1st > June > 2000 Archive

Sun buys an Infiniband leg-up

Sun Microsystems has bought itself some negotiating muscle, picking up the rights to Dolphin's Infiniband technology. Dolphin provides the SCI (Scalable Coherent Interface) interconnects for Sun's Enterprise clusters, Fujitsu's RM600s and Data General's cc-Numa servers, and helped define the SCI spec in its early days. Sun gains Dolphin's R&D lab in Oslo and it looks like a straightforward investment for IP rights deal. While Sun is a member of the Infiniband steering committee, along with Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell, Microsoft and of course Intel, it's probably made the least noise about the fact. Naturally most of the noise has come from the box shifters who see a chance to build high throughput, high performance, high margin systems. With parallel buses running out of puff, and in any case, hitting a ceiling in SMP boxes with more than four CPUs, the Dells don't really have much of crack at the back end servers which at minimum requires this kind of throughput. For the folks who are already there - like Sun Compaq, HP and IBM - the pull is massive I/O switching over optical links, and much of that has yet to be thrashed out. It's here that HP, with its telco background, has been garnering most of the limelight, to Sun's chagrin. The blurb is short on figures, but hints that Dolphin gains a foot up into the telco business through the deal. ®
Annie Kermath, 01 Jun 2000

Amazon dumps Alpha 17 years ahead of schedule

Amazon switching to HP for its infrastructure is bad news for Compaq and Sun, but has a certain piquancy for The Register. Amazon was of course a big, prestige (but we'd guess not particularly revenue-rich) customer for Alpha back in the days before it was Compaq Alpha. Back in 1998, on his way to being taken over by Compaq and an early exit, the then Digital CEO Robert Palmer was gigging at an IDC conference in Paris, extolling the virtues of Alpha and - oh yes - the relationship with high profile and happening customer Amazon. Bob said: "Amazon.com's 64 bit Alpha Systems have the scalability to cater for its growth over the next 20 years." We know a hostage to fortune when we see one, so we scribbled furiously. We said: "So we'll be watching Robert's career until 2017 with interest, and indeed Digital's commitment to Alpha development, or even the company's very existence." ® But it would appear that Amazon has now saved us having to keep the lidless eye trained for another 17 years. If you don't believe us, the original copy can be found at this quaint 19th Century precursor of The Register.
John Lettice, 01 Jun 2000

ATI throws wobbler over prototype review

Poor old Chip. ATI is throwing its corporate weight around following the German site's review of a prototype Radeon graphics chip. "As ATI has not released any boards for testing, your testing was done on a board obtained through irregular channels," bleats ATI. Chip replies that if ATI considers its own German branch to be an "irregular channel", they are confident their results are all right as they tested it in the presence of an ATI representative. ATI further claims that the version tested was at least two versions behind the Radeon that will eventually ship. Daniel Wolff of Chip comments: "We always made it clear we used a prototype board: We used the word "prototype" more then ten times in a four page article - including the headline." Make your own minds up, folks, check out Chip's story here. ®
Andrew Thomas, 01 Jun 2000

Next generation Intel chipsets have bugs

May the Lord have mercy, as my dear old mum used to say. No sooner has Intel had to dip into Andy Grove's retirement nest egg to fund the Caminogate mobo fiasco, than does Chipzilla prepare to launch another bunch of dodgy chipsets. The i815 and i815E chipsets are "on schedule" for launch this month (June). However, there will be a "slight schedule adjustment" delaying availability by approximately two weeks while "known issues" are addressed. And wouldn't you just know it? The 815 twins will support both PC100 and PC133 SDRAM, but will never, ever, talk to Rambus memory. Naturally, Intel is committed to RDRAM as the way forward, but "wants to offer OEMs the opportunity to take advantage of legacy SDRAM for cost sensitive designs." So committed to RDRAM is Intel that it states that while it will "drive forward RDRAM memory solutions," it will "continue to evaluate" the memory industry to "take advantage of current and future technology." Now that's what we call real commitment. ®
Andrew Thomas, 01 Jun 2000

BT Internet customers locked out of email

Thousands of BT Internet customers are facing their third day locked out of their email accounts after an upgrade cock-up. The ISP has admitted that "a few thousand" of its users were affected by the bungle, which hit the service on Monday. It hopes to have the problem fixed by Thursday, but a representative today told BBC Online it was still working with suppliers "to identify what the problem is". And a notice on the ISP's Web site warns users it is "currently conducting emergency planned work on the mail server which has resulted in intermittent service problems throughout the afternoon". BT Internet, which claims 400,000 subscribers, is not obliged to pay compensation to customers affected by technical problems. But it appeared to have an attack of guilt today, with the representative saying the company would "not rule out the possibility of a goodwill gesture". ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Jun 2000

Symbian's Myers on Microsoft, antitrust and those memos

Over Jambalaya and Cajun ribs, Symbian's CEO Colly Myers talked to The Register about those Gates memos, staff-poaching, Intel's entry into the handset business, and keeping the noisy Symbian fraternity in harmony. Symbian now has 700 employees in the US, mostly development staff transferred from the company's founding shareholders Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia. According to Myers, there are 20 Symbian products currently in development, counting localisations. Not too much was forthcoming about the recently announced Sony's deal - Myers said that at the time of Palm's tie-up with Sony the Japanese company had committed only to using PalmOS in a PDA. The Symbian deal sees Sony produce Pearl-based smartphones on Symbian ER6.1, which is a work in progress. Yet Symbian remains familiar only to the cognoscenti Stateside, with the poodle press devoting acres of print to the PDA category, a class of device which, even if it exists in three years, is likely to be a very little kettle of fish. Doesn't this bother him? Not really, he reckons. Symbian will engage in some serious brand marketing, but not before the devices are ready, before Christmas. And a lot can happen in a few months. "Look at WAP. A year ago everyone said it was dead, but it continues. A year ago people said WAP was failing but now it's the most sought after brand in the world." More of a political problem is ensuring that Symbian maintains visibility. Doesn't every dollar Nokia or Ericsson spends on promoting Symbian, rather than promoting Nokia or Ericsson, lessen their own brands? Well, there's no advantage for them to that, he insists. Much like the Intel Inside program, the Symbian badge will be an assurance of interoperability. With Symbian branded devices buyers get some assurance that the software has been tested by all the shareholders, rather than just the vendor, he says. But surely, we wondered, the attraction remains for a handset manufacturer to go for an unbranded, or even a non-Symbian platform if it means having some first mover advantage? Doesn't the handset only have to work with one network for a vertical closed platform to succeed? "Only up to a point," reckons Myers. "If it's not reliable, if the transports don't work, if the air interfaces don't work, then it's not going to succeed in the market." We've been intrigued by Intel's entry into the cellular handset business, thanks to the acquisition of TDMA and CDMA technology and the partnership with Mitsubishi to produce 3G wireless devices based on its StrongARM chips. Myers sees them as joining the likes of Texas Instruments and Qualcomm as one of the four main air interface chipset suppliers. (Symbian's shareholders develop their own air interfaces). Myers was evidently tickled by the release of two Gates memos largely focussing on the Symbian threat, which the DoJ produced at the remedy hearing last week. Myers picked out the 'kill Symbian, kill Nokia' theme and in particular, if they get together with Sun it's a declaration of war. We've seen most of the tactics described in the memos (from summers 98 and 99 respectively) enacted: find a browser, work with the Symbian shareholders individually to promote back-end software, and talk up NT embedded in PBXs, although the latter remains vapourware. The most recent tactic is Microsoft's use of head-hunters to attempt to poach Symbian staff. Juha Christensen's marketing chief, was wooed recently, and Myers put the best gloss he could on this: "Well obviously he knows a lot about our plans. We've put him on gardening leave for six months and say, well in six months our products will be on the market and the world will have moved on." However Myers sounds pretty confident that the DoJ and US States will prevail in the antitrust case against Microsoft. "The place capitalism works is best is America, it really works. And, equally, the Government has got it right in the way it regulates capitalism: nothing is going to get in their way. Microsoft can say it's going to leave the country, but it doesn't wash." In Myers opinion, Microsoft probably deserved its success until the mid-nineties, but since then Windows hasnt delivered, not least in the reliability stakes. Symbian can ward off antitrust investigations of its own because of the way the company is incorporated, he says: "That was built into our company from day one. In fact, before day one, meaning that the day we launched we were in a potential monopoly situation with the EU. So we did certain things so that we wouldn't ever become a Microsoft. Being a monopoly isn't illegal, but leveraging it is - that's why we'll never become a Microsoft." Although its not news, its probably worth mentioning that Symbian is keen to give licensees such as Sony the same access to the technology as the shareholders. And if thats considered freeloading, then too bad. Shareholders have the advantage of steering the platform, but no first mover advantage, says Myers. ®
Annie Kermath, 01 Jun 2000

