25th October 1999 Archive
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March of the dubious patents continues...
Amazon.com is suing barnesandnoble.com for alleged patent infringement, but as with the similar priceline.com versus Expedia case last month, the challenge is effectively whether a business process can be properly protected by a patent. Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos claims in a nine-page declaration accompanying the writ that it took nearly six months and 3,500 hours to program its 1-click ordering system in September 1997, but since all online retailers have some form of tracking system for orders, the appropriateness of patent protection would certainly seem to be questionable. Amazon's patent was applied for in 1997 and granted in September. Barnesandnoble.com came up with Express Lane, a functionally-similar system, in May 1998, but there is no allegation of code copying. A part of the problem is that amazon.com came from nowhere in July 1995 and caught the monster traditional book company napping: it was not until May 1997 that barnesandnoble.com came online, with backing from Germany's Bertelsmann. In the US, the battle is seen as one of the earlier skirmishes in what is expected to become a rapidly expanding e-commerce battleground, but many people internationally are becoming concerned at the readiness to grant US patents for seemingly inappropriate reasons, so some international showdown would appear to be inevitable before long. ®
Business 25 07:19
Former party leader joins PC vendor board
Time Computers has snaffled a former political leader to push it into the e-commerce arena. Not content with hiring vendor or channel fallout, the company has brought Paddy Ashdown into the fold to be a non-executive director. The former top Liberal Democrat is a long-time fan of the company, and was caught espousing on the merits of Time only this summer. According to a Time representative, Ashdown is "not as busy as he was, now that he's stepped down as party leader". But he has "always been very into IT and technology", and is keen to get into "tech-commerce" –- whatever that means. On a similar theme, the UK PC assembler has poached James Richmond from Epson to head up a "new division". Shrouded in mystery, the nature of this additional business to the Burnley company will not be revealed before Christmas, it said. A representative today refused to comment on whether the new appointment was e-commerce –- or even "tech-commerce" related. It seems that Richmond, who was Epson's UK sales director for four years, could be working with quite closely with Ashdown. By its own admission, Time said the MP had been initially been brought in to: "Cover investigating new business opportunities for the company specifically in the area of e-commerce... "Time Group recognises the importance of the Internet for the future of business both nationally and globally and will be in the forefront of future developments utilising this enormous resource." At present it has no e-commerce operations, though plenty of its rivals do. And, it revealed, taking on former heads of political parties certainly makes financial sense. Ashdown said he would not be paid for his position at Time because he was opposed to MPs having outside income. Though thankfully margins aren't yet get tight enough to prompt that call to Thatcher.® Related Story It's Time to beam me up, Scotty
Business 25 07:28
They're big boxes aimed at HP, IBM and Sun. Can the DEC chip cut it?
A strange coincidence happened at the close of Wall Street on Friday. Both AMD's and Compaq's share prices stood at 18 11/16. While practically all technology stocks fell somewhat during the course of last week, AMD is on uppers (no, not its uppers), while Compaq is on downers. When the bell tolls for the close of trading tomorrow night, the Big Q is expected to report rather poor results. Meanwhile, analysts are telling investors to buy AMD stock. Despite Q's travails through 1999, the company is, however, pushing on with its Big Box plans and we have now had a glimpse of the future AlphaServer roadmap using its much vaunted WildFire product line. Already somewhat delayed, Q is close to pushing these boxes into existence and, on paper at least, the spex are impressive. We reported a week or two back on Q's rather impressive EV8 technology, and Wildfire will scale from the EV7 architecture to that .125 micron when the ex-DEC silicon begins to sing. Q is positioning its Wildfire servers as a modular architecture based on quad building blocks. The 730MHz parts, delivering 1.4Gflops, will use four memory arrays of 16Gb, and have a total of 28 PCI slots. Its so-called global switch has eight ports, and manages to preserve its SMP programming model combining up to eight of these quad building blocks. Q will claim some impressive performance figures. We've seen figures of a 400 per cent performance improvement from GS140 to 32-way Wildfire, which may rise to 500 per cent under some circumstances. Up to 32 CPUs can be included in one three bay cabinet and you will be able to string other EV7 boxes into the loop for heavy duty symmetric multiprocessing. Up to 1,000 Alphas can be clustered together. How about software? Our information is that the Wildfire platform is binary compatible with Tru64 Unix and Open VMS so there is no recompilation required. It also includes so called "Lights Out" operations, which will allow a system autostart if there is a failure, as well as remote system console facilities. Q is also promising to cut the price of storage and support by between 50 per cent and 90 per cent, and an ability to replicate OSes across the cluster using only one installation. The competitive target for this roadmap is, of course, those usual suspects Sun, IBM and HP. When Q's results are delivered by its new CEO Michael Capellas at close of play tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if he has anything to say about how well the sales team has done against its opposition. ®
Business 25 07:46
What's wrong with morganstanleydeanwitter.com anyway?
