28th > February > 2000 Archive

The Register breaking news

Intel confirms price slides

Intel has now officially confirmed big drops in prices on Xeon, Pentium III and Celerons it made yesterday. Later today, Intel is expected to announce new members of the different three clans, in a bid to keep pace with AMD and its Athlon microprocessor range. Xeon chips The 800 MHz with 256k cache (.18) drops from $901 to $697. The 733 MHz with 256k cache (.18) drops from $644 to $505. The 666 MHz with 256k cache (.18) drops from $499 to $425. The 600MHz Xeon stays the same at $425, a sure sign of its exit from the line-up. The 550 MHz with 2MB cache (.25) stays the same at a whopping $3,692, as does the 1MB cache 550MHz at $1,980, and the 550MHz with 512k cache (.25) at $931. Pentium IIIs Intel's figures are for Slot One processors. Bear in mind that the firm is introducing Flip Chip packaging for Coppermines simultaneously (see reference to previous story below). The 800 MHz (.18) now costs $647, the 750 MHz (.18) $530, the 733 MHz (.18) $455, the 700 MHz (.18) $417, the 666 MHz (.18) $337, the 650 MHz (.18) $316, the 600 MHz (.18) $241, the 550 MHz (.18) $193, the 533 MHz (.18) $193, and the 500 MHz (.25) $193. When processor prices either remain the same or became the same as higher speed chips, that means they are effectively end of line material. Celerons The 533 MHz (.25) now costs $127, the 500 MHz (.25) $93, the 466 MHz (.25) $73, the 433 MHz (.25) remains at $69. These are OEM prices and refer to trays of 1,000 units. Refer to our earlier channel story here for details of channel pricing, and also links to the Intel and AMD price adjustments, and the Intel roadmap. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Rise/ST Micro to challenge Natsemi

While we were away at the perennially appalling SnoBIT 2000, a little press release popped into our mailbox from Rise, which early last year was the wannabe x.86 player. We thought we'd heard this some little time before, so did a search on our excellent search engine to find that, sure enough, we wrote the story on the 10th of May last year, here. But that wasn't where it started. Because a further search showed that we'd written a story from SnoBIT 1999, which we found here. Now what's the significance of this latest announcement? Rise has indeed signed a deal with ST Microelectronics, and the aim is to challenge NatSemi in the Information Appliance (IA) market. Both will cross licence technology to work on the old system-on-a-chip front. Rise, on the other hand, and as we correctly predicted in our previous articles, will have access to a stack of x.86 IP (intellectual property) rights ST (formerly SGS Thomsen) had when it was a Cyrix partner. Rise found itself a bit strapped for cash in the middle of last year, and the deal between ST and itself has obviously taken longer to sort out than CEO David Lin anticipated. And so we shall see ST and Rise working together, with x.86 compatibility and an x.86 core, to create "solutions" -- the magic word now that microprocessors will become ten-a-penny -- in a similar way to National Semiconductor with its Geode, x86 compliant, core. This is not good news for Intel, which is preparing its Timna system on a chip solution, and fears Via at the low end of the CPU market too. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Intel dumps Chips and Tech customer burden on Asiliant

Getting our collective head around Intel's future plans when its number is legion (70,000) and ours is in single figures (8) is pretty tricky at the best of times. But luckily, we have as many eyes as Indra, and people who read The Reg keep them open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 366 days a year (2000 is a leap year). One of the latest Product Change Notifications (PCNs) to come out of Chipzilla Central makes very interesting reading indeed. Intel decided earlier this month that it will no longer fab C&T (Chips and Technologies) parts, with last orders being taken from the 1st of March, and very clean glasses happening on the 15th of March. It is to stop fabbing up the chips, which will be transferred to Asiliant Technologies, and Intel says that orders after the 15th of March will have to placed with Asiliant. It has licensed its C&T chips and Asiliant Technologies now have the rights to build, sell and service the listed parts in the document. Those are 28 of those parts, including the 825884, the 825240, the 825903-07, and so on. Intel paid a stack of dosh for C&T, but this graphics stuff never quite hit the sweet spot. ® See also Intel abandons chip: $½ billion lost at sea
Mike Magee, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Intel admits SDRAM as good as Rambus memory

