25th > February > 2000 Archive

Inside Quartz: Symbian's new Palm-killer platform

Analysis Need Symbian ever produce anything? Given the London stock exchange's excitement when Symbian announces an alliance, and its indifference when it announces a product, the company can be forgiven for cancelling any further products, and simply arranging some more meetings. But IDC for one has noticed that Quartz has the capability to clean up in what we now call the PDA market. IDC's Jill House thinks that "if I was Palm I would be beside myself with panic. In Europe, where there's a good wireless infrastructure, the competition is pretty much over", reports ZDNet. House also lands a few good blows on Symbian's US ambitions, but since she’s talking Apocalypse Soon, let's start with Quartz. Quartz communicators, as Symbian likes to call them, are fat Palm-sized PDAs with built-in telephony. Unlike the Crystal class of smartphones, which are phones with a Trojan PDA, these are really Palm-alikes, with a built-in phone. Thanks to Bluetooth, which you'll be able to spark a phone call through voice activation. But, for the impecunious, they can be used as pocket phones thanks to one of these trailing earpiece devices that more cancer-wary Europeans are beginning to adopt. Symbian also has a third class of devices, called Pearl, which we gather will be closed-shop smartphones which don't allow access to generic, off-the-shelf Epoc applications. On closer examination, Quartz starts to get very, very interesting. First, it'll be run through the same channels as handsets today: the razor-and-blades model by which the networks subsidise the cost of the device. Secondly, and you remember you read it here first, both smartphones and communicators give you the PDA functionality for free. Any suspicions that Symbian might pull its punches to accommodate a potential partner like Palm have been dispelled. Apart from its AOL-like row of icons across the top of the screen, Quartz is a faithful... er... shall we say tribute to the PalmOS UI. It's upright, not landscape. It has identical menu and application launching semantics, and there's no built-in file manager. Cheekily, the Quartz DFRD has hard quick launch and navigation buttons pretty much where Palm put them, too. Significantly the Quartz DFRD doesn't mandate a pen input mechanism (there's the obligatory soft keyboard of course). Instead you have the appropriately fuzzy-sounding Symbian Front End Processor Architecture, and this will let users change their input systems in the Quartz Control Panel. At CeBIT this week Symbian demonstrated the devices using the Jot system from CIC, which signed up to include Jot in Symbian SDKs yesterday. It still leaves the door open for licensees to use Palm's Grafitti. So the message to Palm seems to be clear enough: join us, or get run over. Now this couldn't have come at a more tricky time for Palm, which is in its pre-IPO purdah, and ever since negotiations with Symbian were first revealed, has been understandably coy about the relationship. We said back in October, and we still reckon, that Palm is skating on pretty thin ice here: that its technology assets don't amount to much more than Graffiti and its UI look and feel. We reckoned "It only takes Wall Street to take a closer look at PalmOS and discover that very little of it will be at all usable in two years time for the IPO valuation to come clattering down. So there's your reason for Palm executives keeping quiet -- they just think we haven't noticed..." So unless Palm is going to shun the integrated appliance market completely -- and forever be one part of a 'two-box' combination -- it’s going to have to hook up with somebody at some time, as PalmOS evidently won't cut it on its own. But back to Quartz. What's less than clear is the who and the when. Psion and Motorola have officially been signed up, while Ericsson has officially not committed to producing Quartz. That shouldn't be taken as significant -- much of the development was in the Symbian Lab in Ronneby, which is Ericsson’s home turf, and Ericsson execs led the cheerleading at the Symbian Developers' Conference last week. Curiously absent so far has been Nokia, which kept a very low profile at the SDC last week, popping up only to rubbish last autumn's Palm-Nokia announcement to anyone within earshot, we're reliably informed. Nokia is rumoured to be working on half-VGA devices. As for timing, Symbian indicated last week that with the first SDKs for EpocR6 shipping in mid-year, devices would appear in 2000. Reuters got a different impression this week: as Motorola and Psion told the press not to expect devices until Q2-2001. Given how much the Christmas shopping spree for phones can make to a balance sheet, someone had better get their story straight. Nor we hear, is everything quite sweetness and light amongst the Symbian brothers. Ericsson you'll recall, put out a provocative press release announcing its tie up with Microsoft late last year, only to follow up with a hurried "clarification" a few hours later. Ericsson moles tell us that internally, employees received a notification of the announcement shortly before time of the original, worded identically to the later version, and deduced that the first public version was put out simply to spoil Psion's lunch-hour. Psion Computer itself (not a Symbian shareholder) responded with a buddy agreement with Motorola this year. Motorola is an investor in Palm of course and Palm already uses Motorola's antique 680x0-based Dragonball chip, so some smart money must be on Palm eventually swallowing its pride, licensing Quartz, and discreetly shifting to Epoc on M-Core. Like we wouldn't notice... Well, phone politics simply wouldn't be phone politics without this kind of fencing. Incidentally, we couldn't help noticing the reaction from what often proves to be a reliable indicator of what Redmond really thinking -- the 'spontaneous' responses to ZDNet Feedback Forums. Within 25 minutes of a Jesse Berst Anchordesk extolling Quartz-like integrated devices, almost every objection to the buggers had been posted -- without a single repetition. Small screen size, the cancer scare, dodgy connectivity... they’re all there. So clearly someone's worried about Quartz... ®
Annie Kermath, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Shotgun-toting Ericsson gang tangles with Greek SWAT team

