1st > November > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Clinton fears Orwellian IT future

President Clinton announced a proposed rule to safeguard electronic medical records from abuse by employers, insurers, banks and law enforcement during a White House press conference Friday afternoon. Seizing upon the worst fears of jaded health-care consumers in a wired world, the President boldly declared that "Americans should never have to worry about the nightmare scenarios depicted in George Orwell's 1984." At present, there are no federal laws limiting access to medical data by interested third parties; and under some state laws, a doctor may act as a patient's legal "agent" and disclose their medical information at his or her discretion, without so much as notifying the patient. Popular pressure for improvements in electronic records security has grown dramatically in the past decade, as more and more Americans have joined managed care plans, often to find themselves vastly underwhelmed by the quality of health care under these new, corporate operational models. The President reported that over two-thirds of American adults doubt that their medical records are secure. "They have good reason," he observed. "Today, with the click of a mouse, personal health information can easily and now legally be passed around without patients' consent to people who aren't doctors for reasons that have nothing to do with health care." The President cited "a recent survey" which he said "showed that more than a third of all Fortune 500 companies check medical records before they hire or promote." The proposed rule would require employers to obtain permission before undertaking such data fishing expeditions, but that may have little real-world effect. Employers can simply bury blanket authorisation in some obscure clause of the employment contract, obfuscate it with a liberal sprinkling of legalese, and so quietly present the candidate with a "take it or leave it" ultimatum. Other provisions in the regulation would guarantee patients the right to examine their medical records and require correction of any false information they discover; enable patients to sue anyone entrusted with such data for releasing it without authorisation; and require law enforcement officers to seek a warrant from a judge before gaining access to a suspect's medical data. The proposed rule is a start, but it is far from comprehensive. Numerous American companies already require random drugs testing as a condition of employment. Most employees assume that they will be tested only for illegal, recreational drugs; but a call from The Register to three medical device companies that manufacture reagent packets for employee drugs testing, and which asked not to be named in this article, reveals that many of the reagent packets marketed to business and industry for employee monitoring also test for numerous prescription drugs, including antidepressants. One can only wonder how many promotions have been aborted by evidence that an employee is taking medication for a life-threatening illness, or some minor psychological imperfection. It all smacks of some loathsome career-path eugenics programme, and implies that the President's 'Orwellian nightmare' has already been realized. The proposal is further limited because it covers only data stored or transferred electronically. A bill sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy (Democrat, Massachusetts) and Nancy Kassebaum (Republican, Kansas) gave the Administration authority to draft regulations governing electronic medical records if Congress failed to enact legislation within three years, but did not extend that power to paper records. The President did not fail to take a few election pre-season jabs at Congress. "I am taking this action today... because a few years ago Congress explicitly gave me the authority to step in if they were unable to deal with this issue." "After three full years there wasn't a bill passed in either chamber," the President hastened to note. "Only through legislation can we cover all paper records and all employers," he added. In spite of the proposed rule's several flaws and limitations, the Administration did its best to roll it out with good cheer and sunny optimism. In a nice bit of cabaret, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala held up her Blockbuster video club card and her health insurance card to illustrate the madness permitted under current law. "When I use my Blockbuster card," she said, "federal law protects my privacy. But when I use my health card, I have no protection at all." Georgetown University medical privacy specialist Janlori Goldman added that over one sixth of American patients are so appalled by the lax state of records security that they engage in "protective behaviour", which may include lying to doctors and insurance companies, and can as a result endanger their health. Goldman reported that in a previous draft, HHS Secretary Shalala had sought to give "unfettered access" to law enforcement bodies seeking medical information on suspects and witnesses. "That provision was roundly decried," Goldman said. "No one, not Democrats, Republicans, no one, thought that was a good idea. Only the Department of Justice liked that one," she observed with a sly smile. A proposed rule is published in the US Federal Register -- which is free and available to all citizens -- and is then subject to a 60-day public comment period, after which it is revised as needed and submitted by the Secretary as an amendment to the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR). The apathy of most Americans towards their governmental processes normally ensures that such 'public commentary' comes exclusively from well-funded and well-staffed industry front groups and corporate lobbying organizations. No doubt the data-addicted insurance and managed health care industries will seize upon this opportunity to be heard with great eagerness. It would be no great risk to predict now that industry will advise against enabling citizens to sue companies for lax records security; the cost, they will warn, can only result in higher prices and a consequent reduction in the number of Americans who can afford health insurance. Nice to know they have our best interests at heart, as always. ®
Thomas C Greene, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Chipzilla pauses to think about Rambus Ink

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, it appears as if chip giant Intel has really revised its buffalo stance on Rambus. Reports are now suggesting that the towering giant, tired of appearing in the Monty Python Silly Walk sketch which is Caminogate, is now closer than ever to admitting defeat and will stop forcing Rambus down the throats of all of its customers and erstwhile friends. Although our information is that Intel will, with a flourish, produce a 2+0 Rambus i820 at or around the time of Comdex/Fall, teams of helpers are currently bashing away at its own PC-133 SDRAM chipset, which it announced it would produce at the last Intel Developer Forum in September. As we reported at the time, it is not looking to Rambus to help power its Itanic™ (Merced) IA-64 chip when it is launched in the second half of next year. Nevertheless, Intel finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Its contract with Rambus means it must use its best efforts to push the platform, otherwise there will be a spot of bovver. Make no mistake about it, Intel's furry and mighty paws are clenching and unclenching in fury because it has been badly burnt by the debacle. All of its partners bar one (Rambus) in the Seven Dramurai consortium, which Chipzilla hastily cobbled together for the world's press at the Forum, have been taking their lucifers* out of their boxes and lighting little fires under the giant's fundament. Whether the industry lost $150 million because of Caminogate, we'll never really be sure, but here are some rumours we've heard which we believe to have some substance. The chip manufacturers, including mighty Samsung, were very upset when production of the i820 boards was called off at the last minute. Dell had ordered an awful lot of RIMMs and according to our information, suddenly didn't seem to want them. The major Rambus manufacturers have temporarily ceased production of the parts and in the meantime have revised their terms and conditions. From now on in, they want cash on the nail for any RIMMs ordered, and in the meantime have cut back on test equipment for the ill-fated platform. We hear more rumours, substantiated by a number of PC manufacturers, that the 2+0 RIMM answer is the one slated for Comdex or thereabouts. And the fresh legal onslaught against Via and its partners is all part of a change of plan at Chipzilla, which will include PC-100, PC-133 and even the dreaded DDR (double data rate), all of which Intel has publicly disparaged. Make no mistake, this is one very cross Chipzilla. Watch out for its big lumbering feet and its oh-so-sharp fangs as it rushes further into the Caminogate swamp... ® * A lucifer was a match, as in the First World War song: "Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, And smile, smile, smile. While you've a lucifer to light your fag**, Smile boys, that's the style." ** A fag is UK slang for a cigarette. See also Intel move to PC-133 mere lip service Intel in full cunning strategic retreat over PC-133 Seven Dramurai™ ride two memory standards at once Intel admits chipset famine
Mike Magee, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

