10th March 2000 Archive
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And The Register's diligent 'butt work' helps contain it....
The Web has been alive this past week with rumours of a trojan secretly installed by Aureate Media and which enables the company to track users' on-line activities. Aureate software, we are told, collects hard drive information, tracks the pages where users surf, records their downloads, and steals and even modifies system registry information. Worse, the files secretly installed by Aureate are said to be associated with such popular shareware applications as GetRight, Go!Zilla and CuteFTP, used by millions of Netizens. We were immediately intrigued, and plunged swiftly into the controversy. In the course of our journalistic 'leg work', we were led to a source who detailed his exhaustive research into the several mysterious files and registry entries installed by Aureate software products, and some that he thought must have been. We came away persuaded of little beyond the investigator's palpable determination to find evidence of foul play, and decided to sit on the story, a practice known in the professional world of journalism by the technical term 'butt work'. And sure enough, the butt work paid off, as it so often does. Late this week the ubergeeks at anti-virus outfit Network Associates announced the results of their own exhaustive, and immensely more objective, research into the Aureate spy mystery. They conclude, just as we anticipated, that the Aureate spy trojan is a hoax. And you thought we were just being lazy.... ®
Business 10 05:32
Well, at least they're not totally empty-handed....
Seventeen-year-old New Hampshire computer enthusiast "Coolio" a.k.a. Dennis Moran has been arrested and charged with, among other things, breaking into a Los Angeles Police Department anti-drugs Web site. Moran is accused of breaking into the Los Angeles Police Department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) programme Web site, and inserting a comical and vaguely obscene picture of Donald Duck with a hypodermic syringe stuck in his arm, available for your viewing pleasure here. A more complete gallery of Coolio mischief, humour and obscenity may be found here. He says he defaced the D.A.R.E. site because he disagrees with the organisation's propaganda. "Their program is misleading and they lie," he said in an interview with the local Concord Monitor newspaper. Moran will be charged as an adult and faces a staggering maximum penalty of fifteen years in prison if convicted. There is no evidence that he was involved in last month's distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against such high-profile sites as Amazon, Yahoo and eBay, but the Feds are under great pressure to come up with something along the lines of break, and Moran, unfortunately, is now neatly in hand. Frustrated federal prosecutors, embarrassed by the DDoS case, may well land hard on the lad. The local New Hampshire police, who arrested him, describe him as "polite". We hope that helps. ®
Business 10 06:29
Q3 shows big profit over last year's loss
The window of opportunity National Semiconductor opened for itself last year with information appliances (IA) appears to be paying off, the company said today, following the release of financial figures that showed it made a profit in its third quarter. The company turned in net profits of $327.8 million on turnover of $548.9 million, compared to a loss of $27.2 million for the same quarter last year. While most of NatSemi's increased revenue came from analogue devices used in mobile phones, its CEO Brian Halla said the figures represented a general turnaround in the semiconductor market. He also said that sales of its Geode "system on a chip" grew by 11 per cent in the quarter. Halla described the quarter as "excellent", and the company pointed out that this part of the year is generally weak in the chip sector. Last year, senior executives at the firm told The Register that its restructuring, including its decision to rid itself of Cyrix and its decision to rush to market with its Geode chip would give it a window of opportunity to beat its competition to market with a system on a chip device. The Geode integrates a large number of chip functions and also includes x86 compatibility. The company predicted that its sales could rise by as much as 25 per cent in its next financial year, while the next quarter's sales could grow by eight per cent. The company's share price (ticker: NSM) closed down at $79 after some profit taking activity. In April last year, its share price had sunk to just under $9. ® See also NatSemi says Transmeta, Intel no threat to Geode Acer goes NatSemi Geode mad Big Blue uses NatSemi Geode in NetStation NatSemi rolls out Information Appliance chip NatSemi starts to fab System on a Chip
Business 10 08:18
NOS wars continue...
Novell has started shipping NDS eDirectory for Windows 2000, and is offering a free 100-user licence to those who acquire Windows 2000 before mid-May. It is charging $2 per user for additional licences - the same as for running with other platforms. This gives users an alternative to Active Directory, and allows users with networks containing non-Windows 2000 machines to manage them from a single point. A related product in beta testing is the migration and management tool that should make it easier for users to switch to NDS. Novell seems to be somewhat laid back about not having this ready earlier, but says it hasn't seen many organisations using Windows 2000 server yet. The DirXML product should be shipped later this year, although it is already available for NT, Solaris and NetWare. Linux and Tru64 versions are also expected later this year. Another reason for the delay may well be that Novell wanted to be sure that there were no last minute changes in the shipping version of Windows 2000 that might interfere with its product. Novell also said last night that IDC will release next month data that shows that "NetWare outperformed all the competition including Windows NT for all recorded node shipments last year" and that Novell's market share "increase[d] from 50 per cent in 1998 to 55 per cent in 1999". So far as the number of nodes per licence, IDC will apparently say that NetWare does 84 per cent better than NT, with an average of 35 nodes per licence, compared with 19 nodes per licence for NT. Last year the network operating system market grew 8 percent in licences and 13 percent in nodes, according to IDC. Novell has also just got around to announcing that in the IPCache Web Cache Bake-off [really] in January, the company's Internet Caching System (ICS) received "top honours" and "the highest performance and scalability levels ever obtained" - but to be fair, this was only the second bake-off. ICS, on Intel only, is sold through OEMs, and Novell says it can be fitted in ten minutes in any Web environment. The fastest response time for an Internet request was 0.04 seconds, with ICS running on OCD's Stratacache. Collaborative Research estimates that the caching market will reach $2 billion in 2002, and that caching appliances will have 80 percent of the market. ®
Business 10 08:40
Chipzilla seems not to be entirely happy. Oh no.
