26th > November > 1999 Archive
The European Commission has published a report recommending maximum charges for leased lines which backs industry-wide criticism that BT is overcharging companies.
National Semiconductor in Scotland is to be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over cancer fears from staff. The HSE said it would conduct a one-year study on the health of current and ex-employees at the chipmaker's factory in Greenock. The announcement follows concerns from local pressure group Phase Two. The research aims to discover how many employees of the plant have had cancer since the factory opened in 1970, the government said. This number will then be compared to average cancer levels in the general UK workforce. According to the HSE: "Some chemicals in the industry have the potential to cause cancer if they are not used according to health and safety legislation." Current and past employees of NatSemi have received letters asking for their co-operation to let the HSE look at their health records. The factory currently has around 900 employees, but in total around 4000 people have worked there. Stewart Campbell, head of operations at the HSE's Scottish Field Operations Directorate, told The Register he was keen to trace ex-staff from the factory. "HSE recognises that it would be useful to get scientific evidence on the issue," he said. "Dependent on what these findings show, it might be necessary to undertake further investigations." Campbell said five meetings would be held with the current workforce next week to explain the proceedings and answer queries. The HSE group hopes to begin analysing documents at NatSemi before the end of the year. NatSemi said in a statement: "According to the HSE, there is no current scientific evidence showing the existence of an increased incidence of cancer as a result of working at National." "However, we are co-operating with the HSE on its study of our workforce as it seeks to confirm this information." The company refused to speculate on the outcome of the study, but added: "If scientific evidence borne out by the study indicates a link between our facility and adverse health effects, we will take it very seriously and take appropriate action." In March 1998, the HSE conducted a study into women having miscarriages in the semiconductor industry. It concluded there was no increased risk. ® Information can be given to the HSE on 0800 592 450. Related stories NatSemi attacks WSJ cancer claims Workers make cancer claims in NatSemi job cuts factory
eBay has refused to withdraw Nazi memorabilia from its online auction site claiming the items' historical worth is more important than their ideological context. The Internet company was responding to an appeal from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which campaigns for Holocaust remembrance, and the defence of human rights and the Jewish people. In a letter to eBay quoted in Thursday's New York Times, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the centre, asked the Net company "to review its policy of marketing items, many of which glorify Nazism". But Jennifer Mowat, Ebay's UK country manager, said that there are lots of serious and genuine collectors of World War II memorabilia who are not motivated ideologically. That, and the fact that the practice is not illegal (except in Germany), was sufficient grounds for the items not to be withdrawn from sale. "Whether we like it or not this is not illegal," she said. She may be right, but since eBay took a moral stand when it outlawed the sale of weapons on its site -- a practice that is legal in the US -- some people might think it should do the same over the sale of Nazi trinkets. ® Related stories Serial killer sells paintings on eBay eBay babies put up for sale Feds to prosecute eBay hoax baby dealers Man tries to sell vital organ on eBay Slavery returns with eBay auction e-Bay in e-trouble after copied MS software is sold on its site Con man given the boot by eBay
Two giant trade-only distributors have been given the green light to sell to end users thanks to Toshiba's contract policy. Last week the Japanese vendor made Ingram Micro its second broadline distributor in the UK, but the newly appointed company is not operating under a distributor's contract. Neither is Computer 2000, the only other lucky broadliner to hold a Toshiba franchise in the UK. Instead, both have reseller contracts, and are therefore legally entitled to sell to anyone they please –- including resellers' end-user customers. According to Gary Evans, Toshiba dealer sales manager: "They have Authorised Reseller Agreements and all our resellers in that agreement are entitled to sell to whoever they want to trade with." How did this blunder occur? Evans told The Register that Toshiba Europe has distributor-only agreements with its disties, thus enabling a two-tier selling system. But in the UK, Toshiba originally decided not to have any distributors, choosing instead to sell directly to its resellers. Which meant that when the time came that Toshiba wanted to sign up some distributors, it didn't have the necessary contracts drawn up. So it used the same contracts it uses for its resellers. In effect, Toshiba is powerless to control who its disties sell to. "We couldn't stop them from selling to end users," admitted Evans. "They could re-sell the products to anyone." However, as Evans pointed out, this would be counter-productive and damaging to the distributors' relationships with their channel partners. Computer 2000 said it had no intention of changing its reseller-only sales policy. There are seven other distributors in Toshiba's UK channel -– Hugh Symons, ISI, Logitek, CCD, ETC, Qudis and Elite. ®