MS Halloween author said to have left for Linux startup

Writing on the first anniversary of the leak of the 'Halloween' documents, open source partisan Eric Raymond claims that the author has recently left Microsoft to join a Linux start-up. If true the move should make for a interesting, not to say awkward, future career for Vinod Valloppillil - his written output a year ago was apparently intended to help Microsoft formulate a strategy against Linux, and it was splashed all over the press. As yet we've been unable to confirm that he has left, and if so, where he's gone. His personal Web site still reports him as working for Microsoft, and his favourites list doesn't seem to have acquired any suspiciously off-message material in the past year. Raymond's piece indirectly suggests one possible reason for Valloppillil to go, noting that in the time since the leak Microsoft has switched strategies: "Microsoft has been trying to sandbag Linux with supposedly `objective' studies by third parties that turn out to have been bought and paid for by the boys in Redmond." The original documents (which, incidentally, were dubbed 'Halloween' by Raymond, and weren't really called that) were considerably more thoughtful than that. Valloppillil had clearly made an effort to understand Linux, open source and the free software movement (See story) and tried to figure out ways in which the Microsoft machine could combat them. As nothing much seems to have happened in most of the directions he suggested in the interim (apart from Steve Ballmer regularly mouthing off vaguely about considering opening up access to source code), we might deduce that these have been nixed by the High Command. If Valloppillil really has gone to a Linux company the bit likely to cause him most embarrassment is the old 'embrace and extinguish' gag. He suggested making some Microsoft components available in order to win developer support from the open source movement, and then using extensions to these to bind them closer to Microsoft. The company should: "fold extended functionality into commodity protocols/services and create new protocols." Wouldn't have worked, of course, but it'd be a tricky one to explain to your new Linux buddies, wouldn't it? ®
John Lettice, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Joy of Cex claims Microsoft X Box sneak peak

Check out UK games retailer The Computer Exchange and its cheeky little Web site The Joy of CEX. Web master Mat Simpson reckons he's got an "exclusive sneak peek at the design of the (Microsoft) Portable X-box". It amused us. ® Related story Microsoft's X-Box PlayStation 2 killer resurfaces
Team Register, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Taiwanese levy swingeing duties on US memory firms

Reports said that the Ministry of Finance in Taiwan is set to impose punitive import duties on three US memory companies. Back in March, Taiwan took similar action, in response to alleged anti-dumping by US firms. The tariff will amount to a temporary 62 per cent duty on Micron Semiconductor, Micron Technology and Chip Supply. The government department did not say when the tariffs would start or for how long they would last. But the size of the punitive duties suggests the Taiwanese government is sending a clear message to the US companies. And that is, keep off our turf. ®
Mike Magee, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Reader claims breakthrough on S370 CuMine compatibility

A reader, Diego von Deschwanden, has claimed a breakthrough with the knotty problem of whether current Socket 370 mobos will support flip chip PGAs (that is, when you can get hold of them). Diego writes: When Intel launched the FC-PGA, we all asked ourselves if our present Socket 370 motherboards with PPGA Celerons would support the flip-chip Coppermine processor. A few points of compatibility are to be taken into consideration: physical, voltage, pinout, and Bios support. This page at the Intel site explains Motherboard Compatibility: And this paragraph is very interesting: "Current motherboards designed for Intel® Celeron™ processors in the 370-pin socket Legacy motherboards designed for the 370-pin socket will not support the Pentium III processor in the FC-PGA form factor. "Pentium III processors in the FC-PGA have two RESET pins, and require VRM 8.4 specifications. The existing motherboards are referred to as Legacy motherboard, and the newer motherboards supporting the second RESET pin and VRM 8.4 are referred to as flexible motherboards. Contact your PC manufacturer for motherboard information" What is important: two RESET pins and the VRM 8.4 specification. Let's talk about VRM 8.4 first: the PIII Coppermine processors use 1.60 to 1.65 core voltage. These voltages are already selectable in a lot of recent motherboards, especially the Abit ones, wich you can select in Bios manually. (voltages from 1.30 to 2.05+ are supported). So core voltage shouldn't be an incompatibility issue. Then the best part: The two RESET pins: Further statements are made over these public (free, available) Intel documents: Pinout and RESET information source: Pentium(r) III Processor for the PGA370 Socket at 500E MHz and 550E MHz Here and here.(This will be DOC 1) Celeron datasheet source: here and here Closely looking at the pinout of PIII FC-PGA compared to the PPGA Celeron, we can notice that they have the same pinout except for two pins: For the Celeron: AH4 is RESET#, X4 is reserved. For the PIII FC-PGA: X4 is RESET#, and AH4 is now RESET2# As you see the RESET# pin has moved from AH4 to X4. The RESET# pin is essential to the processor, it wouldn't boot at all if it was not supplied. So suppose you wanted to use a Celeron in an Coppermine motherbord, the RESET# pin has changed, how can a Celeron be supported?: Read in DOC 1, page 46: "RESET# signal must be connected to pins AH4 and X4 for backwards compatibility. Refer to the platform design guide and Section 7.1 for implementation details. If backwards compatibility is not required, then RESET2# (X4) should be connected to GND." It is clear that if a Celeron is inserted, the AH4 and X4 must be connected so the Celeron can have access to the RESET# supply. Also it is obvious that if the board is to be used with PIII FC-PGA processors only, then this connection is not needed. I would like to bring your attention on the fact that Slot 1 (now called SC242) Coppermine PIII's do not have this RESET2# implemented…So let's see what this new RESET2# pin is about: Read DOC 1, page 68: "RESET2# The RESET2# pin is provided for compatibility with other Intel Architecture processors. The Pentium III processor does not use the RESET2# pin. Refer to the platform design guide for the proper connections of this signal." So the RESET2# is not used! This is where you say: "Hey! Wait a minute!" Not only the RESET2# is not used, but also the only functional and important pin has been moved. Intel is tricking us badly! Obviously Intel wants us to buy i810, i820,etc motherboards. Of course, it is all not about pins and voltage. There may be other minor timing and voltage incompatibilities. Only testing will tell. But nether the less, the RESET2# pin is quite an invention! ® Diego can be contacted at this email address ®
Team Register, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Guillemot grabs graphics pioneer Hercules

