16th > December > 1999 Archive

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Memory makers salivate over Win2000

Kingston Technology said yesterday that Microsoft is recommending that people use 128MB of memory as a bare minimum for its up-and-coming Win2000 operating system. Executives at the company were visibly rubbing their hands with glee at the news, as they expect the take up of Windows 2000 to be adopted by large corporations, big time. At the same time, the Kingston executives were extolling the virtues of Rambus over the competing double data rate (DDR) technology, and managing to ignore the lessons of the past. According to Kingston, 128MB is a bare minimum for Win2000, and the company expects that machines will be specced up to 256MB. It also hopes that large corporations will flock in their droves to the Rambus platform. But the problem is that Rambus RIMMs, which won't start appearing in volume until Q1 of next year, are very much more expensive than synchronous memory (SDRAM), with modules, at least initially, costing something like five to seven times more. Back in 1995, when Microsoft introduced Windows 95, the entire memory market, including distributors, dealers and manufacturers, anticipated that people would buy huge amounts of memory to make the operating environment work. Unfortunately, memory was quite expensive in those days, and the optimistic forecasts, fuelled by Microsoft marketing hype, came to nothing, with the semiconductor market collapsing later that year and next. Those, some will recall, were the halcyon days when memory cost more than the entire cost of a PC. However, Kingston, and other memory vendors, obviously take heed of the Henry Ford soundbyte: "History is bunk", forgetting that Ford is now history… ®
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First mobile RIMMs not expected until Q2

While Intel is still robustly in denial over the collapse of its Rambus strategy for notebook PCs, reliable sources have said that mobile RIMMs will not arrive in quantity until the second half of next year. According to a close Intel partner, companies will still manufacture SO-RIMMs for notebook machines, but technical and marketing issues are preventing the ramp from happening until later next year. As already reported here, Intel's notebook strategy is in considerable disarray, with volumes of many of the mobile Coppermine processors not expected to reach the channel until the end of Q1 at the earliest. Although Intel still has many of its core notebook customers, such as Toshiba, Dell, IBM and Compaq on board, the mutterings in recent months have become audible complaints and many are now actively considering switching to AMD Athlon notebook parts, when they become available in Q1 next year. The problems with the Rambus parts for notebooks will mean that, like it or lump it, Intel will have no choice but to support synchronous memory for some considerable time. According to rumours, Intel is expected to announce something of a dent in its profits on Wall Street next Monday, and is so using the occasion to pre-announce faster Coppermine chips before quantities ship. ®
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MetaCreations switches horses

Creations normally take about a week, give or take a day, but in the case of MetaCreations, around half the staff are being given two weeks notice of a reverse creation. The company has decided to do a radical restructuring by stopping its professional graphics business and putting all its eggs into what it calls its e-commerce visualisation solutions, better known as MetaStream for the streaming and display of interactive 3D images. The news and profit warning sent the stock price down from a high of $9.625 at the beginning of December to $5.6875 at one point yesterday, a drop of some 40 per cent. A loss of $38 to $42 million is estimated for the current quarter, but the cash balance is expected to be in the $36 to $38 million range at the end of the year (it was $46 million at the end of 1998). MetaCreations has been something of a red-ink company, with 1998 revenue down 38 per cent increasing net losses over the past three years, reaching $20 million on $43 million revenue last year. In its April proxy filing, the management controlled 20.5 per cent of the company. Nonetheless it was a surprise move, since in October MetaCreations announced in its Q3 results that the graphics products produced twice the revenue of the visualisation business. On the other hand, its graphics business was flat year-on-year, with the visualisation business growing quickly. Not surprisingly, there has been some criticism of the move from graphics software users, with some hoping that Apple would acquire the company before Microsoft gets hungry (components from the MetaStream viewer are included in Windows 98SE), although Computer Associates must also be seen as a contender, since MetaStream.com is a joint venture with Computer Associates (20 per cent), and a vehicle for the visualisation products. Alliant Partners have been given the job of disposing of the graphics business carcass, which should not prove to be a turkey as it is widely used. Adobe appears to be the favourite vulture, which would probably be a good fit to its business. KPT Vector Effects, updated less than a month ago, is a plug-in to Adobe Illustrator. If ever there were a sign of the lure of the Internet boom, it was seen when MetaStream.com decided in November to move its headquarters from California to New York. CA vp Sandeep Divekar said he expected the market for to more than double each year, and that "two of the hottest areas are Web site differentiation and front-to-back office differentiation" and that MetaStream would help "to exploit the synergies between state-of-the-art e-visualisations and superior database technology." In what appears to be a board-room coup, Gary Lauer is departing to join "another firm" but he will retain his job as chairman. Mark Zimmer, who was running MetaCreations graphics business, is the new CEO. He was previously CEO and founder of Fractal Design which merged with MetaTools to form to form MetaCreations in 1997. Acquisitions have included Canoma, Specular, Real Time Geometry and Ray Dream. Lauer attributed the poor 1998 performance to a failure to integrate its business after the merger and acquisitions, and to a lack of marketing focus. Repositioning the company was foreseen in March in Lauer's report to shareholders, but at that time it was envisaged that the company "would continue to serve the loyal customers [for] 2D and 3D graphics software." How times change.. Whether the 3D streaming and virtual product merchandising market will be the pot of gold that Forrester Research forecasts - $6 billion this year rising to $45 billion in 2003 - remains to be seen. As to whether the move will be seen as an act of chainsaw corporate suicide or as a metacreation may be known in heavenly circles, but earthlings must look through the dark glass for the time being. ®
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Casio, Siemens partner on wireless WinCE Palm VII rival

