19th > November > 1999 Archive
Dell shut down European PC assembly lines at its Limerick, Ireland plant for four days, following a little, local trouble with the FunLove virus. The company checked out 12,000 machines, including 500 PCs that had already gone out to customers - and they were all free of the fairly innocuous virus (it posts the message Fun Loving Criminal on your screen). Oh well, better safe than sorry. But who pressed the panic button? Perhaps it was a Dell customer: Corporate Ireland has witnessed several FunLove outbreaks recently. The finger could have pointed back to Dell. Dell is working round the clock to make- up for lost time. Hurrah, overtime for all and in the run up to Christmas, too. The FunLove product recall and four days down-time will translate into two days lost production, according to Dell. We'll have to wait for the next set of results to find how much that translates into dollars and cents. ®
Horizon Technology Group is seeking a dual listing on the Irish and London Stock Exchanges for December. The Cork-based distributor's flotation is being sponsored by NCB Corporate Finance. The company's principal shareholders, Samir Naji and Charles Garvey, will see their holdings diluted after the float, with NCB set to place more than five per cent of the company, or 2.9 million shares, with institutional and private investors, it said. Staff will also get the chance to buy shares. In total, these three groups of investors will hold 25 to 30 per cent of shares in the company. Two months ago the company - which is the parent of Sun reseller Horizon Open Systems and Clarity distribution in the UK - was valued at around £70 million. Horizon will embark on an investor roadshow over the next few weeks to drum up investor support. "Admission to the Official Lists will raise the profile of the Group, enhance its reputation with clients and suppliers and provide it with greater financial flexibility for future organic and acquisition led growth," said Kevin Melia, Horizon Technology Group chairman. "In addition, the company will be able to offer attractive incentives to its employees." Samir Naji, founder and MD of the group, said: "Future growth will come from a focus on niche markets particularly with Internet-related projects and Internet infrastructure." Horizon Technology Group has 260 staff with offices in Ireland, the UK and Continental Europe. ®
Bol.com, the online bookshop launched by Bertelsmann AG earlier this year, will add to the growing competition for CDs over the Web by launching its own service at the end of the month. No fancy title, but Bol will have over 500,000 titles to choose from, 50 per cent of which, it says, will have 30-second audio clips for the try-before-you-buy experience. The music site will also keep to the tradition of under-cutting the high street and will offer the top 20 albums for £9.99. It will also include the usual news, reviews and interviews. Bol was launched in March as a competitor to the all-powerful Amazon, claiming an inventory of every UK book in print. The music site is the next step in the company's plans to become a major player in the world of ecommerce. ®
The UK Conservative Party may not have heard of Cisco, but if so, perhaps it should give the company a ring. With a market capitalisation of something like $250 billion, and an acquisitive maw that makes Moby Dick's mouth look like a minnow, it is the nearest thing to a Great Satan of Networks there is on the planet. And perhaps William Hague, the UK Conservative Party leader, who we know is big on the Internet and all things techie, might care to consider that Cisco routers are essentially running the World Wide Web, ergo e-commerce too. Colin Watts, business development manager of Cisco Europe, is the man with the money bags who goes round snapping up interesting little European companies and adding them to his company's rather extensive portfolio. And Watts believes that harmonisation of both currency and tax laws is essential if Europe is to become the business powerhouse it could be. At the opening of a science park in Belgium last week,Watts said the unwillingness of countries to pull behind the Euro and tax harmonisation meant that the continent was lagging behind on the e-commerce front. Hague, and quite a chunk of the Conservative Party, however, believe that the £ is inviolate. So perhaps Cisco and the Tories should talk. The Tory Party, after all, is traditionally supposed to be right behind business... ®
