UpdatedThe price war between AMD and Intel is on -- and with a vengeance. As predicted here two months back, both firms made big cuts on their top-of-the-range desktop processor range today. But shortages still make Slot One Intel processors hard to find, particularly at higher clock speeds, reliable sources in the channel tell The Register, while motherboards for the AMD Athlon parts are now plentiful and inexpensive. The CPUs from AMD are also widely available, the same sources indicate. Large businesses and consumers who made the decision to postpone buying will reap the benefit of the moves over the next few days, as PC manufacturers accordingly cut prices on their machines. The figures show that AMD continues to chip away at Intel's average selling prices (ASPs), with some dramatic differences between prices on what, on the face of it, are similar parts. Intel made price cuts ranging between seven and 31 per cent on its Pentium III desktop processors using its .18 micron Coppermine technology. The prices, which are when 1,000 units are bought even took into account one of the latest introductions, the 750 MHz part, which is now $744 ($803). The 733MHz part now costs $594($754), the 700MHz $562 ($733), the 666 MHz part $449 ($583), the 650MHz $423 ($562), the 600MHz $316 ($444), the 550MHz Pentium III Coppermine $241 ($348) -- a 31 per cent cut -- and the 533MHz $214 ($284). The .25 micron 500MHz now costs $193 ($229), showing that this part is being phased out. Note that these are prices for Slot One microprocessors, it will be a little while before the Socket 370 design knocks Slot One out of the picture. Distributors supplied us with the new pricing for the AMD Athlon range. These are OEM prices, apart from the newer 800MHz CPU. Again, former prices for the parts are shown in brackets. The Athlon 500MHz processor has now moved out of the picture, and the 550MHz Athlon is now the entry level Athlon at $217 ($317). The 600MHz now costs $217 ($305), the 650MHz Athlon $290 ($565), the 700MHz $480 ($695), the 750MHz Athlon $585 ($819) and the 800MHz Athlon, which thus far only is available in a boxed model now costs $790 ($1,154). (Apologies for an earlier update late last night which transposed Canadian $ prices for US $ prices -- we do know the difference.) Intel also took the axe to prices on some Xeon Pentium IIIs, aimed at the server and workstation market. The 733MHz/256K cache costs $644 ($804), the 666MHz/256K cache $499 ($633), and the 600MHz/256K $425 ($494). Intel is expected to introduce Pentium III Xeons with far larger caches (Cashcades) over the next weeks.
Giant memory supplier Kingston Technology has teamed up with Gateway in a campaign to inform the general public that when Microsoft Windows 2000 is launched you will need a lot of memory. And both companies do not really care whether it is synchronous memory or Rambus RIMMs you require, although the chances are that you're going to find more of the former than the latter, and much cheaper. The joint promotion is intended to tell the world that W2k is a super-duper OS and everyone will want a machine with a super-fast microprocessor and stacks of memory. Although Microsoft documentation says that W2k will run on 32MB or 64MB of memory, Kingston said last month that the MS sales force is recommending 256MB as a base configuration, as reported here. From previous experience with Microsoft operating systems, we all know the more memory you throw at the beast, the faster the thing goes. Neither Gateway nor Kingston are educating the world and its dog out of altruism, you will not be surprised to learn. They, and other PC and memory manufacturers, are hoping and praying that the Microsoft introduction, along with its accompanying hype, will generate a whole heap of sales during the first half of this year. Today, Gateway will start selling PCs using different clock speeds of AMD's Athlon microprocessor. ®
Procter and Gamble is setting up a site for acne sufferers in partnership with Excite UK. Actually, it's a "£Multi-Million Teenage Destination site", and the whole "ground-breaking" enterprise reeks of marketing bull. The unnamed site launches later this year and is part of P&G's "continuing efforts to develop innovative and integrated marketing solutions".
