10th February 2000 Archive
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And prices keep on falling in Japan
Taiwan's TFT-LCD makers are coming together in a spirit of cooperation with the formation of the TFT-LCD Association (TTLA). Due to be launched on 18 February, the TTLA says it hopes to boost members' chances of moving quickly to exploit new market opportunities. The TFT-LCD sector is seen by some as the Holy Grail of the post-PC era, according to a report in the Taiwan Commercial Times. The following TFT-LCD vendors are members of the TTLA: Chung Hwa Picture Tubes, Acer Display Technology, Chi Mei Optoelectronics, Unipac Optoelectronics, HannStar Display and Prime View International. Elsewhere, Japanese TFT-LCD makers are cutting prices a move that is contrary to last year's accepted wisdom that there would be product shortages that would push prices up. A number of manufacturers were mentioned in a report from Nikkei Electronics, including Melco and Akia. Both were said to selling 15-in TFT-LCD screens at less than Y100,000 Yen ($926). Another display vendor, I-O Data Device, has cut around Y20,000 ($185) off the list price of its 15-in TFT-LCD screens. Nikkei Electronics blames a current oversupply in the market for the falling prices. ® Related stories TFT shortages to end this year Taiwan beefs up TFT facilities Mystery surrounds TFT shortage...
Business 10 09:52
Company rises without trace to bag £150m IPO
Amazon a run for its money.
Business 10 09:52
Into second place, and closing?
Linux is now second only to NT in server market unit sales, according to IDC. The open source OS accounted for 25 per cent of all shipments in 1999, zooming up from 16 per cent the previous year and hopping past Unix and NetWare on the way. NT's share meanwhile was static at 38 per cent, while Unix and NetWare both fell away. With the exception of Linux, which is undoubtedly on the way up a lot faster than analysts had expected, the picture isn't entirely clear. NT's lack of growth can be put down to Y2K and waiting for Win2k to some extent, but it also suggests that Microsoft's attempts to leverage NT into the enterprise may be stalling. As far as the others are concerned, one might at first glance think that Novell and the Unix vendors would be hurting, but share of new shipments and of installed base are two separate things. Novell still has a substantial cushion of NetWare shops, while Unix sales still comfortably account for more than half of total revenues on server software. On top of that, increased Linux sales are a lot more likely to help the Unix outfits' service revenues than Microsoft's, so they're unlikely to be entirely displeased. IDC's picture of the client market isn't quite the one of impending triumph for Linux portrayeed by the server stats, but it's still promising. At 4 per cent of sales it's only a little behind MacOS, and bearing in mind that nobody much has been really trying to sell Linux as a client OS yet, this isn't a bad start. NT had 21 per cent of client sales, and other Microsoft (largely Win 9x) 66 per cent. Linux sales revenues overall were of course stupidly low, but perhaps that indicates that measuring success by new shipments is becoming a somewhat artificial exercise. All of the major vendors, including Microsoft, are now pursuing services revenues, so although they need new shipments to keep their markets topped up, what's really important to them is the total number of customers they've got out there, and how much they can make from them. ®
Business 10 11:09
Cash up, stock levels down -- trebles all round
UK home electronics and computing stalwart Amstrad has doubled its pre-tax profit during the six months ended 31 December. Sales for the period were up from the previous year's £45.5 million to stand at £60.8 million. The manufacturer recorded a pre-tax profit of £8.2 million -- up from £4.1 million for the last six months of 1998. In a statement issued this morning, Amstrad said that it had seen a fall in net operating expenses as a percentage of sales from 7.6 per cent in its previous interims to this year's 6.4 per cent. This, the company said, is against a backdrop of increased investment in R&D. Amstrad said it was holding stock valued at £1.3 million for the period, which was a fall of £4.9 million on the previous interim period's stock level. Cash held stood at £23.2 million -- an increase of £17.8 million on the figure for 31 December 1998, and £4.8 million up on the figure for 30 June 1999. Earnings per share have increased from 3.6p to 6.9p, with an interim dividend of 0.8p per ordinary share to paid out on 7 April, to shareholders on record on 25 February. Its previous interim dividend was 0.3p. ®
Business 10 11:16
And doesn't seem to want them to work with Millennium at all. Weird.
