19th > October > 1999 Archive

Round and round the hardware sites

The good Dr Pabst's site over at Tom's Hardware has an interesting interview with a 113-year old Tarot card reader which is a hoot. 3DFX and its future....tealeaf reading et al. It's a little while since we look at Ars Technica, a site which always turns up interesting anagrams when you feed those letters of the alphabet into a good Anagram Server. There's a great piece about IRQs, a cunning plan by the original designers of the PC (IBM) to waste people's time and eventually money. JC reports that IBM will not be fabbing chipsets for Via. Via is a victim of its own success and has started putting some of its chipsets on allocation. JC, rather wittily, points out that IBM used to fab for Cyrix in the old days...and look where that got them then. AMD Zone points out that Kryotech has managed to produce an Athlon system that hits 900MHz. Information about the thing may be found here. Anand has started taking one of his long hard looks at technology. In this case, it's the Via Apollo Pro 133 chipset. As he points out, the chipset isn't really new, but with the Camino i820 failing to make the grade, it's become of somewhat greater importance than it would otherwise. So get this. Via designs a chipset, Intel takes legal action against Via, and then with its legions of engineers can't produce a working chipset of its own. No wonder Kicking Pat Gelsinger's paranoid about Via...®
Mike Magee, 19 Oct 1999

Intel's i840 is a chipset that works

When we met Raghu Murthi, the workstation marchitecture manager at Intel Dupont last Friday, he would not publicly comment about the i840 chipset and associated motherboard which the company launches on the 25th of October next. But he did enthuse about how his team had designed a powerful and very wonderful chipset and fell into a cunning British hack trap when we asked: "Shouldn't you guys have designed the i820 then?" To his credit, he blushed. Murthi had obviously not had time to read the now famous Intel document on how to deal with British hacks. Sources outside Intel have now supplied us with many more details about the Outrigger (OR840) mobo which is Intel's contribution to the i840 party and which supports the famous Coppermine products which the company will introduce next Monday. Err...we didn't get them from Mr Murthi. The OR840 has support for both AGP 4X and AGP Pro 5, and has four RIMM sockets which will support up to 2Gb of Rambus memory. These Rambus slots support both ECC and non-ECC direct RDRAM at speeds of 600/800MHz, and take 64Mb, 128Mb, 256Mb and 512Mb. As far as we know, the 512Mb modules, however, are not shipping yet. The board supports dual Pentium IIIs of 533MHz and above, using the 133MHz system bus, as we revealed earlier, and has five PCI slots as well as supporting Ultra ATA/66 IDE. This last Intel terms as an Xcelerator, it supports two independent channels for four IDE devices and includes DMA-66 and CD Rom support. AGP Pro 50 (5.0) is of some interest. This spec runs at data transfer rates of 266MHz and Intel claims it will achieve data throughput rates of up to 1Gbps. It has a dedicated AGP Pro 50 slot which is backwards compatible to AGP 4x. The 50 referes to 50 watts maximum power consumption and it has the same data transfer rate as AGP4x. AGP 2x, 4x and AGP Pro all use a 32 bit bus. When quad pumped, that amounts to 1056Mbps, 528Mbps when dual pumped. A large number of Intel's customers is expected to also announce support for the i840 come Monday. ®
Mike Magee, 19 Oct 1999

MS lobbies senate to lean on Europe, WTO

It's becoming clearer what Microsoft and other major software developers want to achieve at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Seattle next month (related story). We now have the text of the presentation by Eric Koenig, Microsoft's senior federal government affairs manager, to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' subcommittee on European Affairs. Koenig spoke on behalf of Microsoft, and the BSA. He wanted the Senate subcommittee to persuade the EU to take a joint stance on the negotiations, especially with respect to e-commerce. Koenig is also co-chair of the WTO Seattle host committee. Strangely, he claimed that "More than 50 per cent of the revenues of ... Microsoft are generated by overseas sales". Yet in its 1999 Annual Report, Microsoft stated that US revenue is $13.7 billion (including OEM sales) and that non-US revenue is just $6 billion, with European sales amounting to a quarter of Microsoft's world revenue. Horses for courses, it would seem. Koenig then came to the nub of the matter: he wanted a favourable e-commerce regime. The WTO would need to become "more open, more transparent", presumably to make it easier for non-governmental organisations (like Microsoft acting through the BSA) to organise intensive lobbying for its own interests. Another Microsoft desire was to ensure that e-commerce is classified as goods, and not just a set of services. Here's the reason: 94 per cent of the world's exports of software are US sourced, and classifying software as a service could alter the tax regime, dramatically impacting software sales. The concern is that at present the EU takes the position that physically-delivered software is classified as a "good" by GATT, but the same software delivered electronically should be classified as an "electronic delivery", subject just to GATT obligations on trade in services. However, the WTO decided last year that there would be no customs duties on electronic transmissions, which is consistent. Microsoft's concern was that instead of assessing duties on the value of the medium, like the CD-ROM, duty would be on the value of the product - orders of magnitude higher, of course. Last week, the BSA mailed propaganda to members of the European Commission (probably a waste of time as they're all on getting-to-know-you junkets at the moment); the European Parliament (they're learning how to optimise their expenses); and heads of member states (who are unlikely to do anything about the BSA's concerns). Specifically, the BSA wants the EU to deny accession to EU candidate countries that have high piracy rates, and for public institutions in Europe to prohibit illegal software in their institutions. This is unlikley to influence Prodi's expansionist desires. There's a great deal at stake for US software companies so far as the WTO meeting in Seattle is concerned, and it will be interesting to see how successful Microsoft is on the diplomatic front. ®
Graham Lea, 19 Oct 1999

