22nd > November > 1999 Archive

Mammoth computer found in closet in Australia

Melbourne newspaper The Sunday Age is reporting that a computer weighing 2000 kilograms and an incredible 52 years old has been found in a dusty warehouse in Australia. This means a working computer has been discovered that is even older than veteran Register staffer Mike Magee. And, according to the newspaper, boffins are racing to get the beast, called CSIRAC, back in action again. The newspaper says that CSIRAC, one of the oldest computer acronyms and one which people have completely forgotten the meaning of, is the only intact first generation machine in the world.* The boffins are racing against time to re-boot the machine in time for an exhibition to be held in Melbourne next year, The Sunday Age reports. But CSIRAC, like many now extinct creatures, was slow on its feet and small-brained, consuming 30 kilowatts an hour, and with a tiny brain with only 1024 bytes of memory. The mammoth covered 40 square metres and was noticeable for its huge cabling, technically known as tusks, which were what first alerted the boffins to its existence. It is believed that the entire race of first generation computers was completely wiped out by a meteor called Intel which laid waste both the mammoths and the smaller midis in the early 1980s. The complete story from The Sunday Age can be found here. ® See also The guide to Register acronyms * A reader writes: The meaning of the acronym has not completely disappeared, since according to this site. It was originally called the CSIR Mark 1, which stands for: "Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Mark 1". This was considered too bland and they creatively renamed it to CSIRAC, which stands for: "Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Automatic Computer".
Adamson Rust, 22 Nov 1999

AMD piles on Intel pressure with 750MHz Athlon

Sources close to AMD's plans have told The Register that it will introduce its 750MHz Athlon on the 29th of this month. That will be prefaced by a further bout of advertising from AMD on the 27th of this month, intended once more to contrast the performance and price of its Athlon processor against Intel's Pentium III. And to further add to Intel's gloom, figures from distribution here in the UK indicate that the Athlon has now grabbed 35 per cent of market share against the Pentium III. AMD's introduction of the 750MHz Athlon is likely to see some price adjustments on the other members of its high end family. As we reported last Friday, Intel will cut the price of its new Coppermine parts on the 12th of December partly, we understand, to counter the effects of recent AMD wins. According to information we have received, both Compaq and Fujitsu-Siemens will introduce Athlon PCs in week 50, while Gateway is also strongly tipped to introduce a PC based on AMD's top end processor soon. These wins are likely to give AMD a much higher profile in the market and also cause other PC manufacturers to re-consider the processor as a second-source option for machines. Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Intel may bring the launch of its 800MHz Coppermine Pentium III even further forward in Q1 of next year, and time it to coincide with another bout of price cuts towards the end of January. ®
Mike Magee, 22 Nov 1999

Who the heck is… Judge Richard Posner?