Sau Wong, a chip engineer in Silicon Valley and a cybersquatter who registers variants of the names of investment bankers, has been challenged over msdwonline.com because Morgan Stanley Dean Witter wanted the name for its online service (which is at the less-intuitive www.online.msdw.com). MSDW didn't like it, the New York Times says, and on having its $10,000 bid rejected ("a nice bag of money for a guy your age") and refusing to agree with Wong père to pay $75,000 - later reduced to $50,000 with morganstanleydirect.com thrown in - filed in the US District Court in Manhattan. What is interesting about the case is the novelty of the defence: Wong claimed that Ivan, his high-school son in Los Altos, California was using the site for "Mud Sweat's Downhill World", supposedly after a mountain bike shop called Mud, Sweat and Gears. So far there have been over 12,000 visitors, although perhaps not too many were capable of riding a mountain bike, even downhill. The defence has already started; Wong junior said that "In school, we learned about freedom of speech..." but there is a problem in that the site only appeared ten days after the suit was filed, with parts still "under construction". ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is still getting its act together over cybersquatting, and it is not clear whether new legislation before Congress will be retroactive. Meanwhile the courts are tending to rule against cybersquatters, but the mountain bike case is not a clear one because the Morgan Stanley merger only happened in 1997 and MSDW is not readily recognisable to many people. ® Related stories Intel porn squatters stick up for AMD Intel porno squatters want $400k -- bare faced cheek Mobo giant hosts secret porn site US senator Orrin Hatch priced at $45k Cyber bullies told to goof off US appeal court breaks trademark/domain name link Amazon.com sues Amazon.gr UN body moves to ban Web squatters New body to end cyber squatting Porn site squats in cancer charity domain Microsoft sues over 'cybersquatting'
Business 25 07:55
Fear, uncertainty, doubt amounts to Intel blundering thud
Sources close to Intel's technologies have taken time to sift through the i820 debacle (Caminogate) and have pointed to fundamental flaws in the chip firm's validation plans. (We didn't think it was long before we started writing about this stuff again -- see yesterday's Strange Whiff story). The reliable source points to an Intel developer page dealing with RDRAM validation and says that the validation process is statistically meaningless, given the number of components (from two to five) that were tested. This is the page and this the results page he has in mind. The sample size, he notes is between one and four. "I would certainly have confidence in a telephone survey that called one to four people out of a target demographic...not!", he said. The i820 and the i840, the latter of which was formally released today, use identical Rambus interface circuitry, he claimed. And there are other mobos rather than Dell (sorry Intel's) that fail with three RIMM modules. "These failures have to do with multiple back to back pipelined transfers from multiple devices on the bus. The guys at Hard OCP were given accurate information. This is a key feature of a Rambus system, to have multiple devices accessed simultaneously and driving the bus in a pipelined back to back fashion. This is where the only performance advantage for the bus will come from," he says. And the failures are not just poor board design, with some serious theoretical issues involved -- resonance being the key one. "Buses are running into quarter and half wavelength resonance effects which cause voltage margin and timing margin violations. No re-engineering of the drivers, board, or receivers will fix this problem with three RIMM systems. "Resonance effects are not limited to three RIMM systems, however, the effect here is much greater. There are reasons to believe that resonance problems can occur with two RIMM systems under extreme circumstances. It would literally take years of simulation time to simulate most of the possiblities," he adds. However, poorly designed boards will exhibit the problems more frequently than better designed boards, while server and workstation mobos (i840) are designed with more margin, and hence less chance of failure. He makes the somewhat interesting point that Caramel (i840) systems were not designed intelligently with the foresight that three RIMM busses would cause trouble. Instead, the i840 systems were designed with dual Rambus channels with two RIMMs per channel, and bus extenders when more modules were desired for greater size. Dual channels with two RIMMs each (four in total) is about all you can put in a standard form factor PC. "So the workstation chip boys lucked out," he says. Neverthless, he claims that i840 bus extender and memory riser technology is not as good as it might be. He reminds The Register of a story we wrote at IDF, pointing out that DDR, not Rambus, is the future for servers and for the Itanium Merced platform. And he also claims that Alfredo Moncayo, Physical Layer Architect for Rambus has left Intel. Moncayo invented the Rambus channel. This week, in the US, a paper on a 1.6Gb/s memory bus is being presented at a conference, in which Moncayo and Intel Rambus designer Michael Leddige will speak. According to the source, the mobo group that developed the Vancouver listened to technologists in Intel's platform architecture group, and so produced a design that didn't work. Mobo groups have to develop to the specs that PAL decides. Down at Intel Folsom, the chipset group implements the chipset design and creates the OEM design rules, so sitting in the middle of the minefield, while customers, including Dell and Compaq, with them. So while most RDRAM chips function, the i820 functions, the RIMMs function, and the systems were designed according to the right spec, the systems nevertheless fail because of fundamental problems in physics. Oh, and the 133MHz DRAM chipset interfaces do not meet the right timing in systems either. This, of course is architecture. And as we keep pointing out, that can differ from marchitecture... And talking of marchitecture... The dead hand of Chipzilla’s marketing goons appears to have fallen on the shoulder of the plucky US website taking early orders for Camino mobos. US outlet NECX Direct had full details of the Cape Cod and Vancouver mobos up on its site last week (see story Camino mobos go on sale), but the delayed (aka dysfunctional) Intel parts are now conspicuous by their absence. This calls into question Great Stan VP Paul Otellini’s somewhat rash claim that the i820 will ship before the end of the year.®
Business 25 08:26
But there's still some way to go...
