Bill Gates has around $5 billion in private investments outside his $100 billion Microsoft holding, but he seems to have been losing on many of the quoted stocks in his portfolio over the past few months. That's quite hard to do in a bull market. He doesn't seem to possess any magic touch so far as his investments go, and has chosen some sectors that are seriously underperforming the market. Gates' precise private holdings are shrouded in secrecy, because Michael Larsen, his investment manager who runs the investment vehicle Cascade Investments on his behalf, has successfully invoked a confidentiality provision in the SEC rules to keep his acquisitions and sales secret for around a year, unless Gates accumulates more than 5 per cent of a company. Gates shelters under the so-called Schedule 13G, instead of the normal 13F, which can be invoked where an investor is not acquiring shares with a view to influencing control of the company. The theory is that if Gates investments were known, this could influence the price of shares as others might try to mimic his investment strategy. There will be disclosures, but about a year after the investment is made or sold. So far Larson has been able to get confidential status for all of Gates' holdings, but it is doubtful if the SEC will continue to take such a lenient view since it has sent out letters requiring more detailed information about trading practices. Investors like George Soros and Warren Buffet only have partial confidentiality. Not too many people know that Intel takes advantage of the same provision for its investments in technology start-ups. It is also a closely guarded secret as to whether Gates takes the initiative in investments, or leaves them to Larson. Anecdotal evidence and analysis of what is known suggests that in most cases he is directly involved. Larson told Fortune last year that Gates had about $3.5 billion in bonds and securities; some $750 million in equities; and about $250 million in commodities and real estate. A not-so-successful acquisition has been a 10.3 per cent share in Pan American Silver, which has sunk from a high of $7.50 to around $4.50 and shows losses while mines in Mexico and Russia are being brought to production, although there is a Peruvian mine that produced 3.11 million ounces of silver in 1998. Silver prices have been flat, which does not auger well. Larson sits on the Pan American board for Gates. Another holding is a 5.7 per cent stake in Chaparrel Resources, a Houston-based oil company which has seen its share price fall from a 52-week high of $52 to around $9. Gates' investment of 9,090,200 shares (5.2 per cent) of Republic Services, a solid waste collection and disposal service which is the third-largest in the US, has fallen in value by about a third over the last six months and is trading at nearly half of its 52-week high. Several shareholders are suing the company and its executives for allegedly misleading them. The solid waste sector is underperforming the market, and Gates' investment of $114 million has taken a tumble. Another strange investment is in Schnitzer Steel Industries, a scrap metal exporter. One of Gates' interests is molecular biology and genetic engineering. Although he dropped out of Harvard, he has had private tuition in the subject, but is probably not keeping up-to-date. He is an investor and board member of Chiroscience R&D Inc (formerly Darwin Molecular Sciences Corporation), which has as its objective "gaining control of the flow of evolution", according to David Galas. Darwin was founded by Leroy Hood, the geneticist at the University of Washington who developed an automatic gene-sequencing machine. There are those who may be concerned at Gates' interest in the genetic engineering of humans, although the avowed objective at present is to find a solution to Alzheimer's disease by controlling the STM-2 gene mutation. He also has a 13 per cent stake in the Bothell biopharmaceutical company Icos Corporation, and sits on the board, as well as 12 per cent of drug company Warner Chilcott. The Seattle area has one of the greatest concentrations of biotechnology research in the world. Gates also apparently has holdings in Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, Cox Communications, and USA Networks. It was discovered recently that Gates is a venture partner with his old girlfriend Ann Winblad in Hummer Winblad, a venture capitalist specialising in software start-ups. An irony is that Gates may well be investing in companies that are in competition with Microsoft, without being fully aware of it, since there is more than $500 million invested in some 60 companies. Gates also owns outright Corbis Corporation, which has been buying up picture collections, with just Paul Getty as a business rival. With Craig McGraw and other investors, Gates has a stake in Teledesic, the low-orbiting satellite company that is trying to establish a two-way broadband service. Of course these non-Microsoft investments are at the hobby-farm level in the scheme of things, but the quoted share portfolio has underperformed the market significantly. Whether Gates is in fact sufficiently engaged in Microsoft's business nowadays to contribute as chief software architect remains to be seen, but there must be some doubt about it. We can only hope that Bill is refreshed from his Millennium holiday in Mombasa, where he took over the Hemmingway Hotel and insisted that all visitors be turned away. ®
Chip upstart AMD has had yet another boost in its fortunes as it emerged it had another design win, this time with big PC player Hewlett Packard. And, like Gateway only a few weeks ago, the news has broken on the Web, rather than through official PR channels. Dell is now increasingly isolated as the only major PC vendor still firmly within Intel's embrace, with AMD's string of scalps now adorning its waist in the run up to the announcement of its financial results, tomorrow. The HP machines are in the Pavilion range, and include a 550MHz machine with a large hard drive, CR-R and the usual set of PC bells and whistles. In other good news for AMD, the Microprocessor Report has named Athlon the best processor of 1999. ®