Could "Cortel" challenge Wintel? According to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail on Thursday, Corel is talking to Intel, and an unnamed OEM with a view to launching a cheap Corel Linux PC, presumably also loaded with the WordPerfect suite. In an interview Corel CEO Michael Cowpland just before Corel's annual shareholders' meeting on Wednesday. Cowpland said that talks had been going on "for months". This claim was later confirmed by Intel spokesman Doug Cooper, who added that "it's certainly good for consumers". But this is where it gets complicated. Shortly afterwards Intel denied it was in any such talks, and said that it was just naturally in an ongoing relationship with "hundreds and hundreds" of software companies to make sure their code ran properly on Intel chips. The Corel, weirdly, chimed in with a statement purporting to respond to the article, but not entirely doing so: "Corel has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Intel Corporation. Since 1997, Corel has optimised its software for Intel's processors. Corel has also included Intel's MMX technology in our flagship WordPerfect office and CorelDRAW graphics suites. In early 1999, we optimized our products for the Pentium III processor chip and are looking with interest to Intel's next generation of processors." Not exactly a categorical 'no talks,' is it? "At the same time," the statement continues, "Corel is in regular contact with major hardware manufacturers regarding bundling opportunities for Corel's award-winning applications, including Corel Linux OS and our forthcoming WordPerfect Office for Linux. Corel CEO Michael Cowpland's remarks quoted in yesterday's Globe & Mail were in reference to these general discussions and were not related to any specific deal or ongoing discussions with any particular company." It's a puzzle how Cowpland's remarks could have been so badly misinterpreted, but if he thought he was on the point of a deal, and got over-excited, then Intel got very angry when he did... So if there were talks, maybe they're off now. But maybe they're not. The Linux PC idea is a no-brainer so far as market interest is concerned, and it's just surprising that it has taken so long to get this far. Although the idea could be easily emulated by other consortia, the potential market size is big enough for quite a few players. Meanwhile, back to Corel's annual shareholder meeting, which is always a fun event, with sentiments being expressed freely and the chance to have a go at CEO Michael Cowpland. This year's meeting on Wednesday was no exception, when it became generally known that Robert Coates, a director and shareholder of Inprise, is opposing the Corel/Inprise merger. Coates resigned from the Inprise board before the approval of the merger, but had previously described the deal as "brilliant", Inprise CEO Dale Fuller told the meeting. There was confidence that the merger would go ahead despite his objection, with most of the Inprise institutional shareholders backing the merger, which is expected to be finalised around mid-June. Apparently Coates is concerned at the erosion of Corel's share price since the merger was announced, in which Inprise shareholders are to get 0.747 of a Corel share for each Inprise share. By Thursday's market close, the value of the deal had shrunk from $1.07 billion to $832 million, but Cowpland was adamant at the meeting that he would not sweeten the offer. The shares that Coates holds were worth around $12 million when he issued the writ last August (Inprise was around $4 at the time), and he says he paid over $18 million for them, suggesting an average purchase price of some $6 per share. With Inprise closing at $9.78 last night, he has of course made a tidy profit were he to sell his holding now. Coates is personally known to Fuller, and also claims that he recommended Fuller's appointment as CEO. Coates, who holds around 6 per cent of Inprise' shares and runs a Dallas-based management consulting firm, was appointed to the Inprise board last June with the task of increasing shareholder value. He was evidently very keen to get on the board since he was initially trying to do this through a stockholder nomination. Last August he filed a suit against Inprise and five directors alleging that they unlawfully restricted his access to information and thereby deprived him of the ability to discharge his fiduciary and statutory duties as a director. His bluntly worded writ claimed that "Inprise has imposed a gag order" on him and that "these Orwellian measures establish Mr Fuller as a corporate Big Brother" who controlled communications about the company. Inprise said that it considered the suit to be "frivolous and entirely without merit", and Coates withdrew it at the end of August. We can reveal that this was not the first case that Coates has brought. In the District Court in Dallas in 1998, Coates accused Heartland Wireless Communications of issuing false press releases, but the case was dismissed following a motion by Heartland. ®
Business 10 08:42
Ships kit to top secret project - never to be seen again
Electronic Data Systems (EDS) yesterday admitted it was conned out of millions of dollars worth of kit through a fake NATO project. It appears that a group of scamsters posing as NATO and US Air Force officers approached EDS in 1997 with "a highly sensitive voice recognition project for NATO". So impressed was EDS, that it shipped an order of computer audio and video equipment for the top secret project to the Netherlands. The villains then scarpered before paying. The thieves and the "tens of millions of dollars" worth of kit have since disappeared. A red-faced EDS, which was acting as a co-ordinator for other bidding vendors, was left to explain the incident to the FBI and EDS shareholders. The US computer services company said it did not expect any serious financial impact from the theft. But it was unable to comment further "because of the governmental investigations and the pending litigation". This latter statement was a reference to lawsuits filed by two vendors who got dragged into the fraud. One of these is believed to be Akai Musical Instrument Corp, a former subsidiary of Akai Electronic of Japan. Last year, EDS made $957 million profit on sales of $18.5 billion. ® Related stories: Fraud row lands EDS in yet more hot water
Business 10 08:55
Teletubbies hit games trail
Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are set to be the next PlayStation stars. The BBC has developed a Teletubbies console game aimed at children as young as two. Priced at £24.99, Play with the Teletubbies is the first PlayStation game designed specifically for toddlers. The move by the BBC, which itself admitted the game had no educational value, has sparked worries from psychologists and education experts. "Children tend to get addicted to computer games," warned Dr Mark Griffiths, head of psychology at Trent University. "I have come across two cases of three-year-olds playing on computer games for over 14 hours a day, which is totally wrong," he told the Daily Mail. Auntie Beeb hit back by saying the game would be more educational than other more conventional forms of kids' entertainment. "People may be concerned, but this is better than plonking a child in front of a video. At least with this they have interaction with the characters on screen," said Dave Lee, director of BBC Multimedia. Presumably the concept of kicking a football around with other children is now outdated. Other PlayStation games up the BBC's sleeve for pre-school kids include Noddy and Bob the Builder. ® Related Stories Sony sells 980,000 PlayStation 2 consoles in two days Sony slaps patent suit on PlayStation emulator developer Technology takes second place to Teletubbies