Here's a couple of names that don't go together: stuffed shirt auctioneer Sotheby and Internet hot shot Amazon. Today, they launch their bastard offspring, the clumsily-named sothebys.amazon.com, for the American, German and British Intenet markets So what has the site got to offer:? It boils down to this: the Sotheby's comfort factor. All sellers have to be accredited first by Sotheby's, and all items are supplied by a guarantee of authenticity and condition. Amazon makes its contribution to the shopping experience with "rich, detailed photographs", indicative prices and a robust ecommerce engine. But just how respectable is Sothebys? Click on our earlier story, written in June when the Amazon- Sotheby's tie-in was first announced in June, and see what you think. ®
Chris Buckley, the teenager accused of using a BT 0800 number to access the Web without permission, yesterday had his case adjourned to December. The 18-year-old had his appearance at Corby Magistrates Court, Northamptonshire, put back to December 3 to enable his solicitor to take instructions. Buckley, from Oundle, Northamptonshire, allegedly used a BT freephone number to access the Net without authorisation or permission. He faces three charges: gaining unauthorised access to the Internet; posting material on newsgroups that may have caused "an annoyance"; and using profanities. ® Fraud charges follow abuse of BT 0800 test number BT fraud letter outed as a fake 22,000 people and the 08004u security lapse
Thanks to every one who pointed to our recent story titled Tony Blair is impotent. Last night, Downing Street announced his wife Cherie (45), is expecting their fourth child. But hold fire on any more emails, please. The original story concerned Blair's relationship with technology -- not to a medical condition. ®
STMicroelectronics is to acquire flat-screen chip supplier Arithmos for $43m (£27m). Arithmos has developed "unique" digital technology, according to STMicro, which the company plans to write into integrated chips for a whole range of different screens from PC monitors to digital mobile phones. STMicro will control all rights to the technology within a month and plans to incorporate it in its products shortly after. Vice president Philippe Geyres said the deal would open up new business opportunities for the company from LCDs to digital TV, car systems, remote terminals and electronic books. CEO of Arithmos Dennis Sabo said the acquisition was "great news for display manufacturers". ®
This year has seen unprecedented drops in prices of x.86 microprocessors, as Intel, AMD and a handful of other manufacturers slog it out to satisfy continued demand for PCs. While Intel continues to make good profits on its server and high end desktop microprocessors, and also makes some profit on its low-end Celeron range. But margins on its desktop chips is being undermined, not least by AMD with its Athlon processors, while even its traditionally safe range of server chips is likely to suffer at AMD and at other vendors' hands. Further, Taiwanese company Via, which Intel is rightly paranoid about, is set to make the going even tougher for the chip giant in the year 2000, particularly at the low end. Intel has also strongly hinted that next year its system-on-a-chip (SOC) processor, Timna, will be a considerable focus at the low and set-box end. Here, the company faces a serious challenge from National Semiconductor with its Geode and Geode II SOC processors, which cost very little to make and which have x.86 compatibility and capability. The erosion of Intel prices through the year is demonstrated by two chips: the Celeron 433 which cost $169/1000 in March and is now $73/1000, and the Pentium III-500 which cost $696/1000 in March and now costs $229/1000. While most attention this year has been focused on the fight between AMD and Intel over the high-end desktop chip market, it has been evident for most of the year that the giant of the two will not be caught either with its pants down, or holding all of its valuable dollar eggs in one basket. Indeed, senior executives at Intel have signalled, in both word and deed, that the Internet, and the so-called "building blocks" that make up Web infrastructure, are the targets of its desire. Intel has used its revenues and the rather large profits from those revenues to build up assets worth an estimated $33 billion. Its latest filing with the SEC showed that during the last financial quarter it bought or completed the acquisition of Dialogic, Level One Communications, Softcom Microsystems, and NetBoost Corporation, at a cost of over $3 billion. These companies are vital to Intel's "building block" push. That is not to say that its bread and butter business, microprocessors and flash memory, is not going to fade into the background by any means. Its roadmap shows that it will continue to introduce microprocessors at every level during the course of 2000, including its high end Itanium Merced part, which uses IA-64 architecture. That is not expected to