14th > January > 2000 Archive

The Register breaking news

Totalise doles out free PCs to schools

Totalise, the share giveaway ISP, is dishing out free PCs to every British school, in a limited time promotion. The catch? There isn't one, really -- but there is a pretty demanding performance hoop to jump through in this "collect this many coupons" kind of an offer. Participating schools must bring on board 100 new registrations to Totalise, which should not be too difficult to arrange in these days of multiple Internet-connection ownership. And, if previous Tesco/Acorn promotions are anything to go by, participating schools should have little trouble in engaging the support of their local communities. However, punters have to do more than sign up... each "registree" must clock up 100 minutes on Totalise, before the free PC is despatched to the participating school. Totalise is larding the offer for registrees with £115- worth of free shares each. Currently, Totalise is listed on OFEX, Britain's smallest stock market, so there is an outlet already for trading these shares among the ISP's 60,000 members, The PC chosen for the schools promotion is the Tulip VisionLine CP computer with Celeron 400MHz processor, 64MB of memory, a 10/100 network card for connecting to the Internet, speakers, and a 15in colour monitor. This is a decent enough spec, if not quite the state of the art machine suggested by Totalise. Totalise and Tulip will handle delivery and installation. Schools can find out more at Totalise. ®
Drew Cullen, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Power-saving modes in Pentium IIIs go awol

Correspondence between Intel technical support staff and end users suggests that much-vaunted power saving modes in Pentium III Coppermine processors seem to have done a bunk. Data sheets that Intel is supplying on Coppermine Pentium IIIs state: "The Pentium III processor utilizes multiple low-power states such as AutoHALT, Stop-Grant, Sleep, and Deep Sleep to conserve power during idle times." But some of these states of deep sleep now seem to have turned into the dreaming state instead. In an exchange on Intel's own discussion group on the Pentium III, one user refers to these power states, which also formed part of the earlier processor, the Pentium II. In table eight in the spec sheets, one user says that the maximum core current is given for each power saving state and that the old, Katmai core, appears to show that each success state uses less current. However, he points out, Coppermine cores do not seem to have this ability, and cites comparisons between both Katmai and Coppermine which demonstrate his findings. He points out in a posting: "From these figures it can be seen that the Coppermines may "support" these power-saving modes, but since Sleep and Deep Sleep don't save any more power than Stop-Grant/Auto-Halt, the "support" is rather pointless. In the case of 600MHz in Deep Sleep, the power consumption of the Coppermine would be more than 2.5x the Katmai." He asks Intel if support for these power saving modes has been quietly dropped, or whether there is a mistake in the data sheets themselves. Now Intel has admitted that the numbers in its datasheet are correct, and give the following explanation: "While our manufacturing processes get smaller and smaller (.25 micron to .18 micron ) the widths of the channels between trace lines gets narrower. As a side effect, the current leakage is amplified." The reply implies that people contemplating using Coppermine processors swayed by power-saving issues had best think again. ®
Mike Magee, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Gates steps down as MS CEO – DoJ deal pending?

