22nd > November > 1999 Archive
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.
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. ®
MS 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.
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. ®
MS 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
MS 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.
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. ®
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. ®
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? ®
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.
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.
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. ®
Analysis 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
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. ®
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. ®
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. ®
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:
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. ®