US candidates have been rejected in the first round of new board elections for ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). The significance is that ICANN may end up not being under US control, as it has been, and will indeed evolve towards being an international body. At present, all five ICANN interim board members are from the USA. ICANN will play a major role in the future in the regulation of Internet names, so the political complexities are important. The Domain Name Supporting Organisation has now chosen three non-US members from 14 original candidates, four of whom were from the US. Prominent amongst those rejected were former Congressman Rick White, who was often called "the congressman from Microsoft". Nor did Donald Telage, a Network Solutions Inc VP, attract enough votes. NSI will be getting $6 for every .COM, .NET and .ORG, but not the $9 it sought. The successful candidates were Alejandro Pisanty, a Mexican academic who will serve a three-year term; Amadeu Abril i Abril a Spanish academic who gets two years; and Jonathan Cohen, a Canadian lawyer who will have power for just a year. The Internet Domain Name Owners organisation is not very happy at the latter two members, in a survey conducted before the DNSO vote. The Protocol Supporting Organisation and the Address Supporting Organisation have yet to vote, and there will also be votes for members-at-large. The next ICANN meeting will be in Los Angeles from 1-4 November, when it is to be hoped that the labyrinthine-structure will produce some concrete proposals for adoption. ®
Business 25 09:24
After a two year Internetifada...
Palestine now has its own .PS domain following more than two years of battling with the IRA (the Internet Registration Authority), as well as with the UN. It required a resolution of the UN General Assembly to get the suffix approved. There are around 34,000 PCs (mostly in the West Bank and in 7 per cent of Palestinian households) in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, about 8,000 online accounts with nine ISPs, and some 250,000 connected telephone lines. The Palestinian ISPs go through the Israeli Internet backbone. Cybercafés are proliferating because the average wage is only $300/month, making PCs too expensive for most people. The Carma Cyber Club in Ramallah reserves two of its 13 machines "for girls/women only". Birzeit University, 20 km south of Jerusalem, is Netscape-enhanced, although it says it plans to make the site IE-friendly as well. Substantial investment is anticipated, with estimates ranging from $350 million to $500 million over the next five years. There is a long way to go, since the largest software house in Palestine, Arab Technology Systems, only has 24 employees. Oracle and Siemens have established models for trilateral investments that involve Palestinians, Israelis and foreign investors. ®
Business 25 09:48
Large queue of investors join the Odd Couple in OpenTV
The AOL-Sun alliance seems to have chalked up another win in the interactive TV arena. Sun-backed software developer OpenTV has won investment from a clutch of broadcasting heavyweights, and at the same time has struck a software development deal with AOL. OpenTV was jointly owned by Sun and pay-TV outfit Myriad International Holdings, but has now added AOL, General Instrument, Liberty Digital, News Corporation and Time Warner to the shareholder roster. Sun also increased its shareholding, but MIH remains the majority shareholder. OpenTV's software uses Sun PersonalJava, as you might expect, and the company has deployed it on 13 networks worldwide. It has also licensed the software to 20 set-top box manufacturers. The new investment, which amounts to $31.25 million, will be used to fund further interactive TV application development. Via the AOL agreement OpenTV and AOL will implement AOL applications, including email and instant messaging, on OpenTV's platform. That furthers AOL's 'AOL Anywhere' goals, and at the same time may help the company to get its services accepted by broadcasting companies. Meanwhile, as AOL attempts to bridge the gap between Web and TV, Time Warner seems to be doing likewise from the other direction. Time Warner's Warner Bros. And Turner Broadcasting have also formed a software development alliance with OpenTV, the objective of this one being to develop and market interactive TV applications that add interactive information and e-commerce services to conventional TV programmes. ®
Business 25 10:30
Software Sites Windows 98 Central News, views, reviews and downloads Slashdot org Needs no further introduction WinDriversThe "No.1 Resource for Windows/Drivers". Who are we to disagree? ActiveWindows Well informed, broadly pro-Microsoft but very independent site IT-analysis.comAnalysts who know what they're talking about Shell Extension City Everything you need to enhance your Windows system
Business 25 11:07
It's not enough
A report in yesterday's Observer said that official statistics now showed there were two public relations personnel for every UK journalist. It's not enough, we say. In Intel's and Microsoft's case it's not true anyway. There's dozens of them... ®
Business 25 11:09
Digital PV brings Internet-esque data packets to PC-to-screen links