Microsoft is pushing for an early demise for NT 4.0, and a big switchover to Win2k. We all knew this already, of course, but a report from Paul Thurrott of WinInfo identifies another area where Microsoft is executing the big heave - the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). MSDN Professional and Universal level subscribers receive a master CD set of Microsoft software once a year, with many other drops in between times. The objective of this is to keep them up to date with fully refreshed version of all relevant software. This year's master set has just gone out, and subscribers have noted that Windows NT 4.0 is no longer included. Thurrott has been contacted by several developers about this, and has also discovered that Microsoft has no plans to include Millennium in the CD shipments to MSDN members, on the basis that Millennium is a consumer OS. These two developments hang together in a deliciously Microsftish sort of way. Naturally the company wants developers working on Win2k, so it makes sense to provide them with as much encouragement as possible. But developers aren't stupid, and know there's a large NT market out there that they've been developing for for a while now, and that they're going to want to carry on with until such time as NT fades away. Which could be some years. Microsoft however is cutting off their air supply, albeit only a little bit. They can still get the NT CDs if they ask for them, at least for the moment. The decision not to ship them Millennium also makes it clear that Microsoft sees Win2k, not Win 9x, as the main event and the future. Some developers do want to develop for the consumer market (if you didn't have consumer developers, how come you'd have a use for a consumer OS?), so actually we can see the air supply diminishing here as well. Microsoft is back on its quest for a single consumer and business codebase built on Win2k, so the underlying agenda must actually be that consumer developers ought to be developing for Win2k. Course, if Microsoft said this out loud right now people would just laugh, so it said something different. ® Thurrott is encouraging MSDN subscribers to lobby Microsoft to change its plans. Details and his story can be found here.
Business 10 11:48
You want conspiracy theories, we got 'em
Impish Net users have caused havoc again in the US after launching an attack on ETrade and ZDNet. This latest example of mischief-making comes hot on the heals of high profile acts of cyber-vandalism earlier this week against Amazon.com, eBay, Buy.com and CNN. So who's behind it? One report said that paranoid Web watchers blame the CIA. They say the spooks are carrying out these relatively harmless attacks in a bid to put pressure on the US Government to hand over more cash in the up-and coming budget. Other reports claim it is down to disaffected youths just having a laugh. But one anonymous tipster who contacted The Register said corporate stupidity was to blame. "Routers can be set to throttle UDP packets, even small ISPs do it," the note said. "Yahoo, eBay, etc.. were stupid. Echo packets should be turned off. "Corporate idiots should not be in charge when it comes to security. "Stupid. Real Stupid..." he rambled on. ® Related Story Massed hack attack hits major Web sites
Business 10 11:58
Register staffers in a quandary
Intel's new wonder chip, codenamed Willamette, is, according to official leaks from Chipzilla central, due for launch in October. Slightly less official, but usually reliable, sources close to the chip behemoth tell us that Willamette is due to start sampling in July. This would be about right for a sampling date for an October launch, but we also learn that the whole thing hangs on how quickly Intel can ramp its 0.18 micron process, used for both the existing Coppermine Pentium III range and its successor -- and that seems to be coming together rather better now. At the Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs next week, Chipzilla will run its regular 'mine's faster than yours' demo -- almost certainly on a Coppermine, despite rumours that Willamette might put in an early appearance in the megahertz war. We'll know next week, but in the meantime the question remains whether October will really be the launch date for Willamette, or if it will arrive sooner. The chip taped out just after Christmas and Intel certainly has both the technical ability and increasing pressure from AMD's Athlon to produce silicon in less than six months. Intel has had its fingers burned in the past by ignoring its designers and engineers and setting launch dates to suit the marketing department's requirements: Merced/Itanium's target launch date was brought forward by three months under pressure from the marketing goons and then "slipped" by exactly the same amount when the company realised the engineers'predictions had been right all along. This means Intel will leave the launch dates on its roadmap alone. But if chips can be launched early, rest assured they will be. The combination of commercial pressures and the accelerating ramp of 0.18 micron puts Chipzilla under pressure to get Willamette out there as soon as it can. So will it be October or August? This is important stuff -- two Register staffers have five English pounds riding on it... ®
Business 10 12:22
Inventory clear-out sees prices fall