A product change notification (PCN) from Intel has supplied more details about the difficulties with three motherboards which we exclusively revealed a while back. And other documents we have seen show that Intel believes that synchronous memory can perform as well as Rambus. PCN 943 is a document Intel issued to its customers ten days ago which includes information on the errata which is causing it to withdraw two 840 mobos and one 820 mobo. The document says that after making a stepping to the chipset, the corrected technology will be made available on May 17th next. It will fix erratum number one in the MRH-S (memory repeater hub), and will issue a corrected MRH-S design to enable (fix) dual SDRAM repeaters for each channel. Stepping B0 will be pin to pin compatible with Intel's i840 chipset MRH-S A0, and so there is no need of a board "re-spin", in the document's quaint words. But there will be the necessity for a BIOS and minor driver revision, which means that there could well be a requirement for WHQL re-certification. In news from another Intel document, we learn that SDRAM is a good thing. A white paper Intel issued on the 840 says that the 82804 SDRAM based MRH can give bandwidth equal to Rambus. The document says: "In server applications, memory capacity is typically even more important than memory performance. Large memory subsystems can be divided into many banks, allowing the main memory to be interleaved. This approach delivers higher performance in multithreaded and multiprocessing environments. These large memory systems can offer bandwidth equal to that of RDRAM although implemented with SDRAM." (Our italics). In yet another Intel document we have seen, it is apparent that the company realised it could go with PC-133 and DDR (double data rate) memory as far back as October/November last year. This document, called the PC SDRAM Specification, makes the following statement: "The objective...is to define a new Synchronous DRAM specification ("PC SDRAM") which will remove extra functionality from the current JEDEC standard SDRAM specification, so that it will be a fully compatible device among all vendor designed parts. It should be easy to design and manufacture and highly cost optimized for the main stream volume desktop Intel architecture PCs". So where does that leave Rambus memory? A reader has forwarded to us a piece from The Street, by Fayad Abbasi, and dated last Friday, which says: "Short-term market dynamics have taken over the trading of Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS). We recommend investors sell shares at current levels and wait for normal market conditions to return." Rambus' share price closed at $204 on Nasdaq last Friday, and we received the following nice email from a reader. "Just a quick note to say thank you for tipping Rambus back in December at $69. I just sold them all for 200-and something percent profit - no doubt I'll be kicking myself in a couple of weeks, what with the Rambus memory conference and PS2 launch next week and as yet unannounced communications products, but at least the taxman won't quite be getting his thieving mitts on my dosh this tax year." The Register would like to re-iterate the fact that we do not invest money in companies we write about. ® See also Three Intel mobos scrapped because of chipset problems More Intel codenames to learn Intel Developer Forum Spring 2000
Mike Magee, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Cowpland sees share price upside for Corel

CeBIT 2000 Will Corel now be able to mount a serious challenge to Microsoft's entrenched dominance, now that it has merged with tools vendor Inprise/Borland? CEO Michael Cowpland thinks so, as he told The Register in an interview at CeBIT. Corel has made remarkable if rocky progress from the days when it was best known as a graphics package vendor to its present position with the WordPerfect office suite, which it acquired from Novell in a fire sale, and now Inprise/Borland and its tools. However, Corel's most successful move, and one that cost very little, has been to Linux - at least Corel shareholders think so, since it was this that made the Borland deal possible by driving up the share price. The Linux version of Corel's Office suite is in its second beta and should start being distributed in April - and it will include Paradox for Linux. The big announcement is that Delphi for Linux - a product much requested by developers and codenamed Kylix - is expected to be ready in September: at the moment it is approaching the first beta, Cowpland said. J-Builder for Linux will also be produced. The Borland merger will present some cultural problems between the Canadians and the Californians, but Cowpland said there was no expectation of moving everyone to Ottawa, as eventually happened with WordPerfect. Not every Corel move has worked - the attempt to produce a Java version of WordPerfect was tried too soon and foundered, but this did not lead to the disbandment of the team, Cowpland says the've been busy looking at possibilities with Enterprise Java Beans, to match or exceed ActiveX within a year. Cowpland was optimistic that a good component model for e-commerce on the server will emerge. Ventura Publisher - the grandpa of desktop publishing packages - was acquired by Corel in 1993 and has languished somewhat, although it still has its devotees and particular strength for handling large documents. It has not been a great money spinner in its own right, and was first tucked away as a module in Corel Draw, although a stand-alone version was subsequently produced. Cowpland said it has now been decided to release a Linux version, which could bring it to greater prominence. Corel is also currently looking into Web authoring tools, but there is unlikely to be any return to hardware development as this would be done through affiliates or partners. Worrying about the governments Corel has been having some success convincing governments to follow competitive tendering rules for office suite software. The first victory was in Canada, with Corel winning substantial damages when a contract was awarded to Microsoft without a tender possibility. A similar case is pending in the US against the US Department of Labor. Cowpland said that as a result of these actions, people were being "more careful" now about competitive tendering. He also noted that the French department of culture has decided to go to open source software. Cowpland pointed out that in the last quarter of 1999, Red Hat made $5.4 million and had a market capitalisation of around $11 billion, whereas Corel's $3.2 million of Linux sales (in six weeks) was achieved with a market cap nearer $1 billion: whether this points to considerable upside potential for the Corel share price will need to await further results this quarter. Corel will be scrutinised very closely in the weeks ahead to see if its muscles develop as might be reasonably expected. On the competitive front, Cowpland said that Star Division seemed to be only "80 percent there", while the Lotus suite had a very low profile. As to the marketing of the WP suite, Cowpland noted that when Corel scores some modest success against Microsoft Office, Microsoft tends to use a giant hammer to squash the recalcitrant OEM, but Corel will use "guerilla marketing under the radar" to attack Microsoft's market. He said he expected to be able to announce some additional OEM deals for the WordPerfect suite soon: the only major one so far has been for 20 million motherboards made by PC Chips. ®
Graham Lea, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

BT network crash caused by software

A software glitch has been blamed for the massive network failure that crippled much of BT's phone system on Friday. BT technicians are currently working with the software supplier to create a patch. A spokesman for BT would not name the company in question or go into specific detail about the problem, although it's hoped this information will be made public later in the week. Although the service was stabilised early Saturday morning, it wasn't until Sunday evening that the root cause of the problem was identified. "We're 99 per cent sure that a software problem was responsible," said a BT spokesman. He also quashed rumours that the failure was due to the network being overloaded because tens of thousands of people phoned a TV show to win a free holiday. "We did have a minor incident a couple of weeks ago when there was an unnotified phone-in on the Richard and Judy show, but that wasn't a problem," he said. Friday's network problem hit major services including NHS Direct, the Samaritans and emergency services. ® Related Story BT struggles to cope with massive network failure
Tim Richardson, 28 Feb 2000
Sun Ultra 24 picture

