26th > October > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Bug in 733MHz Coppermine? No one has stocks anyway…

Updated Authoritative German magazine c't is reporting that there could be a bug in Intel's latest flagship desktop chip, the 733MHz 0.18 micron Pentium III. But Intel says that the problem is down to the defect in the i820 chipset the magazine used to test the Coppermine chip. In the latest printed edition of the magazine, which reviews the Coppermine processor, the magazine reports compiler optimisation errors using both Intel and Microsoft software. The magazine apparently also reports hardware errors, possibly related to the brand new L1/L2 cache in the top end chip. The SPEC suite test computed false results about every 20th run. But whether there's a bug or not, the entire question may be totally academic. The largest distributors of Intel chips in the world don't have stocks of the newest part. Ingram and Tech Data don't even list the processors yet, while Hallmark and Keylink, although they list them on their dealer lists, say they don't have any stock. An Intel UK representative said: "We're expecting a very strong demand this quarter and we'll meet all backlogs. The supply line is tight, we're not denying that." A representative from Intel Germany claimed that the problem was due to the i820 (Caminogate) chipset. "I'm very confident about that," he said. He said that the software errors did not occur when 666MHz and 600MHz were used on the same motherboard, and that the problem did not occur with competitive, third-party products. Intel refers to problems with its processors as errata, not bugs, except in the famous case of the Pentium bug, where the cock-up was disingenuously referred to as a flaw. Whether this reported problem is down to the i820 chipset or the 733MHz processor, errata are fairly common in recently released processors. ®
The Register breaking news

Pssst… wanna buy a Camino mobo?

The dead hand of Chipzilla's marketing goons appears to have fallen on the shoulder of the plucky US Web site 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 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. ®
The Register breaking news

‘No catch’ 0800 access opens for UK business

A North American company that took on the might of Canada's ruling monopoly telco -- and won -- has come to Britain to go head-to-head with BT. North American Gateway (NAG), which boasted a turnover of $145 million last year, has teamed up with mobile phone retailer Phones4u, F1 Racing magazine and British ISP CallNet to offer "no catch" 24/7 0800 access to the Internet. It will also offer users 30 per cent discount on all calls -- including those made abroad and to mobiles. NAG claims that unlike other so-called "free access" deals there are no minimum spend requirements, no minimum contract period, no sign-up fees or additional line rentals. All users have to do is register their details. The company reckons it will have 200,000 users by Christmas. The new 0800 service, CallNet0800, is due to go live on 1 November and, unlike other services, it appears that people could use the unmetered service without ever routing their calls through NAG. "Then again, why would they want to?" said David Craddock, business development director at NAG. He said people would be mad not use the discount, considering the savings to be made. The "no catch" 0800 access to the Net could be enticing for Net users in Britain. Battle-hardened and suitably cynical about such so-good-to-be-true services, it will be interesting to see how British Net users react to the offer. Peter Gbedemah, North American Gateway's CEO of Europe, said: "We have the technology and financial muscle to offer a quality of service that rivals British Telecom, even if every single household in the United Kingdom registers for CallNet 0800." There's no need to read between the lines on this one. Gbedemah is having a pop directly at Britain's monster telco. It seems the 0800 service is its preferred way to create a customer base. But is this a flamboyant claim from an upstart happy to do anything to gain column inches, or one that could genuinely alter the landscape of the telecoms market in Britain? According to the blurb on its Web site, NAG took a leading role against the "monopolistic domination within the [Canadian] telecommunications industry" back in 1994. "Its efforts were rewarded in December of 1997 when the Canadian regulatory body reversed an earlier anti-competitive decision and liberalised the Canadian market to the benefit of the consumer. "North American Gateway is now poised to deliver on the opportunities this decision represents," says the Web site. It's assumed this now means Britain. A spokesman for BT said he hadn't heard of NAG but welcomed any competition "as long as it was fair". The BT spokesman was not alone; a telecoms analyst from a leading firm also admitted he had never heard of the company. Nick Gibson of Durlacher, on the other hand, was one of a few analysts who had heard of NAG. He said the 24/7 0800 service was an "interesting offer" but was unsure whether NAG would be able to make any inroads in the British marketplace. "NAG will find it more difficult here than in Canada," he said. ® For the full story on UK ISPs, check out The Register's Guide to Flat-fee ISPs
The Register breaking news