MS on TrialMS on Trial Judge Richard Posner, the mediator appointed by Judge Jackson, has become a very important figure in the Microsoft case, but unfortunately we shall hear very little indeed about what is discussed in his mediation meetings, since they will be private. Most likely they be held in Chicago, since he is Chief Judge of the 7th circuit Court of Appeals. Posner's background provides some interesting insight into his views, and gives us some idea of what thinking he will bring to bear. He is a leading antitrust scholar and has probably been mischaracterised as being right wing, perhaps because he was appointed, like Judge Jackson, by Ronald Reagan. Posner's right-wing reputation may in part result from the view he once expressed that children needing a family might better be bought and sold in a free market, rather than being assigned by a government-regulated adoption procedure. He is a significant intellectual supporter of the Chicago School, which would naturally make him philosophically nearer to Microsoft's view than to that of the DoJ, although he has not demonstrated a hidebound defence of Chicago School thinking. His major work is generally considered to be his 1990 The Problems of Jurisprudence, and an analysis of it suggests he is anything but of the right. In his introduction he wrote: "Judges do not want to be the handmaidens of the powerful. But if independence means that only judges decide cases as they like... it is not obvious that an independent judiciary is in the public interest; the people may be exchanging one set of tyrants for another." He noted that "obedience to rules is just one virtue among many, and it cannot be given its proper weight without considering the content of the rules and other pertinent social and moral values". His grasp of economics has also mistakenly suggested that he is a conservative, but his views about jurisprudence put him firmly to the left. He also wrote: "Who has licensed judges to decide cases in accordance with social vision?" The answer is of course nobody, and that it is constitutional law that should provide the basis for any decision -- and the law does not favour Microsoft. Posner appears to favour judge-made law rather than congress-made law, but with reservations. He has argued that cases involving economic issues should be considered from a strictly pragmatic viewpoint, with the objective of maximising societal wealth. He appears to prefer an "efficient" market, which in effect means an unregulated market, and likes pragmatic jurisprudence rather the constitutional originalism favoured by Robert Bork, a Chicago School colleague whom Microsoft tried to recruit to help its defence, but decided to help Netscape instead. The Cato Institute appears to take the Chicago school stance for the main part, and has reprinted Posner's book Natural Monopoly and its Regulation from 30 years ago, when Posner decided that the existence of a natural monopoly does not provide adequate justification for governmental regulation. In it he wrote: "The resources and energies of government should be directed to problems we know are substantial, and that we think are traceable to government action, and cannot be left to the private sector to work out. There are plenty of those problems and it is doubtful that natural monopolies is among them." Posner defined the concept of a natural monopoly after a consideration of regulated monopolies such as water, power, telecoms and cable. He saw a natural monopoly as a circumstance where it is economically more efficient for a single organisation to have a monopoly, in order to avoid duplication and wasted investment. However, the view fails because of the evidence that Microsoft has arguably suppressed innovation as a result of the monopoly that it enjoys, and the anti-competitive practices that have discouraged significant competitors. With IBM failing with OS/2, who could