The number of complaints over Internet-related activities nearly doubled last year, according to the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA). Apparently, between 1996 and 1997 they went up by 23 per cent, and between 1997 and 1998 by 39 per cent. This is hot stuff. Right up there with "Internet use set to grow", "E-commerce to be worth a lot of money by 2002" and "Even my granny is online now". In fact, the complaint-shock-increase news is the bastard child of these three "surveys". Let's see. More people using the Internet. More people buying goods over the Internet. All sorts of IT-illiterate people on the Internet. Hmmm, and an increase in complaints you say? Funny. Sadly the NACAA only deals with percentages. Probably more impressive than "200 people (out of 5 million online) complain. Last year there were 143". ®
On Thursday, the New York Times ran a story warning e-shoppers in the US to be on their guard against the perils of buying goods from foreign Web sites. It quoted a Mr Laity, an Andersen Consulting managing partner who is charged with advising overseas Web sites. Frankly, he should have known better. "The United States as a country is way ahead on customer service, so if you are buying overseas, anticipate difficulties if everything is not all right with the purchase," he said. "How do you straighten it out, when the dot-coms in Europe don't come from an environment where customer service is as widely considered important?" Quite so, Mr Laity. Despite the fact that this commonsense advice smacks of protectionism and an unhealthy fear of foreigners, could the same not be said for Europeans buying from US sites? Such a statement would, though, would be equally sweeping, unsubstantiated and misinformed. Perhaps the most remarkable tranche of the NYT story was the gripping episode of why the reporter couldn't buy a "distinctively runny Camembert, ripened 'to the very heart'" from a specialist online fromagerie. The reason became clear when the story quoted a Food and Drug Administration spokesman warning that the listeria bacteria in contaminated raw-milk products (of said runny cheese) kills 425 people a year in the US. If this is true, they must be dropping like flies in France... no wonder the FDA takes such a stand on killer cheese imports. And before anyone accuses the US of being a nanny state just because it doesn't allow unpasteurised cheese into the country, they had better hold their horses. No one can accuse the US of mollycoddling its good citizens against the dangers of runny Camembert, not when it's perfectly legal to buy firearms that account for 35,000 deaths a year. Irony -- like a good Camembert -- is delicious, isn't it? ®
A shopping mall in the US has banned all references to the Internet and e-commerce for fear of losing sales. Not only are retailers up in arms that they can't cross-promote their .com sites, some are refusing to abide by the draconian measures and are openly flouting the regulation, ABCNews.com reported. Gap, FAO Schwartz and the Bombay Company are among a number of retailers that have reportedly complained about the clampdown to executives at Hycel Partners, the company that owns the St Louis Galleria. But the mall's owners are insistent that the ban stays. "Our primary interest is to maximise local store sales in our mall," Hycel president, Mark Zorensky said in a statement, warning that ecommerce advertising would "route sales away" from the shopping centre. The St Louis Galleria is believed to be the only mall in the US to have taken such a stand. ®
NEC and Hitachi are about to combine their DRAM development operations, according to sources close to both companies and cited by Japan's Nikkei Microdevices newswire. To be called NEC Hitachi Memory, the JV will be announced before the end of the year and will go live next April to unify both companies' next-generation DRAM development and design efforts. Hitachi's development team will move into NEC's Japanese DRAM facility, and a Hitachi executive will become the combined operation's VP -- NEC will supply the president, the newswire reported today. The second stage of the plan will involve the combination of the two companies' DRAM marketing efforts, set to take place before the end of next year. Right now, neither have agreed to merge their production lines, but it is believed they are discussing the possibility. And given that the combined development operation will handle all test production, bring together full-scale manufacturing has to be on the cards. ®
MS on Trial The Microsoft mediation attempt will start next Tuesday in Chicago, and effectively if a solution is to be found, it will have to be found by 31st January, according to a source. This deadline is rather tighter than might be expected, and a lot tighter than would suit Microsoft. Judge Jackson is holding his hearing on the findings of law on 22nd February, and this in itself limits Microsoft's ability to drag mediation talks out. But it's also unlikely that mediator Judge Posner, Chief Judge of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, would allow Microsoft to engage in the stunts that were used in May 1997 when the DoJ was negotiating with Microsoft without a mediator. Then, whenever some progress seemed to have been made, Bill Gates would veto concessions and the talks would go back to the beginning. On one occasion, the DoJ team was waiting on a very humid day for the Microsoft team to turn up at the Department of Justice building, while the Microsoft team was in an air-conditioned conference room at its lawyers' offices awaiting the DoJ. It took some considerable time before there was contact and the DoJ team joined Microsoft, but it has never been established whether this was gamesmanship or a genuine mistake. The mediation in Chicago at the courthouse will follow the rules of the seventh circuit, which require that there be no release of information by either side during the talks. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
Today, The Register becomes partners with The IT Network, developer of possibly the world's biggest product comparison database. The IT Network is republishing some of our news on its Trade Only section (targeting system builders and resellers).
