28th > October > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Chip market sails out of doldrums

After years trying to make the best of a rather bad situation by talking up the chip market, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) has at last got some good news for its members. According to the SIA, turnover in the chip business will rise by 15 per cent this year to deliver an incredible $144 billion of sales. And by 2002, the total amount of sales will amount to $234 billion. The SIA said that the growth is fuelled by wireless communication, including mobile phones, and the rapid growth of the Internet. The group had been less bullish when it issued its last report in June, but sales are better than it expected, partly due to high amounts of PC production. The SIA said that it has at last exceeded its previous record set in 1995. At that time, the anticipated sales of memories related to the introduction of Windows 95 did not materialise, and that led to a slump in the market. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

IO trade group acquires very silly name

After burying the hatchet, smoking the pipe of peace, and smoothing down their ruffled kimonos, industry leaders have unveiled not a future IO specification but a new name. Intel, Dell, NEC, HP, Compaq, IBM, Sun have decided to call the group Infiniband, after a row earlier this year split them wide apart. The chip giant had led a group called NGIO, while IBM was pushing for a different specification called Future IO. Or was it the other way round? But although the warring parties now have a spanking new name, producing a preliminary specification which will drive future server platforms is a much harder task. Infiniband hopes that it will be able to produce the spec by the end of the year. But this may be ambitious. The two warring groups were already fairly far advanced with each of their plans. If the group does manage to produce the specification according to its time line, it is still unlikely to actually materialise for another two years. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Dealers sue Amiga over deceptive trade practices, fraud

Hell hath no fury than an Amiga dealer scorned, it seems. A whole bunch of 'em, under the banner of the Amiga Dealers' Association (ADA), are suing Amiga, inc. and its parent, Gateway, for breach of promise. The class action suit aims to get the two companies to cough up $3 million -- which, we suspect, is rather more than any of the dealers concerned had a chance of making from Amiga-related sales, but there you go. The suit alleges Amiga and Gateway infringed the US' Deceptive Trade Practices Act, plus statutes on consumer fraud and deceptive advertising. The suit centres on allegations that Amiga sold machines constructed from spare parts taken from old or returned Amiga as new. The dealers -- philanthropic bunch that they are -- want the damages "for the purpose of reimbursing anyone who had to make out-of-warranty repairs due to a previously used part being included in an Amiga computer sold as new". Now this is quite a canny move. Since the repairs were, by ADA's admission, out of warranty, users will have paid the dealers for parts and labour. So if the case is judged in ADA's favour, presumably the users will be refunded, the dealers will keep the money they charged for repairs (there's nothing in the suit to suggest they have already, voluntarily refunded their customers), so everyone wins except Amiga. It's also noteworthy that there's no provision for actually telling such customers they're due a refund (if the case goes to ADA) -- instead, aggrieved users must make themselves known before a preliminary hearing next February to become part of the class action. Any unclaimed refunds will apparently be used to give computers to "public schools or charitable organisations". We'd like to suggest they consider providing a stack of low-end iMacs, which we're sure would go down very nicely. But is there merit in the case? Certainly, chucking out machines containing spare parts as new can't be considered an honourable business practice, but since an Amiga hasn't rolled off the production line for the best part of five years, anyone buying a machine in that period, particularly since the Amiga business is hardly what you'd call a mass market, should perhaps have understood that the computer they were receiving had, at the very least, been sitting in a dusty warehouse for some time. Still, as ADA's suit points out, there's nothing on Amiga's Web sites to suggest that Amigas are out of production or that sales are limited to available stocks and may contain used parts. Of course, proving that Amiga has a policy of shipping machines build out of spares is another matter. Of course, Amiga doesn't deny on its Web site that it works this way, as ADA says it doesn't, but then why would it? It's not hard to find one-off cases of computers from any vendor coming back from repair with used parts installed, but showing that this is both widespread and not performed by the dealer can be tricky. We await Amiga's response with interest. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

CHS Latin America sold for cash

CHS Electronics plans to sell its majority interest in certain Latin American businesses. The troubled Miami-based distributor today said in a statement that it had signed a non-binding letter of intent to make a sale to a team of senior managers in the region. Under the terms of the cash deal, CHS would keep a 49 per cent interest in the operations. The ecommerce part of the Latin American business would be made into a new company. CHS would own 51 per cent, and the management group 49 per cent. Gonzalo deVelasco, MD of CHS Mexico, and Ray Bautista, CFO of CHS Latin America, were said to be leading the management team. The move follows the sale of CHS's UK subsidiary CHS Electronics Plc earlier this week. ®
Linda Harrison, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