Intel mobo prices and spex for the 24th: we got the lot

Irregular sources close to Intel's plans have now given us the complete price list for its motherboards as from next Sunday. We have already given prices for the Coppermine processors it will release in earlier stories which can be found here and here. The SE440BX (Seattle) mobo which uses the 440BX chipset with Coppermine support, (823346) will cost $110, while the same mobo with integrated Yamaha audio will cost $122. The SR440BX will cost $182. The CA810e, a Micro ATX board which supports the socketed Pentium III (and Celeron), will cost $135. The same board with integrated Crystal 4297/Creative 1373 will cost $146. The RC440BX, a slot one baby, which includes Ensoniq PCI audio and supports the PIII, PII, and Celeron costs $150. Pretty clear what that message is -- slot one is in dodoland. The Celeron S370 board, the B1440ZX, which comes with integrated Ensoniq 1373A audio, costs $98. What a bargain Celerons are. The CA810 boards cost $109 and $140 respectively. Intel will not comment publicly on unannounced products and prices. ®
Mike Magee, 19 Oct 1999

Red Hat to publish Compaq Linux mods under GPL

A support deal announced yesterday by Compaq and Red Hat gives some indication of how development of Linux by commercial PC companies can operate within the open source model. Typically a company like Compaq will have its own systems for modifying operating software, but as these have historically operated in conjunction with, er, Microsoft they're not necessarily much help when dealing with Linux. The model Compaq and Red Hat are implementing, however, seems to have been constructed to alloew Compaq to make changes in the software while keeping firmly open source. Compaq is offering call centre support worldwide for enterprise users of Red Hat Linux, with the trickier queries being escalated to Red Hat. Any modifications or optimisations Compaq makes in response to support queries will be evaluated and tested by Red Hat, and then made available to the open source community under the GNU GPL. This is not of course rocket science - as open source partisans will tell you at the drop of a (Red) hat, all the hardware companies have to do in order to run open source operating systems happily is to release details of their hardware and publish everything they do themselves under GPL. But corporate lawyers don't necessarily agree this is a good idea. Compaq does however seem to have devised a mechanism that will allow it to do this, or at least to move in this direction. And so long as Compaq does put a reasonable amount of development effort behind Linux, there's a possible interesting side-effect. Hardware companies always want to modify software to cater better for their own hardware and their own customers. But when they're dealing with Windows, those modifications are frequently impeded and/or blocked by Microsoft. By working with Red Hat and GPL Compaq could conceivably improve its Red Hat implementations far faster than it Windows one, and the efforts it makes could accelerate development of Linux in general. ®
John Lettice, 19 Oct 1999

Telinco's free Net service is a sitting duck

Cheshire-based ISP Telinco is to launch its 0800 dial-up service next week. Details about the new service are still sketchy since the ISP is trying hard to keep it under wraps until next Wednesday. Unfortunately, the little that is known is rather puzzling, even bordering on the weird. For Telinco's not very well-kept secret is called Strayduck.com and the teaser running on its Web site is just plain daffy. Images of a talking egg hatching alongside day-by-day diary entries could make Telinco a sitting duck for anyone cruel enough to take a pot shot at the service. But cheap jibes don't bother Telinco's marketing director, Simon Preston -- for him, they're like water off a duck's back. "We made a deliberate decision to avoid using 'free' or '0800' in the name," he said, believing instead that the service will have value without such narrow constraints. While he wouldn't say exactly how the service would be paid for, he did rule out two models. People won't be expected to pay money up front for the service, nor will they be expected to pay any form of subscription or transfer phone companies to take advantage of 0800 access. Which suggests that Strayduck.com will be paid for partly by revenue generation (e-commerce and/or advertising) and partly by telephony charges. The question is what combination Strayduck.com will employ and whether it will throw in any other mechanism to offset the cost of subsidising Net access. The answer could lie behind mega e-commerce emporium hoojit.com which appears to have close links with Telinco. Then again... ®
Tim Richardson, 19 Oct 1999