A misguided Ericsson team-building exercise almost wound up at the sticky end of a Greek police SWAT team. Two managers from the fun-loving Swedish company decided to see how a busload of Ericsson employees would react to a mock hi-jack, kidnap and robbery. Unfortunately, when the bus, which was travelling between Athens and Corinth, stopped as pre-arranged, and two hooded men with shotguns strode out, a passing motorist spotted the incident. Also unfortunately, and perhaps almost lethally, there have in the past year been two real bus hijackings which resulted in shootouts and deaths. So Corinth police equipped with lethal force rushed to the scene, but luckily didn't rub out the two hooded dummies from Ericsson. They and the travel agency employees who'd been in on the benighted plan spent some time in the slammer before being released. They may still be charged. ®
John Lettice, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

AMD Thunderbird is go go

CeBIT 2000 Stopped by the big AMD stand at much bigger Halle 13 here at CeBIT to check out how far the company was advancing in the plans it has to introduce the Thunderbird Athlon et al. There we met Steve Lapinski who whisked out a Thunderbird chip who told us that AMD is almost there with the part. In passing, he whisked us through a roadmap and also confirmed something we wrote about two or three days back -- to wit, the K6-2 plus and the K6-III are now firmly aimed at the mobile market. He also said that the Dresden plant is now fully functional and claimed that it would be able to supply as many parts as the market needs. If, as AMD likes to suggest, massive numbers of formerly loyal Intel customers are flocking in droves to the Athlon platform, that will be the key question as to whether the firm is profitable or not. The roadmap he showed is still pretty kind of vague on dates, but it looks to us that mobile K6-2 pluses and K6-III parts will hit the market in the May to June period, with Spitfire, the value on-die cache socket A solution appearing in April/May, and Thunderbird, the performance Socket A part, arriving in maybe July-August. Certainly, we know from conversations with other unnamed chip players, that these socketed solutions were developed by, surprise, surprise, Via. Lapinski also chatted amiably about Irongate 4, which we know has just started sampling to the market this month, and pointed to the API and Hot Rail multiway solutions, which will start shipping towards the end of this year. He also confirmed the close relationship AMD has with Compaq and API -- which we reported maybe 14-15 months back. And so that is Irongate 4... According to the roadmap he showed us, a heap of chipset vendors, including usual suspect Via as well as SiS and ALi, will flock to AMD's support towards the end of this year. That, however, is somewhat optimistic, at least as far as SiS and Ali are concerned, we are given to understand. Again, as we reported earlier on in the week, we will see a 266MHz front side system bus for the old Athlon. Lapinski is talking the PC2100 and PC1600 DDR memory talk, although he did seem to suggest that as his company is a Rambus licensee, it might, if the situation is right, adopt that kind of solution too. ® CeBIT 2000: Full Coverage
Mike Magee, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Toshiba shows off wearable devices

CeBIT 2000 In five years' time we'll be wearing PCs around our necks or carrying them rolled up in our pockets -- at least according to Toshiba we will. Toshiba brought over some of its top designers from Japan to this year's CeBIT to show off what it thinks the future holds for computer development. And that future, according to Toshiba is small, bendy and heavily reliant on Bluetooth technology. One of the items on show within the tightly-guarded glass cases in Hanover today was the Dynasheet 2005. This prototype is based on a flexible LCD screen that can be pulled down and unrolled from inside a silver tube. The computer uses a touch screen, and Toshiba aims to use Bluetooth to enable an optional keyboard to be connected. Minoru Ohara, a design specialist with the company's packaging technology department in Tokyo, said the machine could be on the market in the next two to three years, priced at $1000-2000. But he added that the idea was also dependent on several technical hurdles being overcome, including the development of a fully flexible LCD screen. More ideas from Toshiba included a pendant PC. This machine would be worn on a strap around the neck, and the idea is that the strap will have an electronic cable inside, offering voice-recognition through a hidden microphone. It will also have "branches" that act as earphones. The PC, circular in design and around three inches in diameter, will not be on the market for at least five years. It is also proposed to use the machine as a mobile news service, where it would filter headlines or adverts relevant to the user. Also on show was a mobile phone that could be split into two parts. The design is based on the idea of keeping the handset as light as possible -- so it is able to be detached from the main body of the phone, which can then be kept in the user's pocket or bag. Acting as the lynch pin throughout all these expected wearable devices is the development of Bluetooth. As Katsuhiko Onai, a specialist with Toshiba's specialist design group, pointed out: "Everybody is waiting for Bluetooth to develop." ®
Linda Harrison, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Sending out an SOS(.com)

A small US Webco is looking to cash in on the inflated price of some domain names by putting its own distressed URL up for sale. SOS Group said both its sos.com domain name and trademark are for sale. Edwin F Marsullo, Jr., SOS' director of sales and marketing, said: "We are a small, local, self-funded start-up software company that suddenly finds itself with a multimillion dollar asset (SOS.com) -- the equivalent of ten-plus years' revenues. "For us, this changes everything," he said. The company claims its has received a constant stream of offers for the rights to SOS.com making it difficult for the "small, bootstrapped start-up to resist the sale of such a valuable non-essential asset". ® Related Stories If a picture paints a thousand words, a sketch would do for you Playboy pays $700k for Cinema.com
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Via downplays swift Joshua impact