Memory Corporation has appointed Jon Blows as general manager of its Swindon-based subsidiary, Memory Plus. Blows' job is to head up the division, which provides memory upgrades to resellers, and to develop the company's Internet business. He was previously MD at systems integrator Reflex. "Blows hopes to use his extensive knowledge of e-commerce to help Memory Plus assume a new identity within the industry," the company said. Sources close to the company have told The Register that at least one part of the business would start selling memory online in the new year. "Memory Plus has built a strong reputation in the memory business, however it needs to move on from its owner-managed stage and develop professional practices, reposition itself within the industry and spread its profile into new market areas," said Blows. "This is going to be done through a combination of strong management and improved use of new technologies in business practices." ® Related stories Memory Corp buys out Datrontech memory business Memory Corp turns last year's loss into Q2 profit Memcorp protects IP with acquisition of bust add-ons firm
The City of London is on a high state of alert after a number of banks received threats this week from hackers taking part in next week's anti-capitalism demonstrations. "Several of our customers in the City have received telephone threats in the past week from people claiming to be hackers associated with the 'reclaim the streets' riots of last June," said Internet Security Systems (ISS) UK sales and marketing director Kevin Black. "Although some activists' Web sites have poured scorn on press stories warning of a repeat of the attacks on property that accompanied the so-called 'carnival against capitalism', we have no way of knowing whether these threats are substantial or not," he said. According to ISS, just over half of all the financial institutions in the square mile use its security software to protect their global networks. In a bid to outwit hackers ISS has set up a special 24-hour security management hotline from midnight on 29 November to deal with attempts by hackers to disrupt computer networks. It wants to reassure customers alarmed at the prospect of orchestrated hacking attacks from anti-City agitators which are planned to coincide with next week's meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, Washington. "All this could amount to nothing more than the attempts of one or two disaffected individuals to throw financial IS managers into a panic," said Black. However, there's also the possibility that these callers mean business and there really will be a concerted global campaign to bring down the City's trading systems, he said. The global day of action is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. ® Related Story Anarchists run riot on the Web
Microsoft's objective for the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle next week was confirmed in Brussels today when European chairman Bernard Vergnes said that "Ministers should agree that customs duties shouldn't apply to the Internet". He wants this to be a permanent and binding move set in concrete by WTO rules rather than the temporary moratorium on e-commerce duties that governments have agreed at the moment. Microsoft, co-chair with Boeing for the Seattle meeting arrangements, is pulling out all the stops in the hope of getting the agreements it wants, which is free trade. Some developing countries are opposed, because they would like to raise taxes on electronic trade. Vergnes also noted this morning that "Software has an American origin so if you apply tariffs on software outside the US you are discriminating against foreigners who have to pay a higher price." This remark precisely identified the problem that the WTO ministerial round is having: there is a grave suspicion that Americans wish to use the WTO for globalisation purposes, enforcing global trade rules - as happened in the banana wars and the hormone-injected American beef. Vergnes also expressed concern that if there were local taxes, piracy would increase and e-commerce development would be held back - two important marketing issues for Microsoft. So far, the preparations for the talks have gone very badly. WTO ambassadors failed to agree on an agenda earlier this week, after a great deal of argument. Nor has it proved possible to agree on a director-general, so the NZ and Thai candidates will probably alternate in some way. On the US side, the forthcoming presidential election has caused the US focus to be on domestic policies, while in Europe, the resignation of the Commission earlier this year over corruption scandals has not helped. At the moment it seems that the only attendees who are prepared are the 700 or so pressure groups, known as NGOs or non-governmental organisations, and they certainly know what they're against. Clinton has had almost no success in persuading heads of state to attend, to give the talks any stature. There is concern that the WTO round could end like the OECD talks on investment that were abandoned last year, mostly as a result of NGO pressure. Whether it will prove possible to keep the Internet tax-free - one of many issues to be discussed - is far from certain. It is quite possible that the issue will not be discussed because other arguments will take up the time, but it could be that the moratorium would be extended. For once at least, most people are likely to be on the same side as Microsoft. ®