Business 10 09:01
But won't unilaterally disarm its patents
After weeks of stinging criticism and exposure to an impassioned online debate, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has called for a fundamental reform of the US patent system and pledged to volunteer his own time to achieve it. Notably, however, Bezos did not budge on cries for Amazon to relinquish its patents on 1-Click ordering and affliliate marketing -- patents that many observers feel should never have been granted, and if granted, will work against innovation on the Web. "I don't want to let Jeff entirely off the hook," computer book publisher Tim O'Reilly said in a response to Bezos. O'Reilly has turned a portion of his company's website, www.oreilly.com, into a debate forum on the subject of Amazon's patents. But, O'Reilly said in his recently posted response, "If Time magazine's Man of the Year says that the patent system has gotten out of hand, that may well have more impact on the powers that be than if 10,000 relatively anonymous programmers do so. So I'm really excited to participate with Jeff in his call for a closer look at how we can update the patent system for the Internet Age." Bezos's call for reform appears an Open Letter of his own, which he posted yesterday. His suggestions: • Patent laws should recognize that business method and software patents are fundamentally different from other kinds of patents. • Such patents should have a much shorter lifespan than the current 17 years -- he proposes three to five years. • The new patent lifespan should be retroactive. • A short but mandatory comment period be required before a patent number is issued. Bezos also offered to help fund a prior-art database, which would help inventors and the patent office keep better track of what's already been invented and by whom. But it's important, O'Reilly says, that the database be filled with useful examples. Otherwise, he warns, "the patent examiners will write it off as bogus". Bezos, who, justly or not, is consistently lionized in the press as the king of online commerce, has built enough clout to be seriously listened to in Washington; and, in fact, he says he has "already contacted the offices of several members of Congress from the committees with primary responsibility for patents to ask if they would be willing to meet with me on the issue," and that he's invited O'Reilly to come along. He added that he and O'Reilly will recruit software industry leaders and others to help. "Taking this to Washington is not going to be an easy road," O'Reilly told Wide Open News. O'Reilly's response to Bezos offers support for rethinking patent law, but he gets in some digs: "Others who know about the patent system may have even better ideas." The most interesting angle to the story may not be Bezos's call to change the law, but the way it all came about. Last December, open source leader and computer programmer Richard Stallman called for an Amazon boycott because of the 1-Click patent, which covers the process of clicking on a single button to instantly place an online order, rather than stocking items in an electronic shopping cart. More recently, Amazon won a patent for the idea of allowing people set up mini-bookstores on their own sites that connect directly with Amazon, and taking a small revenue slice of any book ordered through their store. Bezos said he received several hundred emails on the subject, as well as three long conversations, which "have been incredibly helpful to me as I've tried to clarify in my mind what is the right thing to do." The fact that O'Reilly made public the gist of his conversations with Bezos and set up a discussion forum at Oreilly.com on the subject may have clarified Bezos's mind even further. O'Reilly told Wide Open News he didn't set out to prompt Amazon to reverse its decision in pursuing patents. "I understand the restraints Jeff is under. My goal was to raise public consciousness," he says. One thing to note from his experience, Bezos reports, "is that this episode is a fascinating example of the new world, where companies can have conversations with their customers, and customers can have conversations with their companies." Still, Amazon's failure to back down on patent enforcement does not sit well with those who fundamentally believe software should not be patented. In response to the idea that Amazon is merely paying lip service to critics, Amazon spokesman Bill Curry says, "We want to change patent law. But until it changes, we'll play by the rules." ® Wide Open News is a Register Partner. It covers the world of Linux, Open Source and Business. Check it out.
Business 10 09:03
But is it good for competition?
Oftel is to release BT from part of its regulatory bondage that prevents it from competing in the international telephony market. The winged watchdog claims that BT's market share has now fallen to below 37 per cent for international calls made by business users. In the residential market, its share has dropped by 12 per cent over the last five years. This, says Oftel, is proof that competition exists and BT should have a freer hand to compete more effectively with the 50 or so operators currently offering international calls. One of the results of this is that BT does not need to seek Offal's (surely you mean Oftel - Ed) consent to offer prices, which are below cost. In other words, BT could chop the price of international calls to such an extent that it makes a loss. Now, does it sit back and lose money...or does it try and regain the cash elsewhere? Oftel claims this is in line with its strategy of reducing regulation as markets "become more competitive". Competition? According to BT and Oftel, it's what you enter to win a free holiday. ®
Business 10 09:22
Alleged DRAM infringements filed
Just a few days before Siemens subsidiary Infineon floats off to collect billions on the stock market, it has received a letter from m'learned friends representing Hyundai alleging patent infringement. Hyundai yesterday filed an action against Infineon US, Siemens Microelectronics, Siemens AG and Siemens Corporation, alleging that the co-defendants are breaching a number of its patents, including some involving DRAM technology. The large Korean conglomerate, which took LG Semiconductors into its corporate being last year, wants judges to ban Infineon from importing memory chips into the US. A brief statement from the company said that negotiations over intellectual property rights had failed, which was the reason for Hyundai having to take Infineon &c to court. No one was available from Infineon for comment at press time. ®
Business 10 09:36
Concerns mount over shipments of processors