CeBIT 2000 Via's chairman is making a keynote speech here at CeBIT later in the day and is sure to say some interesting things about the relationship it has with Intel and the rest of the industry. But, in the meantime, we stopped by the Via stand, which like AMD, Intel and National Semiconductor, is also in the farflung reaches of Halle 13, reached by trudging through many a snowflake from the north end of the show. Robert Brown, marketing director of Via, said that his company was happy to have released Joshua but dampened down any kind of talk that the Cyrix chip will make any massive inroads into the low end of the CPU market. He said that, realistically, it was likely to be a year before Via was able to deliver the back end infrastructure needed to deliver Joshua processors to the Flashpoints and Arrows of this world, and still needed to sort out how it would deliver the right type of support to this type of channel. However, Brown also said that there is a relatively large tranche of second tier vendors who would be enthusiastic about the chips and could deliver systems at a price performance point that would appeal to the lower end of the market. That, he said, was where the growth in the market would be and he expressed doubt about whether Intel's Timna processor, at the price, could deliver this level of price performance. He said that Via would carefully move to position Joshua at the right level in the market and could afford to take time to do so in the right way, pointing out that it had established a position in the chipset market over a period of some years. And why is Intel so paranoid about Via? It's not chipsets that are exercising Intel's mind, he thinks, but rather that when Via does begin to roll out large numbers of processors, it will effectively pull the rug from under Chipzilla's feet at the low end. He also reckoned, and we feel he's right, that CPUs are getting to the stage where they will no longer be considered as that important, and will, eventually, cost pennies. ®
Mike Magee, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

MS shows GSM Pocket PC, plans games for devices

Microsoft is to launch its next rev of Windows CE pocket computer, now dubbed 'Windows-powered' Pocket Pcs, before the middle of the year, company mobile device division marketing manager Brian Shafer said at CeBIT yesterday. Shagfer demoed a unit produced by Siemens and Casio with integrated GSM and running Pocket Internet Explorer, which was also unveiled yesterday, although like Pocket PC it had been well-telegraphed. Siemens and Casio both have a long-term commitment to the operating system formerly known as CE, and Casio more recently has struck an alliance with Vodafone to provide all-singing, all-dancing multimedia PDA-phone handset units. Pocket PCs are also to be shipped by Compaq, HP and Symbol Technologies. Shafer also provided some hints about the future direction of Microsoft's OS strategy by indicating that Microsoft was investigating the possibility of producing games for Pocket PC. Aside from mobile telephony the new version of the platform is being aimed at mobile audio and digital books, so it's multimedia capabilities have to be rather more advanced than previously. This possibly provides some overlap between Microsoft's plans for CE-based MSN terminals and the fabled Microsoft X-Box games machine - we'll see. ® CeBIT 2000: Full Coverage
John Lettice, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Ten month Flash memory drought ahead

CeBIT 2000 A massive shortage of Flash memory will affect the ability of manufacturers to deliver solutions to the market, one of the founders of French firm Dane-Elec said today. According to Nessim Bodokh, director general of the firm, semiconductor firms have put Flash memory on allocation for a total of 10 months, as they struggle to satisfy existing demand. The reason for the shortage is due not only to the massive number of products that now use Flash, but because the chip manufacturers were caught short after the downturn in semiconductor prices, and are now being forced to build new fabs to supply Flash memory for the market. He said that the same considerations were also likely to affect synchronous memory, although the situation here was much easier. He also spoke about synchronous and DDR (double data rate) memory, and said that the crossover between the types was likely to happen in around six months. But, he said, it was unlikely that Rambus would reach anything like critical mass for at least a year. Bodokh warned end users that some large semiconductor companies were selling inferior grades of memory, and that the high specifications of personal computers these days meant that if these chips were used in modules with high grade memory, incompatibilities and system crashes were bound to happen. ®
Mike Magee, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

S3, German boffins demo stereoscopic OpenGL display

Quake III Arena in real 3D, anyone? It might not be far off, thanks to work done by graphics specialist S3 and Germany's Dresden University of Technology to create an OpenGL-based stereoscopic display system. The key to the technology is Dresden's D4D 3D monitor, which displays images in stereoscopic 3D without forcing the viewer to wear special glasses. The two images -- one for the right eye and one for the left -- that make up the full stereoscopic picture are generated by two S3 Diamond Fire GL1 graphics accelerators fed by any OpenGL-compatible application. S3 engineers developed the drivers that allow the two cards, which were developed for Windows NT graphics workstations, to co-operate in the rendering of an image that the D4D can display stereoscopically. The system as a whole is some way from widespread availability, and isn't likely to be cheap when it gets there. However, the two organisations are looking at how they can co-operate to bring specs-free stereoscopic displays to market. ®
Tony Smith, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Stowaway for Palm a $99 keyboard throwaway

CeBIT 2000 Targus, maker of bags to OEMs and the rest of us, acquired a firm called Port a couple of years back and wants to sell a range of add-ons for notebooks and PDAs as well as the things that hold them. Just nosing around the stand, we discovered that the firm will release a foldaway keyboard, only a little larger than the Palm itself. This ingenious little number will cost around $99 and be available in May,in Europe, although the company didn't really want us to talk about it until then. Never mind, we have. Targus also has a neat little device which is like a universal power supply for different notebooks, and has a set of pin-ins for Toshes, ThinkPads and others. The same nice Targus chap who pre-announced his Stowaway, said that the firm was developing a large number of other pins for use with mobile phones, digital cameras and the whole world and dog. That should cut down the number of cables we've had to cart to SnowBIT with us. He was very interested in the Intel Developer Forum bag we were toting and complimented the firm on its bag architecture... ®
Mike Magee, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