The dos and don'ts of mobile phone etiquette

They have been slated for causing brain tumours and Alzheimer's, but now it's serious: mobile phones are bad manners. In some situations, it is generally agreed that starting up a mobile conversation is a dodgy idea (immediately after sex, for instance). But it is now also deemed poor social etiquette to chat on the phone on trains, in bars, or at the theatre. Thank goodness for Debrett's, master of social advice, which has published guidelines to help mobile phone users get through the telephone etiquette minefield. According to John Morgan, author of the notes in Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, diners and train passengers using their mobile "often show an inexcusable lack of consideration towards others around them". Even worse, individuals who make this phone faux pas risk being taken for "an unsavoury character". As for receiving a call during a meal or when out for a drink forget it. This sin is almost as serious as leaving a mobile switched on in church. "I don't see a problem with using a mobile if you are walking along the street," one etiquette expert told The Express. "But if you're in the train there is something about a one-sided conversation which compels you to listen to it and this is robbing you of your mental liberty. "The most courteous of people do go into the corridor, but I have noticed standards are definitely slipping." The correct approach when in a restaurant is apparently to abandon mobiles at the reception desk, or with the head waiter - whose job it is to prise the diner from their seat to receive any calls in private. For those not sure if this strategy would work in McDonalds, never fear - simply switch the mobile off. But do not forget to check messages and to return calls, for that sort of behaviour is a hanging offence in higher circles. As the guide points out: "Telephone etiquette is rather like tennis: each player has alternate goes at the ball." But Debrett's also acknowledges that there is no point cursing this scourge on modern manners. "Those of a more Luddite persuasion should remember that a similar reception greeted the advent of the telephone itself in the 19th century," warned Morgan. "It's arrival was feared by many to signal the end of conversation and of civilised life as it was then lead." ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Jun 2000

Meet the Sexy Sister

The soap format really isn't made for the Web, but that doesn't stop people coming up with new and interesting variations in the hope of worldwide audiences (and dollars). This latest one sells itself as the "first erotic websoap on the Internet" (are there other websoaps not on the Net?) and comes from a country with a proud tradition in erotica - the Netherlands. So what can Sexy Sister offer you that will have you hooked, get you to stay in, make you obsess about its characters' lives? Well it's got semi-clad men and women walking around a set in a low-budget porn kinda way, eating breakfast and being smutty - and all in glorious Windows Media Player on a two-inch screen. Add to this the fact that the "action" frequently stalls (where is that darn ADSL when you want it?), continuity is non-existent (she isn't wearing any knickers! She is now!) and the acting is poor at best and you're not left with much. Hang on, though - isn't this precisely the formula of nearly every successful soap since time began? Plus this one has nearly naked people in it. It's a smash! PS For those of you that swing the other way, sexy sister has a Gay Brother. They've thought of everything! ®
Kieren McCarthy, 01 Jun 2000

MS mounts futile bid to delay, blunt trial penalties

AnalysisAnalysis Microsoft's last two documents prior Judge Jackson's Final Judgement are strange in format and puzzling in intention. The company sticks to its guns without any rational hope of victory at this juncture - so it hopes to fight again later. The Comments on Plaintiff's Revised Proposed Final Judgement is, as the title suggests, primarily a detailed commentary on the DoJ's document, with an introduction that makes three points. Although the preamble says that "It remains Microsoft's firm belief, however, that the relief requested by the government is extreme and unjustified", and the third point is that the comments are "without prejudice to its positions on the merits and as to the relief that should be awarded", Microsoft has stuck uncompromisingly to its earlier filings and failed to make any conciliatory suggestions. The first point is that "The government's proposed final judgment is defective in numerous respects, making the document vague and ambiguous", and that the DoJ had failed to address some "legitimate questions of interpretation" that the DoJ conceded Microsoft had raised. Rather than substantiating this claim, Microsoft bizarrely goes on to cite case law about the form of any injunction. In the second point - that "Microsoft has not engaged responsibly on the issue of process" - Microsoft claims that it understood that the 24 May hearing "wasto be the beginning - not the end - of proceedings on the issue of relief", and that "there was no occasion to take depositions between April 28, 2000 and May 24, 2000, given that discovery was closed long ago by the Court". This is a cheeky misunderstanding, and Microsoft's failure to confirm this view with the Court shows either legal incompetence or a decision by Microsoft to brazen it out and hope an appellate court might swallow this untenable explanation. We were ambushed, honest The Supplemental Offer of Proof that Microsoft also filed follows the Federal Rules of Evidence requirement that to preserve a claim of error relating to the exclusion of evidence, an offer of proof must be made. Microsoft claims that it had "secreted" nothing in the famous brief case, and that it just brought out an already-signed work-in-progress document "for use solely in the event the Court determined, as the government urged, to terminate the remedies phase of the trial without affording Microsoft discovery or an evidentiary hearing". With this statement Microsoft blows itsdefence that it relied on the hearing being "the beginning - not the end - of proceedings on the issue of relief". It's unlikely that this contradiction will be missed by the judge. Microsoft's detailed comments on the DoJ's proposed Final Judgement are given in the form of a working draft, with text to be removed crossed through and alternative text underlined. This is clear enough, but it should all have been done on the first DoJ Proposed Final Judgement, and not the revised one. Microsoft makes a number of perfectly valid drafting comments, but does very little to advance its case. Indeed, the whole tenor is that the document is a whinge, rather than a serious defence. There are just enough drafting points to make it difficult for Judge Jackson to issue any judgement this week, if he decided to take the DoJ's document as his basis. His law clerk would have to check everything that Microsoft has raised, since the DoJ would not be allowed to have another go at its proposal. Of course, the judge could issue a simply-worded judgement that was sufficient to provide the appellate court with a clear picture of his intentions, without all the detail. Judge Jackson was leaning this way during the hearing - to hold off from producing a comprehensive judgement now - but he was advised by both sides that a Final Judgement was needed for the appellate court. It was for this reason that we suggested he would need more time to prepare his judgement, and almost certainly a weighty memorandum setting out his legal reasoning. The foreigners might not like it Some of Microsoft's drafting comments are quite amusing. For example, it understandably doesn't like the DoJ's euphemistic description of the breakup as a "reorganisation", and plumps for "divestiture". Microsoft produces many claims as to why everything would take longer than the DoJ wants, and at one point claims that "foreign governments" may need to approve the divestiture - and of course (don't laugh), Microsoft doesn't want to be "forced to violate any laws in any jurisdiction". There are quite a few places where Microsoft seeks to delay the breakup and imposition of conduct remedies, but the supporting arguments look like less-than-sincere excuses from the accused. There can be no doubt that Microsoft does really understand what the DoJ wants to happen, as is seen in some of its quite sharp comments. In places, Microsoft has also brought up some reasonable points in a way that is even sensible - pointing out where terms are not adequately defined for example. Microsoft also scores points for noting out that the Plaintiff States are not authorised to bring enforcement actions under the Sherman Act, so that States may not take part in compliance inspections. And so far as compliance is concerned, Microsoft does not want the DoJ snooping at anything being done outside scope of the Final Judgement. That's interesting: could it be that Microsoft didn't want any examination of its baroque accounting practices? Exclude CE and Win2k.. please? There are also some rather outrageous claims - for example, that "Microsoft designed Windows 95 and Windows 98 so that non-Microsoft Web browsing software like Netscape Navigator could be made the 'default browser'". Microsoft is also distinctly edgy about disclosing what it calls "internal interfaces", despite one programmer's internal interface being another programmer's short-cut. It does not wash that at this late stage that Microsoft is trying to define the market - having refused to do so during the trial - to exclude servers and hand-held devices. It wants the definitions changed to exclude Windows CE and 2000 Server, and their successors. In case Judge Jackson had in mind that Microsoft should not be allowed to do mergers and acquisitions (something that was left out of the DoJ's proposal), Microsoft has added a paragraph specifically allowing it to do them. We were surprised that Microsoft did not refer to its decision to postpone the NGWS love-fest, either in its legal documentation or in the accompanying PR release. Was it an oversight not to use the "innovation-is-being-affected" argument - or is there some more cunning plan? Late substitute witnesses In its filings, Microsoft puts more stress on its Supplemental Offer of Proof than its Comments document. Our old friend Dean Richard Schmalensee has a second appearance (he was in the original Offer, and also popped up twice in Court). Microsoft claims there are "seven more" witnesses, but there are only six unless the good Dean is again being put up for a double act. The most interesting new face is Michael Capellas, Compaq's CEO. He's willing to say that breaking Microsoft would "make it more difficult for OEMs to provide customers with the tightly integrated product offerings they demand [sic]". His offer to appear must result from Microsoft's expressed desire to give Compaq better OEM terms - if Microsoft gets any say in the matter. Apart from yet another economist (there can't be many left), the remainder of the proposed witnesses are the top bods of DreamWorks, JD Edwards, GEICO and Nordstrom. Microsoft clearly chose the wrong witnesses during the trial, and its attempt to re-run it is most unlikely to get anywhere. It's stuff that Microsoft hopes might get some sympathy with an appellate court, but it will surely get the cold shoulder from the District Court. ®
Graham Lea, 01 Jun 2000