Chip giant Intel is not making things any easier for itself following the series of disasters that beset it last year during its annus horribilis. When it launched its Coppermine processors in both desktop and mobile versions last October 25th, only a day later it antagonised a vast swathe of its customers by telling them just the next day that there would be a big shortage of some parts at least until the end of Q1 this year. Even loyal tier one customers, like Toshiba, were irritated by the treatement they received at Intel's hands. It then totally misjudged its market by alerting its distributors worldwide in the middle of last month that their allocation of processors was going to be really tight - and in some cases non-existent - during the month of February. Result? Loss of money. Dealers and system builders, faced with orders for PCs, found themselves in dire straits because of a lack of processors for their customers. Result? Loss of money. And now second tier vendors, particularly in Europe, are beginning to complain vociferously at their treatment at the hands of Intel, which is now unable to guarantee shipment of processors apart from flavours that their customers don't particularly want. Result? Loss of money again. Further, all these sets of people are now beginning to relay worrying information that while they can't source Intel processors, the Big Five - in particular Dell, IBM, Fujitsu Siemens, Compaq and HP - appear to be having no problems whatever getting supplies from the chip giant. One European system vendor, responding to a story we published yesterday complaining about new shortages of microprocessors, has hit out at Intel for undermining sales and told The Register this morning: "All of this goes against their [Intel's] 'we want to support the little guys because it's good for us' line they spin every time we raise such concerns." He said that the contender, AMD, is "really showing these guys what competition is. The way AMD does business is so much better than Intel you would not believe. Friendly, responsive sales and technical staff that can get things done - not puppets on a centralised European based string that repeat the Intel line at every point." Intel has consistently told The Register that shortages on its microprocessors are a result of additional demand, and nothing to do with yield or other production issues. At last month's Intel Developer Forum, senior VP Pat Gelsinger told us that most of the problems with supply-demand would be fixed by the end of the quarter. We understand that Michael Dell, whose company forecast a fall of demand, partly citing chip shortages, at the end of last year, has made his own representations to Intel. It's obvious that these talks have borne fruit, as only a few days ago, the Dell Corporation said that it anticipated good results from PC sales in this quarter. So Dell, at least, is getting enough processors to satisfy demand. An Intel representative commented today that while supply was still tight, the company hoped the situation would become better during this quarter and next. He said that Intel did not differentiate between larger and smaller customers, and instead took each order on its own merit. While some individual orders, both from the channel and direct, had slipped because of the demands, people like Dell or the other Big Four did not get preferential treatment over smaller players. So what are we to make of all of this? It seems like Intel's problems are driving quite a few of its loyal but perhaps smaller customers straight into the arms of its enemy, AMD. We know it has five fabs producing .18 micron Coppermines, and we also know that compared to AMD, its market share on the high end desktop is high. It seems that Intel has only a narrow window of opportunity to prevent this being Annus Horribilis II. Intel (ticker: INTC) rose by $3.437 yesterday to close at $118.375. Earlier in this week, it reached a 52 week high of $120. ®
Business 10 11:05
Nothing to do with us, Squire, Lastminute says
A Norwich company has denied allegations made in The Sun that it was plotting to redirect traffic away from lastminute.com. In statement issued by nearlylastminute.com the e-outfit said: "Urgent legal advice is being sought regarding the totally false allegations published in todays [sic] UK national press. "A further statement from nearlylastminute.com will be released shortly." Lastminute.com trumped this with its own statement today. It said: "Lastminute.com has made no comment on, or allegation against, Nearlylastminute.com. We are not dealing with any current security issue. "We have not been contacted by any legal representative in relation to this matter." To make matters worse, The Register received an e-mail from nearlylastminute.com last night. It said: "Jemma Whaley-Cohen is at this moment involved in various discussions with all interested parties, both on the possible sale of nearlylastminute and/or regarding the ongoing support of our strategic partners." So let's get this straight. The Sun said there was a plot, lastminute.com said there wasn't a security problem and nearlylastminute.com denies everything, regardless of what it is. Lastminute.com says it hasn't spoken to any legal people but nearlylastminute.com suggests it is holding talks. If it isn't talking with lastminute.com, then to whom is it talking ? The Norwich outfit mentioned the "possible sale of nearlylastminute.com". Is it referring to the business or the domain? If it's the domain, then its actions could be construed as cybersquatting. If it's the business, it would be interesting to see what it has have to sell since the domain was registered a little over a week ago. Does anybody really know what the heck is going on here? No one at lastminute.com was available for any kind of explanatory comment this morning. Jemma Whaley-Cohen promised to call but hasn't done so yet. This whole episode is so riddled with confusion it makes breaking a 40-bit encryption as easy as cracking a one-piece jigsaw puzzle. ® Cybersquatting Full Coverage
Business 10 11:29
Heading for FTSE 250 territory
This defies rational explanation -- InterX's shares have leapt £3 this morning to £39.25, following a £50 million new share issue and a £80 million share sale by the directors. It is now worth £1.4 billion. A dilutive placing and big directors sale (at £34 per share) should have seen InterX's share price fall. But investors clearly liked the news-packed summary and interim results accompanying the share issue. Last week, InterX announced its plans to extend its IT Network product information engine to other industry sectors. The Register guessed the pharmaceuticals industry: we guessed right. InterX is to buy Pharmweb, the owner of pharmweb.net, a "pharmaceutical an health-related portal" set up by Manchester University in 1994, for £20 million in cash, loan-notes and shares. Pharmweb's current owners get £10 million of this for their equity, and the business gets £10 million for working capital. The deal is at non-binding heads of agreement stage and is subject to due diligence. Meanwhile, InterX subsidiary IT Network is rolling out its service overseas, kicking off with Ireland. The company is to build a co-branded version at www.techcentral.ie, the online version of Computerscope, Ireland's biggest computer magazine. For the 27 weeks to Feb 5, 2000, IT Network generated £500,000 in revenue and a further £300,000 in deferred sales. Since launching last summer, the company has billed £1.27 million. It says it is developing new revenue streams "for the unique market intelligence automatically generated by the IT Network's product information engine". Cromwell Media, InterX’s wannabe Broadvision-killer software subsidiary, has won two "significant contracts" for Bladerunner – with Royal Sun Alliance and Cambridge University Press. Bladerunner is inching towards full-productisation and delivers an unspecified revenues stream through licensing revenues with IT Network and Silicon.com. So now Cromwell has four named customers and, with Pharmweb, it will have five. The company, which is to be renamed InterX Technology, is valued at £694 million on the basis that the two thirds not already owned by InterX, was bought for 11,946,052 new Ordinary Shares, and that the closing price on 9 March 2000 was 3,625p. InterX's group pre-tax profits for the half year to Feb 5 were £451,000 (1999: 3.01 million). The company's big money spinner is Ideal Hardware, the IT distie arm which has a for sale sign around its neck, In the meantime, the majority of its profits are pumped into funding the group's lossmaking Internet business. The group now has £50 million through its share placing. And it should have another £50 million or so, once the sale of Ideal Hardware is completed. ® Related Stories IT Network eyes up US market InterX distie arm still for sale InterX directors cash in £75 million of shares