The dead centre of the Web

A US funeral director in North Syracuse is offering to Webcast funerals for those people who can't pay their last respects in person. Fergerson Funeral Home claims it is the first in the US -- if not the world -- to offer the service. Webcasts are available in streaming video without having to download any additional software. The Webcast can be password protected to keep the service private and discreet. Families have to give written permission if they want any part of a funeral service broadcast over the Net. According to the undertaker: "A viewer might see the directors organising processions and pallbearers carrying caskets." Alfred E Fergerson, president of FFH and a self-confessed technology fan, said he thought of the idea after a friend of his was unable to attend a funeral in person. Fergerson reportedly will offer the service free of charge to anyone who wants it. He has yet to broadcast a funeral over the Net. Last month Britain' first cyber undertaker opened its doors for business. Funeralshop.co.uk lets people arrange entire funerals online, including the purchase of a headstone, coffin and flowers. The service is offered by United Norwest Co-op, a supermarket giant in the Midlands and North West. ® Related stories: Buy now, die later with UK's first cyber undertaker To check out Fergerson Funeral Home visit FergersonFuneralHome.com, click on "Galleries".
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Corel, S3 aim Linux at NT graphics arena

Corel's plan to defeat Microsoft in the desktop PC arena by pitching Linux against Windows took another step this week when the Canadian company said it will support S3's high-end Fire GL1 graphics accelerators in the next major release of Corel Linux. S3 acquired the FireGL line when it bought Diamond Multimedia. The FireGL, based on an IBM 2D/3D accelerator chip, formed the basis of Diamond's token high-end product line, aimed at the Windows NT graphics workstation market. S3 has had Linux drivers supporting FireGL's 2D facilities for some time, but the 3D work is more recent. The drivers are currently in beta, but are expected to be finished before April. Corel will bundle the final drivers with its next release of its Linux distro in the same timeframe. Of course, whether Corel's more mainstream approach to Linux will be enough to tempt workstation vendors over to its distribution, as it clearly hopes they will, is another matter. Corel Linux may be the first version of Linux developed for the desktop, and as good an implementation of the open source OS as it is, its lacklustre applications are unlikely to get graphics workstation suppliers queuing to sign up. Incidentally, Corel's release on its plan to bundle S3's drivers discusses Linux as an OS "that runs on hardware ranging from PCs and Mac systems to Alpha systems and more". Corel Linux itself currently runs only on x86-based machines, so the company may be implying here that the next release will cater for other architectures. Certainly, the basis for Corel Linux, Debian, runs on several non-Intel platforms, and a PowerPC release is in the works. ®
Tony Smith, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Teachers get Tiny PC deal

As the drive to drag the UK's teaching community into the technological age continues apace, PC vendor Tiny is heralding the Government's Computers for Teachers scheme as a success. In the first four weeks of the scheme, Tiny has sold more than 2,000 discounted PCs to teachers. It works by offering teachers a subsidy of as much as £500 when they buy a PC from a vendor participating in the programme. Tiny plans to extend the range of PCs it is offering through the scheme form the current number of three with the introduction of four new models on 1 March. The Computers for Teachers scheme is part of the Government's National Grid for Learning initiative which aims to improve the use of IT throughout the UK education sector. ® See related items: Stories Blair gov offers half-price PCs to teachers Truants rewarded with £1K notebooks It's Time to give away software Useful links List of approved vendors and other details National Grid for Learning Web site BECTa Web site
Sean Fleming, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Ericsson uses NatSemi WebPAD for Linux screen phone

CeBIT 2000 Ericsson and NatSemi have unveiled a Linux Internet appliance based on the NatSemi Geode WabPAD platform. The device's appearance at CeBIT follows on from the first signals that NatSemi was pushing into Linux territory with WebPAD last October - a further indication of where NatSemi thinks it's going is that it announced it had licensed Citrix ICA for Linux on WebPAD yesterday. The Ericsson demo unit at CeBIT doesn't seem to come with a ship date, but as its handlers are boasting about the "fast development time" it ought to be soon. It uses the Geode GXLV processor, which combines sound, graphics, memory controller and PCI interface on the one chip. It also incorporates voice over IP technology, and is aimed at allowing users access to email, the Internet and telephony all from the one dinky little portable device. Meanwhile the predicted waves of Taiwanese companies supporting Transmeta's Crusoe and Mobile Linux for information appliances seems strangely silent. But Ericsson's opposition, Nokia, which has been demoing Linux appliances for a while now, is being tipped at the show to join the Crusoe camp RSN. ® CeBIT 2000: Full Coverage
Annie Kermath, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Stormy waters ahead for disk drive market