MS wins Big Brother award for Linux spam atrocity

Microsoft Austria has collected the top prize in the Community category of the Austrian Big Brother Awards. The prize, a tacky looking robot thing which can be viewed here, was given for the company's activities in spamming Austrian Linux users with questionnaires. Microsoft Austria recruited G3 GMBH to handle the mailing. This outfit seems to have helped itself to the email addresses of Austrian users registered with the Linux Counter and then sent them the questionnaire, which asked about their views on the software industry, about Linux, and about their employment. This was in breach of the Linux Counter's copyright and terms of use, which specifically bar use of the data for mass mailings. It's also, as the Linux Counter is hosted in Norway, a crime under Norwegian privacy legislation. The execs from Microsoft Austria don't seem to have been extradited by vengeful nordics, but after an outcry they were forced to destroy the data they'd gathered. Another notable award went to former European parliamentarians for their sterling work in support of Enfopol, but none of the winners seems to have turned up to the ceremony, held on Tuesday. The Big Brother awards themselves were started up by Privacy International, and are run in the UK, US and Austria. The recent UK awards weren't as juicy as the Austrian ones, but we were pleased to see UK Home Secretary Jack Straw collected a double, for himself as Worst Public Servant and for The Home Office as Lifetime Menace. ®
John Lettice, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Oracle readies re-entry into network computer biz

Oracle's ebullient CEO, Larry Ellison, yesterday confirmed the database giant gearing up for a second attempt to make something of the network computer business after the abject failure of its first go. Last time round, Ellison set up Network Computer, Inc. and came up with a machine that would, he claimed, beat Windows-based PCs head-on by being both cheaper to buy and run over time, and by being easier to manage and maintain. Nice plan, we'll take it. Except no did, because Microsoft and Intel quickly came up to Total Cost of Ownership quashing measures of their own, and suddenly the dumb terminal... sorry, network computer concept faded away into industry legend, taking the ill-fated Network Computer, Inc. with it. Earlier this year the company was IPO'd off as Liberate, a maker of up-market set-top boxes. This time, Ellison appears to be working through a proxy. The Network Computer, Inc. name is being revived, but whether it's as an Oracle subsidiary or it has been picked up by an existing hardware manufacturer remains to be seen -- Ellison's ellisionary comments point both ways. However, he did say it will produce a "$199... desktop computer replacement" running Linux and Netscape Communicator on an Intel CPU. The box will be announced "shortly", said Ellison, which suggests that he's jumping the gun a little here. The Netscape angle is interesting. Might Ellison be alluding to AOL's much-rumoured Microsoft-free Internet access box? Possibly, but since every Linux distribution ships with Netscape anyway, perhaps we shouldn't read too much into it. Still, Ellison's comments will come as a bitter blow to all those Mac users who've been repeating The Great Man's statements over the last couple of years that the future of networking computing is the iMac. With its NetBoot facility, the iMac is arguably the world's most successful NC, even though it's never been really sold as one -- Apple's diskless iMac prototype has yet to see light of day. But, alas, it now seems that Intel, not PowerPC, is the basis for future NCs, at least in Ellison's view. Maybe his old pal, Steve Jobs, should have a word with him... ®
Tony Smith, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Dell knocks Apple off top education spot – just

Having knocked long-time market leader Compaq off the top PC sales slot in the US, Dell this week followed its success by de-throning a second market leader: Apple. According to Dataquest, during the first six months of 1999, Dell sold more computers to North American educational institutions than Apple did. Dell's lead over the Mac maker is a mere five per cent, so the direct vendor really can't get to cocky about Dataquest's stats. Since June, Apple has announced and begun shipping the iBook portable and new, faster iMacs, both aimed as much at education as the consumer space, and a good run of sales through the rest of the year could easily see its sales surpassing Dell's. Still, it's a tough knock for Apple. As sales to more mainstream markets have dwindled, Apple could always say that at the very least it still leads the way in the education and design markets. It's share of the education market has been shrinking for some time, but the launch of the iMac helped it regain some lost ground. Dataquest's numbers, however, show the company simply can't take the market for granted. At least the design biz appears safe -- the long-anticipated shift towards Windows NT has singularly failed to materialise, and there's no real sign the design community is shifting to more mainstream Windows systems to any significant extent. But losing control of the education market, even if Apple gets it back, is a blow, and the Mac maker is going to have to work harder to gain ground here. Curiously, the Dell news comes hard on the heels of rumours that Apple's education customers will soon only be able to deal with the company directly. In a terse message to one Register reader, Steve Jobs said simply: "This rumor is totally false." Given Dell's success here, we wonder if Jobs may now change his mind... ®
Tony Smith, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

