8th > March > 2000 Archive

The Register breaking news

Scarcity of mobos hits AMD platforms

Suppliers of systems using AMD's Athlon processor have reported a shortage of motherboards for the chip to plug into. That follows an exceptional day of trading in AMD shares, with the price of each rising to $55 before trading shut in Wall Street. For most of last year, AMD's share price trundled along at between $16 and $20, following consistently bad financial results. Suppliers of systems have reported a major shortage of boards using the Via KX-133 chipset, because of concerns over yields, as we have reported earlier. There are limited supplies from companies like Epox, but large mainboard firm First International Corporation (FIC), like Via a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics, is delaying pushing the boards out of the door. However, on the other hand, FIC is the first third party mobo maker to have its mainboard certified by AMD as suitable for the 1GHz Athlon. We understand that Chaintech, another big Taiwanese mobo manufacturer, is also chary about pushing the boards out of the door and still wishes to further test the KX-133 because of concerns over reliability. FIC is telling smaller system builders that widespread availability of KX-133 mobos is unlikely until April. "Good" boards are being supplied to OEMs with large orders first. Meanwhile, although AMD said widespread availability of its 1GHz Athlon was not likely until next month, some sources are offering the processors at a premium, selling them at nearly $1,400. Street prices for the 950MHz and 900MHz Athlons, meanwhile, have already fallen from Monday's launch prices, with the 900 costing $860 and the 950 $950 for authorised AMD dealers. ®
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VeriSign grabs Network Solutions for $21bn

In a surprise move, VeriSign has acquired domain registrar Network Solutions for a massive £21 billion in shares. The deal is that VeriSign will issue 2.15 shares, which closed on Tuesday at $200, off 19 percent, for each Network Solutions share, which closed at $407.39, up 13 percent. At the time of the announcement, the premium was 48 percent for NSI shareholders at the previous day's close. NSI is bigger than VeriSign and its shareholders will have 60 percent of the combined company, as well as more employees and twice the revenue. A winner will be Science Applications International, an engineering and research firm that spun off NSI in 1997 but kept shares worth around $3.5 billion. Although VeriSign will be able to offer one-stop shopping for domain registration and e-commerce security products such as certificates, and has the NSI database of domain names, it seems most unlikely that such an acquisition cost could ever be justified on any rational grounds, even if there is considerable future leverage. One possibility being considered apparently is supplying data about buyers and suppliers for business-to-business commerce. Stratton Sclavos, the VeriSign CEO, will have overall control, but he is already familiar with NSI since he has been on the board since it floated in 1997. NSI will function as an independent subsidiary under Jim Rutt, the present CEO. NSI emerged unscathed from an antitrust investigation last month. Under its agreement with ICANN, which was reached after some friction, NSI has four more years to exploit its database, and may spin it off. Although there are now some 90 domain registrars, NSI is dominant. Following VeriSign's merger with Thwarte, it now controls nearly 100 percent of the signed digital server certificate business. But as digital certificates can be issued by anybody, there is always a possibility that some newbie will find a better way to give an assurance about security, and maybe succeed in obtaining a patent as well. Both companies have been criticised severely for their level of customer service: we shall have to see if things improve. ®
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MS strikes back by quitting critical trade body

Microsoft has quit the Software and Information Industry Association, the major Washington-based body representing the industry. Last month the SIIA filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the DoJ after its board apparently voted 7-2 for filing it, with ten abstentions. It seemed that Microsoft wanted to pick a fight, as last week Microsoft COO Bob Herbold, an SIIA board member, wrote to president Ken Wasch asking why the SIIA charter as a non-profit corporation had been revoked by the District of Columbia, and expressed concern that he might be at risk. Wasch told him it was an oversight that had been corrected. Yesterday, Herbold wrote to the SIIA saying that Microsoft was resigning, and that he would leave the board because the SIIA was no longer "playing a leadership role on the issues". Wasch said he was not surprised. In a statement, the association noted that "For the previous two years, Microsoft has withdrawn from participation in the SIIA's core deliverable services... refused to be engaged on the issues they claim to be most important, instead focussing solely on the issue of competition." Wasch said that the government's accusations against Microsoft "ring true", and that "when you swim with the alligators, you have no right to complain if you get bit", adding for good measure that in quitting, Microsoft's tactics resembled that "of a schoolyard bully. Since the SIIA board of directors refused to play by Microsoft's rules, Microsoft has in effect taken its ball and gone home." The SIIA has an annual income of some $8 million, with Microsoft paying a subscription of $125,000. There are some 1,200 members. ®
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Blizzard of documents dumped on Europe MS probe

From what Microsoft lawyer John Frank said yesterday in Brussels, it seems that the European Commission is about to be buried in boxes of documents as part of its enquiry into the complaint lodged by Sun, and probably others. Frank said the EC would be getting "boxes and boxes of information" in response to the "very broad questions" that had been asked, and was keen to emphasise that the case was at a very early stage. It's not an uncommon practice for Microsoft to attempt to overwhelm the processing capability of officials. So far, the DGIV Commissioner must have approved the formal opening of the case, and the present stage is a fact-finding exercise, with DGIV having sent Microsoft an Article 11 letter seeking information. If it is not satisfied, it has powers under Article 14 to carry out dawn raids at any or all of Microsoft's offices in the EU, and to seize documents. The next step will then be for DGIV to prepare a Statement of Objections, to which Microsoft may make a written reply, a procedure that normally would take around two months. An oral hearing then follows, and before a decision is reached, there must be consultation with an advisory committee of member states. It is possible but unlikely that Sun has requested Interim Measures - in effect a request for an injunction - which is allowed for urgent cases. If there were a settlement in the case brought by the DoJ, this would not affect this EC case, although it is conceivable that Sun could withdraw its complaint. Frank, who is the Paris-based director of law and corporate affairs, claimed yesterday that Sun was complaining as a competitive tactic, rather than for any real business reason. ®
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XML: Does MS really have nothing up its sleeve?