The timing of the resignation of Bill Gates as Microsoft CEO is not a coincidence, since it had apparently been discussed "several months ago" with members of Microsoft's board. Gates did not complete 25 years as CEO of Microsoft, as he would probably would have liked history to record, since Micro-Soft (as it was then called) was founded with Paul Allen in an Albuquerque hotel room in July 1975. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that any settlement of the DoJ case was most unlikely with Gates as CEO. Gates' arrogance and intransigence during the 1994 consent decree negotiations made striking that (very soft) deal difficult, and today would almost certainly have made a settlement impossible. Speaking on CNBC, Gates said that "We are not a mutual fund; we're not a portfolio company" that could easily be carved up. "It makes no sense for consumers, it makes no sense for shareholders. I'm surprised that people can keep a straight face when they say that [break-up of Microsoft] would be a proper thing to do". President Clinton was one of the first to endorse the move towards the sainthood of Bill. Also speaking on CNBC, he said "I think it's a very interesting move by him. Ballmer's obviously a very able man and Gates is a genius with technology". He applauded the Gates charitable contributions, and then went on to make an extraordinary statement about the trial: "The record has been made. The judge's opinion is there and they have to argue about the remedy, which as everyone knows in an antitrust case is completely different from a finding whether somebody violated laws or not. "I hope they'll do what's best for the American economy and American consumers, in the short run and over the long run." Clinton is wrong. The simple facts are that Microsoft has violated laws, and that it is not the American economy that should be considered: it is a just and effective solution to illegal monopolisation that is needed. The timing has allowed Steve Ballmer, now CEO as well as president, to assert his tough bargaining position about breaking up Microsoft, but he is at heart (some assumptions here) a pragmatist who in the last resort would rather deal than see Microsoft broken judicially. Gates is now less likely to intervene in any settlement talks, and it would not be surprising for him and his wife to embark on a world tour visiting organisations receiving money from the Gates foundation. Just by chance a sizeable delegation from the Foundation is off to Africa, and it would not be surprising if Gates joined them to play the humanitarian role while Ballmer played the tough guy in the negotiations. Gates does not like the legal issues and has never had a good relationship with Bill Neukom, Microsoft's head lawyer (he did not invite him to his wedding, for example). Furthermore, Gates' performance in the video depositions destroyed his credibility as far as Judge Jackson is concerned, so ruling out any high-profile role for him in his remaining posts, chairman and chief software architect. The practical outcome so far as technical development work at Microsoft is concerned is the announcement of Next Generation Windows Services. We can't really speculate what this might be as there is clearly only a hastily thought-up and strangely unmemorable name so far. The slideware will not apparently be ready until Ballmer's "major strategy day this Spring" when the heralds will sound and Gates will present the vision. Gates said yesterday that "I might be threatening to write code. That's something I haven't been able to do in three or four years." We can't wait: but can we hope that Bill will start this new phase of his career by debugging Windows 2000? Meanwhile, at the press conference where his elevation was announced, Ballmer bellowed without a microphone his list of targets for Microsoft's aggression in the coming months: so watch out Sun, IBM, Linux and AOL-Time. It's business as usual at Microsoft. ® See also: DoJ to propose MS breakup next week DoJ will demand breakup of Microsoft - report
Graham Lea, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Intel erratum-not-bug policy not-good-enough

Letter (A reader has responded to news that there is yet another bug in Intel's Coppermine processor with a letter that claims chip manufacturers should not be allowed to get away with these mistakes.) Though we both know that Intel's erratae represent bugs, the correct Latin to English translation is "mistakes", or "errors". Given that most people have no training in latin these days, (and with many a thesaurus languishing from abandonment) I suggest that you might underline this for some by providing the translation. Erratum=mistakum, or erratum cum errors-in-em The larger issue is of course the ability to determine the fitness of one's own computers. Personally, I think it is remiss on the part of IT journalists not to call for openness on the part of manufacturers in regards to defects. After all if certain assembler instructions cause problems, then 1. We should have a utility to determine if the installed CPU has the bug... er sorry... errata. 1a. If the CPU is problematic, but the BIOS has a remedy installed, report that too. 2. We should have a corresponding utility that analyses our executable files and libraries to determine whether any of the potentially ill-supported machine language instructions are embedded within the code. Neither of these utilities would be hard to write, though their existence could potentially be embarrassing and make it easier to litigate against a CPU manufacturer that does not promptly replace or resolve the defect. No problem if QA improves. Recall any software license that you may have read. In every single one I've read: "The manufacturer does not warrant the fitness of the software for any specific purpose..." ..or something to that effect. Are we now at the stage when we can expect CPU manufacturers to provide a disclaimer with every CPU like: "...the manufacturer does not warrant the proper execution of any assembler instruction, and you agree to limit our liability to the cost of the sand used in making this chip"? I suggest you take the lead and push this. CPU instruction sets need to be better supported. Name and email address supplied
Team Register, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Athlon outclasses Intel's Pentium III ‘in almost every respect’

The IT Network has published a provocative compare-and-contrast piece on the AMD Athlon and Pentium III chip designs. Author Ajith Ram emerges as an advocate for the AMD approach to architecture, which, he says, "outclasses the Intel's Pentium III in almost every respect". His article is also a useful primer on chip design concepts. You can read it in full here. Public Service Announcement Webmasters, if you want to link to Ajith's article, use the following URL: http://www.itnetwork.com/solution6040. This will save you a lot of time. ®
Drew Cullen, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Chipzilla beats chest as its Q4 beats Wall Street