contribute significant revenues for Intel for some time. Intel is seen as being adept at the chip pricing model. While AMD's Dresden facility will crank during 2000, the chip giant of the duo will continue to reach into its deep pockets and aggressively attack the AMD family at every level. While Intel can afford to do this, AMD probably will start to feel pain at several points during the year. Nevertheless, Intel's forays into the Internet "building block" business will continue, conscious as it is of both the importance of the Web as a platform for the future and the lucrative profits it can derive from being there as an early player. Watch it make more strategic acquisitions and never underestimate the nature of the beast. ® Related story Intel chips away at networking
Microsoft has decided to stop its scrap with AOL about messaging services, claiming that to continue would pose a serious security risk for its users. The security claim was made by Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft director of internet marketing, who said that AOL was using a "very serious security bug" to stop MSN users trying to send messages to AOL Instant Messenger users. Mehdi's point is that AOL's ability to identify MSN users constitutes a security bug. The two companies have been engaged in an arms race over instant messaging since Microsoft introduced its own service with AOL interoperability. This has been an an-off feature as AOL's programmers introduced mechanisms to block MSN users, then Microsoft's programmers worked to get around AOL's routines, and so on. But in the case of instant messaging Microsoft finds itself in an unusual position. AOL is the market leader here, and holds the proprietary cards. Microsoft wants an open industry standard that will allow instant messages to be sent to and from different systems, but under the circumstances this doesn't look like something AOL is going to rush into. So for the moment Microsoft has retired to its tent, issuing Version 2.0 of its MSN Messenger Service this week, with the attempts at interoperability taken out. ® Related stories Mail wars: the Microsoft versus AOL square-off Open source supremo backs MS as Apple sides with AOL
Sources close to semiconductor manufacturer National Semiconductor told The Register today that the Microsoft version of the Web Pad, expected to be announced shortly, will be built by Acer and use the Geode chip. That is likely to cause hearts in Intel's HQ in Santa Clara to flutter, given that its own system-on-a-chip (SOC) design, the Timna, is not expected to emerge in systems until March next year at the earliest. Intel is also likely to be very upset that its good partner Acer is going with a NatSemi-Microsoft design, and suggests that the Wintel axis is showing further signs of crumbling. Microsoft and Intel have distanced themselves from each other for some good three years. The source at NatSemi said that Acer would provide the manufacturing volume for the Microsoft Web Pad, and that his company would likely sell many hundreds of thousands of parts in conjunction with TV and other companies. We understand that Microsoft has approached a number of multinational hotel chains to supply such machines for their customers. Some hardware sites in the last day have suggested that Intel is now re-writing software for games. Intel was not available for comment at press time. ® See also Acer goes NatSemi Geode mad
MS on Trial No whispers of settlement came from Judge Jackson's chambers yesterday when Microsoft and the Department of Justice met to discuss the scheduling of the case. Microsoft was legally outnumbered, since it was represented only by John Warden and Steve Holley. Warden said before the meeting that he wasn't going to talk about any settlement, and afterwards said it was "just scheduling" that was discussed. David Boies, the DoJ special trial counsel, agreed that Warden's characterisation of the meeting was true. The DoJ was represented by six other lawyers, including attorney generals of Iowa and Connecticut. It was confirmed that as expected, there would be an opportunity for oral argument after two briefs from each side have been filed by 31 January on the subject of the legal interpretation to be given to the judge's findings of fact. In due course the judge will issue an order as to the date of the hearing, but it will probably be for one day in late February. The next step will be for Judge Jackson to deliver his findings of law, which could well take up to three months, although as the task is less than for the facts, it may be sooner. It is highly probable that he will find that Microsoft has breached section 2 of the Sherman Act, and is guilty of monopolisation in two markets - Windows of