With the rise of XML, Microsoft is being cast in an unfamiliar role: that of being a leading innovator (but not the instigator) of an architecture for interoperable distributed Web applications. XTech in San Jose last week brought together many of the hard-core developers of XML protocols without the marketing types. The focus is now on developing a serialisation and transport layer for XML messaging/RPC (remote procedure calls), and how such standardisation should be brought about. A protocol is essential if Web applications are to be connected in ways chosen by users, rather than vendors, with the result being what has been dubbed the two-way Web. Jan Bosak of Sun Microsystems was recognised as the "XML father" at XTech and honoured with a plaque to that effect. He has recently decided to move from W3C, an R&D organisation run by subject experts, to OASIS, the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. OASIS is more concerned with interoperability (despite its name, it does not develop standards), and is run by mostly administrative staff. Bosak's reason for developing XML was to keep the Web open and portable, he said, and not hostage to any vendor's proprietary standards. He sees e-commerce as the killer-app for XML, and wants to be sure that buyers and sellers will be able to find each other, and that business semantics could be defined in more than one vendor architecture. For him, avoiding vendor-specific applications is very important. One problem is that there are too few people with the necessary experience to work on development, so vendor support appears to be essential if progress is to be made in Web time. There is a need for more and better XML editors, for example. Co-chair David Megginson encapsulated his desire to have computers "take XML, stick it in database, and do something cool with it". The weaknesses of XML Web that need to be addressed include security (especially with style sheet referencing), adding declarations that breach validation, entity spoofing and the like. Hope for SOAP In the beginning, Sun proposed RMI (remote method invocation) as part of Java, but was persuaded to support the OMG cross-platform Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP). XML-RPC was designed in 1998 by Dave Winer of UserLand and Don Box of DevelopMentor, together with two Microsoft people. Microsoft has developed this into the XML-based Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) within Windows DNA 2000 (forthcoming) with the assistance of Winer, and submitted it to the IETF as a proposed standard, turning away from its Component Object Model (COM) and Distributed (DCOM). Last week Winer advocated taking the present form of XML-RPC over SOAP because it looks as though it will take two years before SOAP works its way through the standardisation process. XML-RPC could be mapped to SOAP at a later stage, although Box noted that there are constructs in SOAP that have no natural mapping in XML-RPC. A concern with RMI, IIOP and DCOM is that in a sense they are all-or-nothing protocols that require agreement about the whole architecture. SOAP, on the other hand, is a payload on HTTP, which will probably be the key to its success. ActiveX and the first version of DNA failed because they required applications to work under Windows, while XML encodes the requests and responses, making it easier to operate across firewalls. On the other hand, SOAP lacks the sophistication of IIOP, does not solve the interoperability requirement, and is rather big and resource-intensive during parsing. Biztalk is based on SOAP, with the addition of routing and QoS headings. Although Microsoft has no implementation of SOAP yet, there is a Perl implementation: David Orchard of IBM mentioned that he has a working SOAP implementation. Despite SOAP being advocated by Microsoft, at a technical level there appears to be little paranoia about this. Nor was Microsoft apparently concerned that a number of improvements were desirable for the protocol, such as decoupling it from HTTP and improving the glue around XML applications. The intention does seem to be neutral towards the platform, application and language, which will be a relief to those who thought they would be doomed to more Visual Basic. Microsoft has committed itself publicly to having compliant XML tools, and so far there has been no cause for serious concern about this. Could it be that we are seeing a new facet of Microsoft, that there is the realisation that if you have the expertise, you do not have to use the dirty tricks? Relatively few vendors are keeping up-to-date with developments, and those not with it could find themselves very quickly left behind. It would be pleasant if all were harmonious so far as all Internet standards were concerned, but this is not the case. Work is proceeding in the W3C HTML working group on an audio-input standard, but for Wintel platforms only. It has been implemented for WebTV Plus, so far, with Mac and Unix users being excluded. It is essential that W3C pays attention to the howls of protest that are being mustered through a petition and takes the appropriate action to rectify this at the earliest opportunity. Gates: XML will live for centuries The importance of XML to Microsoft was reflected in some curious comments Bill Gates made recently in an interview carried by IT Week [USA]. Asked about the lifetime of XML, he said: "I'm sure there'll be XML data in some of these systems for hundreds of years... I don't think anything will replace XML... We love Visual Basic, Java, C and even Corba, and the rich runtime of this message environment should be language neutral." But there was also an ominous note in his remarks: "For some things... we will get standard schemas. In some areas there won't be standard schemas, so it's very important that our tools will have the ability to map between them." Let us hope that such schemas are standard across the community, and that the tools will allow proper interoperability. Microsoft could well continue in this unusual innovative role of being the prime developer of XML protocols, and become the legitimate technical leader. Imagine that. ®
The Register breaking news

US users are game for a PC

Over 60 per cent of PC owners in the US are gamers, according to Media Metrix. A survey by the US research organisation found that 61 per cent of home PC users – 54.1 million Americans - played at least one PC game during December 1999. The most popular games overall were Solitaire and other Windows-bundled offerings. The surprising winner of non-bundled games was Nvision Elf Bowling. It had 7.6 million users – the likes of Quake and Doom never generate more than two million users in one month, according to Media Metrix. The Nvision game monopolising the minds of US market is set on an ice-bowling lane at the North Pole, where players are given the task of guiding Santa to knock down elf "bowling pins". ® Related Story Tomb raider fire-sale knocks Gameplay over
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Congress clarifies spy warrant legislation