Analysis You have to give Intel credit for at least using the technology that it sells. Thanks to the miracle of the Wibbly Wobbly Web, we were able to sit through one and a half hours of its conference call yesterday evening and didn't even have to download the top-heavy Real Player in order to do so. Those on the Intel side of the equation, financial officer Andy Bryant and architectural senior VP Paul Otellini were mercifully brief with their opening statements. But that could not be said of the long string of financial analysts, each of whom seemed to want to first start a question by sucking up to Intel and congratulating the firm on how well it had done for its fourth financial quarter. Perhaps some kind journalistic colleague in the US could give them some press training, and so make it easier for them to get to the point a bit quicker. Not that Chipzilla didn't do well, it did. A close reading of the official statement it put out, coupled with Otellini's and Bryant's comments show that this chip giant is, as we've pointed out many times before, not going to roll over and stick its paws in the air just because it's got Jerry Sanders III snapping at its heels. Coppermines, Celerons, chipsets and Rambus Ink The financial statement contented itself with stating the bare facts as they stood -- that is the introduction of the 820 and the 840 chipsets, and the seventeen Coppermines it intro'd on the 25th of October last. The conference call was more revealing, both in terms of what Intel calls "supply tightness" (shortages) and about its current and future chipset strategy. It is obvious from the answers to the questions that Intel had, indeed, been caught short not only on the Coppermine front but also with chipsets. In fact, it had jumbled up the entire product mix on the microprocessor front, finding itself over-producing low end microprocessors and under-producing the high end Coppermines it could have sold in swathes in the run up to the holiday season. However, the good news for Intel fans, and we have had this confirmed by its customers, is that after much puffing and blowing, its ramp of .18 micron technology is now much better. Intel is now producing stacks of .18 micron parts, but is still a little constrained at the low end. Our informationis that it has now opened its fifth fab on the .18 micron process and most of the supply problems will be fixed by the beginning of February. Otellini was asked whether the 533MHz Celeron Intel introduced at the beginning of the year was the last of the .25 micron process. He did not answer this directly, but instead said that his company will produce Celerons using the newer, integrated technology (that's Coppermine cores to you and me folks), during the first half of this year. That, we think, is a yes. And Intel also has highly ambitious plans for its Timna, system-on-a-chip processor, which Otellini seemed to suggest would arrive, in bulk, in time for this year's Christmas bonanza. When asked about the Rambus i820 chipset, the Intel panel would not be drawn about its share of the market, but did imply, rather than directly say, that it was PC vendors which had forced the move. Networking, mobile and the rest While the conference call had little to say about these topics, CEO Craig Barrett made a point of noting high up in Intel's official press release: "This year we expect to grow revenues in our networking, communication and wireless businesses by 50 per cent or more." This is part of Intel's plan to be a "building block" company for the Internet -- a lucrative area of potential business which it will also use to sell its microprocessors. During 1999, Intel is expected to major on its IA-64 Itanium Merced platform as a suitable platform for all sort of Internet related projects. Mobile telephony, the Web appliances it announced a week or two back, and more run-of-the-mill networking products will form part of this push. Intel bought 12 companies in its 1999 financial year, and it still has a big cash pot for future investments. Barrett claims he has also succeeded in cutting expenses and that this trend will continue into the first quarter of its year 2000 reporting period. However, there are significant capital costs in the offing. While executives at the conference call were a little vague about when Intel would move to a .13 micron process technology, they seemed to imply that this was likely to happen over the next two or three years and in and of itself would represent significant capital investment. Intel was even vaguer about how fast it will move to 300mm (12-inch) wafer technology, although it seems firmly committed to so doing. While the Itanium-Merced will be used as lever for its "building block" strategy, it appears that Intel wants to get the first IA-64 systems out of the door, and is reluctant to talk about future IA-64 technology, including McKinley, until it has Merced out of the way. See also Intel performs well in Q4, ramps up .18 micron
Mike Magee, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Slots the problem with Intel Xeons