Sun hits back at Intel Itanium tale…

RISC chip manufacturer Sun has hit back at Intel for its statements about the future of Solaris on the IA-64 platform.
Mike Magee, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Sega admits 1999 loss will double to $411m

A rather sorry Sega admitted today that sales of its Dreamcast games console aren't sufficient to save the company from serious losses for the soon-to-be-complete current financial year. Sega has, of course, been in the red for the past two years and 1999/2000 was always going to follow the trend. But while Sega originally said it expected its losses to total Y19.8 billion ($181.45 million), it now reckons they'll hit Y44.9 billion ($411.47 million), more than double the earlier figure. Oh dear. Not the sort of news you'd think Sega would want to have to put out less than a week ahead of rival console vendor's Sony's PlayStation 2 launch. Sega specifically blames the increased loss on poor Japanese sales, despite rather stronger sales in the US and Europe. The reason? Apparently, Japanese buyers have been less than keen on the Dreamcast's Internet access than their overseas counterparts. Given the current Japanese fad for Internet-based cellphones, that's perhaps not surprising, but we would be surprised if Net access is the driving force elsewhere. Sure, Dreamcast owners are making use of the facility, but console gamers tend to be more interested in gaming technology than peripheral options. Sega's problem at home has been Sony's clever premature introduction of the PlayStation 2 last year, which immediately cast a cloud over the Dreamcast. The upcoming arrival of a more powerful alternative was less of an issue overseas because of the length of time it takes console vendors to launch in the US and Europe, and the high level of brand loyalty among console owners. So, Sega is now saying it will have sold 600,000 Dreamcasts in Japan between September 1999 and March, rather less than the 1.1 million it was hoping to sell. Analysts cited by Reuters reckon it has little hope now of boosting sales in Japan, but its chances overseas are stronger, if it plays the Internet card. We're not so sure. Once the PlayStation 2 launches in Japan and we get screenshots and in-game movies appearing on the Web, and imported machines slowly make their way into the US and Europe, it's likely to engender the kind of 'wait and see' attitude that appears to have struck Japanese buyers. That said, Sega has little choice but to push Dreamcast's Internet access in the time it has between now and the US and European PlayStation 2 launch in the autumn. To do so, it plans to sell more shares to shareholder CSK and use the proceeds to fund the expansion of its online network, according to Reuters. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Win2k – Sun calls in the Exterminator

The New York Times' John Markoff reports the sad failure of a Sun plot to unleash a pest extermination company on Microsoft to coincide with the big Windows 2000 launch on 17 February. Bizarrely, it all seems to have miscarried because the company hired, Western Exterminator, was worried Bill Gates might buy it and close it in retaliation.
Team Register, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Fuß Notes from the Messe…

CeBIT 2000 CeBIT 2000 was in absolute chaos the first morning (last Thursday) because the traffic lights in the city went belly-up. That led one exhibitor who we met in the afternoon to complain that a journey of five kilometers had taken three hours....we travelled by tram to the Messegelande, avoiding one sort of chaos for another. When we arrived (having lost one of our staffers in a snafu at Hannover airport), we wondered whether we'd have trouble gaining ingress, but sailed through the barriers....later, after having lost our Presse pass because some huge chicken in one of the Hell Halles bumped into us, we thought we'd have trouble again, but the nice young chap just took one look at our NUJ card and came to the conclusion that it wasn't wise to mess with someone who looked like a convicted convict....and more on convicts later... Gazing up at the snow-filled skies, we noticed that the Messe organisers (by the way, the singular of criteria is not criterium), had built a cable car spanning the entire Messegelande. Obviously built for the big Expo that's coming up in March, there were no cars running yet. And down opposite Hell Halle 11, we noticed a vast wooden construction that looked like it was intended to communicate with aliens....it too was unfinished, and probably meant for the Expo too. We're sorry that the Messegelande no longer has the huge Ferris Wheel that was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the Halles. Talking about world Expos, some nice chap at a Taiwanese booth told us about the World Expo in Taipei which immediately follows the June Computex show this year. We wondered whether it would be easy for people like us to gain ingress into such an occasion, seeing as world lucifers such as Bill Gates would be key-noting. That led him into a furious diatribe against the organisers of this Expo, the Taiwanese government, which is apparently demanding huge bonds from the vendors in order to pay for the event... Of course, we had to pay our obligatory visit to the Munchenhalle, a vast beer hall to the East of the Messe, if only to watch the spectacle of computer suits awash with steins of best beer a pukin' and a mewlin' like something out of a Bunuel film or a detail out of one of the better Hieronymus Bosch pix. We also took our time on Freitag to visit the Fujitsu Siemens stand, where there was a wild party a goin' on. We failed to gain ingress at the bottom of the stairs, with a security guard (shouldn't they be called insecurity guards?) rattling off in rapid German a question to a tall Germanic-looking Fujitsu Siemens suit. He turned to her and said: "Sorry, I don't understand German. I'm from Sweden -- they're fine to go in..." Upstairs, there was another little detail from Bosch, with red-clad waiters and waitresses ferrying great big long wooden beer holders to all and sundry. Unfortunately, one of the ZD Net UK journalists (who was stone cold sober, we assure you, as we were) backed into one of these people. Result? Said stick of beer with contents crashed to the floor, drenching whole heap of suits sitting down at a table behind him. On our last afternoon before we flew back to handsome Luton Airport, we were just entering the massive TCM central building when we encountered Daniel, from CHIP Magazine, who we'd met the week before at IDF in Palm Springs. Serendipity for him. He was organising a photo shoot and we saw four online journalists lined up with convict style numbers on their chest....we became the fifth, even though we've never been convicted of anything, even driving a bicycle without lights... So that was SnoBIT 2000. Roll-on, rolloff SnoBIT 2001. We can't wait... ®
Adamson Rust, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Online farmers expose Reed Net House of Straw