MS spin doctors ‘explain’ Win2k slippage to 2000

Microsoft's marketing elves seem to be spinning busily, following the latest fix on Windows 2000's final ship date. From these it looks like Microsoft will make it to finally beta (Release Candidate 3) immediately before Comdex, but RTM (Release to Manufacture) clearly won't be achieved for a big launch at Las Vegas. So for actual, in-your-hands, running on new PCs code, the date is going to be at least February, as we've been saying here for some time, and could even according to some sources be April. How could this be, if the latest RC3 and RTM dates (November 11 and December 9, respectively) seem achievable? The ship dates now will inevitably have a lot more to do with marketing than coding, and hence the appearance of the marketing elves. A few months back actually being able to RTM for Comdex was an obvious Microsoft target, but as this can't be done, the company has to fall back on talking up the final release candidate instead. But note that with RTM in December, there isn't really that much to shoot for. After RTM the PC manufacturers will do their own testing and then put it on to production Win2k machines, and they could conceivably do that in around six weeks, which is how you get to the February date. There is however no great need for them to do this, as Q1 is the worst sales quarter of the year, even in years when customers aren't lying back twitching after (they hope) getting over the Y2K hump. So although Microsoft will still be beating the drum around February way, and will no doubt have happy looking OEM manufacturers in tow, serious volumes are unlikely to be moving until Q2, i.e. April. That, barring the unexpected appearance of something really horrible in RC3, is surely the approximate reality. But in the elves' distortion field, reality is as follows, and it's already been communicated to us by several early eye witnesses. They've started briefing customers and partners that Microsoft is on-track for 1999, but that Microsoft always meant by this (i.e., always ever since Microsoft started saying on-track for 1999) that it would RTM before the end of the year. Which of course means it doesn't actually ship until 2000, but that, they say, is what they've always been saying. ®
John Lettice, 19 Oct 1999

Apple announces another G4 order policy

UpdatedApple's attempts to take control of what has rapidly become a PR gaffe of monumental proportions took yet another turn last night when interim CEO Steve Jobs announced the company's fourth policy on shipping already-ordered Power Mac G4s to customers in almost as many working days. Now, said Jobs, Apple will honour orders from customers who ordered 400 and 450MHz Power Macs before the company's decision to downgrade its product line from 400, 450 and 500MHz machines to 350, 400 and 450MHz models. When the downgrade was announced, as part of last week's fiscal Q4 results, it emerged all outstanding orders for G4s would be cancelled and would-be owners of the new machine would have to re-order. After protests, Apple's direct sales operation, AppleStore, emailed customers and promised that existing 400 and 450MHz orders would be fulfilled. Only orders for 500MHz machines would be changed, either to a 450MHz machine with the same congfiguration as before, all for $350 off the retail price, or a new configuration 450MHz Power Mac with an extra 128MB of RAM. Last Friday, Apple changed its mind again, claiming that such was the supply of PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) processors that all but a handful of orders would, in fact, need to be replaced. And now we have Jobs saying, yes, we can honour existing orders after all. Go figure... So, all orders submitted before 13 October "will be honoured at the originally quoted prices, including those placed with the company's resellers", Apple said. What brought about the change? According to reports, not only further complaints from understandably indignant customers, but the threat of a number of class action lawsuits. "We apologise to our customers for upsetting and disappointing them during this past week," said Jobs. "Our actions today will hopefully set things right." Meanwhile, British buyers appear to have been left out in the cold. An employee of one London-based reseller told Web site MacFixIt: "As of close of day on Friday, it would seem the policy on old orders has only been changed in the US. We could get no information out of Apple regarding if the change would affect the UK. We certainly weren't phoned to say reinstate your old orders." We hope that this time Apple has finally made its mind up. Hopefully made its mind up. Er... maybe made its mind up... ®
Tony Smith, 19 Oct 1999

UK management blamed for Ingram woes

Ingram Micro yesterday blamed former management for the UK misfortunes of the company. Greg Spierkel, president of Ingram Micro Europe, told journalists in London that the company could not pretend its woes were solely due to poor market conditions. Spierkel said ex-Ingram Micro UK MD Sandy Scott "didn't know the industry and didn't know the company". He described the current year as "a write off", and admitted to "two or three screw ups in Europe". But Spierkel claimed that next year the company would be stronger, saying UK sales for 1999 would be up on the previous year, despite a dip in the first half of this year. "We are miles ahead of where we were six months ago," he said. He would not comment on whether the UK operation was yet making a profit, but commented: "All things are turning in the right direction." In North America, Spierkel said that a lot of changes had been managed badly –- such as the staff cuts announced earlier this year. Worldwide, the company said it would be stepping up its services and Internet strategies. Ingram said there were a number of outsourcing agreements to be announced, including deals in the notebook and components sectors. But it refused to comment on what percentage of its sales came from services. And it rejected claims that ecommerce was making distributors redundant, saying it was providing logistics for companies such as Dell's online business and Buy.com. Spierkel also confirmed that the company had not yet found replacements for CEO Jerre Stead or COO Jeffrey Rodek –- who this quarter announced they were quitting the company. But the company remained upbeat about the future. It emphasised the fact that it had re-hired staff who left during Scott's reign in the UK –- including sales director Lloyd Pinder. And it pointed out that, despite three profits warnings in the last four quarters, it was still faring better than many of its rivals. ®
Linda Harrison, 19 Oct 1999

