10th > November > 1999 Archive
Terry Shannon, the inveterate DEC and Compaq watcher, is once more allowing us to steal some of his stuff from DECUS in San Diego. If you dig deep, you can find his daily update at Shannon knows Compaq. The veteran reporter tells us in his latest communique from the front line that up to 7,000 jobs might go at the Big Q real soon now. Around 500 of those job losses are to do with the decking of Alpha NT by the Big Q. Compaq has also reiterated its support for the Alpha processor. According to the boys and girls at Q Centrale, the first microprocessor refresh will be an 833MHz EV68 system. WildFire, says Compaq, will scale to 48 of the Alpha chip. Shannon reports that Linuxmen and Linuxwomen are going berserk at DECUS, with Jon "Mad Dog" Hall doing his stuff at the conference. Linux has now been demoed both on big quad Alpha systems as well as the Compaq eight-way Proliant, which uses Intel's profusion technology. For the full daily round-up, check out Shannon's site. ®
Two large distributors, Ingram Micro and Tech Data, have begun to offer Pentium III processors using the Coppermine .18 process to their dealer base. According to one dealer, both distributors have "really good" availability on the 600EB, the 650MHz and the 666MHz part. Ingram is promising to have other of the parts in stock shortly, except for the 500E and the 550E Pentium IIIs. Stock is also limited on the 700MHz part and to a lesser extent the 733MHz part, as we reported yesterday. The delays and shortages are apparently nothing to do with Intel's process technology, we are given to understand. Intel hopes to switch all of its fabrication facilities over to the .18 micron process by the end of next year. However, the dealer we talked to expressed himself puzzled at the lack of availability of the VC820 (Vancouver) and CC820 motherboards. Intel is introducing its i820 boards at Comdex in Las Vegas next week, but the lack of these boxed Intel motherboards is strange. Dealers and system integrators normally need a supply reasonably early so that they can build -- and sell -- systems. Meanwhile, we learn that if you have an original i820 Rambus motherboard it is a collector's item. The chip giant has scoured its universe to retrieve every one it can and trash it. Bit too big for a keyring, then -- unlike the Pentium Pro and the Pentium FDIV parts. ® See also Intel beset by further Coppermine, chipset delay Is Intel sorted for Es? Chipzilla's Coppermine - we got one
GE Capital is to cut around 200 jobs from its UK distribution/VAR arm, formerly P&P, and move into services. The US-based company said it was in a three-month consultation period with staff in the division, which has been re-named ITS (Information Technology Services). Part of the proposal involves the company quitting the distribution business to concentrate on value added services, said Craig Kershaw, associate director of European PR at GE Capital. GE Capital is also looking at developing the Internet business of the division – which is currently a distributor for PCs, servers, software and networking products. "The business has announced it is entering a consultation period," Kershaw said. "We will be discussing the alternatives with all the employees at ITS and a range of options are being considered." One plan to be discussed involves moving the ITS business to one main location near its customer base in South London, with smaller regional offices in Scotland and the North. ITS currently has around 750 staff in the UK, with most of the workforce understood to be at Rossendale, Lancashire. The aim is to chop this number to 500, according to Kershaw. He was unsure if existing or new premises would be used for the relocation. ITS also has offices in Aldwych, London, and Burgess Hill, south of London. Kershaw was unable to say if any offices would be closing, or what the new services focus would involve, for fear of "subverting the consultation period". Earlier this year, GE Capital announced a deal to outsource its configuration, assembly and logistics in the US to Tech Data. This was believed to be worth around $2 billion to distributor Tech Data. GE Capital bought P&P from Skillsgroup in January 1998 for £11 million, taking on its £15 million debt. ®
A pro gay and lesbian ISP in the US is calling on AOL to come clean about double standards and how it censors minority interest groups. Charles Honeycutt, founder of the national gay and lesbian ISP, rainbowvoice.com, wants AOL to practise greater consistency with the enforcement of its anti-hate policy. His call for fair play comes after an AOL subscriber in Texas had his online member profile (a personal resume that expresses an AOL member's personality or character) rubbed out because he referred to himself as a "submissive bottom". The Texan's personal profile was erased because it contained language held on AOL's "block list", which prevents users from using certain hate speech and sexually explicit language. What has enraged many users is the apparent double standards practised by AOL, for the lesbian and gay community claims to have identified several anti-gay and racist elements in member profiles that were not deleted. "The challenge is simple," said Honeycutt, who is also backing a boycott of AOL by the lesbian and gay community on 16 November. "We want AOL to make good on their anti-hate policy by fairly and consistently enforcing the rules to all of its users all of the time. The policies should be enforced among all AOL users, regardless of their race, gender or sexual preference," he said. It is understood AOL is meeting gay and lesbian campaigners to try and thrash out a settlement and prevent further escalation. It's not been a good couple of weeks for AOL. Last Thursday the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) filed a lawsuit against the monster ISP. The NBF claimed AOL contravened the Americans with Disabilities Act because its service would not work with software that allows the blind to interact with their PCs -- a claim which has been challenged. Such direct action is not just restricted to the AOL members in the US. In Britain, AOL UK members have threatened to strike over the handling of the company's 0800 trial. ®
Fujitsu has doubled the size of its entry-level hard discs to 20.4GB, producing a family that is "ideal for value-class consumer PCs and entertainment devices". The step up reflects a sudden demand for more storage from consumers who have hooked up to the Internet and wish to download large files. The drive offers transfer rates of 37.8Mbps and an access time of 9.5ms. It will be available at the end of this month, although Fujitsu will not release the disc price at the moment. ®
AST Computer UK is re-entering the UK retail market with a toaster-sized PC. Perhaps it hopes that size doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that counts.