Graphics card company Guillemot has bought what's left of graphics trailblazer Hercules, which collapsed this summer, for $1.5 million. Not a lot, you might think, for a business that recorded revenues of $20 million last year, but such was Hercules failure to keep up with the new wave of 3D companies -- 3dfx, Nvidia, S3 et al -- that this year it essentially ran out of cash. Owing between $1 million and $10 million to 3dfx, 3DLabs and Activision, but with a mere $100,000-500,000 in assets (according to MaximumPC), Hercules couldn't even pay its staff, most of whom bailed out, forcing the company into bankruptcy. Guillemot now takes over not only Hercules' assets, business funds and designs, but, much more importantly, its name and patents. Hercules was formed in 1982 and has one of the best known names in the business -- though whether it's as well known among graphics card consumers these days, is another matter. Guillemot said it wants to "revitalise Hercules' business to what it was in the past", but it's hard to see how it can. Pump in money for R&D, get modern boards sporting the latest technology out under the Hercules brand, yes, but will that allow the name Hercules to become synonymous with graphical innovation once more? Still, we don't know what neat stuff was sitting in Hercules' labs waiting for the company to sort itself out sufficiently to allow the technology to be exploited. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Ideal appoints new FD

Ideal Hardware has made Steve Lundy its financial director. Lundy, former director of risk management and operations at the distributor, is replacing Simon Miesagaes. Miesagaes will keep his existing positions as a director of Ideal and group financial director at parent company InterX. Lundy, who joined Ideal in 1989 as financial controller, will also be responsible for logistics, information systems and facilities. Tim Wickes, marketing director at Ideal, said Miesagaes would be taking more of a back seat role at Ideal, but that the move was not a precursor to him leaving the company. ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Japanese site confirms S370 CuMine delays

A shop in the Akihabara district of Tokyo is displaying pictures of Intel's Coppermine S370 flip chip product and the Via-Cyrix Joshua processor. But in the case of the former product, while Intel made an "announcement" of the S370 Coppermines last Monday, no product will be forthcoming for some time, according to the shop showing the pictures. According to this page, the CPU heatsink and fan is somewhat different from the conventional socket. Last week, we revealed that a problem with the heatsink has caused Intel to delay releasing the product, while other PC manufacturers have said they don't expect to see S370 Coppermine chips in volume until Q1 of next year. The Japanese page quips that the only way to benchmark this chip is so far is by looking through the glass of the shop in Akihabara. ® See also Huge shortages, technical problems hit Intel Coppermine debut
Mike Magee, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Akamai stock grows 50x on first day of IPO

Net acceleration specialist Akamai saw its stock price quintuple on Friday, its first day as a public company, as an initial sale price of $26 closed at $145.19. That left the company worth over $13 billion and its founders multi-millionaires. Which was, of course, the whole point, but who can blame them for that? The IPO also boosted Apple's assets by well over half a billion dollars thanks to the 4.7 per cent stake the company made in Akamai earlier this summer. Apple paid just $12.5 million for its 4.1 million shares, making for a near-fiftyfold return on its investment. Apple made in day's stock market trading as much profit as it made selling Macs for a twelvemonth. At this point, your reporter realises he's probably in the wrong job. Ahem... Meanwhile, Cisco and Microsoft has also pumped money into Akamai this year. Cisco spent $49 million for a four per cent stake, netting a sum just a little under Apple's but for a much smaller ROI. Still, since Cisco was paying more for access to Akamai's technology than its shares, the Great Satan of Routers will probably do rather better out of the deal in the long run. How much of the company Microsoft's $15 million cheque bought the Beast of Redmond isn't known -- it's probably tucked away in a vast Securities and Exchange Commission filing -- but expect its return to be significant. Apple is key to Akamai's business -- it was responsible for 75 per cent of Akamai's turnover during the first half of the year, and the company expects Apple's input as a customer to be "significant" for the rest of the year. Of course, Microsoft is now a customer too, but Apple is likely to remain the heaviest user of Akamai's 1200-server global network, using it to host its Web site, software download facility and its QuickTime TV streaming video channel. Since Apple and Microsoft are both competing for dominance of the streaming media market -- Apple with QuickTime, Microsoft with Media Technologies for Windows -- it will be interesting to see how long Akamai can remain on good terms with both. For the time being, both industry giants are targeting RealNetworks rather than each other, so Akamai is safe, but such inadvertent 'co-operation' can't be counted upon. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