succeed? It seems unlikely to most observers of the present situation that the market can readily self-correct for the Microsoft effect, as Posner would probably postulate. The arguments for a natural monopoly are that the overhead is reduced, and zero competition allows less money to be spent on sales and marketing, and more on the product. But economies of scale have become of secondary importance compared with market share, which is a consequence of the law of diminishing returns (more customers result in better value for the customers). However, the evidence is that consumers are not getting a better deal, that Microsoft is increasing its prices for Windows (unlike nearly all other hardware and software products) so making historically unprecedented profits. Posner writes on wide range of topics. He has been extraordinarily productive as a writer, with several law review articles each year, and an eclectic range of books on subjects ranging from jurisprudence to Clinton's impeachment process, in which he developed a harsh criticism of Clinton's "violations of federal criminal law", and mused that perhaps Clinton will pardon himself before leaving office. In 1981, he wrote The Economics of Justice in which he pontificated about privacy, but failed to mention conflicting arguments. In 1992 he wrote Sex and reason. In his book Antitrust: an Economic Perspective, he was against splitting up of companies. Mediation by such a senior judge is unprecedented, and his acceptance shows the importance with which the case is regarded. He has a great deal of flexibility as to how he knocks heads together. It may reasonably be expected that he would be trying to achieve an outcome that did not split Microsoft into Baby Bills, that restores competition to the market and has an element of punishment. We can only guess at the result, but persuading Microsoft to give a great deal of ground and the DoJ to accept the terms of a consent decree, is an extremely difficult task. Although Judge Jackson still controls the tempo in his court, if Microsoft appeals before or immediately after Judge Jackson issues his findings of law, or before an Order as to remedies, or even appeals against Judge Jackson's use of Lawrence Lessig, it is just possible that an appeals procedure could stymy any conclusion before the US presidential election in November. Certainly the DoJ will go into negotiations with its eyes wide open this time, but Microsoft is an ace negotiator that will no doubt find its match in Judge Posner. At this stage, the more likely outcome is no deal. It may well turn out that Lessig presents his recommendations before Judge Posner reports whether he has succeeded, which Microsoft would probably prefer in that it gives it better insight into the possible alternatives. It is a most interesting situation, so stay tuned. ® Related stories What the heck is... the Chicago School? Who the heck is... Lawrence Lessig? Full Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 22 Nov 1999

Alpha processor to sashay with chassis

The Samsung-led Alpha Processor Inc (API) consortium will tomorrow introduce a small footprint chassis for its UP 2000 mobo aimed at Linux clusters and render farms. (Is a render farm where mad cows are processed? Ed.) Each PowerRAC chassis will hold 14 API dual Alpha UP2000 mobos, giving a maximum capacity of 28GB of synchronous memory, 28 independent PCI buses and a claimed 42 Gflops of performance. API wll claim the chassis has been tested with "scores" of Linux apps, server products and development tools. The UP 2000 mobo will take two Alpha 21264 chips clocking at either 666MHz or 750MHz. The chassis will have a 600 watt power supply, is built of steel, and has three internal storage bays. Without stuffing it with boards and the like, the chassis will cost $1,100 and will start shipping in December. ®
Mike Magee, 22 Nov 1999

What the heck is… the Chicago School?