Intel attempts to bankrupt Register

When we arrived at Szechuan Towers this morning, we were handed an ominous looking envelope with three crowns on it. This, we thought, must be serious. And it was. Intel had mailed us a CD featuring its new Webfitter service for the Pentium III. And hadn't put any postage stamps on it. For which we had to dole out 51 pence. Intel says that this is not a new way to cut costs but was a mistake. It may be a mistake to them, but it's the price of a cup of tea to us... ®
Mike Magee, 19 Oct 1999

Linux beats NT, but Unix is top for enterprise claims report

British outfit Bloor Research has -- "by coincidence," it says -- intervened in the Linux versus NT wrangle with some tests of its own. The results of these, Bloor says, show that Linux is superior to NT in six of nine categories devised to test the two "from the standpoint of how they operated in practice to support real applications." Bloor's coincidence is a happy one, as the Linux world is currently aflame over the strange tale of the Gartner-MS report. But although Linux seems to do well, Bloor concludes that neither Linux nor NT is "suitable for use as an enterprise level server." This isn't particularly welcome news for Microsoft, which is keen to get NT accepted at enterprise level, but will be of little consequence in the Linux world, where penetration at the highest levels of the enterprise isn't yet an issue. Bloor waspishly notes: "Microsoft is learning a hard lesson with Linux, namely that there is more to life than product marketing. Five years ago there was the NT versus Unix debate, which the Unix community appeared to be losing until Microsoft attempted to tackle the issue of enterprise scalability and convinced no-one." That has left Unix at the top still, and "gave the end users a new set of perspectives, that it was OK to use the right operating system for the job and that the concept of a single OS which could run on the smallest device up to the largest server was inappropriate, not to say unachievable." That's obviously helped make users more receptive to Linux. Bloor's nine categories were Cost/Value for Money, User Satisfaction, Application Support, OS Interoperability, OS Scalability, OS Availability, OS Support, Operational Features and OS Functionality. The operating systems were also ranked as File/Print server, mixed workload server, Web server, mail server, database server, groupware server, data mart, application server and enterprise level server. The outfit seems to want you to buy the report, rather than being more specific about which OS won what, but you can read the gloss, and buy more if you want, here. ®
John Lettice, 19 Oct 1999

Motorola unveils Palm-powering Dragonball upgrade

Motorola has upgraded its Dragonball processor, the chip that powers the Palm family of organisers and their clones. The Dragonball VZ runs at 33MHz, more than twice the speed of the current Dragonball EZ, which will itself be upgraded to 20MHz from 16MHz. However, the real innovation in the VZ is not raw speed, but built-in support for 256-colour LCDs. Palm users have long requested a colour version of the organiser, but the company has always avoided the temptation, citing the battery-diminishing and size-increasing nature of colour displays. The Dragonball EZ already supports colour displays, but requires the addition of ancillary chips and circuitry, upping the cost of the device and increasing the size of its motherboard. Motorola hasn't made the change to help Palm particularly -- the Dragonball is aimed at a wide variety of portable devices, such as cellphones -- but it should help Palm finally deal with the one area in which its products have fallen behind Windows CE. The most recent PalmOS licensee, TRG, is set to unveil its TRGpro device today at the PalmSource Palm developer's conference in Santa Clara, California. Aimed at business users, the TRGpro is believed to offer voice recording and -- another oft-expressed user request -- a CompactFlash slot that can take any third-party card. Given the timing of the launch, the market the company is aiming for and its need to differentiate its products from Palm's executive-oriented line, a VZ-driven colour screen is a distinct possibility too. The on-chip LCD controller isn't the only new feature Motorola has added to the Dragonball -- the company has added SDRAM support, which should up Palm memory performance, plus other useful items, including and extra configurable Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) and an additional Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter (UART), both of which should enhance a Dragonball-based device's IO. Motorola is already sampling the VZ -- no great surprise, this, given the TRG rumours. Full-scale production is due to commence next January, just in time for Palm's traditional February/March new product intro schedule. The chip will cost $11 when bought in batches of 10,000. ®
Tony Smith, 19 Oct 1999

NEC to build chip fab to service $2.8bn Nintendo Dolphin deal

NEC, the semiconductor company chosen by Nintendo to produce graphics and RAM chips for the console vendor's next-generation Dolphin machine, today said it will build a new plant to service the Nintendo contract. NEC said the deal is worth $2.8 billion in total, more than enough to cover the cost of the new plant, estimated to be around $755 million. The construction tab will be picked up exclusively by NEC -- Nintendo, unlike its chief rival, Sony, is not co-funding the production of its console's silicon. Sony, on the other hand, has invested direction Toshiba's Emotion Engine (the chip at the heart of the PlayStation 2) production programme. Speaking of console vendors, there's actually some conflict here, since NEC is already producing graphics chips -- based on VideoLogic's PowerVR 2 technology -- for Sega's Dreamcast console. Indeed, NEC was blamed for the initial delays to the Dreamcast's launch -- a charge it readily coughed up to. NEC already produces core silicon for the N64. The NEC plant is scheduled to go on-stream in August 2000, giving it just four months to get up to volume production -- Dolphin is currently due to ship in Japan in December 2000. Dolphin's graphics come from ArtX, the company formed by some of ex-SGI staffers who created the N64's 64-bit 3D graphics engine. The console's main processor will be a customised 400MHz PowerPC from IBM, which, thanks to IBM's revived partnership with Motorola, is likely to contain Motorola's PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) AltiVec vector processing engine. ®
Tony Smith, 19 Oct 1999