MS steps up congress lobbying in run-up to trial verdict

MS on Trial Microsoft has cranked up its "Freedom to Innovate" campaign by sending out two million copies of a letter and mail card along with its annual report. The move, which comes in the run-up to the release of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's findings of fact in the antitrust trial, can probably be seen as the commencement of Microsoft's campaign to blunt the impact of an adverse verdict. Jackson is due to deliver his preliminary conclusion on a Friday after the US markets have closed, but he won't specify which Friday. Microsoft's "Freedom to Innovate Network" won't have any effect on his verdict, but the verdict itself is only the beginning. Assuming it goes against Microsoft, there will then be a lengthy period where Jackson considers remedies, and where he's thought to be hoping Redmond will be forced to come to the conference table. There have been sporadic rumours of negotiations between Microsoft and the Department of Justice, but the stances of the adversaries are poles apart, and Microsoft is only likely to deal when the axe is poised to swing on it. But with Freedom to Innovate it's clear the company intends to try to go over the DoJ's head. If it can get a large enough groundswell lobbying their congress reps to leave Microsoft alone, and get enough people out in the country to agree, it could still escape the more serious remedies. It might even, if it can get the legislature to agree wholeheartedly with the Redmond line, get off entirely. These are however big ifs. The line as expressed in the Freedom to Innovate site is that "Congress should resist the efforts of competitors who seek unfair advantages through the political process to counter legitimate competition in the marketplace" (i.e., it's all got up by those bastards at Sun and Netscape). But Microsoft is coy about how many people have actually joined its Network. According to a Wall Street Journal source it's around 50,000, with Microsoft claiming hundreds of thousands of hits on the site. That's actually not that many, and doesn't suggest a huge level of interest. If Microsoft really does have 50,000 members, it suggests they don't tune in that frequently - and it's not clear how many of them have actually written to congress. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
John Lettice, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

How Dell is really an Intel distributor…

In the last eighteen months, we've seen Compaq and IBM hastily re-arrange their business models in a desperate bid to stave off competition from the company they consider the Great Satan of Hardware, Dell. To help to do so, Compaq, for instance, re-negotiated deals with fifteen suppliers in Taiwan so they could compete, on a direct basis, with Dell. IBM has been doing the same as well as striking deals with the devil itself -- in this case, Dell. HP, too, will spend an additional large sum of money next year with Taiwanese companies to source parts and machines. So why has Dell got these big companies, and a whole flume of second,third, and fourth tier vendors, on the hop? Part of the answer is to do with Dell's particular relationship with Intel but also on how it conducts its business. In many respects, Dell is more of a distributor rather than a PC manufacturer. It has large buying power and good logistics, coupled with a model which means that its suppliers get paid a fair while after its products ship. These distributor tendencies have made Dell one of the most disliked companies in the "channel", that is the network of distributors and dealers who offer (or offered) fulfilment to PC manufacturers with a more conventional model, such as Compaq and HP. We know that it was with a great deal of reluctance that Compaq moved to a model more like Dell's. IBM is traditionally a fickle player with its channel partners. Big Blue picks the petals off the channel daisy with the words: "We love them, we love them not". Dell's relationship with Intel is long-standing and long-lasting. Not only does it buy Intel processors but it also uses Intel motherboards, and not otherboards. The disadvantage of that position was demonstrated by the i820 Caminogate debacle. But Dell gets good prices for its mobos, and when the i820 Rambus problem is fixed, it will get good availability and good prices to boot. It also has excellent hooks (APEs?) into Chipzilla central and that gives it an edge over the other big boys too. Is this a level playing field? Was there ever such a thing either in ballgames or in the PC industry, we wonder. It depends on your spirit level. ®
Mike Magee, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

ic24 cherry-picks Virgin Net execs

Virgin Net has denied that the company is on the rocks following the shock announcement that five of its key people have deserted the operation for a rival ISP. Those jumping ship include three directors and two key editorial staff. Ex-Virgin Net editorial director Rebecca St Johnston is now MD of content at ic24, the Mirror Group's ISP. Jason Smith joins as sales director, and Richard Rees will join ic24 in the New Year as finance director. Rick Glanvill has already joined St Johnston as her deputy, and David Black is busy being the new managing editor of content at ic24. They all join David Clarke, Trinity Mirror Media's Group MD of New Media, who left Virgin Net in April this year to take up the top post at ic24. With such one-way traffic, it seems likely that Virgin Net could haemorrhage even more staff in the coming weeks and months. A spokesman for Virgin Net denied that Richard Branson's Web company had been holed below the water line saying that the move was simply "indicative of the industry". "We've promoted people internally to fill the gaps," he said. "And we've still got ten members of our management team left. "Momentarily, we have been destabilised but it won't last long. No one is indispensable," he said. He also denied that this mutiny is a result of a new strategy from Virgin Net which seeks to promote a new service, Virgin Unlimited, as a cheap e-commerce site selling everything from bargain basement washing machines to knock down fridges. He also denied that the appointment of Virgin Net MD Alex Heath in September from within the Virgin group had caused irreconcilable personality clashes with other members of the management team. Either way, Heath's short time at the helm has not been plain sailing. He was in charge when Virgin Net dumped plans to open a support centre in Wiltshire giving 100 people the sack even before they had started work. Now he's losing his workforce. Whatever next? ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel thinks we're all animals

Did you know the nickname Intel has for trade and technical journalists within the lair of Chipzilla itself? They describe us as animals. This apparently refers to our animalistic habit of snapping at the heels as the mighty and now seemingly witty Chipzilla lumbers on... ®
Registerzilla, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Mobile phone boom expected for festive season