Micron secures $20bn DRAM deal with Compaq

Micron Technology yesterday announced a five-year deal to provide Compaq with chips for its PCs. Through the move, the US chip vendor will become Compaq's single biggest provider of memory. It will supply almost the majority of Compaq's memory products worldwide, Micron said. The two US giants were keeping the financial details under wraps, but industry sources were reported to be valuing the deal at up to $20 billion. Compaq also said it intended to keep its existing levels of memory in PCs. The deal will protect it from chip shortages hitting the rest of the industry. "Compaq is committed to maintaining performance standards across our PC product line," said Ed Straw, senior VP of Compaq supply chain management. "We will not compromise the fundamental performance of our PCs." Compaq said the deal with Micron would ensure future availability of memory components in its PCs. This follows last week's announcement from rival Dell that it would either encourage customers to buy PCs will less memory, or raise prices on certain products, following chip shortages. The direct selling vendor also warned that a memory product shortfall would affect its profits for Q3. ®
The Register breaking news

MS makes U-turn on MVP programme shutdown

Microsoft has reversed its decision to dump its Most Valuable Professional Program, announcing yesterday that it would reinstate the programme "as a result of feedback from customers and MVPs". But the memo to MVPs from Joseph Lindrom, Microsoft director of business development, claimed that it was "due to customer feedback, and requests for more direct Microsoft involvement" that Microsoft was dumping its MVPs. Of course there was no real change in the customer feedback, but there had been a substantial reaction from MVPs, and some adverse publicity. There are apparently around 600 MVPs, so claims that there were "thousands of e-mails" from MVPs to Microsoft, as claimed on their Web site, was somewhat over-the-top. Perhaps Microsoft's greater mistake was to suggest that MVPs would be replaced by "Microsoft support professionals", which strongly suggested that MVPs were not "professional" (since MVPs are invited to become MVPs as a result of their useful participation in Microsoft newsgroups). Perhaps some MVPs considered that their status, awarded by the school of very hard knocks, was a substitute for not having formal computer science qualifications. The truth of the situation is somewhat different from what Microsoft is suggesting. Microsoft products need a great deal of support and the company could not provide the level of support that MVPs were providing, because it would simply be uneconomical. MVPs function as cheerleaders at product launches and trade shows, rather like a hired audience. They are paid in kind in the shape of "MVP bucks", which can be used to buy Microsoft-logo products, for example. They also get subscriptions to MSDN and TechNet (and stingy Microsoft even said it would cancel the subscriptions). In addition, MVP's MSN accounts would "no longer be operational". There were probably legal concerns that influenced Microsoft's desire to axe their MVPs. There was always the possibility that some MVPs would seek legal recognition as adjunct Microsoft employees and might win additional benefits through the courts, as happened with Microsoft's permatemp legionnaires. Microsoft PR is trying to play the matter as an example of what a caring, responsive company it is, but although the decision was reversed, the smell lingers on. MVPs now know exactly how "valuable" Microsoft thinks they are. All this raises some interesting questions about vendor support groups. It must be strange to outsiders that vendors are successful in motivating people to help essentially unpaid with product support. So far as MVPs are concerned, they divide into perhaps two groups. The first consists of consultants and the like who might profit from the value they perceived in being recognised in newsgroups as knowledgeable about problems with Microsoft products, and thereby attract paying clients. The second group probably gains most from the "strokes" they receive as a result of helping people. Although both of these factors also apply in the case of Team OS/2 and Linux supporters, there is an additional very strong motivation focused on a strong aversion to Microsoft's products and business practices. They see themselves as freedom fighters and are thus probably more altruistic than MVPs. The Halloween memos showed how concerned Microsoft is about their contribution. ®
The Register breaking news

US spammer flouts British court restraining order

A US spammer is still bombarding Net users with thousands of junk e-mails a week despite being the subject of an interim court order against him.
The Register breaking news

