7th > December > 1999 Archive
ilion has pulled out of suing reseller Ciscom, the distributor's parent company, Landis, has said. The networking distributor, which bought ilion earlier this year, said in a statement issued yesterday: "Following the due diligence carried out in relation to the acquisition, and reviewing the evidence submitted by ilion of mis-representation by Ciscom, Landis conclude there is no case to answer by Ciscom. "Following a meeting of senior executives, both parties have agreed to withdraw legal proceedings and the matter is now closed." In April, ilion decided to instigate legal proceedings against an employee after discovering financial irregularities that it said could cost the company up to £500,000. It followed this in June with the announcement that it was seeking "substantial damages for losses... in connection with an irregular transaction" from Cisco reseller Ciscom. However, the two seem to have been persuaded to bury the hatchet by Landis. ® Related Stories Cisco fall-out sees ilion sue Ciscom Allegations of fraud rock ilion
Mancunian ISP GreatXscape is in a tizz after being involved in yet another U-turn, sparking concerns that it is making up policy on the hoof.
The next major earthquake to strike Taiwan could cost chip makers "tens of billions of US dollars" and halt production for months if safety standards are not improved, according to a report which will be presented to the island's electronics industry Tuesday. The report, compiled by US-based SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International), says a haphazard approach to safety was responsible for damage to chip-making equipment during the September 21 earthquake. SEMI inspectors who visited Hsinchu's science park on September 25 were told that delicate machinery costing millions of dollars had been torn free of inadequate mountings and jolted across the floor by the force of the quake. The Hsinchu science park, a vital link in the global electronics supply chain, is the source of many of the key chips used in PCs, mobile phones and other products. The SEMI team inspected five chip fabrication facilities, or fabs, and interviewed executives at two others. The team also spoke to sources, such as maintenance engineers, who had access to more than 20 other fabs in the park. SEMI representatives will present their findings tomorrow at a seminar organised by the government's Industrial Technology Research Institute. Some of the slapdash workmanship uncovered by SEMI might seem more appropriate to a scooter repair shop than a billion-dollar chip foundry. For example, the inspectors found heavy machines anchored to flimsy floor or ceiling tiles, and not to the building's structure. In other cases, steel anchorages were fixed to the floor in accordance with safety guidelines, but machinery was not actually attached to them, allowing it to rock freely back and forth during the quake. The report does not name any of the companies inspected. However, sources in Hsinchu say one part of the document appears to refer to Worldwide Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (WSMC). Like one of the unnamed companies in the report, the effects of the quake were magnified at WSMC because the company's plant is built on soft soil above an old lakebed, the sources claim. WSMC spokesman and marketing manager, Justin Wang, said he did not know if the facility was actually on top of a former lakebed, as he had joined the company after construction was completed. He suggested that section of SEMI's report could refer to another firm, and named Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) as a possible candidate. Mr. Wang dismissed rumours that his company's chip manufacturing foundry had suffered serious structural damage. "We hired a Japanese structural engineer to thoroughly check it out - there was no damage". Business is so good, he said, that WSMC is now operating at "135 percent of full capacity." He also refuted suggestions that poorly anchored machinery was damaged at WSMC, saying the company was prepared for the quake. "Obviously we didn't know the earthquake was coming," he said, "but we happened to have a Japanese facility engineer, who worked at Texas Instruments in Japan, and went through the Kobe earthquake personally." Texas Instrument's joint venture foundry was damaged in the 1995 Kobe quake. Taiwan's second largest chip maker, United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), was apparently more fortunate than some of its competitors. Following a fire that destroyed one of its fabs several years ago, the company has been particularly safety-conscious, said spokesman Alex Hinawi. An inspection a few months before the quake identified and fixed numerous potential problems, he said. For example, UMC took action to secure quartz furnace tubes, and did not lose as many of these crucial components