3Com sues Xircom in modem patent clash

Just over two months after announcing it will sell off its analog modem business, the comms giant is suing Xircom for allegedly ripping off some of its patented modem technologies. 3Com's suit, filed on 25 May in Salt Lake City, Utah, claims Xircom "willfully, wantonly and deliberately" used its patented inventions in various PC Card connectivity products. "3Com has been and will continue to be damaged by the infringing conduct," says the suit, though the latter point is questionable given the company's move to sell its low-end modem business to Far Eastern operations Accton Technology from Taiwan and Singapore's NatSteel Electronics as part of its plans to cut costs by eliminating its least margin-friendly product lines. Xircom - in which Chipzilla has a minority shareholding - has yet to respond to the suit. And here's a coincidence, which we're sure had no part in 3Com's decision to sue, Intel's lucrative low-end network card business has been instrumental in spoiling the profitability of 3Com's own NIC operation. ® Related Story 3Com to ditch products and up to 3000 jobs
Tony Smith, 01 Jun 2000

Compaq's Capellas offered as MS character witness

MS on TrialMS on Trial It's now all over bar the sentencing. Microsoft handed in its final arguments yesterday, and given that there's very little in the the judge is likely to agree with, he's quite capable of ruling on remedies today, or tomorrow. Effectively, Microsoft's latest filing is an investment for the appeal process, when the company will try once more to gather its friends - notably Mike Capellas of Compaq - around it. The filing faces two ways. First of all, Microsoft continues to deny everything, to accuse the government's proposed remedies of being completely outrageous and inappropriate. But on the other hand, as Microsoft is the only party to the trial that doesn't think Microsoft is guilty, and Microsoft doesn't make the rules, it needs, somehow, to argue for the blunting of the remedies. So it wants longer to implement them, it wants them muted in nearly every single instance, and it wants any court-ordered restrictions on it to expire after four, not ten, years. The government suggested giving Microsoft four months to come up with a breakup plan, while Microsoft wants a year. It describes the changes it wants made in the government's proposals as correcting "ambiguity and vagueness," but generally these corrections count as desperate clarifications on steroids in Microsoft's favour. The company wants, for example, the restrictions on price discrimination to be thrown out, and to be able to carry on striking cosy marketing deals with PC manufacturers. These, the dreaded MDAs (Market Development Agreements) are of course the secret deals used in conjunction with confidential pricing schedules to control the OEMs via carrot and stick. This is some clarification. In its last pitch it made a desperate bid to reopen the trial, calling new witnesses, and this was of course refused. It's tried this again in the form of an "additional offer of proof" intended to show that the government's proposals are defective. This is to a great extent a marker for appeal; Microsoft wants to be able to argue that the judge didn't give it the time and opportunity to refute the government properly. But dare we hope that the witness list will play in a higher court? Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were among the ones proposed last week, and Bill in the box would be a treat. Mike Capellas too may not entirely grasp what he's getting into. As Compaq CEO Capellas argues that it's just plain wrong that a company that ships as many PCs, and puts as much money into Windows R&D, as his does, can't get involved in close marketing deals with MS and can't get the pricing discounts it so richly deserves. Of course the complicity of top executives of major PC companies in these arrangements, which effectively keep Microsoft's rivals and lower tier PC manufacturers in check, is a subject worth examining in itself. And Compaq's relationship did come under some scrutiny earlier in the trial. Perhaps Mike would be advised to check out some of the links below before stepping into the lion's den. ®
John Lettice, 01 Jun 2000

TurboLinux announces lay-offs and refocus

There was some barely disguised meerschaum in some quarters of the Valley after TurboLinux announced lay-offs: reportedly ten per cent of the company's workforce. The layoffs "were significant enough to affect profitability and shallow enough that we can focus on what we do best", according to TurboLinux president Paul Thomas, who identified these as clustering and Japanese language versions of Linux, according to G2. That sounds a 'bad-news, worse-news' gag. Although the company is targeting niche markets, those niches are the same ones that were long ago identified by Red Hat and SuSE, who've been investing and recruiting accordingly. TurboLinux received its first outside funding a couple of years ago, back when it was Pacific Hi-Tech, barely out of dabbling with wallpaper CDs and games (ah, like the Elephant, the Vulture never forgets...) but received a round of blue-chip funding at the height of Wall Street's infatuation with Linux stocks. So why the uncharitable comments and ill-will? Much of that is generated by TurboLinux's take on the open source model, which has involved a combination of time-delay source release and its own proprietary features. Despite the outrage, the latter is actually pretty harmless - for example management GUIs are released only as binaries, not as source - and gives the company some time to market advantage but doesn't really preclude smarter alternatives. But the rather grudging time-delay ploy has led to several high profile accusations that TurboLinux is playing by the rules rather than spirit of the game. That developers don't like it is one thing, but open source developers tend to need code fast, with the result that TurboCluster Server has become increasingly marginalised. And moreover, it's far from unique. It's maintained that the company took published open source IPVS code written by a Hong Kong student Wensong Zhang, reverse engineered it, and called it their own. Zhang now leads the Linux Virtual Server project and is a consultant to the Red Hat Kernel Development Team. (And it was the release of this patch that got some outsiders into a lather about kernel-forking last year, based on the unlikely premise that Linus would include TurboLinux's ipvs into the kernel. Which in fairness TurboLinux was quick to deny.) TurboLinux seems to acknowledge that it's come late to the open source cluster party. The real action over the past year has been away from the limelight, in devising a VAXish, shared-everything cluster model suitable for high-availability databases and transaction processing. Which is a lot harder than load balancing a bunch of web servers. So following his landmark speech at the New York LinuxWorld earlier this year, TurboLinux hired file system giant Peter Braam - one of the two key architects behind the next generation clusters, and a member of the original 'Cluster Cabal' - to work in its New Mexico office. We can't for a moment imagine that Braam, whose own track record - from his Carnegie Mellon days (leading the Coda file system work) to his own Intermezzo file system work - is quite impeccable, tolerating wheezes such as time-delay release, so that's a good sign that TurboLinux is cleaning up its act. But the company needs corporate mindshare for this kind of data centre revenue, and for now it looks like SuSE and Red Hat are far better placed to sell into these accounts than TurboLinux. So reluctantly we have to conclude that to stay in the big league of Linux distros, convincing webmasters and ISPs of your merits isn't quite going to be enough any more. ®
Annie Kermath, 01 Jun 2000

