16th > November > 1999 Archive

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Corel launches Linux into the mainstream

Corel released its Linux distribution today. Aimed at the mainstream PC market, Corel Linux OS promises to recast what's widely perceived as a complex operating system for tech-heads as an easy-to-use system for the rest of us. And, it has to be said, the Canadian software company appears to have done a good job. Not that simplifying the Linux installation and set-up procedures is exactly rocket science. It's largely eliminating much of Linux installation flexibility in favour of creating a basic system the user can add stuff to and tailor to their own needs later. Corel has also added some features common to mainstream operating systems but missing from Linux. So, the GUI's (Corel Linux uses KDE) control panel sports on the fly monitor resolution and colour depth switching, a pane in which the user sets up his or her TCP/IP network information, and a printer selection pane. Corel has also stripped out most of the elements from KDE's applications menu and give it a more Windows-style feel, with Find... and Run... options, for example. KDE has been modified to detect and auto-mount CDs and floppies, and its been restyled visually to look more like the MacOS so the GUI's icons and graphics now look like they were designed by designers rather than programmers. A specially written file manager which includes Web browsing and FTP support, and a update manager that presents you not only with a list of available updates (from the Web or CD) but what you already have installed completes Corel's key extensions to the standard Debian kernel and KDE GUI. In fact, Corel Linux OS represents a good solution for more experienced users keen to take a look at the open source OS. Fortunately, all of these additions are open source, so should soon find their way into other distributions. Indeed, Corel's software is arguably more likely to appeal to those users than the mainstream market the company wants to approach. Providing a very easy to install system and applications to go with it (Corel Linux OS ships with WordPerfect Office, and the company is working on Linux versions of CorelDraw and QuattroPro) is all very well, but how do you persuade people who already have an OS, Windows, to switch over? Linux's advantages are clear to those who care about reliability and Microsoft's grip on the market, but it's questionable how many ordinary users do, and thus how many of them Corel can attract to Linux. Still, Corel has at least shown that Linux can be as professional a product as Windows, the MacOS, BeOS or any of the commercial Unix variants -- it doesn't have to have that slightly work-in-progress feel most of the other distributions, keen not to make assumptions about their users needs, inherently possess. Corel Linux OS ships in two versions: standard and deluxe. Standard retails for $49 and bundles WordPerfect Office Lite; Deluxe contains the full version of WordPerfect Office and printed manuals, and costs $79. UK, French and German versions are due February. ®
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Sony, Palm deal set to expand PalmOS horizons – and then some