as other companies, he claimed. Several companies - sources named TSMC among them - suffered significant damage to equipment on upper floors. Multi-story structures are common in the popular, and overcrowded, science park; unfortunately, earthquake effects are amplified in proportion to a building's height. Despite the numerous violations of safety guidelines reported by SEMI, the 110 km which separates Hsinchu from the quake's epicenter helped prevent serious physical damage. The report says that quake-related power outages caused the majority of the losses suffered by chip makers - estimated at close to US$1 billion by SEMI. An executive at one chip maker questioned the objectivity of the SEMI report. The organization's members include manufacturers of chip making equipment, who could benefit if fabs were refitted with quake-proof machinery. A repeat of the magnitude 7.1 quake that struck near Hsinchu in 1935 would devastate the science park, costing chip makers months of production and tens of billions of US dollars, the report concludes. Many existing structures are designed to withstand a quake of force seven or less. "Numerous injuries and possibly deaths" would be likely inside chip foundries, which use large quantities of poisonous chemicals in their day-to-day operations, SEMI warns. The report said chip makers could guard against potential injuries and losses by paying more attention to safety now. Chip makers appear to be paying attention. "they will bolt things down better, and new fabs will probably be designed better," said a Taipei-based semiconductor industry analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We're probably going to implement earthquake-proof tables for sensitive equipment", said Mr. Wang of WSMC. The company's recently completed fab is more quake-resistant than its existing facility, he added. However, only limited improvements are likely at existing fabs. The industry analyst cautioned, "...it really isn't a concern for a lot of people, they think of the quake as more of a one time event." Most of the next generation of chip plants will be built near Tainan, not Hsinchu. Unfortunately the southern city is no safe haven: it suffered a magnitude 7.0 quake in 1968. ®
A damning note from market research company, the Gartner Group, is claiming that Sun Microsystem's Ultra Enterprise servers are unreliable. The note, dated 16 November last, and sent to selected Gartner customers, also claims that Sun has owned up to the problem. The most frequent bitches, according to the document, are connected with machines which use Sun's 400MHz 4MB cache Ultra Sparc II chips. Further, Gartner says that it has heard from a number of its customers of problems with fibre-optic IO controllers and "inaccurate or misleading" system diagnostic reports, with disk failures being reported as CPU problems. High end Sun servers have come in for criticism from customers, specifically the UE 10000 and UE6500 that use systems that have more than 36CPUs for the former and 20 CPUs for the latter. According to the document, Sun has admitted there are quality issues with SRAM (synchronous RAM) on some 400MHz CPUs and quality control problems with the fibre optic controllers. Gartner suggests to its customers that "continued client reports of CPU module failures" suggest that the quality control problems are likely to be more widespread than Sun claims. Sun has told Gartner that the problems are with a "bad batch". A systems administrator for a major corporation who wished to remain anonymous, commented: "A friend with a E10000 or two to play with is quite pleased. The fault that caused problems there was with door microswitches (fixed with tape) closing out bits of the system. I haven't heard about the CPU problem, which sounds more serious. At $80,000 apiece, this would be a significant problem." Sun Microsystems was unavailable for comment at press time. ®
US National Security Agency officials may or may not be shaking in their boots in response to a recent onslaught of public interest in their alleged activities. In past months, the US Congress has cast a jaundiced eye on the Agency and may bring it somewhat to heel in the next session; and the American Civil Liberties Union has launched a Web site called Echelon Watch, which posts information and fairly responsible speculation on NSA's global eavesdropping network. Now the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed suit in federal court demanding public disclosure of internal NSA documents addressing the legality of the Agency's intelligence activities. "The charter of the National Security Agency does not authorise domestic intelligence gathering. Yet we have reason to believe that the NSA is engaged in the indiscriminate acquisition and interception of domestic communications taking place over the Internet," EPIC director Marc Rotenberg said via a press release