Business 10 12:40
Charisma Engine and Pixel Tapestry to accelerate 3D rendering 'tenfold'
ATI will reveal today how it plans to out-3dfx 3dfx with two technologies that, it claims, will provide a tenfold increase in 3D rendering power and far more realistic graphics into the bargain. The technologies in question are what ATI is already calling the Charisma Engine - which sounds so similar to the PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine, ATI has to be attempting to cash in on the fame of the Sony product - and the Pixel Tapestry Architecture (PTA). The Charisma Engine is a fast geometry processing unit, but steps ahead of rival components with built-in character skinning and key-frame animation acceleration facilities. The plan is to provide software developers with the scope to increase the number of changes that can be made to a character model each second, allowing a far greater and more fluid range of body movement and facial expressions than can be achieved today. PTA, meanwhile, is a billion texels per second rendering engine which also provides what ATI calls "deep multi-texturing" and a whole stack of photorealistic 3D effects that will no doubt allow ATI oppos to wow the crowd at the Game Developers Conference on Friday, when details of the PTA and Charisma Engine are to be unveiled. Assuming, of course, Bill Gates' announcement of the Nvidia-based X-Box doesn't take the shine off ATI's presentation too much... ®
Business 10 13:03
Forecasts roll-out prior to full launch
Oftel has published a consultation document today which it says outlines the legal framework for unbundling the local loop (ULL). Kicking off in June, the framework will deliver the legal force behind all the proposals to open up Britain's phone network to competition. The "winged watchdog"* claims this is a "key new stage towards unbundling the local loop". Among the conditions announced today is BT's requirement to provide unbundled loops to other network operators, to permit the co-location of equipment at its local exchanges, and to provide any necessary services to open up the network to competition. It will also give Oftel the power to set the price for these services, and to resolve any disputes between BT and other operators over these services. Oftel said it hopes to publish an "indicative" wholesale price for ULL next month. It's also understood that Oftel is talking with BT about the chances of bringing forward the date by which local loop unbundling. The absolute can't-be-broken-we-won't-let-it-happen-not-in-a-million-years-you-can-count-on-us-yes-sireee deadline for ULL is 1 July 2001. David Edmonds, Oftel's DG, said: "Systems and processes are being put in place to ensure that everything runs smoothly from day one. "I am encouraged by the level of commitment from within BT and the industry to make this a reality. Progress is being made at a very good rate. "If this continues it should be possible to achieve some initial roll-out prior to the full launch." Hang on , Mr Edmonds. "...systems and processes are being put in place to ensure that everything runs smoothly from day one"... "encouraged by the level of commitment from within BT"... "should be possible to achieve some initial roll-out prior to the full launch... " Careful now, these words could come back and haunt you. ® * - Register history lesson: Oftel the winged watchdog. A mythical beast from days of yore and "powerful kings". Sometimes known as Offal, from the Norse word for "gutsy". Famous for the dogged determination with which it avoids confrontation. See also: Oftel loosens BT shackles UK telecoms market fair, Oftel claims Oftel wimps out, again
Business 10 14:01
Plant couldn't assemble them cheaply enough for Apple
LG Electronics plant in South Wales has punched out its last iMacs, according to a report local paper the Western Mail. The reason: it can't make Macs cheaply enough to meet Apple's aggressive cost requirements. Apple apparently wanted a $100-250 cut in the cost of production, but LG said that this was impossible without making the line unprofitable. LG told the paper that Apple's decision to cease outsourcing iMac assembly at the plant won't have an impact on jobs - the 600 staff on the iMac production line will be moved over to other computer assembly lines. The plant employs 2000 people overall. Apple's decision apparently leaves Europe without its own iMac production facility, though built-to-order iMacs will presumably continue to ship from its Cork, Ireland plant. Production there was scaled down last year when Apple signed a multi-billion dollar outsourcing deal with LG. Most iMac components are built in South East Asia, with final assembly taking place closer to the machines' final destinations - Mexico for the North American market and Wales for Europe - primarily because it's cheaper to ship bulk components those kind of distances rather than complete PCs. That said, since 90 per cent of the world's notebooks are shipped fully assembled out of the Far East, LG may now take the same approach with the iMac. ®
Business 10 15:18
And other runners and riders in the stock racing derby
Last time we checked, the Rambus share price (ticker: RMBS) had hit $431, making it a Register share tip that really would have coined it in for readers if they'd bought when we recommended at the beginning of December. Since Wall Street opened earlier today, the price has rocketed by over $51, and it looks like one share will be worth the same as a 128MB RIMM in not too long a time. Cough. UPDATE Shortly after this piece was published, the Rambus board announced a four for one stock split, to take effect at the end of May. Meanwhile, Compaq (ticker: CPQ), is burbling around the $28 mark, despite receiving an outperform forecast from ABN Amro two days ago, and following a string of other positive forecasts at the end of January last. ABN Amro has talked to Compaq's industry standard service division folk (that's not Alpha), and concluded it really will sell an awful pile of eight-way Proliant servers. As we've said for some time now, Compaq is very much undervalued, and its hot swap memory module technology, plus the fact that it is likely to sell half a billion dollars worth of Alpha boxes in the April/May time period means that if you're a punter, you'd be foolish not to for the mid to longer term. Knee-jerk selling of NatSemi (ticker: NSM) stock this morning as it turned in good Q3 results, which we've reported elsewhere today. It currently stands at around $75 from $79 before its results were unveiled. With the forecasts NatSemi is making, the share price is also undervalued in our opinion. No amount of lack of Coppermines can keep old Intel (ticker: INTC) down. When we last looked, its share price was only one eighth away from $120, giving it a fair chance of beating its 52-week high which happened on the 7th of March -- Gigglehurts Day. Isn't it time INTCzilla thought about splitting its stock again? This share price has delivered good long term results for the last nine years. As for Cheapzilla (ticker: AMD), it has already fallen by $5 since the New York Stock Exchange opened for business. How's little Lucy Lucent (ticker: LU)? Its shares fell slightly and are hovering around the $69 mark. That's up around $12 since we last recommended it a fortnight or so ago. We heard then there were other spin-offs afoot. ® * Register staff do not trade in shares they write about. RMBS: Rambus Ink has brilliant future LU: Lucent spin-off unlikely to be the last. Last Crash Register
Business 10 15:35
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...
