11th > January > 2000 Archive

Taiwan rubs hands in PC glee for 2000

AnalysisWhile last year was a marvellous one for Taiwan's high-tech companies, this year may be even better. The September 21st earthquake halted production for days, costing billions, but it also underlined Taiwan’s importance as a key link in the global electronics supply chain. Multinationals like Hewlett Packard used the hiccough in supplies from Taiwan as an explanation – some say an excuse - for poor sales in the fourth quarter. Recovery from the Asian economic crisis produced dramatic year-on-year growth figures. Monthly sales at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the country's largest chip maker, literally doubled from November 98 to November 99. Next year both Taiwan and China – the island's key manufacturing partner and largest potential market – will join the WTO, providing new opportunities for local manufacturers. The red tape which hinders Taiwan’s mainland manufacturing operations may finally be cut. While the island's high-tech manufacturers will be focusing their attention on cross-straits relations in 2000, they also need to keep an eye on global PC markets. Price falls slow this year Falling prices have driven growing PC sales in the past two years. In 2000, they will fall more slowly – it is becoming harder to squeeze dramatic cost savings out of the format. As one of the world's largest producers of PCs and components, Taiwan's economy is intimately linked to trends like these. "Traditional PC market growth will be very flat for the next few years," predicts Henry King of International Data Corporation (IDC) in Taipei. One view of the future has the reins of PC growth being taken up by simpler and cheaper 'information appliances'. For some, the information appliance is the 'PC killer', a new product that will don the PC crown, and go on to become as ubiquitous as the telephone or television. For those who see the converging fields of communications and computing meeting at a point, the PC killer will be the offspring of the PC and the mobile phone. But this is not the first time the PC's demise has been predicted. In fact, the PC killer is beginning to look like the tediously persistent villain from a series of low budget horror flicks. Every few years, the concept returns from the dead with a howl. Each time, the PC evolves a little to meet the new challenge, and the beast is dispatched with a stake through its heart. This script has been played out three or four times in the past decade. The Web Misappliance of Science? Once again, last autumn, manufacturers in Taiwan and abroad were touting a variety of information appliances in the form of palm-sized PCs, 'web pads', TV set-top boxes, and so on. No matter what the format, every product has at least two of these three key features: communications, preferably wireless, are built-in; cost is low; and the device is designed for a single application, usually Internet access. Will 2000 be the year that the PC killer finally deals a fatal blow to the desktop PC? Almost certainly not, but the growing necessity of Internet access and the easier availability of high-bandwidth communications are together providing an environment increasingly suitable to the information appliance. The PC, however, is a moving target, constantly evolving. Intel is reducing the cost and complexity of the machine by stripping out dead wood, or legacy hardware. Taiwanese manufacturers are enthusiastic about this process: much of the electronics in a modern PC, especially in its interfaces to the outside world, are unnecessary, merely providing compatibility with older hardware. The release of Microsoft's Windows 2000, expected in mid-February, will support Intel's initiatives, hastening the evolution of the PC. It will also generate a mini sales boom for Taiwan's companies, as PCs and peripherals are upgraded to match the new operating system. Meanwhile, the outside of the machine is changing too. Inspired by the success of Apple's colorful i-Mac, and encouraged by Intel, local manufacturers are testing a variety of new formats. Some of them are very different from the traditional staid and sturdy beige box – "really cool", in the words of one insider who has seen prototypes. Manufacturers need to take steps like this to differentiate their products because, as an Acer executive says, "anyone can make a PC." The market is indeed a free-for-all, and as a result, profit margins have fallen. "There are no entry barriers to PC production," agrees Henry King of IDC. Taiwan notebook production limited by LCDs Notebook computers are a different story, as newcomers like Chuntex found out to their cost last year. But if a manufacturer can learn to assemble the intricate jigsaw puzzle that is a modern notebook PC, then profits are high. Taiwan is now the world's number one notebook maker, with almost 50 per cent of the market. This is at least in terms of units shipped - around nine million in 1999. Next year, an appreciating yen will help increase notebook sales to Japan, and IDC predicts Taiwan’s production will grow 37 per cent. The island's Achilles heel continues to be the LCD screen, which represents more than 30 percent of the cost of the average notebook PC. If these were not so hard to find, then Taiwan might have made another million notebooks, and would have paid far less for the screens in them. The response of local manufacturers has been simple: if you can't buy it, make it yourself. Taiwanese LCD screens will be rolling off production lines at six new factories by early next year. By next Christmas, these will ensure a ready supply of screens for Taiwan’s notebook makers. Better news still, competition means the screens will be cheap - so cheap, unfortunately, that the LCD factories may barely make a profit. Falling profit margins are a way of life for Taiwan's high-tech manufacturers. As the margins slide, manufacturers consolidate production and then move it overseas where labor is cheaper. Some are looking at ways to step out of this cycle into knowledge-based service industries, such as software and the Internet. Acer, for example, is investing tens of millions of dollars in both these sectors, as are local venture capitalists. This is fortunate, because, in Taiwan, raising money on the public stock markets impossible for companies whose main assets are ideas, and whose history is measured in months. The government is muddling its way towards easing listing barriers for Internet-related stocks. The official moves may be late, but they are making a few of Taiwan's first generation of Internet companies put their travel plans on hold and consider raising capital at home. Some should have listed on local exchanges by the second half of next year. And hopefully Taiwan will enjoy some of the benefits of the Internet bonanza before – if pessimists are to be believed - the bubble bursts. ®
Simon Burns, 11 Jan 2000