IBM to produce new OS/2 client – very quietly

Just over a month on from apparently mugging a new client version of OS/2 to death, IBM seems to be poised to roll one out after all. But in a way that will mean hardly anybody will notice it, far less be able to get it. Last month Stardock Systems revealed that it had been negotiating to produce a new OS/2 client under licence from IBM, but that at the last minute IBM corporate had decided it didn't want this to happen (Wicked IBM execs bayonet ailing OS/2. At the time it looked like that was that - IBM just plain didn't want to go any further with OS/2 as a client OS, and was prepared to let the existing users slowly drop off the perch. Actually, that's more or less what the IBM exec then responsible told us several years ago, and it's probably more or less the truth. But Oliver Mark of IBM Germany revealed earlier this week in an item on WarpCast that IBM would be announcing an official OS/2 Aurora Client within the next couple of days. It appears this will be based on the Warp Server for e-Business kernel. The channel for getting it though is practically non-existent. It's "a fee-based service offering," not a shrink-wrap OS for end users. IBM will be selling it on demand to larger IBM business customers. Which means, presumably, that a couple of the larger outfits still using OS/2 clients have bitched sufficiently to IBM to make the company sneak another rev out, but that IBM still wishes the remaining users would drop off the perch. ®
John Lettice, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Metrologie calls in administrators

Metrologie UK and its parent company CHS Electronics Holdings UK have been placed in administration. David Gilbert and Simon Michaels at BDO Stoy Hayward have been appointed administrators for the two businesses, sources told The Register. The administration orders were gained from the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday. The voluntary move follows the fall of Metrologie's sister company, CHS Electronics Plc, which went into administrative receivership last week with debts of £17 million. The receivership, also handled by Gilbert and Michaels at BDO, resulted in the sale of the company’s customer base to rival distributor Northamber on Tuesday. BDO Stoy Hayward was unable to confirm that Metrologie was in administration. But a BDO representative said an announcement was expected this afternoon "once the company’s future is confirmed".®
Linda Harrison, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Win95 development head Silverberg leaves MS

So it's finally farewell again, Brad Silverberg, combative street fighter and Microsoft executive, who as a senior VP led the development of Windows 95. He will be resigning tomorrow after a very extended leave. He had been a consultant to Microsoft, advising on its consumer strategy. The arrival of Rick Belluzzo from SGI has apparently convinced him that "his help was no longer needed" although there is no evidence that he is overly sore about this, since some time back he had turned down the job of heading the interactive media group, i.e. what turned into Belluzzo's job. Silverberg often was the front man when Microsoft was being criticised. He was in charge of the Windows 95 delays ("If we're not perfect at scheduling, we apologise" and OS/2 "was a cheap imitation of [Windows 95]"). He disliked OS/2 with a passion, once claiming that Sprint was deploying Windows 95 beta in a mission-critical production environment, but this turned out to be a three-PC deployment where there were 1,300 PCs running OS/2. Intel also had a somewhat negative view of him, it came out in the trial: he was "incredibly arrogant... dangerous... extremely hostile... the guy hates us... pent-up anger... impossible to deal with." Silverberg came from Borland and joined Microsoft in 1989. He later spearheaded Microsoft's first efforts at luring away key Borland staff to Microsoft, offering a $3 million signing-on bonus for Anders Hejlsberg, the chief architect of Delphi, plus $200,000 salary and 75,000 shares. Paul Gross, then VP of research at Borland, was only given a $1 million signing-on bonus, apparently. When Microsoft included the DR-DOS trap in Windows 3.1, it was Silverberg who tried to imply that the compatibility problems had been with DR-DOS, rather than deliberately engineered by Microsoft. It was also Silverberg who announced Windows 95 sales to much incredulity in late 1995: his figures did not square with Microsoft's supposed accounting principles. When Microsoft was caught red-handed with Apple QuickTime code in its Video for Windows developers kit, he claimed that "The licensed code is low-level driver code" but did not explain why it just so happened that it improved Microsoft's video performance dramatically. Nor was the code licensed from Apple, of course. Clearly, he's vested. ®
Graham Lea, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

SDMI can't kill MP3 admits music industry

Music business bruiser the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) today declared war on Internet-based music pirates with a plan to launch major legal assaults on Web sites across the world. Surprise, surprise. It would be odd indeed if the IFPI didn't take such action as part of its ongoing battle against copyright theft. So what makes today's announcement interesting is not the action per se, but what it says about the music industry's broader response to piracy. "Today's enforcement campaign by IFPI shows that where Internet pirates are persistently breaking the law, there is now a global anti-piracy operation which will stop them," IFPI Chairman Jay Berman said. Trouble is, the operation may be global, but anti-piracy law simply isn't. No wonder, then, that Berman also called for a global copyright protection law. The point is, what this request tacitly signals is the music industry's acceptance that it's attempt to end piracy by making it impossible to illegally copy music has effectively come to nothing, and that the old-style aggressive legal approach is the only weapon the industry has. The industry's attempt to take a more subtle approach has centred on the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). This was to have finalised its specification for copyright-protection and copy-control mechanisms in time to allow hardware vendors to ship digital music products and music companies to begin selling tracks on line this Christmas. Instead, the huge collection of technology companies, consumer electronics manufacturers and recording labels have had a real job coming up with something they can all agree on, something that meets to the hardware guys' need for an open standard and the labels' desire to put control of playback and duplication in their hands and no one else's. In the meantime, the MP3 format has continued to grow in popularity, to the point where it's largely unstoppable. And when some Far Eastern manufacturers are already saying they aren't going to wait for the SDMI, but will begin shipping MP3 players en masse this year, you wonder if SDMI has any kind of future. The IFPI's announcement today suggests that it doesn't, that demand for MP3s is simply too far advanced to rein in, and that the best the music business can do is fight the pirates not with advanced technology but through the decidedly low-tech courts. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