US Attorney General Janet Reno's failure to consider an FBI request for surveillance of Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen-Ho Lee may well jeopardise his prosecution, and has moved Congress to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Lee, who moved highly classified data concerning the design and testing of US nuclear weapons to an insecure computer, is suspected of giving nuclear secrets to China. Whether he is guilty or not, the prosecution is in tatters because of a communications and process fiasco involving the FBI, the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Energy (DoE), which is responsible for security at the Los Alamos facility. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight convened Tuesday to consider what went wrong in the Lee case, and what might be done to prevent future fiascoes of its type. As things stand now, if Lee is guilty, he may never be prosecuted successfully and brought to justice; if he is innocent, his reputation has already been ruined by speculation. At issue is a request by FBI Director Louis Freeh in June 1997 to seek a warrant under FISA to watch Lee and gather evidence secretly. He sent the request directly to Reno, but it mysteriously ended up in the hands of an inexperienced underling who rejected it. It is normal for the Attorney General to handle such requests. Reno's motivation in passing on this particular one may well be connected to political pressure, or expected political pressure, from the White House, which obsessively promotes any and all measures to accommodate China regardless of consequence. Reno may have smelt an embarrassment for China looming in the Lee case, anticipated President Clinton's inevitable displeasure with it, and sought refuge in a bit of deniability. Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania) would like to eliminate such convenient head-in-the-sand dodges, and proposes to amend the act to require the Attorney General to reply in writing whenever a request to seek a FISA warrant is submitted to DoJ. The FBI Director, the CIA Director, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence are the only members of government permitted to make a FISA warrant request. It is a serious step which certainly deserves to receive the Attorney General's personal attention; and, except in the curious case of Wen-Ho Lee, it always has. A further proposed amendment would clarify the difference between seeking a FISA warrant and seeking an arrest warrant, where evidence of present criminal activity must exist. A FISA warrant, by contrast, is based on the likelihood that a person might divert sensitive information to a foreign government. Present criminal activity need not be evident. Regardless of why an inexperienced DoJ reviewer ended up receiving the Lee case -- and we certainly have our suspicions -- it is believed that he chose not to seek a FISA warrant because he mistakenly looked for evidence of present criminal activity, as one would normally do if an arrest warrant were being sought. Both FBI Director Louis Freeh and DoJ Intelligence and Policy reviewer Frances Townsend agreed that Specter's proposed amendments would be appropriate. As for Reno, she will be called into the hot seat later this month, at which time she will have adequate opportunity to explain her actions to the Committee, and the nation. ®
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BT slashes SurfTime prices

BT has hit the panic button and introduced new rates for its discredited wholesale Internet service, SurfTime, in a bid to appear competitive. The move is in response to plans by AltaVista and NTL to introduce cheap flat-fee Net access within the next couple of months. Yesterday, a spokesman for BT was unmoved by the developments to cut Net access costs in Britain. This morning, the telco created a stir with claims that its SurfTime package will provide "choice in Internet access with no hidden charges". Which is true -- sort of. For in a throwaway line BT says: "Some ISPs may make further charges for use of their services and BT will provide optional billing services to ISPs." The truth is that if ISPs subscribe to this option they must forsake revenue they make from the interconnect charge. They would also have to ditch existing relationships with their current telcos. It would be up to ISPs to then attempt to make up that revenue elsewhere, by advertising, ecommerce... or by levying some additional charge on top of BT's fee for its product. This is certainly one scenario that could happen if BT's revised SurfTime proposals remain unchallenged. BT, of course, maintains that ISP's could charge what they liked - they could even offer the service for less that the figures quoted today. And if consumers do get uppity because their ISPs are charging more than what BT announced, the telco can throw up its hands and claim, in all honesty, that it has nothing to do with them. Undoubtedly it's clever manourvering on BT's part. The announcement has already been picked up by other media sources today but what has not been made clear is that this it is a wholesale announcement. The headlines suggest this will be the cost to the consumer - and you don't hear BT going out of its way to put anybody right. BT's new wholesale SurfTime offering as announced today is as follows: Residential customers who are occasional Net users Charges are £9.26 per month for line rental (which can also be used for telephone calls) plus 1p per minute during the day, 0.6p per minute in the evening and 0.5p per minute at the weekend. (All prices include VAT). Residential customers who are evening and weekend Net users At £15.25 per month, unmetered Internet usage is available every evening and all weekend, and customers also receive up to 80 minutes of inclusive voice calls. If the Net is accessed during the daytime, charges are 1p per minute. In the US, typical customers with similar Internet usage patterns would pay around £5 per month more in total. With BT Together, customers will pay £17.98 per month for unmetered Internet usage plus up to 200 minutes of inclusive voice calls. (All prices inc. VAT). "Round the clock" residential and business Net users At £29.25 per month (inc. VAT) for residential customers and £29.74 per month (ex. VAT) for business customers, unmetered Internet usage is available seven days per week and 24 hours per day. For consumers, such charges are directly comparable to US prices and for business customers BT believes its charges are significantly lower than those typical in the US. A spokesman for BT said today that the initial feedback from ISPs had been "very positive". ® Related Stories BT Surftime hits wipe out BT Internet is cheaper than BT Surftime BT intros unmetered Net access
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IBM's Batty: No takeover of PC business