ICIS-LOR's latest DRAM market survey makes gloomy reading for memory makers, with prices falling in all three major markets. And there could be more doom and gloom to come: according to "industry watchers" quoted by Biztech Asia, major memory makers still have to shift 20-30 million excess units, on top of the usual stock levels (normally one month's output). Admittedly, there is a huge variance in industry watcher estimates, but it gives some indication of the problems faced by memory makers. How far prices fall depend on how quickly memory makers release their chips. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for us, there is no de Beers- type central buying cartel, as operates in the diamond industry, to control the flow of DRAM into the market. Memory makers have already begun their inventory fire sale. This saw 64Mb DRAM chips contract prices fall 4.31 per cent in North America, 2.95 per cent in Europe and 4.09 per cent in Asia for the 30-day rolling average to January 21 (compared with the 30 days to Jan 14). Latest prices for 64Mb DRAMs (PC100, 8M x 8) captured by ICIS-LOR were US$9.62 in North America, US$9.87 in Europe and US$10.55 in Asia. The price for 64MB DIMMS (PC100) eased from Jan 14 to Jan 21 by 0.99 per cent to US$64.83 in North America, 0.60 per cent to US$66.73 in Europe and 2.27 per cent to US$64.50 in Asia. ® Asiabiztech.com
Business 10 13:02
Peace in our time
S3 and Nvidia are friends again, after dumping their patent suits against each other, and agreeing to cross-license each other's technology. With 3dfx stumbling recently, it makes sound commercial sense for the two companies to concentrate their fire on their weakened rival, as opposed to each other. Nvidia and S3 have signed a seven-year deal on the cross-licensing front. S3 has a huge bag of patents, much of which was acquired through the purchase of intellectual property rights from Exponential, the failed chip designer. It means most companies in its field have to talk turkey -- Intel, Cirrus and, now, Nvidia -- are all S3 customers. ®
Business 10 13:13
Rescue cash injection three times anticipated investment
Teledesic boss Craig McCaw's plan to pump rescue money into ailing cellphone-by-satellite operation Iridium is to go ahead. Earlier this week, it emerged that just such an investment, to the tune of at least $20 million, would be made by a McCaw-led group of investors. It now appears that McCaw and co. will give Iridium $74.6 million, allowing it to continue operations after 15 February when a highly exasperated Motorola has said it will stop propping the company up. The investment must first receive the approval of the US bankruptcy court. With McCaw already running satellite-based broadband networking companies Teledesic and ICO Global Communications, his moves on Iridium may concern the court. But since Iridium is effectively up a certain creek without a certain instrument without McCaw's money, we suspect the judge will agree to it. Iridium's management has been trying to come up with a restructuring plan since early last summer -- even before the company went into Chapter 11 protection -- and has largely failed to produce a plan that might satisfy its investors. It's that unwillingness to support Iridium by investors that has finally forced the company's biggest backer, Motorola, to wash its hands of the venture. That neatly leaves room for McCaw to step in and take over, with the ultimate goal of winning control of Iridium. Such is the colossal cost of setting up satellite ventures, that it's only by combining these three operations that the right economies of scale can be attained to make it all cost-effective. ® Related Stories The Register's previous Iridium coverage
Business 10 13:17
Get your sun cream out, we're off to Monte Carlo
System builders attending this year's Integrator Forum will get more of a chance to air their views than at the previous two events, according to the show's MD, Dimitri Granovsky. Speaking to The Register, Granovsky said he had made a point of listening to what delegates had to say after last year's show and making adjustments to the format. One new feature will be a debate session lasting an hour and half, chaired by PC Europa's Max Hotopf, focussing solely on the key issues facing the system builder industry. Keith Warburton of the Personal Computer Association will also be on hand. Granovsky said: "We listened to our critics and we are tailoring the event to meet delegates' needs more closely. There will be more time for meetings and more in-depth discussion groups." This is the third year for the Integrator Forum, and it will run from 17 to 20 May at Le Meridien Beach Plaza hotel, Monte Carlo -- the same venue as last time. "We are sticking with this venue because we want the whole event to become a landmark in people's diaries. Plus it's a great location. We want people to be able to have fun and do some business at the same time." Some of topics scheduled to be covered during the Forum will be, the evolution of the PC, comms technology, voice recognition, finance and the ubiquitous Linux. In its first year Integrator Forum attracted 125 system builders and around 30 vendors. Last year those figures stood at 175 system builders and 54 vendors. This year the show's organisers expect more than 200 system builders and at least 60 vendors to be in attendance. Granovsky said there was still a bright future for PC assemblers but that they would have to be ready to adapt to survive. "The PC isn't dead -- far from it. But it is changing rapidly. Designs and shapes are likely to change and this means system builders must invest and reorganise to meet customers' changing wants." ® More information on Integrator Forum 2000 is available here. Related Story Integrator Forum wins SB thumbs-up
Business 10 13:22
So has it bypassed Merced with McKinley?