Intel pulls into fast lane as workstation plans unfold

RoadmapUK readers will be aware of Desperate Dan, a cartoon character in the Dundee publication The Dandy. Pictured as a cowboy with an insatiable appetite, Dan used to shave with a blowtorch and eat enormous cow pies*, complete with horn and tails. What has Desperate Dan to do with Intel? Well, aside from the fact that its CEO Craig Barrett likes huntin', fishin' and, presumably, eatin', Intel wants the biggest cow pie in world -- and that's a huge chunk of the lucrative market. We'll put the Itanium-Merced delicately to the side of our plate for the purpose of this piece, and instead take a gander first, at the company's plans for the IA-32 workstation market. Tomorrow, we will examine Intel's roadmap for the system market. A little time back, we managed to see Intel's roadmap for the workstation and server market. These follow a similar pattern to the desktop roadmap we posted earlier this week, and show that Intel segments these chunks of the market in terms of system prices (with monitor) in three tiers: entry, midrange and high end. We have already covered the Coppermine processor and motherboard introductions which happen early next week. Raghu Murthi, Intel's workstation marketing manager from Dupont, who we met at the end of last week, suggested that some of the entry level workstations could make excellent machines for gamers who are willing to pay the $2,500 and upwards. Intel's own roadmap at the entry level shows systems at 600MHz, utilising512K of cache and a 133MHz system bus coming in at prices of between $2,000 and $3,500. The map shows that in Q1 of next year, this price range will be occupied by 667MHz and 733MHz processors utilising 133MHz buses and 256K cache. In the price range between $3,500 and $5,000, called volume market Intel is positioning 600MHz and 667MHz dual capable parts, with 133MHz buses and 512K and 256K respectively. Around the middle of next year, this price segment will be occupied by 733MHz processors. Intel describes the next level of workstations within the midrange as Performance, covering the price range $5,000 to $7,500. All the parts here are again dual capable. In Q4 this year, this part of the market is occupied by 667/733MHz parts with 133MHz buses and 256K of cache. In the second half of next year, this slice of the cow pie is hogged by 800MHz parts with 256K cache, and towards the end of the year is supplanted by 733MHz parts with 1Mb of cache. The high end of the workstation market consists of four way Pentium III Xeon systems. Initially introduced in Q1 next year, these will be 550MHz processors which use the 100MHz system bus and come with cache of 1Mb and 2Mb. Systems will be priced at $7,500 and upwards. Towards the end of nextyear, this space will be occupied by 750MHz Xeons with 100MHz system buses and 1Mb and 2Mb caches. Intel's map shows that in the sub $3,500 market and in the volume market, which is occupied by Pentium IIIs rather than Pentium III Xeons, there is a relentless transition from the SC242 slot one design to its flip chip socket 370. There are some anomalies here which are hard to figure out. There appears to be some plan afoot to somehow modify Slot 2 (SC330) towards the end of this year and next, probably to do with the on-cartridge voltage regulators. And at the same time, Intel will not use the 133MHz bus in its high end four-way workstation processors and sticks with 100MHz. We're not clear whether this is a marchitectural or an architectural decision. Is it some limitation that four processors imposes? As we will see tomorrow, this restriction applies to its high end servers too. Corporate users can expect to pay a pretty penny for these servers at over $50,000 for a system which has, basically, eight tarted-up Celeron IIIs inside. There is some supplementary but important information about the size of caches Intel will make that are not yet on these Intel slides. Reference the Cashcades story below for more information. ® *An American reader kindly points out that cow pie is cow shit where he comes from. In Britain, a cow pie is a pie with cow in it, as eaten by Desperate Dan. Cow shit, we call cow pats. See also Major Intel roadmaps ahead: please keep left Intel'sh Cashcades to cash in on cache inside
Mike Magee, 19 Oct 1999