Those puzzled about the exact difference between a Coppermine 800MHz Pentium III and a Coppermine 800MHz Pentium III Xeon need scratch their heads no more. Intel yesterday announced its 800MHz Pentium III Xeon part but there is no motherboard support for the part yet, it confirmed today. As we reported, the Xeon processor requires the use of a Slot 2 cartridge, and, as yet, there is no third party support for this. The difference between Slot One and Slot Two cartridges is this, according to Intel. "The 'slot 2' form factor brings with it the benefit of on-cartridge VRM, thermal sensing, enhanced management options, longer product life, and scalability". The VRM is a voltage regulator, and, as we have reported before, Intel also maintains there is other technology somewhere in the Slot Two cartridge which makes the Xeon a very different beast from Slot One. Slot One will be dead by the end of the second quarter, with Intel replacing the whole shebang with its flip chip Socket 370 socket, but Slot Two, so far, lives on. On the subject of current support for the 800MHz Xeon, Intel said this morning: " OEMs will support as their product schedule/refreshes turn, bearing in mind that servers/workstations do not refresh as frequently as desktops, they require longer validation and testing cycles." In Q2, AMD is set to introduce Athlons with 2MB of on die caches and that means Intel is close to releasing its own large on-die cache Xeons shortly. The upgraded chips will use Slot Two because server customers are far less fickle than those buying desktop processors. Meanwhile, we understand that one of the first third parties to support the Slot Two 800MHz Xeons will be Supermicro. By the end of the month, the company will introduce mobos using the 840 chipset, and supporting dual PIII Xeons with either a 100MHz or a 133MHz front side bus. The boards will support 4GB of synchronous memory, with two 64-bit PCI slots, four by 32 bit and 1X AGP and AGP-Pro sockets. There will be SCSI and non-SCSI versions of the boards, and they will support 800MHz Xeons and the future, larger-cache Xeons. ®
Mike Magee, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Drug abuse is ‘the curse of the computer age’

We lifted the above headline from Tuesday's Daily Mail, which printed the screamer to promote an interview with Keith Hellawell, Britain's anti-drugs 'Czar'. Enthusiasm appears to have got the better of the sub-editor who wrote the header, because Hellawell doesn't actually claim that drug abuse is "the curse of the computer age". However, he does blame the instant gratification-is-not-quick-enough attitudes of "this generation". Instant stimulation from inter alia computer games leads to extremely low boredom thresholds, which in turn leads to willingness to experiment with drugs. "This generation has had everything," Hellawell tells the Mail. "It's had foreign travel, you can get on the computer and you have access to whole world, computer games -- it's all about instant stimulation. "How many young girls play hopscotch in the playground nowadays? The games that our generation had to be satisfied with, the stimulus was personal involvement in team sports. The stimulus comes to you now." Is that really the best Britain's anti-drugs co-ordinator can come up with for the reasons for endemic illegal drug use/abuse in this country? "Things were better in my day -- we were poor but we were happy." Not very bright, is he? ® Related stories Brit Net agency to track drug gangs and paedophiles Cyber narcotics to outwit police Date rape drug – two arrested for Net sales
Drew Cullen, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

UK at risk from pump & dump

A UK lawyer is warning that Britain is ill-equipped to fend off attack from pump and dump Internet share scams which have taken the US by storm.
The Register breaking news

Warner Music partners with MTV-alternative Launch

Internet video streaming company Launch Media has signed its third deal with a major content supplier, adding nearly 10,000 titles from Warner Music's video catalogue to its stock of 1200 titles from Sony and EMI. The deal comes as all the 'big five' record labels -- Warner, Sony, EMI, Bertelsmann Music Group and Universal -- attempt to cash in on the new medium, primarily for music distribution. Launch CEO Dave Goldberg said: "The labels have a vested interest in making sure we are successful. We are really the only true counterweight to MTV on the Internet. The last thing the labels want to see is MTV having a monopoly on the Internet, as they've had on television." True, but they also want to explore ways and means of exploiting their video content resources themselves, and by partnering with companies like Launch, they effectively get to pilot video channels of their own, free of charge. In fact, it's better than free -- Sony, EMI and Warner all share Launch's advertising revenues and have equity positions in the company. ®
The Register breaking news

Kingston debuts 2GB HP memory upgrade

Kingston Technology is shipping the first 2GB memory upgrade for Hewlett Packard's N-Class and L-Class Enterprise servers. The two-piece kit is made up of two 1GB memory modules. Using 256Mbit 133MHz ECC SDRAM and Kingston's own technology, it doubles the bandwidth provided by HP's servers and workstations. The chipset supports HP L1000 and L2000 on entry-level UNIX systems, HP N4000 on midrange enterprise servers, as well as some of HP's Visualize workstations, including HP B1000, C3000, J5000 and J7000. The 2GB kit is priced at £5,185, and the 1GB at £3,245, both ex-VAT. ® Related stories: Kingston takes direct route to resellers
Linda Harrison, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Bill's big adventure: Windows as universal Web platform