Napster exiles 230,000 more alleged music pirates

Napster has booted a further 230,142 alleged copyright infringers off its MP3 sharing system. That brings the total number of 'Napster Exiles' to just under 550,000 ex-users. The latest evictions follow rapper Dr Dre's submission to the company of a list of users he claimed were sharing copies of his tracks without permission. Dre issued the list to Napster last week. Dre's legal counsel, Howard King, also oversees rock band Metallica's legal affairs, and Dre's actions follow a similar move last month by that group. Then, over 320,000 Napster users were unceremoniously kicked off the service, prevented from using it by hard-coding their terminals' IP address into the software. Around 30,000 users - who King called "liars", according to Cnet - appealed against exile under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It's not known how many - if any - were allowed back into the fold by Napster. Napster itself sought protection under that self-same Act from the lawsuit launched against it by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The Act rules that an ISP is not responsible for the actions of its subscribers. However, a US District Judge ruled that the RIAA does have a case to answer. Metallica's action, coming on the heels of its lawsuit against Napster, provoked much indignation among the band's fans - and even a spoof version of Napster's software specifically designed to share Metallica tracks. Dre is likely to face a similar reaction. It also prompted a flurry of Internet postings explaining how the ban could easily be circumvented simply by fiddling around with Windows' Registry file and reinstalling Napster's software. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Jun 2000

Gay Labour Lord gets Web reprimand

Controversial Labour Peer Lord Waheed Alli has been told off by the House of Lords for giving his Parliamentary office as a mailing address for a post on a new "gay dot-com" company. Waheed placed an ad in the Media Guardian in April for a CEO, offering 150,000 a year plus stock options. It's against the gentlemanly rules to run a business from Parliament and so an unofficial reprimand was dished out. The convention is likely to become a rule next month. Waheed said he had used the address because he feared of racist or homophobic attack. "Our advice has been that mail sent to us at the House of Lords is screened and checked by the police, and if you are in the gay arena, there has been some pretty horrific stuff that has come through. And with a gay dotcom it was felt that the best place to put it would be where my mail was security screened," he told The Guardian. This isn't the first time he has raised the issue of race and homophobia - in October last year he upset the Lords by criticising behaviour in the House, saying he had been subjected to a long, dull story about India (although he has no links with the country - e's a sarf Londoner, innee) as well as other forms of discrimination because of his colour and open homosexuality. Waheed is a new breed of Lords lifer. He is young, successful - he sold his Planet24 TV company to Carlton for 15 million in March 99 - and proudly gay. Tony Blair made him a life peer in 1998 along with a whole load of other buddies once he'd shipped out some of the old duffers with legislative reform. He looks in danger of dragging the Lords in the 20th (sic) Century. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 01 Jun 2000

Computacenter launches hostile bid for Compel

Computacenter, the UK's second biggest reseller, has launched a hostile 85 million take-over bid for the UK's third biggest reseller Compel. The company this morning said it had approached the board of Compel with a cash offer of 275p per share to buy the whole group. The move comes two weeks after reseller Specialist Computer Holdings snapped up 3.5 million Compel shares, or 11.3 per cent of the reseller, sparking speculation that SCH might try to buy its rival outright. Today's offer by Computacenter depends on Compel's directors recommending the offer for acceptance, and on Compel handing over limited due diligence information which it has not yet agreed to do. Mike Norris, Computacenter CEO, said: "I continue to hope that the Compel board will co-operate with our approach. "An offer would provide Compel shareholders with the opportunity to exit, at a significant premium to the current share price and in cash, from a market which is both scale sensitive and consolidating." The company added that it had made the announcement "to facilitate a more open discussion with Compel's shareholders on the attractions of Computacenter's proposals". Compel issued a statement saying it was consulting its financial advisers, Close Brothers Corporate Finance, and would make a further announcement on the matter due course. "In the meantime the board advises shareholders to take no action," it added. The proposition helped bolster Compel's share price by 51 pence this morning to 263.5p still below its mid-April high of 416.5p, and way off its January price of 628p. Compel and Computacenter will also be watching SCH to see if it decides to make its own bid for the company. SCH chairman Peter Rigby will be laughing either way he paid around 200p per Compel share, a tidy profit for two weeks' worth of share holding. ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Jun 2000

Oven geek teaches Planet Online staff how to use microwave

Submitted by D Frost, Cookery Correspondent Planet Online is holding a special technical session to teach its sales staff how to use a microwave oven. An operative from Panasonic will attend the ISP's office in Leeds tomorrow to give detailed instruction on how to use the sophisticated cooking device. Of course, if that's a little too technical for those hard working orbs at Planet, they could always try a Pot Noodle. This nutritional hot meal only requires the addition of boiling water to swell the dried ingredients. And if turning on the kettle is too much bother, simply use hot water from the tap. Couldn't be simpler. Still, not possessing much microwave know-how is small beer compared knowing all that complicated techie stuff about the Net, eh, guys? ®
Team Register, 01 Jun 2000

New worm virus courtesy of MS Outlook

A "new and dangerous" worm virus is spreading through e-mail systems using Microsoft Outlook, the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Centre (NIPC) warns. The virus is attached to an e-mail message with the subject, "Resume - Janet Simons." The attachment is a Microsoft Word (.doc) file called resume.doc or explorer.doc. When a victim opens the attachment, the virus sends itself to everyone in the address book. When the user closes the Word document, the virus deletes files on the user's machine. NIPC did not say which files, or which class of files, would be wiped. The body of the message reads: "To Director of Sales/Marketing, Attached is my resume with a list of references contained within. Please feel free to call or e-mail me if you have any further questions regarding my experience. I am looking forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Janet Simons" The message should be deleted without being opened. However, the NIPC recommends that users not delete the message until first deactivating Outlook's "executive summary" feature. Virus fans are likely to be disappointed by this one. Releasing it late in the day before a holiday weekend gives network administrators time to defeat it before the work-week e-mail traffic on which such viruses thrive will resume. ®
Thomas C Greene, 01 Jun 2000

NexGen Windows – has the trial derailed it for keeps?

Microsoft has issued a last minute cancellation of its Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) announcement, which was scheduled for June 1st. Several times already the company has put back the date when it will put some flesh on the bones of the project it has described as comparable in cost and ambition to the development of the Boeing 747 and NASA's lunar programme, but this time it could be serious. NGWS now seems poised on the brink of disappearing into a legal morass which could last months, even years. Microsoft's problem is that the new platform is a victim of timescales and technological approach. Since the company announced the (provisional) name at the beginning of this year, a verdict from the judge that would effectively block its construction has been imminent, and that's not going to be any different for months to come. NGWS is intended to be a broad grouping of products that brings us Integration Everwhere (not a slogan MS will choose to TM, we'd hazard), and transforms Windows into an all-encompassing Web-based services platform. Even without the forcible splitting of Microsoft into two companies with barbed wire and government-constructed watchtowers, searchlights and machine guns between the two, it's difficult to see how any imposed legal remedy would permit anything even slightly like NGWS, as currently planned by Microsoft. This week could have presented Microsoft with the ultimate in nightmare juxtapositions. On Thursday, it could have announced NGWS, and on Friday (Microsoft itself thinks this could happen) the judge could have delivered (and could still deliver) the sentence that made the announcement entirely impossible. The way Microsoft put it when tipping journalists off about the postponement of the announcement was that it felt a "final decree... in our continuing antitrust matter... would distract attention and focus from our event next Thursday." Well yes, it would a bit, but the point is that the final decree will inevitably make NGWS in its current form illegal. Microsoft has already touched on this, claiming the kinds of remedies the government wants, and is going to get, would make it impossible for Microsoft to take the huge development risks (insert guff about Boeing 747 and NASA here), but really it's the methodology that'll be unacceptable, not the cost or risk. Microsoft is now planning to make the announcement on the 22nd instead, but this is undoubtedly a holding action. The company wants to be able to develop NGWS its way, rather than figuring out how to do it within the government's manacles, but it most certainly won't have achieved its dream result, a get out of jail free from a successful appeal round, by the 22nd. So what does it do? The Brad Silverberg emails that finally escaped recently showed that a year ago there was an alternative strategy, but that it was rejected. Silverberg actually wanted to make a split between apps and OS in order to stop people (one in particular, but we'll just call him "Bill," OK?) inserting spurious pieces of integration in order to protect Windows. From the look of it, Silverberg wanted to develop NGWS as a middleware project run by a relatively free-standing apps division, so if such a division were imposed, the Silverberg plan could ride again. So at the moment Microsoft seems to have two possible avenues. It could scream and scream, threaten to cancel NGWS, and insist that this is an example of how government interference is destroying innovation, the IT business, the US economy and customer choice (insert more guff about NASA and 747 here). Regrettably, we suspect the tantrum-prone High Command will incline to this route. Or it could spend the next three weeks on a rapid revision of its slideware, working up something that could at minimum be viewed as a contingency plan to build NGWS within a separated apps division. This probably isn't as hard as it might look on the surface. We've noted strange noises suggesting that the first components of NGWS are intended to be out by the end of this year, which really means - as we've been quietly suspecting for a couple of months - that the basics of these components already exist. NGWS is not a new Windows operating systems, it is a set of client and server based services, many of which Microsoft is already shipping in one form or another. At best it's a middleware project that could still quite easily fly if the base OS moved towards the status of essential service with equal availability to other companies, and Microsoft could build it just like those other companies (e.g. HP, IBM, CA) already do. At worst it's just a marketing concept intended to bundle and brand another big pile of Microsoft stuff. But in that case it's tricky to figure out why it should cost as much as the moon programme - that's one hell of a TV advertising budget. ®
John Lettice, 01 Jun 2000

