10th > April > 2000 Archive

The Register breaking news

Numeritech semi floats: share price flies

A US firm which creates proprietary technology which it claims will assist yields for semiconductors at processes of .18µ (micron) and far below went public on Nasdaq at the end of last week. Numerical Technologies (ticker: NMTC), works on technology that will circumvent lithography problems that occur creating semiconductors at .18µ and below and licenses its technology -- in a similar way to Rambus -- to chip companies. The firm calls this the subwavelength gap. There's another connection between Numeritech and Rambus -- they both share the same chairman -- William Davidow, a major investor in the firm. The firm has partners including semi design form Cadence, mask and kit firms including DuPont, Photronics, Applied Materials and KLA-Tencor. Its chip customers so far include Motorola, Lucent, TSMC, UMC, and VLSI, who are testing a technology which gives gate lengths of .09µ on standard .25µ and .18µ process technology, Numeritech claims. The latest member to join the fold was Texas Instruments, about one month ago, which is using the firm's phase shifting technology for .13µ wireless chips and other DSP semicondcutors. Motorola is using the licensed technology to create devices with truly micronscopic gate sizes for its Power PC technology, sources said. When it went public on April 7th last, its share price rocketed from its estimated float price of $12 to $35.5625 on Nasdaq. ®
Mike Magee, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

Inprise claims wrongful conduct in Iona lawsuit

Inprise/Borland has filed a lawsuit against Iona alleging that Iona has engaged in "a pattern of wrongful conduct", that it has "wrongly solicited" employees, diluted the trademark, interfered with customers, libelled the company by spreading misinformation about its products and services, and engaged in unfair competition. The suit was filed in the California Superior Court against Iona Technologies Inc, and its Irish parent Iona Technologies PLC. Inprise CEO Dale Fuller said he regretted the necessity of having to do this, but he had a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of shareholders. There was no reference to Corel in the announcement. Inprise acquired VisiBroker when Del Yocam was in charge, and competes with Iona in the ORB market. Yocam filed suit against Microsoft when it was found that Borland engineers were being lured from the company by very large sign-on fees. Microsoft settled the case but the terms have not been made public. ®
Graham Lea, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

Java bureacracy reforms itself

Sun expects to have JCP 2.0, a revised draft of its Java Community Process, ready by the end of the month. A "blue ribbon" panel of Java users is developing the standard for Java licensees to review. But will this go far enough to satisfy criticisms about intellectual property rights? In an announcement last week, 13 companies expressed general support for the work, but there has been no specific statement of support so far from IBM, HP or Microsoft. They want to be sure that Sun, as the steward of the Java standard, will be even-handed and refrain from taking advantage of advanced knowledge of specifications. Sun says that the proposed changes will liberalise JCP participation, and result in an executive committee of stakeholders being formed. The job of this committee would be to approve technology specs, and decide when a spec was ready for public review. So far, more than 60 Java specs have started to go through the JCP. It has not helped that Sun established a Real-Time Experts Group that appears to overlap with the J Consortium, which is looking at embedded Java in factory robots. The failure so far to make Java an international standard, after an attempt with ISO and then ECMA (formerly the European Computer Manufacturers' Association) has resulted in some criticism of Sun. The core of the problem is said to be over "unresolved intellectual property rights", after ECMA turned down the JCP and wanted its own procedures. The UNIX trademark was assigned to the Open Group by Novell, although there has been considerable criticism of the ability and appropriateness of the Open Group to fulfill this role. Meanwhile, the Java 2 SDK download counter on Sun's website has passed the 2.5 million mark. ®
Graham Lea, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