Solaris on IA-64 is undead

Fujitsu Siemens' decision to go with its own SPARC chip in its servers, rather than Sun's UltraSPARC III or Intel's Itanium (aka Merced) caused some of the UK's more rabid hacks to blether on about the death of Solaris on IA-64. However, Sun itself, with a little help from Chipzilla engineers, has quietly got on with it and announced that Solaris has now successfully booted on early samples of Itanium at Intel's labs in Beaverton, US. "With Solaris now running on the Itanium processor, Sun has achieved another key milestone [What exactly were the other ones? -- Ed] on our IA-64 road map," said Rich Green, VP of Sun's Solaris Products Group. While Sun goes on at some length about the whole reason for the port being to protect customer investments, etc, etc, it doesn't hide the fact that the software bits of Sun have always had a pretty cosy relationship with Intel, probably a good deal cosier than Smiling Scott McNealy would like. Asking Sun if Solaris on Merced marks the beginning of the end for the proprietary SPARC architecture meets with a firm official "No", but with Sun belonging to a fast-shrinking band of non-IA vendors, how long can the inevitable be put off? Does anyone remember SGI's vehement protestations of maintaining hardware independence last year? ®
The Register breaking news

Solaris on IA64 'is dead'…oh no it isn't

Fujitsu Siemens' decision to go with its own SPARC chip in its servers, rather than Sun's UltraSPARC III or Intel's Itanium (aka Merced) caused some of the UK's more rabid hacks to blether on about the death of Solaris on IA64. However, Sun itself, with a little help from Chipzilla engineers, has quietly got on with it and announced that Solaris has now successfully booted on early samples of Itanium at Intel's labs in Beaverton, US. "With Solaris now running on the Itanium processor, Sun has achieved another key milestone (What exactly were the other ones? - Ed) on our IA-64 road map," said Rich Green, vice president, of Sun's Solaris Products Group. While Sun goes on at some length about the whole reason for the port being to protect customer investments etc etc, it doesn't hide the fact that the software bits of Sun have always had a pretty cosy relationship with Intel, probably a good deal cosier than Smiling Scott McNealy would like. Asking Sun if Solaris on Merced marks the beginning of the end for the proprietary SPARC architecture meets with a firm official 'No', but with Sun belonging to a fast-shrinking band of non-IA vendors, how long can the inevitable be put off? Does anyone remember Silicon Graphics' vehement protestations of maintaining hardware independence last year? ®
The Register breaking news

Register site news: links update

Our links page is undergoing an long overdue makeover. Register links are not meant to be comprehensive -- There are hundreds of superb "amateur" or semi-pro IT sites out there that knock the socks off the supposedly professional competition. But we don't have the time, the space or the energy to list them all. We've decided to ditch the vendor links, as we figure you can go find the manufacturers by yourself. Out go some dead links, and out go some sites we don't like anymore. In come some new software sites, including the estimable WinDrivers and ActiveWin. On the gamers side we welcome Barry's World and Blues News. Also trawl through AGN Hardware, a useful mix of hardware news, views and reviews and games too. If you like computer games you'll love these sites. And we include news aggregators NewsNow, Newslinx and Geekboys for the first time. In coming weeks we'll be adding links to useful Net and channel sites. You can check out all the above mentioned by clicking here. ®
The Register breaking news

IBM extends Aptiva retail ban to Europe

IBM has taken steps to pull its Aptiva range of PCs from retail in EMEA to concentrate on Web sales. From January, retailers in EMEA will only be able to get IBM consumer products through distribution. The move follows Big Blue's announcement last week that it would stop putting the Aptiva consumer PCs on store shelves in the US from January. At the time, IBM said the decision would only hit the US. But sources at IBM today confirmed that the EMEA region would also be affected from the start of next year. The US vendor will also stop providing marketing support for retailers in EMEA. "Right now we do not have the right formula to make Aptiva successful in the retail channel in some geographies around the world," the company admitted. The only countries in EMEA in which IBM will continue to sell the PCs via retail will be Spain and Germany. No other country, including the UK, will be able to source consumer desktops and portables directly from IBM. The company said: "At a minimum, IBM will continue to offer ThinkPad i-Series via external channels, and retailers will be able to buy products from distributors." IBM also said it was "investigating" selling direct over the Web. "We will put this in place as each national market requires and will announce once we are ready." The moves are related to IBM's worldwide reorganisation to stem costs in its PC business. In 1998 its PC business lost around $1 billion, and in the first six months of this year it lost $239 million. ®
The Register breaking news