Analysis Sony and Palm today announced what's possibly the most far-reaching deal the handheld computer vendor has yet made. At its most basic, the partnership allows Sony to offer Palm-based devices, and gives Palm its most prominent supporter, but the pair's agreement to co-operate on the extension of the PalmOS is anything but basic. According to the two companies' joint statement, Sony will license the PalmOS and use it to develop "an entirely new line of handheld electronics products that will not be limited to electronic organisers but are expected to include a wide range of mobile wireless telecommunications-enabled AV/IT consumer electronics products". That's good news for Palm. It has been trying hard to find licensees willing to take its technology out of the organiser market but, with the notable exception of Qualcomm's PDQ cellphone, has largely failed to do so. Even the (ultimately) customisable Handspring Visor is still just an organiser with ideas above its station. What's also good is getting a vote of support from a company not only of Sony's stature but one that's also a Windows CE licensee. Sony appears to have been largely dissatisfied with CE, but its shift to Palm is more than a snub to Microsoft, just as it's much more a boost to the Palm Platform than simply ensuring there'll soon be even more PalmOS-compatible devices out there. The key to the deal lies in the degree of collaboration between the principals. Sony's licence goes beyond taking the Palm Platform as defined by the 3Com subsidiary by allowing the Japanese giant to modify the PalmOS to incorporate its own technologies, which will then be made available to all the other PalmOS licensees. That's pretty damn radical -- you can't imagine Microsoft letting Sony do that, much less sharing the results with Compaq, Casio, et al -- but that's only the half of it. The example Sony and Palm give of this collaborative venture is the addition of support for Sony's 'solid-state floppy' technology, Memory Stick. Both companies will work together to modify the PalmOS accordingly, and presumably Palm will tinker with the Palm's hardware to add a Memory Stick slot or two to the spec. In addition, the two will build in support for other Sony technologies. Though none are named, we suspect they're look at IEEE1394 (or iLink as Sony calls it); Sony's digital content protection scheme, MagicGate; and possibly even MiniDisc support. Sony's vision centres on networked consumer electronics kit connected not only to each other but to the wider Net, the source for all the digital movies and audio we're all going to be watching and listening too five years or so down the line. The missing component from all this is its extension to mobile scenarios -- whether that's controlling networked systems while the user is moving around his or her house, or outside of it. This is clearly where Palm fits in, providing the same access to the Net when the user is on the move, as, say, the PlayStation 2 does while he or she is at home. Last week, Sony and Sun announced their ongoing collaboration on the development of the software infrastructure that makes all this device connectivity and interoperation work. Their approach centres on the Home AV Interface (HAVi), one part of which is the use of remote control devices that can, say, tell the VCR to record a programme and tell it to source the broadcast from the TV's receiver. It's not hard to see a Palm-style device providing that visual front-end. It's equally easy to see it functioning as a mobile music player for all those digital music files you've downloaded, either to play back on the move or listen to in the living room through your hi-fi. But we're not talking about simply building in MP3 features into a Palm, but to build Palm functionality into an MP3 player. Or a MiniDisc player. Or a cellphone. You choose the device that best suits your needs, but whatever you choose, you'll be able to keep track of your personal data with it at the same time. The upshot for Palm is that its product finally becomes a true, generic platform rather than a one species of organiser. Licensees will be able to take the PalmOS and not only build a Palm III clone, but create the basis for a whole range of embedded applications. But there's more. Unlike the IT business, the consumer electronics market is far more open to adopting technologies developed by rivals -- it's a business that likes to compete on products rather than the technologies underlying them. If Sony can make its network vision work, there's a good chance that other vendors will support it so they can sell kit to the same customers Sony is targeting. There's no guarantee they would necessarily choose Palm too, but there's a good chance many of them will. ®
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Torvalds confirms Transmeta 19 January 2000 ‘D-Day’

Updated Transmeta will spill the beans on 19 January 2000, the company's most famous employee, Linus 'Linux' Torvalds, revealed today. That's the day on which the secretive chip company will come clean on what it's been up to. Torvalds revealed the date during his Comdex keynote -- a talk that centred on how the IT industry has finally "got the point" about open source software, and touched on Transmeta just once. His statement confirms a report last week which claimed that 19 January would be D-Day for Transmeta. The report, which appeared on German IT magazine c't's Web site, also suggested the chip was codenamed 'Crusoe' and is aimed at the notebook market. Getting the date right would certainly imply that the rest of the c't story is accurate too. Update And indeed, it is, as a trip to the (now live) Transmeta Web site proves. The chip is called Crusoe and, as the company puts it: "We rethought the microprocessor to create a whole new world of mobility." And buried in the page's HTML: "Crusoe will be cool hardware and software for mobile applications." Torvalds didn't offer much more than the date. He did say that Transmeta's product was a "smart" CPU, and claimed it was the first chip designed in software. Quite was he meant by this isn't entirely clear -- all modern chips are designed to a greater degree using software simulation tools. However, it could be that Torvalds was indicating the chip's functionality is programmable, a concept that emerged a couple of years back in a paper published in Scientific American. That would certainly tie in broadly with some of the technologies Transmeta has been awarded patents for. However, at least now we know for certain that we don't have too long to wait to find out for sure. ®
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Caminogate III: the fun never starts

A close investigation of the technology used in Intel's Cape Cod SDRAM mobo, which it launched yesterday, has revealed some puzzling internal inconsistencies. This particular rev of Intel's i820 technology, appears to use the same drivers and the same BIOS update as the CA 810 motherboard. That suggests Intel is using the same 82801AA LPC, PCI bridge and SMbus (system management), and could even be using the 82802 firmware hub the CA 810 uses. It also implies that when supporting SDRAM in the Cape Cod mobo, Intel probably had to use 810 technology. Got that? In layzilla terms, that suggests what we always suspected, which is that the right hand of Intel doesn't know what the left hand is doing, a problem apparently common to all large corporations. And while Intel can't manage to get three Rambus RIMMs on one of its own mobos, Rioworks can. The company has released a mobo called the PU 82A which not only supports three RIMMs, but also supports a front side bus overclock of 150MHz. What does Rioworks know that Intel doesn't? Plenty, it appears. The Rioworks info is here. ®
The Register breaking news