Farming On-Line is getting a £7 million cash injection in return for undisclosed equity from Internet Capital Group Europe. With 18,000 subscribers paying £174 each per year, FOL dominates the British online agricultural scene (yes, there is one) and, with links to big suppliers, it could well become the de facto trading hub for this sector. Subscribers get discounts of up to 40 per cent for purchases ordered through the site, FOL says. "Until we came along farmers had to wait until they got their weekly paper for specialist information," co-founder Jonathan Jackson told The Times. The site may not do much for Welsh hill farmers (some of whom lack electricity, let alone the means to buy a computer). But it shows why Reed Elsevier, the lumbering Anglo-Dutch publishing giant, will have a hard time converting its offline and online properties into the Internet. Reed Business Publications is the owner of Farmers Weekly, by far the most important newspaper for the UK agricultural sector. But where is itstrading hub? Last week, Crispin Davis, Reed Elsevier CEO, revealed the group's plans to invest £705 million on turning itself into an Internet powerhouse. Reed Elsevier has unique proprietary online properties -- such as the Lexis/Nexis database for lawyers, and it has huge offline brands. It wishes to exploit these through a series of b2b portals, such as TotalJobs, a recruitment site, and one for the electronics industry. Reed may have a good chance with both of these, as it has a massive subscriber base, and big name electronics papers on both side of the Atlantic. Also, the publishing side of the electronics sector is much less competitive than, say, IT. On the computer pub side, Reed Elsevier owns Computer Weekly, Europe's biggest and most profitable computer magazine(even though it operates only in the UK). But as with farming, it could be too late for Reed Elsevier to make a big success on the b2b portal front. Very simply, there are far too many well established, and well-capitalised companies already operating in this space. As a late entrant, Reed Elsevier's best bet is to team up with players which are already active in this sector. In return for equity, it provides the mortar, while its online partners supply the clicks (and the fancy Net IPO ratings). We would not be surprised if, in coming months, the company announces deals along these lines. ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Berkeley scientists develop bionic chip

Scientists at the world renowned University of California at Berkeley are heralding the invention of the first ever bionic chip. The chip is said to be "part living tissue, part machine" and will be used to open the membrane of a cell via electrical impulses to enable the introduction of new material, or the extraction of cell data. The living part of the chip is so small it cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sufferers of conditions such as cystic fibrosis or diabetes could be among the first to benefit from the chip. It was developed by Prof Boris Rubinsky and one of his graduate students, Yong Huang. Living cells can be used to act within circuits as an electrical diode and while this has been understood for some time, this is the first time cells' electrical behaviour has been harnessed in this way. The university issued a statement in which it said: "Berkeley's bionic chip took three years to build using silicon microfabrication technology. It is transparent, so it can be studied by microscope, and measures about one hundredth of an inch across. The much tinier cell, which measures about 20 microns across, or one thousandth of an inch, is not visible to the naked eye. It sits in a hole in the center of the chip and is kept alive with an infusion of nutrients." Prof Rubinsky said: "The first electronic diode made it possible to have the computer. Who knows what the first biological diode will make possible?" Of course, if you'd been reading the UK national papers last year, this will probably strike you as a lot of fuss about nothing. Most, if not all, of the best-selling papers -- not to mention a raft of magazines -- carried stories last year about the work of the UK's own bionic man, Prof Kevin Warwick of Reading University. Warwick reckons to have already had a chip implanted in his arm. The Daily Telegraph devoted almost a whole page to the good Prof, and a chip that both he and his wife were to have fitted inside them which would allow the couple to know what each was feeling at any given moment. Despite the extravagant claims, much of Warwick's work resides in the realms of the theoretical and is -- as yet -- unproven. Warwick has been referred to as an "idiot" and a "buffoon" by other members of the UK academic community. ® Related Stories Home truths: Bionic man takes the Metal Mickey World's first cyborg: man/machine or pipedream? Robot cat barred from flight to Moscow
Sean Fleming, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Freeserve joins National Lottery bid

Freeserve is to join Camelot and the Post Office as part of the consortium bidding for the next National Lottery licence. If successful, the ISP will create a joint-branded Web site that will enable gamblers to buy their tickets online. The site will be housed within the confines of Freeserve's portal. Nicholas Backhouse, CFO of Freeserve, said: "Giving our users easy access to purchase lottery tickets over the Internet from wherever they access Freeserve will be a fantastically valuable and time-saving service. "We are confident that Camelot has the experience and the best team of partners to ensure success in the bid to renew their licence," he said. Camelot -- the existing licence holder -- is currently tipped to win the seven-year licence when the current one expires in September 2001. Its closest rival is led by Virgin boss, Richard Branson, who recently announced that Microsoft had joined in for the bid. The deadline for licence applications is noon tomorrow. ® Related Stories Bill Gates luvs Sir David Frost (true) Gates promises enriching experience for UK lottery
Tim Richardson, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Prof proposes music biz ends copyright protection obsession