No WD involvement in Presario freeze-ups

Hard drive manufacturer Western Digital told The Register today that system freeze-ups which occur with Compaq Presario systems are unrelated to any of its products. Compaq's take on the freeze now appears to be that the problem is one of Windows resources, and is not hardware related. A representative from Western Digital said: "The system freeze-ups have absolutely nothing to do with Western Digital hard drives. This is strictly a Compaq system issue, which you may confirm directly with Compaq. The WD hard drives are just fine and did not fall 'far short of expectations.'" A Staples US employee had claimed that hard drive failures were part of the problem, not the solution, but WD says its hard drives are perfectly fine. Any problems with hard drives seems to rest with Compaq systems themselves, according to one source who works in technical support at Compaq UK. She said: "If you try to replace the hard drive that came with the system, you may have an issue with the BOM ID which is an ID put on Compaq hard drives. Without that, the Quickrestore will not run. This may not be for all of the systems, but it's definitely an issue on many. She added: "Quickrestore was one of the worst ideas they ever came up with. It's automated and the version of Windows on it that Compaq gives you more often than not will conflict with updates from MS." ®
Mike Magee, 11 Jan 2000

Sun, SCO, Novell, Citrix put bucks into Caldera

Caldera Systems has received a $30 million investment from Sun, SCO, Citrix, Novell, Egan Managed Capital, and Chicago Venture Partners. Sun's move is seen to be a positive acceptance that Linux is less harmful to Sun's future than Windows, and that when it comes to performance, Sun still expects Solaris to shine. The non-participation by Intel (which did fund the Red Hat, SuSE and TurboLinux distributions) can be put down to Caldera's legal case against Microsoft, which made Intel nervous. Wintel may be a bit battered, but it still flies - and there's a limit as to just how much sand can be thrown in Microsoft's face. The Citrix investment is linked to the company's desire to encourage access to any application on any platform with any device, while SCO sees any initiative that brings Linux and Unix together as a good thing. Novell of course wants to create new platform options that detract from Windows. John Egan will join the Caldera Systems' board, as will Ed Iacobucci, chairman of Citrix. Caldera now has the opportunity to carry out some major software developments, and s likely to be less market-hungry than Red Hat or Corel, which brings us to this thought: who better to buy with all that cash than Corel? Corel's Linux has been well-received, and the WordPerfect suite still remains the sine qua non for many users. ® See also: Caldera files for IPO MS settles on eve of Caldera trial
Graham Lea, 11 Jan 2000