ATI readies Rage 128-based mobile part

ATI has begun sampling its next-generation notebook-oriented graphics accelerator, based on its Rage 128 Pro chip. The Rage Mobility 128 is due to ship in volume early next year and will be, in the company's words, the fastest notebook accelerator chip available throughout 2000. A proud boast, to be sure. ATI backs it up with the claim that the chip runs 60 per cent and 20 per cent faster than rival products in 3D and 2D tasks, respectively. ATI needs to stress the speed advantage, given that its strategy centres on the idea that most notebooks are high-end products, so both buyers and vendors want high-performance systems. That's very different from the desktop arena, where 3D acceleration has become just one more commodity. The high end equals, of course, high margins, and ATI is opting for high-price parts, which again requires it to play the performance card. ATI will offer the Rage Mobility 128 for around $45 -- rather higher than today's average of $21, according to EE Times. Whether ATI can achieve that kind of price point, and maintain its performance claims, will depend on its rivals, who have already scented the profits to be made in the notebook market. ATI's old enemy, S3, is active this arena, and its Savage MX will be six months old by the time the Rage Mobility 128 ships, and in the graphics business, that means it's ready for replacement. And market leader NeoMagic is unlikely to rest on its laurels, and has a high-end replacement for its MagicGraph 128XD part already in the works. ® Related Story ATI posts modest growth for Q4 1999
The Register breaking news

Is an i810e mobo a good buy?

The Taiwanese manufacturers we met at Computex earlier this year gave a great collective yawn to Intel's big 810 push. That yawn turned into a snarl when repeated problems with the initial iteration meant problems for those mobo makers who decided to give it a whirl. So now the i810e chipset is in place, is it being welcomed with open arms? The answer appears to be no. The chipset is aimed at the relatively high-end of the market, and supports Pentium IIIs and close cousin of the Pentium II, the Celeron. But the 810e feature set is such that those people who buy a machine might get very frustrated, and very quickly. Having a bright shiny fast Pentium III sitting in your desktop is fine, but from time to time, many PC users play games and this chipset is not really the best there is on offer. The chipset uses the ill-fated i740 graphics chip, which most of the gaming community considers to be not particularly groovy. Further, these low spec integrated graphics do not provide the option to upgrade to AGP video support. In other words, there is no AGP slot support. There is, however, a long list of vendors including some of the biggest who make systems that use the i810e chipset. When Tom's Hardware Page looked at the chipset earlier this year, it concluded that the i810 "could soon fall short in performance". That now seems to have come to pass. So if it's games you'll be playing on your PC, check which bit of circuitry is inside the box. The i810e does, however, have one advantage. It supports the 133MHz front side bus. And until Intel ships the i820, that will have to do unless you want to buy the OR840... ®
The Register breaking news

Smart money still on Rambus Ink

The share price of memory company Rambus hovered just below the $70 mark yesterday after precipitous falls in its value since June. But analysts, both financial and technological, believe that the Rambus platform is still likely to dominate the market and could do so within a year. Although attention has been focused on Rambus because of Intel's failure to ship product supporting it, Richard Gordon, senior memory analyst at Dataquest Europe, thinks that it will eventually pull through. He said that technologies such as DDR, a souped up version of PC100/PC133 memories, were likely to disappear. "DDR is really just an interim measure on the way to Rambus," he said. "It's not as scaleable." The interim technologies were likely to appear and disappear. His view is that over the next three quarters the market is likely to see Rambus memory technology start to appear in some volumes. "Sooner or later, Rambus will win out," he said. And he expects it to become the mainstream technology by the end of next year. However, at the moment it's pretty hard to get hold of RIMMs. John Byrne, co-managing director of Vanguard in the UK, said that the demand does not yet exist because of the lack of platforms. And Sukh Rayat, managing director of electronics component distributor Flashpoint, agreed that at present there was little demand. That could change when Intel gets its act together on the i820 chipset. Gordon said that the technology itself does not have any inherent problems and memory manufacturers will cut the prices on Rambus memory when demand begins to climb. ®
The Register breaking news