"Give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now," was the chant of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers a few years back. The Peppers weren't singing about the music industry, but recording companies looking to make sense of the Net would do well to follow their advice, according to Harvard Law School Prof Terry Fisher. Fisher's point, made last week at the Signal or Noise? The Future of Music on the Net conference, and subsequently reported by Wired News, is that because the digitisation of music and other media makes perfect duplication so easy, copyright holders should cease trying to profit from their intellectual property directly - in other words, stop trying to prevent their music being copied - and instead share whatever profit the industry makes as a whole. It's a smart idea. While at first glance Fisher might appear to be suggesting that even the likes of ultra-low-selling Smeg and the Heads - "out now on the Wanker label," as Peely might put it - get rich on the back of Mariah Carey's latest best-seller, in fact no such distribution of wealth is implied. They're Doing it Already The business model is one the music industry already uses, to make sure they take their cut from tracks put out on TV and radio. Broadcasting companies pay a fixed fee to royalty administrators who then share it out among the artists they represent under a ratio governed by how likely they are to have had their works transmitted. It's not a perfect system -- the administrators are largely guessing how many times a given artists' work is broadcast -- but it works. There's no limitation on how many times a track can be broadcast, and nothing to stop that track being copied. In short, it's the very antithesis of what the music industry is trying to achieve with digital distribution. Translating such a system to the online world would result in the very "unfettered release of intellectual property with profits distributed fairly among all interested parties" that Fisher is proposing. Unworkable Strategies Fisher contends that this is the only workable option open to the music industry. Rigid copyright enforcement - either through aggressive legal action against infringers or control over the copying process through copy protection mechanisms - will work to a degree, but will never be a satisfactory solution for consumers or recording companies alike. Legal action depends on tracking down and successfully prosecuting pirates, which is both costly and, in the Internet world, often ineffective. "The record industry has not succeeded, nor have they failed," Fisher said. "The doctrinal basis of these suits is very solid. If they can be mounted, they would be very effective. The problem is it's hard to locate the target." Copy protection limits the freedom individuals have to listen to music in they way they want to, particularly now we've all got used to dumping CDs to tape, MiniDisc or MP3 so we can listen to them on the move. Consumers will reject systems that curtail that kind of activity, reckons Fisher. Ironically, this could actually be the basis for copyright protection schemes such as the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI): to make the whole damn business too inflexible for most consumers, who will turn back to the traditional hard media. The Drugs Don't Work Such speculation aside, Fisher's proposals are unlikely to win the support of the music industry. His argument neatly mirrors that of those who reckon the solution to the West's drug problem is the legalisation of soft drugs - that the real trouble is the criminality prohibition engenders, not the use of illicit pharmaceuticals per se. It's a valid argument, but one that hard for conservative authorities to take on board - it's just too hard not to view such a liberalisation as resulting in the world and its dog getting permanently stoned. Equally, it's hard for the record companies not to view abandoning copy protection as a signal to everyone that they need never buy a CD ever again. But then that's possible now, thanks to domestic cassette and CD recorders, and there's no evidence that the slowdown in album sales has anything to do with that rather than a lack of material worth buying. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Govts abuse ECHELON on each other's behalf to skirt laws

Government operators routinely gather and exchange intelligence on each other's citizens, thereby skirting laws meant to curtail domestic surveillance, former Canadian spymaster Michael Frost said during an interview with the popular American news programme "60 Minutes". Frost worked for two decades in Canada's national signals intelligence organization known as the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Canadian counterpart of America's legendary National Security Agency (NSA), which is credited with developing and running the ECHELON programme. ECHELON's listening posts capture virtually every electronic conversation around the world, Frost claims. "The entire world, the entire planet....ECHELON covers everything that's radiated world wide at any given instant," he said. "Everything is looked at; the entire take is looked at, and the computer sorts out what it's told to sort out. Everything from data transfers, to cell phones, to baby monitors....Oh yes, baby monitors give you a lot of intelligence," he noted. We were more than surprised: we were shocked to learn of so many potential infant terrorists at large; but of course, in a world where multi-billion-dollar companies can be threatened with ruin by fifteen-year-old children with a better grasp of the technology sustaining them than their CEOs have got, pretty much anything is possible. It's "not only possible, not only probable, but factual" that ordinary citizens are routinely targeted by ECHELON," Frost claimed. The key to getting away with it is for government spy agencies to gather and trade data on each other's populace. It used to be a lot easier. The notoriously secretive NSA made headlines back in the Seventies when a shocked Congress learned it had spied routinely, and without restriction, on prominent Americans holding the 'wrong' opinions on such topics as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Act. Congress then hastily drafted legislation outlawing domestic surveillance. The current suspicion, that governments skirt laws such as those by merely filling in for each other, has gained popularity of late. In one celebrated example, last year the NSA was forced to admit that it had gathered intelligence on the late Princess of Wales. Some suspect that NSA leaks made during exchanges between US and UK station operators explain, finally, how it is that Her Highness' most intimate and embarrassing communications appeared so suddenly in the tabloid press during the early Nineties. The NSA station in Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, is a prime suspect. It is entirely an American operation, but is, of course conveniently located on English soil. Perhaps its entire function is to spy on British subjects on behalf of British spooks who would otherwise be prevented from gathering the information they so desperately desire. The Register just doesn't know. Menwith data, we are told, is sent directly to NSA Headquarters in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland (well within bicycling distance of The Register's Washington headquarters in the nearby and witheringly tony suburb of Chevy Chase). It doesn't take much imagination to picture Brit and Yank spooks trading their dirty little secrets with gusto. "Never....will governments admit that they can circumvent legislation by asking another country to do for them what they can't do for themselves. They will never admit it; but that sort of thing is so easy to do....it's so commonplace," Frost observed. Frost claims to have first-hand knowledge of this phenomenon. "CSE did some dirty work for Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister," he told CBS. "She had two ministers who, she said, weren't 'on side,' and she wanted to find out what they were thinking. So my boss, as a matter of fact, went to MacDonald House in London and did intercept traffic from those two ministers. The British [government] now have total deniability. They didn't do anything....we did it for them." No one with a brain should be surprised by any of this. Surely, if the capability exists, it will inevitably be abused. Still, no one with a brain should assume any of this to be fact. We note that supersleuth Frost offered not one infinitesimal shred of hard evidence to support his claims; that CBS offered not one infinitesimal shred of hard evidence to support its claims that Frost is an authority; and that in fact there is not one infinitesimal shred of hard evidence that the ECHELON system even exists. All right; ECHELON quite probably exists. Quite probably it is a very evil thing. And the NSA and those of America's allies privileged with access to it quite probably abuse it. And that's about all that anyone with a brain can reasonably say. End of story. ®
Thomas C Greene, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