Fresh from triumph over MS, Caldera files for IPO

Caldera will use the Microsoft settlement money primarily for acquisitions, development and marketing, according to Lyle Ball, VP of marketing and communications at Lineo, the Caldera Inc operating company concerned with embedded clients based on Linux (Embedix) and DR-DOS. There has been a strategic move to keep the Microsoft litigation in Caldera Inc and away from product areas, so that operational matters were not affected. Ball drew particular attention to Microsoft having settled "right before a jury trial". Meanwhile Caldera Systems will continue with its Open Linux distribution, which should receive considerable publicity shortly because Caldera filed its S1 IPO registration statement with the SEC yesterday. Caldera CEO Bryan Sparks told The Register that Microsoft did not know of the intended filing of Caldera's IPO yesterday, since had it done so it would not have accommodated the coincidental serendipity. Although the company is less widely-known than Red Hat, Caldera shares will almost certainly enjoy a considerable premium when they are traded. The lawsuit made it difficult for Caldera to have an IPO much earlier. Ironically, when Microsoft wanted to prove during the Washington trial that it had tough operating system competitors, it put on a demo of Caldera's OpenLinux. What poetic justice it would be if this became true, and that Linux became the most widely installed operating system on new PCs, as Microsoft "feared". Although we can be certain that there is no connection between the settlement with Microsoft and the IPO because of the lead time in preparing for the latter, it is interesting to speculate as to what prompted it at this time. Since Caldera did not expect a settlement until the end of last week, long after the decision to go public had been made, the glaring indicator is Novell's share price. In Ray Noorda's day it had been in the mid-30s, although it subsequently dropped to single figures and only really made progress again after the appointment of Eric Schmidt as CEO. Since Noorda still has a considerable Novell holding, he could well have decided to go public when Novell's share price was at a higher level than when he was at Novell, for psychological reasons. Caldera has in a number of ways had a charmed life so far as timing coincidences are concerned. When it started its case against Microsoft in July 1996, it filed the action just before the court office closed. Microsoft was unable to get a copy the next day because it was a public holiday in Utah, so was left floundering when asked to comment. It turned out that the timing of the filing was fortuitous, but Microsoft was peeved. Equally fortuitous is that IBM has just announced that it is Linux-enabling all its platforms. If Linux has not yet crossed the chasm, it is surely more than half way. ® See also: Sun, SCO, Novell, Citrix put bucks into Caldera MS settles on eve of Caldera trial
Graham Lea, 11 Jan 2000