Nippon Iridium (NI) began ringing the death knell for its ailing parent yesterday, when it announced it will no longer accept new subscriptions to the global cellphone-by-satellite service and will soon begin buying back handsets from existing subscribers. The action itself was no great surprise. NI's majority shareholder, Japanese telco DDI, said last month it had ceased to fund Iridium and would close down the joint venture. Alongside Iridium and DDI, NI's other key shareholder is handset manufacturer Kyocera. However, according to the Nikkei newswire's coverage of the closure, the reason for this latest move is that Iridium "has an insufficient financial base to run the satellite phone and paging business". "The service is highly likely to be affected after March 18, possibly going out of service," it adds. Earlier this week, Iridium announced it had won $3 million extra funding from its lenders, which would tide it over until 11 March, but if it couldn't find a buyer by then, it would have to consider liquidation. The news from Japan suggests that that point has already been reached. ® Related Stories Craig McCaw cuts losses and abandons Iridium McCaw to buy Iridium assets in 11th Hour change of plan Iridium to receive $75m from Teledesic's McCaw
Business 10 15:42
Aren't Webcams great
No one can accuse Planet Online (POL) of being faceless. If you have a problem, and no one else can fix it, then the menfolk and womenfolk of the 2nd Line CoreSystems Support group say they will sort it out. What's more, you can watch them on the job -- live. Their Webcam is focused on POL's operation in Leeds -- in the silicon heartland of Yorkshire -- and you can check it out here. They urge voyeurs to "Tell us how good looking we are, it makes us work faster". But if you scan their "rogues galley" of Hostmasters you may find that just a bit hard to do. Some of them look like they're from another planet. Don't say you haven't been warned. ® Over to you Don't just sit there laughing at the POL mugshots, send us your efforts. Who knows, maybe we can run a Miss/Mr Vulture 2000 contest later this year. Email your Webcam details to Tim Richardson
Business 10 15:50
Not just Supa, but smashing too
In a week when ISPs have fallen over themselves to offer flat-fee unmetered access to the Net, one company now claims it wants to pay people to use its service. Supanet -- a subsidiary of Time Computers -- said today it was setting up a trial to examine how people would use the Net if given low-cost unlimited access. One thousand people in Britain are needed for the trial and supanet is also offering £10 to everyone taking part as an added incentive. Alan Randall, director of marketing, said: "We anticipate that many ISPs will not have fully planned for the surge of demand that these offers will create. "Our research will be the first UK study into unmetered Internet access, and will help us to understand the volumes, peaks and destinations that will be the inevitable result of the new internet landscape," he said. If successful, Supanet intends to expand the trial into a fully-fledged service. Net users can register for the trial from Monday at Supafree.com. ®
Business 10 16:17
And they speak in tongues, too
Forget about viruses and malicious hackers; the real threat these days is far more insidious. Your home computer may be host to a demon, and you and your family may well come under its malevolent control, the Weekly World News reports. "While the Computer Age has ushered in many advances, it has also opened yet another door through which Lucifer and his minions can enter and corrupt men's souls," the paper quotes the Reverend Jim Peasboro, author of an upcoming book, The Devil in the Machine, as saying. Demons are able to possess anything with a brain, from a chicken to a human being. And today's thinking machines have enough space on their hard drives to accommodate Satan or his pals, the paper reports. Disk capacity is an issue, however. Only a PC built after 1985 has the storage capacity to house an evil spirit, the minister explained. The Georgia clergyman says he became aware of the problem from counseling churchgoers. "I learned that many members of my congregation became in touch with a dark force whenever they used their computers," he said. "Decent, happily married family men were drawn irresistibly to pornographic Web sites and forced to witness unspeakable abominations. "Housewives who had never expressed an impure thought were entering Internet chat rooms and found themselves spewing foul, debasing language they would never use normally," he declared. "One woman wept as she confessed to me, 'I feel when I'm on the computer as if someone else or something else just takes over.'" The minister said he probed one such case, actually logging onto the parishioner's computer himself. To his horror, an artificial-intelligence program started spontaneously. "The program began talking directly to me, openly mocked me," he recalls. "It typed out, 'Preacher, you are a weakling and your God is a damn liar.'" Then the device went haywire and started printing out what looked like gobbledygook. "I later had an expert in dead languages examine the text," the minister said. "It turned out to be a stream of obscenities written in a 2,800-year-old Mesopotamian dialect!" The minister estimates that one in ten computers in America now hosts some type of evil spirit. The Reverend advises anyone suspecting that their computer is possessed to consult a clergyman, or, if the computer is still under warranty, to take it in for servicing. "Technicians can replace the hard drive and reinstall the software, getting rid of the wicked spirit permanently," he says. ® See also Net is bad news, says Archbishop Bill Gates devil "numerologist" can't count Intel in Revelations avoidance shocker Bishops bash web pornmongers
Business 10 16:19
But reiterates recall denial
Sony has admitted there's a problem with some PlayStation 2 Memory Cards - or rather that there's an issues beyond the trouble the company has had sourcing sufficient MCs to go round. Claims that the consumer eletronics giant was recalling all the MCs it had shipped emerged on Wednesday, but were quickly denied by Sony's US wing. A spokeswoman said simply that Sony was experiencing MC production problems, something her Japanese counterparts had already coughed to. On Monday they revealed that although 980,000 PlayStation 2s had been sold over the console's launch weekend, two-thirds of online buyers had yet to receive their machine. Sony nows says there is a glitch with MCs, and has asked customers who have experienced problems with their console's built-in DVD player after saving games on an MC to return card or console to the company. The bug surfaced when players of Namco's Ridge Racer V game found that after saving their game, when they went back to the console, the game, which ships on a DVD, would not play properly and neither would DVD movies. The PlayStation 2 stores its DVD driver software on the Memory Card. So either Ridge Racer isn't writing to the card correctly or the card is at fault. Sony said its investigation of the problem so far had ruled out glitches the console's software. Namco is investigating the problem too. ® Related Story X-Box unleashed: MS snubs PC OEMs, dumps AMD Athlon?
Business 10 16:25
Get orff my registry
America Online has received yet another class action lawsuit alleging that its AOL 5.0 software damages PCs. The proposed class action lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Denver, Colorado, yesterday claims that AOL "violated federal electronic communications law by releasing software that, without adequate warning, made major configuration changes to users' computers". The lawsuit also claims that AOL failed to inform AOL 5.0 users that the program would make changes to their computers' operating systems and would interfere with their ability to connect to the competing ISP networks. Seattle attorney, Steve Berman, filed the lawsuit on behalf of all Colorado residents using AOL 5.0 under the Stored Wire and Electronic Communications and Transactional Records Access Act. This is believed to the second class action lawsuit filed by Berman. Last month he filed a similar action against AOL in King County Superior Court, Washington State. The Colorado lawsuit was brought by EZ Bookings Inc, a Steamboat Springs, Colorado, company. According to the complaint, Xavier N Reyna, president of EZ Bookings and a professional computer consultant, spent more than 20 hours unravelling and fixing files corrupted by installing AOL 5.O on his firm's computer. "My client dug in and began looking at what AOL did to his system and was floored," said Berman. "He discovered that AOL 5.0 went in and changed the Windows registry, which is the most complex segment of the operating system -- the DNA of the machine." "To think that AOL's software -- without warning or permission -- put its corporate thumb-print right in the middle of the registry is unbelievable," he said. According to Berman, AOL 5.0 is a brazen attempt to force consumers to use AOL. AOL spokesman, Rich D'Amato, reiterated earlier claims that the lawsuit had "no basis in fact or law." He said it was the same lawsuit simply filed in a different jurisdiction. ® Related stories: AOL hit by second class action AOL scoffs at class action
Business 10 16:31
X-Box's late 2001 launch may not matter too much...