issued Friday to mark the happy occasion. One issue is the unknown technique by which the NSA sifts the global electronic cloud for information it needs, and is entitled to gather. The Agency has refused to disclose the details on grounds that doing so would compromise its effectiveness; but critics suspect that this argument merely conceals the fact that the technology is inadequate to safeguard the privacy of ordinary citizens. We would not be surprised to find that such is the case. Still, we wonder what EPIC hopes to gain with this suit, beyond a bit of negative PR directed against an Agency which has already proven itself cheerfully insensitive to such pressures. It is highly unlikely that a judge would order the public release of internal NSA documents, though one might wish to examine them in chambers. This provides an interesting publicity situation for the NSA, which, if it were cleared of wrongdoing by the court, would nevertheless remain the favourite straw-ghoul of conspiracy theorists, whose paranoid delusions extend eagerly to encompass the entire federal judicial system. Indeed, a positive court finding would only reinforce fears that the NSA's malevolent power reaches all the way to the top. It is entirely possible that the Agency welcomes such speculation, if, as we suspect, its reputation as a lot of Bad Muthas derives more from the fears of the unbalanced than from its own record of accomplishment. ®
With the coming to the market of a number of Linux companies - VA Linux Systems debuts this week - day traders are beginning to realise that Linux IPOs may turn out to be hotter and possibly more reliable than Internet ones. This is good in that venture capitalists and investment bankers could do more for Linux development than all the enthusiasts so far. Even hearts and mind campaigns can gain from the financial suits bringing some recognition to Linux and encouraging the stuffier enterprises to consider adopting Linux. Of course the potential changes in the development model may not necessarily be welcome to the community. A distinction needs to be drawn between distribution developers and Linux hardware vendors, so it is Caldera and SuSE in particular whose possible IPOs will be awaited with interest by the community. A first concern of many is likely to be a dislike of profit being made from the sweated labour of those who have contributed at a real cost to themselves. The counterbalancing benefit of development funding is likely to go to a partially overlapping set of developers, but at the same time the availability of some serious funding could change the ethos of the movement in unwelcome ways. How it will all work has yet to be determined, but it is not a wholly bad situation. It seems quite likely that the odd Linux support and service provider may be next to try an IPO, especially with the likes of SuSE pioneering by making a strong effort to provide enterprise-level support. Red Hat was first offered at $14, and was trading today at $220. Server vendor Cobalt Networks beat VA Systems to the market. It has a market capitalisation of $3.9 billion following its IPO at $22, and had a 404 per cent jump in its first day's trading on 5 November. This was not quite as much as theglobe.com (606 per cent) or Foundry Networks (525 per cent), but quite extraordinary and ahead of the levels seen in 1998 when EarthWeb was the top performer with 248 per cent. Cobalt is trading today at around $141. VA Linux Systems, describing itself as a provider of Linux-based solutions, filed for its IPO in October and will be traded this week, probably on Wednesday or Thursday with the ticker LNUX, which in itself could prove to be an asset. Some 4.4 million shares are being offered and a significant premium is likely over the initial $11 to $13. The cash raised is to be used for general corporate purposes. The company recently announced it was partnering with Loki Entertainment Software to distribute the Debian GNU/Linux retail package. In November, it formed a partnership with O'Reilly and SGI to distribute Debian. Of course the common feature of these Linux-based companies, like nearly all Internet offerings, is that they are not profitable, and are banking relatively little money. This situation can only last so long as the markets remain buoyant, and there are always clouds on the horizon. So far as developers are concerned, it is now possible to see the open software movement moving towards the mainstream, just as the PC market was in the late 1980s. It would make little sense to resist the new ethos: after all, wasn't success part of the original objective? ®