Motorola yesterday cited cellphone sales as the foundation for the income growth of over 300 per cent it experienced during its fourth quarter. But for a one-off charge to cover the company's exposure to the much-troubled satellite mobile phone operation Iridium, the figure would have been much higher. So, after $740 million had been accounted for by Iridium, Motorola ended up with an operating profit of $514 million, well up on the $159 million it reported for the same period last year. Other exceptional items take the latest figure down to $349 million. Overall, the company's sales rose from $8.3 billion to $8.5 billion, a little over two per cent. Sales in the cellphone sector rose 13 per cent during the period, and accounted for $3.5 billion. Motorola's other key business, semiconductors, experience sales growth of 15 per cent, to $1.8 billion. Across the two sectors, orders were up 12 per cent and 24 per cent, to $3.6 billion and $2.0 billion, respectively. ®
US Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) will convene a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to investigate the proposed AOL--Time Warner merger, he revealed on NBC's "Meet the Press". McCain is the Committee's co-Chairman, and also, incidentally, a candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, though we at The Register would sooner hang ourselves than imply that there could possibly be a connection between the two. The deal could cause "triggering of other mergers within [the telecoms] industry" and ultimately lead to higher consumer prices nationwide, the Senator believes. "I'm very concerned about the continued mergers....You reach a point at some time where it's not good for the consumer and it stifles competition," he said. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, not Congress, will make the call on whether or not the deal is lawful; but Congress does have the power to draft regulations which both must obey. The Senate Commerce Committee oversees the telecommunications industry, among others. Congressional oversight is therefore indirect; nevertheless, AOL and Time Warner lobbyists have already begun trolling Capitol Hill in quest of sympathetic Members to sue their case before the public. The public's eye will indeed be focused on the deal, as the Senate Judiciary Committee will also hold hearings on it. For the companies, this will be primarily an opportunity for their representatives to appear before consumers and detail, by various forms of tortured calculus, the numerous benefits they are to be vouchsafed by the merger. For McCain, who is runing virtually neck-and-neck against Texas Governor George W. Bush, his only plausible rival for the Republican nomination, the hearings will provide a solemn public forum where McCain can communicate his core message while at the same time appearing manly and 'Presidential', which the Governor from Texas cannot hope to match. The symmetry here is intriguing: Bush has accumulated a positively obscene amount of money to spend on his campaign, but he is not known in Washington, except as the son of former US President George H. Bush. McCain, on the other hand, is operating on a much more modest budget, but he is an experienced and agile Washington insider with many more levers to pull than little Telemachos, whose only real trump-cards are his obscene bank acount and the accident of his paternal legacy. We will be most curious to learn whether McCain's access to Washington's numerous public soap-boxes and old-boy networks, or Bush's brute-force spending limits, will carry the day. The Senate floor and hearing chambers will provide McCain an opportunity to reach the public in ways that Bush can only dream of. If McCain plays to his audience well, he will become the popular choice. However, both the Republican and Democratic Parties have a history of treating the popular choice with ostentatious contempt unless he also happens to be the Party favourite, or the lapdog most likely to satisfy the ambitions and desires of the Party elite -- a description, we note, which fits George-W like a glove. ®
The arrangement between Fujitsu and Siemens to merge their PC operations at the end of last year is already showing creakiness, after it emerged that the two divisions are selling similar machines but split along Intel-AMD lines. At the end of last year, we reported that Siemens was being forced to source AMD parts because of a shortage of Intel Pentium processors. Fujitsu has always been an Intel-only house. The Siemens part of the equation is currently selling 600MHz AMD Athlons machines, which come with 64MB of memory, a 12GB hard drive, and 16MB graphics for £999, at grocery chain Sainsburys, next to the fruit and nuts counters. These Xpert machines come with free home installation, including one hour's tuition and a three year warranty. The Fujitsu part of the equation is currently selling 600MHz Intel Pentium III machines, which come with 64MB of memory, a 20GB hard drive and otherwise a similar configuration, for £999. That price, however, includes £29.99 delivery and only a one year warranty. Those Fujitsu Myrica boxes are being sold through Nice Computers. Both Fujitsu and Siemens are spending a rack of coin on promoting the different, and separate promotions. Sources close to one or the other of the two apparently conjoined but still separate firms said that if a customer rang up 13 months down the line, it might be hard to refuse to give a three year warranty on what, ostensibly, is a Fujitsu Siemens product.... ® * Factoid. The BBC Childrens Service used to run, once a week, a black and white TV programme called The Flowerpot Men. One of the highlights was where a suspicious looking female plant called Little Weed was asked whether it was Bill or Ben, that had been up to some mischief...