Intel said yesterday that its 64-bit Itanium processor will ship at 800MHz around the middle of the year. Last month, reliable sources told The Register that the desire to get Itanium out at 1GHz might well persuade Intel to skip Merced and go straight to McKinley. Certainly Merced seems to have been beset with problems, with even 600MHz proving difficult to attain. At the time, other sources suggested that long-time Itanium supporter Hewlett-Packard was trying to convince Intel that the chip would need to hit at least 800MHz to carry any with in the 64-bit CPU marketplace. Speaking at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, Gadi Singer, VP and general manager of Intel's IA-64 division, reiterated Intel's promise to ship the chip mid-2000, though again, it remains unclear whether this is a commitment to volume shipments or sampling of the shipping version of the chip. Singer said Itanium will contain 25 million transistors -- much of it devoted to the CPU's on-die Level 2 cache, we presume -- with 4MB of Level 3 cache in the chip's cartridge-enclosed daughtercard in a backside configuration. The chip's frontside bus will run at 266MHz. Other numbers trotted out by Singer include Itanium's capacity to support up to 512-way multi-processor servers, and a 6.4Gflop performance rating. ®
Business 10 13:46
Well, that's a relief -- but haven't we heard it all before?
The government's wired wizard announced plans earlier this week to drag Whitehall into the digital age. Speaking at a seminar on government on the Web, e-envoy Alex Allan spoke of how big improvements could be made to the quality and availability of services, together with significant savings. He explained how he hoped to improve the quality of government sites, and how he would introduce a new Web site policy that would improve design, access and navigation of sites across government. The policy has been backed by the Royal National Institute of the Blind -- which is reported to have said that the guidelines will open up a new world of opportunity and information to its members. He also said he would ensure that government departments make greater use of new technology, and that senior officials would attach more importance to the Net. Allan said he would set up a New Media Team that would work closely with departments to ensure government Web sites came up to scratch. "We're determined to modernise this process and drag the senior civil service and government services squarely into the 21st century," said Allan. "We can save the taxpayer millions of pounds as well as revolutionise the convenience and accessibility of public services through new technology." Maybe this desire to save the taxpayers' millions could explain the e-envoy's apparent fondness for recycling things -- in particular announcements the government had already made more than two months ago Or does he think the e-community can't remember what happened that far back? ® Related stories E-envoy issues more dire warnings E by gum e-Envoy E-envoy can't surf Blair appoints e-envoy
Business 10 13:48
Might the Commission find MS' stated strategy is illegal? Whoops...
More details are beginning to emerge about the European Commission's shock announcement of an antitrust investigation into Microsoft. The Commission has confirmed that there are several Microsoft-related subjects pending in addition to the one referred to yesterday. It also appears that, although the current investigation was said by competition commissioner Mario Monti to stem from several complaints, Sun is the major source. A Microsoft statement yesterday confirmed that Sun filed a complaint with the Commission last year. Sun itself hasn't commented, but Microsoft says the allegation is that "the advances in the Windows 2000 desktop and server technology will make it harder for Sun to compete." The most obvious of these "advances" are Intellimirror and Active Directory, which tie Windows desktop and server closer together, and which as Windows-only technologies (in order for them to be fully functional, that is) tend to shut other platforms out. Active Directory in particular could become a major bugbear for Microsoft's rivals if the company can get it established. At the moment rival camps are forming around open directory standards and Microsoft ones, and we've been here before, haven't we? Monti's investigation was presented in a somewhat clumsy fashion, with the Commissioner apparently claiming that Microsoft was bundling its OS software with server operating systems and middleware, and it seems pretty clear he didn't entirely understand what his backroom boys had told him to say. Nevertheless, some of the other things he said suggested that the Commission reckons it has bigger fish to fry than just Microsoft using Active Directory to tie client and server together, and hence to dominate both markets. For example: "Whoever gains dominance in the server software market is likely to control e-commerce too." This certainly has something to do with directory services, but not necessarily much to do with tying to Windows 2000 clients. More likely, the Commission is concerned about Microsoft becoming dominant in e-commerce servers thus leveraging dominance in middleware, and achieving a lock on e-commerce services. But the actual client isn't of any great importance to Microsoft here; the company once thought it was, but under Steve Ballmer now seems to be moving to a stance where the client itself could be just about anything, just as long as the services it accesses are Microsoft one. Which of course takes us neatly to what is currently known of Microsoft's strategy. We have