IBM, Toshiba, Sharp and Hitachi today announced that they will co-operate on the development of a new data transfer protocol that will allow computers to communicate with LCD screens via . Dubbed Digital PV Link, the technology will enable high-resolution displays to handle moving images rather better than they do right now, the four developers said. The idea behind the technology works something like this: by breaking down the image to be displayed into identifiable individual data packets, the data stream can be better optimised to enable the display to operate more efficiently. So, individual packets can be compressed to speed transmission, and packets need only been sent for sections of the image that have changed, again improving speed and maximising bandwidth. The packets will also be copy-protected, the companies said, and they confirmed Digital PV Link, as a data protocol, will work alongside existing digital interface standards. Digital PV Link's specification should be finalised around the middle of next year, and will be submitted to the current display-oriented standards bodies, including the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA), the Digital Display Working Group (DDWG) and the Digital Interface Standards for Monitors (DISM). ®
Business 25 11:13
Unmetered access 'will happen'
AOL UK wants to hand BT a wedge of cash to secure unmetered access to the Net for its 600,000 members in Britain. Speaking in the Sunday Business newspaper, Clare Gilbert, VP and general counsel AOL Europe, said: "It is my view that it is now a question of when -- and not if -- unmetered access will happen. "We have put together a proposal for the UK using an economist's model. This has been put to BT through one of our network providers and this is now being discussed internally," she said. A spokesman for BT said today he was unaware of AOL's approach. Only last week, Andreas Schmidt, AOL Europe's president and CEO, said the British UK economy would suffer long term damage unless the country changed its policy towards charging Net users for every second they spent online. Schmidt's words of warning came less than a month after AOL UK indefinitely postponed plans to introduce its own 0800 access package because of the regulatory framework in Britain. ® Related stories AOL UK users strike back AOL users are revolting
Business 25 11:23
Update: But receivers still want to sell CHS UK as going concern
CHS Electronics today saw an MBO bid launched to buy 51 per cent of the EMEA business. The new EMEA operation would be led by Mark Keough, currently chief operating officer for CHS Electronics worldwide. Keough said he had the backing of manufacturers who "unanimously view this as a positive move". The CHS board is due to discuss the offer in the US today. Meanwhile, CHS Electronics has put subsidiary Metrologie UK up for sale to try and salvage its UK sales arm. The distributor announced Friday that CHS Electronics Plc, a subsidiary of CHS Electronics Holdings in the UK, had been placed in receivership by creditor Deutsche Financial Services (DFS). Today it revealed it was in talks to sell Metrologie UK and parent company CHS Electronics Holdings to raise cash to remove the subsidiary from receivership. DFS is calling in a £17 million debt on CHS. This comprises of a loan of £12 million owed by CHS Electronics Plc, and a further £5 million from a loan to CHS Germany guaranteed by the UK PLC. According to a statement by Peter Rigby, CHS' marketing director, both loans are secured by receivables of £20 million. Debts to other creditors were not disclosed. Rigby said the move from DFS was "unexpected and unannounced", but that the sale of the two UK operations was expected to be finalised within the next 48 hours. He maintained that Karma UK was a separate business, so it was not for sale and would remain unaffected by the action. Both Metrologie UK and Karma UK were open for business this morning. CHS Electronics Plc has 260 staff, with around 160 of these based in Brentford, and the remainder in Woking. Staff were this morning looking for alternate jobs within the industry, sources said. Metrologie has around 160 staff in the UK. Rigby, who said his own position remained undecided due to these recent events, commented: "It is quite likely, and I am hopeful, that a buyer will be interested in keeping the staff." Receivers BDO Stoy Hayward said it was still seeking to sell the business as an ongoing concern, in a company statement. Simon Michaels, a partner at BDO Stoy Hayward, said: "CHS Electronics are a significant player in this market and can offer a substantial client base to a potential buyer." A BDO Stoy Hayward representative was unable to confirm names of bidders, but said there had been a number of potential buyers over the weekend. She confirmed that an announcement was expected later today. ®
Business 25 11:28
Two plus Two equals... er... Nine
BT is set to introduce reduced charges for dial-up Internet access, The Guardian reports today, although there appears to be some doubt whether this will happen or not. "Industry insiders" were the quoted as saying BT would make its move within the next couple of weeks, after coming under sustained pressure from industry and government to make changes to its pricing policy. Asked whether this was true, a spokesman for BT refused to comment on the story, hiding instead behind the stock phrase: "We don't comment on rumour or speculation." However, one BT insider said privately that he thought that such a move was unlikely. BT is always in discussion about its pricing plans, he said. It may well be that The Grauniad caught a whiff of one of these discussions, put two and two together, and got nine. Telco watchdog Oftel cast even more doubt on the validity of the story by confirming that BT had not been in contact concerning any tariff changes. According to its licensing agreement, BT has to give Oftel 28 days' notice on any pricing changes. A spokeswoman for Oftel confirmed today that no such notification had been received although she did say that the watchdog would welcome any price reduction. If BT is to introduce reduced tariffs for Net users, it seems unlikely to happen in the next fortnight. ® Related Story BT Lame Brain spills 0800 beans
Business 25 11:35
...but Compaq clawing its way back