NEC has formed a subsidiary, NEC Computers International (NECC), to take over what's left of its failed Packard Bell operation. NECC will cover all of NEC's PC and server activities outside of Japan and China, with its own wholly owned subsidiaries covering specific territories.
MS on Trial The Department of Justice and US states officials will insist on Microsoft's monopoly of the operating system market being broken, according to a story in today's New York Times. No precise mechanism for doing so has yet been identified, but according to state officials quoted in the Times piece several measures are being considered.
Maxtor has released its latest high performance hard disk drive, named the DiamondPlus 40. The IDE 40.9GB drive is being marketed to appeal to multimedia users since its high spin speed (7200rpm) enables it to throw out large files, such as video clips, quickly. Mike Cannon, Maxtor's CEO, said the drive's speed would allow people to use IDE products where they would normally use SCSI, quoting online video editing as a typical application where the drive would come into its own. The drive has a 9ms average seek time, 2MB cache buffer, 100MHz SDRAM memory and a Maxtor proprietary processor. It will cost £229 and is available from January next year. ®
Sony has agreed to build Sun's Java and Jini technologies into its digital consumer electronics products. The move wasn't entirely unexpected. Sony has been making noises about its vision of home entertainment systems seamlessly networked with each other and the Internet for some time, most notably in reference to the upcoming PlayStation 2, but this is perhaps the first time it's discussed the technology that's going to make all of this work. The plan calls for Sony's digital appliances to support the Home Audio-Video Interoperability (HAVi) scheme, which essentially allows devices to connect to each other through IEEE 1394 (or iLink, as Sony calls it) links, using it both as a data transport mechanism and to communicate. The concept here is that your HAVi-compliant TV can not only display pictures via iLink from your HAVi DVD player, but allow your HAVi VCR to use the TV's digital decoder to receive and record programmes while you're watching something else -- essentially the VCR gets to 'use' the TV. The other interesting thing about HAVi is the way it allows both wider access to the Web, and allows one device to act as a visual front end to other devices. All of which sounds remarkably like the way Sony has been describing the broader role of the PlayStation 2 -- just hook it up to your TV and thence to your other HAVi devices, and you can use the console to program your video and pick up Web-located digital content. HAVi was launched back in May 1998 to provide an intelligent scheme for networking consumer electronics kit, and is based on Java, which is where Sun comes into all of this. The HAVi beta spec. called for a series of data-stream, device-interoperability and device-management APIs. And -- neatly --that's largely what Sun has been working on in the meantime, coming up with Jini, Java Embedded Server and Sun Management Center software, all of which pretty much provide all of the software components the original HAVi spec. called for. There's clearly some work still to do, specifically to tie Jini into HAVi, but the timing of this latest announcement suggests that Sony is on course to demo HAVi-based digital appliances by the end of the year, as originally planned. ®
Microsoft is to take another step toward dealing direct and cutting out the channel with the launch of its online rental service next year. The software vendor yesterday outlined its strategy for Office Online -- it will start by leasing Office 2000 over the Net -- and named BT as its chief partner in the UK. Microsoft named 15 partners worldwide, including Micron Electronics and Qwest Communications, and said it was looking for more companies to join the scheme. The only partner so far signed up in the UK is BT. These partners will compete head-to-head with Microsoft, which will push the leasing direct from its Web site. The scheme will start with Office 2000 early next year, but will spread to other software later, said Stephen Uden, Microsoft UK channel strategy manager. It will be aimed at small businesses that don't want to buy software. According to Uden: "This is an opportunity for the whole channel and we want to partner with as many companies as we can." He said the move would not undermine the channel, although obviously Microsoft will be competing with resellers as well as BT for customers. "We don't want to undercut our partners. We will price it to sell, but our partners will be able to add a lot of value to it." Uden said he would like to see all 1500 Microsoft resellers in the UK join the software rental scheme. ®
Gordon Brown has announced a voucher scheme where up to 50,000 low-paid and unemployed people will get basic computer training.