Yet another version of Windows? Unsurprisingly the Next Generation Windows Services plan (strategy is too strong a word, as yet) Microsoft unveiled yesterday as Bill Gates cashed his chips went largely unnoticed. But an examination of the admittedly small quantity of information Microsoft has released so far reveals something rather larger than some vague vision intended to justify Gates' new "software architect" role -- this could turn out to be bigger than anything Microsoft has done so far. Point number one is that NGWS is not going to be an operating system, but is instead being prepared as a universal and unifying services platform. It's Windows, Jim, but not as we know it. Point number two is that, although the tag isn't one anybody has heard of previously, NGWS is more than just slideware, because many of its components already exist, or are at least undergoing development. To some extent it's the next stage in the Microsoft software services strategy that Microsoft now claims Bill first unveiled in September, but which was in fact rolled out by minions, including new company boss Steve Ballmer, rather earlier last year, at the time of WinHEC. The misattribution is significant, as Ballmer has been driving Microsoft day to day operations in his capacity as president since the middle of last year. Doing what you think ought to be done while arranging for Great Visionary Gates to take the credit has been important, and now will become more so. According to Microsoft, when yesterday everybody thought Bill was handing over the reins of the company and leaving Steve to deal with the antitrust mess, the company was in fact previewing a strategy to transform the company around "Internet User Experience and Next Generation Windows Services." This is where it looks like nebulous slideware. But it gets more detailed. The better Internet User Experience, which is not TMed yet as far as we can see, has as part and parcel of it the ability for users to personalise and tailor the services they use, and (here comes some red meat) "and to store and share the information they need -- any time, any place and on any device." This part of the deal clearly encompasses application rental systems, remote storage of personal data and credentials, and a high level of platform agnosticism. It's the kind of stuff Bob Muglia's group is already developing in conjunction with wireless devices, and the implications are clear. By controlling server and middleware, Microsoft intends to achieve a dominant position (it doesn't actually have one here yet), even though the client devices may not be running Microsoft software. The clients are, however, intended to be linked into Microsoft remote services, so it's the next attempt at Windows Everywhere, right? NGWS does, however, have a client component, and here it's interesting as much for the detail Microsoft leaves out as for the stuff it puts in. Microsoft intends to "assemble [note choice of word] the first Internet-based platform of Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS), which will power new products and services and incorporate such features and capabilities as a new user interface, natural language processing, application development approach, schema and new file system -- all of which have been in development." All of these have indeed been in development, but did you spot the OS in there? No, you didn't. Previously Microsoft development has counted new UI and the legendary natural language processing capabilities as being things that will go with operating systems, but the NGWS "Internet-based platform" seems to be more a case of taking the power of the operating system out onto the Internet and into Microsoft-owned serverland, and accessing it via devices that might still have Microsoft software on them, but won't necessarily, and needn't be running any Microsoft OS we've met so far. It's the sort of stuff Microsoft's rivals have been talking about for years, of course, so it's not exactly original, but it seems to be a significant move by the company in the direction of finally accepting that the PC isn't where the action is going to be for much longer. Ballmer, incidentally, pointed out that the new services platform would be "very open," and would "ignite new opportunities for literally thousands of partners and customers around the world," and this certainly reinforces the impression of platform agnosticism Microsoft has been cultivating in conjunction with its love affair with XML. Ballmer intends to run a strategy day to beef up the vision this Spring, so we'll be hearing some more then. There is however a little more interesting stuff about the development approach. Gates himself will be driving, but alongside the four key group vice presidents, Paul Maritz, Jim Allchin, Bob Muglia and Rick Belluzzo. Allchin, Muglia and Belluzzo are of course the three chief condottiere that Ballmer has put in charge of the company's reorganised product groups, so although Microsoft is much devolved these days, the NGWS strategy seems to be forming as a cross-company unifying force. Which could make things a little bit complicated if there's a breakup. ® Related stories MS mounts major bid for soul of knowledge worker How MS can hold onto the market while embracing XML Does MS care about CE, or is the browser the platform?
John Lettice, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Windows skin site re-posts MacOS X desktop theme