Teacher quits in kiddie Net porn scandal

A UK headmaster has resigned from his job at a Welsh comprehensive school after allegations that he used school computers to surf the Net for porn. Chris Andrews, 48, was suspended from his post at John Beddoes Comprehensive School at Presteigne, Powys, for "inappropriate use of the Internet", the Times reported. The father of two officially left his £50,000 job six weeks after the suspension. Andrews was said to have been a pioneer for the introduction of the Internet into the rural school during his three years as headmaster. He now faces a disciplinary hearing. The accusations follow the conviction of ageing rocker Gary Glitter, who was jailed for four months last week after pleading guilty to downloading child pornography from the Internet. Glitter had downloaded 4,000 obscene images from the Net, including pictures of children. ®
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HP invents virtual CPU screwdriver

We're not sure which marketing genius thought up the "instant capacity on demand" (iCOD) tagline at HP, but whoever it was, full marks for opacity. Sifting through the chaff, the scheme appears to be a cunning way for HP to sell you more L, N and V class servers, which is what you probably expected anyway. These servers come with four, eight and 32 processors and from January next year, HP will ship machines with a full complement of chips onboard, with corporate customers only paying for the processors they think they need need. When they decide they need to use all the processors in whichever box they buy, they turn a virtual screwdriver using an HP/UX command. Why is it so cunning? Well, if you decide to take the HP route, and buy yourself a 32-way server, it's going to be hard to resist turning the virtual screwdriver, isn't it? At which point you start paying the proper price. ® * FactOid. In the good (bad) old days of IBM mainframe computing, you upgraded memory from by inviting a Big Blue engineer to twiddle his thumbs for an afternoon, while he pretended he was installing the extra memory. Instead, he just turned a screwdriver and enabled the memory that was already there.
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Student charged with unlawful 0800 use

A British Internet user is to appear before Corby Magistrates Court on Thursday charged with gaining unauthorised access to the Internet. It has been alleged that 18-year-old Chris Buckley, from Oundle, Northamptonshire, used a BT freephone 0800 number to access the Net without authorisation or permission. He's also been charged with posting material on newsgroups that may have caused "an annoyance" and for using profanities. All three charges are being brought under Section 1 of the Computer Missuse Act 1990 and Section 42 of the Telecommunications Act 1984. ®
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Net ushers in Buckets of Love for by-election

The by-election in Kensington and Chelsea next week may not be the political event of the year but it does have a smidgen of interest for Web watchers. Among the colourful list of 18 candidates fighting it out for a seat in parliament are two hopefuls that owe their political platform to the Internet. Lisa Lovebucket, the People's Net Dream Ticket Party, wants the residents of Kensington and Chelsea to use the Internet to promote greater democracy. "We will encourage the use of local Internet to provide… the facilities to discuss, debate and vote on any issues that concern them, using bulletin boards, newsgroups and chat rooms," said Ms Lovebucket in her manifesto. She also wants to introduce sponsored loan bicycles that can be left all around the Royal Borough as part of her green transport policy. The bikes would then be released from special docking stations using smart cards. Also standing at Kensington and Chelsea is Tonysamuelsondotcom, representing the Stop Tobacco Companies Farming Our Children party. Mr Tonysamuelsondotcom is particularly concerned at the use of advertising by tobacco companies to recruit young smokers. The by-election takes place on Thursday 25 November. The full list of candidates are: Labour -- Robert Atkinson Liberal Democrats -- Robert Woodthorpe Browne Green Party -- Hugo Charlton Independent Environmentalist Stop Climate Change -- John Davies Democratic Party -- Charles, Earl of Burford UK Independence Party -- Damian Hockney Daily and Sunday Sport Party -- Louise Hodges Official Monster Raving Loony Party -- Alan "Howling Laud" Hope Campaign for Living Will Legislation -- Michael Irwin People's Net Dream Ticket Party -- Lisa Lovebucket Equal Parenting Party -- Peter May UK Pensioners Party -- George Oliver Legalise Cannabis Alliance -- Colin Paisley Conservative -- Michael Portillo Referendum Party -- Stephen Scott-Fawcett Pro Euro Conservative Party -- John Stevens Stop Tobacco Companies Farming Our Children -- Tonysamuelsondotcom Natural Law -- Gerard Valente ®
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Has HP stolen Big Blue's song?