last May's "knowledge workers without limits" announcement, for example, which envisaged ubiquitous "digital dashboards" acting as windows (small 'w') on vast and diverse Web data stores running on Microsoft servers. The servers spew out data in XML format, the clients view it, and the beauty of the system, from Microsoft's point of view, is that although it's all about "open" standards, the ability to work from both client and server ends gives Redmond a major advantage. This sounds like something the Commission might have in mind, if Sun's been complaining coherently, and it also puts Microsoft's determination to get Mobile Explorer onto as many phone handsets in a certain perspective. The knowledge workers announcement is however somewhat outmoded - it has been evolving. The Bill Gates resignation/Steve Ballmer promotion statement provides further grist to the Commission's mill, provided it's paying attention (we must presume it is until it proves it's not). As we pointed out at the time, the Next Generation Windows Services scheme Bill headed off to supervise development of is not smoke, but is a serious plan to implement a universal and unifying services plan. This is essentially a big pile of Windows servers and middleware services out there in serverland, accessed by all sorts of diverse clients, and it's still somewhat vague. But Steve Ballmer promises us that more flesh will be put on it at a strategy day this Spring so, again provided the Commission's paying attention, the plans for linkage between client and server, and Windows 2000's status as the foundation of the lot, ought to be of considerable interest to Brussels. ® See also: MS bids for soul of knowledge worker Bill's Big Adventure: Windows as universal Web platform
Business 10 14:11
And almost as popular as the MacOS on the client side
Linux is now the world's number two server operating system, second only to Windows NT, according to IDC's latest figures. The only snag: there's barely any money in it. Linux vendors made a total of $32 million last year. Hardly a tiny amount by most peoples' standards, but a drop -- 0.6 per cent to be precise -- in the $5.7 billion ocean that is the server OS market. According to IDC's numbers, some 5.4 million copies of server operating systems were sold during 1999, a quarter of which (around 1.35 million units) were Linux distributions. That's up from the 17.2 per cent of the market Linux commanded in 1998, itself up from 6.8 per cent in 1997. However, it's growth is beginning to slow. Between 1997 and 1998, Linux share of the market grew 200 per cent -- this time round it was down to 92 per cent. But since that's still way ahead of all the other server OSes, it's not too much to worry about. The market as a whole grew 23 per cent. NT grew its marketshare fractionally, taking 39 per cent of the market, backed by a rise in unit shipments of 23.5 per cent. Novell Netware ended 1999 with 19 per cent of the market. Together, all the varieties of Unix accounted for just 15 per cent of the server OS market, a fall of 19 per cent. That said, Unix brought in just over half of the market's $5.7 billion revenue. Windows accounted for just over a third of that figure, so from a financial perspective the Unix vendors and Microsoft can't really said to be suffering much from Linux's popularity. And on the client side, Windows, in all its forms, continues to dominate, winning 87 per cent of the 98.6 million copies of client operating systems shipped last year. The MacOS took five per cent of the market, but Linux was right behind it with four per cent. ®
Business 10 14:38
Manna from Heaven shows why FIDNET is so important....
The recent spate of high-profile distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks comes as a blessing to US Attorney General Janet Reno and her Justice Department, which only this week requested a $37 million increase in funds for cyber crime fighting. Because DDoS attacks have been automated to an extent that allows any imbecile with a Linux box to take out large swaths of Internet infrastructure, few exploits could have argued so effectively for increased vigilance by the Feds. For Reno, whose ambitions apparently include assigning a personal FBI agent to every US citizen, it was the political equivalent of Manna from Heaven. "To keep pace with cyber criminals in the new Millennium...we have set up a system through the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) to better coordinate with private entities to ensure that cyber crime is promptly reported to law enforcement," Reno declared during a Washington press conference dealing with the recent DDoS attacks. But there is work yet to be done. "We are committed to taking steps to ensure that e-commerce remains a secure place to do business," she noted. We were left to speculate about just what those "steps" might involve. She appeared confident, but we were not. The very nature of the Internet makes it impossible for the Feds to patrol cyber space effectively, at least without inserting themselves to an extent that almost anyone would regard as a nuisance. Furthermore, the sorts of security measures that business would have to employ to secure itself as Reno wants, and from DDoS attacks in particular, would be a hindrance to commerce. For a Web site, filtering comes at the expense of customer access. For an ISP, it comes at the expense of subscriber services. Any way you slice it, it comes at the expense of revenues. And filtering or not, if a box is connected, regardless of how well it may be defended, it can be hacked. Reno doesn't get it: companies that can't afford to take any risk with