1st > February > 2000 Archive
Welcome to Channel Flannel, The Register's round-up of some of the week's movements in the channel. 1 Feb 2000 Hypertec has trashed prices on all memory products by 20 per cent due to falling DRAM prices. The Berkshire-based vendor said it anticipated the first quarter of 2000 to be a busy trading period for memory.
Evidence is emerging that the price cuts Intel has made on its microprocessors in the month of February are not percolating through to consumers as quickly as normal. Yesterday we reported that there is a big shortage of boxed Intel Coppermine units in the channel, and one dealer said that the price had actually risen over the last week. Even PC manufacturers, such as Dell Computers, are not making the immediate adjustments normally expected, suggesting that shortages of the top-end chips are helping to keep prices stable. A dealer who regularly buys boxed Intel chips through the distribution channel said: "I bought two Pentium III 550MHz 512K SECC2 processors from www.scan.co.uk last Tuesday for £189 + VAT each. One week later they are at £215 + VAT. This is odd, considering Intel had announced a 'price cut' on these pieces which has not fed through at all." System builders are reliant on the distribution channel to supply them with components. Intel has a Ship Direct scheme which applies to PC manufacturers, but this means you have to buy quantities of 1,000 -- a considerable risk for small companies, given that there is little price protection on this type of component. ®
Web address, Loans.com, was sold for $3 million last week following an auction by brokers GreatDomains.com. Despite forking out a fortune for the virtual real estate, it seems the new owners are a little publicity shy, preferring instead to hide behind the warm comfort of anonymity. Web watchers keen to find out the identity of the new residents will have to wait until they move in. Elsewhere, GreatDomains much hyped auction failed to deliver sufficiently high bids for taxes.com and cinema.com. According to reports, taxes.com only received $400,000 worth of interest; cinema.com did slightly better with a bid for $530,000. No one at GreatDomains was available for comment but it's understood they've extended the auction for the two unsold domains until they receive a higher bid. ® Related stories: Bids roll in for domain hype auctions
MS on TrialMicrosoft objections have been rolled over by the Software and Information Industries Association, which last week voted to file an amicus curiae brief on the side of the DoJ. Microsoft is the largest contributor to the Association, which itself is the computer industry's largest trade body. Somewhat considerably larger than the Association for Competitive Technology, which the other day said it would be filing on Microsoft's behalf. The antitrust action against Microsoft has been a running sore for the SIIA, because although its board tends to favour coming down hard on Microsoft, there is some support for the Redmond view that it shouldn't be meddling in stuff that doesn't concern it. And of course there's also the worry that one day Microsoft might reckon it's dumb to carry on signing cheques to an organisation that keeps beating it up (not an unreasonable attitude to take, really), so there's the rent to consider. US reports speak of ten members of the 19 strong board abstaining in the vote, so while the Jacobins might have won the vote, we're not entirely talking unanimity here. The Association will file its brief today, so watch for responses from Outraged of Redmond later. ® See also: MS backed trade group backs MS with trial brief
Novell is currently locked in a messy custard-pie fight with Microsoft over the relative capabilities of Win2k and NetWare/NDS, but yesterday CEO Eric Schmidt delivered a clear signal that Novell intends to move the competition sideways, preferably over the body of Active Directory. Novell has been pitching Novell Directory Services as the real product for some time now, but speaking in an interview with CNBC at the Davos World Economic Forum yesterday Schmidt firmed that up considerably, describing Active Directory as merely a "tactic" for Microsoft, while NDS is for Novell a "broad strategy" that will result in a cross-platform, scalable e-directory that is the foundation of e-commerce systems. This is effectively a variation and extension on a theme. NetWare business remains valuable to Novell, but is increasingly less so, as services and directory-based revenues grow. Microsoft's competitor is hampered by being locked into Microsoft-based networks, and via this by Microsoft's failure so far to make a convincing dent in high end networking. Barring a change in trends, the likes of Sun and IBM are likely to continue to do better than Microsoft when it comes to putting businesses online, and this is where Novell's cross-platform directory bet comes in. Schmidt's ambitions here seem to be virtually limitless. When The Register heard him speak at Citrix iForum last year we noted that he seemed remarkably well tuned into European wireless developments, and their significance for directories, and hence Novell. In yesterday's interview he went further down this road, suggesting that Europe would be embracing e-commerce while at the same time adding in a telecoms revolution. "It's going from being an American phenomenon to being a European and world phenomenon," he said. Could he mean Europe is poised to move into the lead? ®
