13th > March > 2000 Archive

The Register breaking news

Going up – Linux for Lifts

The Embedded Linux Consortium, formed recently as a vendor-neutral trade association is intended to provide a Linux-based alternative to Microsoft operating systems like Windows CE and embedded NT. Linus Torvalds has given ELC his blessing. The ELC was proposed by Rick Lehrbaum of LinuxDevices, who runs the PC/104 Consortium, and who will serve as interim chairman. More than 20 companies -- notably excluding Microsoft -- expressed their support and have pledged sufficient funds to launch ELC. Lehrbaum has a useful background paper on embedded Linux in the current issue of Dr Dobb's Journal, where he draws attention to the acceptability of soft-real time (SRT) Linux where millisecond responses are sufficient, as in many real-world situations. It would make a great deal of sense for ELC to include in its scope real-time OSes, since some key problems that confront the developers of such systems -- rapid hardware evolution, and the need for some standardisation for example -- are similar to those facing embedded-OSdevelopers. There is no universal agreement that Linux is necessarily the universal answer for RTOSes, or embedded systems come to that. And although small-footprint and "headless" operation appears to be required at present, this may not be the case in the future -- witness embedded NT. It appears ELC that their focus is really on reliable and efficient embedded systems, rather than Linux per se, and that in certain circumstances UNIX could be important. Maybe a better name for the organisation might be the Embedded and Real-Time Consortium, with a Linux Group within it. Such a solution could solve the problem of the ELC membership fee being a bit steep for small or one-person Linux outfits, by making it possible for them to have a lower-cost membership. By not insisting on Linux, ELC could encourage what Lehrbaum described as the non-Microsoft embedded OS developments to be part of ELC, rather than being a third alienated and fragmented group, especially as at the moment there are rather few embedded Linux developers. Although ELC is not intended to concerned with standards, it is desirable that reliability measures and certification be developed - and the expertise to achieve this is likely to be found largely in the ELC membership. After all, if such testing were not Linux-specific, Microsoft could be encouraged to submit its products for approval. ®
Graham Lea, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

250,000 flock to register for Lastminute shares

Up to 250,000 investors have flocked to sign up for shares in lastminute.com The online retailer's shares, due to start trading tomorrow, are believed to be at least 20 times oversubscribed. Sponsors and backers of the float are reported to be preparing themselves for the backlash when allocations fail to meet expectations. Applications, which could only be made through the company's Website and closed on Friday, flooded in from small and institutional investors from both sides of the Atlantic. The stampede to get a piece of lastminute means there is around £2.3 billion on offer for £115 million worth of shares. City bookie Financial Spreads is predicting the share price will close at 590 pence on Tuesday – way higher than the official 350 pence. This would value Lastminute at £900 million – almost as much as Manchester United. ® See also So now Lastminute is worth £526 million Nearlylastminute.com consults lawyers over Sun article
Linda Harrison, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Qwest blames US West for DT deal going west

It's like the plot of an opera. Qwest has blamed US West for the breakdown of negotiations with "a major telecommunications company" (meaning Deutsche Telekom), while US West apparently rejected a DT bid as it would have brought about the breakup of US West and enabled DT to pay less for the company. US West threatened to sue Qwest if it agreed to be acquired by another company and did not go ahead with its stated intention of buying US West. Qwest said DT would have to satisfy US West's demands or it would not agree to be acquired. As a consequence, DT ended its attempt to buy Qwest. By one of those curious coincidences, the Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 on Friday in approval of the previously proposed £36 billion acquisition of US West by Qwest, subject to some relatively minor regulatory issues - principally that Denver-based Qwest must divest itself of its long-distance customers in the 14-state area in which US West operates. Smoke signals went up that this would be done in double-quick time - perhaps even next month, for an anticipated $300 million. A possibly tougher regulatory requirement is to persuade all 14 states to approve the deal. Colorado and Washington have agreed, but there is apparently opposition in Minnesota. It is interesting to contemplate whether a deal with DT would have received federal and state regulatory approval, but now we shall never know. For Deutsche Telekom, still 65 percent-controlled by the foot-dragging German state, it was another failure in its desire to spend German taxpayers' money in its attempt to become a global telecom player. At least DT managed to double its share price over the last year, despite its earnings going down 45 percent. It still faces the problem of increasing competition on its home patch, but a major acquisition is not necessarily the key to its future success, analysts are warning. The question now is who might be the next target for DT's embrace, after the fracas that stopped it controlling Telecom Italia (in a battle surprisingly won by Olivetti), and the consequent souring of a Gallic embrace with France Telecom. BellSouth has been mentioned, as has Global Crossing: but could Cable & Wireless, or the weakened BT, be next? The fat lady has yet to sing. ®
Graham Lea, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Analysts pan screenphones, praise mobile