AMD runs out of K6-III/400s

Chip company Advanced Micro Devices has hit its target of selling 1.3 million K6-III/400s this quarter and is now out of stock of the devices, sources close to the company claimed. While that's good news for AMD in one sense, the reports highlight the vulnerable nature of chip production. AMD would prefer to sell millions and millions of the Athlon K7 but won't really be able to ramp up supply of these until its Fab 30, in Dresden, comes onstream in Q1/Q2 2000. Although it is believed that AMD still has fabbing agreements with IBM Microelectronics, the unit price of the K6 family doesn't deliver the sort of margins that the Athlon can. AMD could not be contacted at press time for comment. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

HP issues profit warning

Hewlett-Packard has warned of the "increased risk" of profits falling below expectations for the year ending 31 October. The US vendor did not make a formal announcement, but spoke to analysts yesterday, saying that weak North American server sales may pull down figures for Q4. HP had hoped that the changes put in place by new CEO Carly Fiorina would patch up more long standing problems before the financial year end. Earlier this month Fiorina had described a problem in the North American Unix server sales force which had damaged sales in Europe and Asia. She said the weak links in the chain had been removed, and the company had a "decent shot" at meeting fourth quarter profit forecasts. However, HP has not been able to compensate for this shortfall through cost cutbacks and pushing other areas of its business. Brad Driver, investor relations manager at HP, said yesterday that last month's earthquake in Taiwan had disrupted PC manufacture, meaning this division could not save the day for the company. Driver added that HP was comfortable with some of the reduced forecasts analysts issued yesterday. "Why else would we tell them there's increased risk in the quarter?" he said. The PC vendor saw shares drop $6.25 to $70.33 on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, rising slightly today to $71.187. This is a far cry from its 52-week high of $118. ®
Linda Harrison, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Sage founder, Goldman, dies

David Goldman, founder of Sage, has died aged 62. Goldman left his position of chairman at the software company two years ago due to ill-health. Sage said in a statement: "On behalf of all of Sage, it is with deep regret that we learnt of the death of David Goldman on Tuesday, 26 October." "We all appreciate the contribution that David made to the success of the company over the years. "Many Sage employees who joined the company in the early days and knew David personally have expressed great sadness at the news." Goldman co-founded Sage in 1981, and became chairman in 1983. He led the company in its 1989 flotation on the London Stock Exchange. The UK entrepreneur was also chairman of BATM, an Israeli telecoms equipment company. He leaves a wife and two sons. ®
Linda Harrison, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Government to push PC rental for the poor

The government wants low income families to rent refurbished PCs so that they don't get left behind in the fast-moving Internet revolution, but they will still have to foot the bill for dial-up access to the Net. Addressing the UK Internet Summit today in London, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, spoke of the government's determination for the UK not to miss out on the opportunities offered by the fast-emerging digital world. A central plank of today's speech was confirmation that 100,000 cheap-to-rent PCs would be made available to families on low incomes. Some reports have claimed that the cost of leasing a refurbished PC could be as little as £5 a month. "We will pioneer a system under which poorer individuals - sometimes through local partnerships - will be able to lease computers and software in the new century in the same way local libraries have loaned books in the last century," he said. In a speech littered with rhetoric, Gordon Brown said that new technology gives people the means to "break down the walls of division, and the barriers of isolation." "We could have a society divided between information haves and information have nots. A society with a wired up superclass and an information underclass. An economy geared to the needs of some parts of Britain but not the whole of Britain." The Chancellor dismissed claims made on BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme, Today, that the cost of dial-up phone access to the Net would prove too expensive for low-income users. Instead, he said the cost of telephone calls in Britain were "coming down in real terms" and he stuck limpet-like to the government's stated position that it was up to the marketplace and competition to bring down costs. In his speech today he said: "Already competition is forcing the price of Internet access down. BT are reviewing charges for Internet access. OFTEL will continue to ensure that competition drives down the cost of Internet access." ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

The Net was invented in Britain, says leading UK minister

Gordon Brown might know a thing or two about running the economy, but he knows sod all about the Internet. Despite boasting not one, but two, PCs in his office, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an Al Gore-style (remember, he said he'd invented the Net) gaffe today that only serves to illuminate the dark voids of ignorance within Whitehall. Less than 10 seconds into his speech at the UK Internet Summit this morning he uttered: " Thirty years ago this month the Internet was invented in Britain." Invented in Britain? Come on Gordon, you cannot be serious. Ye olde Britain with its soon-to-be-culled hereditary peers and the finest mad cows this side of France? If any of our US readers would like to put the Chancellor straight -- or if you think the Net was indeed invented in Britain and you want to give Gordon your support -- why not e-mail him here. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Former Info'P owner dumps more PC divisions