eXchange Holdings wants to be known as MoneyExtra.com

eXchange Holdings is to group all its online personal finance activities under the MoneyExtra brand. At the same time it is changing its name to MoneyExtra.com. The company is to spend up to £18 million in promoting the name over the next year. The news accompanies full year results to 31 December which saw sharply increased pre-tax losses of £14 million (1998: -£2 million). The second half accounted for £11 million of these losses. And most of this was down to the launch of the company's consumer business. eXchange remains cash rich; it ended the year with £61.2 million in the bank, after raising £88m through its IPO and repaying £18.5m of borrowing. When eXchange Holdings IPOed last year, it looked very much like a one-trick b2b pony. The company supplied online computer and compliance services to IFA (independent financial adviser) networks in the UK, and it had Misys, the FTSE-100 listed company, breathing down its neck with a rival service. Since then, the company has diversified through acquisition of moneyworld.co.uk into retail personal finance. eXchange's move may make strategic sense. But this market is even more competitive than the b2b sector and it is going to be tough to make much money as an intermediary drawn from the second division of brand names. eXchange's latest purchase on the block, announced today is Fondex, "Scandinavia's leading online retail investment fund supermarket". This will cost £21.65 million upfront, in new eXChange shares. There is a deferred performance related element worth up to £2.65m in exChange Holdings shares. ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

StorageTek unveils fibre channel products

StorageTek has launched two products that push it into the fibre channel tape storage market. The first is the 9840FC tape drive, the fibre channel version of the 9840 drive. StorageTek says the 9840FC "can move data at up to 20 megabytes per second with 2:1 compression, and can approach 40 megabytes per second at 4:1 compression with highly compressible data." As a native fibre channel product the 9840FC has a maximum distance limit of 500 metres and is being aimed at the SAN market. Cartridges for the 9840 can store up to 20 gigabytes. The second SAN-oriented product from StorageTek is the L180, a native fibre channel tape library. It has 10 DLT drives and up to 174 usable slots and is able to perform automated performance checks without the need of a backup server polling it first. StorageTek's northern Europe multi-platform marketing manager (and candidate for world's longest job title), Martin Medhurst, said the speed of the 9840FC's robot would make significant changes to data retrieval. "The 9840 loads in just three seconds, it can find its first piece of data eight seconds later and takes just another four seconds to find its first piece of media. Consider what happens in the case of a hospital where a doctor might want to find a patient's X-Rays from a previous examination. Where once that could have taken weeks, now it can be a matter of seconds." He also stressed the importance of using fibre channel technology as it gives customers greater flexibility when housing their storage. ®
Sean Fleming, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Oz music stores hit out at exclusive Net deal with rival

Two Australian retailers have promised to boycott products from record label Festival Mushroom Group (FMG), which this week announced an exclusive online retail deal with rival retailer Sanity. The rebellious move comes less than a month after UK retail chain Virgin Our Price threatened to cease payments to record companies unless they stopped giving what the chain claimed was preferential treatment to online stores. Music industry insiders quickly revealed Virgin Our Price's stance to be little more than a publicity stunt to mask its inability to pay record companies thanks to the retailer's cash flow crisis. However, HMV and Leading Edge's beef with FMG does appear to centre on a real conflict between online and offline music sales. FMG's deal with Sanity allows the retailer to sell digital copies of FMG artists' works exclusively for a three-year period, due to start in the middle of the year. In return, the Rupert Murdoch-owned FMG will take $678,000 in cash and Sanity shares. FMG's own, as yet unlaunched Web site will also offer digital tracks, but with just two companies providing them, there's hardly likely to be much competition on price. And that's what UK-owned HMV and Leading Edge don't like. The agreement is "not in the best interest of artists or fans", HMV MD John Hazell told Australian news site Fairfax IT, but it's primarily not in the retailers' interests. Leading Edge general manager Gavin Ward (who is, incidentally, head of the Australian Music Retailers Group, which - surprise, surprise - doesn't like the deal either) was more pragmatic: "Why would we promote anything on Internet or in our stores that is only available online from an opposition retailer?" Especially when it's Australia's biggest music retailer, as Sanity is. According to Fairfax IT, HMV comes in at number two, Leading Edge at three. Unlike Sanity, however, HMV is an international chain, and the company is already threatening to block FMG artists' overseas sales, though since few will be on FMG outside Australia, it's a moot point how effective such a threat would be. Still, it's all good posturing, which is largely how FMG characterises the whole affair. Given how small the online music business compared to CD sales, it has a point, though going the whole hog and tying itself to a specific retailer on an exclusive basis isn't exactly the most tactful supplier-reseller deal we've come across. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