Big Blue said today that despite the fact it has totally re-vamped its Emea strategy, there was no truth that it was going to sell off its beleaguered personal computer division. Ken Batty, well known as being the manager of RS/6000 marketing for many years and who now runs the marketing for the personal systems group in the UK, said: "Rumours that we're selling out to HP or Dell are completely untrue." (Nobody had asked him that question). He said, however: "IBM's personal system company was not exactly in good shape. If I had £1 for every time IBM said it was going to fix something, I could sit at home and bask in the in the interest." On desktops, Batty said: "Our costs were too high, our products were too borning and nobody thinks we're serious. The whole management team has been replaced in the UK." He said that right now it was impossible for IBM Direct in the UK to do next day delivery. Now that Batty's in charge, everything will be different. "IBM is completely serious about its PC business," he said. "We'll be number one in the next three years." He said the ThinkPad range was acknowledged as the coolest and best selling notebook around, beating Toshiba. "At the London Fashion Week, models were carrying Nefinitys, sorry ThinkPads," he said. "There's no reason why the desktop product should not be something you want to be seen on your desktop." He said IBM was investing millions and expanding its sales team to address the PC market, which embraces notebooks, thin clients, desktops and Netfinity servers. ®
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Intel wades in with 1GHz Pentium III

As predicted here 10 days back, Intel today will announce the arrival of a 1GHz Pentium III at a speed of one gigahertz and costing $990 in quantitites of 1,000. The company cited a SPECint 2000 benchmark of 410, and a SPECfp2000 score of 284, compared to the Pentium III 800's equivalent of 355 and 256 respectively. The processor, said Intel, will be available initially in SECC2 (Slot One) packaging but at first will only be available in limited quantities. IBM, at least, will sell these machines. There's a link to the Aptiva Series S model here. It costs $3,348, but you can't add it to your shopping cart yet... When AMD announced its 1GHz Athlon last Monday, it said that it would initially ship them to Gateway and Compaq for use in their PCs, and angered some of its loyal channel partners by so doing. However, as we revealed today, it is possible to buy 1GHz Athlons on the open market, albeit at a premium. Intel has not so far announced when 866MHz and 850MHz Pentium IIIs become available. However, according to tec channel, a German site, that will happen this coming Monday. It appears Intel re-arranged its plans for these processors to be able to enter the 1GHz Athlon-Pentium III ding dong. ® See also Scarcity of mobos hit AMD Athlons Intel's little 1GHz secrets AMD puts Intel on 1GHz ropes -- confirmed AMD's 1GHz Athlon arrives this month -- official
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Telco caught sending users' phone nos. to Web sites

US telco Sprint PCS was exposed this week for breaking the unwritten rules of Net privacy. According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, when users of Sprint's new wireless data service call up a Web site, their cellphone numbers are embedded in the http requests. This allows Web sites to work out the identities of Sprint visitors or at least track individuals' use of their sites. That's against the grain: surfers generally prefer to remain incognito unless, of course, they want to buy something. Sprint's defence is that users should be used to this kind of thing by now, thanks to cookies. But while cookies can be used to track individual Web site visitors, users can set their browsers to prevent their use. And cookies don't provide a phone number a sales rep can use to cold call the cellphone owner. Either that or the user can be spammed using SMS text messages. Sprint spokesman Tom Murphy also told the Chronicle that the inclusion of cellphone numbers in Web page requests is noted in the wireless data service's contract. Fair point, but who reads every word of the small print? And that goes double when said contract is a 6000-word document. However, for once the issue here may not be some clever marketing scheme on Sprint's part. The reason Sprint's wireless data phones send users' cellphone numbers is that the Phone.com browser built into them, which breaks sites' HTML pages down into something that can be viewed on a mobile phone screen, works by sending a unique ID code to the server. The phone number is simply the most convenient unique ID it can use. Possibly, but why not then scramble the number in such a way that the result remains unique but doesn't provide Web sites with a number their representatives can call? That's what Bell Atlantic, which also uses Phone.com's browser, claims to do. And AirTouch said it gets the browser to send out a random number and ignores phone numbers altogether. Clearly sending out phone numbers isn't necessary, so why continue to do so? Sprint didn't say whether it would adopt either the scrambling or random number approach, so we can only assume it wants Web sites to be able to track users of its service. And in any case, it doesn't seem enough of a problem that users will drop their Sprint PCS phones in favour of rival cellular data offerings. The guy who first identified the problem told the Chronicle he would continue to use the service, describing the privacy infringement as an "annoyance". ®
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Channel Flannel Extra

Update: Haven't got time to read this week's Computer Reseller News or MicroScope? Don't worry, we've read 'em for you. Here's our round-up of some of the channel weeklies' best stories. Computer Reseller News
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X-Box vapour triggers Nvidia stock frenzy