Analysis Apple's Steve Jobs must be now be really pissed off that 3Com CEO Eric Benhamou wouldn't sell him Palm Computing when he offered to buy it. How come? Well, last week, while the PC industry was focusing its attention on Comdex, its annual shindig, held in Las Vegas, a deal between Palm and Sony slipped quietly by, barely registering with the gathered geeks and the world's IT media. They were too busy listening to Microsoft's Bill Gates predict a glorious future for PC technology -- and Sun's Scott McNealy declare the future holds the exact opposite. McNealy's probably closer to the mark than Gates, and the Sony/Palm tie-in proves it. Actually, Gates probably realises it too, but we'll come back to Microsoft in a moment or two. The deal between Sony and Palm centres on the consumer electronics giant's licensing of the Palm platform for a series of devices of its own. And we're not just talking rebadged Palm IIIs here -- Sony said it has in mind a whole range of gadgets designed for a variety of mobile communications applications. Sony will also develop PalmOS support for some of its key media technologies, such as its Memory Stick 'solid-state floppy disk' would-be standard, and, interestingly, these will then become part of the standard Palm platform and so made available to all Palm licensees (and, as a likely Palm licensee, that would include Apple). Now, had any other consumer electronics company signed the deal, it would have been another feather in Palm's cap -- and another snook cocked at Microsoft's rival platform, Windows CE -- but wouldn't have had much wider significance. The fact it's Sony, means we have to look at the deal in a whole new light -- that of the company's plan to dominate information access in the 21st Century. Yes, that is Microsoft's plan, too. Sony, unlike almost every other consumer electronics operation and most PC companies, really does get the old 'digital convergence' concept, and actually has a strategy in place to take capitalise upon it. In fact, it's plan goes further: Sony wants to control that convergence. It has seen the way Microsoft dominated the PC industry simply by controlling its key component -- the operating system -- and it reckons it can do the same thing in the broader world of converged consumer electronics, computing and digital media in a similar way. Here's how it works. Sony's vision of the not-too-distant future has the Net becoming the key delivery mechanism for all our entertainment and information needs. Once everything is digital, you only need a single, broadband network to deliver it, whether that network is a physical mess of cables, or beamed over a satellite link or a wireless connection -- or a mix of all three. In the home -- and the home is Sony's way into all of this -- we'll have our TV, VCR, hi-fi, games console, PC and now, thanks to the Palm deal, personal electronic organiser, all hooked up to each other and to the wider Net, just like something out of a William Gibson story. Sony's scheme is not to control the infrastructure but to define how it all fits together and dominate by setting the pattern everyone else will have to follow, and by getting there first. Come 2001, Sony will begin offering online distribution of movies, music and games, all pumped into the home through the PlayStation 2, which will ship in Japan next March and everywhere else by late 2000. The PlayStation 2 will hook up to other home entertainment systems through iLink (Sony's name for IEEE 1394, better known to Mac users as FireWire), which will soon operate over wireless links as well as physical ones. What makes all this work is a Sony-led standard called the Home Audio-Visual Interface (Havi), a Java-derived (which is where Scott McNealy's Sun comes into the equation) system that allows devices to communicate and interoperate. It also provides for remote access to those devices using not only standard point-and-click remote controls, but more sophisticated GUI-based devices, such as PCs and, more importantly, since you want to be able to get the living room hi-fi loading up your favourite tunes while you're coming in from work, PDAs. Begin to see where the Palm deal fits in here? The Palm platform is unlikely to become a