AMD Flash: Gordon Bennett, it's a snafu

A senior executive at AMD's European memory group today absolutely quashed suggestions that its eight year joint venture with Fujitsu is on any kind of rocks or in any kind of a hard place. That follows a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing at the CeBIT Messe last week. Peter Heinrich, European marketing manager of the group, also said there were no plans, "in the foreseeable future", to use its state-of-the-art microprocessor fab in Dresden to produce Flash, but did agree that there is a wideworld shortage of the product. Heinrich said about FASL (Fujitsu AMD Semiconductor Logic): "The two companies [Fujitsu and AMD] have had a 50/50 joint venture to manufacture Flash. Both Fujitsu and AMD have the rights to this technology on a 50/50 basis." FASL, he said, is purely a manufacturing joint venture, and although the company originally had two fabs in Japan, is bring two more ex-Fujitsu memory foundries under its wing. "Fujitsu agreed to put idle fabs under FASL management," he said. The third fab was also based in Japan, while the fourth fab is in Gresham, Oregon. He explained: "There's a tremendous shortage of Flash capacity," citing figures that showed that while the market would amount to some $4.6 billion in 1999, demand this year is twice that. He said that when the joint venture started, AMD had five volt design and the know-how to produce Flash, while Fujitsu had the manufacturing capacity. That situation remained the same today, he said. FASL has over a 50 per cent market share in Flash memory worldwide, he claimed, and the relationship between Fujitsu and AMD was unchanged. FASL will invest $1 billion in extra capacity this year. with the Gresham, Oregon fab ramping up production during the year, Heinrich said. He did not raise the issue whether or not other mothballed Fujitsu fabs will be brought into the FASL deal, and declined to comment on the specifics of the joint venture. Executives at the microprocessor division of AMD had suggested last week that there were changes in the relationship. But Heinrich said this was an embarrassing misunderstanding. ® See also Ten month Flash memory drought ahead Fujitsu to cut DRAM production Micron, Infineon to win big with Fujitsu Filtronic fixes sight on former Fujitsu fab AMD takes Fujitsu foundry route Fujitsu and Toshiba pool DRAM efforts Fujitsu DRAM domino falls Fujitsu formally announces UK fab closure, Mandelson announces aid package The Register Number Five
Mike Magee, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

L&H aims at $12bn market with Linux voice handheld

Gaston Bastiaens, CEO of Lernout & Hauspie, was about to leave for Singapore and points east when we spoke to him at CeBIT. He was going to be talking to manufacturers interested in making the L&H handheld device (it desperately needs a code name) for 20,000-word vocabulary speech recognition, packaged with the RealSpeak text-to-speech engine to make it a two-way voice device. The device runs on Linux, with Red Hat being used for the prototype, but there is no decision yet as to which distribution would be used in the production model. Internet access can be through spoken commands, with output either via synthesised voice or viewable on a cunningly-concealed display that pivots out sideways from the body of the device. Although Bastiaens could give no date for availability, it appeared that he would be disappointed if it were not available by the end of this year. The prototype is connected by a wire, but the production model would be wireless. Pricing cannot be decided until the manufacturing cost is known, but there is a feeling that $500 is a target. More broadly, Bastiaens said that he sees the potential market size for speech and language products as being at least $12 billion/year by 2002, with half coming from transcription of medical and legal procedures, a quarter from telephony and embedded applications, $2 billion from speech dictation, and $1 billion from speech components. L&H decided that the market would be best expanded by encouraging other companies to enter the market, so consequently ten "language valleys" like the Flanders Valley are being set up around the world, each receiving $10 million from L&H if funds are matched by government. This year, Bastiaens said he expects the company to pass the $500 million barrier in revenue ($344m in 1999). The assets consist mostly of 1400 speech engineers, linguists and software developers. Despite its strategic relationship with Microsoft (which owns 7 percent), and the presence of Bernard Vergnes, the chairman of Microsoft Europe, on the board, Bastiaens assured us he had a free hand as to what relationships he formed. It does seem that the coming user interface is the human voice, and that we may well be seeing the beginning of not exactly a post-Windows world, but at least a significant alternative user interface. Voice products are expected across a wide domain - servers, thin clients, telephones of all kinds, PDAs and wearable PCs, in-car devices, digital TV, and in plain old home PCs ("domotics" is the word muttered by these linguistic types). Strategically, L&H would have separate legal entities for the internet applications, healthcare and enterprise/telecom, Bastiaens said. The big market driver is likely to be WAP, which is projected to have a billion subscribers having devices by 2004. We asked Bastiaens if he had considered changing the name of the company, in view of the frequency with which it is misspelt.  "L&H is fine," he said. ®
Graham Lea, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