Novell is conducting a surprisingly fierce and long overdue campaign against what it says is Microsoft's FUD. Since the departure of Ray Noorda - "the grandfather from hell" as Bill Gates viewed him - Novell has not been noted for being so outspoken, but it has finally taken the gloves off in its campaign to correct "Microsoft's untruths regarding NetWare features". Novell's position is difficult, because it does need some co-operation from Microsoft, but evidently the straw now weighs too heavily on the camel's back. The company's legal department wrote to Microsoft about an article posted on the Microsoft web site last month; this contained a number of seriously false claims. Microsoft withdrew its document, but Novell's hard-hitting response remains on its own site Novell has actually been countering Microsoft spin in the Novell Advantage area of its web site for quite some time now, but the company hasn't been wildly proactive. Now however it's going for a jugular with a series of daily updates on deficiencies and problems with Win2k. There have been many previous instances of Microsoft being warned off by Novell. In 1992, Microsoft included Novell's NetWare client in Windows for Workgroups without permission, with the result that Novell terminated the licence for the client in Windows 3.1. The same year, Novell's Btrieve DLLs turned up in MS Access, again without permission, and Microsoft was obliged to remove the code. Similar things happened with NT, which incorporated NetWare Core Protocols, and later NetWare's File and Print Services, and again Microsoft had to remove the code. Then NDS code appeared in Microsoft's Directory Service Manager for NetWare. A preview version of Windows 95 included NetWare Core Protocols, which also had to be removed. Microsoft was clearly chancing its arm with its spiked article - it made claims that were untrue, never mind just contentious, and in doing so contrived to draw attention to what Novell sees as Win2k's prime area of vulnerability, Active Directory. Microsoft claimed that Active Directory is more scalable than NDS and that NetWare uses a flat-file database when in fact Novell has publicly demonstrated terabyte storage of arbitrarily-structured data and a high performance NDS tree of more than a billion objects. Microsoft also claimed NetWare lacks features like disk mirroring or compression when it must have been aware that Novell has had mirroring for 15 years and compression for six years. In response Novell comes out fighting, noting that Active Directory disables disk caching when installed (resulting in there being no basic data integrity mechanism in Windows 2000); that AD is 60 to 70 times bigger than a similar NDS database, that AD cannot be portioned, and that AD does not support interoperability. Many observers had thought that Novell was asleep while Microsoft has been vulnerable from the delays to Windows 2000, but Novell CEO Eric Schmidt has finally put in place "executives who I trust" and done something about Novell's marketing efforts. The departure of five Novell executives was complemented by marching orders to all 60 people in the marketing department, although it may well come as a surprise that Novell had that many. Schmidt is normally a hands-off manager but he became involved in the knife work to rebuild marketing under VP of global marketing Steve Adams, who was previously with Citrix and whom Schmidt describes as "the senior messenger". Adams developed a blueprint entitled "Why Novell's marketing sucks", with long-time Novell hand Dave Shirk setting up a flat reporting structure with around 30 "Tiger Teams" reporting directly - with the prospect of termination for not achieving targets. Novell has been squeezed not just by Microsoft's FUD towards NDS and NetWare, but also by the rise of Linux: it is about to be announced by IDC that NetWare is in third place behind NT and Linux, so far as new installations are concerned. NetWare 5.1 (previously code-named Cobra) limped on to the scene last week without any significant trumpet fanfare, which suggests that Novell's PR still needs to learn how to play hardball. NDS 8 is now called NDS eDirectory, and NetWare 5.1 has IBM WebSphere 3.0 bundled. Media interest was primarily from those having a business relationship with Microsoft, where the reaction was predictably negative, with repetition of what Novell calls Microsoft's "untruths". Multiprocessing capability will have to await for the next iteration of NetWare, although it remains to be seen whether multiprocessing in Windows 2000 will be sufficiently reliable and effective. Solaris is also scheduled to have multiprocessing this quarter. Novell's strategic marketing change is to be packaging its products in suites for business needs rather than as technologies. Whether this will result in a focus on marketing to executives rather than cuddling techies remains to be seen, but unless Novell gets its story into the airline magazines and the business weeklies, it will find it hard to keep and take mindshare, whatever the quality of its products. Novell has seen how Microsoft markets beta products and intends to play the same game. Adams decided to delay the launch of iChain, the response to Microsoft's BizTalk (which has gone very quiet recently), from December until it had the benefit of better packaging and looked less techy. It will probably be a pinprick spoiler for the Windows 2000 release. Added to the problems of poor marketing to IT executives, Novell has also not done well with developers, although last week it did announce it would offer in March a software development kit for developers who wanted to link applications to NDS. For many Novell users, no news is good news - NetWare is credited with just running for months without problems, with the consequence that upgrading is less necessary for users, since support goes back to NetWare 3.12. A further and ironic consequence is that relatively few people know what to do when there are problems with NetWare/NDS. The card that Novell has not yet played very well is its cost advantage, in that Novell installations that have moved to NT find they need considerably more servers, and that the maintenance cost is high because of the systems expertise needed for all the fixes. Whether Novell is successful in bringing home a true comparison of costs and performance has yet to be seen. Nor has Novell had much success in publicising the possibility of replacing Active Directory with NDS, despite Microsoft's efforts to weld AD to Windows, as it did with IE and Windows 98. The problems of a Microsoft monoculture - since AD only supports Windows 2000 and not Windows 9x or 3x - also needs to be pointed out. Novell has previously been quiet to the point of timidity about the problems that Microsoft has put in the path of NetWare, and the present campaign is the first to score some serious points about false claims. ®