A French company today launched a free online search engine for hardware components in the UK. IT-Xchange.com is a virtual meeting place for distributors and resellers, where resellers can source hardware. The Paris-based outfit claims its service will speed up computer hardware buying. By typing in just the product reference code, users are able to find where the product is available and at what price. The service is free to both resellers and distributors. Of course, the disadvantage is that resellers cannot barter for a price, such as when they on the phone to a salesperson at a distributor. The service started in Europe in late August, and currently gets around 150 hits per day. More than 560 distributors have signed up to use the service in Europe. Those include Westcoast, European Micro, Gamma Group and Icom UK. The site also offers credit ratings on suppliers and resellers and an IT news service.®
Yeah, OK, we know we've had our fun with Rambus Ink and Intel, but, please believe us, this company has a seriously good future and is also seriously undervalued. However, the success that Rambus will rake in is not necessarily pegged to the Great Satan of Chips. Those who have followed Rambus throughout the year will remember that at one point its share price stood at an awesome $117½, and then crashed down to just over $60 in the wake of certain announcements that Intel made. It's been a bit of a Big Dipper ride. Yesterday, its share price closed at $71¾ on Wall Street, and we can't help thinking that this makes it a good buy, in the medium to long term. The reason is nothing to do with the x.86 architecture, despite somewhat wild predictions by Intel that Rambus memory would sit in around 50 per cent of PCs by the end of next year. It's far more to do with the introduction of PlayStation II, which is likely to challenge Intel bigtime, when it appears and which also uses Rambus memory. Presumably, PlayStation mobos work fine with the fast technology. As for the quantity of RIMMs appearing right now, we note that Samsung is now saying that it will manufacture one million parts in January next year, and double that figure in February. As one (unnamed) wry observer at a major memory manufacturer told us this morning, it has to spend some of the money that Intel pumped into it. He also noted that the EE Times headline which said Samsung to double Rambus production was a little mathematically unsound. Double nothing is still nothing, he said... ®
MS on Trial The main claim against Microsoft by the DoJ and the plaintiff States in the "Plaintiffs' Joint Proposed Conclusions of Law" is that the company illegally maintained its monopoly. There is every probability that Judge Jackson will agree with this claim. By going for this broad claim, the plaintiffs allow themselves maximum flexibility when it comes to discussing remedies.
BT is to introduce flat-fee, unmetered access to the Internet, the giant telco announced today. A spokesman for the company said there were "no strings attached" and that it was a "wonderful offer", but denied it took the decision in the wake of unbearable pressure for reform.
3dfx extended its strategy to court the Linux community by releasing its Glide 3D graphics API under an open source licence and detailing its Voodoo 2 and 3 hardware specs. Of course, it's not the blessing that 3dfx is portraying the move. While it's certainly good news for coders keen to use 3dfx-based 3D accelerators on their platform of choice, it's also a sign that 3dfx accepts that Glide has a much diminished role in the mainstream games market. Glide was released when games developers had no other games-oriented graphics API they could use to harness 3dfx's Voodoo technology. Now, we've got Direct3D and OpenGL, and indeed, these are the areas in which 3dfx will focus its own future development efforts, the company has said. 3dfx could, of course, have quietly retired Glide, but this way at least the pasture it's being put out to is a very fertile one indeed. Which helps it very nicely in its battle with Nvidia, S3, ATI at al for the hearts, minds and wallets of non-Windows users. Making it easy for coders to write the drivers that will allow other users to buy and run their products is a key strategic goal for almost all the big 3D hardware companies right now, though 3dfx, with its dwindling sales and loss of the 'coolest 3D company' title to Nvidia, is particularly active here. Earlier this year it released its 2D acceleration hardware spec. and details of its Voodoo 2-based Banshee chip-set. Later, it released its FXT1 texture compression technology under an open source licence. FXT1 is a key part of 3dfx's next-generation Voodoo Scalable Architecture (VSA), whose first incarnation is the VSA-100 chip that will power next year's Voodoo 4 and 5 cards. Curiously, 3dfx open source statement only covers "3D hardware accelerators currently available". It will be interesting to see -- and the real test of 3dfx's desire to support the Linux community -- whether specifications for those products will also be made available at launch. ® Related Story Microsoft and OpenGL: supporting it to death?