MS on TrialMS on Trial We shall be hearing quite a bit about the so-called 'Chicago School' of antitrust law following Judge Jackson's appointment of the pro-Chicago School Judge Richard Posner as the mediator in the case, and the 'Post-Chicago School' Lawrence Lessig to write a brief on remedies. The Chicago School arose after John McGee's 1958 study of the Standard Oil break-up in 1911 in which he surprisingly concluded that there was no evidence that Standard Oil used predatory pricing. McGee did his work at Chicago, and the result was the overthrow of the Harvard School, which had held sway from the 30s to the 60s, as the advocate of predatory pricing as a key issue in antitrust law. A basic tenet is that antitrust law enforcement harms American competitiveness. Judge Richard Posner and others of the Chicago School argue that predatory pricing rarely or never exists since the market adjusts to allow competition. However, a strong case can be made that technology marketplaces sometimes have different characteristics, not known when Posner came to his conclusions. Neo-classical economic theory is used by the Chicago School in arguing that consumers benefit from lower prices, and that adverse effects on competitors are just tough -- and that a new competitor would come along if prices went up once monopoly had been achieved. It is significant that Judge Jackson did not refer to predatory pricing in his Findings of Fact. It may be that he did not wish to include any red rags, anticipating that Judge Posner would be mediating. The acceptance of Chicago School thinking by most judges results from massive fund the training of federal judges by conservative foundations. Th judges are subverted into regarding antitrust enforcement as inherently wrong. Newly appointed federal judges are invited to attend a two-week indoctrination in Chicago School economic ideas at a warm and pleasant resort, often in the Carribean, with all expenses paid. Most judges accept. The message they receive is that monopolies are good, and this is reinforced with supporting literature on a regular basis. The consequence is that the great majority of antitrust cases (some 1500 each year) are summarily dismissed, and in most cases the right to jury trial, assured under the 7th Amendment, is denied. The Chicago School plays down whether monopolists were avoiding being punished by appealing to American chauvinism. In 1982, William Baxter, then assistant attorney general for antitrust in the Reagan administration, decided to drop the then-current investigation of IBM, and arranged for DoJ antitrust lawyers to attend seminars on Chicago-School economics. The Bush and Reagan administrations rarely used antitrust law since they were heavily influenced by Chicago-school thinking. This changed with the Clinton administration, with Joel Klein, the DoJ antitrust chief, being a supporter of a so-called post-Chicago School, along with Robert Pitofsky, the FTC chairman. The main difference is that the Post-Chicago School accepts that predation does occur, that market forces do not always come to the rescue as new commercial challengers would be scared off and that judicial intervention may be necessary. Few observers doubt that this is the present situation in the PC operating system market. Lessig is also a member of the Post-Chicago School, and so it is reasonable to assume that if Microsoft was allowed to nominate Posner, the DoJ (and Judge Jackson) would have been happy with Lessig's appointment. Although Posner and Lessig are doing quite different jobs, what Judge Jackson is effectively saying is that either Microsoft and the DoJ work out a solution with the soft man, or he will be guided by his hard man. He is also wisely admitting that he has found it difficult to formulate appropriate remedies. The Post-Chicago School believes that predatory pricing is not as rare as the Chicago School believes. The evidence that Microsoft has used its deep pockets to remove competition is considerable, particularly when Microsoft decided not to charge for IE, despite the fact that its development and marketing had cost a great deal. The Supreme Court has not generally taken to Post-Chicago-School theory so far, despite a hint in a 1992 decision concerning Kodak that it had been influenced, but in 1993 in the Brown & Williamson case, the Chicago School triumphed. With the establishment of a firm theoretical basis for Post-Chicago arguments from game theory (and certainly not from the ridiculous arguments used by the economist witnesses in the Microsoft case), it could be that the Supreme Court will use USA vs Microsoft to make a landmark ruling. This must have occurred to the Microsoft legal team. Nevertheless, the uncertainties of how the Supreme Court might react to the Microsoft case is likely to make Microsoft think very carefully, and as a result, exploring the best deal it could get from the DoJ makes a lot of sense. If Microsoft escapes any drastic punishment, it would be for political reasons related to the Chicago-School desire to support large corporations. Klein, as a Post-Chicago-School supporter, is unlikely to be inclined to accept any compromise that does not have any prospect of opening up competition and stopping Microsoft's future unfair competition. Microsoft is well-aware of this, so we see the immediate objective of Microsoft being to delay any order by Judge Jackson in the hope that a new attorney general for antitrust will be a follower of the Chicago School, and abandon the case. Assuming that the mediation fails, there is insufficient time for any major appeal to be decided before the presidential election on 4 November 2000. Judge Jackson has probably been setting the timetable in order to bring his current phase of the case to a conclusion well before the election. ® Related Stories Who the heck is... Judge Richard Posner? Who the heck is... Lawrence Lessig? Full Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 22 Nov 1999