Casio and Siemens are to develop a Windows CE-based wireless PDA-cum-phone, the two companies announced yesterday, with the device's first public showing set for next February's CeBIT show in Hanover.
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Intel Coppermines won't go in rockets… phew

A source at a US defence firm has written us to re-assure the people of the world that they need not fear that missiles will use the elusive Coppermine microprocessor. That follows reports that we carried about an erratumnotbug found in some batches of the CuMine chip. The reader, who wishes to remain anonymous for entirely understandable reasons, said there is "absolutely zero chance" that Coppermines would get used in the control circuitry of missiles. According to him, any chip used in the critical control path of a missile, space probe or aircraft has to be proved to be worthy and produced in ceramic packaging. The processors may not also use fans. But according to the source, Intel does produce 8086 to 386 chips for the military and has to guarantee 25 years support for these parts. Embedded applications use clocked down surface mounted mobile parts. And here's a really fun and interesting part of this tale. The Space Shuttle has an onboard computer with the power of a 48SX HP calculator, and the astronauts take on board an HP 48SX pre-programmed with the Shuttle's flight plan, in case of navigation failures with the onboard computer. This HP model has a serial port and 64K of memory... ®
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AOL Europe rubbishes senior staffer's IPO claims

AOL Europe has claimed the comments of one of its own executives that its French operation is to float on the Paris Bourse are "simply false".
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Rambus Intel contract set to expire

Sources have told The Register that the 10th of January 2000 is an extremely important day for the Intel-Rambus partnership. On that date, Intel exclusivity with Rambus expires, allowing the chip giant to discuss other, alternative memory technologies. The clause in the contract means that Intel may get very excited by things such as double data rate (DDR) synchronous memory, and at the same time announce its Solano-II chipset has gone out for sampling. Very shortly after that, we are given to understand, the fully fledged PC-133 chipset will make its appearance, as previously revealed here. This chipset will avoid the infamous MTH temporary kludge, which hardware reviewers have found has a negative impact on performance. And once those corks are out of their respective bottles, we may eventually see Chipzilla 2000, a big creature which has been slightly humbled by having to listen to the marketplace. Meanwhile, to show the level of support that the industry is giving DDR memory, have a look at this Micron page ® See also 815 comes alive with PC-133 support Intel's Solano, Amador, only a bubble'n'squeak away Intel likely to bring Solano chipset forward
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BBC teams with Vodafone for cellular news service

The BBC and Vodafone are teaming up to develop news services for mobile phones. Tony Hall, CEO of BBC News, and Alan Harper, MD of Vodafone UK, are expected to provide details of the agreement later today, says the Financial Times. The BBC has already conducted trials with other operators, and the deal with Vodafone can be seen as a response to the announcement of a similar arrangement between rival ITN and Orange last month. ITN currently provides a news service to Orange's Nokia WAP phone, of which we believe there is at least one in circulation. ®
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Serial laptop mugger faces slammer

A vicious mugger who hunted down businessmen carrying laptops was this week warned he faced years in prison. Neville Smicle, 23, left two of his five victims with fractured skulls, while almost severing the ear of another. Isleworth Crown Court heard on Tuesday how the man struck on three separate evenings in Ealing, Hammersmith and Richmond. His victims were all carrying laptops, Metro newspaper reported. Tim Perkins, a graphic designer, described how he was attacked whilst walking home in April. "A lad appeared beside me and very quickly asked me the time. I looked at my watch and I was hit in the face by something incredibly hard." Perkins said he was then hit twice more on the back of the head. Second victim Andrew Swinton suffered a similar attack just two hours later, where he was also hit on the head with a bottle. Another of the men, Vivek Soman, was attacked on his own doorstep, and suffered a fractured cheekbone. Smicle was found guilty on four counts of robbery and one count of causing GBH with intent to rob. The jury's verdict was unanimous, with Judge Sam Katkhuda warning Smicle: "It will be a very long sentence. People who walk the streets of our cities have to be protected. Ordinary people going about their business must be able to feel they can walk freely and safely." Smicle was remanded in custody until January 17. ®
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Court tells EU to reopen MS antitrust investigation

A French software reseller may have forced the European Commission to reopen an investigation into Microsoft, following a decision by a European court earlier today. The Commission dismissed a complaint made to it by Micro Leader Business in 1996 last year, but the EU's lower court, the Court of First Instance, has now ruled that it was wrong to do so. Micro Leader had been importing French-language Microsoft software from Canada, but was blocked from doing so by Microsoft. The French company claims that this was a violation of European antitrust rules, as the move stopped the company from competing with Microsoft's 'official' French channel. The Commission threw the complaint out on the basis that banning cheap imports was not in itself evidence that Microsoft was colluding with its channel partners to fix prices. Lesser intellects might muse that keeping out cheap product might in some way be connected with maintaining higher prices, but the Commission no doubt had its reasons. These might themselves be connected with its decision not to pursue Micro Leader's other claim, that Microsoft was abusing a monopoly position (stop us if you've heard that one before). The court thinks the Commission got that one wrong as well, but it's easy to see why. In the run-up to the US Government's antitrust action against Microsoft the US authorities and the European Commission divvied up responsibility for antitrust action. This was done for fairly logical reasons, as it clearly doesn't make sense for both the US and the European authorities to go after the same companies, perhaps coming up with embarrassingly divergent conclusions. The DoJ drew Microsoft, and Europe studiously stood well back, reserving its rights to join in later if it didn't like the outcome. Its eagerness to avoid pursuing Micro Leader's claims is therefore eminently explicable, if possibly legally wrong. The Commission can now reopen the investigation, or lodge an appeal during the next two months. If it chooses not to appeal, it's perfectly possible that various other European claims against Microsoft (several of them also French) could start to rattle out of the closet. Another millennium, another antitrust investigation... ®