Red Hat selects Ingram for Europe

It's hotting up on the European commercial Linux scene. Linux vendor Red Hat has selected mass market IT wholesaler Ingram Micro to distribute its software in Europe. And German contender SuSe is opening its first UK office "in the Greater London area". From today, Ingram will distribute the full range of Red Hat's Linux solutions. These include Red Hat Linux for Intel, Alpha and Sparc platforms, Red Hat Standard 6.1 and Deluxe 6.1. Resellers will also have access to support packs and services for Red Hat Linux 6.1 based software. The products are currently available through Ingram in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, with plans to extend the scheme to Belgium, Finland and France. Red Hat’s European business, based in Surrey, was opened in July. ®
The Register breaking news

Freeserve icircles around women's portal

Freeserve is underwriting the cost of a new women-focused portal designed to compete with the likes of Handbag.com and Charlottestreet.com. Although the people behind iCircle.com think it will draw readers from all over the Web, its first job will be to cash in on the 700,000 or so women who already use Freeserve to access the Net. Health, babies and relationships are among the five sections catering for what Britain's biggest ISP maintains is a growing female Net audience. But those behind the new service deny it is being patronising [should that be 'matronising'? - Ed] to women. "Research shows that women use the Web differently from men, most typically using it to rapidly find solutions to otherwise time-consuming problems," said Sarah Carpenter, VP strategy at Freeserve. The service will generate income through advertising and e-commerce sales. ®
The Register breaking news

Congress meddles with cybersquatters

There's a lot happening this week on the cybersquatting front. Different interests are lobbying in Washington over the House Bill intended to stop cybersquatting, which is being considered today. Trademark holders like the Motion Picture Association of America members are trying to push the Bill, while the Association for Computing Machinery thinks that the powers proposed in the Bill would be too great and undermine the legitimate rights of domain-name holders, even if the domain name included a trademark. The House Bill provides for damages of up to $100,000 for against domain name registrants held to have acted in bad faith, while a Senate Bill already passed provides for criminal penalties. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works went down 3-0 (judges, not goals) in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday when the dismissal of its suit against Network Solutions for registering domain names including "skunk works", a Lockheed service mark, was upheld. Whether the "skunk" refers to an animal that emits an unpleasant smell when threatened, or an exceptionally strong variety of marijuana, we do not know, but the maker of war planes has spent more than three years on the case. It's hard to believe that the average consumer would be confused when buying F-22 fighters online, or even the new space shuttle that is being designed there. Lockheed might have done itself a favour if it had followed NSI's post-registration dispute-resolution procedure by submitting a certified copy of a trademark registration to NSI, which puts the alleged cybersquatter in the position of having to prove its right to use the name, or have it cancelled. NSI did not succeed in getting its lawyer's fees paid by Lockheed because the appellate court decided that the appeal was not an "exceptional case" under the 1946 Lanham Trademark Act. The lack of any formal, legal link between trademark registers and domain names is causing a considerable problem for companies wishing to protect their intellectual property. It is a saga that has been going on for many years. In the UK, it has been possible to register company names containing trademarks, or identical with trademarks, without any come-back. Although the date of first use and registration date is generally supposed to be the key arbiter, in many cases might is proving right because of the considerable legal costs involved in any defence. The problem is that trademark registration frequently takes a year or more, whereas domain name applicants expect an almost instant service. In the US, the prospect of loads of intellectual property litigation is going to make lawyers even richer, but outside the USA, gun law will likely prevail. There will be domain-name havens, like tax havens, beyond the reach of US law that allow all manner of trickery to be continued. Consequently, the situation can only be controlled through an international organisation like ICANN, which will be issuing rules that registrants must agree to before the domain name is accepted, and having the ability to block cybersquatters. ICANN is proposing that trademark disputes be settled by an arbitration centre rather than the courts. It is doubtful whether any amelioration can be provided retrospectively, so the courts would still need to be used to regain domain names registered in bad faith. There's a curious footnote to our tale yesterday about the mountain bike domain name that was upsetting Morgan Stanley. It transpires that Morgan Stanley is itself being sued over the name it has chosen for its new investment strategies publication - The Macro Navigator. Clark Management Capital Group has a bunch of trademarks for its financial advisory services, and a newsletter called The Navigator Report. That's not quite all: before Morgan Stanley merged with Dean Witter, ms.com would not take you to Microsoft (it now goes to msdw.com), but to Morgan Stanley. Strange that Microsoft did not sort that one out. ® What the Hell is a Skunk Work? Full coverage/cyber squatting
The Register breaking news