Nvidia's stock went wild yesterday on what seemed to be fairly conclusive news that the company had won the graphics gig for Microsoft's X-Box games console, which itself is tipped to be announced by Bill Gates at the Games Developer's Conference in San Jose this Friday. When Bill flips the switch the stock may well climb some more, and it'll likely be a shot in the arm for AMD's Athlon too - but er, why? The X-Box spec has been widely telegraphed, and the general consensus is that it's going to be based on an AMD Athlon 600MHz with Nvidia 3D graphics, DVD, hard disk, game controller and - presumably - an operating system. If something of this ilk were ready to ship today it might make some impact, but the ticklish problem is that the only software it could ship with is Millennium, due out around mid-year under the Windows ME tag. Microsoft is positioning ME as a consumer OS, and we note that determined spinners from Redmond have already started to describe it as "the ultimate operating system for gamers." This could be an X-Box hint, but if so, it's a desperate one. ME will be Windows 98 with knobs on and added hardware support, but it's difficult to see how adding it to what essentially sounds like a PC spec could produce a console, especially as Microsoft will be aiming ME at consumer PCs in general. How would it differ? Tight software integration with a specifically narrow set of hardware? That's about the only way it could, in the near future, and with this class of spec it would have to cost something similar to the cost of a reasonably good specification games PC, so for the moment there's a clear differentiation problem. From a design and software development perspective, targetting the product launch for Q3 2001, as has been rumoured more recently, makes a lot more sense, because in that timeframe it will be feasible to get the hardware designs together and - maybe - to get some OEMs ready to roll with machines based on them. It also gives Microsoft time to develop a serious console operating system based on Windows 2000. This of course is where anybody who's spent time looking over Microsoft's past roadmaps shouts fire. Microsoft OS roadmapping doesn't just work in dog or cat years - time passes at hamster speed or faster. So if we're talking about developing an operating system 18 months before it's due to ship, all sorts of ambitious things can be planned for it, and it's highly unlikely that anybody, right at the start of the roadmap, is going to be able to see what's really going to happen in 18 months time. They're hamsters, right? They don't live that long. But the trouble is that a tight, fast, Windows 2000-based consumer operating system is today just about as much of a non-trivial project as it was around a year ago, which was the last time it got cancelled, and Microsoft invented Millennium instead. So anybody thinking AMD and Nvidia are going to make big bucks out of an X-Box launched on the 2001 Christmas market should maybe ask themselves when was the last time Microsoft shipped a new operating system (not a service pack on steroids) to specification, on time? Or, for that matter, when was it that Microsoft last produced a viable hardware specification without input from its old partners at Chipzilla? But no doubt Bill will be able to address these questions on Friday. ®
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IBM fleshes out Eon strategy

David McAughtry, who we met maybe 12 years ago when he was an OS/2 guru, took time out this morning to put flesh on the future products that the personal system group will roll out this quarter, and to explain IBM's thinking on its Edge of the Network (Eon) strategy. McAughtry is now VP of marketing for Eon, and is now responsible for worldwide strategy on the products. He lives in The Smoke (London) and told us he commutes to his office in Somers, New York. He said on Eon: "This is more than just a marketing veneer over a set of products. You will see a series of announcements related to branding, solutions and alliance partners through to 2001. The market will be widely different in the coming two years than at any time since the PC arrived." Accordin McAughtry, the idea of Big Blue's Eon initiative is that all devices, ranging from so-called wearable PCs, through to thin clients and personalised servers, will sit on the edge of a network, and be supplied with information from some centralised role. Although the PC and,for example the ThinkPad notebook, will still have a place, many x86 devices will not take the role they occupied in the past. "This is not the end of the PC business, it's the next stage," he said. "You will see classic devices in the Eon view too, but the message here is simplification and choice. We're just starting the R&D to make things even simpler. You'll see us deploy broadband, DSL (digital subscriber line) and Bluetooth too." He said that IBM will join Dell, and of course Intel, to provide server farms, perhaps as a managing contractor, for either consumers or businesses, but products, such as thin Netfinity which it will introduce next week, will also be sold to ISPs and ASPs, and Big Blue will not compete with its customers. McAughtry brought in several models in the Eon range, including the information alliance we spotted at German fair CeBIT a little while back. This DSL-based information appliance box will be either bundled with some services or may even be free. IBM struck a deal involving AT&T and Lycos last week, and McAughtrey said that there will be four or five similar deals, mostly US based, in the next few weeks. He said that IBM is talking to both grocers and to financial services who will offer the products to consumers. "You'll be able to go to other places (Web sites) but eventually you will return to [the firm's] home page." In June, Big Blue will also introduce its low cost desktop computer, formerly codenamed Vegas, he said. This is a groovy looking little number which he said will cost less than £1,500 at launch, use a Pentium III or AMD chip, come with a 15-inch LCD screen (optional 17-inch), have two mini-PCI slots, weighs around 13lbs and support up to 512Mb of memory and have a 20GHz hard drive. It has a very small footprint, probably about the size of Lou Gerstner's boots. USB ports -- no 1394 Firewire connection. Big Blue is also readying three network stations (NCs) which now shelter under the personal system group umbrella. There will be one for Linux, a so-called "zero footprint" model, and one aimed specifically at Windows 2000 users. Its All-in-One desktop (code: Luxor), has a somewhat similar look and feel to the low cost unit, but has an optional radial arm that lets you swing the screen out of the way, and has a footprint of 16 x 16 x 10, seven USB ports and two PCI slots. The Netfinity slim server will fit in a rack that stacks up to 40 of the babies, and will cost £2,500. It launches next week. ®
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Chinese hackers turn to identity theft