Calluna, the troubled mini-disk drive vendor, has asked the London Stock Exchange to suspend its listing "pending an announcement" by the company. In November, Calluna issued a shock profit warning in which it revealed it was "urgently considering a range of options including entering into trade partnerships and seeking potential purchasers for the Company, its trading subsidiary or its assets". Related story Calluna plummets on profit warning
A north London furniture company has been boycotted by one of its suppliers because it is undercutting high street furniture stores.
Nokia is selling its Display Products branded business to ViewSonic and pulling out of the monitor manufacture market. The agreement, due to be signed this month, will give the US company access to Nokia's high-end display products worldwide, a bigger European sales force, as well as its customer base - in Europe and the Americas. The deal follows Nokia's announcement earlier this month of the sale of its display plant in Pecs, Hungary, to Elcoteq. This saw Nokia offload the 30,000 square metre factory and its 1,400 staff to the fellow Finnish company for an undisclosed sum. Elcoteq is to continue producing displays for Nokia. Nokia's other plants in Salo, Finland, and Reynosa, Mexico are also to cease display manufacture. Nokia said it planned to plough efforts into developing its newly formed Mobile Display Appliances venture, working on its wireless and Internet technologies. "Nokia has become the leader in mobile Internet technologies and the fast developments in this area offer us new opportunities to serve the emerging digital industry," said Reijo Lantto, president of Nokia Display Products. ®
Viglen is to set up a new division to buy Internet companies as it steps up its search for a dissatisfied Net guru to join its ranks. The London-based PC builder today revealed its intention to form a subsidiary "to make strategic investments in a series of ecommerce and Internet related ventures". According to Sir Alan Sugar, Viglen chairman, the company was pushed into making the announcement after journalists let the cat out of the bag. "This announcement comes a little earlier than we would normally have liked," he said. "Our intention was to announce this initiative in our half-year results. However, due to the aggressive recruitment campaign we have embarked upon, our intentions have been highlighted in the media." Back in December, the company put an advert in the Financial Times looking for an "unrewarded Internet entrepreneur". As reported here, the ideal candidate would be a recognised name in the industry and able to push Viglen's expansion plans. These included "embracing the fast growing Internet sector with a series of new subsidiaries entirely focused on e-business". A Viglen representative today claimed the company was "knee-deep in applications" for the job, but said that no-one had been selected yet. No start date or name have been revealed for the new subsidiary. Viglen's shares jumped 89 per cent to 342.5 pence after the announcement and its selection as the Mirror's "Tip of the Day". ® Related stories: Blair gov offers half price PCs to teachers Schools out for Viglen as results show healthy growth
In among last week's flurry over a claimed DoJ proposal to accept breakup of Microsoft as part of a settlement, an IDC bulletin got a couple of name-checks. The bulletin had been circulated to IDC customers last month, but by happy coincidence had been leaked, apparently by several of those customers, to the press just in time to add fuel to the breakup flames. It remains probable that the DoJ will go for a breakup, but the vehement response to the suggestion from Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates, and the generality of Microsoft PR flacks means - if they're telling the truth, of course - that the proposal will be flatly refused. Despite this, IDC's document deserves further attention, because although the writers themselves accept that it's highly unlikely Microsoft will act on their advice, it's an interesting take on how Microsoft could disentangle itself from the antitrust action and "time warp [itself] into the next millennium with renewed purpose and a shining political patina." The point of the IDC bulletin, really, is not that it's proposing a solution to the antitrust problem but that it's putting forward a strategy that will enable Microsoft to compete and grow in the next decade. The flip side of this is that authors Anthony Picardi and Dan Kusnetzky conclude that the company's current strategy is "reminiscent of the failed strategies of the systems vendors of the late 1980s, and... Microsoft's long-term growth as a software company will ultimately be constrained by this strategy." We shouldn't run away with the view that this means they reckon Microsoft's doomed, but it does suggest that that at least some competitors will tend to do better, and that a flabby and unresponsive Microsoft will begin a long, slow decline. The central reason why IDC thinks this is the case is the monolith of integration. "Microsoft's goal is to