Windows-modification site Skinz.org yesterday re-posted, albeit with minor modifications, software that makes Windows look like Aqua, Apple's upcoming user interface for MacOS X, according to MacWeek.com.
Tony Smith, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Win2k virus beats Win2k to release

Windows 2000 hasn't even been released yet, but virus writers are already hard at work. A new virus called Win2K.Inta - written by the 29A virus group – has been identified. Win2K.Inta was spotted by F-Secure – the anti-virus firm formerly known as Data Fellows. Mikko Hypponen, head of anti-virus research at F-Secure, said it is not a major threat as it only infects Windows 2000 program files and older versions of Windows are therefore immune. But it won't be the last Win2k virus we see, he said. "Now we can expect virus writers to include Windows 2000 compatibility as a standard feature in new viruses." More information on the virus can be found here ®
The Register breaking news

UK spies recruited online

Good at crosswords? If so you could have the right mentality for a job at Britain's spy agency GCHQ. Crack the code of five characters in five parts hidden within the GCHQ Web site to reveal the message and then apply for the job. GCHQ – which stands for Government Communications Headquarters - is looking for IT specialists, librarians and linguists to earn £20,000 to £26,000 a year. The coded message was really a bit of fun said a GCHQ spokeswoman to The Times. Secretly, spy novelist Rupert Allason believes they are really looking for code-breakers. Fancy yourself as the next James Bond? Then take up the GCHQ challenge here. ® Related links Brit Net agency to track drug gangs and paedophiles We demand our D-Notice from MI6
The Register breaking news

AMD market share bites Intel's ankles

US market research company Mercury is reporting that AMD now has a 17 per cent share of the x.86 market, a jump of nearly five per cent in a quarter. That will give Intel room for thought as it digests how well it performed in its Q4 results, reported yesterday evening. A report in today's Wall Street Journal says that Intel's share for the x.86 microprocessor market slipped during the quarter, while AMD's showed gains. The last quarter Mercury Research reported showed that AMD had 12.5 per cent market share. AMD, will next week come under scrutiny, when it releases its quarterly financial results. Last week, major PC vendor Gateway said it would use AMD Athlon processors in a range of its machines. See also AMD Athlon outclasses Pentium III in every respect Chipzilla beats chest as its Q4 beats Wall Street
Mike Magee, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Bull's hit by PB-NEC charge – big loss for 99

Bull will make a loss of 280 million euros for 1999, although the information the company posts on its web site is less than forthright and mentions no such loss, which results from a charge against its stake in Packard Bell NEC. This essentially stopped US operations last November. Q4 revenue took a 6 per cent tumble compared with the year earlier quarter, with revenue for 1999 of 3.8 billion euros, marginally up on 1998. Bull has been criticised in the past for springing bad news on the market. Its performance has been poor compared with the Paris bourse CAC index over the past two years: the CAC has almost doubled, whereas Bull has declined from around 10 euros at the beginning of 1998, briefly peaking at 16 in mid-1998 before plunging to 5 euros last March. Currently Bull's shares are trading at around 7 euros, down 5 per cent on the results. The market cap is a slender 1.24 billion euros. Although the company boasts that most of its sales are outside France, its failure to list on a US exchange cannot help its present position, although a glance at the principal shareholders suggests that this would offend Gallic pride: the French government has 17 per cent of the shares, with similar amounts held by France Telecom (as well as NEC and Motorola). Its product lineup has failed to excite the market, and in services in Europe it has only reached number three in systems integration and number five in customer services. Fredrik Bull, the Norwegian founder, would be disappointed. ®
Graham Lea, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Govt. minister ‘employed’ by telco consultancy