Organised Chinese fraud rings on the mainland and overseas are more likely to hack databases to compromise credit and identity details than ply the more traditional avenues of bribing bank employees favoured by their Nigerian counterparts, a federal investigator claims. "The Chinese gangs have moved into the electronic age where they're using hacking techniques and Internet theft," US Secret Service Special Agent Gregory Regan explained in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information Tuesday. Identity theft is an increasingly easy scam now that so much information is available on line, Regan warned. "The Internet makes it unnecessary for criminals to obtain identity documents," he said. The Net is creating a "faceless society" where it's easy for an identity fraudster, even one overseas, to open a credit account on line, sometimes with nothing but his victim's name and social security number, Regan observed. There were 1,147 cases of identity theft resulting in 644 convictions reported in the US during 1999 alone. The US Social Security Administration reports that over 81 percent of social security number misuse involves ID theft. Most incidents are part of some larger, organised criminal enterprise. Committee Chairman Jon Kyl (Republican, Arizona) sponsored the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, which became law in 1998. He convened Tuesday's hearing to review the act's success and seek suggestions for its improvement. The act requires the Federal Trade Commission to assist ID theft victims, which it now does, in part, via a Web page here. In spite of recent efforts to address the problem, victims often find that recovering their identity is immensely more difficult than losing it. Witness Maureen Mitchell recalled a seemingly endless series of difficulties in sorting out her records after being vicitmised by fraudsters who ran up US $110,000 in bogus charges in her and her husband's name. Her suggestion for amending the bill would require merchants and credit agencies to develop a single, unified protocol for victim notification. "We had to submit handwriting samples to twenty different merchants; we had to submit notarised documents and affidavits. It's like filling out your tax return twenty times with twenty different sets of instructions," she observed dryly. Having considerable personal experience with filling out American tax returns, we can say without hesitation that the victim is being punished quite severely here, and can only offer our hope that the criminals might suffer half as much. ®
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Tom's Hardware looks for Coppermine shine

Our good friends over at Tom's Hardware have published the second part of an in-depth piece looking at the best platform for Intel's Coppermine chip. Written by Tom Pabst, part one looked at Intel's 820 chipset and VIA's Apollo Pro 133A. Chipzilla took it on the chin and VIA came out on top. Now in part two of the piece, Doctor Tom looks at Intel's 440BX chipset at 133MHz FSB, the i840 chipset, and PC-600 and PC-700 RDRAM. The piece concludes that: "BX at 133 is not only one of the cheapest, but certainly the fastest solution for Intel's Coppermine." Doctor Tom advises against this route unless you're feeling sure of yourself. If you want the sensible option, the good doctor's advice is to go for VIA's Apollo Pro 133A. But yah-boo-sucks, Intel – both the 820 and 840 get a proper thumbs-down. ® You can find the full article here.
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Sony to recall all PlayStation 2 Memory Cards

The Register is receiving reports that Sony has discovered some rather nasty post-launch problems with its new PlayStation 2 console. At this stage, we ourselves have seen no official Sony comment, but various PlayStation-oriented sites are reporting that Sony has recalled all the 8MB Memory Cards that have shipped with PlayStation 2 units so far. Solid details of the problem are scarce. Reports talk about issues with the Memory Card, with the unit itself overheating and crashing, with the game Ridge Racer V, and with the unit's DVD player. The problem is that it's impossible at this stage to say where the trouble lies. Are the faulty Memory Cards corrupting the DVD driver, which in turn is spoiling DVD playback - there's talk of "sound skipping" - and ensuring Ridge Racer won't run? Or are there problems with some DVD units, which would, frankly, produce exactly the same symptoms? Overheating could easily lead to crashes - it happens with PCs - but is it occurring with ordinary use or with systems that haven't been switched off since they were set-up last weekend? Certainly, Sony has experienced problems with PlayStation 2 Memory Cards, at least at the production level, which is why, by Monday, the company had been unable to ship only a third of the consoles ordered online. The Memory Cards are also the home of the PlayStation 2's anti-piracy system, MagicGate, which, if it's malfunctioning because of a dodgy card, could easily affect DVD playback in the ways described. At this stage, it seems more likely that the problems centre on the Memory Card rather than the PlayStation 2 hardware itself. Given the expectations raised by Sony in the run-up to the PlayStation 2 launch, it's not surprising that news of problems with the hardware would emerge very quickly indeed. The only trouble is the importance of such news could easily be way over-inflated for precisely the same reason. After all, a lot of people out there - typically Nintendo or Sega fans - want Sony to fail, and will hype up any news that indicates it may have done. As more substantial information emerges, we'll pass it on. ®
The Register breaking news

Internet TV, M@ilTV prepare to do battle

TV distributor Alba has revealed plans to bring Internet TV into the homes of millions of Brits. But yesterday the move looked set to place the UK company in direct competition with an earlier deal it had struck with ISP World CallNet. This week Alba saw its share price jump after announcing a deal with Pace Micro Technology to supply sub-£200 TVs with built-in Internet access. Alba, which has dredged back into the annals of television history to name its product the Bush Internet TV, said it planned to start selling the sets in May. The nifty TVs will be aimed at couch potatoes or OAPs cautious of the Net. Viewers will plug the set into a phone line and use a remote control incorporating a keyboard and mouse. The company has chosen Virgin Net to be its ISP for the venture. However, the Internet TVs came as a surprise to World CallNet which plans to launch a similar product with Alba at the end of this month. Alba and World CallNet have signed a deal to supply TVs with email – but no Internet - facilities. The technology, using an interactive text-based service, is to launch at the end of this month. Alba will provide the TVs, while CallNet will provide the email facility. The companies plan to price the sets – called M@ilTVs – at under £200, with a set-top box at less than £50. This is the same price as the Internet TVs - but without the Web facility. CallNet was not aware that Alba had a better product up its sleeve when the two signed the deal for M@ilTV. And CallNet has just eight weeks to make its mark in the sector before the more advanced – but equally priced - TV rival hits the shops. A representative for Alba said the company had chosen Virgin Net over CallNet because of its powerful brand name. But she stressed there were "no bad feelings" between Alba and CallNet. She claimed the Internet TV would not clash with M@ilTV because "some people want email and not the Internet". Though, when pressed, she couldn't actually find any examples of these mystery consumers. "We'll have to wait and see," she concluded. Meanwhile, a representative of CallNet admitted to The Register that the company was in "full, frank and ongoing discussions with Bush Alba" regarding its launch of the rival product. ®
The Register breaking news