Corel staffers face up to prospect of 500 job cuts

Corel appears to be rapidly imploding, despite the C$15-30 million cash injection it successfully negotiated last week. According to a Reuters report, the morale of employees is poor, for all CEO Michael Cowpland's claims that the mood among staff is "good". Information from insiders suggests Corel has a C$40 million cost-cutting target, and that's inherently going to mean job losses - potentially more than 500 of them, a big chunk out of Corel's 1500-strong payroll. No wonder, in the words of one ex-staffer cited by Reuters, there's "a lot of resumes floating around". Certainly, Corel's executive VP for corporate services, along with its VP and general counsel, have both just quit. And it's hard not to imagine others scouting around for new jobs while there's so much uncertainty hanging over the company. Corel has even, according to Reuters, cancelled all company credit cards. It's a very bad sign when a company is worrying about what is, for a company of Corel's size, effectively small change. Oh dear... But let's assume for a moment that Cowpland's boast that "once we're through this kind of little cloudy stage, we'll be looking real good", is an un-spun appraisal of the company's situation. With the Inprise/Borland merger off, Corel is desperate for Linux to take off in the mainstream, attracting the kind of consumers and small business customers who buy its productivity and graphics software. Six months ago, the company was winning sales of $71.3 million, since then its sales have fallen 38 per cent to $44.1 million, and there's no real sign of a turnaround. Clearly sales of its Windows products are tailing off, possibly because Windows users are assuming Corel's focus on Linux shows a lack of interest in maintaining the Windows apps. That's not entirely true, since the Linux versions of CorelDRAW, WordPerfect, etc. are just the Windows apps modified to run through the company's WINE Windows-on-Linux emulator. But the perception could damage Corel's sales further. Without Linux sales to balance that shortfall, Corel is going to run into major problems fairly quickly. The $99 WordPerfect Office, for instance, is up against free-of-charge alternatives, which are likely to prove more attractive to Linux's prime constituency of techie users (ie. folks not too interested in personal productivity apps) used to getting software for nothing. Linux remains largely untested as a commercial software platform, and companies in far better health than Corel have paused for thought before porting top-dollar apps over to the open source OS. Corel, of course, has no option - it has to try. How long it can afford to keep at it is another matter. ® Related Stories Corel, Inprise/Borland call off merger Inprise to investigate 'fairness' of Corel takeover
Tony Smith, 01 Jun 2000

Beached Baan bows to buyer

Invensys has confirmed that it has made an agreed all-cash offer for Baan of 2.85 Euros share, which values Baan at 762 million Euros, 474, or $708 million. The offer is recommended by both boards. Yesterday, Baan closed in Amsterdam at 2.62 Euros, giving a less than nine per cent premium, which is certainly considerably less than expected. It will result in US investors who held shares yesterday making a loss. Trading was suspended yesterday afternoon on Nasdaq at the request of the company, when they were up 54 per cent to $4.19, which will result in US shareholders having a loss of $1.09/share. The acquisition is far from unexpected - a rumour had been circulating for several days, and there was heavy overnight briefing. The cash will be on the table in three weeks, and is expected to be approved by the Baan unions and Works Councils. Vanenburg Group, the investment vehicle of Jan Baan the founder and former CEO and his brother Paul Baan, will also sell its 5.9 per cent holding. Invensys has agreements for acquiring 11.1 percent of the Baan shares. The offer is conditional on Invensys getting 95 per cent of Baan's shares. Invensys, which reports its annual results today, was formed by the merger of BTR and Siebe last February, and is headquartered in London. For the FY ending March 1999, its turnover was 6.55 billion. There are 100,000 employees in four divisions: intelligent automation; industrial drive systems; power systems; and controls. The objective of the company is to be the global leader in the automation and controls industry. Baan announced it was selling its Coda Group for $49.3 million to UK-based Science Systems in March, less than a year after it had acquired the company. Invensys faces a tough job in restoring Baan to profitability. It is setting up a new Invensys Software and Systems Division, which will have a value of around $2 billion. This will be managed by Bruce Henderson, who has been chief executive of Intelligent Automation at Invensys. Laurens Van der Tang, currently EVP of research at Baan, will become president. By Q4, Baan's costs will be reduced by $60 to $120 million per quarter, as part of a "rigorous restructuring and cost management programme". Invensys says it will incur restructuring charges of $400 million over 18 months. Invensys CEO Allen Yurko sees the deal as a significant step to Invensys becoming an integrated software and systems provider across the entire automation and controls value chain. For Baan's part, interim CEO Pierre Everaert thought it was "an excellent outcome for shareholders, customers and employees". That may not be a universal sentiment, however. The shareholders will remember the day when Baan shares were at 49 Euros, and the company was the second software company in Europe, on the heels of SAP. Many customers do seem to be keeping their Baan software, but are not upgrading much and must have been chewing their nails for most of this year. As for the employees, with the cost reductions envisaged, there will inevitably be some terminations, although Invensys has said that it will continue with all Baan's products and that it is committed to a strong research and development programme. The Baan name will continue to be used, but many will be blaming Jan Baan's management style for the demise of the company. ®
Graham Lea, 01 Jun 2000

Boo assets go for a song

Bright Station is to announce today the purchase of technology assets of boo.com, for a whopping 250,000, the Sunday Times reports. If the sum – also reported by the BBC – is true, then the sale is either a damning indictment of the quality of the technology developed inhouse, or of the sales process conducted by KPMG. Boo spent millions – tens of millions - on developing its Web site. Perhaps the majority of this was money ill-spent – who can tell? But the end result, 3D technology and all, should have been worth a lot more than 250,000 to somebody – a big-name retailer, a big-name consultancy. Incidentally, what about all those hot-shot Internet consultancies/designers hauled in over the last year by Boo. Did not one of them think it worthwhile bidding more than 250,000 for the technology? Split in twain The Bright Station takeover looks uncommonly like the last-ditch business plan constructed by boo's management team, and rejected by shareholders. If implemented, the company would have split in two, as retailer, and Internet design/development team. Bright Station has got a technology platform for designing other Web sites very cheaply indeed. It will also offer positions to Boo’s programmers - how many are there left out of the remaining 30 Boo staff? – the sort of people for whom getting jobs is not exactly a problem. Bright Station has been trying to get Boo staff on board for a couple of weeks now. On 19 May, analyst Richard Holway noted: "A Bright Station source has been quoted as saying 'We rate the management team very highly. OK, they screwed up a bit, but they are still very talented'. Comment: Are they talking about Boo.com? Or is this how they would like to be perceived themselves?" Bright Station used to be called Dialog, and before that, MAID. The company is led by the controversial entrepreneur Dan Wagner (he's always called that, don't know why), who is also part of the consortium buying collapsed e-publishing outfit Net Imperative. Going for a song KPMG has certainly been quick in disposing the boo.com technology. From what we read, it whittled down an initial cast-list of up to 30 interested parties to six, by the simple expedient of imposing a demand for 1 million returnable deposit by Friday of last week. You could say that this separates sheep from cowboys. You could also say that this was almost guaranteed to generate a crap price. The shelf life of Boo, the brand, and Boo, the company is extremely short, so a quick fire sale makes sense. The shelf life of Boo, the software, is much longer, certainly if the technology platform is any good. A slightly longer sales process would have generated a better deal for creditors. Boo.com owes 17 million to trade creditors, mostly advertising agencies (so what, they’ve had their snouts in a very big trough, some - but not me - may argue) and courier companies (shame). Oh, Miss Boo. How do you do Reader Tom Metcalfe writes: "since Bright Source want to buy boo.com's dull old 3D technology, what is to become of tragic miss boo (the boo.com avatar), who is certainly much more widely recognised thanks to the collapse: on geo-television her iconic status seems assured. She's more interesting than annanova, so maybe miss boo could be employed in webtv somewhere?" Yes, Tom. But where do we get her CV? ®
Drew Cullen, 01 Jun 2000