Taiwan quake blamed for Dell profit slip

Dell has warned that its third quarter profits will not be up to scratch because of the after effects of the Taiwanese earthquake. The direct PC seller said chip shortages resulting from last month's quake would effect profit for the three months ending 31 October. The 25 per cent hike in contract chip prices experienced over the last week will eat into earnings in the short term, though Dell said it intended to pass on the price rises immediately to customers it had contracts with. Dell's results are due to be posted on 11 November, with analysts forecasting that the company's profits will drop between two and three cents per share. This would result in around 18 cents a share, according to analysts. Jonathan Ross, PC analyst with ABM Amro, said in the Wall Street Journal: "The bottom line is PC demand really accelerates from here. "It's hard to get too optimistic about DRAM pricing in the fourth quarter given that the PC manufacturers are already on allocation." Dell estimated that chip price increases had added $70 to $75 to the cost of one of its PCs. It said the latest round of DRAM price hikes were too steep to absorb without an impact on its profits. Michael Dell, Dell's CEO, said: "We think there is a unique set of events here that have conspired against us in a negative fashion." The PC giant plans to up prices on certain products and encourage users to buy PCs with smaller memory. It said it expected to have soaked up the increases by its fourth fiscal quarter, ending 31 January. Dell's shares dropped $1.50 to close at $41.31 on Nasdaq yesterday. ®
Linda Harrison, 19 Oct 1999

BT kills off ADSL trial

BT is scrapping its current ADSL trial and replacing it with a poorer service that is more expensive. In an email, the telco giant said that that the BT Interactive trial would end on 7 November 1999. However, the pre-launch beta trial (BT is looking to roll-out ADSL nation-wide early next year) would be available to all current triallists if they wanted to continue with the service. According to the monster telco, the beta trial will be used to test a mass market ISP ADSL service from BT prior to its launch next spring. In doing so BT has increased the price to £49.99 a month (from £30) and bandwidth has been slashed from 2Mbps to just 512Kbps, providing the clearest indication yet as to what retail consumers can expect to pay for a broadband service. As a sweetener to those people who have persevered with the trial, BT has said that it will not charge the subscription for November and December. Even so, the decision has enraged a number of triallists who have balked at the price hike and cut in service. One, who asked not to be named said: "Oh well, looks like the trial is going to lose a lot of people." And he added that the service would not be available to Linux users. "A 'new piece of software' is required to 'enable Internet service'", he said. BT maintains that while the maximum potential speed has been reduced to 512Kbps, this should not significantly lengthen download speeds. It claims most limitations for downloading are "external to the BT Interactive network". "Whilst this is a reduction in access rate, it is still eight to 10 times faster than typical modem speeds, and offers customers an affordable ADSL service when it launches next year," BT claimed in its statement. A spokesman for BT said that despite the changes only three people have dropped out of the trial so far adding that most people still think it's a good deal. Wishing to clarify BT's decision he said: "The £30 a month for our ADSL trial service was a nominal figure to test whether people would pay. "The new tariff is a much more realistic reflection of what the cost of ADSL would be," he said. He added that other higher bandwidths would be available although these would cost more. However, he said most people using the reduced bandwidth would not even notice the difference to the quality of the service. By comparison, Net users in Canada can get ADSL access for as little as £15 a month. According to a reader from Halifax, Nova Scotia: "We have fierce competition between cable modem and ADSL service -- each a provided by a monopoly. "The rates for ADSL now range from $36.95 to $45 CDN (£15 to £18), depending on product packages. Installation is $25 (£10). From anecdotal evidence, this is pretty normal across Canada," he said. Once again it looks like customers in Britain are being asked to pay over-the-odds for services that are far cheaper elsewhere in the world. No one from BT was available for comment. ®
Tim Richardson, 19 Oct 1999

MS piracy losses claims don't stack up

In trying to scare consumers, businesses, governments and institutions into having licensed software, Microsoft is making unsupportable claims about the jobs that it says have been displaced as a consequence of the piracy, and the ensuing loss of taxes to the state or country. Microsoft's new anti-piracy campaign is being so badly executed that its seriousness must be questioned.
Graham Lea, 19 Oct 1999

Tiny telco offers bargain broadband access

Net users in the north east of England can get always-on broadband ADSL access to the Internet for just £15 a month. Kingston Communications -- which operates exclusively in Kingston upon Hull -- announced the tariff today after launching its new interactive TV (iTV) service. Known as Kingston Interactive Television (KIT), the service will offer a complete package of digital television channels, video-on demand service, Net access and email, shopping, and news and information services. The basic package for the iTV services costs just £9.99 a month. ADSL access to the Net at speeds of up to 8Mbs per second is just an additional £14.99 a month. It means Net users served by Kingston Communications can get broadband access for less than £25 a month. Initially, KIT will be dished out to 1,500 customers before being rolled-out to the company's 155,000 existing residential customers. Asked why Kingston was able to offer such a low price for ADSL access a spokeswoman for the company simply said: "It's our network, our copper." Near telco monopoly, BT, could also boast similar ownership yet it is looking to charge people £50 a month for its ADSL offering. ®
Tim Richardson, 19 Oct 1999

STMicro sees 33 per cent profit jump

Healthy demand for chips for mobile devices has powered a 33 per cent increase in profit for STMicroelectronics. For its third quarter, ending 2 October, Europe's number two chip maker saw profit up to $135.3 million, from $101.6 million for last year's Q3. Sales for the period were up 23 per cent to $1.27 billion, against last year's figure of $1.03 billion for the equivalent. Taking the first nine months of the year, net profit was up 25.4 per cent to $363 million, on sales of $3.6 billion - up 16 per cent. From mobile phones to set-top boxes and beyond, demand for STMicro's chips shows no sign of flagging. The company is investing $3.18 billion to boost capacity in order to keep on top of this rising demand. Last month, the company raised around $925 million from a share issue which reduced the stake held in it by the governments of Italy and France. STMIcro's fabs in northern Italy and southern France are being equipped to ramp up work on flash memory products and should be producing 1000 wafers per week by early next year. ®
Sean Fleming, 19 Oct 1999