part of the Havi spec., but that fact that's what Sony is using it for and that anyone can get access to the same technology simply by licensing the PalmOS will make it the obvious choice for any other vendor who wants to sell kit that's compatible with SonyWorld ™. Palm always wanted its platform to something more than the basis for a line of organisers, and thanks to Sony, it's dream is coming true. As I've said, more support for the PalmOS means less support for Windows CE. That's good for Sony, because the only company with a comparable gameplan to its own is Microsoft. Gates and co. sees the future in much the same way as Sony does. Like Sony, Microsoft is keenly developing media delivery and anti-piracy technologies. Like Sony, Microsoft is taking stakes in wireless and broadband network companies, such as cellphone networks and, in the UK in particular, cable TV operations. Bill Gates is a major investor in Teledesic, the satellite-based broadband network company. The only difference between Sony and Microsoft is that the latter sees the PC, not the PlayStation, as the heart of the networked home. Rather, its sees any Windows-based system there -- which is why, Gates' Comdex keynote didn't focus solely on Windows 2000, but brought in a variety of CE-based devices and, more importantly, Microsoft has been running around a lot of late trying to whip up support for a possible Windows-based PlayStation 2 clone, codenamed X-Box. Not so long ago, Steve Jobs -- to bring Apple back into the debate -- admitted to a MacWorld Expo audience that Microsoft had won the PC OS war. He was right, largely because for all his faults, Jobs is a smart guy and sees the way the world is turning. Earlier this year he said he wants Apple to become more like Sony, a wise move since it's now Sony, not Apple, that's Microsoft's main rival. Had he been able to buy Palm when he wanted to, Jobs might have bought the two companies even closer together. And he might yet do so. As the battle lines between Microsoft and Sony become more clearly defined, the Japanese giant might well reconsider its support for Windows through the Vaio range. It's not daft enough to tear up its Windows licence while the Microsoft OS dominates the PC OS world, a lead that's likely to remain -- pace Linux -- for the foreseeable future, but we can always hope that it might take a shine to an alternative such as the MacOS. Unlikely, it's true, but you never know... ®
Mike McGarvey, CEO of games manufacturer Eidos, has declared that the as-yet-unavailable PlayStation 2 is "a superior piece of hardware to the Dreamcast". He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but there is a niggling little doubt about his independence in the console market.
Toll-free ISP, CallNet 0800, claims 100,000 people are now using its service and that it will meet its target of 200,000 users by Christmas. Although the figures reveal that at least some people managed to register for the service -- especially in the wake of the calamitous start to the venture -- the ISP would not say how many people are caught up in its backlog. Nor does it take into account the fact that CallNet 0800 suspended its registration service a fortnight ago because it was simply overwhelmed by the response from Net users. However it's feasible that tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of Net users are pulling out their hair waiting to be signed up to the service that promises unmetered Internet access. For those that did manage to register their details, the ISP said that all outstanding applications would be processed in the chronological order in which they were received, although a spokesman said he had no idea exactly when the backlog would be cleared. "People will begin to see a significant improvement within seven days," he said thanks to the introduction of a "new, speedier online registration service". Today's milestone aside, CallNet 0800 cannot appease frustrated Net users forever with promises that everything will be sorted soon. If the number - and tone - of the emails received at The Register is anything to go by, then there are some very hacked-off people around who don't want to be messed around any longer. ®
Internal Intel documents we have seen give the release date of the 800MHz Pentium III Coppermine processor as being towards the end of quarter one. And Intel will attempt to fight AMD by introducing a 750MHz Coppermine Pentium III in early January. The documents also show release dates for a number of other parts, with the 10th of January red-inked as the date of release. In "late Q1" next year, Intel will roll out a number of different packages for the Pentium 800MHz, including a Slot 1 design, and a flip chip PGA design, and with bus speeds of both 100MHz and 133MHz. On the 10th of January next, Intel will release a 750MHz Pentium III, again in both flip chip socket 370 and Slot 1 versions. However, these 750MHz parts do not support the 133MHz front side bus, so there is an infamous "multiplier" implicated in their release. On that date too, Intel will intro 700MHz flip chip Pentium III, as well as a 667MHz and a 650MHz Pentium III in the socket 370 packaging. It will also intro 600EB MHz parts at 133MHz front side bus speeds, as well as a 600E MHz flip chip part on the 10th. Intel will rationalise its existing .25 micron parts throughout the course of next year, although the latest documentation, dated the 19th of November, still lists many "legacy" process products. ®