Net regulators close in on rogue domains

Cybersquatters are facing defeat as a result of the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This was the conclusion to be drawn last week at the inaugural meeting of Cyberbe@t, a series of events for the intellectual property community arranged in London by Virtual Internet Net Searchers. Jonathan Cohen, a Canadian intellectual property lawyer and member of the ICANN board, drew attention to a number of problems that still need to be resolved. Each registrar is now supposed to operate its own WHOIS database, but some of the country Top Level Domains databases cannot be accessed for data protection reasons (or perhaps incompetence in a few cases), and to make matters worse, there is no uniformity for fields and format in WHOIS databases. Unfortunately perhaps, ccTLDs are not under the ICANN umbrella so far as their management is concerned, and so the UDRP cannot be imposed. Cyberpirates Cohen outlined some interesting problems in trademark law: identical trademarks can exist for different products or services, but this is not possible with domain names. A further problem concerns the territorial nature of trademarks -- they are limited to the country or countries of registration, whereas TLDs are not. Cohen also distinguishes between cybersquatting and cyberpiracy, where the intention in the latter case is to be abusive. Up to about ten new TLDs will probably be agreed by the ICANN board, Cohen expected. One of the respondents to the call for proposals was Ralph Nader's Essential Information/Consumer Project on Technology outfit. Their suggestions include: .union for labour and trades unions; .customers; .complaints; .sucks (but not for ownership by the organisation that sucks); .isnotfair (for civil rights groups); and .shareholders. Other suggestions have included .eu, .bus, .web, .store and .sex. It is expected that the successful registrars for the new TLDs will be non-profit, broadly-based organisations, but a return to monopoly-profits organisations is not totally excluded. ICANN will post the proposals publicly for comment. Moves to get a basic list of "famous trademarks" that are frequently targeted by cybersquatters have not yet been successful, although work continues. The hope is to stop registration of domain names similar to such famous trademarks. It has been a long road to get ICANN established and the UDRP working, Cohen told us. The objectors were generally from one of three groups: companies that had a vested interest in a particular outcome; objectors who claimed public policy motivations for their opposition; and dissidents who were known in some cases to have received financial support for attendance at meetings from NSI, as part of its effort to keep its monopoly. When questioned about the "constituencies" they claimed to represent, and the source of their funding to attend meetings, they were not forthcoming. It is now believed that there are new policies in place at NSI following the appointment of Roger Cochetti, formerly in charge of electronic commerce regulation at IBM, as senior VP and chief policy officer in February. Arbitrators a-gogo There are three dispute resolution organisations offering their services: the World Intellectual Property Organisation (which has more than 100 available panellists and is handling 45 per cent of cases so far); the National Arbitration Forum (based in Minneapolis, handling 46 per cent); and Disputes.org/eResolution Consortium, (based in Montreal, and processing 9 per cent of cases). The only possible resolution by a panel is a decision as to whether there should or should not be a transfer of the domain name. If a transfer should take place, the registrar is instructed accordingly. Eric Wilbers, a senior WIPO legal officer, noted that the average length of time to resolve a case is 35 days, although with the increase in arbitrations, this may stretch to 40 to 45 days, he suggested. Around 95 per cent of WIPO cases so far are being resolved by a one-person panel, with a fee of $1,000, although there is an option for a three-person panel with a fee of $2,500. This compares very favourably with the likely legal fees to accomplish the same objective through the courts -- quite apart from the considerable length of time this is likely to take, with 2.5 years being mentioned as typical. So far, in 35 cases, 80 per cent had been won by the trademark holder. The mediation process is not mandatory, since either side can opt to go to court instead. in around 80 per cent of cases, there has been no reply from the alleged cybersquatter. In quite a few cases, false registration data has evidently been filed, so lessening the chance of some cybersquatters knowing that they have been challenged. It is not necessary for a trademark to be identical with the domain name: it only needs to be "confusingly similar" for a submission through the UDRP. A current problem is in the use of nicknames, or where the names of people have been legally changed - for example in the case of a certain Mr Oxford University, in Australia. Another problem is the apparent registration of the names of more than a hundred mostly British authors as a TLD, such as martinamis.com and julianbarnes.com: these are being offered for sale. There are also some intellectual property issues with hyperlinking, with three types being recognised: where the URL is changed; where image links are used to bring in an image without changing the URL; and framing, whereby pages from another site are viewed in a window, again without the URL being unchanged. Metatagging can also be a problem, especially if the metatags contains a famous trademark, so that a hit is registered withsearch engines when the searcher wants just the famous name. It is heartening to see a straightforward and successful resolution to theproblem of cybersquatter abuse of at least TLDs. Although most domain registrars are collaborating, it is probable that there will be some roguedomains, but such domains of convenience would soon be recognised for what they are. ®
Graham Lea, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