course, but also browsers, according to Robert Bork, former US solicitor general, federal appeals judge, and legal consultant to Netscape. The next step would probably be a series of briefs and hearings on remedies. Although Microsoft's defence team believes that the finding that consumers were harmed was not supported by the evidence, it is not necessary to prove this, as any move to restrict a market is seen as prima facie evidence of consumer harm. Although it is not impossible to appeal the findings of fact, it is unlikely because even a Microsoft-sympathetic appellate court is loath to get involved in assessing facts, and nearly always defers to the district court. It has been suggested that the judge separated the fact and legal findings to make it more difficult for the appellate court to overturn him. There is little evidence that he has been pushing a settlement, although he did suggest during a long break in the case earlier in the year that the parties should use their time wisely. It is known that there have been three meetings to discuss settlement, but it was agreed that the discussions would remain confidential. The evidence is that no significant progress was made, with Gates insisting that Microsoft must be free "to innovate", and that Windows boot-up could not be modified, which was PR code for "no surrender". On ABC television's "Good Morning America" programme this week, Gates said that he was willing to consider "any sort of resolution" to the case. This should be seen as a PR move to suggest that Microsoft is being reasonable, and not as any shift in Gates' intransigent attitude. On the PR front, Microsoft must be hoping that George W Bush becomes president, since it is expected that he could be amenable to doing the same as Reagan did to IBM - get the antitrust case against Microsoft dropped rather than harm a national treasure, whatever it might have done. This makes any settlement possibilities remote, since the indications are that Microsoft would not get any cosy terms from the DoJ this time around. It is unlikely that the release of Windows 2000 will be stopped by the court, especially as Microsoft was not prevented from launching Windows 95 in August 1995. It is not widely realised that on 21 August 1995, a judge appointed by ballot after the appellate court ruled against Judge Sporkin. He signed the consent decree agreed by Microsoft and the DoJ and side-stepped the opportunity to stop the release of Windows 95 three days later. That judge was Judge Jackson. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Mesh has launched its first PC based on Intel’s 810e chipset. The Mesh 550e uses Intel’s "Flip-chip" Pentium III 500e and 550e processors, along with the i810e motherboard. Included in the £1099 + VAT package is 128MB DRAM memory, 18GB hard drive, Mitsubishi 17" monitor and Corel Word Perfect Office 2000. It features 370 socket technology, so can support the 133MHz front side bus. The London-based system builder is aiming the PC -- currently not part of one of Mesh’s PC ranges -- at home users wanting high-end machines.® Is the 810e mobo a good buy?
DRAM chip spot prices are resting at around $12 due to Taiwanese foundries' swift recovery from the September quake. Contract prices are slightly higher at $13 for 8x8 PC100 DRAM memory, Eurotrade reported. These figures are a far cry from prices following the earthquake on September 21. At the time, it was feared DRAM and other PC component production would be hampered by resulting damage to the island’s infrastructure. The knock-on effect was that memory prices shot up overnight to $20 -- doubling the pre-quake prices. Korean chipmakers now look set to benefit from current price levels because their production costs are around $5 per chip, Eurotrade said. Samsung Electronics is expected to record the highest sales growth this year in the chip vendor market, with an estimated rise of 35 per cent in its chip turnover to $5.8 billion. This compares to $4.3 billion last year, and will catapult Samsung into the world’s sixth biggest chip vendor from last year’s number eight. The company recorded surging shipments of DRAM, SRAM and flash memory products, according to figures from research company IC-insight. The report also forecast sales of $6.7 billion and $8.9 billion for Toshiba and NEC respectively. Intel is expected to show sales up 15 per cent to $26.1 billion.® See also October DRAM price round-up Eurotrade
Vodafone has made history with a world-beating £79bn hostile bid for German group Mannesmannn. The all-paper offer is 20 per cent higher than the bid rejected out of hand by Mannesmann's board earlier this week.
Canadian firemen were cursing the Millennium bug after it burnt down one of their shiny fire stations.