Compaq was today caught advertising Athlon 750MHz PCs ahead of AMD's launch date. The US vendor was advertising two desktops in its Presario range on its US site with the 750MHz chip, which it is understood will be officially launched by the chipmaker on Monday. The Presario 5900Z-750, based on the 750MHz chip, is priced at $2,549. It comes with 128MB DRAM, 27GB hard drive and 17 inch monitor, according to Compaq's US site. The second machine based on the processor is the Presario 5900Z-750, priced at $2,770. It comes with 128MB DRAM, 34GB hard drive and 17 inch monitor. According to one reader, the advert had been on the Compaq Web site since yesterday. When contacted, AMD was reluctant to comment on Compaq trying to steal its thunder. "I wasn't aware of it [the advert]," an AMD representative said. "I'll have to check it out for myself. She refused to comment on the 750MHz launch or what AMD's reaction was to vendors which advertised chips before the official launch date. Compaq in the US was unavailable for comment because of the Thanksgiving weekend. It seems that Big Q thought it could secretly slip the advert on the site over the holiday period to be ready for all those sales on Monday morning. ® See also: AMD confirms 750 Athlon a go-go, mentions Register in despatches AMD piles on Intel pressure with 750MHz Athlon Mobos for 750MHz .18 micron Athlons easy peasy
Dixons yesterday received a scathing attack from AOL Europe, which accused the retailer of being anti-competitive with its PC prices. The verbal assault coincided with a deal between the ISP and Dixon's old sparring partner Intel to sell PCs in Europe. Andreas Schmidt, head of AOL Europe, accused Dixons of being a "dominant retail force" and of "not being very good for competition". He also claimed that PCs were 50 per cent more expensive in Britain than elsewhere in continental Europe. Dixons immediately leapt to its own defence, claiming the AOL big cheese was talking out of his gruyere. "It's a shame Mr Schmidt did not find out more about the UK market before making such irresponsible remarks," Dixons snarled. The UK high-street giant also cited a report by the Office of Fair Trading, which last month found the UK PC market competitive and offering better choice than in France and Germany. AOL Europe, an Internet joint venture between America Online and Germany's Bertelsmann, said it was also in talks with several hardware vendors. The company revealed it had already secured a deal with Fujitsu Siemens Computers to sell PCs via the phone with CompuServe 2000 Internet access software. New CompuServe customers will get PCs at £999 or £599. Dixons stuck the knife in over the deal, describing it as a "more expensive replica" of what it already offered. ® See related stories Amazon to take on Dixons Intel apologises to Dixons for high price jibe UK PC retailers don't rip off customers
Undergraduates who plagiarise the intellectual efforts of others and claim them as their own could soon be outed as the thick, thieving idiots that they really are, thanks to a new Web site. Plagiarism.org checks submitted material against millions of online pages, separating the real students from the pseudo-scholars with the click of a mouse. (plagiarism alert -- the last 21 words were lifted directly from an AP story) According to John Barrie, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Berkeley, academic papers are checked against Web material using the top 20 search engines and compared to a database of other manuscripts, including papers from every university licensing the service. (plagiarism alert, sorry AP) "It's a very effective way of searching the more than 800 million documents out on the Internet," said Barrie. (plagiarism alert) One academic is reported to have said: "Plagiarism is our most prevalent form of academic dishonesty." One ex-student, who asked not to be named, said: "Plagiarism was the only thing I was ever good at, at school." Good grief. ® Related stories Software sniffs out cheats on the Web Email 'cheat' to sue university Email 'cheating' students face mass expulsion Computer science 'cheats' exposed at second Scottish university Oxford University SU president caught cheating by PC