MS pays up to settle on eve of Caldera antitrust trial

MS on TrialCaldera and Microsoft announced a settlement of their antitrust battle late yesterday. Caldera's private action against Microsoft, centred on DR-DOS, had been scheduled to go to trial on 1 February. A minimalist and obscurantist masterpiece of a press release released in Salt lake City, but carefully-crafted by the most expensive PR organisation in the industry, said: "Microsoft Corp. and Caldera Inc. today announced that the parties have reached a mutually agreeable settlement of an antitrust lawsuit filed by Caldera Inc. in July 1996. "We are pleased to put this issue behind us," said Tom Burt, General Counsel, Litigation for Microsoft. "Rather than litigating, we prefer to focus on building great software for our customers in this dynamic and competitive industry." "We are pleased with the result of this lawsuit. We now look forward to vigorous competition in the marketplace with our Linux products and strategies both from Caldera Systems Inc. and Lineo Inc.," said Bryan Sparks, CEO of Caldera Inc. The terms of the agreement are confidential. Microsoft will record a one-time charge against earnings in the quarter ending March 31, 2000, which will reduce earnings per share approximately three cents." [There then followed the customary paragraph puffs for Caldera and Microsoft.] The purpose of the statement, which was developed by Microsoft, was to suggest that the amount of the settlement was small. Based on around 5.15 billion shares, the suggestion that Microsoft wishes to plant is that the direct cost of the settlement to Microsoft would be $155 million. This figure must be treated with great caution, and there are several reasons to believe that the true cost to Microsoft is considerably greater than this, although Caldera is unable to confirm the probable true figure because of the gagging order Microsoft always demands. The statement leaves out key data about the settlement. It would be foolish to assume that the cost of the settlement to Microsoft is just the three cents a share, as Microsoft wishes everyone to believe. Indeed, it's worth considering what Microsoft did not say - for example that the three cents was the total cost of the action, or that a further charge would be taken, or that legal costs were included, or that Microsoft would not be giving Caldera some other benefit in kind. There may well be additional undisclosed terms that will not immediately be known, or will be buried by Microsoft's bean counters when they massage the accounts. Microsoft itself had estimated the potential damages it faced in the case at $1.6 billion (and they could well have been much more), so a total settlement in the $155 region is most unlikely. In the fullness of time, Caldera's accounts may well yield a truer picture, but Microsoft's immediate purpose is to minimise the damage to its image. Ray Noorda, the former chairman of Novell from whom Caldera acquired DR-DOS, and whose venture capital provided the initial funding for Caldera, said "I feel alright about this [settlement]." He had been dubbed by Bill Gates "the grandfather from Hell", and was one of the most active opponents of Microsoft's monopolies, having coined the term "co-opetition" for ethical competition. Details of The Register's coverage of the case can be found by searching on "Caldera". It is worth repeating that despite Microsoft's desire to "integrate" MS-DOS 7.0 (as Gates dubbed it) and Windows 95 to make DR-DOS substitution impossible, Caldera demonstrated that this was possible publicly and was therefore able to show that DR-DOS had been shut out of the Windows 9x market as well as the Windows 3.x market. Attorney Steve Hill, of the Salt Lake City legal firm Snow, Christensen & Martineau, told The Register that in many ways the most important aspect of the result in both the Caldera case, and in the DoJ's case so far, is that Linux has now reached a position of general acceptance as a major operating system contender. Judge Benson, who was to have heard the case (some suggest he was positively looking forward to it) signed an Order of Dismissal that completed the documentation between Caldera and Microsoft, and news of the settlement was then announced a couple of minutes later. Caldera can justly claim 10 January as Victory Caldera Day - a victory for David against Goliath - and for those interested in these matters, it is worth noting that the legend has it that the Messiah (or Linux as some call it) would be descended from David. Had the case gone to trial, it would probably have taken at least two months, and possibly four months if Microsoft had engaged in delaying tactics in an attempt to wear down a local jury that was expected by inclination to favour the Caldera home team. Caldera planned to quote Judge Jackson's findings of law to the jury. Settlement negotiations took place in a mediator's office in Seattle last Friday, apparently at the instigation of Microsoft, and were completed the same day. The Register understands from sources that a factor that is believed to have influenced Microsoft's sudden decision to settle is the low morale at Fort Redmond as a result of all the litigation. News of the settlement came after the market had closed last night, so Microsoft's share price does not reflect the events and shows only a small gain of 81 cents to $112.25 on a day when NASDAQ gained 4.3 per cent. Asked by The Register about his personal expectations for Microsoft's Washington trial, Sparks said that if there were going to be a settlement, he would expect it to be in the next couple of weeks as in his view Microsoft would not want the case to proceed to the stage where Judge Jackson issued his findings of law. Microsoft will of course imply that it settled the case to allow it to focus on the future, and there is of course some truth in this. Microsoft president Steve Ballmer and a dozen executives were to appear as witnesses. Settling the case gave Microsoft the advantage that it has not been found guilty in court, and as with a consent decree (the outcome if Microsoft reaches a settlement with the DoJ) it is not possible to cite such settlements in other cases, such as the class action suits that have been filed recently. Microsoft's usual panoply was deployed to delay the proceedings to the greatest possible extent, but to no avail since Judge Benson consistently ruled against Microsoft's procedural antics. ® See also: Caldera files for IPO Sun, SCO, Novell, Citrix put bucks into Caldera
Graham Lea, 11 Jan 2000