Many remain confused on the point of law which has recently seen two men sent to prison in high-profile cases for "making" indecent photographs and therefore breaking the Protection of Children Act 1978 - the most famous of which was of course former pop star Gary Glitter. Well, The Register can now give the full legal rundown following publication of the Court of Appeal's reasoning for the case of teacher Jonathan Bowden, a week ago today. Bowden had downloaded and printed out indecent photographs of underage children from the Internet. He was charged with "making" the photos but appealed against the charge, saying that he was only in possession of them and nothing more. The judge rejected his submission and Bowden pleaded guilty, receiving a four-month jail sentence. Lord Justice Otton said that section 1 of the 1978 Act was designed to deal with child pornography above and beyond simple possession. The original wording of the Act uses the verb "take" in reference to the photos. However, following advances in technology, and a series of amendments made to the Criminal Justice Act (which deals with possession of indecent photos), Lord Otton decided that the wording of the 1978 Act referred unambiguously to the "making" of a photograph. The definition of the verb "make" was read from the Oxford English Dictionary and taken to be "to cause to exist; to produce by action, to bring about". Using this definition, the law thus referred to not only original photographs but also negatives, copies and - significantly - data stored on a hard disc. Lord Otton therefore judged that who ever downloaded such images to a disc or printed them out was making them. The 1978 Act was also concerned with halting the proliferation of such images. By downloading or printing images which may well have come from outside the UK was therefore judged to be creating new material since it may not have existed in the UK before. The defendant was therefore found guilty under the Act of making indecent photographs. However, the law does not cover all aspects. Where does it stand, for example, on cached photographs? If you visit a Web site, that site will download pictures etc. onto your hard disk to speed up navigation. As it's on your hard disc, are you guilty of making the photo? This point has yet to be thrash out. However, it seems likely that a person can only be held responsible for "making" photos if he or she has some form of direct action on events - for example, clicking "Save". Since cache is automatically saved to your hard disk and requires no interaction from yourself, it is difficult to see how you could be held responsible for the photo. But if someone then actively takes the photo out of cache to put somewhere else, they will have caused the production of the photo, and may therefore be guilty of making it. ® Full coverage/child pornography
Analysis PC companies are finally starting to ship FlexATX board-based machines that deliver some of the capabilities of the "Concept PCs" Intel first unveiled over a year ago. But at Comdex this week Intel was showing a clutch of next generation "Concepts for 21st Century PCs." And jolly gruesome most of them look too. Intel operatives at the viewing on Wednesday night were keen to point out that customers these days wanted easier to use PCs and to get away from boring old box-shaped machines. The Register concurred, but suggested that in that case cool-looking hi fi units might be a better model than the ones Intel's radical designer associates are currently following. We added that it might also be useful of Microsoft could be induced to stop gluing bits onto Windows 98 and build a consumer OS instead, but this simply drew non-committal and slightly nervous smiles from Intel. The latest Concept efforts include Fiori's Attivo, a blow your socks off entertainment PC with Pentium III, ADSL, AGP4x and Rambus and DVI-compliant flat panel display. One joy of the Concept PC, er, concept is that it allows you to put this class of technology into any package you like. Fiori has gone for black and bilious lime green with a rakish backward tilt, while others have gone for silver and purple, green and shaped like a bean or orange and silver and hidden in a footstool. The most plausible-looking of them however are from manufacturers (e.g. Toshiba) who already have experience of the consumer/home electronics industry, and who're producing units that look rather more like the sort of PC you'd expect to find sitting alongside hi fi and/or home entertainment equipment. And there's a truth that dawns on you as you wander round the Intel demo room - what these garish and odd-shaped boxes have in common is that they're all still PCs. Considering they're called Concept PCs that can hardly be called a blinding flash of insight, but it throws up a clear problem; the PC-ness of the beasts fatally undermines the conceptual half of the equation. Intel has produced the base technology that will allow manufacturers to produce boxes in different shapes that are simpler to expand, but although the designers have tried to aim their designs at different categories, i.e. the teen PC, the kitchen PC, or the kid's PC, the specifications don't have much variation (Celeron cheapies for kids, everybody else gets beffy PIIIs), and they've been reduced to using packaging to signal intended use. Note also that the ease of use features Intel is pushing with the Concepts are the same features it's pushing for the whole of the market. Dump legacy hardware, use USB for expansion, eliminate cables... It's all perfectly sensible stuff, and it's all in the Intel roadmaps for everybody, not just for home users, so although the boxes may be odd shapes and colours they all comply with the PC2001 design guide, and they all remain general purpose PCs, whether they're intended for the kitchen the bedroom or the living room. You might think this implies an imagination failure on Intel's part, but that's not the case. There's the Web tablet, for example, intended to allow you to wander round your home accessing the Web and email via a local wireless hook-up. But that's going to be ARM-based, and is more of an appliance than a PC, so Intel obviously isn't going to show it alongside Concept PCs. Or there are various possible home implementations of the inBusiness units, which are intended to provide simple networking, Internet access and email for small and medium businesses. But they're appliances too. Instead, the Concept PC team is sticking to home implementations of standard PC computing models. They'll have added multimedia and added networking (digital media support and networking will be among Microsoft's contributions via Millennium), but the vision of the home of the future they project is one of lots of conventional PCs doing conventional PC things and being hooked together in a conventional PC network. How may PCs are home users going to buy anyway, even if they're only $500 a pop? This could be Wintel's last stand. Instead of thinking about how it can package existing PC models into different areas, Intel should be starting with a blank sheet of paper, working out what it is that people are going to want to do and then figuring out what components they're going to need to do it. That will inevitably throw up a host of different hardware platforms and solutions, not all of them x86 ones, and a lot of different software solutions too - many of them not Windows ones. The basic problem with the Concept PC is, effectively, that it's a prisoner of the PC concept. ®
Many's the time that a cool feature devised for a Bill Gates demo has contributed to feature-creep in Windows.