France Telecom has opted for a combination of Palm Computing client and IBM back-end system for a wireless data system for businesses to be launched in the second half of the year. The move will provides a boost to the Palm-IBM axis as a possible 'third force' in wireless data. IBM itself licenses the Palm Pilot, and favours it as part of its own pervasive computing strategy. This is largely intended to sell servers, software and services, and can be seen as equivalent in intent to the Microsoft approach, currently being tested in the UK in conjunction with BT Cellnet, and the more recently-announced Vodafone approach, which bundles together the handset heavyweights with Sun, Psion and anything else that isn't nailed down but Vodafone thinks looks handy, apparently. With strengthening ties between Vodafone and France's Vivendi in the past couple of days, that should mean the Vodafone platform will come up against France Telecom's Itineris via Vivendi's local competitor, SFR. The new France Telecom service will combine Internet access and access to corporate applications via Palm devices. This will include email, scheduling, diary and LOB apps. As it's aimed at business, it still appears to leave manoeuvring space for France Telecom when it comes to more consumer-oriented services. ®
The Conservative Party's attempt to get groovy with the Net by offering users the chance to sign up for its own ISP has come in for further ridicule. Some prankster has created a site devoted to "cash for questions"* using the free Web space available on Tory.org. The site gives users the opportunity state which MP they want to table a question, and how much they're prepared to pay for the privilege. Suggestions can also be sent to email@example.com. A notice on the site reads: "This site believes that all MPs are in fact honourable law abiding citizens, and would never accept cash for questions. "If you are stupid enough to allow free ISP access with no validation, and can't even be bothered to give terms and conditions on the use of the service, you just deserve to have the rip taken..." Whoever is behind this has a point -- the same point made last week by The Register when it broke the story about the apparent lax attitude this major political party has about its ISP. The Tories are either incredibly trusting or very naive to assume that such a high profile service won't become a target for pranksters and mischief-makers. The Party only has itself to blame for creating a conduit for ridicule and abuse. Worse still, as the official Opposition -- with ambitions, no doubt, to govern the country again at some point in the future -- the Tories have displayed little or no grasp or understanding about the Net, or how it works. As future lawmakers responsible for economic prosperity and social cohesion in an evermore Net-orientated world, is this not a worry? ® * In 1997, an investigation found that former Conservative MP, Neil Hamilton, had received cash in return for asking questions in Parliament. The Downey report also fingered a number of other Tory politicians who had "concealed payments from Parliament". The episode has helped create an indelible link between the Tory party and sleaze. See also: Sleaze unearthed at Tory party ISP Cash for Questions site
The headless chicken scenario at Intel goes from strength to strength. As OEMs queue up to build Athlon-based systems, the once-almighty Chip behemoth is plumbing new depths in the panic department. Not content with being unable to supply enough Coppermine Pentium III chips, Athlon's performance is forcing Intel to torture the venerable P6 processor core by running it well above its original design spec. 750MHz PIIIs do exist in small numbers, but reports from UK system builders indicate that they run so hot that only the very best dual-fan heatsinks are good enough to keep them running. "I haven't even seen an 800MHz part yet," one system builder told The Register. One plausible explanation for the Coppermine shortage is that Intel is ramping the next generation of 32bit mainstream chips so fast that it is impacting its ability to produce Coppermines. The P6 architecture, which first saw the light of day in the Pentium Pro, has reached the end of the line. And according to Intel official roadmaps, its successor, Willamette, isn't due to arrive until the second half of the year. Back in October last year, US sources told The Register that Willamette would arrive at the end of February 2000. Hardly anyone believed us. Now we discover that not only will the 64bit McKinley processor arrive before Itanium/Merced, but that the next generation IA32 chip taped out a month ago – who ya gonna believe? Intel or The Register? McKinley is coming early because Merced isn't fast enough. Willamette is coming early because Coppermine isn't fast enough. The only area where Intel is OK at the moment is at the high end with Pentium III Xeon and at the low end with Celeron – which is so good that AMD has announced it is now working on a Celeron basher based on Athlon. Doncha just love the sight of Chipzilla panicking? For years they've sat smugly in their ivory towers, convinced that the world+dog will be grateful for whatever wonderful product they deign to launch next. Things started to go a bit pear-shaped about two years back when Intel woke up for a few moments and noticed that what it so charmingly calls its 'imitators' – led by AMD – had quietly stolen a huge slab of the low end market. Chipzilla's knee-jerk reaction was to launch the ill-fated original Celeron, codenamed Covington. This cacheless design caused reviewers and OEMs to fall about laughing with its lamentable performance. A few months' intensive panicking later, the vastly superior Mendocino appeared with on-die, full speed L2 cache. But although Intel's designers had done their jobs properly this time, the lumbering marketing department cocked up big time. Unable to position Celeron properly, the popular but low margin part stole sales big time from the high margin mainstream chip, Pentium II. This wasn't quite as bad as it could have been, because Katmai, aka Pentium III was due real soon. Now it looks as if Athlon has forced Intel to bring Willamette forward, can it be long before the high-end IA32 chip, Foster makes an appearance too? Originally slated for 2H 2000, we wouldn't be at all surprised if it, too, entered the Satan Clara timewarp to provide high-end cover for the Xeon server/workstation parts sooner rather than later. ®
The following letter from Intel to its channel partners is self explanatory. It includes information about up and coming price cuts, the big shortage of Pentium IIIs in February, the move to FC-PGA and the shipping of Intel Pentium IIs to the channel.