Who the heck is… Lawrence Lessig?

MS on TrialMS on Trial Lawrence Lessig's reappearance in the Microsoft case is a complete surprise and certainly puts pressure on Microsoft to consider settlement very carefully. Bill Gates is likely to hold out to the very last moment, as he is extremely sensitive to criticism and losing face. As it is nearly two years since Lessig last appeared, we hope readers will find a background sketch of his earlier involvement in the case useful. Lessig, who describes himself as a liberal, is now Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, in the Center on Law and Technology. He spent from 1991 to 1997 at the Chicago Law School. He first studied economics and management at the University of Pennsylvania, and then philosophy at Trinity College Cambridge before going to the Yale law school and subsequently clerking for Judge Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court. A 1996 article on the constitution in cyberspace by Lessig was cited in a Supreme Court decision. Academics who know Lessig say that he was influenced by Posner, but is not philosophically aligned with him. His special areas of expertise include constitutional theory and cyberspace, and his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace is officially published on 1 December, with advance reviews being very positive. Lessig's work in developing the Post-Chicago School centres on "finding a way to systematically talk about the different things that regulate conduct and social behaviour. Law is one of them, but there are other hidden ways in which people are regulated. Markets regulate, social norms regulate, and especially in the world of technology... codes regulate". Lessig has criticised the Clinton administration for the use of private agencies for domain name regulation, since it has removed public accountability. He is therefore likely to favour a government-regulated approach to a Microsoft remedy. Judge Jackson said in his appointment of Lessig as a Special Master on 11 December 1997 that it was "in the interest of justice to resolve as expeditiously as possible the complex issues of cybertechnology and contract interpretation connected therewith". Lessig would "propose findings of fact and conclusions of law for consideration by the Court", which perhaps shows that Judge Jackson had it in mind to separate the fact and legal findings nearly two years ago. Microsoft's ultimately successful attempt to have Lessig removed -- at least temporarily -- suggests that Microsoft had formed the view that Lessig posed serious problems. It was all very well having partly-informed lawyers presenting a case to a judge who had seen Judge Sporkin struck down, in part for trying to become better informed about Microsoft's business, but a lawyer able to understand the technical issues was hardly good news for Microsoft. The swiftness and vehemence of Microsoft's effort to remove Lessig suggests that Microsoft felt very seriously threatened. Microsoft whinged in a brief that it had received no notice that the court was contemplating the appointment of a special master and had no opportunity to object. Microsoft was concerned that Lessig "may have already formed views about Microsoft and the issues in this case based on extra-judicial sources... Lessig has described what he termed Microsoft's futile' efforts to mimic competitors' operating systems software products... Lessig also has recently predicted that the government will become more deeply involved in the regulation of computer software products, which he refers to generically as code' [which] will become the government's tool. Law will regulate code, so that code constrains as government wants". The DoJ responded that "Microsoft misunderstands its role in the appointment of the special master. It is the province of the Court and the special master to determine whether the special master is suitable". Lessig has also criticised Microsoft for what he claims is its "absolutely closed" control over "code", implying that the company is a threat to political freedom. Microsoft obtained copies of June 1997 emails to Peter Harter, a friend of Lessig's who was Netscape's Global Public Policy Counsel, in which he wrote: "This is making me really angry, and Charlie Nesson [Professor of Law at Harvard] thinks we should file a law suit. ... When I installed Internet Explorer 3.0 on my Mac system (only because I wanted to be entered into the contest to win a 3400) ( sold my soul, and nothing happened), the next time I went into Netscape, all my bookmarks were screwed up. Did IE do this?" Harter arranged a reply from Eric Bradley of Netscape who wrote: "I have heard horror stories from other people about their installs and subsequent fight to get their computer back in working order, among other problems. I have seen/heard of many instances where MSIE has changed ALL the netscape HTML documents on a Windows 95 machine to IE icons, so that when the user doubleclicked ANY real document on their computer, IE would be the browser that was opened, even if the default browser was set to Navigator/Communicator. "It was a nightmare trying to get the computer to get back to the point where they could open their docs with Netscape products again. I believe the only way we were able to eventually do it was to completely delete Windows 95 and reinstall it from scratch. This is the kind of blatant anti-competition strategy that only Microsoft can get away with. I'd wager that if Netscape Communicator automatically changed all the IE Icons to Netscape Icons when it was installed, Netscape would be slapped with a lawsuit... I really do hate that company." Microsoft faxed Lessig asking him to disqualify himself on 5 January 1998. The next day there was a teleconference between Lessig, DoJ lawyers and Microsoft lawyers in which Lessig said he would not step down and that he had been instructed by Judge Jackson to say nothing more than: "I've considered the matter, the request from Microsoft... to disqualify myself... I have concluded that I do not believe that it would be an impediment to judging impartiality, and therefore, I will not recuse myself." On 14 January, Judge Jackson denied Microsoft's demand to sack Lessig in a strongly-worded Order that noted: "Microsoft has reiterated certain accusations made previously to the Special Master himself (and released to the Press) questioning the Special Master's integrity and impartiality. The bases given for these accusations are both trivial and altogether non-probative. They are, therefore, defamatory, and the Court finds that they were not made in good faith. Had they been made in a more formal manner they might have incurred sanctions." The judge was also upset that Microsoft failed "to offer evidence, sworn or unsworn, to give substance or credence to its innuendo of bias or prejudice". It was not a good move by Microsoft. Microsoft appealed and the appellate court quickly sided with Microsoft, saying in an Order on 2 February that Lessig's appointment would be stayed, which gave Microsoft at least a further three months to get Windows 98 and IE4 completed, which is just what Microsoft wanted. A significant reason for Microsoft to settle is the principal of collateral estoppel by which Microsoft could prevent other antitrust cases that relied on the precedent of the present case. There is every reason to suppose that Lessig's recommendations will be very well formulated, and scare the pants off Microsoft. ® Related stories Who the heck is... Judge Richard Posner? What the heck is the Chicago School? Full Register trial coverage
Graham Lea, 22 Nov 1999