their data simply don't belong on-line. The others will always have to live with some risk. After reading her statement, Reno was immediately ushered off stage in a gesture reminiscent of James Brown leaving the house, presumably to spare her the embarrassment to come, which was borne instead, and most heroically, by FBI Computer Investigation Section Chief Ron Dick. Journalists wanted to know who might be behind the attacks. The Feds had no idea, Dick allowed. They wanted to know why such an attack had been launched; which operating systems had been compromised; where the attacks had originated; how many clients were involved and where they were located; whether or not a hostile foreign government might have been involved; and whether Y2K remediation efforts might have enabled the installation of DDoS tools on so many boxes. Dick didn't know. FBI officials don't appear to know much of anything, except that they desperately need heaps more money, and that Western Civilisation desperately needs their increasing intervention in all matters digital. Indeed, it was such a good setup for DoD that conspiracy paranoiacs will soon be claiming that the FBI conducted the attacks themselves, to justify increased spending and increased intervention in Net-related law enforcement. "This was the kind of thing we hoped would never happen, but it did," Dick said. And this is why we need lots more money, and a network monitoring scheme called FIDNET, the subtext reads. ®
Business 10 16:05
Not for the easily offended
Gawd bless the Net. For a cheap thrill -- nod, nod, wink, wink -- and an ever cheaper laugh, go to Amazon.co.uk. Under search, enter "Pointers in C" -- an obscure reference, I'm told, to the somewhat dry subject of C++ programming. Wait to be entertained.. Check out the paperback by Deborah Addington. It's enough to bring tears to your eyes. And be quick about it -- before Amazon gets drawn into fisticuffs over it... ®
Business 10 16:08
Chasing the sun
Red Hat has opened local offices in France and Italy. It's chosen the highly industrialised south of France to site Red Hat France (a decision entirely unprompted by the weather) and Milan, the motot of the Italian economy, for Red Hat Italy. Red Hat France will also deal with other French speaking territories, including North Africa. ®
Business 10 16:19
Anonymous tipster has cover blown as options are weighed
Walker Greenbank is still in two minds about whether it will take legal action against an anonymous tipster who allegedly used the Hemmington Scott bulletin board to defame the wallpaper group. CEO Aidan Connolly, confirmed that he is now aware of the identity of the anonymous tipster after lawyers representing Walker contacted Hemscott seeking co-operation the matter. But Connolly said he was undecided whether his company would take legal action against the person known as "Blaker". "We're still discussing this with lawyers," he said. According to the Mail, Blaker is a friend of Walker's former CEO, Charles Wightman. Connolly said that while he was generally "very supportive" of sites such as Hemscott, he felt the postings by Blaker were "mostly unbalanced" with some "intent" behind them. Earlier this week Walker threatened to sue Hemscott for alleged defamation published on its bulletin board. No one from Hemscott or the Financial Services Authority (FSA) was available for comment today. ® Related story UK shares bulletin board faces legal bullet
Business 10 16:22
The competition to MS could just be reaching critical mass
Microsoft must be regretting that Corel's home page is able to quote MSNBC saying last month that "Corel Linux is terrific". Feelings at Fort Redmond must be less generous this week following news of the Corel merger with Inprise/Borland. Corel CEO Michael Cowpland sees his destiny as establishing Linux on the desktop on a big scale, but triumphalism about a "Linux powerhouse" is dangerous in an ethos where power sharing is preferred. The deal was negotiated in less than a month, and is being termed a "merger of equals". This characterisation seems fair given the fact that there is no significant premium on Borland shares (each share will be exchanged for 0.747 of a Corel share), nor is there a protective collar in the event that the value of the shares of either company changes before completion, which is expected in 60 to 90 days. No regulatory problems are anticipated. The companies are valued on the basis of their market capitalisations last Friday evening, making Corel worth $1.366 billion and Borland $1.071 billion, for a total of $2.437 billion. This gives a 56:44 split in favour of Corel, with Cowpland having personally something over 6 per cent of the merged company. It's pretty unusual for a Canadian company to be top dog in a merger with an American company, and some wags have been wondering why it's not the other way around. Questions have also been raised as to whether Cowpland would be better as a Gatesian chairman and chief architect, with Fuller as the CEO - and of course there's no reason why this couldn't happen in the future. No further acquisitions are on the horizon, we were told, and it has been decided to call in McKinsey to advise about the reorganisation of the companies, which is expected to lead to administrative savings yet to be fully quantified, but $30 million in FY 2000 have been suggested. The team will be led by former Corel CFO Michael O'Reilly, who now acts as a consultant and who has agreed to stay until June. These moves are likely keep the Street calm. Although they are not ruled out, there appears to be no immediate plan for further staff reductions, which is hardly