CeBIT 2000 It's going to be a long, hard slog for players in the European disk drive market this year, according to IDC. Bob Peyton, director of European storage research at the analyst company, today warned hard drive manufacturers to batten down the hatches as he made his predictions for the rest of the year. "The hard disk drive market will no be fun in 2000," he told CeBIT attendendees. According to IDC, this area of the storage market can expect to see only moderate volume growth, accompanied by continued price drops. In 1999, desktop PC disk growth slowed abruptly to 15 per cent - from 30 per cent the previous year - partly as the upgrade market in the channel dried up, and partly due to the influx of grey market drives. There were between one and two million grey drives on the market in Q4 - taking an estimated $200 million out of the year's total sales figures. But shipments in the second half of 2000 would be up "substantially" from the weak base established last year, said Peyton. The biggest opportunity for making some cash out of this area of falling margins will be in the re-writable CD (CD-RW) market. It will be a two-horse race between DVD-ROM and CD-RW as the CD-ROM replacement - "In 2000 DVD-ROM will win on volume for CD-ROM upgrades, but CD-RW is where the money is," according to Peyton. He said to expect increased CD-RW OEM acceptance. IDC expects 12 million DVD-ROM drives and 10 million CD-RW drives to ship in the area in 2000. DVDs will be 1.5 times more expensive than CD-ROMs, and the CD-RW costs more than twice as much as DVDs - "but with a substantial advantage in functionality". "The CD-RW, at less than $100, makes it an OEM candidate," said Peyton. Currently, the annual CD-ROM market is $1 billion and dropping, the CD-RW sector - an area led by HP - is $1 billion and growing. The DVD area is $400,000, but increasing rapidly. "DVD is gaining acceptance in Europe, but CD-RW is poised to attack the OEM market," added Peyton. "All other optical/removable technologies are suffering." ®
Linda Harrison, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

VA Linux revenues rocket – but so does loss

VA Linux Systems lost $12.6 million during its second quarter, which came to a close on 28 January, despite making $20.2 million in sales of hardware running the open source OS and associated services. For the same period last year, at which point the company was privately held and so under no obligation to publish its results, VA lost $1.8 million on revenues of $3.17 million, what translates into a year-on-year increase in revenue of 537 per cent. Sales of $20.2 million also represent an increase of 36 per cent on the previous quarter. Almost all of the company's revenue came from hardware sales, with just 1.5 per cent of it coming from sales of services. New customers accounted for just under half of the quarter's sales, while VA's top ten customers accounted for 41 per cent of sales, down nine per cent on the previous quarter. Clearly VA is widening its customer base rather than just selling more to the faithful. VA's gross margins improved to 14 per cent for the second quarter from 13.2 per cent in the previous quarter, so the revenue prospects for the next quarter look good. Much of the latest quarter's loss is attributed to deferred compensation charges of $4.2 million associated with stock options issued for recruiting and marketing. That takes the operating loss down to $8.4 million, from which you can take a further $1 million for a one-off charge covering consulting fees paid in stock before the IPO. The big hit is going to come in three months' time, when VA will take a $60 million cash charge made to holders of Andover.net common stock holders as part of its acquistion of the Slashdot owner. Andover's latest results contain a loss of $15.7 million (including charges) on revenues of $2.1 million, so it's not going to contribute too much to VA's bottom line, at least for the foreseeable future. ®
Tony Smith, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

AOL hit by second class action

America Online is facing yet more legal pressure over the alleged debilitating effects of its AOL 5.0 software. Seattle attorney, Steve Berman, filed a class action lawsuit against AOL yesterday in King County Superior Court, Washington state. Berman -- who has led similar actions against tobacco companies and the Exxon Valdez oil spill -- filed the lawsuit on behalf of Washington state residents under the Consumer Protection Act. The class action alleges that America Online "knowingly released a version of their software that, without warning, made major changes to users' computer operating systems rendering them unstable, and in some cases, inoperable." The suit also claims that AOL effectively barred their customers from connecting with competing ISPs. "Users who installed AOL 5.0 expected that they were going to get 500 free hours of faster, better Internet access," said Berman. "But what really happened was that their computers were unknowingly sabotaged so that they could no longer use any Internet service other than AOL. This was a brazen attempt by AOL to hold these customers hostage as long as they wanted to connect to the Internet," he said. According to Berman, AOL 5.0 is perhaps the "most insidious way the company could force consumers to use AOL". "Once the software was up and running, it changes so many of the systems configurations, the average user had no hope of connecting with anyone else other than AOL. Many who tried to unwind the installation found that it was almost impossible since it affected more than 200 files." Earlier this month Internet lawyer Kenneth Yates, filed a class action on behalf of eight million AOL users claiming that AOL 5.0 disables other ISP services when installed on a PC. Back then AOL spokesman, Rich D'Amato, said that the lawsuit had "no basis in fact or law." ® Related stories: AOL scoffs at class action
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

BT network falls over

Update BT engineers are still working flat out to solve a major problem after part of BT's network fell over at around 10:30 GMT this morning. Details are still sketchy, but it's understood that the failure affects part of BT's 0800, 0845 and 0345 platform of numbers, which is currently running at between 30 and 50 per cent capacity. These local call rate numbers are used by a number of different operations including ISPs and call centres. The problem causes heavy congestion in parts while other areas appear unscathed. A spokesman for BT said that engineers still didn't know what had caused the problem. As of 15:20 GMT there was no timetable for the restoration of the service. Earlier today a BT spokesman said: "We don't think it's a complete network failure, we think it is just affecting capacity. "Some calls are still getting through," he said. A railway information hotline is believed to be one of the services hit. A bank call centre is also believed to be out of operation. One Register reader talked of a "massive internal failure" although the scale of the problem is still not known. Telecoms watchdog, OFTEL, said it had received no complaints from customers about any deterioration in service. ®
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Ericsson demos prototype EPOC communicator