Punters looking to purchase some of the most valuable virtual real estate on the Web have until Friday to raise the cash and make their bid for cinema.com, loans.com and taxes.com. GreatDomains.com is flogging the Web addresses amid hype that this once-in-a-lifetime offer could be make-or-break for some e-companies and decide the fortunes of future e-commerce winners and losers. The auction ends this Friday, January 28th at 2:00 pm (PST). Not content with waiting for people to make their bids, GreatDomains.com executives have been traipsing around different companies trying to find a buyer for these lucrative Web addresses. And it's easy to see why. GreatDomains.com sold a number of names last year including drugs.com, capital.com and perfect.com, some of which it claims fetched more than $1 million. "This past week, we visited key executives from leading companies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York to discuss the auction,'' said Steve Newman, GreatDomains.com's president. "They generally showed great interest and were amazed to realise that these powerful domain names with instant brand recognition were still available," he said. Well, only for another five days. ® GreatDomains.com
Jim Rousou has retired as head of Elcom UK to dedicate more time to business investments and his garden. The 52-year-old has given up his titles of chairman of Elcom Group Ltd and senior executive VP of Elcom International after 10 years with the company and its predecessors. Rousou will stay on with Elcom on a consultancy basis for the next few months, but already has his eye on other investments. "I’m looking at some interesting business propositions, but nothing to do with this industry," the former chartered accountant told The Register. "This is not just a sudden decision. My commitment to the group was to make sure the transition went well after selling the enterprise division to SCC. "Now I am free to move on." In July, US parent Elcom International sold two-thirds of the UK business - the reselling arm and Elite Distribution subsidiary - to SCC for around £28 million. No permanent replacements have yet been named for Rousou, but Michael Templeman, sales director of elcom.com, is currently standing in as caretaker UK MD. When asked how he planned to enjoy his golden years, a green-fingered Rousou replied: "I’ve got plenty of gardening to do." Rousou previously worked at Business Land UK and led an MBO against JWP in 1993. He also had a two-year stint as president and CEO of Elcom in the US.® Related story Redundancy hits Elcom staff
Liquid Audio tacitly accepted the failure of its own digital music format this weekend when it announced a far-reaching deal with Microsoft to support Windows Media Technologies' audio components. Not that that's how Liquid Audio is spinning the licensing agreement, of course, but that's what it means nonetheless. Liquid Audio would have us believe its decision to support MS Audio is part of its ongoing strategy to provide users of its Liquid Player software with access to as many of the key digital music formats as possible. Liquid Player already supports Sony's ATRAC 3 format, MP3, Dolby Digital and Advanced Audio. However, Microsoft deal goes further than simply supporting one more format. Liquid Audio said it will convert its entire catalogue of 50,000 songs and one million preview clips into MS Audio. It will roll-out Windows Media servers to host both its own music sales service -- which will use Windows Media Technologies' Digital Rights Management component for copy protection and royalties management -- and content it distributes on behalf of others. In short, it sounds to us like Liquid Audio is replacing its own technology with Microsoft's, and is retaining Liquid Tracks (its own copy-protected music format) for backwards compatibility. In fact, with all of Liquid Audio's catalogue available in MS Audio format, and Microsoft's Media Player available for free with every copy of Windows, there doesn't seem much point in retaining Liquid Player. That, and one line in the release announcing the Microsoft deal, suggest Liquid Audio may be pursuing different business goals now. Its agreement with Microsoft will see Liquid Audio "deploy Windows Media Servers for hosting and distributing content in the Windows Media format to retailers". It's not hard to envisage Liquid Audio providing record outlets with in-store systems to allow customers to select tracks from an online catalogue which can then be downloaded and stored on custom CDs. It's an interesting use of the technology and likely to be the next big thing for retailers worried by competition from Internet-based CD stores who can offer a far greater selection of albums than they can. However, it still leaves Liquid Audio as little more than a reseller of Microsoft software. ®
Sources at Toshiba told The Register it was still firmly committed to manufacturing in both Japan and Germany last week, but if reports from Asia are true, notebook rival Compaq is set to spend even more money sourcing products from IT powerhouse Taiwan. The trade show site for the June show Computex is reporting today that Compaq has just signed a deal with local manufacturer Inventec to supply it with three million notebook PCs. It adds that Compaq told representatives of the Taiwanese industry at the end of last year that it will source $8.5 billion worth of kit from the island during 2000. Inventec turned over $2.1 billion during 1999 and is one of Compaq's preferred suppliers. Another of Compaq's preferred suppliers is FIC (First International Corporation). Intel is currently gunning for FIC as part of a complaint it filed earlier this month to the US International Trade Commission (ITC), as part of its current action to prevent Via gaining a greater share of the chipset and processor markets. Compaq is not going to be very happy if the US body stops shipments into the US. At all. ® Intel extends Via legal action More Big Q money goes to Taiwan More Taiwanese mobo makers get jitters after Intel-Via suit Compaq admits Inventec makes its notebooks Compaq strikes $7 billion Taiwan supply deal