Santa will deliver four million mobile phones to the UK this Christmas, piling pressure on vendors not to repeat last year's stock shortages. Sales are expected to rise 60 per cent on last year's fourth quarter, which saw BT Cellnet run out of handsets in the pre-Christmas rush. Vodafone AirTouch also admitted that it "struggled" to keep up with demand over last year's festive period. Pay-as-you-go phone packages are expected to remain the main driver behind booming sales. Pre-paid phones currently account for 40 per cent of the UK market, and half of the British population is expected to have some form of mobile phone within two years. According to Bloomberg, the UK's four mobile phone companies will be offering cheaper calls and other incentives to prepaid customers this quarter. This is expected to swell their coffers by an extra £1 billion over the next year. Last month saw a worried UK phone regulator, Dave Edmonds, director general of Oftel, asking to see companies' plans for handling the anticipated pre-Christmas boom. Vodafone, BT Cellnet, Orange and One2One claim there will be no repeat of last year's handset shortages, saying they have taken steps to ready themselves. Vodafone has invested £20 million in customer services in 1999, and Orange and One2One have opened new call centres. ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Y2K bug eats Japanese PM's backbone

In the global game of millennial chicken being played out by the world's governments, it looks as though Japan has been the first to lose its bottle. Just prior to Hallowe'en, and with the dreaded date now just two months away, Japanese prime minister Keizo Obuchi has cracked. Ads taken out in the country's national newspapers have told the nation to stockpile food, keep copies of receipts and bank statements, not use the phone or Internet and watch out for opportunists. Or put simply: "Run for the hills." Preceding the 11-point 'better safe than sorry' plan was the usual gambit of pained smiles and reassuring graphics, but it soon became clear that even politicians can't keep it up in the face of the three zeros. "It is important for each of you to make reparations in case of unexpected emergencies, including minor or short-term inconveniences," the statement said -- governmental shorthand for 'we don't know what the hell is going to happen'. But while Japan has publicly warned of such commonsense fears, it remains to be seen whether the West's stiff upper lip will start quivering. Earlier this month, Action 2000's optimism over the state of year 2000 compliance was knocked by experts who said they just didn't believe them. It will be an interesting two months. The Register's Y2K advice: combine support of your community with self-preservation by talking to OAPs about surviving during the war. When the bug hits, these will be the people with the inside knowledge. You know it makes sense. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

UK games sales to top £1bn in 99

UK sales of computer games are this year expected to exceed the £1 billion mark for the first time. Revenue for the first three quarters of 1999 was £538.6 million, which is expected to double in the run up to Christmas. Last year's fourth quarter brought in £401 million of software sales in the UK, bringing the full year total to £918.4 million. According to research by Chart-Track, on behalf of ELSPA (European Leisure Software Publishers Association), one of the biggest drivers will be the Sega Dreamcast, released last month. Michael Rawlinson, general manager at ELSPA, said the Sony PlayStation was also a major boost to sales. "PlayStation is in its final 12 months before a new platform is due to be launched. "You would usually see a decline in the year before the arrival of a new platform, but PlayStation is now achieving its best ever sales. The games market in this country has not peaked, it is still expanding." Rawlinson said eight million PlayStation consoles were sold in the first three quarters of this year, compared to 6.4 million for the same period last year. He expected the final quarter to double this number. "The market is changing for interactive software. It has moved from the specialist games community to a broader customer base, buying a wider variety of games." The worldwide games market is expected to generate over $14 billion in 1999. The US will see the greatest number of sales, followed by Japan and the UK. ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

Official: Brains are better than computers – but not for long

We may be looking at the 1GHz processor but the human brain is still better at data processing.
Team Register, 01 Nov 1999
The Register breaking news

BT blamed for CallNet collapse

CallNet0800 -- the ISP that promises to deliver "no catch" toll-free access for Net users in Britain -- suspended telephone registrations within hours of going live this morning because too many people were trying to sign up to the service. Frustrated Net users who wanted to take advantage of the offer were left hanging in limbo as the scramble for toll-free access kicked off today with predictable chaos. Defending the company's decision to axe the line, a spokesman for the ISP said it pulled the wires on the advice of BT. And in a dig at the monster telco, CallNet0800 blamed BT for not being able to handle the demand. "At 8 o'clock this morning it went bananas," said a spokesman for CallNet0800. "Would-be users have been delayed in registering for CallNet0800 as British Telecom has been unable to handle the volume of calls to the freephone registration number." The spokesman advised users to email their requests for the software or to wait a couple of days before trying again. No one from BT was available to comment before press time. Despite today's phone farce foul-up, CallNet0800 remained upbeat. In a statement issued at lunchtime the company said: "The CallNet0800 concept of totally free Internet access has been thoroughly vindicated with thousands of users registering within minutes of the service launching at 0800 today. "Thousands of users are already using the Internet through Callnet0800 totally free of charge and our network is providing an excellent level of service and quality." These are big claims, very big claims indeed. Since the something-for-nothing ISP market in Britain is littered with the corpses of those whose promises have failed to deliver, CallNet0800 had better hope this little episode doesn't turn out to become its own worst nightmare. ® Related stories NAG to offer free calls for low income families 'No catch' 0800 access opens for UK business CallNet unveils bargain bin ISDN
Tim Richardson, 01 Nov 1999
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More Taiwanese mobo makers get jitters after Intel suit