Railtrack hacker arrested

A man has been released on police bail after being arrested in connection with the hack attacks that paralysed the Web sites of Lloyds of London and Railtrack at the beginning of the year. The man was arrested on Friday and but has to report back to police in June pending further enquiries. The alleged offences come under sections one and three of the Computer Misuse Act regarding unauthorised access and the modification of computer systems. He was arrested by officers from Scotland Yard's Computer Crime Unit. The identity of the man was not released. Earlier this year The Register carried an exclusive interview with a member of the group which claimed responsibility for hacking into the Lloyds of London Web site. "MisterX", as he called himself, also claimed that credit card transactions across the Internet were unsafe, and that he was able to hoover-up confidential data from Web sites. ® Related Stories Lloyds of London (twice), Met Office follow Railtrack UK in hack attack Railtrack, Lloyds of London Web hacker explains motives
The Register breaking news

Apple Expo Paris renamed Macworld Expo/Europe

Paris' Apple Expo show - now the only major European Mac event - is to be renamed Macworld Europe, according to Macworld UK. Surprise, surprise. Apple Europe has been engaged on a plan to centralise operations throughout Europe since last autumn, a move that treats the European Union as a single territory along the lines of the US. Having cancelled its attendance at the now defunct UK Apple Expo 2000 and more recently the show's German equivalent, Apple clearly wants to have a single focus for Europe's Mac users, resellers and developers. Given the increased degree of unification across Europe, in respect of trade and finance, if not culture, you can see the logic behind Apple's move. And since the likes of advertising campaigns and product promotion are dictated by Apple's Cupertino HQ, it's no surprise Apple wants to simplify matters by treating Europe as a single territory. The decision to call the show Macworld Expo/Europe, meanwhile, suggests that US IT media operation IDG has taken charge of the show's organisation. IDG's exhibitions division handles the two big US Macworld Expos, and Macworld Expo/Tokyo. At the very least Apple would want a consistent global show brand, and since IDG Expo Management has the Macworld Expo franchise elsewhere, it makes some sense to give it Europe too. IDG also publishes Macworld UK. ®
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Lernout & Hauspie swallows Dictaphone for $511m

Dictaphone, founded by Alexander Graham Bell in 1888 and thought by many to have disappeared off the face of the map, has been bought by Belgian voice-recognition specialist Lernout & Hauspie (L&H) for 4.75 million shares, in a deal worth $511 million at last night's Nasdaq closing price. It was sold by Stonington Partners, a New York-based private investment fund that owned 99 per cent of the shares. They bought it from Pitney Bowes in 1995 for $450 million, so it hasn't been a great success for them, especially as they had to inject cash in 1998 to make it possible for Dictaphone to service its debt. L&H also gets to assume or refinance debt and obligations of some $425 million. The deal has cost L&H around 15 per cent of its current market capitalisation, which has quadrupled in the last few months. Stonington has agreed to retain two million L&H shares for at least two years and to assign its voting rights to Jo Lernout and Pol Hauspie. It had been known that Stonington had been looking for an exit strategy from its investment for some time. The deal is expected to close at the end of April. The synergy for the acquisition was that Dictaphone had hardly ventured out of the US - nearly 90 per cent of its sales were there - so L&H are expecting to gain from European and Asia/Pacific marketing. The debt burden had made it difficult for Dictaphone to get out of the analog dictation market, and despite deals with Philips and IBM for speech recognition, never made much progress in that market. The product lines of the two companies are complementary. Dictaphone is headquartered in Stratford, Connecticut, and CEO John Duerden (ex-Xerox and Reebok) will keep his job. L&H has acquired Dictaphone as it begins to trade in the black. L&H's main purpose in doing the acquisition was to get Dictaphone's medical dictation business - the company has 55 per cent of the US market, followed by Lanier's 35 per cent. Dictaphone's 1999 healthcare market revenue was $130 million, with 5000 medical industry customers and 400,000 medical practitioners using its kit. This will make L&H the number one in the US healthcare speech market. In the so-called 'communications recording' business - which sounds like fancy answering machines to us - Dictaphone had revenue of $100 million. It is intended to spin off separate legal entities for healthcare, telecoms, and internet translation. An important market that needs pioneering will be speech mining from voice databases, a field where the merged companies will be well-positioned to make progress. Will this mean SQL for speech, we wonder? ®
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Softbank and co. to invest $1bn in Euro Net start-ups

Softbank, Rupert Murdoch, the French Vivendi and smaller partners are investing $1 billion in two venture capital funds, one in the UK with $450 million, and the other in Europe with $550 million. The focus will be on funding Internet start-ups. So far, Softbank has invested around $2 billion of the $5 billion it is planning to invest over a 12-14 month period. In the UK, Softbank will be investing $275 million of Softbank's money and $150 million from News Corp's ePartners, as well as a further $25 million from other investors. Softbank UK ventures will be managed by Mark Booth (ex-BSkyB) of ePartners. In Europe, Softbank will fork out $400 million, while Vivendi comes up with $100 million, and other investors $50 million. The intention is to take minority stakes of 10-30 per cent in new ventures. Eric Hippeau, CEO of ZD until the end of the "strategic alternatives program", which is expected to wind-up in June, is president of Softbank's international activity and will be acting general manager of Softbank Europe until that job is filled. Last July, Softbank partnered with News Corp and Vivendi to provide $150 million for US Internet companies wanting to expand outside the US. A further $2 billion will be invested in the US, and at least $1 billion in Japan, with a further $2 billion for more investment in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. Softbank has invested in 330 companies so far, and the value of its investments in those traded publicly is $49 billion. Forbes is currently suggesting that Masayoshi Son, the founder and chairman of Softbank, could streak past Bill Gates as the world's richest man later this year. The value of Son's holdings increased tenfold since July to $64 billion as of last month, but Softbank's share price has fallen from Y198,000 ($1852.89) to Y130,000 ($1216.55) since mid-February on fears of the company's inability to execute its investment plans successfully. Softbank is also trying to acquire 60 per cent of the failed Nippon Credit Bank from the Japanese government, but doubts have been expressed about the wisdom of doing this. Son, who is of Korean extraction, has experienced business opposition from Japanese conservatives, but has steadily overcome this. At one point last month, Softbank companies accounted for 40 per cent of the trading value of the Tokyo stock exchange. ®
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Mannesmann takes CallNet into Europe