A junior Treasury minister appears to be moonlighting as the employee of Ovum, judging from the telecoms consultancy's web site. In the section headed: "About Ovum", the company reveals what "really sets us apart". This includes "finally, our independence and integrity. Ovum is 100% owned by its staff. We are therefore completely independent. Behaving with integrity is one of our core values." Now turn to the Register of Members Interests on Parliament's Web site and scroll down to the entry for Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham, and Financial Minister at the Treasury. Under section 9. For Registrable shareholdings, Timms lists an interest in "Ovum Ltd., consultancy in telecommunications and computing markets". Workaday MPs are allowed to hold outside jobs, but government ministers are not. Is there a sleaze angle here? The answer has to be a resounding; "no": the fault lies in Ovum's innacurate boast (we refer of course to the "100 per cent owned by its staff" claim, and not to the "independent" and "integrity" assertions). However, Timms, a former Ovum employee, can be criticised for his tardiness in transferring his shares in the company into a blind trust. Only now is he getting around to this. This is precisely the tack taken by the Tories just before Christmas. Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude noted the "conflict of interest" between Timms' shareholding in a large IT consultancy and his membership of the government team forcing through IR35. This new and highly controversial tax measure will make it much less attractive financially for computer contractors to stay self-employed. The balance will tip in favour of the large consultancies (such as Ovum) who will now be able to take on ex-contractors as perms at reduced rates. Or so the argument goes. Timms was a little fortunate perhaps with the timing of the Tory attack: aside from an article in The Times (Dec 24), no-one else appears to have picked up on it. But again, Timms is blameless: Ovum is a consultancy of pundits, not of software programmers or project managers. And computer/ telco industry analysts are not exactly taking up their cudgels against IR35. Finally, Timms' remit as Financial Minister does not extend to IR35 -- this can of worms belongs to his boss, paymaster general Dawn Primarolo. Finally, we'd like to thank Register tipster Paul Sture for alerting us to this story. ® Related stories and links Contractors: cast aside your IR 35 fears, Paymaster General says IR35 protestors march on Parliament Hague gets bald with Blair over IR35 IR35 battle lost, but war continues Parliament Treasury Ovum IR35 Update
Drew Cullen, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Nomad tracks Creative music storage

Your whole record collection will fit on a box the size of a CD player in a device to be launched in April priced at under $600 (£360). The 14oz Nomad Jukebox from Creative Technology will hold 150 albums or 2,600 hours in 6GB of storage on a laptop-style hard disk. Using ID3 tags, information about each track can be stored such as artist, mood and even tempo – all of which can be searched. Previous players in the Nomad range only supported 2 hours of music or 128MB of streamed data. These players use flash memory which has no moving parts and Creative intend consumers to download two hours of music from the Jukebox for portable music. The new Nomad is around the same size as a portable CD player, but is not intended to be a portable device. Anyone brave enough to mishandle it, could lose all their top tunes. The take-up on MP3 players has been poor so far. Creative say the problem is that music for MP3 is not available on the high street and that people are put off because there are a number of formats around. European brand manager for audio at Creative, Franco de Bonis said: "People are put off because they think it is limited to one format. The Jukebox supports other formats such as WMA so it doesn't matter which format takes precedence." Wherever the market develops, Creative say they will provide updates for the player to support any format and compatibility for the Secure Digital Music Initiative. ® Additional information: Secure Digital Music Initiative The Nomad Jukebox and Nomad II MG
The Register breaking news

Y2k bug ate our spy satellites

The Pentagon is still trying to play down Y2K problems with spy satellites, blaming the weather for an unexpected lack of intelligence. We were never blinded and "no significant intelligence was lost," said Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon in a press briefing. It seems the five secret spy satellites used for military and terrorist build-ups sent garbled data for a few hours at midnight 2000 as computer systems could not process the data. Equipment only returned to normal on 3 January. A Y2k patch was believed to be behind the foul-up. Bacon insisted the satellites functioning at less than full capacity were able to provide sufficient information to protect national security. Bacon said: "Every system we have, whether it's a tank, a submarine or an intelligence system, has a level of reliability. This system routinely performs better than the level of reliability we have set." Words of comfort? Not 'alf. ®
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US releases 64-bit crypto products for export