US PC retailers had a very disappointing December, with the Christmas season experiencing the lowest month-on-month growth of any month during 1999, according to the latest figures from market researcher PC Data. Last month, unit sales of desktop PCs through US retail, online and mail order channels increased just 12 per cent on December 1998's sales. For the year as a whole, unit sales rose 23.7 per cent, with around ten million PCs shipping during the year. The revenue generated by these sales totalled around $9.2 billion, pretty much the same as last year, said PC Data, thanks to a fall of almost 20 per cent in the average price of a PC, which ended the year at $916. Sub-$1000 PCs accounted for just under 75 per cent of the market in December, the first time more expensive PCs took more than a quarter of the overall market since the summer. Even with that dip, the sub-$1000 category saw 325 per cent growth last month over December 1998's figures. For PC vendors, Compaq lead the market in both December 1999 and for the year as a whole, taking 34.5 per cent and 33.4 per cent of the market, respectively. Hewlett-Packard notched up shares of 30.4 per cent and 24.8 per cent. eMachines scored 13.4 per cent in December and 102 per cent for the full year. Apple took 11.6 per cent and 10 per cent of the market, for those two periods, respectively. The good news for Apple is that it more than doubled the industry's annual growth rate, with an increase in unit sales of 55 per cent. However, the growth record goes to HP, which achieved an increase of 87 per cent during the year. Compaq scored 26.5 per cent, just a couple of points above the industry average. ®
A report on Newsbytes is claiming that chip company AMD has started branding its 800MHz Athlon processor as chuk lung. This is as a result of an online quiz amongst readers in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, the wire says. This is the Chinese word for a fast and carnivorous dinosaur, the report said. This differs from our Register term Chipzilla, which implies a slow and lumbering but also carnivorous dinosaur. And it also implies that Chimpzilla could now be out of fashion... ®
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has launched its latest legal action against a company supporting the controversial MP3 digital music format. Last time, the target was Diamond Multimedia (now part of 3D graphics specialist S3) over its MP3-based Rio portable music player. On Friday, the RIAA launched a copyright infringement suit against music e-commerce site MP3.com. The RIAA lost its case against Diamond. The RIAA's complaint centres on MP3.com's new My.MP3.com site, launched 12 January. My.MP3.com apparently allows users to upload their CDs to MP3.com's servers and then listen to them from any PC via what are effectively downloaded MP3 files. MP3's compression level is such that the format's quality is nowhere near that of a CD, so the trade-off punters have to make is clearly sound fidelity for easy of access to their record collections. In fact, My.MP3.com doesn't actually involve uploading anything. It simply checks to see whether MP3.com has a copy of the same album that the user is trying to 'upload'. If MP3.com's rapidly expanding library of CDs doesn't contain the user's favourite album, the 'upload' process fails. The RIAA maintains that MP3.com's scheme to hold a vast library of CDs and make tracks available to users free of charge is a blatant violation of the US copyright law. It also claims MP3.com has built up a library of over 40,000 CDs illegally. "The foundation on which these services are built is an unauthorized digital archive with the most popular and valuable copyrighted sound recordings in the world -- music that is not owned by MP3.com," said the RIAA. MP3.com's argument is that it doesn't need to own them since the user does. Because each user has to already own a copy of the CD, providing compressed data to that same user from another copy of that CD isn't a copyright infringement since this is something the user could do on their own anyway legally through fair use statutes. MP3.com is pretty riled with the RIAA, having made its technology available to the organisation's inspectors in an attempt to show that My.MP3.com isn't operating contrary to copyright protection legislation, and, on the contrary, works to prevent "piracy, counterfeiting and unauthorised use", according to MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson. The company portrays the RIAA's suit as the protectionist action of a monopolist business, and its hard not to come to a similar conclusion. That said, even if MP3.com's service is legal, since it's primarily a means to market MP3.com's own artists' albums, the company is to a degree open to the charge of profiting commercially from the site. Equally, it's hard to envisage such a system that's can offer rock tight security, and won't be hacked to allow CDs to be copied illegally. For sure, users can copy disks for anyone easily enough as it is, but insecurities in the My.MP3.com system will weaken its defence against the RIAA. ®