Dell has beaten Compaq to the top slot in US PC sales for the first time, netting around 17.4 per cent of the market for Q3. According to IDC and Dataquest, Compaq saw its portion drop to 15.3 per cent, from 16.8 per cent last quarter. Dell's share grew from 16.4 per cent in Q2. The change took place as worldwide PC shipments grew 23.2 per cent to 28.5 million, according to Dataquest, and 25 per cent to 27.9 million, according to IDC. Compaq retained it number one position on global PC sales, with 13.8 per cent of the market, shipping 3.8 million units. Dell was a close second with 11.6 per cent, with sales of 3.2 million. Both IDC and Dataquest agreed on the placing of the top four vendors worldwide, with IBM in third place with 8.1 per cent, and Hewlett-Packard in fourth with 6.7 per cent. However, Dell lost the number one slot in the UK back to Compaq. Last quarter it overtook Compaq for the first time, with 18.5 per cent of sales. But figures out by UK research company Context today show that Compaq took 18.8 per cent of sales for Q3, from 15.8 per cent for Q2. Dell slipped to 17.1 per cent. Jeremy Davies, a senior partner at Context, told The Register that the cat and mouse games between the top two vendors would end, with Compaq the victor. "Dell's success is a seasonal blip. It has had its products there at the right time. It soaked up a lot of SME sales, and had finished its already finished its transition in portables, whereas Compaq has had top level changes and has been through a portable product refresh." However, Davies said Compaq’s broader product range and wider spread of customers would win through in the end. Analyst Charles Smulders, a PC analyst at Dataquest, agreed. He said: "As we get into the fourth quarter, it will be more difficult for Dell because Compaq has more consumer sales. That works in Compaq’s favour in the fourth quarter." ®
Business 25 12:57
Family-oriented ISP makes stand against child porn
British ISP UK Online is claiming the moral high ground in the fight against pornography and gambling on the Web. Its proprietary software filtering system, ChildCheck, now blocks more than 400,000 "inappropriate" Web sites and the company (part of the Easynet Group) claims the list is growing all the time. Its own team of human porn checkers scours the Web regularly in search of offensive material and it also relies on its users to report any unsuitable material. While ChildCheck won't stop children from trying to search for inappropriate material, it will stop them from accessing any sites that are contained on its blacklist. Greg Raymond of UK Online said: "We block just as many Web sites as other products and the service is free to users of UK Online." Unfortunately, it's not known how many "inappropriate" Web sites there are on the Net but there seems little doubt that there are rather more than 400,000. Last month, porn filtering veteran Net Nanny signed a distribution agreement with the Nationwide, which saw Britain's biggest building society offer the software to its customers at a discount. ® Full Register Net child porn coverage
Business 25 13:00
Chipzilla has been running unlicensed architecture all this time? Tsk...
Intel's next generation of 600MHz StrongARM processors has come a step closer to reality, via a licensing agreement the company has signed with ARM. The licence allows Intel to work with current versions of ARM architecture, and also with the forthcoming ARM 5TE. Intel first gave details of the next StrongARMs in March, and it's likely that these will be based on the 5TE, which has various enhancements, and which is referred to enigmatically in ARM's announcement today. Intel's next StrongARMs will run at 150-600MHz, delivering 185-750 MIPS while consuming 40-450 milliwatts. They will implement seven stage integer and eight stage memory pipelines to achieve high execution rates at fast clock speeds, and use dynamic branch prediction and extensive data bypassing to increase data throughput. The new licensing deal finally regularises Intel's position vis a vis ARM. Intel took delivery of StrongARM from DEC as part of the deal settling the latter's lawsuit against Intel. ARM itself wasn't involved in that particular deal, so although Intel ended up owning the most powerful implementation of ARM, the licensing situation remained up in the air. ® Related stories New NetWinder owner launches StrongARM-Linux server StrongARM safe in Intel's hands
Business 25 13:19
Fifteen CuMines a-processing and a partridge in a pear tree
Intel has now confirmed the introduction of a total of fifteen Pentium III and Pentium III Xeons using its .18 micron (Coppermine) technology and supplied prices. At the same time, it has cut prices on its existing .25 micron parts (tinmine?) which will be phased out as soon as it can convert its factories to the newer and faster process. It's something of a relief to all of us here at The Register, because it means we won't have to write about it for a while. But that's probably only for a short while... As revealed here earlier, the products include Pentium IIIs which use a socket 370 configuration, as well as the introduction of a 733MHz Pentium III. Price supplied below by Intel are for people who buy the chips in 1,000 units. The Xeon pricing is as follows: A 733 MHz with 256k cache costs $826, a 667 MHz 256k cache costs $655, and a 600 MHz 256k cache costs $505. Desktop Pentium III prices are as follows: 733 MHz costs $776, a 700 MHz $754, a 667 MHz chip $605, a 650 MHz processor $583, and the 600MHz costs $455. The S370 550 MHz costs $368, while the S370 500MHz part costs 500 MHz $239, A 533MHz SECC2 chip costs $305. The introduction of the Coppermine chips means prices of the older .25 micron processors will fall. The 600 MHz now costs $465, the 550MHz $348, the 533MHz $316, the 500MHz chip $229, and the 450MHz parts $173. Intel has also dropped the prices