Gates and Ballmer mount buddies act in Fortune

There's a love-in conversation between Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in the 25 October issue of Fortune magazine. It's billed as the $100 billion friendship, the pre-eminent buddy act in American business. They have known each other for 25 years, since their days at Harvard. Gates boldly claims "That summer [1975] I wrote BASIC for the MITS Altair..." which will be news to the co-developer (some say principal) Paul Allen, and Monte Davidoff. Gates also notes that shortly afterwards, somebody on Long Island "offered to buy Microsoft for seven or eight million dollars -I mean, nothing." Ballmer was "exactly the kind of help" that Gates decided he needed to run Microsoft, at a time when there were 30 employees. He confessed he had overloaded himself, and that the company "was a bit of a mess". Ballmer was offered more than any other employee, but they couldn't seem to agree how much that had been, with Ballmer believing it to be $40,000 and Gates claiming $56,000. The text of the offer letter was left on the Wang word processor, so before long copies were circulating round the office and it became known that Ballmer was a shareholder, along with Gates and Allen. Microsoft's obsession for keeping a great deal of cash on hand can be traced back to an obsession of Gates about being able to meet the payroll. Ballmer wanted to hire 40 more people, but Gates was very conservative, which resulted in their first big row. Ballmer claims that a year ago, the Internet and user-interface innovations were not getting enough of Gates' attention, which was one reason why he became president. There's no clue as to why it hadn't happened earlier, but reading between the lines, it looks as though Gates was a control freak unwilling to surrender any turf. Gates speaks of some big technology bets: the GUI; NT; and a new way for developing software applications for the Web that will start with Windows 2000. He didn't count the volte face to the Internet as a bet, but something evolving out of WebTV was his bet for the living room. Towards the end, Gates mentioned "a unique feature of our technology - it empowers the individual. Our competitors who are doing server-based applications are sort of anti-empowerment - they take away that portable computing and move it to the centre of the network. ... our approach is a counterpoint to those who choose the single-point-of-failure model, where if the server goes down, you can't do anything." He seemed quite unaware of what Microsoft was desperately trying to achieve with server versions of Windows 2000, let alone the fact that server failure was often the result of using NT instead of Unix. ®
Graham Lea, 19 Oct 1999

Camino egg on face to be wiped away by i840?

If you were a major chip manufacturer with a problem chipset, you might like to have something on the back burner to take its place. And as luck would have it, Chizilla is in just such a position. Camino may have deposited a lot of egg on Intel's corporate face, but the Great Satan of Chips appears to have the luck of the devil in that the i840 workstation chipset is just around the corner and actually works. While the 840 is aimed at the workstation market, with support for AGP4X and dual channel Rambus, what's to stop a cut down version finding a home in more lowly PCs? Chipzilla is claiming (hoping) that the i820 problems can be resolved without modifying the silicon. If it can't, the clever money's on the 820 being airbrushed out of history in favour of i840 lite…®
Pete Sherriff, 19 Oct 1999

Brit firm shows US Senators ‘the real turd in the Y2K punchbowl’