ReviewThe world+dog is hardly short of stories about Windows 2000 and how such wonderments as the Active Directory will make the IT department's life so simple that even a complete idiot could get a job in tech support. But The Register thought it might be interesting to see how a regular Joe, or even Pete, got on with installing it. The Denizens of Castell Sherriff have had some exposure to Win2K, starting early last year with a beta version so old it was still called NT5. Evolving betas have become progressively better – although it cannot be said they are more stable, for the simple reason that the machine subjected to all this pre-release software has never fallen over once (unlike the reviewer, Ed) in all that time. That's right, as a real glutton for punishment when it comes to Microsoft operating systems – being on the beta programmes for Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups (both variants), Chicago (aka Win 95), Memphis (aka Win98) and NT4 – I'm pretty much used to seeing the Blue Screen of Death, but not once has Win2K collapsed in a heap. That alone is reason enough to rush out and buy the thing on February 17th. Folks used to running NT are often to be heard waxing lyrical about a certain undefinable bullet-proof quality to the OS – it's a mystical kind of feeling rather than a quantifiable feature. Well, Win2K exudes that same industrial-strengthness, in spades. While the other machines on the network running shrink-wrapped operating systems (Win 98 and more recently Win 98SE) lock up, fall over and generally behave in an antisocial manner, the Win2K proved so stable that it was rapidly promoted to take over as the workgroup server and ISDN router by dint of its reliability (and modem sharing capability). Now running the gold code (effectively identical to what you'll be able to buy in a few weeks' time) our trusty Win2K machine is now running the full-featured version of Win2K Professional which took less than 40 minutes to upgrade from RC2, the only manual intervention required being to type in the registration number. It did originally fail to detect a SideWinder Pro joystick, but that went in fine following an automatic search for PnP devices. Setup takes a tough approach to the kind of machine it thinks is suitable for Win2K and flatly refuses to install on anything it deems too feeble – if you have less than 32Mb of RAM you're stuffed; If you have anything less than a Pentium 166, forget it. While this is sensible up to a point, it can be irritating if you have a machine that you want to try Win2K on. For example, I use two Toshiba notebooks – a rather tired old Satellite Pro Pentium 120 with 24Mb of RAM and a slightly better Pentium 150 with 86Mb. While it would be pretty daft to try Win2K with just 24Mb, I reckon it would run OK on the 86Mb machine, but I will just have to die wondering. The original Win2K machine is a Coppermine Pentium III 700Mhz (see – you can buy them) with 128Mb RAM. A second box dual boots Win 98SE and Win2K and has a 500MHz PIII with 64Mb. The less powerful machine loads and runs applications appreciably faster. I haven't measured the difference, taking the rather old fashioned view that if you can see the difference, it's damned fast. I'd say 64Mb was a sensible minimum memory requirement with maybe a 300A Celeron providing the power. Anything less than this and you'd be better off spending your dosh on a new machine rather than upgrading the OS. A number of moaning minnies have pointed out that there aren't many applications on the official tested and approved list for Win2K. What they fail to point out is that there's a world of difference between not being on the approved list and not working. This should be taken as an illustration of the stringent testing deemed necessary for a serious business OS rather than a cheap and cheerful consumer product. Office 2000 isn't on the list (yet) but it's never misbehaved. Where there are known incompatibilities, there's a detailed readme on the CD that spells them out. While some of these are predictable, like Office 95 needing the latest patches and the Y2K update, others could be more problematic: Office 97 SR2 users may be annoyed to find that they can't use the Visual Basic editor unless they're given administrative rights; Eudora Pro fans may find it tiresome that Outlook Express unilaterally registers itself as the default email client when upgrading to Win2K; Outlook 2000 has to be completely reinstalled after upgrading from Win95/98; Symantec PCAnywhere should be avoided due to its propensity for overwriting all the Win2K video drivers and disabling most graphics cards – there's no workaround for this, but Netmeeting (free with Win2K and Win 98) offers similar remote desktop control which works just fine. On the hardware front there are also known issues – Nvidia graphics cards may experience incompatibilities with VIA chipsets (a feature introduced at Intel's request, perhaps?) and a Riva 128 card's streaming video may, rather amusingly, run upside down. ATI Rage Pro cards can corrupt the display running Flight Simulator unless hardware acceleration is turned off. And it's in the area of graphics that I hit my only real problem. The original Win2K system uses an Intel Sun River mobo with Riva TNT graphics onboard. Under Win98SE, this ran like the proverbial off a shovel, but with Win2K it failed to recognise the AGP graphics at all, using software emulation rather than hardware acceleration to provide sluglike 3D performance. Thinking this might be an issue with the succession of beta upgrades the machine had been subjected to, I did a clean (dual boot) install on another box with an identical Sun River. This too failed to talk to the graphics correctly, both the Direct 3D and hardware acceleration options on the DirectX 7 diagnostics remaining greyed out. On the same machine under Win98SE, everything works fine. So far, both Microsoft and Intel boffins have failed to nail this one down. That one glitch aside, it pains me somewhat to confess that I really like Win2K. It is genuinely bullet-proof, the menus fade in and out in a most elegant and charming way rather than simply blinking on and off and it's coped with everything I've thrown at it, whilst happily running SETI at Home continually in the background. Linux geeks might even like it for the amount of tweakability it offers (so they can continually play with the OS rather than doing any real work), and end users will like it because it'll run the applications they need without fuss and without falling over. Mrs Sherriff will be going Win2K as soon as the shrinkwrap ships next month (she has an irrational fear of anything with beta in its name), and as soon as those video glitches are nailed, Sherriff junior's dual boot machine will have Win98 uninstalled and we'll be 100 per cent Windows 2000. Apart from my poor old Tosh SatPro, of course. ®