own the computing platform and to create barriers to efficient interoperation with its products while also building its own functionality inside the barrier." This isn't a particularly nice way to put it, but it's nicer than some. But customers don't want this: "Customers voted decisively to be freed of single-vendor standards at the beginning of this decade, and the growth and popularity of the Internet and the World Wide Web demonstrate that they are voting to be freed of similar constraints today." It's worth noting here that although Microsoft's control of the desktop strengthened massively during the 90s, the company has so far failed to establish similar ownership of Web infrastructure. The Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) strategy it announced when Gates resigned could be seen as the next bid to do this, but customers may vote against this as well, for as long as Microsoft tries to swim against the tide. IDC thinks that Microsoft will attempt to settle the case rather than be broken up, but if the DoJ pitches for breakup and won't shift, then settlement is obviously out of the question. In that case, IDC scenario number two, "involuntary breakup after a long appeals process," is the most likely. But during this process Microsoft could quite possibly start to change its mind. "While Microsoft may pursue tactics to maintain itself whole in the short term, the costs of the struggle will steadily increase and the benefits relative to a voluntary breakup scenario will steadily decrease." IDC's recommendation is more radical than the commonly-suggested 'three companies' split, both in terms of the number of companies proposed (five) and in the way those companies would operate and interoperate. Nor do they fit in with the current group structure of Microsoft, which itself follows the fault lines of the three breakup company scenario. Instead, IDC sees the split as being as follows: - Operating systems and middleware - Application development tools, languages and databases - Business and consumer applications - Hardware devices - Content, telecoms and integration services There's clearly scope for leveraging within the first suggested company, but in other areas the segmentation would be more effective in blocking this than the standard three company scenario. For example, the separation of middleware, databases, applications, hardware devices and integration services all into different companies does a fair job of strewing Bob Muglia's current group to the winds. This is clearly entirely contrary to Microsoft's current thinking, but if implemented would mean a radical change of strategy. Which according to IDC is the point. Aside from getting the Feds off the company's back, the split would regenerate Microsoft, and this would be good for the market (nobody said IDC was full of Linux-lovers, OK?): "long term, the value of five highly competitive companies optimising products for different technologies across a much larger base of opportunity (beyond Windows-only markets) will be much higher than that of a single company that is forcing all its products through the same desktop and server operating environment." Because the individual companies wouldn't be dominant, they'd have to ally with other companies, and aim for best-of-breed products in order to grow. They'd have to react to market demand, and they (and Bill Gates' bank balance) would be the better for it. "The resulting products would consist of smaller code bases that were packaged to plug and play with the competition." This would mean smaller code bases and products packaged to plug and play with competing products. The apps division, for example, could react to market demand for a Linux version of Office, rather than being constrained by a Microsoft monolith view of Linux as a competitor, and there would be plenty more such opportunities available. It won't happen, of course - IDC itself rules out immediate voluntary breakup, and these recommendations are far more radical, a seismic blow to the current corporate psyche, than anything the courts are likely to recommend. But if IDC's right about the way Microsoft thinking will change over a period of trench warfare, and as its current strategy becomes less and less viable, then a more devolved and less Windows-centric Microsoft could start to take shape. But in the meantime, things are likely to get messy. The authors conclude: "We believe that Microsoft will act aggressively to prevent any such corporate surgery and rebirth. We believe that Microsoft will make bold statements that it will fight this battle to the bitter end and then it will eventually opt for a settlement that will maintain its power to cost shift, control channels, and build monolithic (bundled) products." They don't specify how Microsoft is going to do this, but given the current state of the antitrust case, it'll be a good trick... ®
Our thanks to Register spotter David Thorarinsson for alerting us to Nude Overclockers. This site purports to be run by four women who, yes, overclock in the nude. The females are virtual renditions, not real.