From The Register, 10 October 99... Head of Sony's PlayStation operation Ken Kutaragi today pledged to drive the technology behind the company's Emotion Engine processor line -- the heart of the upcoming PlayStation 2 -- way beyond that of Intel's Pentium family within the next six years. And he hinted at the rapid evolution of future versions of the PlayStation and its chip pushing its upgrade cycle into something more akin to that of the desktop PC. Right now, said Kutaragi, speaking at the autumn Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California, the latest Pentium III chip contains around 10 million transistors -- the same as the first Emotion Engine. Both are constructed using 0.18 micron processes, but as process technology pushes to 0.13 micron and beyond, Kutaragi claimed, the next two generations of Emotion Engine will eclipse Pentium's transistor count. Emotion Engine 2 is slated to appear in 2002 and will contain some 50 million transistors. Its successor, known by the ambiguous moniker Emotion Engine 3, will sport half a billion transistors shoehorned onto the die by a 0.1 micron process. Of course, the projected arrival of both chips suggests Sony is planning to update the PlayStation 2 rather more quickly than that machine will supplant the original PlayStation. The gap between PSX 1 and 2 is five years (1994 to 1999), but according to Kutaragi's presentation, the PlayStation 3 could appear in three years' time -- just two years after the debut of the PlayStation 2. The next-generation of Sony's Linux-based PlayStation development system is due in 2002, and it too appears geared to tie in with the release of the second version of Emotion Engine and PlayStation 3. Sony is describing the system not only as a video game development system but also as the basis for creating real-time digital entertainment content. Curiously, a second slide dates the PlayStation 2 launch to 1999, perhaps confirming the claim that Sony's original release date for the 128-bit console was the end of this year, and that the company was indeed forced to push the launch back three months to March 2000. As appealing as Sony's projections for the rapid evolution of the PlayStation are, getting a third generation out in 2002 seems optimistic. While the chip and hardware development programmes appear eminently achievable, it takes time to build up a user base for the current version, and that usually hinders the rapid release of new versions -- few people are willing to buy a platform that will not be supported in just a couple of years' time. Of course, Sony has an advantage here -- the PlayStation 2 will be the first games console to offer backwards compatibility. If future versions of the machine continue to offer that, users can ditch their hardware but retain their software investment, and that could easily persuade them to upgrade -- or at least to do so with less reluctance. Kutaragi reiterated Sony's broad plan to put the PlayStation 2 at the heart of digital home entertainment systems, ultimately as the medium through which digital music and movies are bought, downloaded and played, so if Sony can persuade buyers that the PlayStation 2 is more of a consumer electronics device than a computer, again that will make upgrades seem more attractive to the public. ® Related Stories Sony delays PlayStation 2 so kids can still sit tests Sony puts PlayStation 2 at heart of Net strategy
Business 10 16:39
24/7 toll-free access and no subs
LineOne has stepped forward this afternoon to become the latest e-outfit to offer toll-free and subscription free 24/7 access to the Net. Today's announcement was not really unexpected since LineOne was already offering limited toll-free Net access thanks to a deal with discount telco, Quip!. It began offering the service last December ahead of an official launch in January. The basis of this combined telephony and Internet model is much the same as the other players in the market. Revenue will come, in part, from telephony revenue, ecommerce and increased ad spend. The major condition of the offer is that users must spend at least £5 per month on normal telephone talk time with Quip!. Users will also have to splash-out £20 for a telephone dialler which will automatically route calls via Quip!. In return, users also receive discounted national and International voice calls. LineOne claims its offer is cheaper than AltaVista, ntl, and BT SurfTime. The full service goes live on 31 March. Ajay Chowdhury, MD of LineOne, told The Register this afternoon that this was the "best deal" around. "We brought the announcement forward -- but it was always clear that the market was going to go free," he said. ® Related stories AOL hits out at BT Freeserve in NTL's sights Blair hails NTL Free Everything ISP plans It's first come, first served: AltaVista AltaVista UK reveals Free Everything plans Telewest to offer unlimited Net access LineOne users to get free phone calls
Business 10 16:54
Buyer must be found by 15 March - or else...