Screenphones, like the WebTouch from Alcatel, may have won prizes at trade fairs, and kudos from industry insiders, but the latest figures from Alcatel are less than stellar. Alcatel has shipped about 40,000 units to retail outlets in France and Germany since late last year, according to Laurent Lachaux, Alcatel spokesperson. Such sales figures are not unexpected. Bryan Ma, International Data Corporation (IDC) Research Analyst, says: "The screenphone space has stalled somewhat (vendors dropped, business model challenges, distribution issues, consumer awareness, etc), but we still see growth in the category, albeit slowed and in later years." IDC is expecting a world-wide market for Information Appliances worth USD 17.8 billion based on the shipment of 89 million units in 2004. The starting point for the forecast was a market worth USD 2.4 billion in 1999. The forecast includes handheld devices, email terminals, set-top boxes or surf-stations, and screenphones. It makes clear that the numbers primarily refer to set–top boxes and Internet gaming consoles, that "other form factors [such as the screenphone] should follow in volume, but these devices are only now arriving on the scene". Therese Torris at Forrester Research in Amsterdam says screenphones are "too little, too late". Had the screenphone been launched 24 months ago, she argues, when PC prices were still pretty steep, then it could have caught some of the momentum generated by newbie Internet users driving PC sales in Europe. Screen subsidies "It’s too much, actually," says Torris, compared to the telephone equipment market that it sought to replace, namely France’s 7 million Minitel terminals. "Sixty per cent of Minitel calls are to look up phone numbers - - directory services." Other features -- web and email access, are superfluous in that context, she says. The Screenphone manufacturers, including Atlinks, Samsung, and Matsushita, are making deals with retailers and there has been a flurry of channel agreement announcements. But for screenphones sales to take off, service providers (telcos or and ISPs) will have to bundle services which appeal to local markets, and they must make giant marketing efforts, analysts say. These days, telcos are investing in mobile networks and services, and not in fixed networks. Atlinks spokesperson Laurent Lachaux says that even if telcos don’t jump on the screenphone bandwagon right away, new Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as retailers and banks will drive the market, offering subsidised screenphones to create an online consumer market for their products and services. "In two or three years 40 per cent of Internet users will be using non-PC devices for residential access," says Lachaux who doesn’t like to label it a niche market either, rather calling it "a new segment for alternative Internet appliances". Video sucks What about the benefits of having a screenphone in your kitchen or an extra Web display on the desktop at work? What about the replacement market for the Minitel? What about the fact that it runs PersonalJava and not a Microsoft operating system? (That fact alone is enough for me to love it.) What about its compact size and friendly user interface? There are plenty of reasons why the screenphone should be successful. But these things alone are not enough to propel sales. Torris, who has been tracking technology for the past fifteen years, says: "Not everything that is good and useful is necessarily successful. I have seen lots of examples of this over the years." The analysts are bullish on mobile services and products. "It’s a huge opportunity," Torris enthuses. However, she cautions recent marketing efforts of phone manufacturers touting the wonders of mobile video, all of them do this actually, to stop doing it. It is a mistake to create expectations of high quality video over mobile networks. "Why promote video when the compelling applications, such as airline schedules, car rental reservations, traffic news, and directory services are available today? Besides these [cellular] networks are not made to support video,"says Torris. "Consumers expecting a simple, anywhere, anytime content service experience will be far happier than those expecting full colour, motion pictures," says Mark Selby, CEO of MobileChannel Network, a Geneva-based mobile Internet software vendor. Will people use the mobile phone to access Internet services at home, rather than a screenphone? The answer is yes. Maybe you and I won’t, but take look at your nieces and nephews, or your kids if you’re old enough, to see why the answer is yes. From what I see, no occasion is too intimate, shower too wet, or tram too crowded to warrant turning off the handset. ®
The Register breaking news