STMicroelectronics has put all chips on allocation after being caught with its pants down over rocketing demand. CEO Pasquale Pistorio was forced to admit that only preferred customers were getting semiconductor supplies, Electronics Weekly reported. When quizzed on chip shortages, he replied: "The question should be ‘Do you have any products that are not on allocation’ and the answer is ‘no’. "The demand is exceeding our ability to supply. We are giving priority to our strategic partners and our top 30 customers." Pistorio added that current demand was the most explosive he had ever seen. However, he claimed that his company was still ahead of the competition. "We started to commit major capital expenditures in April/May last year. The programme is going well, but with some anxiety because we are falling behind demand. "We have more capacity than our competitors but not enough to respond to market demand," he said. Pistorio added that STMicro was ramping up production in its four wafer fabs – aiming to reach 1,000 wafers a week at its plants in Agrate and Rousset by the end of Q2. Last week the company reported a 51 per cent jump in pre-tax profit for the fourth quarter. Earnings rose to $184 million for the three months ended December 31, compared to $122 million for the previous year. This was on sales of $1.5 billion, up from $1.3 billion.® Related stories STMicro buys flat-screen chip firm STMicro sees 33 per cent profit jump
No it's not Mission Impossible. An American company is developing limited-play CDs and DVDs with built-in self-destruction. Spectradisc, a spin-off from Brown University Division of Engineering, says it can programme the products to expire within three days or three minutes, by applying a chemical coating in varying degrees of thickness to the discs. Once the laser in a CD/DVD player touches the surface, a chemical reaction is started and the disc becomes unreadable. Spectradisc reckons it will find it customers from the video and games rental markets, as well as companies touting trial software. Other products from the company include commercial laundry sorters and drug discovery products. ®
Former Disney Go Network exec and Java developer Patrick Naughton's conviction on child pornography possession has been tossed by a federal judge following an appellate decision finding portions of the law under which he was convicted to be unconstitutional. The jury had originally deadlocked on whether Naughton intended to have sex with a thirteen-year-old girl he'd met in an Internet chat room, resulting in a mis-trial on those counts. While he did travel to meet the 'girl' (who was in reality an FBI agent), the jury could not be convinced that Naughton actually believed her to be thirteen when he made that decision. His attorneys argued that he could have been engaging in mere role-playing in the chat room, with no firm idea who he was dealing with. Then, at the point of meeting, the feds blew the prosecution's case with their over-eagerness to arrest Naughton, which they did before he gave any firm indication of what he'd been expecting, or what he intended. On Friday, District Judge Edward Rafeedie granted a defence motion for re-trial on Naughton's pornography charge, since the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals tossed sections of the Child Pornography Prevention Act which bear on his conviction. Naughton has scant reason for celebration, however. He may yet be re-tried on all counts. The two charges, that he used the Net and crossed state lines to have sex with a minor, and which resulted in the deadlocked jury, are scheduled for retrial on 21 March. As for the porn charge, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the law exceeded constitutional bounds by outlawing materials which merely appear to be sexual images of children. US law requires convictions deriving from an unconstitutional law to be reversed, even if the specific portion of the law relevant to the conviction is not addressed by the appellate ruling. Naughton apparently did possess sexual images of adult models which merely appeared to be those of children, and he can't be convicted for storing them on his computer unless the appellate ruling is successfully challenged in the Supreme Court. However, he was also accused of storing sexual images of actual children on his computer, an allegation which his attorneys have never challenged. His re-trial on that accusation is likely to result in some manner of penalty, the severity of which may well be influenced by the outcome of his re-trial on charges he intended to have sex with a minor. If the feds again fail to nail him on interstate travel, they may well seek the maximum penalty for the porn charge, and Naughty Naughton may yet spend a couple of years in the slam. ®
"Our customers won't be worried about the price. It's all down to what people spend their money on," a BT Cellnet spokeswoman said at today's launch of its mobile Internet service. "Some spend it on clothes, others spend their money on the latest gadgets." The service will cost 5p per minute until June when new pricing structures are introduced with the arrival of high speed GPRS connections. This will see the customer charged only when information is sent or received. As well as paying more, the first generation of WAP users will experience slower access using the GSM network. BT Cellnet is the second of the UK's four major mobile network operators to launch WAP services. Orange launched its flavour late last year, but there were some early glitches, as BT Cellnet points out: "We took more time (than Orange) over the launch of our WAP service to ensure that the service would work." In common with Orange, BT Cellnet is majoring on the Nokia 7110 as its preferred WAP-enabled phone. BT Cellnet's WAP customers will be able to have exclusive access to 36 partner sites and any WAP enabled site as well as unlimited length e-mail. Existing customers without WAP enabled phones will be able to receive e-mail from a transmitter in 160-character blocks -- the length of SMS messages. The service is based on Genie Internet, BT Cellnet's mobile ISP, which has 500,000 subscribers. ® Links Genie Internet The Nokia 7110