surprising in view of the slimming down undertaken by both companies over recent years. Fuller denies that his intention had been to sell Borland when he took over, but repeated that his task had been to increase shareholder value. This deal does not directly do that because the premium is insignificant, but he has created better upside potential. Cowpland stresses that there will be a good two-way flow of technology. Borland will stay in California, so there won't be a repeat of the cost-cutting decampment of WP to Ottawa. Fuller pointed out that despite some claims, "not everything is invented in the Valley", and that the Canadian talent pool was significant. Certainly salaries are much less in Canada. Both Corel and Borland have suffered from serious financial difficulties as a result of acquisitions. In Borland's case, the company never really recovered from the Ashton Tate acquisition, especially as dBase quickly became a spent force in the absence of a Windows version. When Borland founder Philippe Kahn was still at the helm, he nearly torpedoed Novell's acquisition of WordPerfect, since a deal with Borland to acquire Quattro Pro was essential if a suite was to be created. Those present at the negotiations confirm that Kahn wanted too much, and was only very reluctantly persuaded to do the deal. But Novell found itself with an office suite that was fast losing momentum against MS Office, and Bob Frankenberg, who took over after Ray Noorda left, had to divest the WordPerfect suite to Corel (and Unix to SCO) in what amounted to a fire sale. Corel therefore inherited Borland's Quattro Pro spreadsheet, as well as around a million Paradox database licences that Novell held. Later Corel also acquired Paradox from Borland. Only now is the Corel WordPerfect Suite beginning to regain momentum, largely because it is being made available on Linux as well as Windows. Finance Corel has moved into profit, albeit thanks to a windfall from the Canadian tax man at a very welcome moment. Borland had expected to move into profit in Q3 this year, and now thinks this could be earlier because of savings resulting from the deal. Since the acquisition is being done with paper, Corel will gain cash as a result, which should make possible a better marketing infrastructure and more advertising. Borland itself has been producing Linux products for more than two years, although it has not broken out its Linux revenue in the past. Cowpland noted that this would change, and that the combined company - using the Corel name, but keeping the Borland product names - would break out Linux revenue. So far as Corel's Linux revenue this year is concerned, he estimated it at $20 to $30 million, before that from Borland is added in. Cowpland denied that Corel was totally gambling on Linux, because "Windows products were the cash cow" and he expected the demand for these to remain strong. Derek Burney, Corel's CTO, said this week that Corel only devoted 10 percent of its resources to Linux directly, although indirect support effectively resulted in half of his staff being involved. Consequently, the Linux bet is actually quite small. There is some truth in Cowpland's claim that there is no similar company in the Linux space, but with combined 1999 revenues of only $418 million, there is a very long way to go before Corel approaches the Suns or Oracles. Cowpland rightly points to the tremendous upside potential, but that does not mean that Corel can easily increase its revenue very quickly because of the low price of Linux products. Products In terms of products, there is no overlap at all, which is quite remarkable, but the two businesses are culturally very different. WordPerfect for Linux requires no learning curve for previous WP users, and little for MS Word users. There have been some 2 million downloads of WP for Linux, Cowpland said. Corel also says it is on target to start shipping the Corel Office Suite for Linux in April, with European availability in May. This is expected to be followed by Draw and PhotoPaint in September or October. Corel is currently deciding what it intends to do with Ventura, with one possible outcome being to keep it as a publishing package suitable for long documents, with up-to-date XML developments. So far as Corel's relationship to Cygnus is concerned, GCC (the widely-used Linux compiler) is still likely to be funded in part by Corel. Corel will not offer an open source version of WordPerfect or Draw, since that's where it makes its money. WINE development will also continue. Fuller claims that some 70 per cent of web servers use some Borland technology. Despite the Red Hat-Cygnus deal, Red Hat and other Linux distribution vendors are not seen as competitors by the new Corel, more as partners, although this view may not be universally held. It now seems probable that Linux versions of C++ Builder, Delphi and Object Pascal will be developed. This is the third Linux merger recently, following Red Hat/Cygnus and VA Linux/Andover. Both Cowpland and Fuller were a little blasé about their competitors. Corel is clearly aware that despite a 90 percent difference between the cost of Solaris and Linux, this will not automatically drive Sun users to abandon Solaris. Sun must view the merger with some concern, since it strengthens the competition to both Solaris and the StarOffice suite. Whatever Corel's desires, its relationships with other Linux distributors are likely to be delicate, but if the market continues to expand, there will be less friction. Corel has made some of the right moves towards open-source developers, and recently started opensource.corel.com for developers. Borland