Breathe in, breathe out for Free Everything ISP

The latest ISP to offer flat-fee unmetered access to the Net reckons it will bring a breath of fresh air to the marketplace. breathe describes itself as a "leading UK free ISP" (don't they all?), with "between 200,000 and 300,000 subscribers, and reckons its up front one-off payment of £50 will be enticing enough to compete in the already busy free/free ISP marketplace. The service swings into action on Monday 3rd April in partnership with Toys R' US and the radio station, Kiss FM. Unlike the telephony/Internet model that appears to be in vogue at the moment, breathe will generate income from e-commerce and ads. But what's really driving it for breathe is the chance to identify those people who would subscribe to wireless Internet services. No doubt this wouldn’t be handed out for nothing. Sean Gardner, breathe's coo, said he expected the net cost of providing toll-free access to the Net to be between £30 - £50 per user above the £50 registration fee. But he said that was a "sensible cost" if it helps recruit users to its wireless Internet services. The backbone of breathe's dial-up 24/7 toll-free service is to be provided by Manchester-based Opal Telecoms, in which e-ntrepreneur Martin Dawes has a "significant" stake. Dawes is also the man behind Breathe. He sold his mobile telephone retailer, Martin Dawes Telecommunications, in 1998 and picked recently up £20 million pounds in venture capitalist backing. ® Related stories LineOne joins Free Everything gang 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
Tim Richardson, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Iridium rival satellite plunges into the sea

ICO Global Communications lost its first satellite yesterday after the failure to ignite of the Boeing Sea Launch rocket that was supposed to catapult it into space. The company says the Sea Launch rocket suffered an "anomaly" after an apparently successful lift-off on Sunday at 2:49pm GMT. In other words it disappeared and plunged into the sea, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Sea Launch is to conduct an investigation. Insurance costs will pay for a replacement space craft. ICO says it has built 12 satellites, even though it only needs 10 to get its service up and running. Which means it can afford to lose one more, before it's buggered. Shame though, that the company couldn't have reworked its technology to take over the Iridium satellites. Each one of these is the size of a Volkswagon Beetle, and God help us all when these start dropping out of the sky. Hopefully, there will be enough money left over, following Iridium's almost inevitable demise on Friday, March 17, to decomission these beasts safely. ® Related Story Motorola tells Iridium customers to expect the worst
Drew Cullen, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