of its Celeron processors, although we expect further changes in November. The .25 micron 500MHz part costs $143, the 466MHz part $94, and the 433MHz part $73. On the mobile front, Intel has introduced two Coppermine parts, and so dropped the price of its existing 400MHz .18 PIII/mobile, which is Gulag bound. The 500 MHz mobile costs a hefty $530, while the 450 MHz mobile costs a not quite so hefty $348. The existing 400MHz part also costs $348. These will be seen in ultra slim notebooks and use ball grid array technology to connect to notebook mobos. Again as expected, Chipzill introduced its i840 workstation/server chipset. Intel made a definitive statement that the i820 will be introduced this year rather than next. In the meanwhile, the new desktop processors use the 810E chipset and the 440BX/ZX chipsets -- if you can get hold of them. They're on allocation. And Chipzilla also confirmed the change in nomenclature to help manufacturers, distributors and dealers tell the difference between Pentium IIIs running at .25 micron and those at .18 micron. The E designation applies to .18 micron while the B designation applies to processors which can make use of a 133MHz system bus. However, while PC manufacturers and the channel may find these designations helpful in steering through the minefield of 90 or so Pentium based chips which Intel currently sells, consumers will have no such luck. There will be no huge Coppermine branding exercise by either Intel or its PC customers in the run up to Christmas, so the best thing to do if you are buying a machine is to carefully note the details above and ask the sales people whether the PC or PCs you are buying are Coppermine enabled, how much cache they have, and whether they use the 133MHz front side bus. If they don't know or are unwilling to tell you, think carefully. Various sites and magazines which have signed the non disclosure agreements are already reporting performance increases of up to 25 per cent on the new Coppermine parts. Even though we can now leave Coppermine alone, it will only be for a little while. We still believe that a 800MHz Coppermine Pentium III is imminent and sources within Intel tell us that the speeds will continue to ramp. ® Related stories Mesh PC spec confirms Coppermine features Dabs Direct also jumps gun on Intel Coppermines
Business 25 15:00
No place to hide for running dog lackeys of Net capitalism
Internet companies and investors who have already invested in China could get their financial fingers burnt to a smouldering stump if communist administrators carry out a threat to block foreign investment. A senior telco official with the Ministry of Information Industry, Zhang Cunjiang, told English language publication China Daily that it is looking to block all future foreign investment in the country's emerging Net market. It is also considering a move which could make such legislation retrospective, threatening the investment already in place from companies such as AOL and Lycos. "We cannot ignore the disordered situation in the current Internet financing market, which is dominated by foreign investors," Zhang Cunjiang said. "Those already invested here must bear full responsibility for losses caused by clashes with government policies," he said. Only last month information industry minister, Wu Jichuan, said that investment in the Internet by foreign companies was illegal under Chinese law. ®
Business 25 15:11
All-in-one, multi-colour design says it all
Fujistu has become the latest PC vendor to hop onto the iMac bandwagon, with a machine that, like eMachines eOne and Future Power's ePower, apes Apple's all-in-one multi-hued desktop to such an extent that it could land the Japanese giant in court. Fujitsu's MFV DeskPower Pliche 243 is based on a 433MHz Celeron CPU and ships with a 10.2GB hard drive, 192MB RAM, USB ports, ATI Rage Mobility (in a desktop?) graphics, CD-ROM drive. Alas, not being Japanese readers we can't quite make out all the details of the machine's configuration, But it's not its spec. that draws attention -- rather it's its uncanny resemblance to a squashed iMac. Such a similarity between the iMac and PCs from eMachines and Future Power this summer set Apple's lawyers onto both companies in their home territory of Taiwan, in the US and, in eMachines' case, against its Japanese distributor, Sotec. Subsequently, eMachines modified its machine at Sotec's insistence and eliminated the eOne's blue and white two-tone colour scheme in favour of a uniform gloss-grey look -- a colour scheme that, in some respects, resembles Apple's newest iMac, the high-end iMac DV Special Edition. No wonder Apple Japan is believed to be deciding whether the machine still infringes Apple's trademarks, as the Mac maker claimed the original eOne did. Perhaps Fujitsu can now expect a similar reaction from Apple. Ironically, last year when Fujitsu began shipping the first models in the Pliche line, while they too sported an all-in-one case design, they bore little resemblance to the iMac. ®
Business 25 15:40
Software fault blamed
NTL customers in the South of England were without cable services last night. Users in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire began to experience problems with NTL's voice and data services from around 8pm last night. Services disappeared completely between 10pm last night and 10am this morning. The cable company today blamed a software fault caused by too many people trying use its services. Which must be a comfort to the multitudes of frustrated customers who found the only support number constantly engaged during the fault. An NTL representative said there had been a problem with one of the GC Marconi switches. "There were too many calls for the switch to handle," he said. People were unable to get through to NTL's 0800 number because the software then automatically started call gapping. The representative insisted the whole event was a "fairly rare occurrence", dismissing it as "not a massive event". He said the equipment was doing what it should have done, but that similar incidents should not arise in the future because a software upgrade had been put in place. Although it was reported that as many as 500,000 people suffered from the disrupted services, NTL maintained that its number users in the two regions was only 54,000. NTL has over one million residential customers and around 40,000 business customers in the UK. ®