AMD workstation push will bug Intel

While most reports yesterday focused on Gateway's decision to use Athlon processors in some of its PCs, an announcement AMD made at the same time probably has more significance for the market and Intel generally. A release from AMD said that US manufacturer Pionex will use the 800MHz Athlon in a range of commercial desktops and workstations it is selling. At the same time, 3D Labs said it was optimising its drivers for the Athlon platform. The Pionex systems use the Oxygen GVXI graphics boards, themselves based on 3D technology. The background to this push is interesting. When we visited AMD's Dresden fab last year, AMD European marketing director Robert Stead made it clear to us that his company's strategy was to position its processors to challenge Intel at every level, including the workstation and server market. Although there is some evidence to suggest that at the top end, its Sledgehammer platform has suffered something of a setback because some key architects left AMD shortly after Atiq Raza quit the company, so far Chimpzilla has executed well on the delivery of its K7 Athlons. Some hurdles still prevent the Athlon from being a complete runaway success. First of all, Intel mobile processors, still have the lead over AMD in technological terms and most likely will have for most of this year. However, AMD is chipping away at Intel's market share in the notebook market too. More seriously, AMD admits that it has something of a perception problem in the large corporate market for PCs. In the past, this was a sweet nut that AMD failed to crack. But Stead was clear about AMD's aims back in early August, when we visited the Dresden fab. He said then that his company would brand the K7 the Athlon Ultra for the server and workstation market For the high performance PC market, it would be called the Athlon Professional, while the K7 may well move into the value PC area," he said. Most of the running since early August has been with the gaming sites, most of which have enthusiastically endorsed the Athlon as their choice for running the fun stuff. That's been aided by clever marketing from AMD, which has quite cheerfully exploited the game and hardware sites' views. But AMD is a corporation, has shareholders, and has bigger ambitions than just the game market, which its marketeers have leveraged. The Pionex announcement is, we anticipate, the first of many such wins in the workstation/commercial arena. And in the lucrative workstation end of the x86 market, Intel has had it all of its own way to date. Yesterday, AMD's share price closed at $35, a gain of $2½ during the day, while Intel's price rose by $3¾ to close at $85¾. Later on this week, both companies will report quarterly financial results, which will be watched with much interest. ® See also AMD positions K7 Athlon for enterprise AMD and its Dresden sandpit I AMD and its Dresden sandpit II
Mike Magee, 11 Jan 2000

NT for Alpha still a goer…

Indications that Microsoft programmers are still doing builds of Windows NT for the Alpha platform are correct, insiders at Microsoft US have revealed. A source at Redmond, who did not wish to be named, said that ever since Compaq "pulled the plug" on the OS for the 64-bit microprocessor, work had continued at Microsoft. He said: "Internally, Microsoft has continued to build W2k and Neptune for the Alphas. They're doing it as a portability exercise. One of the original design goals of NT was portability, and Cutler and others have wanted to maintain that objective. I know they maintained active builds through Beta 3 of W2k". The real question here, however, is Compaq's position on the continuing development work. Publically, it is now pushing the 64-bit Merced-Itanium platform for its x.86 based server division. But over the Christmas period, Compaq posted a lengthy white paper on its Web site contrasting the Alpha and the Merced processor, which seemed to suggest it favoured its own, rather than Intel's 64-bit microprocessor. The Big Q is also expected to push its delayed Wildfire platform into the public perception next month. As we reported last year, Compaq is also pushing nearly half a billion $US into promoting the Alpha processor. Meanwhile, Mark Russinovich, who we quoted in yesterday's story about NT-Alpha (see below), has written us to offer clarification. He says: "The fact that Win64 development was taking place on Alphas in November is absolutely no indication that NT on Alpha may be resurrected. In fact, Microsoft stated when they announced they would no long support the Alpha that their 64-bit development would continue on Alpha until they received quantity samples of Merced-Itanium. Its logical that they would be still using Alphas for 64-bit work when in November there was only one Merced-Itanium sample available to the developers." ® See also Alpha NT could rise from the dead Big Q site claims Alpha thrashes Itanium-Merced
Mike Magee, 11 Jan 2000

Taiwan aims 1000 viruses at China

The Taiwanese authorities are ready to wage an all-out cyber war with mainland China and have developed 1,000 computer viruses to deploy in the event of an IT attack. The Taiwanese military fears that its old foe may try and disable the island's computer network after Chinese hackers targeted a number of Taiwanese government Web sites last year. Lieutenant Lin Chin-ching, head of the defence ministry's information and communications bureau, told the BBC his officers had categorised around 1,000 different computer viruses. He said these would be released in retaliation to any Chinese electronic onslaught. China has not yet managed to penetrate the Taiwan military's PC network, but General Lin said the country, which hosts billions of pounds of foreign business investment on its soil, was taking no chances. The military is earmarking a special budget next year to work on information and electronic warfare. It is also stepping up precautions on its hardware, such as fitting warning devices that sound an alert if PC junction boxes are meddled with. Last month's hand over of Macau to China after more than 400 years of Portuguese rule has turned the heat up on Taiwan - pushing its future further up Beijing's agenda. The island, often referred to as "the renegade province" by Chinese leaders, is the final piece of Greater China still outside the communist power's control. ® Related stories: More Big Q money goes to Taiwan China on Taiwan's mind Taiwan beefs up TFT facilities
Linda Harrison, 11 Jan 2000