Buhrmann is to sell its computer division to raise cash to expand its office products business. The Dutch company is to offload the PC and peripherals distribution business for less than its 1.2 billion euros (£0.77 billion) annual sales. This move continues the theme of dropping links with PC industry when Buhrmann sold Info'Products to Compel last year. It is currently in talks with five potential buyers for the information systems arm, according to today's Financial Times. Buhrmann said it expected an agreement on a sale by the end of the year. The company is raising cash to fuel its office products acquisition strategy - it will also net $150 million from the sale of a third of its 20 per cent share of South African paper company Sappi. Buhrmann said it would continue to buy office products companies, naming Europe as its most likely target. It became the world's biggest office products supplier to business yesterday when it completed its $2.3 billion takeover of US company Corporate Express. Buhrmann, which went by the name of KNP-BT until last year, used to own UK reseller Info'Products. Earlier this year it sold the struggling Chelmsford-base Info'Products to Compel for £1. Compel took on £10 million of debt, in return for £28 million of net assets. ®
Linda Harrison, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

NAG to offer free calls for low income families

North American Gateway (NAG) -- the Canadian telco behind a too-good-to-be-true, no-strings-attached 0800 Internet service due out on Monday -- has said it is willing to provide toll-free access to the Net for low-income families. A spokesman for the company told The Register this morning that he was busy trying to get in touch with the relevant government department to discuss the offer. He'd heard that the government was about to make a formal announcement on the issue. Obviously not one to miss a trick, he said: "We're keen to help." Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, today announced that 100,000 low-income families would be able to rent cheap PCs so they could hook up to the Internet. The drawback for many, though, will be the always-on cost of dial-up access. Callnet0800 -- backed by NAG -- appears happy to absorb the cost of access in return for people using its discounted to make voice calls. Time will tell whether NAG proves to be a thoroughbred among ISPs or an old carthorse destined for the knacker's yard. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Hucksters screw US businesses for phoney Web sites

Old-fashioned Yankee hucksterism has been going high-tech lately, resulting in upwards of a million American small businesses being surreptitiously billed for Web sites which they don't even know they have. The Senate Small Business Committee heard testimony this week on the practice of Web site "cramming", a penny-ante scheme by which small business owners get bilked collectively out of scores of millions of dollars each year. The scam has developed in the past two years. Typically, telemarketers offer "free, no-obligation" trial Websites to busy outfits too small to employ their own Webmasters, such as barber shops and small motor garages. If the victim accepts the so-called trial offer, a single Web page with a piece of clip art and the company's address and telephone number is hastily run up and posted. Recurring charges of approximately $25 per month are then "crammed" onto the victim's telephone bill. A promised "information packet" is never sent, so that the victims are more likely to forget the contact, and overlook or misinterpret the phone charge. Committee Chairman Christopher "Kit" Bond (R--Missouri) estimates that there have been one million victims in the past 18 months. "Of the 100 small business owners contacted by my staff and myself, only one was aware that they had a Website and knew they were paying for it," Bond reported. He presented in evidence several screen shots of sites developed under the cramming scheme, all of which were comically poor. One, for an investment counselor, sported a colour close-up of a pizza being served. (To be fair, it did look quite appetizing.) Another, for a drilling outfit, touted the company's expertise in "secondary recovery threw horzinatal stimulation." The crammers use deceptive terms to conceal their bogus service charges. "It's hard to know you've been crammed when the charges are identified with such nondescript terms as 'monthly fee', 'membership fee', and 'service charge,'" Stanley Czerwinski of the General Accounting Office observed. Susan Collins (R--Maine) noted that "every day there seems to be a new technique for ripping off telephone customers." Telephone bills are an increasingly popular alternative method of billing among scam artists because they lack the consumer protections attaching to credit cards. Because few consumers will bother to lodge complaints over a scam involving a few hundred dollars a year, "we're really just scratching the surface when we look at the number of complaints," she observed. Collins sat on the Senate committee that investigated phone "slamming" two years ago. Slamming is a scheme to trick customers into switching their long-distance provider. Perhaps the most elegant practitioner was a company named "Hold". A telemarketer would ring a hapless victim and immediately ask, "May I put you on Hold?" If the mark answered "yes", it was taken as authorisation to switch them. Reports of slamming have fallen off of late, and cramming seems to be the new fad. And it's hardly limited to Web scams. "We even had one crammer named 'phone calls', so when a consumer read their bill, they would see 'phone calls' followed by a charge," Collins recalled. A number of crammers have been remarkably audacious. Kelly Cramer, an 18-year-old Freshman at the University of Wisconsin, testified that she had worked for Website crammer Protel Advantage as a telemarketer, as arranged through a high school training programme last year. She quit the job after learning that customers would be billed automatically if they accepted the "free, no-obligation" trial offer she had been touting. FTC Consumer Protection Director Jodie Bernstein confirmed Bond's estimate that approximately one million small businesses have been crammed to date. FTC has taken criminal action against largest, and is suing all but one of the smaller fry. FTC recently filed a complaint in fed court against US Republic, charging the company with cramming. US Republic is being ordered to notify its victims and offer refunds to an estimated 124,000 businesses, and file a $1.8 million letter of credit with FTC as security. Bernstein recommended revisions of the 1992 Telephone Disclosure and Dispute Resolution Act (TDDRA) to require express authorisation of all external charges to telephone bills. "If amended to encompass cramming, the 900-Number Rule will add to the FTC's arsenal against that practice, enabling the Commission to obtain civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation," a recent FTC press release claims. Collins registered her support. "The fines right now are so low that telephone billing fraud pays," she remarked. ®
Thomas C Greene, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