I'm no cybersquatter, says Ronaldo.com owner

When Infogrames sent out a press release saying it had offered software developer Ronaldo Nascimento 100,000 for his legitimately owned URL www.ronaldo.com, we were confused. The company has good reason to want it because of an upcoming computer game Ronaldo V-Football, sanctioned by world-class Brazilian football Ronaldo Nazario da Lima. But why produce a press release to say it didn't have a URL? We asked the company. After some thought, the representative said: "So people know we haven't got it." Ah ha (?!) We contacted Mr Nascimento to ask how much his site - which features information on Star Wars, roleplaying games and the like - was worth to him. He was not in a good mood. "I've now been called a cybersquatter* - I take offence at that," he told us. "You can see it's got content on it, plus I use it for my programming." But what about the 100,000 sweetener? "That's news to me. Infogames has never made an offer." He is confused and asks what this is all about. We can only suggest that Infogames is trying to pressure him to give up the URL. Would he take the apparent 100,000 on the table? "I don't know. If they had gone about it in a proper way, I would have listened to their offers, but now..." So, just what is Infogrames up to here? The site is worth a lot of money to it. Perhaps it figured that someone with the URL would see the opportunity, run to the press and screw them for more money. Perhaps putting the press onto him first is less risky. Even so, saying it has offered 100,000 without talking to Mr Nascimento beforehand seems incredibly stupid. So what will he do? "Well, I'll think about it. We get legal representation here [an East Coast software company], so I'll talk to them." For what it's worth Ronaldo, The Reg says screw them for everything you can get. Now we're off to register the christian names of every footballer we can think of. *Mr. Nascimento is referring to a Reuters article on Ronaldo.com. This contains a general reference to cybersquatting. Although it does not accuse Nascimento personally of being a cybersquatter, the juxtaposition makes uncomfortable reading for anyone with a passing acquaintance of British libel law. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 01 Jun 2000

Transmeta scores Gateway-AOL Linux appliance deal

Gateway and AOL are to become Transmeta's first announced major customers. The grand unveiling of a Linux Internet appliance is scheduled to take place later today, but Transmeta's flair for publicity doesn't seem to have tarnished in the three months purdah since it announced, and even seems to have rubbed off on its partners a tad. So they've been leaking like crazy to their special friends in the public prints. According to Transmeta's Dave Ditzel, the first appliance will ship in Q4, and will use a wired connection to the Internet. He also trails future wireless versions in an unspecified timeframe, but we wouldn't hold out hope for these any time soon; WebPad-type devices are superficially attractive, but just figuring out which wireless standard to use will likely add six to nine months to development time. Gateway intends to sell the devices through its stores, while AOL will market them direct to subscribers, or so it says anyway. Gateway CTO Peter Ashkin claims to the New York Times that the price hasn't been determined, but that the target is sub-$500. But we don't believe that entirely. Unless it's a lot sub-$500, it's going to have to compete with low-end PCs as access devices. The machines will include AOL access software, so we'd guess maybe $399 or $499 for the raw machine, with no strings, and anything as low as $99 or even zero for one sold with a two to three year AOL contract. That ought to make subsidised machines with Gateway subscriptions walk off the shelves, which is presumably the objective of the Gateway-AOL alliance. The expectation is that they'll ship in tens of thousands this year, and hundreds of thousands next. Some interesting sidelights from the holiday weekend's leak-fest. Rob Enderle of Giga isn't leaking, but we expect he's been leaked to, when he tells the WSJ that he expects Compaq and IBM to come out with Transmeta laptops later this year. Gateway also seems to have given the WSJ the impression that it intends to increase the amount of chips it buys from AMD this year. But the company's possibly just trying to tease Chipzilla. ®
John Lettice, 01 Jun 2000

New Intel chip prices

Chipzilla's new price list introduces three new Xeons and a solitary Pentium III, along with price cuts of up to 44 per cent on existing parts. All prices are for 1000-unit quantities. At the high end, there's a new Xeon at 933MHz with 256KB on-die cache (two-way SMP only) at $794, while the 866 and 800MHz parts drop by 23 and 29 percent respectively to $612 and $435. The most significant new arrival is the Cashcades 700MHz Xeon with 2MB on-die cache – it makes its debut at $1,980, while the 1MB L2 version costs a mere $1177. Both these parts can run in four way and above SMP configurations. Somewhat bafflingly, the previous big cache part, the 0.25 micron 550/2MB, stays at its hefty price of $3692. We would have expected to see a big drop in price here – for that price, which would you rather have – a 550/2MB or a pair of 700/2MBs? Seems crazy to us, although an Intel Europe spokesman maintains there is still steady demand (and availability) for the 550MHz beastie. On the desktop, the 933MHz Coppermine arrives with a price tag of $744, with lesser parts having up to 31 per cent lopped off their costs. There is no change on the $990 PIII 1GHz chip, but as you can't actually buy one, who cares? All PIIIs between 500 and 667MHz are now priced the same at $193 – coincidentally the cost of a one-way ticket to the gulag for chips in this class. Smaller cuts for the cheaper Celeron chips see the fastest 600MHz part down 19 percent to $112, while the 466 and 500MHz Celeries are now at their end of life $69 pricepoint – just enough for a supersaver ticket on that midnight train to you-know-where. Mobiles see the biggest cuts, with the Celeron 550 down 44 per cent to a very-attractive $96. The SpeedStep 600, 650 and 700MHz parts are all down by just over 30 percent, with the fastest part now costing $380. ®
Andrew Thomas, 01 Jun 2000

France Telecom buys Orange cellular outfit in $45 billion deal

Every now and again somebody buys Orange, the number three UK mobile phone business, and CEO Hans Snook gets another addition to his substantial wad. Not that we're suggesting this is anything more than a side-effect, of course. This time around it's France Telecom, which today announced that it will be paying Vodafone AirTouch 20 billion Euros in cash and 20 billion in stock for Orange, and will take on debt of about 4 billion Euros and pay Orange's 4.5 billion tab for the UK 3G licence. So off we go on the next phase of the mobile network consolidation process. Vodafone had to get rid of Orange when it bought Mannessmann, which itself had shortly earlier bought Orange. Snook has been throwing his weight around in the interim, wanting Orange to regain its independence rather than being the subject of a trade sale, but the France Telecom deal must nevertheless suit him mightily. France Telecom intends to merge Orange into its own cellular business, which includes market leader Itineris (which is head-to-head with Vodafone's chums at SFR-Vivendi), and then to list the new company in Paris, London and the US. Snook will be in charge, but rather than running a cheeky upstart, which was the case prior to Mannessmann, he'll be steering one of the world's biggest mobile phone operations, backed by a telco with very deep (and it has to be said, sometimes overly mysterious) pockets. Despite the money France Telecom found itself blitzed out of the UK 3G licence auction, but by listing the merged cellular company it'll be in a better position to bounce back in the French licence round, and elsewhere in Europe. ®
John Lettice, 01 Jun 2000