The lawsuits Intel issued at the end of last week to FIC (First International Computer) may be the first in a legal broadside against other firms. Lawsuits filed in the US, UK and Singapore, also name FIC affiliate, Everex, a US-based maker of computer systems. The suits appear to be based on the two companies' use of chips designed by Taiwan-based VIA Technologies. VIA, FIC and Everex all have ties to the giant Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) and the Wang family, which controls FPG. FIC supplies motherboards to several major PC makers, including Compaq. An FIC spokesperson tried to distance FIC from VIA, describing VIA as "totally independent from FIC." However, a VIA executive said the two companies were both part of the same group. Andrew Lin of Jardine Fleming Securities questioned Intel's motives, suggesting that the chipmaker was targeting VIA's affiliates to put pressure on VIA, while ignoring other companies that use the chipsets. He said he does not expect the suit to be successful. For the past year, VIA and Intel have been arguing over VIA's use of patented Intel technology in two of its chipsets. Intel dominates the market for chipsets, a key component of all PC motherboards. The two companies signed a technology licensing agreement at the end of last year, but within months, Intel claimed, in a letter to motherboard makers, that VIA was violating the terms of that agreement. In July, Intel filed suit against VIA in the US. That case is still unresolved A former senior employee of VIA Technologies, who did not wish to be named, described Intel's legal tactics as "harassment". Intel would not comment on the case yesterday. Staff in FIC's marketing department seemed bemused by the unexpected action. The US company had not contacted FIC about the suit, marketing specialist Annie Tsai said. Instead, FIC had learned of the action from an Internet news site. Other Taiwanese motherboard makers who use the disputed VIA chipsets said they had not been contacted by Intel, and had not heard about the new lawsuit. Acer affiliate, Aopen, makes several thousand motherboards each month with the chips, less than 10 percent of its total output, said marketing manager Tony Yang. In view of Intel's concern, Aopen's promotion of this product has always been low key, but the company would probably continue production, Yang said. "I'm confused by this," said Ted Lee, VIA's sales director, "We deliver our chipset under a license agreement [with Intel]. Before the lawsuit with Intel, we followed the Intel agreement and also paid a royalty to Intel. I believe the chip is already covered by the previous contract…" VIA had also taken the precaution of contracting National Semiconductor to make the disputed chipsets, Lee said. National has a cross-licensing deal with Intel which lets the two US companies use each others' patented technology. Lee described Intel's motivation for its action against FIC and Everex as a "marketing issue." Intel's newest chipset, the 820, had "big problems" relating to its use of a new type of memory, Lee said. He contrasted this with VIA's "successful" introduction and mass production of its latest chipset. "Currently I think Intel's chipset group faces a big challenge because VIA is quite successful in promoting the new generation chipset. So I think it's more a kind of marketing strategy to try to impact our customers. To stop our momentum." Local motherboard maker, Shuttle, which uses the disputed chipset in several thousand motherboards per month might consider withdrawing these products from the market, if initial reports of the lawsuit proved accurate, said assistant vice president, Jonathan Yi. Mr. Lee stressed that VIA saw Intel as a partner, not a competitor, and needed to cooperate with the much larger US company, particularly in the CPU market. VIA is expected to announce a new chipset with integrated 3D graphics on Tuesday, developed in cooperation with graphics chip designer, S3 Inc. The local government agency which reports IT figures is meanwhile reporting that local chipset manufacturers Via, SiS and Acer shipped six million units in October, with the first taking a 50 per cent market share at three million units. The agency also reports that Taiwan's chipset output accounts for 50 per cent of the worldwide market in the same month. ® See also Intel sues FIC, Everex as Via legal action mounts
Simon Burns, 01 Nov 1999
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RealNetworks caught secretly swiping users' jukebox data

RealNetworks has been caught surreptitiously grabbing information about the preferences of users of its RealJukebox software. The software, which is available free and is used to play music CDs, also tells RealNetworks who you are and what you like listening to. Until this was exposed by electronic privacy expert Richard Smith (co-founder of Phar Lap Software), RealNetworks had neglected to mention this to users. Smith it was who exposed Microsoft's use of serial numbers in conjunction with Windows 98 registration, and he details the procedure RealNetworks has been using here. RealJukebox sends out information on the CDs users listen to, along with a unique player ID number that says who they are. It also reports how many songs are recorded on the hard drive, the type of portable MP3 player being used, and music preferences. When a user registers RealJukebox they are assigned a Globally Unique Identifier (GUID), that is their own personal serial number. This is encrypted in the Windows registry, but Smith has discovered that it's the same number as is sent to RealNetworks along with information about music preferences. This happens on the fly if you play a CD while you're connected to the Internet. There are something in the region of 13 million registered users of RealJukebox, which makes any database RealNetworks has gathered a potential powerful marketing tool. On top of this, although the software is free, some of the registered users will be owners of RealJukebox Plus, the paid-for version, so RealNetworks will have had a record of their credit card details as well. According to Jason Catlett of privacy lobbying outfit Junkbusters, until the weekend RealNetworks' privacy policy on the site didn't mention the GUID system at all. Now it says: "A RealPlayer GUID is sent to a RealServer when you initiate a streaming media session. The RealServer only uses the GUID for authentication when you request limited-access streaming content." Which presumably means there is some cross-checking of registration data with preference data. The policy goes on: "RealNetworks uses GUIDs for statistical purposes and to personalise the services which are offered within our products." This hasn't impressed Catlett, who has written an open letter to RealNetworks COO Thomas Frank saying that: "This surreptitious transfer of information without the consumer's knowledge or consent is a kind of 'Trojan Horse' attack that should constitute 'exceeding authorised access' under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986." Catlett has thoughtfully forwarded a copy of the letter to the FBI. He also says he's asking TRUSTe to investigate whether the company breached consumer privacy or its TRUSTe licence. But TRUSTe, you'll recall, exonerated Microsoft entirely over the Hotmail matter recently. Whatever the US Feds say about this, this kind of stuff is definitely against the law in Europe. In the wake of the discovery of the procedure it doesn't seem that RealNetworks has got its act together on the subject. On the one hand the system is allegedly intended to help it figure out demand, so it's not about individual users. But on the other, if it's used to personalise services, then it must be about individuals. And then there's the question of why the GUID is encrypted on the user's machine. Smith wonders about that... ®
John Lettice, 01 Nov 1999
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LG Philips plugs £70m into TFT