An analyst with London Y2K consultants International Monitoring lashed out at numerous US government agencies for soft-pedalling international Y2K threats during a Senate Y2K Committee hearing last week. Chief among these is the Clinton Administration's special Y2K working group, whose recent, soothing report IM analyst Nick Gogerty denounced as "potentially reckless". At worst, he predicted, this sort of Pollyanna pandering could lead the administration to lose its credibility during the looming crisis, and with that its ability to lead the populace to sanity once the madness begins. Committee Chairman Robert Bennett, a Republican from Utah, might have delighted in pointing out that the Clinton Administration has hardly any credibility left to lose, but graciously held his tongue. The US State Department also drew fire for suppressing the awful truth about international travel at rollover time. The Department has issued a general travel advisory; but it won't name the names, Gogerty speculated, because it wishes to maintain "near-term objectives", which he declined to elaborate. What might these be? Deterring cyber-attackers from exploiting the world's weakest transportation systems under Y2K cover? Fear that finger-pointing abroad might lead to retaliatory accusations and subsequent lean times for the American tourist industry? Reluctance to ridicule the Chinese and South Koreans, who can scarcely keep their planes in the air under the best of circumstances? (Come on, is anyone really going to fly CAAC or KAL on 1 January?) Transportation, energy, insurance, emergency services: all these industries have far more potential to suffer from Y2K mischief than we suspect, Gogerty believes. But it is in the international banking system where he sees the greatest threat to the continued survival of the human race. Here a loss of confidence can lead to widespread panic, and panic can lead to economic catastrophe. International Monitoring prepared a detailed report on the banking issues, but, as Gogerty said, it would not be prudent "to publicly discuss the detailed risks...in a public forum such as the one before us today." He submitted the report as prepared testimony. The Register despaired of ever seeing it. But the Senate Committee apparently disagreed with Gogarty's estimate of its potential to scatter the herd, and promptly posted it on its Web site. It was a difficult read, but we persisted. The report boldly asserts that "Herstatt risk could be the real turd in the Y2K punchbowl." And, no, we haven't got a clue what "Herstatt risk" means either, but we do love a good metaphor. The best we could make of it is that Herstatt is a German banker who gained fame by inadvertently rendering his bank insolvent. We think it could be called "Leeson risk" as well. If we read it right, the greatest of all risks faced by an institutional bank are eagerly provided by the human beings it employs, all of whom, according to Gogerty's reckoning, are imbeciles. The banking system functions only because computerised accounting provides a safety infrastructure which catches errors and prevents the imbeciles from doing what God created them to do: accidentally bringing the entire world economy to grief. It might work like this: enormous banking "clearinghouses" handle, on a daily basis, credits and liabilities in the range of tens of billions of dollars. A single human error -- say, something trivial like a misplaced decimal point -- is allowed to pass the computerised accounting infrastructure by an obscure Y2K stuff-up. This causes some gigantic and time-sensitive payment upon which a hapless clearinghouse depends to be missed. The clearinghouse then defaults on payments it owes to others because it can't collect the income it's owed. A domino effect develops, and total world anarchy ensues. Alternatively, the clearinghouse might make its payments in spite of being unable to collect, simply by borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars. Paying interest on that, even for a matter of days, might wipe out a month's profits. If the problem were to appear in several markets at once, the dreaded domino effect might yet be triggered, and blood flow in the streets. "We believe Y2K will be the second costliest accident in history," Gogerty claimed. (Assuming WWI was the first, then Herstatt really is the Mother of all turds.) But, "barring nuclear or major chemical failures, loss of life should be minimal in the USA," he chirped. He had perhaps meant to reassure the Committee, but one could have heard a pin drop when he finished his speech. It was all over their faces: "what the Hell is 'minimal' supposed to mean? And worse, what might 'maximum' mean, and which poor tribe is going to represent that extreme?" It was several minutes before Co-chair Christopher Dodd (D--Conn) summoned the courage to ask. "There is a constant rate of loss of life due to industrial accidents in the this country every day," Gogerty explained. "The Y2K bug and, let's say, the 'non-standard behaviour' of individuals around that [time] will...lead to a spike in accident rates." "All right, we'll leave it there," Dodd replied with a nervous smile. He didn't seem to appreciate that, from Gogerty's point of view, he'd just been given the good news. ® Related Stories US Senate Y2K Committee underwhelmed by preparations Johnny Foreigner Y2K laggards named and shamed Y2K bug eats London's electricity The man who ate the Y2K bug BA tells Y2K bug to take flying jump Y2K bug sinks Third World trade
Thomas C Greene, 19 Oct 1999


365 Corporation has confirmed its intention to IPO on the London Stock Exchange. Blue-blood broker Cazenove is to be joint lead bookrunner alongside Durlacher, the niche investment bank which has re-invented itself as successful Internet upstart. No market cap figures have be mentioned yet, but we suspect 365 will be in the £300m+ category. Not bad for a company that began trading only in September 1997. 365 serves up a very British tabloid diet of sport, ents and dating and agony aunts - hang on this is beginning to sound more like a student union. It calls its channels - publications and it pumps out content by email and phone as well as over the Internet. For the three months to 30 June 1999, 365 generated sales of £4.4 million and operating profit before interest, taxation and amortisation of goodwill of £277K. It has operations in five countries - the UK, France, Ireland, South Africa and - curiously - Chile. Its heavyweight management team, and 190 employees generating 750,000 unique users generating more than 8.5 million user sessions in September. Sounds promising for a new Internet company -- real revenues and profit too (even if that has been achieved with smoke and mirrors). But what do these user figures actually mean? Where are the page impression? Without separating Web use, from email and telco use, these figures have little meaning. And it also sounds like 365 is not a "pure" Net company. It generates revenues from contract publishing deals for other Web sites - and this revenue stream should be judged purely in the way off-line contract publishers are rated. Contracts come and contracts go, and there is nothing intrinsically Internet about them. Also, the company shored up its revenue streams in 1999 with the acquisition of a small telco company - Symphony Telecommunications plc. Presumably, this forms a key part of 365's Business Division and its 2,000 small and medium business customers. 365's Business Division provides communication services and Internet applications in the UK and Ireland. In other words, its an IP telephony company with computer reseller services attached - and a very small one at that. 365 is stitching together national coverage with 11 telecoms systems dealers across the UK, thereby saving costs, but also pooling revenues. Aside from cash flow, we can not see what part 365's telco operations have to play in an Internet content company. ® Check it out for yourself at 365corp.com
Drew Cullen, 19 Oct 1999