This crazy WAP world we live in

As one reader pointed out, following our last rundown of the hype circus that is WAP, this stuff exists, it's out there and does work. So if was with a flea in our ear that we trawled around the WAP stalls at last week's Internet World 2000 conference, talking to those at the cutting dge, asking questions and finally passing out from despair. First we attended a talk about how great WAP was and how it was changing the world. This great change manifested itself in a sudden tiredness and slight nausea as the speaker's monotonous drone confirmed exactly the opposite. We left, but were unable to focus on the company name so we can't inform you who to avoid next show. MobileID was doing slightly better. It basically offers a customizable Start screen, so you can "take advantage" of features like messaging, email forwarding, address book etc. You have to dial in to get at it (bit annoying (and expensive) from the address book angle) but it's free and a bit better than the default menu that comes with the phone. Where's the money? "Oh, we're not even looking at profits. We've got loads of VC money." Sigh. "You know what they say: 'If you're making a profit, you're in the wrong business'." We left the poor fool behind. Mind you, the personal portal idea has been picked up by some others - including Room33. After waiting 10 minutes for service, we grabbed the brochures and moved on. Room33 is basically exactly the same - you organize your details through a Website and then dial into a separate WAP server to get your customised screen up. Room33 looks to have a few features over Mobile ID but neither seem to realise that people don't want to have to go to a Website to configure their mobile phone. They want to do it on the bloody phone. Best of luck, lads. Space2go charges for its service (although the PR bumf appears to say it's free - at what point do you believe stall staff?). But then it can transport files through the WAP interface. Really? Would reading a Word document on a WAP phone be of any use? "Oh, you can't view the files. You can just see their filenames." A prize to anyone who can tell us when this would come in useful - and no gadget freaks please. Amazingly the company's turnover is a round 1,000,000 euros. Get the feeling that those business plans haven't been finished off yet? Feeling like Cassandra at this point, we stumble across Virtual Internet - the boys who reckon anyone can create "a multiple page WAP site, even with no knowledge of programming, in under 15 minutes". We're nothing but fair, so away you go lads. They were telling the truth! But then we wouldn't have paid 55p, let alone 55 for the end result. It has to be on their site, you can only put about three pages together and it can't convert from HTML. "You see, it's actually written in WML, which is like the WAP equivalent of HTML." We rush quickly outside and get on the first tube before we do something we'd regret. But don't worry. While some were based on stalls on Earl's Court, the other WAP warriors were announcing still more super-plans. Ericsson, for example, is going to put interactive TV on WAP phones. Straight up :-). The platform being jointly developed between it and Somethin' Else will be designed "for use by any broadcaster seeking to provide interactive services via mobile phones or the Internet". Apparently, bandwidth will soon be so big that we will only be limited by our imagination. Sounds like too much LSD ingestion to us. Of course there was a biggie announcement too. Motorola, France Telecom, Amdocs, EHPT - members of that famous forum, the TeleManagement Forum - have "established the Catalyst Project to demonstrate the future of m-commerce". Lots of exploring of scopes, illustration, demonstration and facilitation. But before you say bunkum, it does give one concrete example - that of buying from vending machines by typing in a number. Unfortunately it's been done, years ago, in Finland. And a quick update on that brain tumour nonsense. A British company claims to have reduced radiation moving up the hands-free kit by as much as 90 per cent! "UK Powerwatch Director Alasdair Philips BSc(Eng) DAgE MIAgE is one of Europe's leading EMC Engineer and EMF-bioeffects researchers. Governments, consumer media programmes including BBC TV's Panorama and Watchdog, Councils and top electronics companies have consulted his company on mobile phone radiation." That's why he's come up with such an authoritative name as "wind-up!" It's got an "RF choke" (nice acronym usage - means, presumably, radio frequency), causing a "tailback" and making us safe and happy and alive for only 7.99! Do we think it works? No. But then you never know with this crazy WAP world we live in. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 01 Jun 2000

BT forced to offer unmetered access to competitors

Oftel, the winged watchdog, has told BT it must offer its competitors an unmetered rate of access to its network. The decision follows a complaint by MCI Worldcom that BT refused to offer it a flat-fee service, offering instead the usual pay-as-you-use metered access. The decision means that ISPs can now get to grips with competitive unmetered Internet access for consumers and business - something that everyone, bar BT, has been arguing for since the beginning of e-time and which brings us in line with the US (AOL wrote a triumphant press release just for the occasion). The news had been greeted with nave joy by the press and cleverly used by Oftel to boost its image. The simple fact is that Oftel didn't have a single reason not to rule against BT. The watchdog's ludicrous way of working (must have official complaint, only act if proof of anti-competitive behaviour) has worked this one time. BT unveiled its unmetered Surftime package which was blatantly anti-competitive, since no one else could afford to do the same. MCI asked for the means to compete effectively, BT said no way, MCI made a formal complaint. It is instructive how Oftel has dealt with the issue. There was no mistaking the conclusion it came to. But how interesting that it produced a press release entitled "Oftel publishes consultation document on pricing of unbundled local loops" on 24 May, another entitled "UK consumers benefit from lowest prices for certain key telecoms services" on 25 May, before finally releasing "Oftel requires BT to support Internet access for other operators" on 26 May. If you didn't know better you'd think Oftel was a strong, battling crusader for consumer rights. But this press manipulation is anything but bad. In fact it comes as a relief to see Oftel waking up and beginning to act like a telecoms watchdog with real teeth. Even more incredible is that Oftel has made full reports easily available over the Net and (gasp!) has even started included useful figures in its announcements, as opposed to saying they are confidential. So startling is the change that we may even start calling its press office again. Why has Oftel changed tack and why do I care? So what if Oftel has woken up is what many of you will be asking. Very simple. If we can assume that it is now functioning as a reliable check on the industry, future announcements can be analysed using logic and commonsense, without having to peer through the Oftel filter. This is good news for the industry and hence consumers. Of course there is also a complementary danger, stemming from the reason why Oftel has changed. Clearly, Oftel and its head David Edmonds have been under huge political pressure - we don't know what conversations went on in Whitehall but it's fair to assume that head of a watchdog is not a job for life. The plus side is activity and speed, the down side is that Oftel is embarrassingly trying to prove itself. It can hardly control its joy when it reports the UK has the lowest-cost off-peak Internet access in Europe. It flags this prominently and conveniently forgets all the negative aspects of the independent report. Is this the action of an autonomous watchdog? Surely its job is to scare the industry into action by making it transparent, not tell us what a great job it is doing? A closer look at the report also shows up some clever data manipulation. The UK isn't the cheapest for European telecoms, no way near. In most situations it is one of the most expensive. The Internet access figures appear to presume the best possible scenario for each package and also gone with the best deals. It says that "non-price factors, such as quality of service, availability and choice have also been considered" - but have they? Who knows. What good is a cheap ISP if you can't get on the Net during the evening? There is little doubt that the huge and heavy competition in the UK ISP market is bringing down the prices but the implication is that this is thanks to Oftel, rather than in spite of it. Hopefully Oftel will stop looking over its shoulder and get on with acting like a consumer champion. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 01 Jun 2000

Nintendo set to delay Dolphin debut?

Has Nintendo delayed the launch of its upcoming next-generation games console, codenamed Dolphin? That's certainly one inference you can make from the company's latest financial results. Nintendo's profits fell 35 per cent year on year, down from Y85.8 billion in 1998 to Y56.1 billion ($521 million). The company blamed the strength of the yen against the dollar - a factor that hit Sony's profits hard too - and weak sales of its current console, the N64. But it said it expects to see profits rise during fiscal 2000 by 46.3 per cent on the back of strong GameBoy sales (including the upcoming GameBoy Advance, due later this year) and - surprise, surprise - Pokemon stuff. Nintendo said it sold 17.45 million GameBoys worldwide during its 1999 fiscal year, an increase of 34 per cent on 1998's shipments, and it clearly sees that trend continuing, despite the components shortages it earlier warned might hit sales. The issue for Dolphin watchers, however, is the absence of any mention of the console in Nintendo's 2000 profit projections. Which means the company reckons sales from late calendar 2000, when the console is due to be launched, won't have a significant impact on its overall business. Either that, or Dolphin, like the PlayStation 2 before it, will be delayed from a pre-Christmas 2000 release to March 2001. Nintendo is expected to unveil details of the 128-bit PowerPC and ATI/ArtX-based Dolphin and its launch programme in August, according to a company spokesman cited by Reuters. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Jun 2000

Telewest makes sweet music with chello, ditches blueyonder?