The Net is a deadly poison say rabbis

Leading Israeli rabbis have banned the Internet from Jewish homes after dubbing it a thousand times more dangerous than TV. The ultra-orthodox Council of Torah Sages signed the ruling, which also slammed computers, CD players and films, calling the Web the "world's leading cause of temptation." "It incites and encourages sin and abomination of the worst kind," it added. Published last week, the ruling said the Web "puts the future generations of Israel in grave danger in a way that no other threat has since Israel became a nation". It ordered Jewish families not to hook up to the Internet in their homes. Use of cyberspace was allowed to continue in the workplace, but the council stated that users must "seek every way to reduce usage". "As a result, all persons not given permission for Internet use are called upon to delete the Internet browser from their Windows program," Haaretz newspaper reported. Extremist sect Haredi published its own reaction to the ban, calling the Web "a deadly poison [which] burns souls". The ruling is unlikely to effect the majority of the Jewish community, which is more secular in outlook. Less than one per cent of the UK's 300,000 Jews are ultra-Orthodox. One source close to the UK online Jewish community, said the rabbis were over-reacting. However, he didn't want to be seen to speaking out against the rabbi's decision, so he asked to remain anonymous. "If you look at some Web sites, the URL seems harmless but they are used by cyber-squatters for porn sites," he said. "But in general the Internet does not destroy, it creates and educates." ® Related stories: Online Jewish bunfight erupts Jewish Web site values teen entrepreneur at millions
Linda Harrison, 11 Jan 2000

3Com hit by Mickey Mouse lawsuit

3Com is facing legal action from Disney over an alleged breach of contract. The networking vendor yesterday admitted it was being sued after details of the suit emerged through its latest quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The lawsuit was filed on 4 November in Los Angeles County by Disney Interactive, makers of CD-ROMs and video games such as "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". It alleges breach of a purported contract for bundling Disney Interactive's video kit with 3Com modems, Reuters reported. 3Com said no trial date had been set yet, but stated it planned to vigorously defend itself. Yesterday it also emerged that 3Com had lost its battle to stop Xerox pursuing it for claims of infringement on Xerox's handwriting technology patent used in 3Com's Palm handhelds. ®
Linda Harrison, 11 Jan 2000

Credit card Y2K bug could hit UK

German magazine c't is reporting that a problem with Cybercash's IVerify software could cause owners of Visa and Mastercards to get billed twice. The problem, the magazine reports, could cause debits to be recorded twice, and has happened because Cybercash has failed to install Y2K patches in its software. c't also says that incidents of the glitch have already happened in London, and that the problem may apply in other European countries too. If the magazine is correct, then the best advice we can give is for you to closely look at the billings you receive this month. The German story can be found here. ®
Mike Magee, 11 Jan 2000

UMC rumoured to take over little SiS

Chipset manufacturer SiS is denying reports published in Taiwan that UMC, one of the country's larger semiconductor foundries is interested in acquiring it. The speculation was fostered after TSMC snapped up a rival foundry, WSMC, at the end of last week. UMC is second only to TSMC in size on the island. SiS, amongst other things, makes chipsets for x.86 based motherboards, but has a far lower profile in the marketplace than either Via or ALi. The rumours also suggest that the first stages of an eventual merger between SiS and UMC will be based on technical cooperation and then production capacity. ®
Mike Magee, 11 Jan 2000

EC busts five states over data protection

The European Commission is taking five EU member states to court for not implementing data protection rules. France, Ireland, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands will all go before the European Court of Justice. They are accused of not implementing an EU directive on protection of personal data, the Commission said today. This directive aims to build consumer confidence and bringing member states‚ data protection rules closer together. Anyone who has suffered from the non-implementation of the directive can seek compensation from national courts, it said. ®
Linda Harrison, 11 Jan 2000