Japan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) has begun an investigation into allegations that Apple Japan has been fixing the prices of the Mac makers consumer-oriented iMac desktop and iBook notebook machines. And the FTC kicked off its enquiry by raiding Apple Japan's Tokyo HQ in search of incriminating evidence. Neither the FTC nor Apple Japan has commented on the investigation -- an Apple Japan spokeswoman, cited by the Kyodo News agency, simply said: "We are still trying to find out what exactly is being inspected." However, Japanese sources suggest the FTC believes Apple has been twisting retailers arms not to discount either the iMac or the iBook. If such a move took place, it could well have been made in response to the company's problems supplying iBooks and iMacs, a result of September's Taiwan Earthquake. For example, Casio was forced to delay the late-November launch of its Cassiopeia FIVA MPC-102 notebook thanks to the quake. Yesterday, Casio said the machine would be delayed a second time. Initial supplies of iBooks and the latest version of the iMac were in short supply mid October, the time of their launch in Japan, despite earlier predictions by Apple Japan executives to the contrary. The company may well have acted to prevent resellers running out of product too quickly. Certainly it has been taking very tight control of its production, and inventory and channel management over the last quarter. ®
Bidding kicked off yesterday for the first URL to carry a £1 million reserve tag. The banks.com domain name, whose current owner is registered in Luton, is being sold by UK online auction house Names123.com. Today the highest bid still stood way below the reserve price, at £600,000. The offer closes on 1 March 2000. The URL currently belongs to Robert Fox, with a PO Box address in Luton, Bedfordshire. It was registered on 9 August 1999. Names123.com MD John Swell was confident the final sale would top the £1 million mark. But banks.com will have to compete for financial online dominance with the likes of bank.com, aleady registered on 12 December 1998. It is silly season in the world of domain names sales at the moment. Last week, the URL business.com became the Web's golden egg when it was sold for a record $7.5 million (£4.6 million). ® Related Story Big bucks URL is the business(.com) More Net finance stuff at Cash Register
There's still no sign of life at troubled ISP 08004u despite promises that the Dundee-based outfit was set to relaunch its service a week ago. Its Web site doesn't register a pulse and its phone line just runs dead every time it's called. Dundee Trading Standards, which is handling complaints about the service, said officials were still talking to the 08004u, which suggests the company is still showing some vital signs. According to a trading standards official, the ISP has sent out some refunds to disgruntled customers. But, he added, many Net users were holding on in the hope the service would perform some kind of biblical raising the dead-type feat. It seems there is a hardcore of users who maintain that when the service works, it is worth the flat-fee of £49.99 a month for unmetered access to the Net. However, those who do want a refund and can't get in contact with the ISP should contact Dundee Trading Standards directly on 01382 436260. The unwanted intrusion of 22,000 Net users who received toll-free access to the Net for nowt last month is believed to have contributed to 08004u's woes. ® Related Stories 08004u in relaunch bid 22,000 people and the 08004u security lapse 08004u scuppered by 22,000 unauthorised users 08004u MD coughs up to poor service
The Japanese wing of Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) will launch an Internet-based digital music distribution service next January, the company, one of the World's 'Big Five' major record labels, said today. The announcement follows a similar one from Sony, which will launch a e-singles music service in Japan on 22 December. BMG's scheme, dubbed Millennium Big Bang (MBB), unlike Sony's Bitmusic site, is experimental and designed to discover the best ways to market and sell music online. The trial will run until the end of June. BMG didn't say how much it will charge for each track, but the site itself will require the payment of a subscription fee, though the fee is being waived for music buyers who sign up before April. It's not clear at this stage whether the fee will cover the cost of downloads, or whether that will incur a further charge. MBB will provide tracks in the controversial but popular MP3 format, but BMG also said users will need RealNetworks' RealJukebox or Liquid Audio's Liquid Music Player to listen to downloaded tracks, implying the company is using some form of copyright protection. That said, since both Liquid Audio and RealNetworks are co-sponsors of the site, along with a stack of other Japanese media and Internet companies, that software requirement may be more flexible that it at first seems. Like Bitmusic, MBB will only be made available to Japanese customers. ®
15 Nov 1999 Forrester Research has acquired British Internet analyst firm Fletcher Research for an undisclosed sum - although Forrester estimates that it will incur a one-time charge in the fourth quarter ranging from $500,000 to $700,000 for costs related to the transaction. William Reeve and Neil Bradford, co-founders of Fletcher Research, will continue to oversee the company's operations together with its existing management team
Compaq today halted its channel-only policy on selling volume orders in the UK. The vendor is to offer the same price on kit to both resellers and end-users. Customers will view this price on the Compaq.com Website, and either buy direct online, or pay for extra services through a reseller. This means resellers will no longer have the advantage of discounted products for corporate orders. The scheme, which covers all commercial PCs, storage products and Intel-based servers, will be implemented across Western Europe by the third quarter of next year, the company said. From today, users can buy the Prosignia small business range direct over the Web. All other products will be available online by January. Customers will still be able to buy through the traditional reseller method. Compaq also said it would choose a handful of resellers to be subcontractors for services such as configuration and delivery. David Wright, Compaq commercial PC director, said: "We want to remove inventory from the model overall. "There are too many people involved in the supply chain." The company said it still needed resellers for services. Despite this, it is still continuing its own services business. Peter Crane, marketing manager at Birmingham reseller PSM Micro Computers, said the move could push the channel into the arms of Compaq’s competitiors. "This is a bit of a slap in the face for the channel. "And I think that other reseller will be looking very closely at increasing sales with other vendors, such as IBM and HP." ®
Intel is doling out the first prototypes of the Itanium 64-bit chip to big system builders, well ahead of next summer's scheduled launch. This should keep the bug-hunters happy.