AMD vs Intel – our readers write

So far almost 100 readers have given me a piece of their mind on yesterday's piece concerning Athlon posing no real threat to Intel. Some of the pieces of mind have been returned to their owners as they obviously need all the pieces they can lay their hands on, but the overwhelming view seems to be that a) AMD isn't a threat to Intel, b) this is a shame, and c) Athlon is great. Boris Markov took issue with the relative margins Intel and AMD are making, claiming that AMD can sell processors at an ASP of $100, while Chipzilla's overheads mean the lowest profitable price would be nearer $160 a chip. Here’s the math: AMD calculation (for Q4/99): Windows cpu (K6 + K7): 5 million units at ASP $100: 500 M$ Revenue of computer group (wo. Windows-cpu): 70 M$ Memory group: 300M$ Total revenue: 870 M$ vs 850 M$ breakeven: profit = 20M$ (All numbers from Q3 results and conference call except the assumption of an ASP $100, which is depending on K6/K7 mix) INTC calculation (based on 1998) All profit from x86-business, rest of biz is generating losses! x86 units sold in 1998: approx 100 million at ASP $220 Profit 1998 approx. 5B$; tax 1998 approx 3 B$ Profit + tax = 5B$+ 3B$ = 8B$ => $80 per x86 unit ASP $220 - $80 = ASP $160 per unit to breakeven Hans Wee sent the kind of mail we like best - headed 'You are a moron', but then rather turned the gun on himself by predicting that AMD will soon have a 30 per cent share of the market. Thomas Hulstrøm’s ten cents’ worth was pretty representative: "I’m afraid you're dead right... AMD is at INTEL's mercy. If only those chicken taiwanese mobo-manufacturers would start churning out some decent Athlon mobos, customers would actually have a chance to buy one." Denis Baranov wrote: "This is too bad to be true... means it is true, doesn’t it?" Mike McFarlane, who’s both an AMD and Intel user: "The Register says: 'Flame Pete Sherriff, and we'll publish your replies', but how can I flame you when you're right about the Intel/AMD relationship? It's refreshing, and all too rare, to hear someone tell it like it is. Thanks!" Some wishful thinking hoping for an act of God came from R. Don Martin: "Who knows, Beaverton may be built on a fault line. A few more tremors down south and Western Cal. will crack off in the big blue too. And we'll all buy whatever they call Cyrix by then." A slightly paranoid John Matthews asks: "Could it be that the i820 has deliberately been delayed? While there is no i820, motherboard manufacturers are relying on BX chipsets. These they hadn't ordered in advance, because they had expected to be producing i820 boards. They must now rely on the 'generosity' of Intel, to supply them with BX chipsets, and it has been said that Intel would be more likely to supply manufacturers who don't make Athlon motherboards." Robbie Corrigan wants IBM to buy into AMD, make a few million chips ‘to spank Intel’ and then turn its attention to 'Bill and his little empire of bug makers'. Er, didn’t IBM try that once before? Renaud Hebert reckons that without AMD, Intel would never have produced the Celeron - and he’s probably right. Kirk Hole: "You are absolutely right. The situation reminds me of the form of 'democracy' that exists in some countries, where you have a party that has ruled for decades legitimised by the existence of an "opposition" party that only exists because the ruling party supports it. If this "opposition" ever became credible, the ruling party would quickly crush it, but doesn't want to do so because it would cause them PR problems with the West." Joseph Ronne appears to be a pretty level-headed chap: "Who cares about world domination outside an elite clique of bloated egos?" Anthony Monti displays devasting wit in his reply: "Let me quess - he (Pete Sherriff) uses an iMac and AOL to 'spew his creamy load?' Everyone loves the underdog in a fight...and as long as AMD stays the underdog...they will survive. Just like Windows will not be able to stop Linux." Yes, this kind of reader always gets round to Linux eventually. Phuc Pham writes: "Great article!!! I agree 100% with what you wrote. My friends and I were discussing the same issue a few months ago and we agreed that Intel is toying with AMD and not putting a full squeeze drive them out. I personally support AMD and will not buy Intel but facts are facts. Intel can go into predatory pricing mode and squeeze AMD out anytime. I think the idea of Intel allowing AMD to survive is now even more credible ever since Cyrix folded." Dan Pettis takes a different view: "Just give the news, and please keep the bullshit to yourself." Greg Gardner displays a degree of paranoia of which Intel itself would be proud: "AMD is a front company keeping the FTC off of Intel's back. Do you think there is anyone with the balls to call Intel’s bluff. Looks like Andy Grove owns Billybob Clinton." Sean Doherty observes: "I've got better things to do than replace my motherboard every time Intel wants to make more money off of its new, 'improved', overpriced Pentium Pro. Intel may get some of my hard earned money again if they decide to make something new and stick with it for more than a few weeks." Jim agrees: "There is a lot of truth in what you say, but Intel has not produced any new tech chips for many years! The P. Pro has been revamped time and time again, granted it is a good chip but something new would have been nice." Kevin E Mello takes a refreshingly anarchic stance: "Of course, there is always industrial sabotage. I have thought about that and, IMHO, the best way to destroy a billion dollar fab is to run through it with a big bag of salt, spraying it everywhere you possibly and conceivably could. The element sodium is a fast diffuser in silicon and it kills the devices. Even trace amounts on the shoes of personnel traced from salt thrown on roads has been known to nose-dive product yields. And plus, a saboteur running around a fab winging salt everywhere, that's entertainment." And finally, my personal favourite comes from Jakub Papierski: "Hey! how come you always get used as the target for flame-mail?? You should stand up for yourself more and say its not fair!" Oh, and before I forget, special thanks go to Andrew N for referring to Itanium as Itanic™ ®
Pete Sherriff, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