Sources close to Intel's plans say that it has now included a 933MHz Pentium III processor on its roadmap. This is an iteration of the 133MHz bus speed, with a multiplier of seven. The 933MHz part is likely to be the last of the Pentium III Coppermine series, with Intel, on its official roadmap at least, scheduled to introduce the Willamette IA-32 architecture in the second half of this year. That, as we reported elsewhere today, may change as a response to increased competition from AMD with its Athlon microprocessor. Intel will not comment on unannounced products. ®
Sony started sell direct in its homeland today through its new e-commerce business.
Vodafone's frenetic wireless Web deal-making has spilled over into Space Cadet territory with the announcement of a deal with Casio to produce a 'do everything' range of multimedia wireless palmtops. Until quite recently Vodafone had seemed to be snoozing gently when it came to wireless Internet, but this year the company has gone into overdrive with the announcement of a portal strategy, infrastructure deals with Sun-Netscape and related alliances with IBM, Nokia, Ericsson and Psion.
The British doctor convicted yesterday of murdering 15 patients came unstuck via his meticulously kept computer records.
The first repercussions of a shortage of Pentium III processors has already begun to make its mark in memory markets.
MS on TrialEvidence given under oath that Microsoft deliberately destroyed evidence that could be used in pending or forthcoming antitrust actions has finally come to light. Although its existence had been generally known, Microsoft has succeeded keeping it secret until now. But following an application by the Salt Lake Tribune, the San Jose Mercury and Bloomberg to unseal documents in the now-settled Caldera case, Judge Ronald Boyce released some of the sealed filings. Amongst the sealed pages were some extraordinary things: the lengths of golf course holes in China, photographs of a woman and an insect, published articles, and many blank pages. Caldera argued that the designations were "done by monkeys", but Microsoft protested that the purpose of these was to discourage other potential plaintiffs rather than the media. Boyce concurred with both viewpoints but unsealed most documents, noting that "Microsoft would have liked to have tried this case in secret... there are sharks circling out there, and this isn't going to be the only antitrust action that's going to be filed against Microsoft...". A deposition by Stefanie Reichel, then a Microsoft OEM account manager in Germany, is a key smoking pistol. She said that pressure had been put on her to destroy hundreds of emails that could have proved to be incriminating in the case brought by the DoJ, as well as by Caldera and others. Reichel had been an "uncooperative witness," and had hired a prominent LA lawyer to help her to resist attempts by the DoJ to gain co-operation. It was suspected that Microsoft was paying her legal bill. Juergen Huels, then in charge of Microsoft's German OEM accounts, was accused of telling Reichel to delete any "questionable" emails that could "be problematic" in an investigation. Huels physically removed the hard disks lest they be examined forensically, and they were evidently dumped in "graveyards in East Germany that no-one knows about". Huels changed jobs shortly afterwards and, bizarrely, went to work for Star Division as a VP for sales. The problem for Microsoft, one on which Ballmer was keeping a watchful eye, was that major German OEM Vobis preferred DR-DOS to MS-DOS. The only way that Microsoft could persuade Vobis to change was by agreeing to pay Vobis for the cost of the copies of DR-DOS that Vobis had, and to give Vobis favourable terms for MS-DOS. When the deal was agreed between MS OEM VP Joachim Kempin and Theo Lieven of Vobis, the DR-DOS authenticity holograms that Kempin bought were to be used to decorate his office, the deposition notes. Some details of Reichel's story were given shortly after Reichel's deposition in an article by Wendy Goldman Rohm in Red Herring, although she did not name Reichel. This incensed Microsoft, and resulted in Microsoft filing a contempt complaint against Caldera for allegedly leaking the deposition, which had been obtained from Reichel by Steve Hill, a lawyer acting for Caldera. Rohm also said that Gates gave a handwritten instruction saying "purge e-mail", but when Gates was confronted with this by DoJ lawyers, Gates' lawyers would not let him answer the question. Stephen Susman, the intended trial lawyer for Caldera, noted at the time that Microsoft was "seeking to hold us in contempt for things that I said at a deposition that I took of CEO Bill Gates... their theory is that anything that goes on in the conference room is covered." Hill said that Reichel had "produced a number of documents at her deposition that should have been produced by Microsoft" and that "she alluded to documents we've never even seen". Microsoft subsequently dropped the contempt claim. A complicating factor was that Reichel was Gates' girlfriend for a time (as was lawyer Bill Neukom, at the same time it seems) [We think Graham lost it here, but we left it in because it's funny - Ed]. Reichel left Microsoft to join the marketing team of the San Francisco Yacht Club's entry for the Americas Cup team, subsequently leaving to become VP of business development with freeshop.com, a Seattle Internet start-up. It had long