DRAM tariff war called off

Taiwan may back down on charging anti-dumping tariffs to US DRAM makers after a decision by the US last week to drop similar charges against Taiwanese firms. On Friday, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) said there was no reason to impose an anti-dumping tax on Taiwan DRAM imports. "US industry is neither materially injured nor threatened with material injury by reason of imports of DRAMs of one megabit and above from Taiwan," the ITS said in a statement. The move followed a long-running battle between memory firms over cheaper DRAM flooding their markets and damaging domestic industry. Last October, US manufacturer Micron filed charges of unfair trade practices against Taiwan. This prompted a US investigation into DRAM imports from the island, with the US Department of Commerce this year calling for duties as high as 69 per cent. Taiwan then followed suit earlier this month by threatening its own tax penalties against the US. According to Eurotrade, Taiwan is now considering overturning this decision. ®
Linda Harrison, 22 Nov 1999

E-commerce Bill laid out

It's not often that you get to agree with politicians, but with the relocation of Part III of the e-commerce bill and the surprisingly candid summary of responses to its original draft, it seems as though Tony Blair may have come up trumps. The bill itself creates a public register and voluntary approval process for ecommerce providers; modifies legal requirements for authorising ecommerce transactions; and allows electronic signatures and authenticity certificates to be admissible as evidence in court cases. The controversial Part III, which dealt with police seizure powers for encryption keys, has been shifted into a separate Home Office bill. The government stated several months ago its intention to make the UK a haven for e-commerce. And apart from the worrying fact that the plan came soon after Bill Gates had popped over for a chat, there has been general applause for such forward thinking. The remarkable thing is that the government has actually listened to criticism, acted on it, and produced a bill of practical use that should sail though parliament (isn't this supposed to be the way government works?). Praise has been heaped on the first draft, with Intel's director of government affairs Keith Chapple for one using such words as "delighted" and "fully agree". Even its detractors have unanimously declared it a step in the right direction. The bill is not perfect, however. Further legislation is required to remove the need for printed documents and physical signatures -- paramount to the heavy uptake of online commerce. The speed with which the government can get this change into law -- while also addressing consumer concerns -- will be a litmus test of the dream's future. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 1999

SMEs fear rising Net costs

Small businesses are shying away from using the Internet because of confusion about the different types of Internet accounts and an "unjustified fear of higher costs". That's just one of the conclusions of a survey published by BT which attempts to explain why 67 per cent of small businesses in Britain are still not hooked up to the Net. Grant Broster, head of BT business Internet services said: "This research sends a clear message to the two thirds of UK small businesses that are not online. Email is a vital, money-saving business tool." The survey, carried out by Revelation Research on behalf of BT, found it is cheaper to send documents by email rather than post, fax or courier, regardless of length of document and whether documents are sent locally in Britain, nationally, or internationally. While this may be true, the research is fundamentally flawed because it was based on the assumption that businesses already had a PC as well as a fax machine and a printer. The BT research took no account of the capital costs of investing in all the necessary hardware, or the running costs of maintaining a system. "The research is based on the price of a telephone call, costs of printing and the labour costs that are entailed in distributing the various documents," said the spokesman. Surely BT wouldn't try to mislead the public again so soon after being outed over its new Net tariffs for ISPs, would it? ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 1999

Christmas virus will stuff your PC

Net users are being urged to be on their guard against a new virus that promises to deliver a nasty present on Christmas Day. According to California-based online virus doctor, Symantec, which issued the warning today, the payload of the W97M.Prilissa. A virus is much worse than receiving another pair of socks or a bottle of cheap aftershave. What's more, the virus is reportedly already replicating itself on computers around the world. Experts say W97M.Prilissa.A infects Microsoft Word 97 documents and spreads itself by sending the plagued document as an email attachment using MS Outlook to the first 50 addresses in each address book. The subject line reads "Message From (username)" followed by "This document is very Important and you've GOT to read this!!!" embedded in the body of the email. When the infected document is opened, W97M.Prilissa.A disables virus protection security settings, conversion confirmation and recently opened file lists. It also virus checks the system date to trigger its payloads. According to Symantec, the second phase of the virus will be triggered on 25 December. Unless they take the usual remedial action Net users only know if they have the unwanted present when faced with the message: "Vine... Vide... Vice... Moslem Power Never End... You Dare Rise Against Me... The Human Era is Over, The CyberNET Era Has Come!!!" Symantec says the virus then overlays several coloured shapes onto the opened document, overwrites the AUTOEXEC.BAT file to format the C: drive, and displays the following text when the system is rebooted: "Vine... Vide... Vice... Moslem Power Never End... Your Computer Have Just Been Terminated By -= CyberNET =- Virus!!" Virus watchers will have to wait until Boxing Day to see whether this particular infestation came, saw and conquered. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 1999

Schroeder and Blair tussle over Vodafone bid

Tony Blair has rebuked German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for threatening to block Vodafone's bid for Mannesmann. Schroeder appeared to have forgotten the basic premise of European unity - non-regulation - by criticising Vodafone's £79 billion hostile bid for Mannesmann, saying it would destroy the "culture" of the German firm. Schroeder had demanded restrictions be put in force to prevent the takeover and expressed concern over possible job losses. Tony Blair dismissed the hands-off warning, insisting that what was good for British companies is good for German ones. The takeover of British firm Rover by BMW has been cited as an example of the German's apparent hypocrisy. Vodafone's hostile offer for Mannesmann - the largest hostile takeover bid in history - has drawn massive interest, mostly due to the bickering of the two companies' CEOs. An initial friendly offer was rejected out of hand and backed up by provocative gesturing. The two companies then retreated to their corners and came out fighting for shareholders' hearts and wallets. Nationalistic headlines from the German press and now the intervention of leading politicians have raised the stakes even higher. How it will progress from here is anybody's guess, but whatever the outcome it should provide a fascinating view of how the market and politics interact with one another. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 1999