Business 25 16:16
That's the rumour -- and it makes a lot of sense
Apple could be preparing to push even further up the direct sales route, according to sources. Actually, it's "several sources and knowledgeable readers" of Web site MacOS Rumors, which doesn't sound at all like a sufficient number to suggest the "very strong body of evidence", but we suspect they may have a point here. The sources claim that Apple is planning to move its education sales into the direct space, in the process letting its education channel go. That's the first stage in the company's plan to shift all its sales to the online AppleStore and its long-prepared Apple retail presence. The only traditional channel such a move would leave are the existing large-scale Apple retailers -- though they may well bail out of the Mac once Apple launches stores of its own. Other resellers may be allowed to continue to offer Apple product -- they "will be carefully integrated into our plans going forward", according to one "highly placed Apple source" cited by MacOS Rumors. Now, while there is as yet no other evidence to confirm any of this, it does appear to tie in broadly with the direction Apple has been moving in under Steve Jobs. Jobs' priority has long been to get not only the cost of sale down but to increase Apple's margins, and the successful launch of the AppleStore has helped here by cutting out some of the middlemen. Such is the momentum behind online sales in general and IT online sales in particular that the AppleStore's sales will continue to grow, almost exclusively at the cost of traditional resellers, even if Apple doesn't modify its strategy in any way. That it will increase its focus on the direct channel is clear from Apple's ongoing 'maximise revenue at all costs' strategy. Big production outsourcing deals cuts costs, cutting out resellers increases the cut Apple takes. Moves like the decision to make it difficult for users to upgrade CPUs instead of buying new computers suggest that Apple is sufficiently bottom-line driven now to be willing to sacrifice its reseller channel. Of course, many resellers add so little value to a sale these days -- and with fewer of them, price competition isn't what it was -- that's unlikely to be too much of an issue for most buyers. However, that does leave those customers seeking solutions rather than commodity boxes, and buyers requiring maintenance and repair services, out in the cold. Again, much of this can actually be handled through an expanded AppleStore, as Dell has shown. But here we also have Apple's long rumoured retail presence a la Gateway. When your kit is sold on the basis of looks as much as performance, you need a better way of showing them off than a series of newspaper ads for your online sales service. And -- bingo! -- this neatly allows Apple to retain many of its better-located resellers by opening up AppleCentres (or whatever they end up being called) to franchise deals. True, Apple starts losing money to the middlemen, but with fewer such operations that's less of an issue, and Apple could take full whack on its own products, leaving franchisees to make ends meet on consultancy and third-party product sales. Apple can also ensure that all such stores look and feel the same -- and we all know how keen Apple is on a consistent look and feel -- and provide the same customer experience. Neatly, it also allows Apple to provide that "careful integration" of existing partners into its plans, as MacOS Rumors' source put it and still get the most out of the channel. The template here is Apple UK's AppleCentre programme, although right now this appears to be run along more traditional grounds -- better margins in exchange for toeing the company line on look and feel -- than the franchise model. The real parallel, though, is perhaps Gap, which goes deeper than simply having Gap CEO Mikey Drexler on Apple's board (and Jobs on Gap's board). Gap is fundamentally an image company, selling a look and feel more than a product (begin to sound familiar?) and one that goes beyond simple branding. Design is part of that, and so is stressing the company's difference from other clothing retailers. Having its own stores to sell its own products comes into the deal too. Meanwhile, Gap is ruthless in keeping its cost of sale right down. Not so long ago, the UK's Independent on Sunday newspaper revealed Gap's use of sweatshop third-world labour. That's not to say all of its clothing is produced in such conditions, but it indicates how it likes massive outsourcing deals to cut the cost of production right down. Apple's contract with LG Electronics to produce almost all of the world's iMacs runs along broadly the same lines. Unlike Gap, Apple still appears to want to have its products sold alongside competitors', but as its retail plan takes shape, that could easily change. ® Related Stories Apple ponders own US retail chain
Business 25 16:25
Hoax alerts users to an 'unrequired' mod that MS nevertheless 'recommends'