Rambus could use 4:1 split to fuel acquisitions

A Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing made by semiconductor technology firm Rambus last week, has revealed the board of directors' thinking about splitting its shares 4:1 in May. The SEC form 14A, was filed by the corporation early last week, and shows that the split, which was decided upon when the share price hovered close to $500, would broaden its stockholder profile and give it extra monies for potential acquisitions. The board, says the filing: "Believes that the proposed Stock Split will result in a market price that should be more attractive to a broader spectrum of investors." That statement suggests some concern at Rambus about the erratic way the share price has ducked and dived over the last nine months or so. However, the statement continues: "The Board of Directors also believes that it is in the Company's best interests to increase the number of authorized but unissued shares of Common Stock in order to have additional shares available to meet the Company's future business needs as they arise. Among other things, the increase will provide shares to finance acquisitions of other businesses consistent with the Company's growth strategy." Meanwhile, in the last few days, Rambus has re-vamped its Web site and included a section which attempts to deal with some of the issues for which it has received criticism. Over at Industry Talk, there are links to different online sites, including Anandtech and Sharky Extreme, and explanations about pricing and availability presumably intended to re-assure customers and investors. Rambus claims, for example, that "Rambus-based systems are priced within $200 of comparably equipped SDRAM-based systems. For example, the quotes from Dell's web site on March 22, 2000, showed a Dell Dimension XPS B733r Series system using Rambus memory priced $161 higher than a comparably equipped Dell Dimension XPS T700r Series system using SDRAM. " It also claims that list prices for RIMM modules "on various web sites" can be misleading. It continues: "Each RIMM module sold as an "upgrade" module potentially prevents a PC system shipment while demand exceeds supply. Therefore, upgrade RIMM module prices listed on various web sites are often set high to discourage upgrade module sales." However, a swift look at SMC Direct, which does not sell PC systems but only components, reveals there is still a considerable price delta between 128Mb RIMMs and 128Mb SDRAM DIMMs. That site shows the Rambus solution costing £587.50 including VAT, while an SDRAM DIMM costs £126.90 including VAT, nearly 4.7 times more expensive. Rambus also claims that the demand/supply problem it is facing will be overcome, and quotes Dataquest and In-Stat market share figures to back up its claims. ®
Mike Magee, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

ARM pulls SOCs up with Infinite buy

ARM Holdings has bought a Infinite Designs, a privately-held Sheffield firm specialising in system on a chip (SOC) designs for digital signal processing (DSP) wireless and multimedia. The firm suggested further investments in the area were likely. News of the acquisition comes hard upon a 157 per cent increase in net profits and 64 per cent in its quarter to the 31 March, which also showed a 64 per cent boost in turnover. ARM said its pre-tax profits would be £8.2 million for the last quarter of 1999, compared to £3.2 million for the same quarter the year before. Robin Saxby, CEO and chairman, said the company had signed five additional licensees in Q1. It will also open a Taiwanese office this month, he said. Saxby said the firm will continue to look for further acquisitions to fuel its growth. ®
Mike Magee, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