RM makes the grade with latest figures

Research Machines (RM) said today its soaring profits for the past year were due to government investment in IT in schools. The reseller, which specialises in the UK education sector, recorded pre-tax profit up 22 per cent to £12.3 million for the year ended 30 September 1999. Sales rose 24 per cent to £162.2 million, with diluted earnings per share up 25 per cent to 9.8 pence. The company saw 40 per cent growth in its software and services business. "Growth in our core business has been driven by the substantial additional funding available to primary and secondary schools to develop the use of information and communications technology in the classroom," said Richard Girling, CEO of RM. The company, based near Oxford, was one of 12 chosen earlier in July for the government's group of recommended IT resellers to schools. In March it won a £2.6 million contract to provide IT services to the State of Western Australia. This resulted in it setting up subsidiary RM Australasia, based in Perth. And the additional government multi-million pound funding for the National Grid for Learning was in place for RM's entire financial year. These and other factors let RM increase profit in an area where reseller rivals selling to businesses or end users have been feeling the pinch. ®
Linda Harrison, 22 Nov 1999

AMD wins must shiver Intel's timbers

AnalysisAnalysis There's definitely a breakaway faction amongst the top tier PC manufacturers and here at The Register we know only too well their names. They number not only Compaq, Fujitsu and Siemens amongst their ranks, but other, less volatile players who are in the top tier of the industry, and multinational companies with it. But these major Intel stalwarts are only reluctantly, and rather slowly, showing their heads above the parapet, fearful of losing their life if they cheese off the Great Satan of Chips. Strangely enough, it was Digital (DEC) in its former incarnation (before it was taken over by Compaq) which dared to beard the lion in his den,so to speak. (See the old Register site Intel gives Digital $700 million) The then CEO of DEC, Robert Palmer, insisted that the FTC sort out a problem it had with Intel over the Alpha technology and the Alpha chip Digital manufactured. Bob Palmer is now a director of AMD. Eckhard Pfeiffer, the CEO of Compaq as was, decided to snap up DEC and its Alpha processor and go big-time into services as well as pushing the 64-bit processor --supposed to be good until 2010 -- to its limits. With hindsight, it appears that Pfeiffer may well have had a very valid point acquiring the Alpha technology, although he was subjected to many a curse by shareholders, seeing the price of stock plunge like there was no tomorrow. That makes it all the more strange that Compaq, post-Pfeiffer, decided to deck Windows NT for the up-and-coming Wildfire technology it has talked about for many a year. Before Pfeiffer was ousted as CEO, and a triumvirate set up in his place earlier this year, his many marketeers had predicted the way the Alpha would proliferate. And now that AMD seems to be soaking up market share from Pfeiffer's former bete noire, Intel, it makes it all the more interesting that Compaq and the company with the Dresden plant are as close as ever. Sources close to Compaq tell us that it is assisting AMD actively in its move to server technology, and that the rumours that Slot B is no more are very far from the truth. Further, it is helping AMD with moving software to 64-bit technology, specifically with the up-and-coming Sledgehammer technology Intel's rivals has in its wings. And, more than that, it seems that Compaq's rivals, the top tier vendors, are now moving further than ever away from Intel's roadmaps plans and towards a chip solution the market wants. Compaq and AMD were always close. When Pfeiffer was the CEO, he pushed his company to use AMD chips in PCs, despite the prevailing wisdom of the times. It seems that memories are long in Houston and everything that was in the past, has finally caught up with Chipzilla. ® Search the Old Register site for more details
Mike Magee, 22 Nov 1999