Alternative OS vendor Be will release the next major rev. of the BeOS, version 5.0, free of charge. A leaf out of Linux's book? Not quite. In fact, a closer look at the company's announcement shows what it's giving away is the 'Trojan Horse' release company CEO Jean-Louis Gassee touted last year, and not the full OS release. It's also for "personal, non-commercial use" only -- proprietary software-speak for "demo". Gassee unveiled his plan to offer a version of the BeOS that sits on top of Windows some months ago. Essentially, the BeOS 5.0 demo lives in its own Windows folder, with software wrapping disk read and writes between the two OS' incompatible filesystems on the fly. There will a small lag in drive performance as a result, but in all other respects it should work exactly as if the user had installed the OS in the more traditional way. It's not an entirely new idea -- a number of the main Linux distros have offered similar functionality for that open source OS in the past. However, what it does for Be, quite apart from allow interested users to download and try out the OS without having to repartition their hard drive, is allow PC vendors to bundle the OS without contravening Microsoft's tedious and arcane Windows licensing agreement, which as near as makes no odds forbids OEMs to preinstall other operating systems. That rule has, in the past, made it very hard for Be to get its OS pre-installed on new systems. Mind you, a lack of widely available good personal productivity apps hasn't helped either. Be's logic is that since the demo, while a fully functioning version of the BeOS, doesn't contain all the stuff that ships with the still-to-be-charged-for CD release and doesn't exist in its own partition therefore doesn't count under Microsoft's rules -- it's not an OS, it's an application. Be said it also hopes to encourage software developers to create applications for the platform, since the question of whether the customer has the right OS is no longer an issue -- developers can include a copy on the application's CD. Of course, whether users will want apps that take up 200MB or so more disk space than they would be otherwise, because they have to install an extra OS too, is another matter. It could also limit the sale of the full release too. After all, why spend $50 on a CD copy when Dell or Gateway (hypothetically) have installed the fully-functioning demo on their systems? It will be interesting to see what Be does, if anything, to ensure the software remains for personal, non-commercial use. After all, that was what Netscape's Navigator license specified -- and who actually paid for that? That said, it may not matter too much to Be. With both its financial and developmental focus increasingly turning to Stinger, its cut-down version of the BeOS developed for information appliances, at this stage the company is more interested in building developer and customer support for the BeOS that making money out of it, and if that means a degree of lost sales, so be it -- the long-term gain is worth the short-term pain. Then again, the focus on Stinger and the decision to offer the BeOS demo for free could equally imply that Be has to all intents and purposes given up on the desktop OS market. And that's hardly likely to give much confidence to developers looking to exploit it. ® Related Stories Compaq developing 'BeOS Lite'-based Net appliances Be's Stinger OS selected for Nat Semi WebPad Red Hat to buy Be?