TurboLinux clustering and the code-forking scare

TurboLinux airdropped some 'clustering enhancements' on to Linuxland this week, but it wound up mounting a search-and-rescue operation before anyone noticed. The kernel patch adds some load-balancing which TurboLinux says will make Linux more attractive as a clustering option. It's a patch that's optional, of course -- all modifications to the kernel have to be approved by Linus Torvalds himself, and Linus is a man who likes to say no -- having veered to the cautious side of most major decisions, not least SMP. The small patch itself is issued as GPL, but the TurboLinux business plan is to release the kernel bits as GPL code and the rest, running in user space, as proprietary binary-only extensions. Non-TurboLinux users will have to patch the kernel, write their own user space extensions, and hope for the best. Clearly, this is a strategy designed to gladden the hearts of their VCs. Now this unremarkable posting would have got little attention, but for the intervention of ComputerWorld and the usually reliable New York analyst outfit DH Brown Associates, who saw a chance to give us that old favourite -- 'when will Linux fork?' ComputerWorld, the puzzling IDG weekly which has jumped onto the Windows NT bandwagon just as the other trade weeklies are jumping off, [ADD YOUR COMPUTERWORLD HORROR STORY HERE] quoted DH Brown's Tony Iams as saying that Linus had better goddam include it or the kernel would fork. This might be a very good question -- if AT&T and Sun had wanted a unified Unix kernel badly enough fifteen years ago, and convinced DEC and IBM they needed one too, history would have been very different. For years, Microsoft has made much of NT being one code base (hmm... Embedded, Workstation, Data Centre, Server with Multiwin, Server without MultiWin, anyone?) And the point hasn't escaped the Microsoft spin-machine either, which has been briefing friendly journalists about the parallels for a while now. But it ignores a couple of facts, we reckon. One is that GPL forks are yet to produce a serious catastrophe: on plenty of occasions the code has merged back into the main tree -- as with the C libraries. The unyielding Torvalds has an uncanny knack for conflict resolution, and when it comes to the crunch the Linux herd likes to stomp as one. Or, else -- and this wasn't GPL, but the point holds true -- as in the case of the X11, the copyright holder simply gave up being bolshy and decided to go with the flow. And is Linus likely to hand running over to one distribution? TurboLinux seemed to realised this too last night. The distributor's source tree maintainer said that he'd never submitted the code to Linus, and didn't plan to. And that it was only ever a DiY patch, so if anyone wanted to get their hands dirty, they should feel free. Alan Cox, second to Torvalds in the kernel pecking order, tartly pointed out "Using Wensong Zhang's code [alternative load balancing] because it is rock solid and production hardened. It needs no proprietary tools. Several vendors already ship this code. I also know people building big web setups using it. [www.linuxvirtualserver.org]" So there. Now we're indebted to Mr Jesse Berst of ZDNet's Anchor Desk for pointing out that what gets Redmond really alarmed is the prospect of high availability Linux clusters that scale like hell. Despite trying to port 128-node VMS clustering to NT in the mid-90s in a vastly expensive programming gang-bang, using many of DEC's original engineers, NT clustering today supports, er…two nodes. Clearly there's something rotten. But the fab four of the self-styled Linux Cluster Cabal (Braam, McVoy, Scottish wunderkind Tweedie and the other one whose name we always forget) have been planning as much in not so secret fashion for a while now. We're expecting some kind of white smoke to emerge from the Cabal RSN -- so um, over to you, Mr Tweedie? ®
Annie Kermath, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