HP's new theme tune sounds distinctly familiar, or so a former IBM employee claims. It may even have the same notes played in the same order as an old IBM anthem. If you want to hum along, run the Web animated clip, which you can find here. Our music critic says: "I'm sure this was IBM's theme song back in 1989 to 1990. I remember being greeted to the IBM song every morning in NYC as I was getting ready to go to work at my job on Wall Street." So has HP returned to cloning IBM? We don't know. The IBM Press Office often takes weeks to return calls. But our correspondent has the answer. He said: "I think IBM should sue the hell out of them." ®
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So why is Intel's Coppermine good?

Many readers have reacted to stories about Intel's Coppermine .18 micron process by saying: "So what's go good about that?". There are several answers to this question and an Intel representative has given us the company answer to the question. Without baffling our readers with technical details they may or may not wish to know, this is why it is important that consumers know whether the 500MHz Coppermine PCs they might be thinking of buying are better than the old .25 micron technology. First, said the representative, it means that Intel has reduced the voltage supplied to the microprocessor, meaning that the chip company can make the processor go faster. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it allows Intel to cram more transistors into the same chip size, which means that cache can be added into the chip. That will make your PC go faster. Thirdly, and this is our comment rather than Intel's, it allows the firm to cream more money out of the very expensive silicon wafers that it uses to make. In fact, it is a veritable goldmine. By this time next year, all of Intel's fabrication plants will be churning them out. ®
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Rambus systems roll from Dell

Dell has announced that it is shipping its first Rambus-ready workstations. The Dell Precision 420 runs on either a single or dual 733MHz or 600Mhz PIII chip and uses the i840 chipset with 133MHz FSB. Claimed by the demon of the direct sales model as its fastest workstation yet, the Precision 420 has dual channel Rambus memory, Ultra 160/M SCSI HDDs, AGP Pro graphics and improved graphics cards. Dell was caught out when Intel canned its Camino i820 Rambus-focused chipset. It had already started advertising that it had i820-based systems ready for sale when Chipzilla stomped on the i820 launch at the last minute. All these problems – sorry, errata – are now in the past. Aren't they…? ®
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Gateway signs deal with UK's largest reseller

Computacenter is to distribute Gateway PCs in the UK, following the signing of a two-year deal to target corporate and government business. Called Service Direct, the agreement covers the whole of Europe but kicks off in the UK. Computacenter will add Gateway to its existing major-account sales portfolio and Gateway will target the SME market. Despite its strong retail presence, Gateway has struggled to break into the UK business market. It no doubt hopes this deal will let it do just that. Computacenter communications manager, Phil Williams, denied there was any contradiction in a reseller cosying up to a direct-selling PC maker. "Our main role is to provide our customers with the best quality hardware and services we can – this has to be given to them in a cost-effective bundle that meets their needs." He said the agreement was a reaction to the runaway success of Dell's build-to-order/sell direct model. But he refuted suggestions that Computacenter would compromise existing partnerships with PC manufacturers. Compaq in particular is unlikely to be overjoyed when it hears its biggest European channel partner is now doing business with Gateway. "At the end of the day, we're customer driven, not vendor driven," he said. "Compaq is a major partner and we will continue to work with them. We are developing a new model with Gateway which may, one day, be extended to other relationships." ®
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Official: Steve Jobs most important man in IT