Three head honchos at Computer Associates were yesterday ordered by a US court to return stock worth $550 million. The 9.5 million shares were part of a 20.25 million share grant given to the three execs as part of an executive compensation package authorised by shareholders in 1995.
CallNet 0800 compromised the financial security of thousands of Net users last week after it admitted that its online registration system was not totally secure. Although the toll-free ISP maintains there was never a problem with its servers, it has revealed that the transaction process between the user and CallNet 0800 was not secure. The registration system that allowed people to register their credit card and personal details online went live last Wednesday and was only shut down this week. Net users need to register their credit card details with CallNet 0800 to take advantage of cut-price telephone calls. Keith Goodyear, VP of CallNet UK said the episode was an "oversight" by the company. The problem arose because the VeriSign digital certification system that would have secured the online transactions was not delivered on time, claimed Goodyear. CallNet is still waiting for the VeriSign certificate and has disconnected the online sign-up service until it arrives and is in place. "The chances of anyone's details being hacked [en route] are minimal," said Goodyear, adding that there had been no reports of any security breaches. But CallNet's apparent lackadaisical approach to security has angered some people. One reader, who asked not to be named, said he was so worried when he found out he intended to cancel his credit card just in case his security has been compromised. Elsewhere, Simon Lofthouse, a spokesman for Britain's first digital certification authority, Inter Clear Services, said: "At best this is careless, at worst negligent." While Lofthouse agreed with Goodyear that the chances of people's personal details being hacked were slim, he said it was simply too much of a risk to take. "Chances are they wouldn't get hit, but what if they had? It's not just their reputation that goes the drain, it is the whole industry [that has to carry the can]." ® Additional information: Click here for Inter Clear Services
BT's seemingly groundbreaking decision to "slash the cost of dial-up Internet access" is not all it seems. Aimed at ISPs rather than end users, it will only be available for service providers who manage at least 140,000 Net users. Take into account all the complex maths tied up in the offer, users could expect to pay at least £16 for around 30 hours call time a month. Add on VAT and the ISP's cut, and the figure could be nearer £20 a month, if not higher. BT's carrot yesterday was to announce that its new deal "will make it possible for ISPs to launch radically new subscription tariffs which might include unlimited dial-up calls to the Internet for a single monthly fee". The stick, is that BT's move is a competitive backlash at those ISPs and telcos that have been able to offer subscription-free services by taking their cut of the interconnect charges. BT's offer means that the interconnect charges would simply not exist in this new arrangement. And the result is that if Freeserve, say, wanted to take advantage of BT's offer, it would probably have to ditch its own telco, Energis. If that happened, Freeserve -- or any other subscription-free ISP that generated its revenue from the interconnect charge -- would have to make up a substantial shortfall in revenue either by charging a subscription, or by generating more revenue from ecommerce or ads. Not surprisingly, no one at Energis was willing to be interviewed today, although it is expected to issue a formal response later this afternoon. Freeserve was equally tight-lipped. ®
Analysis Apple unveiled QuickTime 4.1 yesterday at the company-sponsored QuickTime Live event. Most of what lifts QT 4.1 above 4.0 are minor improvements -- better support for firewalls (previously a problem since firewalls generally don't handle QT's Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) well) and building in AppleScript support -- but two key features do stand out: seamless advert insertion and support for Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL -- but pronounced 'smile', apparently), even though they're basically the same thing. SMIL is essentially a scripting language, not dissimilar to HTML, that allows Webmasters to co-ordinate the display of numerous media streams and files. It's a W3C standard -- version 1.0 is 'recommended'; the next release, codenamed Boston, was drafted earlier this year -- but one that hasn't won much support outside the streaming media world. To date, the only well-known media player to support SMIL is RealNetworks' RealPlayer G2 -- it isn't even supported by the leading Web browsers. RealNetworks' use of SMIL made sense as a way of adding extra functionality, cheaply. Since SMIL is an open standard, RealNetworks could easily incorporate it into its server and player software, and allow users to create complex presentations by sequencing multiple media strands. One of the key opportunities SMIL ads to a streamed media presentation is the ability to program in the appearance of other media on top of the main, say, video track. The makes it very easy to, say, place a regular banner ad on top of a video, or impose commercial breaks into a streamed movie. All very neat, of course -- unless you're the poor sod whose phone bill is rising by the second thanks to all the unwanted ads suddenly appearing in the latest Star Wars trailer. It's probably bandwidth issues that have kept RealNetworks from promoting RealSystems' SMIL support. Apple, however, is coming to this with Akamai's bandwidth-extending technology under its belt, so is less troubled by the practicalities