Updated We asked Intel at the SpeedStep press launch about the unannounced products and the URLs in our original story (see below) and almost as soon as we asked, the URLs seemed to become the disappeared. However, your Reg, undaunted, still has the publicly available knowledge in the bag. There are two updated URLs we have, which we point to below. Grab them quick readers, they won't last long after this update. We have copies and will look closely at the pages tomorrow. The first revisited page is now at this Intel page The second is now here, pro tem. Grab them quick, as in now. This is the desperation derby... ® Original Story Ask Intel about unannounced chips and chipsets and you will get the standard line from the firm. "We don't comment on unannounced products". Thank goodness, then, for the wonderful world of the Internet, where things crop up on Web sites before the marketing people can suppress them. And so we are grateful to one reader which has pointed us to this Read Me file, found at Chipzilla's site,which makes reference to a number of up and coming chipsets which we know about, but not officially. There was another reference to these "unannounced chipsets" on the Intel site too. It was also well worth a look but now seems to have gone awol...still we caught it in time... Intel is more than likely to delete the site soon enough, but while it's still there, check out information on the Solano, Timna, Greendale, 810-M, Colusa and Tehama chipsets, with some very technical information, to boot. We've taken a copy and will tax our contacts on the meaning of all this stuff later on, at the SpeedStep press conference. ®
Microsoft is involved in one of the bids to find a role for the UK's world-famous Millennium Dome - but not, apparently, with Microsoft money. The UK government is planning to get itself shot of structure, built to celebrate the Millennium and now shaping up to be something of a Big Flop, at the end of this year, and has shortlisted six proposals for its future. Remarkably, having tapped private finance to get the world's best New Year party (government spinmeister) or London's biggest white elephant (London mayoral candidate Susan Kramer) built, the government is proposing to tap it again to find a role for the thing in the future. The bid Microsoft is involved in is for, uh-oh, the City of the Future. The money for this bids is coming from South African property and leisure group Monex and UK real estate outfit MEPC, while Microsoft, Nortel, Cisco, 3Com, construction group Laing and brewery, catering and leisure group Whitbread. You can see the tech-heavy bent of this consortium's bid pretty clearly. If it's accepted, they'll be building a 120-acre technology theme park with the Dome at its centre, and the largest covered water features and rides in Europe. Presumably there'll be some seriously networked technology in there as well, so that the backers can strut their stuff, but we all know what geeks really like. A cursory look at the Microsoft UK Web site meanwhile reveals that Whitbread, in addition to coming in handy for supplying the punters with large quantities of beer, food and sundry skittles, might just be a Microsoft trusty. It's running Microsoft SQL-based systems for its outlets, which means the EPOS systems in a City of the Future Dome could turn out to be NT workstations (no, these really do exist, honest), and Whitbread retail architect John Michell turns out to be chairman of Microsoft's European Customer Advisory Board. One possible snag with the bid, of course, is that presumably the actual product will be expected to ship reasonably soon after the current raging success/desperate white elephant-meisters up sticks on 31 December 2000. This could be a problem. Register scary fact: Register uberspinmeister Drew Cullen says he took the kids to the Dome and it was great. He'll be telling us he paid next. ®
US Federal authorities have charged a man who labelled a human relations counsellor a "race traitor" and made death threats towards her. This is thought to be the first federal case against a website. Ryan Wilson's site, Alpha HQ, carried photographs and animated pictures of victim Bonnie Johuri's office being blown up.
Ingram Micro has won the contract to distribute IT kit to GE Capital's VAR arm in the UK. As part of the deal, Ingram has also agreed to buy GE's Information Technology Services (ITS) warehouse and configuration centre in Rossendale, Lancashire, sources told The Register. A representative of GE Capital confirmed the contract was being signed and the two companies were working together on details of the deal. Ingram was unable to comment, but sources said the agreement was expected to be announced tomorrow. The Rossendale centre, previously P&P offices, currently has around 300 staff. In November, GE Capital revealed plans for its UK business to quit distribution and concentrate on value added services. GE Capital bought P&P from Skillgroup in January 1998 for £11 million, taking on its £15 million debt. ®
Providence, Rhode Island police were forced to stop arresting people because their shiny new law enforcement network system was telling them to grab innocent people.
All good things must come to an end - a sentiment close to the heart of many a multi-billion dollar chip maker. And none more so than AMD which is poised to send its 500MHz Athlon part packing once January has bid us farewell. In preparation for the 500's demise, AMD is to cut the price of its 550MHz Athlon part on 23 January, as originally reported on Web site AMD Zone, last month. Robin Varley, Microtronica's AMD product manager, said: "All road maps presented by AMD showed the 500 falls off at the end of January. The 550 was always going to be the new entry level processor." The price drop comes as AMD introduce two new high-end processors taking the Athlon range to 800MHz. Executives from AMD were not prepared to comment, at press time. ® Related stories: 800MHz Athlon hits Intel in the face Intel-AMD speed wars megahurtz too much