The joint venture between LG Electronics and Phillips, LG Phillips, is to invest 1.4bn won (£70 million) into a new production line for its next-generation TFT LCD screens. At the official launch of the new venture, president and CEO Koo Bon-joon said he expected production to increase from 3.8 million units to 4.5 million, with sales expected to grow to £200 million in 2001. TFT screens are tipped as the future as advances in LCD technology mean users can enjoy the same high quality as conventional screens but with a greatly reduced footprint. Bon-joon also forsees a large increase in demand as other devices such as mobile phones and digital TVs grow in popularity. For this reason, he said, the company will move its focus away from notebooks and on to desktop PCs and TVs. The company is building a third plant, expected to open late next year, to manufacture fourth-generation LCDs. LG Electronics will manufacture the screens and Phillips will provide the global selling outlets. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 01 Nov 1999
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Nvidia drives into pro 3D market with Quadro

Nvidia today unveiled its entry into the graphics workstation market, the Quadro, based on the company's 256-bit GeForce graphics chip. The part's name comes from the GeForce's QuadEngine set-up, transform, lighting and rendering technology, which, thanks to its support for OpenGL, is as applicable to professional graphics as it is to games. Not that serious 3D content creation has generally been a design goal for companies like Nvidia. The potential benefit to graphics professionals of boards from the major 3D companies has been clear for some time, but few vendors have moved to support the in-window rendering used by 3D applications as opposed to the full-screen rendering scheme preferred by games. Most 3D apps need to operate in what's essentially a 2D world -- the GUI of the system's host OS. Games don't, and since it's easier for a card to maintain its own frame buffers rather than share them with the OS and switch between the two as necessary, the more games-oriented graphics companies (3dfx, Nvidia and S3) have largely steered clear of the professional graphics markets, leaving it to the likes of 3D Labs and, to a lesser extent, ATI. Nvidia's new-found interest in the professional graphics market has clearly come about through its acquisition of SGI's graphics technology expertise. That said, given how quickly the latest games-oriented 3D technology becomes a low-margin commodity product, companies like Nvidia were always going to have to tackle related but higher margin markets like professional graphics sooner or later. Nvidia claims Quadro can generate up to 17 million triangles per second and fill up to 540 million pixels per second, which is a smidgen faster than the GeForce. Not surprisingly, the part will ship with Windows NT drivers (suitably enabled for Athlon and Pentium III), but it's interesting that Nvidia is choosing to ship Linux drivers instead of MacOS software. Given there's more professional 3D work being done on a Mac than Linux, this suggests Nvidia isn't quite as keen on supporting 3D professionals as it might like us to believe. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Nov 1999
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i820 still waiting to bottom out

A senior Intel PR executive today confirmed that the company is still working on a solution for the problem with Rambus memory that caused it to withdraw its motherboards a month back. Howard High, in charge of Intel public relations at its HQ in Santa Clara, said that his firm was still ironing out one or two problems but was still on target to deliver a solution by the end of the quarter. Intel has told its PC OEMs, including Dell, that they will be able to go with the i820 chipset in the second or third week of November, as already reported here. But the i820 motherboards and chipsets Intel will deliver are unlikely to support more than two RIMMs on board, according to our information. High said that Intel will make an announcement about the i820 chipset shortly. Meanwhile, a second tier US PC manufacturer said that Intel was expected to make an announcement very soon. He said that he had been unable to contact his local technical representatives, and that pattern usually meant that an announcement was imminent. ®
Mike Magee, 01 Nov 1999
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Silver surfers hit out over PC rental scheme

The campaigning charity Help the Aged has won assurances from the government that elderly people will not be left out in the cold as the country embraces IT. The charity was responding to the government's latest batch of promises to get Britain wired for Net revolution. In a deal that would make 100,000 cheap-to-rent PCs available to families on low incomes, Help the Aged wanted to know whether this included the elderly. Hilary Carter, a spokeswoman for the charity, said the government's proposals, announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, made no mention of the helping the elderly. "Gordon Brown failed to mention and include pensioners," said Carter. "He did not refer to older people. "A lot of older people feel they are being left out of the IT revolution. Older people are crying out for access to computers especially since they help break down isolation," she said. Carter reported that education spokesman Michael Wills said that pensioners would be included in the offer adding that the government was going to make a concerted effort to include the elderly in its future plans. ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Nov 1999
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Intel Santa Clarifies Via legal pursuit

A senior representative at Intel US has now spelled out the most recent actions it has taken against companies alleged to infringe its patents. Chuck Molloy, a representative at Intel US, said that the firm had taken action against FIC, KMS in the UK; against Aquest, Jet Systems, Jetway and Via in Singapore; and against FIC America, FIC International and Everex in the US. Molloy said that the alleged FIC and Everex infringements related to what he described as "system level" patents, and were nothing to do with chipsets. He insisted that Intel had gone through due processes in its contract with Via, first notifying them in January of this year that the company was infringing the terms of the contract they signed in November last year. He said: "In April, we put them on notice under the terms of the contract that they had 60 days to comply." Two weeks before the 60 day notice period expired, on the 18 of June, Intel terminated the contract and on the 23rd of June filed suit against Via for breaching terms of the November 1998 cross licence. He claimed that Intel attempted to reach a settlement during the 60 period but Via, for its own reasons, declined to talk to the company. He said: "I would decline to comment on whether the FIC and Everex actions are tied to the Via action". Nor, he said, would he speculate on whether Intel would extend similar lawsuits to other parties using Via chipsets. He claimed that Intel had a duty to both its shareholders and its other licensees to take action against those it thought breached its licences and patents. It is feasible that other companies, such as Compaq and IBM, have separate cross licences which cover their particular cases, but Molloy refused to comment on other agreements Intel has with such major OEMs. For the Taiwanese firms' take on this whole situation, see our story here. ®
Mike Magee, 01 Nov 1999
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Bill Gates devil numerologist can't count