MS, Intel to drive Dow Jones stock index

Microsoft and Intel, both traded on Nasdaq, will be included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1 November. This is the first time companies not traded on the New York Stock Exchange have been included in the Dow. The intention is to give the technology and communications sector more representation on the 103-year-old stock average. Home Depot and SBC Communications are also being added. It's farewell to Sears Roebuck, Goodyear, Chevron and Union Carbide, which have been there since the 1920s and 30s. The only surviving original member is GE, whom MS displaced in asset value some time ago. The last change to the constituent companies was in 1997, when HP replaced Texaco, with three other changes. The index is not obtained by dividing by the price of the 30 stocks, but by using a divisor that is intended to maintain the historical continuity of the average. Currently it is 0.19740643. The DJIA reached 1000 in 1987, 5000 in 1995, and 10,000 on 29 March this year. On average, a $1 rise in the price of a DJIA stock would put the index up five points, if no other stocks changes. ®
The Register breaking news

Northamber snaps up CHS Electronics' customers

Northamber is buying CHS Electronics Plc, resulting in more than 200 redundancies. Receivers BDO Stoy Hayward have agreed to accept Northamber's offer to buy the customer base of its former rival, according to Peter Rigby, who today lost his job as CHS marketing director. Today's 220 layoffs included such top-level staff as regional director Gary Boon. However, part of the purchase agreement stipulates that the distributor will employ as many people from CHS as it has vacancies for. Rigby said a meeting would take place tomorrow between CHS' human resources department and Northamber to decide how many staff would be kept on. "We haven't actually been told, but it is my gut feeling that they will not have too many vacancies," he said. The move follows months of speculation about the distributor's financial situation, culminating last week in CHS Electronics Plc, a subsidiary of CHS Electronics Holdings UK, being placed in receivership by creditor Deutsche Financial Services. Rigby said he felt "relieved that it's finally over", and was now going to concentrate on looking for a new job. However, the future of Karma UK and Metrologie UK, subsidiaries of US parent CHS Electronics, still remain undecided. A representative of BDO Stoy Hayward was tonight unable to confirm the sale of CHS Electronics Plc, saying officials were still at the distributor's offices. But it issued the following statement: "Despite lengthy negotiations, CHS Electronics have been unable to find a buyer that will purchase the business as an ongoing concern. "As a result, around 200 employees based at the company's sites at Toyne, Brentford, Woking, High Wycombe and Banbury will be made redundant. Around 30 employees have been retained by the company in receivership to support customer enquiries and to help resource their requirements from elsewhere if required." ®
The Register breaking news

US banking bill computerises you like never before

A banking reform bill due for a vote in Congress this week will allow mergers among banks, insurance companies and securities firms, and so place Gargantuan reams of personal data at the fingertips of nosy auditors, marketing strategists and of course the dreaded "service consultants", as American sales people like to call themselves. The bill's sponsors claim it contains measures to prevent data-mining on a colossal scale by requiring financial institutions to inform their customers if they are selling information to third parties. But it does not address the extent to which any new financial conglomerates conceived under the measure may share information among their own divisions. Senator Richard Shelby (Republican, Ala.) called the protections "a sham". Shelby has been a vocal proponent of outlawing all but strictest 'opt-in' data-mining schemes in both business and government sectors alike. He has been instrumental in checking the power of state and local governments to sell information to commercial data buyers. The industry sees it as pure altruism. "Information sharing between affiliates is a convenience for customers," according to Charlotte Birch of the industry front group American Bankers Association. Data-mining is crucial as well for the marketing wings of financial corporations, so they might target customers with sales pitches tailored to their individual 'needs'. Consumer advocates are most concerned about a practice called 'red-lining', where negative information in one area may affect a customer's treatment in another. Say, for example, that one is applying for a mortgage through a bank affiliated with one's health insurer. The loan officer has a look at one's records, finds that one is an unlikely candidate for survival over the full mortgage period, and so charges a higher rate of interest. Industry reps counter by saying that the conglomerates will be chastened against such abuse by the customers' ability to "vote with their feet". But this is clearly a lot of talk -- such regulations are imposed at the state level, and industry will sink uniformly to the lowest form of consumer protection required under each state's privacy laws. And while some states do have fairly strict regulations in place, these govern only what industry may do with a given piece of information. Nothing can stop them having a peek on the sly, since the data will be readily available. And nothing can stop them being prejudiced by what they may find. The implications for European customers of the coming American financial mega-operations are interesting. There again, local regulations may prevent the active use of combined financial and personal data, but the information will be there, a deliciously tempting resource for actuaries, marketers and auditors, not to mention legions of bored, nosy employees. ®
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Microsoft's X-Box PlayStation 2 killer resurfaces