Westcoast has poached Computer 2000’s field sales manager. Alan Hunt will join Westcoast in the first week of January as sales director. Hunt left Computer 2000 on Friday after seven and a half years at the distributor. He follows ex-C2000 sales director, Paul Cook, who left the distributor to be Westcoast MD earlier this year. Hunt has been replaced by Russell Blackburn, who re-joined C2000 on December 1. Blackburn joined from Apple, where he headed up channel sales. He is returning to C2000, where he was Apple sales manager until 1997. Westcoast’s current sales director is Adnan Alfalah.®
Quantum has hauled in a "renowned independent acoustical consulting firm" to confirm that it has the world's quietest desktop hard drive in the form of the Fireball lct. The vendor bases its claims on sound benchmarking tests conducted by Charles M Salter Associates (CSA) of San Francisco on 5400rpm drives from Quantum, Fujitsu, IBM, Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital. When the Fireball lct is idle, the average decibel reading is 28 (presumably the power's switched on), the same level as someone whispering and around the same as the noise level of a "typical quiet living room" (which comes in at 30 decibels). In read and write mode the Fireball lct's average decibel level is 32 decibels. According to Quantum, it's nearest rival measured 32 decibels when idle and 35 decibels when active. The average PC hard drive produces 36-48 decibels when in use. The differences are greater than they -- ahem -- sound: decibel measurements increase exponentially (just like the Richter scale for earthquakes), rather than linearly. Quantum says it will incorporate its proprietary acoustic technology (called Quiet Drive Technology) into its 7200rpm Atlas V, and its Atlas 10K series high performance drives. Quiet drives are an essential feature for the new class of home entertainment devices requiring local storage. We wouldn't put up with the HDD "hum" in our living room, so why should we put up with that horrible noise in our offices? It's good to see vendors extending quiet drives to the desktop PC market. This strikes us as a much more meaningful performance improvement than shaving a millisecond or two off average seek time. ®
Samsung has pledged to double its Rambus output or die in the attempt. Actually, the last part isn't true, but such was the tenor of the company's press conference on the matter we did wonder quite how far it would go. The Korean giant is currently pumping out around one million 128/144Mb Rambus chips each month, having resumed production last month after a month's hiatus caused by Intel's blunders over the Rambus-supporting i820 chipset. That figure will rise to two million parts per month next February, said the president of Samsung's semiconductor operations, Yoon-Woo Lee. He also said that Rambus chips will account for around 20 per cent of the company's memory sales next year, double the figure for the memory business as a whole. Given the demand for Rambus memory -- quite apart from the PC business, Sony is going to want shedloads of the chips next year for its PlayStation 2 -- and what manufacturers can get away with charging for it, Samsung's focus makes plenty of sense. And with Samsung actively trying to shrink the size of Rambus chips -- it's looking to cut the number of in-chip memory banks from 32 to 16 by the middle of 2000 -- it should do very nicely, thank you, out of the technology. ® Related Story Rambus Ink has brilliant future
Smart phone manufacturers and Palm Computing are the companies to watch next year, according to Datacomm Research's latest study of the mobile market, Wireless Web Wonders: Opportunities for Smart Phones and PDAs.
AOL Europe gave a cautious welcome to BT's announcement today that it is introducing flat-rate tariffs to the net, but warned that the proposed cost is still too high. It claimed today's offer of £34.99 for 24/7 unmetered access was almost double the cost of Internet telephone access in the US.