CeBIT 2000 Just the day after giving the impression it wasn't brim-full of enthusiasm for Symbian's Quartz communicator platform, Ericsson unveiled one. Ericsson reps had been present for Symbian's Quartz rollout on Wednesday, but as apparently the company was saving its ammo for its own product (well, prototype), they were confined to positive comments and muted applause. But the appearance of the Ericsson implementation at CeBIT increases the possibility of the leisurely Q2 2001 ETA for the Motorola-Psion Quartz design being beaten. The Ericsson communicator being shown is a "full working prototype," and crucially, Ericsson describes it as "the platform on which Ericsson intends to build future commercial products which will address the new world of mobile Internet, and ultimately the needs in 3G cellular networks." That's a little loaded - it's clearly a vote for Symbian and EPOC, but the device is equally clearly a demonstration unit only. Maybe it'll turn into a real product, or maybe the real products will be a bit like it. In any event, it could still mean Ericsson isn't entirely convinced of the virtues of early shipment. It has a quarter VGA colour touchscreen, and is being aimed at HSCSD (High Speed Circuit Switched Data) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Services). It's also triple band GSM (900/1800/1900), and has built-in Bluetooth and GPS - a bit of a space cadet doobry, in fact, even before you mention the sound player. The CeBIT model doesn't have GPRS, but any production variants will. ® See also: Inside Quartz: Symbian's Palm-killer platform CeBIT 2000: Full Coverage
John Lettice, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Oh yes it is, oh no it's not – ZDNet UK goes panto

Angels watch over some people. But they do something else entirely over less fortunate individuals, it would appear. Just hours after we were compelled to draw attention to ZDNet UK's bizarre fingering of MIPS as the mystery hardware platform for EPOC's second front yesterday, up popped an almost equally bizarre ZDNet story headed "MS working on Office for Linux." But we thought we'd let editor Richard Barry off this time, seeing he'd apparently been stitched up by Psion founder David Potter's refusing to tell him Motorola announced an EPOC port to M-Core 16 months ago. Today, however, there in all its glory on ZDNet UK was a story headed "MS Office on Linux? Not likely." As ZD is now evidently autocorrecting, we might as well join in. The original story humorously balanced its entire shaky edifice on a quote from LinuxCare's Arthur Tyde, who claimed he'd heard rumours from a number of different sources that Microsoft had 34 developers working on a version of Office for Linux. But he said he didn't know if it was true. Ahem. Today, says ZDNet UK ace Linux pundit Will Knight, "Even as rumours circulate at the CeBIT trade show..." (presumably circulated solely by Oor Wullie) Microsoft has issued a categorical denial. It's not immediately clear why ZDNet UK feels impelled to follow up the original flimsy tale with an equally flimsy reversal, but there's a clue at the bottom: "Smart Reseller's Mary Jo Foley contributed to this report." We can picture the situation. MS doing Linux Office story goes up in the UK, gets Slashdotted (we presume this was in accordance with the 'hits at all costs' programme ZDNet UK currently seems to be running), and comes to the attention of the redoubtable Mary Jo. Who shakes her head dubiously, and phones Redmond. Who then, having obtained the denial, phones the luckless Richard Barry and... Angels, as we said earlier, don't always just watch. ®
Arthur Askey, 25 Feb 2000
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Register beards CeBIT spinmeisters on online press ban

CeBIT 2000 As politely as we could, and regretting any note of sarcasm, The Register asked the CeBIT organisers at their press conference about online journalist accreditation. We sensed our question was not welcome, especially with the cameras rolling and the media licking their pencils. "You say that the most dynamic part of the industry is the Internet," we said, "but you have a policy of refusing press facilities to online journalists. The Register is the premier IT news Web site in Europe. Are you going to change your policy?" Erberhard Roloff, the press chief, answered for the gang of three Deutsche Messe officials. ""It's a canard," he said. "It's online media that are not accredited, not online journalists." We marvelled at this truly Jesuitical response, and listened intensely. Thousands of people want to get in as journalists because they have something on the Web, Roloff explained. The Messe decides who will get in as journalists. We check websites, and will be producing a list of approved Web sites. It was most important work, he claimed. Roloff did say that he would be consulting exhibitors about his list of approved online sites - and we hope he means all 7,800. The reason Roloff gave for the intransigence towards online journos was that in the past some had apparently pestered exhibitors to take advertising space on their Web sites. We didn't point out that it was the other way round at The Register. Nor did we take the time to explain that even worse might be true: print media, in their enthusiasm of course, might just tell vendors that a good product review could be put alongside an advertisement, to help their readers to find out how to buy the product, naturally. It will also be interesting to see if next year there is a better statement of the CeBIT policy towards online journos. But let's be clear: we have no desire to find access to the press bar blocked by hordes of amateurs. ® CeBIT 2000: Full Coverage
Graham Lea, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Freeserve takes ten per cent of UK MP3.com wannabe