3dfx yesterday blamed memory price hikes and the Taiwanese earthquake for its disappointing results for the third quarter. The graphics card manufacturer posted net losses of $17.6 million for the period ended 31 October, compared to pre-tax profit of $3.1 million for the quarter ended 30 September. Sales were $105.8 million, up on last year's $33.2 million. The figures included $3.6 million in goodwill and a restructuring charge of $1.8 million. This brought sales for the nine months ended 31 October to $251.1 million with pre-tax losses of $31.4 million. This compared to $141.8 million and net income of $19.6 million the previous year. "Our financial performance did not meet our goals as our gross margin was below expectations primarily as a result of higher memory prices; a greater OEM mix than we had anticipated, in addition to expedite charges for product resulting from the recent Taiwan earthquake," said Gordon Campbell, chairman at 3dfx Interactive. Sales of the Voodoo3 chipset continued to be strong, and the company had received "favourable response" to its new Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 product lines, Campbell said. The company also said it expected to make an announcement about the replacement for CEO Greg Ballard within the next few weeks. Details on 3dfx's Voodoo4 and Voodoo5, announced at Comdex, can be found here. ®
After a rather shaky start in production, Intel has got into its stride on Coppermine and will cut prices of the newer chips on the 12th of December. It launched the parts on the 25th of October but supplies of some remain scanty. And rather than slash prices on the existing .25 micron chips in early December, which most of its distributors and dealers expected, instead Intel will take that pricing action on January 23rd 2000. The dealers and distributors expected Intel to cut prices on its .25 micron line of microprocessors first. On the 12th of December, Intel will cut prices on its newer Coppermine desktop and Xeon parts, which have only just begun to filter into the channel and machines. It will make a fresh set of cuts in the New Year, to include both .18 micron and .25 micron Pentiums. In January, Intel will also cut prices on a number of other parts, including Coppermines (again), chips at .25 micron, and existing .25 Xeon parts too. This will make the second price cut on Coppermines within a month. Intel will also change its prices on mobile processors on the 23rd of January, suggesting that it is, at long last, beginning to ramp up on Pentium III mobiles, which use .18 micron technology. There has been a big shortage of these newer parts, except to select customers. The news means that Intel is moving its four existing .18 micron fabs to faster production, as it cranks up the process. The price cuts will apply to both boxed parts and to tray parts, and once again underline that if you buy a PC for Christmas, you may well be sorry. ® See also Why Intel's Coppermines are like hen's teeth Buy a PC for Xmas and Yule be sorry Intel fashion machines now unlikely before Yule Huge shortages, technical problems hit Coppermine debut AMD set to benefit from Intel mobile embarrassment
Fujitsu Siemens has launched a PC based on Intel's 810 chipset aimed at the SME market. The SCENIC 322 is an entry-level desktop with Intel Celeron 433Mhz chip, 64MB memory, 4.3GB hard drive with 15in monitor and Windows 98. Priced at £559, the machine is a "silent" PC which uses a cooling fan and Air Tunnel technology from Fujitsu Siemens to cut machine noise and save power. A representative for Fujitsu Siemens said company planned a release with the i810e chipset next year. ® Related stories: US vendor targets channel with silent PC