Tech asset-stripper in line to buy Cray

The name of the would-be owner of SGI's Cray Research supercomputer business unit has leaked out. According to Reuters, SGI has been talking to one Gores Technology Group for two months or more in the hope of agreeing on terms of sale. Gores appears to be a classic asset stripping venture, albeit with a technology bent. It buys the divisions major IT companies want to sell off, sorts them out and soon after flogs them off to someone else. SGI originally put Cray up for sale back in August during a major restructure initiated by then CEO Rick Belluzzo, now head of Microsoft's online activities. What little is known about the Gores-SGI negotiations has Gores initially offering $100 million for Cray, but later withdrawing that bid and submitting a reduced offering after taking a look at the division's books. SGI can't be too happy with that -- hence the ongoing negotiations. While SGI wants rid of Cray -- it needs the money more than anything else -- having paid $700 million for the operation itself, it doesn't want to feel shortchanged, no matter how desperate it is. ®
Tony Smith, 22 Nov 1999

Fraudsters hold up e-commerce adoption

Online security remains the main stumbling block to e-commerce, according to a new report from US e-business outfit CyberSource Corporation. Three quarters of those e-tailers questioned said sales would increase if consumers' fears about Net security could be allayed. A similar percentage said they expected that online fraud would increase in the run-up to Christmas. Forty-one per cent said they did not know that they were held financially liable when online fraud occurred, according to the survey published today. The survey comes hot on the heels of revelations that British online bank, Egg, has compromised customer security by publishing credit card details in unencrypted emails. In April, credit card company Visa said that despite the fact that Internet transactions accounted for only one per cent of its £463 billion turnover in the European Union, nearly half of all disputes were Net related. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 1999

Put your Web site up as loan collateral

Internet domains are now considered real estate properties by the Industrial Bank of Korea, which will offer loans with the site as collateral. An eight-person group will review the domain and the bank will guarantee loans of up to 30 per cent of its assessed value. Those with a .com address can apply for up to 30 million Won (£16,000). Small business are expected to be the main customers, although homepages will also be considered. The .net and .co.kr domains will be included from the middle of next year. "It is the first time Internet domains are being appraised for monetary value and is an expression of our faith in the commercial viability of ecommerce," said Yoo Wan-sang, president of Internet Plaza City, the bank's partner in the scheme. The idea looks like a good one. The bank decides the site's value and offers a small but essential boost for its owner. If the site does pick up, it will be looking at a healthy return. If it fails, presumably it will take control of the domain -- for a third of what it reckons it's worth. The only problem is that this is Korea -- not exactly everyone's first choice for stability. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 1999

Chinese government disputes Register story

Despite our confident prediction that last Thursday would see a 737 plane crash as the kamikaze Chinese and Korean governments tested millennium bug compliance, officials have claimed otherwise. "We hereby declare the aviation systems of Korea and China Y2K-compliant after a successful joint test flight," said Chinese director-general for civil aviation Kim Tschang-sup. According to Kim, their systems, including radar tracking equipment, instrument landing systems and flight information systems, were all fine. Yoon Byung-in, vice president of Asiana Airlines, went further: "This successful joint simulation testing has confirmed that Korea is one of the most Y2K-prepared countries in the world." Well, thank Gawd for that. However, out of stubbornness, we offer the following scenarios: There was no date change - where's the documentary evidence? The pilots just changed their wrist watches, and nothing happened The real planes, elsewhere in the area, crashed and a vast cover-up has ensued (more likely than some Diana or JFK theories) The tricky devils used the Far East equivalent to Spitfires, with no electronics on board The pilots, fearful of their lives, chickened out, didn't change the clock and then lied to the authorities when they touched down. It's all academic anyway. There's only a month to go before the hideous truth is laid bare. ® Last Thursday's crystal balls-up: There will be a plane crash this Thursday
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 1999

Outage hits Amazon sites

Amazon.com closed its doors for around 20 minutes at around 1 am, Seattle time; Amazon.co.uk also disappeared at the same time (GMT) for a similar period. It's not known whether the synchronised downtime was planned or was due to something more sinister. A message on the Amazon.com site read: "We're sorry, but our Books, Music, DVD & Video, Toys & Games, Electronics & Software, and Home Improvement stores are closed temporarily. We expect to be back soon." A spokeswoman for the UK branch of the online bookstore confirmed that Amazon.co.uk fell victim to a technical problem on Friday. It was linked with the outage at Amazon.com although she said no other country sites were affected. The Amazon.co.uk spokeswoman would not be drawn on how much the outage could have cost the e-tailer in lost sales. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 1999