Last week, overclocking hardware site Hard OCP reported that AMD had hired a law firm to pursue people who modify and then re-sell the chip company's Athlon microprocessor. Now it appears that the first legal actions have been taken by AMD's lawyers, Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson. Computer Nerd says it has been told it is breaching AMD's patents by selling overclocked "Nerdlon" units. AMD's lawyers have issued Computernerd with a "cease and desist" notice or will otherwise take legal action against the company. Computernerd is asking people who are opposed AMD's actions to to register their displeasure at United Overclockers. One European distributor, who declined to be named, said that "the subtle difference" between Intel and AMD processors was that you needed to get inside the casing to overclock the Athlons. He had not noticed any significant loss of business, however, from those he described as the "turbo nutter bastards". Many hardware sites have cheerfully overclocked Athlon processors and in the process given AMD a reputation for clock speed, which has undoubtedly boosted chip sales. AMD doesn't now call itself Tyrannazilla for nothing, you know. Nor could the firm be contacted at press time for comment on the move. ® See also AMD gives Athlon Tyrannazilla epithet Daily Hardware Roundup, which contains a reference to the threat from last week
Almost 60,000 Virgin.net users are still without email following a security breach at the ISP earlier this month. Although some 110,000 Virgin.net users have already responded to requests to change their email passwords following the incident, a third of those affected have still to take any action to get back online. Virgin.net has sent out two letters in the last fortnight reminding people that if they want to use the service they have to change their passwords. Despite the apparent lack of concern from some quarters, user apathy doesn't pose any threat to security, a spokesman for Virgin.net said today. When the problem was discovered Virgin.net disabled all email accounts in order to preserve system integrity. Email accounts can only be reactivated with a new password. Surrey Police confirmed that they are investigating the alleged hacking incident but declined to give any further details. Last week it was reported that the alleged Virgin hackers were part of a British gang trying to blackmail Visa for £10 million. A spokesman for Virgin.net confirmed today that an email server problem on Friday was unrelated. ® Related Stories Hacker penetrates Virgin Hacker gang suspected over Virgin bust
A coalition of Internet privacy groups has filed a brief in federal court seeking to block Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations which they claim "enable the FBI to dictate the design of the nation's communication infrastructure." The rules would enable the FBI to track the physical locations of cellular phone users and potentially monitor Internet traffic, the coalition charges. Thursday's filing in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia included the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The plaintiffs say that the FCC regulations, issued last August, exceed the requirements of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), and are likely to result in a significant increase in government interception of digital communications. The CALEA requires telecoms systems to comply with FBI technical requirements, in order to facilitate lawful electronic surveillance. But many are concerned that federal authorities will be tempted to snoop illegally because the FCC design regulations make it too easy. The groups maintain that the new FCC regs would require telecoms providers to determine the physical locations of mobile phones and deliver packet-mode communications, such as those that carry Internet traffic, to law enforcement agencies. The ACLU has warned that the Clinton Administration and Reno DoJ are using scare tactics in quest of new powers to spy on the populace. "If the FBI has its way, the only communications medium invulnerable to government snooping will consist of two soup cans and some string -- and even then, I'd be careful," ACLU Associate Director Barry Steinhardt quipped. Oral arguments are scheduled to commence on 17 May in DC Federal Court. ®
A British ISP has denied it has compromised the security of its customers by publishing thousands of Web addresses and usernames on its Web site. Surrey-based Portland Communications claims the information contained in an unsecure text file is useless without the relevant passwords. But an Internet security expert toldThe Register that publication of the material did pose a security threat. "Having a username represents half the battle in gaining entry," he said. "It's then a question of brute force to get the password." The information came to light after the URL was published on a news forum. Despite assurances that there is no security risk involved the company said it would remove the details from public view today. "The text file has been around for yonks and we've not experienced any security problems with it," said Justin Clements, a director of the Web company. ®
Neptune, the consumer version of Win2k, has been cancelled, according to Windows-watcher Paul Thurrott. Instead, Microsoft is merging the project with Odyssey, which was intended to be the next version of Windows 2000. This effectively completes the bizarre little detour Microsoft's Windows roadmap took early last year, when Microsoft started making big promises for both the Neptune and Millennium projects. Millennium was originally pitched as a consumer OS built on top of Windows 98, but the initially ambitious talk faded swiftly, and it slid back to service pack status as 1999 came to a close. Thurrott proposes that Millennium will now be out under the tag Windows 98 Third Edition in the summer, and that seems a reasonable enough estimate. Really, the only question now over Millennium is whether Microsoft will just ship it as an OEM refresh or whether it'll take another bite at retail OS revenue, as it did with Win98 SE. People who remember the days when Microsoft was describing Cairo as not an OS at