Hey there, David MacCormack writes. I'm sure 1001 anal retentive people emailed you telling you "how wrong the Bill Gates is the devil - - whacky numerologist 'proves'" story was (Five, actually --Ed). I had a friend who jumped at it, and another with a pretty nifty reply. I thought you might enjoy it. Joe Geyer says By my count it should read this: B = 66 I=73 L=76 L=76 SPACE = 32 G=71 A=65 T=84 E=69 S=83 SPACE=32 I=73 I=73 I=73 Total = 946 not 666 and if you take out the spaces Total = 882 Of course, if everyone TYPED IN CAPS that would be the case, however, most names are written like: Bill Gates III which would be: B=66 i=105 l=108 l=108 space = 32 G=71 a=97 t=116 e=101 s=115 space=32 I=73 I=73 I=73 total = 1170 not 666 and if you take out the spaces Total = 1106 Of course then we could get into his real name of William...Even if you stretched and made the "I"'s 1's the value would not be "1" it would be "49" for each "I" or "1". And why would a numerologist be using a computer ASCII chart for numerology??? Erik Dickelman writes: I accept the 882 result. So start with the devil: 882 - 666 = 216 Well 212 is boiling and that's generally accepted as the temperature of HELL: 216 - 212 = 4 We have 4 left: These are for the 4 horseman of the Apocalypse See, it still works. ®
The Register breaking news

US, Russian militaries join hands for Y2K horror

We can all sleep off our New Year's Eve excesses with a bit more ease knowing that the American military intelligence apparatus is "highly confident" that the Y2K rollover will result in no accidental launches of nuclear missiles anywhere in the world. Whew. Now for the bit that will disturb your dreams: they are "concerned" about deliberate launches. According to CIA National Intelligence Officer Larry Gershwin, who testified before the Senate Y2K Committee two weeks ago, the Agency is "highly confident that Y2K failures will not lead to the inadvertent or unauthorised launch of a ballistic missile. But...we are concerned about the potential for Russia to misinterpret early-warning data." Translation? Knackered Russian computers operated by twitchy Russian military officers spells nuclear retaliation against the USA over some benign radar contact -- a flock of geese, say. With that in mind, the US and Russian governments have cooked up a scheme along the lines of an old-fashioned hostage exchange. Clan Yankee will host Clan Ruski at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a military communications nerve center near the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), presumably with an eye towards bugging out safely into bunkers dug into the bowels of the mountain just before the plutonium starts flying. "US and Russian military officers will sit side-by-side during the rollover period, from late December 1999 to mid-January 2000, and continuously monitor US-provided information on missile and space launches," a DoD statement claims. "These people will be in voice contact with command centers in the US and Russia via a highly reliable, Y2K-tested communications link. The center will [also] serve as a means to communicate about other defense-related events that could be potentially de-stabilizing, such as an aircraft going off course due to a Y2K failure of a navigation or communication system," DoD reports. One limitation is that the data will be fed through the Peterson command en route to Russia, leaving suspicious Russian officers to decide for themselves whether Uncle Sam might have tampered with it. One wonders how inclined they will be to trust American data which contradicts their own. The scheme went on hold during the NATO attacks on Jugoslavia, but has recently been brought back on track. Whatever its shortcomings, it ought to provide some measure of safety -- assuming the USA doesn't get squeamish about the slaughter now going on in Chechnya, and pull out of the deal for spite. ®
Thomas C Greene, 01 Nov 1999
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Register experience shows why Levi's was right to scrap online sales

Mass customisation. Isn't that something the Internet is supposed to be good at? Not if you're Levi Strauss, the jeans manufacturer, which is scrapping online sales.
Team Register, 01 Nov 1999
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Microsoft buys voice recognition firm

Microsoft has acquired speech-recognition specialist Entropic for an undisclosed sum. Microsoft already has a $60 million investment (some 7 per cent) in Lernout & Hauspie whose activities overlap to a certain extent, but it was enough to make L&H's share price dive 7 per cent on Friday after the news was known, and to open lower this morning. The spin being put on the acquisition by CEO Gaston Bastiaens is that Microsoft wanted speech engineers, so went out and bought them, since they are in demand and hard to recruit. He also noted that it is in L&H's interest that a voice interface becomes standard in Windows as soon as possible. Entropic has around 40 people in its Washington DC headquarters at the Entropic Cambridge Research Laboratory which was formed in 1995 as a joint venture. ECRL is a commercial conduit for Cambridge's Speech, Vision and Robotics Group, headed by Professor Stephen Young, Entropic's chief scientist. Let's hope that the taxpayers benefit from this cosy arrangement. The ominous news from ECRL is that "All current Entropic tool kits/SDK products have been withdrawn from the market" and that customers with maintenance contracts will get a prorated refund. Entropic has developed UNIX/Linux- and NT-based speech processing schools. We asked Brian Corbett, the MD of ECRL, whether this meant that UNIX development would now stop but he would not be drawn. This is about as eloquent a response as is needed to assume that Microsoft is pretty happy to extinguish further UNIX development. Paul Finke, CEO of Entropic, said that the Microsoft acquisition "would enable us to execute our strategy, allow our technology to reach a larger market and do so more quickly than would have been possible had we remained a standalone company". That also sounds like Windows-in, UNIX-out. The Washington DC office will close, and staff willing to go to Fort Redmond will be given that opportunity. Nathan Myhrvold, former head of Microsoft Research until he went walkabout, said a year or so ago that his group had completed the development of speech recognition software and that it would be included in MS Office. Now Microsoft is saying that Entropic's expertise will "complement Microsoft's ongoing efforts to enhance its speech-enabled applications" and Microsoft's speech application programming interface (SAPI). It seems as a major thrust will be for telephony access to the Web, according to "excited" Entropic founder John Shore. Another interpreatation of the deal is seen in Microsoft's statement that it is offering "a broad range of speech recognition and synthesis engines provided by various third-party speech vendors". This hints that Microsoft may try to acquire or further control other vendors like Dragon and more of L&H as a move towards wrapping up most of the action outside IBM. In addition, Microsoft probably hopes to perk up the slowing US momentum for home computers with the gimmick of speech recognition, but regional American accents may prove too much even for the Cambridge Brits. ®
Graham Lea, 01 Nov 1999