been suspected that many documents that should have been produced had disappeared, but Reichel's deposition appears to be the only evidence of this given under oath. We previously related the stratagems that Microsoft used to get the Reichel deposition excluded from the Microsoft trial. There are potentially very serious legal consequences if, as appears to be the case, Microsoft interfered with the course of justice. It is known that the DoJ considered the matter, but we shall probably have to wait for the result of the trial before there is any decision about a separate criminal proceeding, although media and public reaction afterwards could play a role in influencing the decision. Since there is no statute of limitations for in such matters, the threat of a possible criminal action will remain. ® See also: Microsoft gets Caldera evidence excluded
UK music retail chain Virgin Our Price has said it will freeze payments owed to record companies over allegations that its online music rivals are getting preferential treatment. Richard Branson's High Street giant met with record companies yesterday to say it was holding off on bills owing to distributors until it got better business terms. "We are not happy with the terms of trade," the company said. "We are fed up with the fact that [the record companies] are giving better terms to online start-up companies than they are giving to 95 per cent of the business." It added that it would be happy to pay up when it got better terms, today's Financial Times reported. However, a senior UK music industry source told The Register that he was sceptical about Virgin Our Price's claims, and said any threats to refuse payment until terms and conditions are changed would be "completely illegal". "Almost all retail and online stores are supplied through third-party wholesalers, not direct by the record companies," he said, "so if Amazon or whoever is getting preferential treatment it's because they've done a deal with the distributors, not the record labels." And he denied record labels were pursuing online sales to the expense of traditional retailers. "Right now, the vast majority of music sales are impulse buys, and the industry knows the best way of making those sales is by getting CDs physically in front of the punters. Sure we're interested in online sales -- we're a commercial business -- but the focus is on retail sales." Curiously, Sony Music Entertainment is being sued in the US for allegedly forcing shops to sell CDs that drive users to online stores affiliated with the company. The National Association of Recording Merchandisers, representing over a thousand record shops, lodged the charges with the US District Court in Washington, Reuters reported. Last week, Virgin threatened to pull out of music retailing if major labels failed to support the High Street over online businesses. ®
The final (maybe, we reckon) Microsoft retread of the old Dos-Windows 9x code will ship this year under the tag Windows Millennium Edition, according to the usually reliable Paul Thurrott. We say usually reliable because, love him as we do, we can't help recalling he was assuring the world earlier this month that the blessed thing would be called Windows 98 Third Edition. But if you play games with the mercurial and eminently changeable minds of Microsoft marketing spin doctors, you're going to get burned, so we don't hold it against him. From the look of the explanation the spinmeisters probably only thought of how they were going to market the blessed thing the other morning, after a seriously damaging session at TGI Friday's the previous night. Paul's explanation, which appears to come from the horse's, ah, mouth, defeats satire. There were once great plans for Millennium, but it's now to all intents and purposes a point release. Microsoft is going to market it using the useful conceit that ME stands for Millennium Edition (not for the lassitude condition that affects high achievers and interferes - hello Brad - with their ability to get out of bed and go to work). This happy circumstance leaves open untold opportunity for desperate marketeers. Microsoft will aim ME at the consumer market under the slogan "Microsoft Windows Me." Yes, we know. "Microsoft **** Me" could be a Register competition, but we've just done one of those, so please don't write in. You couldn't make it up, and frankly, we're very glad somebody else did before we tried. Remember, folks, that this is a point release that'll do you little good if you're already running Windows 98, and you also remember that Windows 98 SE is, er, currently the official bestest Microsoft OS for the, er, consumer market. But a serious marketing campaign is going to underpin its launch, so we can assume it really is going to pushed at retail as well as via OEM channels. Paul, bless him, also mentions the gags - the reason you should consider very carefully whether or not you need to get ME when you haven't even IPOed yet. It'll include AutoUpdate, so you can keep your system up to date over the Internet (and so Microsoft can dictate whose products it updates to, and so Microsoft can make sure you're registered). It'll also have a new HTML-based help centre, and a movie maker application. We cynical old observers at The Register wonder out loud if this mightn't be something to do with the Intel movie making application we saw a few months back. ® See Paul's article: Millennium to launch as Millennium Edition