Steve Jobs, the still-interim CEO of Apple is the most important man in IT – according to Upside magazine and "industry insiders". The Elite 100 list put the charismatic Jobs top of the list, applauding him for his cockiness and marketing savvy and in particular his ability to get up Intel's nose for talking up its "bland boxes". Jobs comes one place ahead of Microsoft CEO and the richest man in the world, Bill Gates. Bill, as we all know, has not had the easiest year what with the US government clambering all over him, but nevertheless, Microsoft has managed to maintain its control on all things PC and Net based. As would be expected with IT, very few of the top 100 last year make it into this year's list (in fact, just 39), and the new entrants reflect the power shifts that have taken place in the last month. So goodbye to David Filo of Yahoo!, David Bohnett of GeoCities, Ray Lane of Oracle and Eric Hippeau of Ziff-Davis. And a big hello to Carly Fiorina, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Christopher Galvin, chairman and CEO of Motorola, Rick Belluzzo, CEO and VP of Microsoft Online and Sumner Redstone, chairman and CEO of Viacom. The top 20 contained the usual suspects: Michael Armstrong, chairman and CEO of AT&T was second, Masayoshi Son, founder, president and CEO of Softbank third, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems fourth and the remainder welcomed Big Blue Lou, Sunny Scott McNealy, Michael Dell, Craig "Chip" Barrett and Jeff "The Bookie" Bezos, among others. ®
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Internet doomed to fail, say experts

This week a leading MIT scientist and the UK's largest telecomms company demonstrated that the Internet's expandability may collapse within the next 10 years.
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Microsoft unveils MSN Web appliance design

Microsoft yesterday came up with some more information about its MSN Companion Web "toaster," but stayed bashful about the most important bits - how much it's going to cost, and how it's going to be sold. The MSN Companion is intended to be a cheap Internet access appliance for the masses who can't afford computers, and by happy coincidence the act of wiring them up is intended to boost MSN's subscriber base. The CE-based appliances are being built by Acer, Philips, Thomson Consumer Electronics and Vestel USA, and will be out in the middle of next year. Microsoft devices of this class will ultimately wind up going head-to-head with the gizmos AOL intends to market ('sell' would really be the wrong word here), and to some extent with Microsoft's own WebTV, although the company has taken some pains to explain why this last bit won't be the case. But really, the Companion is more a piece of packaging than a new product as such. It's intended to come in different shapes and sizes, including LCD variants, little ones and monitor plus keyboard units. Trial fanciers can have a wry chuckle over Microsoft's explanation of the Companion's advantages for the companies building it: "Because the device is an integrated end-to-end management platform, it frees OEMs from having to harness individual components such as client and server software, Internet access and back-end services-all of which can be significant barriers to building a Web companion device. The streamlined browser-based platform is designed to set the stage for hardware innovation, freeing OEMs to focus on differentiation and delivering highly functional Web companions to consumers." That is, Microsoft seems to have integrated the lot this time, and will be calling most of the shots over specification and software, leaving the manufacturers to differentiate by, er, making them look different. But that's actually pretty logical in this area - companies building this class of box will want to sell them by the million and won't want to be putting money into software development, and the AOL boxes, when they come along, will likely take a similar route, albeit with a different operating system. Microsoft sees the Companion as being the sort of thing you can sit on your kitchen table and use as easily as a toaster. We don't wish to carp, but can't resist suggesting that this would be something of a first for a Microsoft system. In order to get it onto that kitchen table, however, Microsoft is going to have to come up a sales system that stands a chance of attracting non Web-enabled users by the ton. That in itself will be tricky, and the problem will be exacerbated by the service it's chained to. AOL and others currently beat MSN as an ISP by miles, and if AOL and others put out similar devices via similar marketing programmes, why should anything change? Undoubtedly the Companions will go out via the MSN stores within stores in Tandy outlets. If they're sold outright, the tag will probably be in the region of $200, but some kind of rental plus subsidy arrangement, the kind of scheme ISPs are starting to borrow from the mobile phone business, is likely to be more effective. The upfront subsidy per box is going to have to come from MSN itself, so this is going to be a pretty expensive programme for Microsoft. Between now and the actual product rollout we can expect to hear that other ISPs will use similar platforms, but again Microsoft is likely to find it tough to sell the concept to them. Current programmes in this area are based on bargain basement or 'free' PCs, and as CE has so far been pretty much a failure as an operating system for the appliance and set-top box sectors, it's difficult to see what there is about the Companion that will change this. ®
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Iomega hops onto MP3 bandwagon – again