1GHz Athlons to ship in the UK next week

The first PCs using AMD's Athlon 1GHz chip are expected to start shipping in the UK this week. Gateway claims it will be first to market with its Select 1000, and expects deliveries to begin early next week. The 1GHz machine is priced at £1,899 ex VAT, with 128MB SDRAM, 20GB hard drive, DVD V and soft DVD ROM drive, 32MB TNT video, 17 inch monitor and Windows 98. Evesham Micros plans to have two 1GHz basic model machines on show at a London press conference on Friday. The 1GHz DDR top end machine will have 128MB, 40GB hard drive, 32MB Ge-Force DDR video card, 10 speed DVD, Windows 98, 19 inch monitor and a CD-RW. It will cost £2,179 ex VAT. Its Athlon 1GHz TNT2 PC, at £1,909, will offer 128MB, 27GB hard drive, TNT 32MB sound card and 19 inch monitor. It aims to start shipping this month. Other PC builders are expecting Athlon shipments from AMD within the next few weeks. Mesh plans to deliver its first 1GHz machines by April 1. Priced at £1,999 ex VAT, the Matrix 1GHz Ultra will target niche customers who want the latest kit. "The 1GHz chip is more about an ego battle between AMD and Intel than what the consumer actually wants," said Paul Kinsler, Mesh general manager. Its Matrix 1GHz Ultra will have 128MB, 34GB hard drive, CD-RW, 19 inch monitor, Internet keyboard and Windows 98. Dabs Direct said it didn't expect to start selling the Athlon 1GHz chips until May or June. It had no date for selling PCs using the chip. Other UK launches of the chip include Time Computers, which expects to start shipping machines in April. Its 1000-7 CD-R TV UltimatePC will cost £2,299 ex VAT, with 256MB SDRAM, 30GB hard drive, 32MB TNTAGPx2 graphics, 19 inch monitor, 6x DVD-ROM and CD-RW. Panrix's 1GHz PC will be priced at £2,695 ex VAT, with 128Mb SDRAM, 40GB hard drive, AGP DDR GeForce 32MB, Windows 2000 and 19 inch screen. First deliveries are expected in April. ® Related stories Mesh pre-announces its PIII 800 PC Evesham, other UK vendors, intro 750MHz Athlon kit
Linda Harrison, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Distribution turns into Icy Hell for ICL

ICL Multivendor Computing has quit trade distribution due to falling margins in the industry. The ICL subsidiary closed the Warrington-based operation on Thursday evening. The distribution business, which shipped £60 million of IBM, Compaq and Fujitsu kit last year, has not been pumping out profits in line with the rest of ICL. "Over the years, the distribution business had become less and less important to us," said Eric Roth, ICL Multivendor Computing marketing intelligence manager. "It did not fit ICL's transformation to a services company. And we recognise the fact that margins in computer distribution are extremely low." The distribution business worked from the same warehouse as ICL's reseller business, which is still operating. The company will also continue as a Sun distributor. The 20 sales and administrative staff who worked in the distribution area will be offered jobs elsewhere within the company. ICL, which plans to float later this year, said it would honour all outstanding orders. The closure coincides with plans from rival distie Ingram to raise prices and impose stricter controls on credit and returns. According to the US distributor, vendors were tightening their own policies and Ingram was not able to soak up the costs.® Related stories Computacenter battles to retain BT contract Recyclers call for EU directive to be scrapped
Linda Harrison, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Freeserve dampens Observer speculation on toll-free times

Reports that Freeserve is to announce on Thursday plans to introduce toll-free access to the Net may be a little premature. A spokesman for Freeserve reiterated what he told The Register last week that plans to introduce a low-cost inclusive Net package were "in advanced stages".
Tim Richardson, 13 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Sony PlayStation 2 prices hit £1000 on UK grey market

British gaming freaks have paid up to £1000 a pop for Sony PlayStation 2 consoles. London electronics retailer Computer Exchange started selling imported consoles at £999 last week. This is way above the £300 price tag the machines are expected to sport when they officially hit UK shelves in September. Computer Exchange has since dropped its prices to £699, but said it sold out at the weekend and is now awaiting this week's shipment from Japan. The chain of shops refused to reveal how many PlayStation 2s it has shifted. All Mark Lewis, pricing director at Computer Exchange, would reveal was that the "queues of people trying to get into our shop on Rathbone Place" at the weekend made him feel a little "nervous". After all, gamers in Japan have came to blows trying to get their hands on one of their beloved consoles. PlayStation 2s have also been springing up in online auctions. Bids reached $999 (£633) for one console sold from Switzerland on eBay today. Meanwhile, a survey has found that the UK is fast turning into a nation of game-a-holics. According to researchers commisioned by film trade rag Screen Digest, Brits spent £1 billion on computer games in the past year --almost double the £573 million spent at the cinema. UK games sales were the highest in Europe -- nearly double those of nearest rival France. ® Related stories Sony asks buyers to return faulty PlayStation 2 MCs Sony sells 980,000 PlayStation 2 consoles in two days Unauthorised PlayStation 2 exports illegal
Linda Harrison, 13 Mar 2000