Freeserve will take a ten per cent stake -- value in cash terms unstated -- in an online music supplier, Floot.com, that hasn't even launched yet. In return, the free ISP will market Floot's catalogue as part of its ADSL service, which it's trialling at the moment, but which is due to go fully live in the spring. Freeserve's Simon Cook described Floot as something that "promises (to be) most interesting" -- hardly a ringing endorsement, but then Freeserve already has a music partner for its ADSL service, Peoplesound.com. So what's special about Floot? To be honest, not a lot -- we're talking your average MP3.com wannabe, albeit oriented toward a UK audience rather than an American one. Floot's USP is size and breadth of catalogue -- in other words, tracks from all musical genres and lots of 'em. What's not yet clear is where it's going to get them. The plan is that artists will partner with Floot to sell tracks online, attracted by Floot's ability to "pay a greater percentage of royalties". This, of course, means that Floot will pay more cheques than record companies do, not that artists will get a greater cut from each track sold, but we assume Floot really does mean the latter. Bath-based Floot has already begun assembling its artist roster by acquiring Rebelsound.com from down the road in Melksham, Wiltshire. Alas Rebelsound's list of "close to one thousand tracks from both unsigned and signed musicians" appears to comprise the usual bunch of no-name hopefuls and garage bands. Rebel Yell Attracting better known names -- ie. ones that will actually make money -- will depend on building up an audience. Hence the desire to work with a company like Freeserve, which has a user base of well over a million subscribers (though most are not using ADSL). But without a way into the CD retail world, which absolutely dominates music sales and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future, the numbers simply aren't going to stack up for Floot -- and indeed many of the other fledgling Internet music businesses. A key strand in Floot's approach to winning business is to focus on "one-on-one marketing", which sounds like a more powerful alternative to mass-marketing, but really means that Floot will target existing buyers because that's all it can afford to do. Since most music buyers decide what to buy on the basis of hearing tracks on the radio or seeing in-store displays, it will be interesting to see just how effective this is. What's in it for Freeserve? The ISP gets ten per cent of a company that could feasibly undertake a typically inflated IPO (and Freeserve knows all about those...) and which could provide a useful moneyspinner if it takes off in the way Floot's bosses hope, all in exchange for a small slot on its numerous homepages. Freeserve can easily afford to take the risk. Floot's Web site states the service will go live in the summer rather than the spring, though this may simply mean Freeserve's ADSL users will get access ahead of everyone else. ®
Tony Smith, 25 Feb 2000
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BT struggles to cope with massive network failure

Today's network nightmare at BT has been described as the "the biggest technical problem BT has ever faced", according to one anonymous source within the telco. Two gateways in Cambridge and Leeds crashed simultaneously earlier this morning severely impacting the performance of BT's network. BT's third gateway in Croydon is currently working at full tilt to cope with demand. Today's network problem has affected the availability of 0800, 0845 and 0345 numbers. A spokesman for BT said he couldn't be absolutely sure it was "the biggest technical problem" ever but conceded that it was a "pretty major network problem". He also said it was a "major incident". It is still not known what caused the outage. BT has not ruled out foul play, although this is thought to be unlikely. ® Related stories: BT network falls over
Tim Richardson, 25 Feb 2000
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Motorola unveils phone in a watch WAP device

CeBIT 2000 Motorola was showing off the future of telecomms today with a mobile phone watch. The prototype device is a single band phone that is worn like, as well as designed like, a watch. It has a cord attached to the tiny phone which runs up the arm under clothing and has a headphone socket attached. The battery is also located in the strap. The nifty product, as yet unnamed and with no planned launch date, can be connected to a Palm Pilot and also offers a WAP browser. Voice activated, it can be programmed to be used by up to 20 different people. The user can choose to be alerted to a phone call by a ring or by a vibration on the wrist. Motorola said it intended to test customer demand before releasing the 900 GSM device onto the market. The company also used CeBIT to launch six new WAP phones, including what it claimed to be the first GSM tri-band General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) WAP-enabled phone. The phones are from Motorola's three main consumer brands - Talkabout, Timeport and V series. They include the V.2288, a blue and orange rubber WAP phone with FM radio, and the Timeport P7389e, an e-commerce phone. The Timeport product can read two smart cards - a SIM card and a third party electronic banking card, and can be used to buy tickets, trade stocks or let users bank from their phone. ®
Linda Harrison, 25 Feb 2000
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Net start ups to get developers' forum

Dot com start-ups will soon be offered advice on how to spend all that lovely crisp cash handed over by eager venture capitalists and e-crazy investors. The Start-Up Forum, planning to make its first appearance this summer, is a new event designed to help young Internet companies get financial advice on how to run their business. Organised by Dimitri Granovsky, MD of the Integrator Forum, it will take place in Monte Carlo from July 10 to 12. The plan is to sign up 150 French Web companies which have recently received lots of wonga to expand their businesses. They will get the opportunity to meet network companies, PC and server vendors, ISPs and companies involved in the Net at the Forum in the Meridien Beach Plaza hotel. Also present will be headhunters, marketing and communications companies and advertising agencies -- to give advice to companies on how best to part with their cash. If the Forum, a series of presentations, workshops and social events, is a success, Granovsky plans to host similar events in the UK and Germany before the end of this year. "When you build a start-up, you don't do it because you know how to run a company, you do it because you have a marketable idea," said Granovsky. "You may have raised the funds, but now you have to learn what to do to make the company grow." Granovsky also outlined the latest plans for this year's Integrator Forum -- for European system builders -- also to be held in Monte Carlo. He is in negotiations to enlist Linux mastermind Linus Torvalds to speak at the event, placing him alongside a heady concoction of big cheeses from Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, AMD and the Gartner Group. More than 140 system integrators have already signed up for the event. ® Related stories: Integrator Forum gears up for 2000
Linda Harrison, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Intel could be forced to go fabless – Via