Having tried and largely failed to leap onto the digital music bandwagon earlier this year with its Zip drive, troubled storage specialist Iomega is now having another bash at it, this time with its compact 40MB Clik! Technology. This time round, Iomega's plan makes more sense, but arguably it's no more likely to win widespread support with consumer electronics companies than the company's scheme to get set-top box and PC vendors to choose Zip as the preferred storage medium for digital music files. The trouble with the Zip approach wasn't Zip's 100MB capacity but its general clunkiness -- consumers like things to be sleek and sexy, neither of which you can honestly say about Zip. Clik!, on the other hand, scores quite nicely here and, more to the point, is sufficiently compact (and low power) to be fitted into portable MP3 players, which are where the action is right now in the digital music market. Iomega is supporting Microsoft's Windows Media Device Manager, which is a Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) compliant tool to transfer legitimate music files between a PC, a portable player and external storage systems, so it will be ready to take advantage of SDMI devices when they appear sometime next year -- if they appear at all (see SDMI can't kill MP3 admits industry). In the meantime, Iomega's attempt to sell more disks and drives and thus return to profitability is focusing on the broadly non-SDMI MP3 market, pushing Clik! as a kind of digital cassette. It's not yet clear whether the three companies who've agreed to say they might use the technology -- Addonics, Varo Vision and Sensory Science; yes, we haven't heard of them either -- view Clik! as simply a storage medium or whether their devices will play tracks straight off the disk. Clik! is ideally suited to this kind of role, and you can see it taking its place alongside tape and MiniDisc as a format for listeners to rip their CDs to when they're out and about. That's clearly where Iomega's thinking lies, but it has some way to go here. First, the major consumer electronics vendors and the digital music pioneers, such as Diamond, Samsung and Creative Labs, are all pursuing solid-state storage technologies, and one, Sony, is pushing its own system, Memory Stick, as a putative global standard. Speaking of Sony, its MiniDisc format is rapidly becoming the format of choice for the Walkman generation, and for all the bullish predictions about the MP3 market, is likely to considerably outsell solid state machines over the next year or so. Sony already has the support of EMI, and is about to announce that both Warners and Polygram (now everyone has forgotten about parent company Philips' Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) format) are to issue music on MiniDisc. After years of campaigning, MiniDisc is beginning to pay off as listeners replace portable cassette players with digital MiniDisc units. Like it or not, this is going to be a much bigger market than the MP3 business for some time, since you don't need an Internet connection to use it. That leaves Clik! in a difficult competitive position, and it will be interesting to see if Iomega can not only sign more supporters for the technology but get some of the big CE names on board too. Clik! is certainly a worthwhile technology in this space, but that's no guarantee of success. As it stands, we suspect Iomega has another DCC on its hands. ®
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Double-speed 1394 silicon due in volume by end Q1 2000

IEEE 1394, the high-speed digital connectivity standard, is set to hit 800Mbps, double its current throughput, in Q1 2000, with production silicon available to PC vendors and consumer electronics companies by the end of the quarter, the 1394 Trade Association has said. The speed hike is the result of the already announced 1394b spec., launched in the face of Intel's Universal Serial Bus 2.0, which is now promised to reach 400Mbps and up mid-2000. USB 2.0 isn't expected to appear in product form until late next year, so if the 1394 TA's schedule is met, 800Mbps 1394 devices should be out well in advance of the Intel-sponsored solution. The 1394 TA's chairman, James Snider, was typically bullish, claiming that 90 per cent of all camcorders to be released in Japan next year will support 1394. Fine, but so far only three PC vendors are backing the technology: Sony, Fujitsu and its inventor, Apple. Snider also cited upcoming 1394-based printers from Epson, scanners from Umax and mass storage products from Fujitsu. Again, that's hardly a massive vote of support from the PC peripherals industry. While 800Mbps is a significant step forward in throughput, only digital video applications are ever likely to benefit, which is the one 'flaw' with 1394 -- it's too highly specced for almost all PC-centric applications. A 1394 printer is as daft an idea as a SCSI-based one -- printers a limited by the speed of the print engine, not the speed of data moving from host PC to peripheral. That said, 1394's peer-to-peer approach to connectivity will mean that, say, a file can be printed from a 1394 hard drive straight on a 1394 printer without the need for a PC to control the process. And 1394 is certainly making inroads into other consumer electronics markets -- Sony, for one, sees it as the foundation for the connection of all home digital devices -- so the technology's future is assured even if it fails to win wide backing from the PC industry. ®
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MS to join Bluetooth in December, without get-out on IP