Iridium's deadline - and never was a word more appropriate - to find a buyer or liquidate has been extended to 15 March, Motorola has told the troubled satellite venture's customers. "Unless a qualified buyer comes forward and provides additional funding by March 15, 2000, we do not expect Iridium service to be available after 11:59 p.m. EST on March 17, 2000," customers were told in a letter from Motorola's cellular service division sent out on Monday. That will effectively mark the end of Iridium. At that point Motorola will begin decommissioning Iridium's network of satellites, a prospect Iridium itself raised on Monday when it announced a $3m cash injection from its lenders intended to keep the company operational until tomorrow. Details of Motorola's letter emerged, courtesy of Reuters, as Nippon Iridium, the Japanese joint venture between Iridium, DDI and Kyocera said it had stopped taking new subscriptions - though we'd be surprised if there were and new subscribers to turn away - and would soon begin buying back handsets from existing customers. It's not yet known whether Motorola will buy back handsets too, but given its exposure to Iridium, we doubt it. ®
Business 10 17:36
Excises all references to you-know-who
The very day that Intel introduced its first 1GHz Coppermine processor, two days after AMD's release of its one gig chip, the company enforced new rules on its Pentium III product support forum. People who posted messages referring to Intel's competitor have now had their messages removed and replaced with a standard message advising them that if they want to talk about competitors' offerings, they should do so on non-Intel sites. A message asking a question about the Pentium III versus the AMD Athlon processor, for example, has the following message: "Removed as off topic. Please use an appropriate usenet group or private email to discuss products from competitors". It then refers such questions to ZD Net, computer.com and IDG forums, and gives a link to Intel's own performance benchmarks for its Coppermine processors. It adds: "Intel(R) support does not comment on the products from other companies, or offer the kind of comparison data you are looking for. Additional posts will be removed." Sources close to Intel were keen to tell The Register Wednesday last that the on-die cache on Intel Coppermines meant it performed faster than any Athlon processor, while even Intel's own press release made the same point. In additional news, Intel has given notice to its readers that it is shutting down its Intel etcetera forum, a space for off-topic comments. It has made it read only and will close it on March 10th. That has drawn adverse comments from customers. One wrote: "What a weak weak decision on Intel's part. Well, I sure am glad I won't have to be the one moderating the processor forums with no intel.etc forum to push off-topic discussions into." There is also a long thread at the Intel Pentium III processor support forum discussing availability of its Coppermine chips, with customers complaining that they're cancelling orders and being forced, despite being loyal customers, to switch to the processor that dare not speak its name... ®
Business 10 17:44
The spec and the plan escapes - Intel gets the gig after all
Microsoft's X-Box games console has made it out of the traps hours in advance of the official launch, due to take place later today in San Jose. To a degree the machine is as widely expected, but there are several key points and areas of fuzz worth paying attention to as well. It's going to use a custom graphics chip co-designed with Nvidia. This is intended to deliver over 300 million polygons per second, and the relationship with Nvidia will be used (as we kind of noticed earlier this week) to push Microsoft's DirectX into the console market. The X-Box will have a 600MHz "x86 compatible" (but that's just what the original release said)CPU, 64 megs RAM, eight gig hard drive, DVD drive, an unspecified expansion port, but likely USB or derivative, and a 100MBps Ethernet. It'll ship in Q3 2001, using a derivative of Win2k as the OS, and Microsoft is going to build them itself. Which takes us neatly onto the key points and fuzz. Allegedly, PC companies shown the designs last Autumn weren't interested, so Microsoft decided to go it alone. Given what's missing from the design as it currently stands, and what they were likely to have seen a few months back, their lack of enthusiasm was scarcely surprising. Apparently there were two versions of X-Box, one that could roll in Q3 2000, and the more sophisticated 2001 version, which is what Microsoft is now going with. But the decision was taken relatively recently. A 2000 implementation, as we've noted before, would be pretty much a PC, and would have to use Windows Millennium Edition, so the PC companies on the one hand wouldn't have been able to see how this differed from what they were doing already, and on the other wouldn't see the 2001 spec as firm enough to commit to two years ahead of the game. No OS, no firmed-up graphics (the Nvidia deal is recent too), no chipsets, no boards, no hardware reference design - so can you blame them? With the exception of Nvidia climbing aboard the team, the other huge gaps remain to be filled. Microsoft can possibly get Win2k honed by Q3 2001, but the rest of it? We've now got a 600MHz PIII as the CPU, but you need more than a CPU, and although Intel has successfully mounted an anti-AMD coup, it happened too recently for the rest of the hardware to have been publicly nailed. The reason AMD got bumped so late is surely is that MS wanted to get a very keen price on what could be (if they're still building them) a low-cost commodity chip by Q3 2001, and also wants to leverage a volume chip supply deal into design. Bluntly, Microsoft wants the hardware partner to do the hardware design for it, and will also want this to extend into volume board production. And unlike AMD, Intel has quite a lot of this stuff it prepared earlier. Its demented "Concept PC" showpieces even include designs tagged "the ultimate games machine" (this being the IT business, there are of course several and they keep getting better). Intel also has the fabbing capacity to be able to knock out vast quantities of 600MHz-class chips (custom, maybe?) at a ludicrously low price by the middle of next year. Yes, we know it doesn't look like that now... Intel could probably knock together a pretty convincing, and pretty cheap, PIII 600 derivative by next year, and it's not exactly short of fabbing capacity. Just yields. ® Related Stories Intel snatches X-Box victory, eats AMD Athlon's lunch X-Box: Nvidia schmoozes MS, drops huge hints X-Box vapour triggers Nvidia stock frenzy X-Box to ship fall 2001, nuke Sony, Nintendo et al IT Network: AMD Athlon at heart of Microsoft X-Box spec Microsoft to launch X-Box next month Microsoft's X-Box PlayStation 2 killer spec. leaks out Joy of Cex claims Microsoft X Box sneak peak Microsoft's X-Box PlayStation 2 killer resurfaces Microsoft readies x86, Nvidia-based rival to PlayStation
Business 10 17:45
Historically, we'd just like to point out, AMD is always Wintel roadkill
As was eminently predictable (we can say this, because we predicted it), Intel snatched AMD's lunch at the final fence of the X-Box drama today. And what a tacky, tawdry affair it was. Compulsive readers (who should really see a doctor about it) will have noted we pointed up the lack of an AMD reference in Microsoft's original X-Box spec, published this morning Japanese time. Not only that, but the spec said that the chip was 600MHz x86 compatible. But as Microsoft got its act together on the way to this morning Seattle time, it had become, variously, a 600MHz Intel processor and "Intel Pentium III processor technology with Streaming SIMD Extensions." So it's a 600MHz PIII - or more properly, it's derived from this chip. For numerous and fairly obvious reasons, by the Q3 2001 ship date it's going to be vital to have this technology honed on both price and performance. Microsoft's incredible rotating spec sheet makes it abundantly clear that AMD only got the bullet within the past couple of days, but Intel's own performance today makes it even clearer. The Great Satan of Silicon is indeed at the scene of the X-Box launch, the San Jose Game Developers Conference, and is indeed strutting its stuff. The trouble is, the announcement we prepared earlier turns out to about how great PIII at 1GHz is for games, with added noise about OpenGL support. OpenGL on an X-Box? Right... But watch this space for a retrospectively edited Chipzilla announcement. How come AMD lost it? As we said earlier, Microsoft is going to need a lot of backup on hardware design. Intel can deliver this, while AMD can only promise. Intel can also - and here's a nasty bit - spec and quite possibly build large quantities of the boards the X-Box is going to be based on. If, as Microsoft spun to the WSJ this morning, the plan really is for Microsoft to badge the hardware itself, then Wintel is quite clearly moving a notch further. Intel has been cornering more and more of the internals of the PC for some years now, and as we've repeatedly noted here, is really a PC manufacturer as well. Microsoft's percentage of the total price of a PC has been rising over the same period. But now, Wintel is going to be taking it all - you can trust these guys with industry standards, can't you? ® See also: X-Box unleashed
Business 10 18:36
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- Geek's Guide to Britain Kingston's aviation empire: From industry firsts to Airfix heroes
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