of extending streamed media this way. More to the point, as a pretender to RealNetworks' streaming media crown, it needs to not only increase the number of features it can promote to content providers, but it needs to describe them in revenue generating terms, hence the focus on seamless advert insertion rather than, say, training presentations or videoconferencing, both of which can be made to work using streamed media and SMIL. The benefit could prove short lived, however. SMIL is a variety of XML, and since we'll soon all be using that as a baseline, everything will by definition support SMIL too. That could explain why Microsoft doesn't appear to have paid much attention to SMIL with its own streaming media efforts, and is instead cutting to the chase with XML. Be that as it may, QuickTime 4.1's SMIL-support should help Apple push its drive to win the backing of more content providers -- in turn leading to more sales of Macs as content creation systems. At the very least, by increasing the quantity and quality of QuickTime content out there, Apple can raise its profile among users in the hope that some of them will by a Mac next time they upgrade. In that respect, Apple's touting of QuickTime 4.1's ability to seamlessly integrate ads into streamed media is highly appropriate -- since QuickTime itself is ultimately one big ad for Apple computers. ®
Microsoft is expanding its UK investment plan by ploughing £50 million into its research facility in Cambridge. The software giant, which has gone into a spending spin in the UK since Bill Gates met our PM Tony Blair last month, was said to be in "confidential talks" with Cambridge University. According to today's Financial Times, Microsoft wants to take over around 20 per cent of the university's new computer laboratory, but the Cambridge authorities have refused. Instead, the company is to invest £50 million over the next five years to build a stand-alone Microsoft research laboratory next door to the lab. Its facility is currently in the city centre. The planned internal lab would have employed between 55 and 65 staff. Microsoft currently has 45 researchers at Cambridge, and it is thought the new facility will boost this number to 100. The university, said to welcome Microsoft's revised plans, is now looking for a new company to fill the 20 per cent of space left in its lab. Microsoft opened its Cambridge site, its first laboratory outside the US, three years ago. ®
Tomb Raider IV is to be released in a simpler US format for American kids with ten-minute attention spans. The British version of the game has been deemed too difficult by its manufacturer Eidos and so it has made the puzzles easier to solve. The game, which features the pneumatic Lara Croft, combines shoot-'em-up action with a range of brain-teasing challenges that have to be completed to progress through the game. However, according to an Eidos representative, research has shown that Americans only play computer games for brief periods before going off to watch the TV. If they haven't solved a puzzle within this limited time span, interest in the game drops off. The Register despairs. Kids these days, eh? Eidos is also changing the game for the Japanese market -- but not to make it easier this time. In Japan Lara will suffer penalties rather than get killed off as she would in the British version. Why? Because the Japanese never want to die during a game. She will also change the way she dispatches the bad guys because of the deeply-held fear of dying a "dishonourable death". Odd as it may seem, a computerised woman with abnormal body shapings has become a cultural indicator. Welcome to the 21st Century. ®
Notorious Bluetooth hold-out Microsoft seems to be poised to join the group, if the company's own job ads are to be believed. Microsoft is not, currently, either one of the five Bluetooth founder members or a member of the prodigiously large Bluetooth SIG, but Microsoft is, currently, recruiting staff in order to incorporate Bluetooth into its products. The company is currently looking for a group programme manager, a programme manager and a software design engineer to work on Bluetooth-related projects, and the latter vacancy notice reveals most about what the company is up to.
A new style of email virus that doesn't require an attachment to be opened to infect a computer has been discovered, forewarning the world of the next generation of viruses. The virus, called BubbleBoy, isn't itself very dangerous but its makeup is likely to be used as a foundation for more malicious variants. BubbleBoy infects Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express and requires Internet Explorer 5 -- standard on Windows 98 machines. It will not work on Windows NT, however. The virus uses embedded VB Script to write a file to your computer's hard disk. The next time you turn on the machine, the file alters the registration name from yours to BubbleBoy and then sends itself to everyone in the Outlook address book -- the same way in which the Melissa virus spread itself so quickly. A patch is available on Microsoft's Web site, although if IE5's security is set to High the virus will be unable to infect your machine. The virus was anonymously sent to anti-virus vendors, but has been posted at underground virus Web sites, making the emergence of more damaging viruses a virtual certainty. ® For the BubbleBoy patch, click here.
A psychiatrist almost died because he held his telephone in the wrong position, doctors said yesterday. The 43-year-old Frenchman suffered a stroke after talking to a patient for over an hour with the phone receiver held between his ear and shoulder. Shortly after the call, he experienced temporary blindness in his left eye, a ringing in his left ear and had difficulty speaking, the Daily Telegraph reports.