DDR memory gets Infineon, Samsung, Via boost

The spun off chip division of Infineon said today it has started sampling 256Mbit double data rate (DDR) memory chips to its customers, while chipset firm Via said it will use the DDR PC2100 spec in its future products. Infineon says it was shipping the samples, which feature extensively in future Intel server and workstation chipsets, to satisfy the need for low cost memory. Via, meanwhile, said that it believed that DDR 266MHz memory products will be targeted across servers, desktop systems, notebooks and PDAs. It said it is working with Micron, Samsung, Hyundai, Infineon Hitachi, NEC, Mitsubishi, Nanya, Toshiba and other memory manufacturers, in a bid to make sure its products are compliant with the current JEDEC synchronous memory standards. Wen-chi Chen, CEO and president of Via, said that DDR 266 is a "sensible, evolutionary solution for the PC industry". Via was a major player in the push for the industry to adopt PC-133 SDRAM, which Intel, reluctantly, was forced to adopt in the end. Chen said that the price and bandwidth performance of DDR 266MHz memory allowed it to perform at suitable bandwidth. Samsung, which has a foot in every memory camp, endorsed Via's initiative. Bob Eminian, a VP for Samsung Semiconductors, said: "Because of the existing PC133 SDRAM infrastructure, and the use of the same packaging and processing technologies, DDR 266 presents no significant investment in manufacturing facilities. This means that it will be a simple transition to volume production of DDR SDRAM parts and PC2100 memory modules for the PC market, which we should expect to see in 2H'00." ®
Mike Magee, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

The Net could eat us all – Archbishop of York

Another senior holy man has stepped forward to knock the Net -- still, it makes a change from Net users bashing bishops. The Archbishop of York warned that the Net could bring a plague of locusts and other such biblical disasters upon the world unless Net users repent and wear sackcloth. In an interesting theological split, while Church of England is slamming the Net, some members of the Catholic Church are urging the Vatican to give the Net its own Patron Saint Archbishop David Hope said the Net had the "potential for evil" and the "potential for destroying ourselves". Potentially. "This technology is something that could ultimately devour us," Archbishop David Hope told Conservatism, the quarterly journal of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. He also echoed views expressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this year about the Net turning people into a bunch of loners without the social skills to interact with one another. The full text of the interview will be made available on the Conservative Christian Fellowship's Web site later today. Alternatively, if you'd like to know more about the Church of England, why not visit it's official Web site here. Or check out the Archbishop of Canterbury's official Web site here. Unfortunately, Anglican.org.uk -- which houses a selection of pages explaining the work and beliefs of the Church -- doesn't appear to work. Shame. Hypocrisy. Someone's probably heard of it, but we can't hear it for the sound of preaching. ® Related Stories Net is bad news, says Archbishop Bishops bash Web pornmongers Say a little prayer for your ISP
Tim Richardson, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

John Lewis suit looms over Dixons PC supply exclusives

John Lewis may sue rival Dixons over anti-competitive practices in the PC market. The department store chain has taken legal advice from a top QC and is considering either suing Dixons directly or taking the Office of Fair Trading to court. It is upset about Dixons signing exclusive PC supply agreements with vendors Compaq and Packard Bell. John Lewis has even enlisted the help of Nick Palmer, Labour MP for Broxtowe, to raise the issue in the House of Commons tomorrow and ask for the OFT to re-open its inquiry into the fairness of the market. It is also willing to take the OFT to court or seek judicial review if the government refuses to re-open the inquiry - last autumn the OFT ruled the British PC market was competitive. John Lewis feels Dixons' deals with manufacturers will push up prices for consumers. "This is a sophisticated way of sewing up the market. We don't think that consumers are aware that Currys, PC World and Dixons are all the same company. The deals will force everyone else out," a representative for John Lewis told today's Daily Telegraph. Compaq stopped supplying John Lewis with computers before Christmas, and Packard Bell has warned the company that there will be no more PC deliveries after June 30. A spokesman for the OFT said yesterday: "We will have to look into the allegations and then decide whether it is worth opening an inquiry. It is certainly not unprecedented to return to an issue." According to Dixons, it's just a case of sour grapes. "If anything it will bring prices down and expand the market," a representative said. ® Related stories Profits jump at Dixons UK PC retailers don't rip-off customers So are PC retailers responsible for 'Rip Off' Britain?
Linda Harrison, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