CallNet Plc has jumped into bed with German communications giant Mannesmann to offer toll-free access to the Net across Europe. The plan is to replicate what CallNet has achieved in Britain as part of a wider integrated telecommunication tie-up between the two companies. The deal is with Mannesmann ipulsys, a division of the global communications giant launched late last year to develop a range of voice and data services. Mannesmann was recently acquired by Vodafone. CallNet CEO, Paul Goodman-Simpson, said: "The integrated Internet, fixed line and mobile markets are set to explode across Europe and we needed a partner to work with us to maximise the opportunity. "Time to market is critical in this industry and Mannesmann ipulsys gets us to market faster. It's as simple as that." The first initiative will be to roll out "no strings" Internet service across Europe using CallNet's proprietary low-cost Internet technology, "M@ilTV". The company says this will be closely followed by fully integrated communications -- fixed, mobile, Internet, unified messaging and ecommerce. "We are not just talking about 'free', no strings Internet, we are delivering it now in the UK," said Goodman-Simpson. CallNet launched its low-cost Net access service late last year although this was not trouble-free. In return, Net users must route their voice calls via CallNet. ®
The Register breaking news

Apple defeats iMac cloners

Apple's anti-iMacalike lawsuits against Korean PC vendor Daewoo and Korea-backed eMachines have been won by the Mac maker. Both actions were settled out of court, and comes after the San Jose Federal District Court granted Apple preliminary injunctions against Daewoo banning it from "manufacturing, distributing, selling or promoting" its iMac clone, the Daewoo ePower (sold by the vendor's Future Power subsidiary). That injunction was granted last November. eMachines' machine is the eOne. The granting of injunctions in the US comes six months after Apple won similar relief in the Far East. In September, Apple won a ban that prevented Japanese distributor Sotec from offering the eOne in Japan, a move that led to an out-of-court settlement in January. Sotec agreed to pay Apple damages and cease selling the eOne with a two-tone iMac-style colour scheme. However, it can - and does - sell an all-grey eOne. And presumably eMachines' settlement covers the original eOne, and not the grey one. In each case, the respective PC vendor agreed not to manufacture or market iMac-esque computers anywhere in the world. Preliminary injunctions are (generally) granted if the court believes the plaintiff will win their case, so it was largely only a matter of time before eMachines and Daewoo came to a settlement with Apple. The time taken to announce the settlement is probably a sign of how long the parties' lawyers have taken to reach a deal. ®
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X-Box: Nvidia schmoozes MS, drops huge hints

The Register's department of strange coincidences notes with some irony that Nvidia, subject of much tipping earlier this week vis a vis the Microsoft X-Box games console His Billness is expected to announce on Friday, has made a couple of possibly related announcements itself today. The one we like best is Nvidia's "premier sponsorship" of the Microsoft DirectX developer day, being held at this very moment (at time of posting) in San Jose as part of the very Game Developer Conference due to host the grand X-Box unleashing. Blatantly (and largely successfully) projecting the image that Nvidia and Microsoft are just like that, Nvidia spins: "Nvidia has become the premier content development platform for the PC game industry," said Dan Vivoli, senior vice president of marketing at Nvidia (and what a fine job you're doing, Dan). "By working strategically with Microsoft, [massively heavy hint] we are able to align our development efforts so that our products provide developers with the most powerful gaming platform in the entertainment industry [a hint too far, surely? - Ed]." Apart from spending its co-op marketing bucks on schmoozing DirectX (we note with some apprehension it's hit version 7.0a) developers, Nvidia has a couple of heavy hints in the product department as well. In Palm Desert (which is a not very cheap nor very direct plane ride from San Jose) Nvidia has unveiled the Vanta LT 3D processor and Aladdin TNT2 integrated graphics chipset. We quote: "These low-cost, high-performance graphics processors will provide system builders and OEM's with industry-leading 3D solutions previously unavailable in the sub-$1000 PC market." And here's Dan again, at the other end of California, and all in the one day: "The sub-$1000 PC has been hamstrung by inferior graphics for too long," said Dan Vivoli, Nvidia senior vice president of marketing. "The addition of the Aladdin TNT2 and Vanta LT offers system builders an unprecedented combination of high-performance 3D solutions specifically targeted at the fastest growing segment of the PC market - the value segment." Now folks, building a Microsoft games console definitely takes close work between Microsoft and the elected graphics outfit, and in addition to the graphics outfit needing to do a pretty serious job of evangelising developers, it's going to have to get together a low-cost, mass-market philosophy and the products to go with it. By an utterly bizarre coincidence, here we see Nvidia doing those very things. And furthermore, as the kit's here already, not shipping next year, we begin to suspect that (pace the great John C Dvorak) Microsoft is going to go for the dumb option - this year, based on Windows ME, not next, based on Win2k with added optimism. In which case, if AMD wants the gig for the Athlon 600, it'd better start schmoozing and announcing - fast. ® See also: X-Box vapour triggers Nvidia stock frenzy