The Clinton Administration has kept its promise and lifted export restrictions on cryprographic technology, over the stubborn objections of US Attorney General Janet Reno. This marks one of the rare occasions when the Gigolo-in-Chief has dared exercise his authority over Reno, whose Draconian appeals for the protection of women and children at the expense of civil liberties normally win the day at the White House. We can only surmise that the National Security Agency's stable of spooks have given the Clintonites a quiet 'green light' based on their confidence that they can now crack the code with a minimum of fuss. Thus the US Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Adminisration (BXA) today dutifully published an interim final rule lifting export controls on all mass-marketed encryption software up to and including 64-bits. The rule also covers asymmetric key exchange algorithms not exceeding 512 bits. Such items will no longer require a license or a license exception, and may be exported and re-exported with the designation "NLR", or No License Required, much to the relief of software companies across the USA. Under previous regulations, companies were required to obtain a license for each sale. The new rules allow sales after a single review by the BXA to ensure that they qualify for the exception. Shipments made directly to foreign governments will still require individual licenses, however. Products covered by the rule will qualify for export to all destinations, albeit with the usual exceptions for very naughty countries like Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, which will have to buy them second-hand from somewhat naughty countries like China, Russia, South Korea and Mexico, or develop their own. Neither end-run strategem strikes us as particularly challenging. The new regulations are being touted as a breakthrough compromise on an issue which has placed President Clinton in the maddening position of being unable to satisfy two of his truest loves, High-Tech Commerce and the Reno DoJ, simultaneously. In some aspects there is breakthrough matter here. It gets tricky, however, with the "Internet download screening requirements," which have changed little in the revised document. "Posting source code on the Internet, where it may be downloaded by anyone, would not establish 'knowledge' of a prohibited export or re-export. Such posting would not trigger 'red flags'" requiring screening of the people downloading it. Fair enough, but in order to post such code, an author would first have to submit it to the BXA for review to ensure that it qualifies for NLR status. This raises a sticky First Amendment issue, which has already been challenged and is currently winding its way through the federal appeals process. The interim final rule took effect upon publication, but a truly final rule is still pending. The BXA will entertain comments on the interim rule until 15 May 2000. The current draft has been published online by the Government Printing Office, for the amusement of those who enjoy reading very laboured legalese. ®
Thomas C Greene, 14 Jan 2000
The Register breaking news

Christmas was a turkey for Electronics Boutique

Electronics Boutique saw sales slide 18 per cent over Christmas and today warned its final figures for the year would be hit by the slump. Despite a 13 per cent increase in unit sales, revenue fell four per cent for the period, the retailer said. Bearing in mind it increased its number of stores to 298 last year, this figure represented an 18 per cent reduction in like for like sales for the five week period. The company blamed its weak performance on continued price slashing on PlayStation software throughout December and into the New Year. "The exceptional price pressure caused by this discounting on the dominant PlayStation console format helped to create the dichotomy of a marketplace which saw an increase in the volume of games software sold, but with a reduction in overall value attained," the group said in its Christmas trading statement. "The overall decline in sales value caused by this unprecedented discounting will inevitably have an impact on the outcome for the year ending on 31 January." In November, the British Retail Consortium warned that stiff competition was pushing up sales at the expense of profits in the computer games war. Analysts were today forecasting a pre-tax profit of around £7 million for the company, according to an Electronics Boutique representative. This compares to the previous £13 million. Yesterday Dixons turned in almost £300 million pre-tax profit, but revealed a fall in gross margin - especially in games. Electronics Boutique's share price was down 3.6 pence to 31.2 pence today. ® Related stories: UK games sales to top £1billion in 1999
Linda Harrison, 14 Jan 2000
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Japan's Sotec caves in to Apple over iMac-alike PC

Apple today ended its legal battle with Sotec after the Japanese PC distributor agreed to cough up Y10 million ($94,000) in damages and to stop making, selling and exporting eMachines' eOne 433. The Mac maker launched its lawsuit against Sotec late last August. It claimed the eOne infringed Apple's copyright through its remarkable similarity to the iMac, primarily its duo-tone blue'n'white styling, built-in monitor design. On 20 September, Apple Japan won a temporary injunction blocking the manufacture, distribution and export of the eOne in Japan. Sotec produces the computer under licence from Korean-owned eMachines, itself the subject of a 'trade dress' suit from Apple. Following the 20 September judgement, Sotec unveiled an alternative version of the eOne with a single-colour silver shell. The company continued to state that Apple's case has no merit, and indeed it was trotting out that same line today -- a spokesman said Sotec had agreed to settle with Apple solely in order to get the block on sales lifted. Still, it's not much of a victory for Apple. Sotec will continue to sell the single-colour eOne -- as it has been doing since early October -- and the damages, which amount to the total sale price of fewer than 100 eOne PCs, seems a mere token payment that probably just cover's Apple's legal costs. Apple's actions against eMachines and its parent companies, and Korean manufacturer Daewoo over its Future Power subsidiary's iMac-alike, the ePower, have yet to be resolved. ®
Tony Smith, 14 Jan 2000