Microsoft will officially announce that it has joined the Bluetooth SIG early next month, it seems inevitable. But it seems equally inevitable to that Redmond will not get all the variations in terms and conditions it's thought to have been seeking. As revealed here last week (see story), Microsoft is already beavering away to build support for Bluetooth into its platforms, despite the fact that officially the company isn't a Bluetooth member. The world and its dog bar Microsoft, however, supports Bluetooth, which is intended to be a cheap, ubiquitous wireless standard allowing practically everything to talk to everything else, and it's difficult to see how it could fail to take off, even if Microsoft actively opposed it. Microsoft however had two problems with Bluetooth. First of all it wasn't one of the five founder, leading and controlling members, and second Bluetooth's IP policy is decidedly MS-hostile. By signing up to the SIG you agree to giving up your rights to anything you contribute to the Bluetooth standard. The Bluetooth licensing Ts & Cs are really quite GPL-ish, and Microsoft hasn't historically been that kind of company. But it can't be working on Bluetooth without having already cut a deal in private, or at the very least to have one agreed in principle. The next likely opportunity for an announcement is the Bluetooth conference in Los Angeles early next month, so we reckon that's probably going to be the day. Microsoft will inevitably be recruited to an expanded version of the founding members' group, and it's rumoured that this will go up from five to nine or ten. It's not clear who the others are but more anally retentive readers might like to read their way through the thousand-plus entries in the SIG membership lists and figure out who's big and not there. But it's now highly unlikely that the IP deal will be changed because of Microsoft's entry. Staff from founder company Ericsson, speaking here yesterday at a Bluetooth briefing (report to follow), firmly declined to speculate about Microsoft joining, but were adamant that the Bluetooth Ts & Cs were set in concrete. "We can't change the rules for Microsoft, because then we'd have to change them for everybody else." That nails Ericsson's colours firmly to the mast, and leaves virtually no room for manoeuvre. You can however take a guess at what that will mean for Microsoft's Bluetooth policy. Microsoft does already operate a firm 'we adhere to open standards' policy as far as XML is concerned, and has yet to be caught pulling the old 'embrace, extend, engulf' gag. So maybe it's not such a big camel to swallow after all. ®
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Be's Stinger OS selected for Nat Semi WebPad

Alternative OS developer Be's scheme to break into the embedded market took a major step forward today, when its cut-down version of the BeOS, codenamed Stinger, was selected by National Semiconductor as the OS component of its WebPad Internet appliance reference design. Both companies were keen to stress that their partnership isn't a formal one -- so any OEM that licenses WebPad will have to license Stinger separately -- and it's not clear whether Stinger is being used in all WebPad-based reference platforms or simply for those aimed at multimedia applications. Still, it's good news for Be, which has come to see the embedded market, and the Internet appliance arena in particular, as the place where it can really make its mark. Or rather make money, something the company to date has consistently failed to do, despite regular rises in turnover. Be's attempts to drive into first the Mac and then the Intel markets as an alternative OS hasn't been met with widespread success, not least because it arrived just as Linux was appearing out of nowhere to become the challenger to Windows. Of course, the problem for Be is that all the Linux distributors have exactly the same interest in the embedded market as it does, so it's not in for an easy ride. However, the BeOS has one key advantage over Linux: powerful multimedia support, born out of the company's Apple heritage. With digital content provision being touted as one way the Net will break through into the consumer electronics mainstream, Be is in a good position to cash in here. Getting in on Nat Semi's WebPad project will give Be a chance to demonstrate Stinger running as part of a real product. It's also significant in that WebPad is also a wireless device, so it gives Be a way into a market that's even more important than digital content provision: mobile Net access. WebPad is an old Cyrix project, one that Nat Semi retained when it sold the chip developer off to Via. WebPad ties into a base station unit through a wireless link -- the base station connects to the Net via a modem or LAN. It's based on Nat Semi's x86-compatible Geode CPU. ®