MCI-Worldcom scores $4bn Dept of Defence contract

With Congress and the FCC breathing down the necks of telecoms, questioning the wisdom of a spate of immensely profitable mergers and consolidations, MCI may just have found a way of becoming too indispensable to Uncle Sam to be broken up in future. The company, which climbed to number two following its recent $129 billion agreement to purchase Sprint, has scored a contract worth up to $4 billion to supply the Department of Defence with military communications services covering operations in the Pacific Rim. The deal will extend for five years, with renewal options, and cover an unspecified range of communications services for American naval, ground and air forces. Nearly 100,000 American service people are stationed throughout the Asia-Pacific region, chiefly in Japan and South Korea, and jointly commanded from Hawaii. The DoD awarded the contract to subsidiary MCI Telecommunications Corp. of McLean, Virginia. The Department said it solicited the contract on the Internet. Following review by approximately 175 companies, only two bids were received. DoD declined to name the other bidder, but rumour has it that Sprint FON Group was MCI's "competitor". Rather a cozy situation. To cap it all, MCI today announced that its Q3 profits rose more than 200 percent, considerably outstripping forecasts. The company cited rapid growth in its Internet and data services, and in its international operations. Talk about being on a roll. ®
Thomas C Greene, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

We're all Web window shoppers

Four percent of the adult population of the UK -- 1.6 million people -- have never heard of the Internet, according to research published by ecommerce consortium, CommerceNet, and Nielsen Media Research. Despite this, the survey also discovered that a quarter of all adult Brits used the Internet last month, and that half of them log on every day. This latest batch of research to hit the streets also shows what people are doing online. While half of all users said they'd used the Web to compare the price of goods and services, only a quarter had actually bought something online. Two thirds of Net users said they used the Web for work-related activity, while a similar amount said they used it to research travel plans. "This is the first research to benchmark the UK's Internet buying and ecommerce habits, and has thrown up some surprising results," said Neil Ellul, MD of CommerceNet. "The fact that 27 per cent of the UK population is now online will send an encouraging message to all those involved in building ecommerce businesses. However, we also found that 1.6 million people have still not even heard of the Internet. "Obviously, still more work needs to be done in terms of education and awareness if companies are to truly exploit the Internet as a medium for doing business," he said. According to the research, the demographic profile of Net users in Britain is similar to that of North America two years ago. The exception seems to be that British Net users are embracing ecommerce more rapidly than US users. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Chipzilla to spill beans on Willamette later today

Intel appears to be about to come clean on the early launch of the 'Athlon killer' Willamette, as exclusively revealed here a couple of weeks back. Chipzilla is holding a web briefing for analysts only (don’t want any of those nasty press animals listening in, do we?) later today and CNET reports that Willamette will be high on the agenda. Andy Grove is expected to reveal a Q4 launch for Willamette at 800MHz, going up to 1100MHz in Q1 ’00. Details of faster Celerons with 100MHz FSB and the system on a chip Timna are also expected. Full details to follow, but in the meantime check out our earlier story. ®
Pete Sherriff, 28 Oct 1999
The Register breaking news

Apple pulls out of own UK show

Apple has admitted that it has dropped its support for the UK's only Mac show, Apple Expo 2000, to focus instead on MacWorld Expo Paris as its European public platform. All other European shows have been cancelled too, an Apple spokesman told MacWorld UK. The shows have been canned, he said, to "maximize the global impact" of the company's marketing moves. "Exhibitions are only one part of the marketing mix," he said. "We have to make the most effective use of our marketing funds as possible, and that's the backdrop to our decision to pull out of Apple Expo 2000." Certainly, Apple has been spending the bulk of its promo budget on advertising, which is arguably more benefit that a stand at a trade show, particularly one that has always lacked the pizzazz, media attention and broad spread of the US' bi-annual MacWorld Expo. Still, Apple's move is ironic given that it was itself the leading force behind Expo 2000. Eighteen months ago Apple amazed the UK Mac community by pulling out of the then upcoming Apple Expo/Total Design Show (TDS), formerly the MacUser Show. Apple's move made sense because of its increasing focus on the consumer space -- it had just launched the iMac -- and the fact that organiser Emap Exhibitions' creation of TDS aspect was essentially geared at winning business from the Windows NT market, something Apple was never going to be happy with. At the time, Apple said it planned to investigate how to run its own show, the result being Apple Expo 2000, which it signed show specialist CKS to organise on its behalf. Announced on 9 September, the show was due to take place next Spring. Whether Expo will continue without Apple's support is not yet known. According to MacWorld UK, many of the Mac market's leading lights have already booked stands at the show, including a number of big names, such as Microsoft and Quark, that like Apple last year pulled out of the lacklustre TDS. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Oct 1999