Via to buy S3 graphics chip operation

Via will today "announce its decision to purchase US-based S3's graphics chipset unit" today, according to a report in Taiwan's Commercial Times. The question is, does this mean Via will announce it has bought S3's chip division, or that it has decided to buy said operation. These are not, you'll note the same thing at all. That said, we expect that the former is what Via has in mind to tell the world. The company admitted last week that it was talking to S3 - a company it's had good business relations, plus a joint venture, with for a little while now - which means it must already have decided to buy the unit if the two companies can agree on price. And we assume that also means that Via has beaten off other, unnamed companies which, last week, it admitted were also talking to S3 about buying its chip division. According to a Via spokesman, cited by CT, the division will be turned into a company in its own right, though initially it will be part of the Via-S3 joint venture. Interestingly, CT notes that Via is about to lose its authorisation to use Intel Slot 1 intellectual property, but that by buying S3's chip business, which is also authorised to use Slot 1, it will ensure it can continue to support the Intel technology. Cunning or what? ® Related Story Via admits it's in talks to buy S3 chip unit
Tony Smith, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

World Online flat fee ISP is Screaming by any other name

World Online has started offering unmetered access to the Net a month after first signalling its intention to offer a 24/7 flat-fee service in Britain. The price structure is called Freedom 24 and offers all the usual bits and bobs associated with such services. The Freedom 24 service is based on the Screaming.net model developed by Surrey-based telco, Localtel. Localtel was acquired last month for an undisclosed sum by World Online. Just as with Screaming.net, the new service requires Net users to switch phone companies and sign up with World Online Telecom (formerly Localtel). 24/7 unmetered access is included in the £14.99 a month line rental fee. Net users also receive discounted voice calls as part of the deal. There is also a one-off £20 subscription fee (waived for existing World Online, Bun.com, Strayduck, Telinco 0845 and screaming.net subscribers) for all new users. Jeremy Stokes, former head of Localtel and now with World Online, gave assurances today that the same problems that plagued the launch of Screaming.net would not be repeated with World Online. Elsewhere, the FT reports that there is increasing pressure on World Online's chairman, Nina Brinks, to resign in a bid to repair investor's confidence in the Dutch company. Shares in World Online have taken a good kicking since it emerged she flogged loads of hers ahead of the float last month. No one at World Online was available for comment. ® Related News and Links World Online buys Localtel, launches unmetered service World Online
Tim Richardson, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

Action cuts Web prices as profits sink

Action Computer Supplies has cut prices on thousands of products sold through its Web site to try and keep up with online PC sellers. The London reseller today reduced prices on 18,000 IT products and services sold on action.com. It claimed the move would make its kit sold on the Web up to 30 per cent cheaper than typical high street prices. It was unable to say how big the average price cuts were, but George Laplante, Action MD, confirmed they were "significant" in areas such as networking, but less for PCs. Laplante told The Register that the move was a "response to Web companies like buy.com" selling PCs cheaper than in the high street. He believed Action's price cuts would bring it into line with these online PC sellers. Laplante expected the cuts to speed up the company's shift from mail order to selling over the Web. And he added that accusations about Dixons' anti-competitive behaviour had also played a part in today's move. "Action is now seeing the real operating cost benefits of its dotcom channel. Transactions over the Internet are significantly cheaper than through conventional channels," the company stated. 21 per cent of Action's total monthly sales are currently generated online, according to Laplante, accounting for £66 million annually based on March 2000 sales. This was a growth of 38 per cent on the second half of last year. Today's announcement came as the company reported a drop in profits for the first half of its financial year. Pre-tax profit was £400,000 for the six months ended February 29 2000, down from £2.7 million for the same time last year. Sales fell slightly to £137.6 million from 140.9 million. "Last year was difficult, but we have stabilised the company since the merger (collapse)," said Laplante The company said it expect sales growth to return now that Y2K worries were over and saw a "satisfactory outcome for the full year". ® Related stories Action steals finance director from MFI Action to ditch paper for Net Insight deal no big deal, says Action man Action suspends shares – again
Linda Harrison, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