CeBIT 2000 Wen Chi Chen, president and CEO of Via, formally introduced the Cyrix III chip here at CeBIT today but in the process introduced several new elements. Despite the slides being very similar to those shown in San Jose three days back, Mr Chi Chen expanded on his company's plans. He said that Via will stay fabless, because of the low cost model the company is pursuing, and suggested that major competitor Intel might also eventually have to pursue a fabless model. That, he said, was because the main application right now is the Internet and that meant there would be billions of devices at the low end. He said that took a lot of cash to build a new fab and that even premium lines in the future could follow the fabless model. On the technology side, Via will continue to enhance the South Bridge technologz,* and would integrate ADSL and wireless options into future offerings. Further, he said, DDR (double data rate) memory will become the mainstream memory technology of the future. Via had changed former Cyrix codenames Gobi and Mojave on the grounds that they were based on the idea that Intel's riverlike codenames would run into the desert sand of the processors. But Samuel I, he said, will be different from Joshua, while an integrated offering codenamed Matthew was likely to compete favourably against Intel's Timna offering. Via was able, because of the intellectual property it had, to produce the Cyrix technology in both Slot 1 and Socket 370 offerings, he said. And Gigahertz performance was not necessarily important, seeing that people could theoretically ramp horsepower to over 10,000 cc, even though it gave little more performance in a practical sense. He claimed Via had a very good relationship with practically every motherboard member, and also stated that unlike Intel, although he did not name that firm, Via was not trzing* to compete with customers. However, Mr Chi Chen said that he welcomed Andy Grove's statement, reported in The Register last week, that Intel thought competition from AMD and Via was good for the industry, possibly opening the door for a compromise over ist current legal battle with the chip giant. ® * NB Readers - The Register's UK editors have noted the curious collapses of spelling by our man on the spot in Germany, but have left them in because he's obviously wrestling with a German keyboard, and it's a laugh, innit?
Mike Magee, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Net is bad news, says Archbishop

The head of the Anglican Church, has hit out at the dangers of the Internet. Speaking at a gathering in Liverpool earlier this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said the Internet could leave people feeling isolated. And he warned that while the Net meant people now had access to a vast array of information, it could exclude those who do not have access. "Clearly access to information and the ability to tap resources otherwise not available can be a potent tool of empowerment. But it can also be exclusive and isolating." The Archbishop stressed the importance of building relationships and compared this to a nightmare vision of a world of disconnected souls staring blankly at flickering computer screens. A vision refuted by the chief exec of Jungle.com, Steve Bennett, who issued a statement of his own saying: " On a social level, it seems that far more friendships have been made than lost due to the Internet, as Net surfers communicate with a far wider range of people than would normally be possible." Cuddly words, Steve. But he has a point. Email has meant friends and family that live on different sides of the globe can now keep in touch easily and cheaply and has probably encouraged more people to write letters to one another than any invention since the ball-point pen. But there's always a flip-side, and perhaps some people should have less contact with one another. The Guardian also carried a story about a couple who made a suicide pact over the Internet. The two -- an Austrian woman and a Norwegian man -- both in their 20s were found dead at the bottom of a 600 metre cliff in Stavanger, Norway. The paper said a woman had contacted police saying the couple had made their appointment with death via an Internet chat facility. Kjell Hanto of the local sheriff's office said: "We have ruled out anything criminal and there is nothing to suggest that this was an accident." But Hanto wouldn't be drawn on whether it was suicide. "Draw your own conclusions," he said. Hmm, cryptic, no? ® See also: No sex please, we're emailing E-retailing kills children - yeah, right
Sean Fleming, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Palm plans GSM wireless access in Europe this year

CeBIT 2000 Palm intends to have GSM wireless connectivity in Europe by the end of the year, Greg Rhine, VP of worldwide sales, said in CeBIT today. But he was less than specific about where he was going to get it, and what form it would take. Talking to The Register, Rhine said the issues are more concerned with user perception than with engineering. In the US, the Palm VII fires itself up when the lid is flipped up, but this model is not appropriate for the European market. It's not entirely clear why this isn't appropriate, and if Palm were going to offer an integrated unit, the technical issues would be important. It'd need to be teaming up with an outfit with considerable GSM experience, either a manufacturer or an integration/design house in order to do so. But Rhine seems more concerned with having the right partner, and being able to benefit from widespread roaming agreements. That implies the deal Palm envisages is largely about getting a network together and using a Palm-handset combination, rather than building new hardware. Rhine reinforces this by suggesting Vodafone as a leading contender, and hopes to build on an existing US relationship with Vodafone-Airtouch. We trust he's got further than hoping, as what plays in Vodafone US doesn't necessarily do so in Vodafone Europe. Rhine agreed with our characterisation that Palm's approach will continue to be to offer a least-common-denominator product for its products, with add-ons through hardware partners. 3Com showed its colour IIIc, but was reticent to say much of interest because they are in their pre-IPO quiet period. With a plethora of other palm-product announcements, Rhine cautioned against comparing Palm's shipping products with other vendors' vapourware. A not very coded riposte to Symbian's current Palm-killer stance, no doubt. ® CeBIT 2000: Full Coverage
Graham Lea, 25 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

ZDnet UK hits mother of all millennium bugs

Grief, do they think we have nothing better to do than deal with bizarre ZDNet UK stories? Richard Barry's curious belief (and apparently, that of his partner in crime, Psion founder David Potter) that the Russians lost the battle of Stalingrad perhaps gives us a clue. Wave after wave of dud stories is being aimed at us in order to tie down our highly mobile and massively experienced forces. But again, we can't let this one pass. ZDNet UK has hit the mother of all millennium bugs, as you can see here. Should someone have fixed it before you get there - and frankly, it being 8pm UK time Friday, we doubt it - it appears that Will "Linux" Knight is reporting assidously from CeBIT in the year 20,000...
The Doctor, 25 Feb 2000