouble… ®
Sean Fleming, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

1GHz copper Athlon production starts next week

The first copper Athlon production should roll out of AMD's Dresden Fab 30 next week, after the plant's official opening on Wednesday. That means that despite problems with cost, and associated negotiations with Motorola to help fund Dresden development, AMD is probably on schedule for 1GHz copper Athlon parts for Q1 next year. AMD has an unpleasant history of not quite managing to get its production schedules together, but so far Dresden doesn't look at all bad. It's the first plant outside of the US capable of using a copper process, and as it comes into commission this year it seems to have been hitting its targets. AMD announced it had produced copper K6s in early July, close enough to the Q2 target for getting copper fabbing on-line, and the target for copper Athlon production is Q4 - i.e., now. Presumably we wouldn't be opening Fab 30 officially if it weren't, er, open. Initial production is intended to be at 0.18 micron, with a maximum Fab capacity of 5,500 wafers a week, and 300 Athlons per wafer. That's a lot of Athlons, but the big question now will be yield - if AMD can get this up fast, it could be sitting pretty at last. ®
John Lettice, 15 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Whatever happened to… Intel's processor serial number?

Remember all the fuss about Intel's processor serial number back at the beginning of the year when The Processor Formerly Known As Katmai was launched? Gone a bit quiet, hasn't it? A quick trawl around the web failed to reveal anything going on at all. Even Zero Knowledge Systems, the Canadian outfit that tried to cash in on the initial paranoia, seems to have gone quiet. No US states appear to have banned TPFKAK, as threatened back in February/March, so was the whole thing a storm in a teacup, as The Register claimed all along? Or have the men in black simply disappeared everyone who complained? We may never know. ® Here's your chance to flame Pete Sherriff, if PSN still gets your goat.
Pete Sherriff, 15 Oct 1999