When Microsoft and Peter Norton's people do not agree on a Y2K issue, whose side will you be on? Just this situation developed when anonymous chain emails recently warned of a Y2K problem right in the heart of Windows default date format. The mails claimed that the "short date format WILL NOT rollover in the year 2000. It will roll over to 00". According to the mail, this may have consequences in actual application software in millions of systems worldwide. Although the mails I've seen were not rude or faked, Microsoft calls those mails "hoax" in a page on the Microsoft site. The page is titled Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT Year 2000 e-mail hoax and quotes an email similar to the ones I received, albeit slightly more anti-Microsoft. Putting forward a list of "Facts about Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT and Y2K," Microsoft says the two-digit format is a display-only format, has no effect on the stored data, and that changing the year setting to four-digit and curing the date format situation "are not required actions and do not have to be performed in order to obtain compliance". In another page, introducing Y2K issues, Microsoft bundles up the Y2K email with virus email, and urges home and small business users to "delete it or report to the sender's Internet Service Provider". Unfortunately, although it was supposedly widely distributed, Microsoft could not give me an example of an actual email message that contained the Y2K date format message and was maliciously infected. Giga Information, which backed Microsoft on this issue, was not able to forward an actual mail message either. I did get a couple of such mails from users, and those I checked did not include any malicious code. They were simply messages, perhaps uncomfortable to Microsoft, but not viral. It gets better. The phenomenon the mail describes, and Microsoft denies, is quite familiar to many users of Norton 2000 -- as is the procedure to fix it. Like the "hoax" email, Norton 2000 -- a Symantec Y2K diagnostic application -- warns the user against having two-digit year dates in the Windows short date format found under Regional Settings in Windows' control panel. Like the "hoax" email, Norton 2000 suggests changing this format. I asked Symantec's people for their reaction to Microsoft calling a Symantec-recommended, Norton-branded procedure a "hoax". "As is often the case, they are mincing words quite fine," said Colleen McKenna of Symantec. McKenna further noted that even at the end of its "hoax" statement Microsoft explicitly recommends adjusting the same date format, an action described on the same Microsoft page as "unrequired". Symantec's people insist the issue may have a very real effect on data export/import from databases, spreadsheets etc. "Norton 2000 recommends expanding the year in this format to four digits, and for good reasons. Namely, to avoid ambiguous dates in reports generated by Microsoft Office programs, which can be used in transferring data to other systems which will disambiguate them in an unintended way." I did a little experiment myself, exporting and re-importing data from Microsoft Excel with the clock set to a future date, and indeed some actions lead to corruption of data. The core of the matter seems to be Microsoft's definition of Y2K compliance, which is not universally shared. "Microsoft's definition of Y2K compliance seems to cheerfully accept ambiguous dates," said a Symantec spokesperson. "The raison d'etre of Norton 2000 is to make the user aware of such issues, regardless of whether or not the software in question technically complies with the vendor's definition of Y2K compliance." Microsoft's representatives in Israel insisted that the concern is unjustified, and that by "hoax" Microsoft really meant not that the email alert was wrong in itself, but that it was wrong in creating a nonchalant attitude. That kind of attitude, warned one Mr Weisfeld, in charge of Y2K readiness in Microsoft Israel, may make users wrongly assume the control panel date format is the only thing needed to be fixed in Windows, and having fixed it, that they're all set to cross Y2K. Instead, he strongly recommended using Microsoft's special CD or following procedures recommended in Microsoft's Y2K site. "Our system is already Y2K compliant", he said, "but you can improve your Y2K compliance by using the special CD, which carries out some minor fixes." (Register quote of the week? -- Ed) According to Weisfeld, those minor fixes include a problem in Wallet, an e-commerce component of Explorer which currently won't accept "valid until" credit card dates later than 1999. Oh, and another minor thing -- it fixes the control panel date format problem too. ®
Business 25 16:43
SiS adds chipset support, so look to your laurels, Chipzilla
AMD introduced its 700MHz Athlon processor today, as expected, and quietly trashed the big surprise Chipzilla was hoping for with the introduction of its Coppermine PIII chips by cutting prices on others in the range. Our information is that the 750MHz Athlon will now be introduced in late November. And AMD scored a further feather in its anti-Intel cap, as chipset company SiS has just announced it will support Athlon processors too. The top of the range Pentium III killer, the 700MHz Athlon, costs $666 in quantity. The 650MHz part now costs $510, the 600MHz part $406, the 550MHz Athlon $269 and the 500MHz Athlon price remains the same. AMD is expected to follow its scaleability curve soon with an 800MHz processor, coming very soon. Most hardware sites that have compared the Athlon processor with the new Cu-mine intros give AMD's chip the edge on floating point performance, despite Intel's higher (and probably overclocked) 733MHz part. Motherboard support is also coming onstream. The Asus motherboard is now selling in Japan and other third-party products are expected shortly. ® Related story Copper Athlon hits 900MHz, AMD cranks 1GHz-plus production
Business 25 16:45
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