meanwhile has made Interbase open source. Microsoft Relationship Microsoft is probably thinking that with Borland's tools, the new Corel product line-up poses not just increased competition for MS Office and Windows, but for BackOffice as well, and that's unwelcome. In addition, with Delphi as a scripting language, plus J-builder and Java Beans, there's the ingredients of enterprise-level Web development. A reliable assessment of how Corel would shape up against Microsoft is premature in that the outcome of the Microsoft trial may change any prognosis significantly. Both companies have "been bloodied by Microsoft", but the Linux landscape was large, Cowpland said. Several key Borland staff were enticed away when Microsoft offered enormous inducements in an attempt to bring about the crippling or demise of Borland. This resulted in CEO Del Yocam suing Microsoft - a case that Microsoft settled on secret terms, disguised as a technology sharing agreement, with a subsequent acquisition of shares by Microsoft, just as had happened with Apple. Yocam had previously sued Microsoft when he was COO of Apple, although the case was eventually lost because certain key evidence was not produced in court. Fuller said of Borland's Microsoft relationship that it was "good and strong" and "Microsoft will continue to be a player in this marketplace for a few more years", but of course it's what Microsoft does that will count. Whether Microsoft maintains its 10 per cent stake in Borland, as it says it will, or sells it as it did recently with its SCO holding, also remains to be seen. The more probable reaction is no reaction for some considerable time, lest by making any move, Microsoft admits that Corel is a serious if small competitor. Future The merger does seem to be a good thing for the open software movement, but Corel bears the added responsibility of needing to act as a model community citizen if it is to gain and maintain the respect of the Linux community. Corel now has around 500 developers working with Linux to some extent (out of a combined staff of 2,200) and may well grow significantly, but in terms of its impact on the Linux market, it is just a big fish in a very large ocean. Corel will need to work on its corporate image, since it has yet to make significant progress in being accepted as an enterprise player. Cowpland has found himself on the defensive about Corel's lack of large enterprise customers, but points out that it was always the case that smaller companies moved faster, and that he was confident that enterprises would follow the trend in due course. Borland has generally had a loyal developer following, and brings some 5 million of them to join Corel's 50 million customers. To make money, Corel will need to make significant headway in OEM preloads. Certainly its attractiveness is increasing, but whether major OEMs will break ranks with Microsoft may well depend on the outcome of the Microsoft trial, and whether one of the remedies will be a published OEM price list that stops Microsoft exerting pricing pressure on OEMs. ®
Business 10 16:31
Will turn software counterfeiters into frogs
Microsoft has stepped up the war against software piracy by incorporating compulsory registration technology into the retail version of Office 2000 (O2k) and boosting the number of holographic identifiers Windows 2000 (W2k) will carry. The entire surface of W2k CD-ROMs will be one big hologram. Right from the centre of the disc to its very edge, when held at an angle it will reveal the name 'Windows 2000' along with a series of product graphics. PCs with W2k pre-installed will come with a Certificate of Authenticity label attached. The label will be interwoven with a copper thread bearing a hologram. The hologram will carry the words 'Microsoft' and 'Genuine'. The retail version of W2k will come with a similar label. This is all good stuff and -- if nothing else -- should at least make it easier for the PC buying public to tell the real McCoy from pale imitations. But this is nothing compared with what's in store for O2k. The long-awaited next version of Microsoft's world-beating office suite will come with what is euphemistically being called a Registration Wizard. The Wizard will prompt users to register online and will generate an installation number. Although the official release from Microsoft doesn't stress it, the point here is no installation number = no installation. Pow, zap, alakazam, hocus pokus and other assorted wizardry. The bottom line here is that if you don't own a genuine copy of O2k, be prepared for stormy weather when you try and use it. And before hordes of conspiracy theorists (you know who you are) start getting all heated about major corporations collecting your personal details, you only need to enter the name of the country where the software was purchased to get the installation code. You can even use an anonymous Web mail account to register. Microsoft is also upping its efforts to crack down on Web sites distributing illegal copies of its software. It is kickstarting a 24x7 monitoring programme which will scour the Net looking for pirates. When the pirates are spotted, the ISP hosting the offending site will be made to walk the plank... no they won't. We made that bit up. The ISP will, however, be instructed to pull the pirates' site down. In January alone, Microsoft identified and eliminated more than 100 such sites with the help of the ISP community. ® See also: MS unveils Win2K anti-piracy tools Half of UK schools are software pirates Threat of gaol not enough to deter piracy
Business 10 17:55
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