all, but a set of technologies will be tickled that history is repeating itself. According to Thurrott, "Microsoft Windows Group Product Manager Rob Bennett says that 'Neptune' is actually the code-name for a group of technologies and not the name of a future version of Consumer Windows." But note also the parallels with Millennium's progress. Initially Millennium could have been a radical ground-up rewrite, but any plans in that direction don't seem to have got much past 'secret blueprints leaked to ZD' stage. Instead it took a characteristic MS development path, with various features first being proposed for addition/integration then abandoned, until the base OS wasn't going to be significantly different from the previous one. Like, er, Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE. The bits that weren't going to make it into Millennium were instead proposed for inclusion in Neptune, but during development Neptune seems to have lost its own radical rewrite elements and become a set of add-on technologies for Win2k instead. One might observe that the musical chairs aspect of Microsoft's OS roadmaps speaks of a fundamental misunderstanding of componentised software development. But you can see what's coming next, can't you friends? Microsoft's got some cool technologies which, with considerable work under the covers, it could ship as a consumer version of Win2k, i.e. Neptune. But having got Win2k out of the door it's also got the Odyssey project to provide the next rev of Win2k, so rather than do two parallel radical rewrites, wouldn't it make more sense to merge the two? The codename for this is Whistler, and it's due for first beta next year, says Thurrott. You can see the hand of Jim Allchin in all this. Jim, now Microsoft's unchallenged Windows supremo, was driven near-demented by the difficulties involved in synching IE development on both NT and Win98, and the downgrading of Millennium, the death of the consumer Windows division and now the return of Neptune to the One True Church are all steps away from a repeat of this kind of nightmare. Of course the snags that spawned Millennium in the first place, the difficulty of supporting existing games under Win2k and getting the footprint down to consumer levels, still exist. But look at it this way. Presuming Millennium does ship as Third Edition in the summer, that takes care of 2000-2001. Fourth Edition might be a little embarrassing, but it's perfectly feasible then to put out another rev of the Win9x code and call it something else, if that's what's required. And at some point along the way, Microsoft might even manage to ship a version of Win2k that'll play in consumer markets. You never know. ® Paul Thurrott's WinInfo See also: Win2k-based consumer OS rides again as Millennium fades MS roadmap for next Win9x and consumer NT leaks out
Santa Clara County Judge William Elfving issued a preliminary injunction Friday barring Web sites from offering a DVD crack called DeCSS. The crack allows users to evade copyright protections on DVDs and save their contents to a hard disk. Last month the court denied the entertainment industry's "very broad request" for a temporary restraining order against sites offering DeCSS. In the revised ruling, Webmasters are enjoined from "posting or otherwise disclosing or distributing, on their Web-sites or elsewhere, the DeCSS program, the master keys or algorithms of the Content Scrambling System (CSS), or any other information derived from this proprietary information." Much to the disappointment of industry front group DVD Copy Control Association (the named plaintiff), the practice of linking to other Web sites where the crack might be found is to be allowed. "Such an order (would be) over-broad and extremely burdensome. A Web-site owner cannot be held responsible for all of the content of the sites to which it provides links," the judge noted. The judge also dismissed any notion that posting DeCSS on line has caused permanent harm to the industry. "The court is not persuaded that trade secret status should be deemed destroyed at this stage merely by the posting of the trade secret to the Internet," he wrote. But Elfving did remain sympathetic to the industry's main charge. "The plaintiff has shown that CSS is a piece of proprietary information which derived its independent economic value from not being generally known to the public," he found. The industry might just want to postpone any triumphal marches or other public displays of joyful victory, however, as Judge Elfving has clearly done his homework. "The evidence is fairly clear that the trade secret was obtained through reverse engineering," he writes. The Uniform Trade Secrets Act protects discovery by reverse engineering, that is, by starting with the known product and working backward to find the method by which it was developed. Therefore, reverse engineering can't be considered improper means unless the engineer in question was subject to the click-license which forces consumers into an agreement not to perform reverse engineering. Thus the industry case is "problematic at this pre-discovery stage," the judge noted. "Clearly they have no direct evidence at this point that [the defendant] did the reverse engineering, and that he did so after clicking on any license agreement." In a related case, New York District Judge Lewis Kaplan on Thursday granted a preliminary injunction against three defendants, Shawn Reimerdes, Eric Corley a.k.a. Emmanuel Goldstein, and Roman Kazan, sued by the Motion Picture Association of America, also for DeCSS distribution via the Internet. The defendants have been ordered to remove the offending software from their Web sites, but Judge Kaplan, like Judge Elfving, was unwilling to prohibit linking to other sites which might offer it for download. ® Plug of the day Drew Cullen writes: Copyleft, the legendary purveyor of geek chic (and maker of The Register's T-shirts), has added a DVD-CCA deCSS shirt to this season's collection. "Express your disapproval of the DVD CCA and support OpenDVD advocacy," Copyleft proclaims. "Just another way to spread the source code on your back. Find out information about it at OpenDVD.org." Four dollars from each T-shirt sale is donated to the EFF fighting fund.