Vodafone recruits IBM, Sun, Psion for mobile Internet

Wireless giant Vodafone Airtouch is to kick off a global wireless Internet service from the middle of this year, and has struck alliances with all the usual suspects (bar Microsoft, of course) in order to build what appears to boil down to a globally available portal. Henchpartners involved include IBM, the Sun-Netscape alliance, Palm, Nokia, Ericsson and Psion, and apparently Vodafone intends to operate the service under a new global brand, to be announced. Just as well this - the company tag is bad enough, and if the current hostile bid succeeded, the addition of Mannesmann Mobilfunk would take it well off the edge of your average WAP-enabled handset. IBM, which itself is currently making major efforts in wireless-based pervasive computing, will be handling the design, construction and management of the system, while Sun-Netscape will be providing iPlanet products, including infrastructure and communications products. Sun has also agreed to supply hardware products, Java technology, software, services and support to Vodafone, so there would seem to be a fair bit of scope for overlap in the Sun-Netscape and IBM contributions here. Of the other partners, Psion will be contributing EPOC software, while presumably Nokia and Ericsson will just carry on building and selling WAP phones as normal. In addition, Infospace, Charles Schwab and Travelocity.com/Sabre are in the alliance in the content department. The service will be available throughout the world via Vodafone and Airtouch partners networks, and is intended as a one-stop shop offering news, email, listings information, stock transactions, travel and so on. Observers too ready to go along with the bullish noises Vodafone CEO Chris Gent was making about the move this morning should however beware. Not a lot of people know it, but Vodafone has been offering ISP services to its customers for several years now, and also already runs a portal service called Vodafone Interactive. Not a lot of people, even Vodafone customers, have noticed either of these. Oh, and at time of writing, none of the major mobile data movers and shakers in the Vodafone alliance seemed to have got it together to actually post this hot story on their Web site. Outstanding interactivity skills, guys... ®
John Lettice, 11 Jan 2000

Half of UK schools are software pirates

Almost half the nation's schools are unwittingly using dodgy software. This shock revelation comes via a report from Microsoft, a well known software vendor that likes doing business with the education market. Half of all primary schools and one in four secondary schools claimed to be blissfully unaware that it was illegal to make copies of software after buying just the one licence. Microsoft and the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) got 40 per cent of the 1,500 schools surveyed to admit to possible guilt of software piracy. And only 10 per cent of schools said they had actually discussed software licensing. The other 90 per cent seemed ignorant of the fact that the Great Satan could twist the survey to sue them any time it pleased. "It is disappointing that confusion seems to be hindering progress in this [IT in education] area," commented Mark East, group manager of Microsoft's education group. East said the IT industry: "Should make greater efforts to simplify software licensing and provide more clarity on the consequences of software theft." But if the teachers were locked up, and the schools made to fork out for hundreds more copies of software, wouldn't the British taxpayer wind up paying the difference anyway? Software piracy is claimed to cost the UK over £400 million per year. ® Related stories: Threat of gaol not enough to deter piracy Time for Europe to stamp out software pirates UK schools offered free Web access
Linda Harrison, 11 Jan 2000

UK chip designer seals financial mega-deal

A Bristol entrepreneur, spurned by the UK, has netted £80 million for his chip business from a US firm. Gary Steele started analogue chip designer Microcosm Communications five years ago. On Friday, California-based conglomerate Conexant Systems snapped up the privately owned firm in a deal worth a stonking $128 million (£77.7 million). Almost all the 45 Microcosm staff have shares in the company, with many set to gain thousands of pounds. Alistair Blaxill, Microcosm marketing VP, said: "We're very pleased. It's a real success story." Blaxill, who was recruited last June to ready the company for either flotation or a buyout, said Microcosm had been unable to secure an investor in the UK. It was therefore forced to turn its attentions to the US. He refused to tell us how much Steele - Microcosm MD - and his two fellow founders, Richard Mayo and Richard Watts, stood to make from the deal. He would only say: "it's a significant amount." The Bristol-based company, which also has offices in the US and Japan, will keep its name and trade as an independent company within Conexant. Microcosm makes chips for high-volume fibre optic data and LAN applications, including Fast Ethernet media converters. ® Related items: Keep your worker bees sweet if you want your company to grow For more news on the IT industry's financial winners and losers, visit Cash Register
Linda Harrison, 11 Jan 2000

Work hard for your spam bust

The Direct Marketing Association has just christened a new website where consumers can register their email addresses to be removed from DMA member-company spam lists. The service, called e-Mail Preference Service (e-MPS), is free to consumers.
Team Register, 11 Jan 2000

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