X-Box to ship fall 2001, nuke Sony, Nintendo et al

With Bill Gates' attendance at next month's Games Developers' Conference now confirmed (and Microsoft having registered the xbox.com domain, apparently; x-box.com having being snapped up by some crafty Germans) we shouldn't have to wait too long to find out whether the much-rumoured specifications for Microsoft's X-Box PlayStation killer are correct. Veteran IT pundit John D Dvorak, writing for Forbes put in his tuppence worth this week in true "my sources tell me..." style. Dvorak's deep throat trotted out the now standard line: high-speed x86 CPU (a 600MHz Athlon, according to the sources), 3D accelerator chip, DVD drive, game controller and hard disk. That's pretty much what we've read everywhere else. However, a couple of interesting points emerge. First, Dvorak's mole reckons the scheduled release date is Q3 2001, a year after the PlayStation 2's US launch, but right bang on target as far as Nintendo's Dolphin is due to hit the streets. Second, the sources point to Windows 2000 -- or, rather, a cut down, game-optimised version of it -- as the host OS. Microsoft's began developing 'embedded NT' a little while back, and with products like X-Box in mind, that concept begins to make sense. Certainly more so than basing it on Win98-derived Millenium. Either way, Dvorak is sure that the Mighty Microsoft will triumph over Sony, Nintendo and Sega. Sega, almost certainly, given the way Dreamcast sales have been going, but Nintendo remains a wildcard, at least until some solid details about Dolphin's capability leak out. And Sony? Well, Dvorak, who's always had something of a downer on non-PC platforms, reckons it's for the chop too. We're less convinced. True, X-Box will almost certainly play PC games straight out of the box, but getting the price of a 600MHz PC, which is what X-Box is, down to console levels will be tricky, and it's going to have to offer something very special indeed if it's not to be seen as just another PC product. And, let's be honest, Microsoft is too dull a brand to cut it alongside the sexier console names. All we have to do now is wait until 10 March and Gates' GDF keynote to find out. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Yahoo! and News Corp to merge?

Could Yahoo! be about to hop into bed with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire? The New York Times (NYT) thinks there could be mileage in the story. The paper is a little light on details, but quotes what it describes as "News Corporation executives close to the talks" giving credence to the rumours. Those rumours seem to have been given life by the New Yorker magazine. But, despite a lack of anything remotely like hard evidence to suggest it will happen, such an agreement makes a good deal of sense. In the wake of the much talked about AOL/Time Warner merger, both Yahoo! and News Corp will be looking to buddy-up with someone pronto. Murdoch is on the lookout for Net business opportunities, this is well known, and the likes of Yahoo! would be obvious ports of call when it comes to finding the link between content and how to get it in front of people. The NYT reckons any such deal between the two media giants would see a crossover between Yahoo!'s portal activities and two of News Corp's biggest paper titles – the New York Post and the UK Times. The unnamed News Corp exec (or execs) that appear to be the source of the story said, we are told, that News Corp had held meetings with Yahoo! and other Net-related companies. But could it be that someone somewhere is putting two and two together in the hope of hitting upon a mega-merger news story? Could be. One of the illuminating quotes from the Deep Throat News Corp sources in the NYT story was: '"There is no agreement near with anybody," the executive said. "Nothing has been nailed down."' So, while a deal could be on the cards, it might be wise not to hold your breath. In January 1999, Rupert Murdoch spoke out against the rise of new media and said: "We certainly won't be making take-overs of large, or already overcapitalised companies." ® Related Stories Murdoch gang rejigs Net offering Murdoch loves Web. True News Corp mogul talks down the Web
Sean Fleming, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Intel postpones 866MHz, 833MHz CuMine launch

Roadmaps Intel sent to both its channel and OEM partners last week showed that the company was set to release 866MHz and 850MHz Pentium IIIs today, as well as a pair of faster Celerons. But according to an Intel representative today, there are no plans to release the microprocessors in the "imminent future". That led us to ask whether it would release such parts in the "near future", to which the reply came it depended what the "near future" meant. Whatever these time terms mean, and despite the fact that Intel notified both channel partners and OEMs of the move some time ago, the launch for today is postponed. Intel refused to comment on information that was not publicly available at press time, but it always says to its channel partners that it can change prices and product specifications whenever it chooses. The reasons, we understand, are nothing to do with technology but more to do with something we termed some time back "marchitecture". It is jockeying for position with AMD, which has now postponed its price cuts until tomorrow, according to a representative at that firm. Let's hope that their systems and spreadsheets have been programmed by competent people, who have remembered that the year 2000 is a leap year, and that, therefore, there is a 29th of February tomorrow. ® * In other news, sources said that Intel-Shiva forgot to renew its domain registration for www.shiva.com, which led to some site down time last week. Intel declined to comment on the reports. See also Intel confirms huge Pentium III shortage (This Intel memorandum to its channel partners clearly states that it had plans to move speeds up on the 27th of February) Intel to intro 866MHz, 850MHz Coppermines, cut prices Intel confirms price slides
Mike Magee, 28 Feb 2000
The Register breaking news

Etailers not as trustworthy as high street rivals

Traditional high street brands such as M&S and Woolworth are more trustworthy than online ventures, according to research published by Taylor Nelson Sofres Group. Around two thirds of people questioned said bricks and mortar retailers were more trustworthy than their dotcom competitors. Seventeen per cent though that e-shopping would eventually mean the end of high street shops. The research was commissioned by e-commerce outfit, Instil. In a statement it said that traditional brands were "trustworthier than online ventures such as QXL and eBay". By a coincidence, Instil produces "turnkey e-business solutions" such as its "online auction solution". Ah hah. A company that sells online auction software commissioning research that shows that some online auctions aren't trusted? You don't think QXL and eBay use software that isn't produced by Instil, do you? A spokesman for the company said the research was completely above board and not intended to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. Alison Cabot, QXL's VP Communications, was not interested in the slur and would not comment on whether it -- or any other online operation -- was trustworthy or not. e-Bay was equally as blasé. Instead, it just wanted to have a pop at the competition and say that eBay UK was outperforming QXL. Its daily gross merchandise sales figure (GMS) is 500 percent greater that those of QXL.com, according to e-Bay. According to eBay.co.uk, it is grossing £90,000 per day as opposed to QXL's total European GMS of just £16,735. Online auction houses -- you can't trust 'em. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Feb 2000