MS may be forced to give away Explorer source code

MS on Trial The government intends to ask that Microsoft be forced to license the source code to Internet Explorer as part of its proposed remedies package, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal. Microsoft would be forced to offer royalty-free licences on demand, allowing rivals to make their own modifications and improvements, and effectively crowbarring open Windows to the outside world. The upside for Microsoft here is that it seems that the DoJ and the states have just about reached a consensus that the company shouldn't be broken up, but dishing out IE to all and sundry is just going to be one part of a wide range of proposed measures, and in total these are likely to be significantly harsher than the offers the government made in the settlement talks. As the integration of Internet Explorer into Windows, and Microsoft's motives for doing so, were central to the court case there's a certain balance to the notion of making Microsoft give away the source as well as the product. It also has the virtue of nodding in the direction of an open source solution without getting too complex, and without doing it for the whole of Windows. Open sourcing Windows has been suggested in the past as a solution to the Microsoft "problem," but effectively relieving Microsoft of rights to its key product is probably several steps further than the courts will be prepared to go. Forced licensing of IE, on the other hand, could have the effect of drawing a line beyond which Microsoft couldn't go. It would have to go along with other restrictions on Microsoft's ability to integrate products, and on the kinds of deals it could do with PC OEMs, but it looks as if it might be workable. Of course there's a problem for Microsoft here, because the company insists that IE is an integral part of Windows (although it offered to split them during the talks). So how do you define the code to be licensed? Tricky. ® Complete Register Trial coverage
John Lettice, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

AMD's Spitfire victim of own performance

Sources close to Advanced Micro Device (AMD) said that the firm's up-and-coming Spitfire range of microprocessors are forcing the firm's hand on its integrated cache Thunderbird chips. Thunderbirds are versions of the Athlon microprocessor with large level two caches, which come in Slot A configurations. Caches for the T'birds are likely greater than for the Spitfires. The Spitfire chips, which will use a plug in packaging AMD calls Socket A, are unlikely to get themselves a new spiffy name, such as the K7 did when it became the Athlon, but instead are likely to be branded either Athlon Performance or Athlon Enhanced Cache. However, the same sources tell The Register that the line is performing so well in its sampling that they are actually, in many cases, outperforming their elder brothers, the existing Athlon range of microprocessors. Spitfires also have on-die cache, and although AMD is keeping details close to its corporate chest, the amount of cache will be less than Thunderbirds. The speed that Spitfires are performing means their release, slated for mid- to late-May, will be delayed for a while, probably just a few days, the same sources said. AMD is now likely to release its Thunderbirds -- Athlons with larger integrated caches -- at the same time. That will help avoid the possible embarrassment of junior doing better than senior. Problems like this Chipzilla should have. AMD's share price rose to $78 1/8 as Wall Street opened. It delivers its quarterly financial results on the 12th of April next. ®
Mike Magee, 10 Apr 2000
The Register breaking news

MS slammed for abandoning W3C standards in IE 5.5

The Windows version of IE 5.5 has come under heavy fire from the Web Standards Project (WaSP), a grouping of web developers which lobbies for standards and an end to fragmentation in browser development. WaSP accuses Microsoft of abandoning Web standards it has publicly committed to supporting, and instead "focussing on proprietary technologies which are certain to fragment the already-troubled Web space." You might class WaSP's outburst as a desperate bid for publicity (it helpfully headlines its own release "Web Standards Project blasts Microsoft's 'arrogant' break with standards," but the outfit did offer Microsoft its congratulations on its "thorough implementation of HTML 4 and CSS 1" in the Mac version of IE 5 last month. That was a case of 'good work, but should try harder,' as WaSP then pointed out that "no browser can be considered fully standards-compliant until it supports XML and the DOM," and urged Microsoft to get on with it. But with IE5.5 for Windows, Microsoft isn't supporting "the DOM Level 1 core and portions of the CSS1 specification." Says WaSP group leader Jeffrey Zeldman: "We are incensed by Microsoft's arrogance, and perplexed by its schizophrenic decision to support standards on one platform while undercutting them on another." This will have the result that developers "will be helplessly spun in Microsoft's direction," because they'll have to write for the dominant platform, rather than to standards. Haven't we heard this one somewhere before? WaSP accuses Microsoft of "innovating ahead of the W3C, while leaving large chunks of standardised processing and styling unsupported," and points out that after four years we're still waiting for Microsoft "to fulfill their long-standing pledge to fully adhere to W3C-issued recommendations." ® See also: Web Standards Project
John Lettice, 10 Apr 2000