Microsoft's mysterious X-Box project, its would-be PlayStation 2 killer, has made another appearance, courtesy of the Dow Jones newswire. The Dow Jones article offers little more in the way of detail than we already know: X-Box is essentially a PC crammed into a console case and will be based on a high-end x86 CPU and Nvidia's GeForce 256-bit graphics accelerator. The one curious titbit in the whole piece is that the device may not, as previously thought, use Windows CE as the OS, but instead use a cut down version of Windows 98. That makes sense, since DirectX, Microsoft's games-oriented API already runs on Win98, but not on CE. Still, since the comment comes from an analyst rather than anyone "familiar with the situation", how accurate it is (ie. is it simply the guy's opinion of what's the likely scenario) remains to be seen. What's interesting about the Dow Jones item is, however, not what it says but that it says it at all. It's clear that DJ's writer has come across one or more "industry executives" who've recently been briefed by Microsoft on the project. Back in September, Microsoft conducted some behind the scenes briefings on X-Box at games industry shindig, the European Computer Trade Show, so presumably the company has more recently begun mooting the concept to the leisure software business once again. Dow Jones suggests Bill Gates was originally to have launched X-Box at Comdex next month, but that plan -- if it ever was a plan -- seems to have been canned. If that is the case, either the reaction from the games industry to Microsoft's plan hasn't been too positive. ® Related Stories Microsoft readies x86, Nvidia-based rival to PlayStation
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Huge shortages, technical problems hit Intel Coppermine debut

Internal Intel documents have revealed a massive shortage of Coppermine parts, just a day after Chipzilla beat its chest to the world's press, and bellowed: "Look how well I've done". The mobile Pentium III is in particularly short supply, with distributors and dealers being told that boxed units are now unlikely to arrive in volume until Q1 of 2000, with availability still very limited in Q4. A letter we have seen said: "Currently there is a limited supply of mobile Pentium III processors. Initial orders of mobile Pentium III processors on 0.18 micron technology were higher than forecasted. Intel expects to have ample capacity in 1H'00. Owing to this situation, Intel is planning to introduce the boxed mobile Pentium III processor in Q1'00." But it's not just mobile Coppermines that are in short supply. The S370 500E and 550E processors are also unavailable, meaning that Intel has pulled the plug on all of its marketing plans for these products. The problem here is with validation of the fan heatsink, according to documents we have seen. It means that the S370 Pentium IIIs may now well be delayed until the beginning of December, or later. Intel also pulled the plug on its "early access" plan for distributors and dealers, under which they can buy up to three new processors ahead of launch. In this case, the Pentium III 733s, 700s, 667s, 650s, 600EBs, 600Es, and 533s in the SECC2 package were all affected. The move is a further grave embarrassment for Intel in the wake of the i820 Caminogate debacle, and prompts the question of whether Intel really was ready to ship product, or whether it was just a marchitectural move to try to scupper AMD's successful intro of the Athlonium. At the Intel Developer Forum in September, CEO Craig Barrett said that he had ordered his staff to produce Coppermines and 7xx chips early. ® Related stories Intel Coppermine chips: now the goldmine is official... Bug in 733MHz Coppermine? No one has stocks anyway... Consumers face PC confusion post-Coppermine launch