Telewest, the digital cableco that just can't seem to get it right, looks set to ditch its broadband service for a Dutch version from chello. According to the FT, Telewest is to wave its blueyonder service into the... er... blue yonder, two months after launching the service. The cableco took the usual dull and thoroughly unhelpful PR line this morning and refused to comment other than to say that that blueyonder was still being rolled out. Reports over the last couple of days claim Telewest and chello are chatting about a joint venture here in Britain. And it certainly makes sense. In March, chello held a flashy demonstration in London showing off its broadband service, even though the company didn't have a presence in Britain. The broadband outfit made it clear then that it was looking to hold hands with operators in Britain to offer its own brand of broadband service. And now it appears that it is carrying out wishes, although it doesn't want to talk about it. A rather stern spokeswoman at chello said: "We're under strict instructions not to talk about it." Chello recently announced that it had postponed its IPO until 8 June. ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Jun 2000

MS DreamWorks witness' site runs on Linux

MS on TrialMS on Trial Last week Judge Jackson refused to let Microsoft call new witnesses to respond to what the company terms "the government's sweeping demands." But yesterday Microsoft submitted the witness list, along with a precis of what they would (probably) have said, anyway. And some of it's fascinating; Compaq CEO Mike Capellas sings the virtues of having a single vendor for OS and apps (so rival vendors can forget the Compaq gig), while one of the other star witnesses, Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks, seems to have a Web site that runs on, er, Linux. We'll take Capellas first. "The base platform that most customers want includes a personal computer, an operating system and a set of basic productivity applications that can be used to accomplish important tasks. Compaq provides such a solution to customers by integrating the PC with the operating system and the associated hardware peripherals and software applications. The fact that the operating system and certain key applications have been developed and tested by a single company to work seamlessly together generally makes the software more reliable, better performing, and less costly for OEMs to deploy and support." (Our italics). You could kind of wonder about why it's helpful for Microsoft to have Capellas saying this kind of stuff. Basically he's telling us it's a lot easier for him if the apps and the OS are tightly integrated, from a single vendor, so he's saying that if the law didn't do anything about it, Compaq would happily aid and abet Microsoft in turning the OS monopoly and the apps near-monopoly into one, giant, integrated monopoly. Capellas' enthusiasm for this level of integration and his equal enthusiasm for integrated IE and DirectX ("Allowing OEMs to remove components of Windows (such as Interet Explorer and DirectX) would destroy the integrity of Windows as a development platform") is a puzzle, considering. Last year at a strategic moment in the trial, Compaq started offering machines with Netscape Navigator on board, and this was extremely helpful to Microsoft's case (see link below). But as a reality check we just checked out Compaq online, and although it may still be possible to buy Compaq machines with Navigator, we haven't figured out how. Very difficult not to buy bundled MS apps though. But Mike's helpful in other areas too, helping himself along the way. "There is no reason why Compaq should not receive more resources from Microsoft, given our greater investment in testing, distributing and promoting Microsoft's technology" (again, it's not clear why this is helpful stuff). "Forcing Microsoft to disclose technical information simultaneously to everyone in the computer industry would prevent the sort of cooperative development efforts that have led to important innovations like Plug-and-Play." So it's easier for OEMs to go the Microsoft way, and it's helpful for the big OEMs to get discounts in exchange for favours, and to come to confidential arrangements whereby they get an early run in co-op technology development deals. The Capellas bottom line: if you need to control Microsoft, you can't rely on Compaq to help. Katzenberg of DreamWorks meanwhile says: "As a major producer of animated films, much of DreamWorks' business is therefore dependent on the use of software." And as we all know what kind of gear you use in film production, we can see he's on dangerous ground here. DreamWorks uses "Microsoft client operating systems, server operating systems and applications." It also uses "servers and workstations produced by a variety of vendors." But he doesn't say which ones, or precisely what the company uses the MS gear for. Film production? We think not. A quick Netcraft however reveals that DreamWorks.com is running Apache on Linux. So we're obviously not using the MS servers for that. Tony Nicely, chairman of auto insurance giant GEICO, is if anything an even more bizarre witness. "GEICO would be adversely affected if anything slowed the release of new and improved versions of [Microsoft] products." We at The Register receive a steady stream of mail from MIS managers complaining about the speed of the MS upgrade escalator, so we're stunned to find a top-level exec (albeit only the chairman) who takes the contrary view. ®
John Lettice, 01 Jun 2000

Sony aims to quadruple PS2 output

Sony has revised build targets upwards for Playstation 2 consoles to 2.2 million units per month, from earlier announced targets of 1.4 million units per month. Sony does not say when it expects to reach the two million per month milestone - right now, it pumps out 500,000 units per month. But more production will mean lower prices - in Japan, the PS2 retail price is currently Y39,800 - the company says. But it does not say how much lower or when it will cut prices, although spokesman Kochiro Katsurayama does deliver a broad hint. Sony will launch a cheaper version of the PS2 from the year to March 2002 at the earliest - ie. March 2001 is the first possibility - he says, financial newswire AFX reports. Katsurayama cites PS1 pricing as a guideline for future PS2 price cuts. One year after launch, the PS1 price was chopped by Y10,000 to Y29,800. Sony is to spend Y125 billion ($1.1 billion) on ramping up production for the CPUs which power the PS2. It says it will use these processors to power other appliances. Sony says it has sold two million PS2s, since launching the gaming platform in March. At their peak, PS1 sales hit two million units per month. ®
Drew Cullen, 01 Jun 2000

BT Surftime: All men are not born equal

BT Internet users are being forced to wait at least one month longer than new customers to sign up for BT Surftime. Existing users were angry after being told today by the BT Internet customer helpdesk that they could not register for BT's unmetered Surftime package until August... unlike new customers, who can sign up for the shiny new service from today. BT confirmed there would be a delay for existing BT Internet customers, citing difficulties in switching users between the two different payment systems. BT Internet is charged monthly via credit card, whereas Surftime charges are to be added to quarterly phone bills. But a BT representative said the company expected to have the problem fixed at the end of June, and that the customer helpdesk had "got it wrong". BT was working round the clock to get an automated system in place that could transfer customer details between the two schemes, he said. He laughed off suggestions that the company was favouring new customers over its established users. ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Jun 2000

C2000 loses Web manager to London dotcom

Computer 2000 this week saw its general manager for e-commerce and marketing scooped by a dotcom. Andy Dow has quit after five years at the Basingstoke distributor. From today he will be sales and marketing director at London-based Web hosting and services company Corpex. Computer 2000 will not replace Dow, but has decided to split his job between Nigel Judd, general manager for marketing, and Christopher Miles, general manager for e-commerce. In channel-related news, Surrey-based reseller Rapid Group has promoted Graham Perry to MD. Perry joined the company in 1997 and was behind the buyout of Thames Valley Systems the following year. He has replaced John McCartney, now chairman of Rapid, and said he would look for more acquisitions "to grow the company and broaden our geographical coverage even further". Infobank also announced a new UK MD today - James Kirkwood has joined from Korean chipmaker LG Group. ®
Linda Harrison, 01 Jun 2000

3dfx resumes Voodoo 5 5500 AGP shipments

3dfx has begun shipping its much-anticipated Voodoo 5500 AGP card and told buyers to expect stock to hit stores' shelves on 9 June. The 3D graphics specialist last week suspended its shipment schedule for the card following the emergence of what it called "field failures". Distributors were asked to return unsold kit to 3dfx. The company reckoned only a small number of configurations were affected, and even then at low levels, but it said it felt it was prudent to pull the product to allow for further tests. In a cunningly spun 'we care' statement, 3dfx's senior VP for worldwide sales, Richard Burns, admitted the company might have overreacted: "In hindsight, perhaps our course of action was overly cautious, but it is better to address these types of issues before a product is released," he gushed in what looked like a rotational paramedic-authored statement. "I am proud that 3dfx took the proper precautions to insure the quality of our product and protect our brand and our reputation for having the highest quality products." It's interesting, though, that 3dfx hasn't actually said what the problem with the boards was. Suspicion has fallen on issues getting multiple VSA-100 chips to sync up, which might explain why the single-chip Voodoo 4 boards were unaffected. However, 3dfx itself is keeping mum on the issue. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Jun 2000

BT Surftime: How to turn four customers into 20

You gotta hand it to BT - the telco certainly knows how to look on the bright side of life. It launched SurfTime today even though most people in the industry know the discredited product is on a life support machine with the relatives hanging around waiting to flick the switch. No matter. Check out it's Web page and it claims to have more than 20 ISPs signed up to the unmetered service. But a closer look reveals that 19 of these are different branded ISPs backed by London-based ISP, Affinity Internet. So in reality, BT has just four takers... Affinity, BT, Freeserve and PlusNet. Oh, and one more thing. Anyone signing up to the service is committed for three months. By then, of course, there should be a number of rival services available which should be considerably cheaper than the BT option. ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Jun 2000

Analyst ups MS stock, apparently forgetting verdict's due

The latest news from Rosswell is first, that "influential" Goldman Sachs analyst Rick Sherlund today said the onset of a quiet period in the trial may allow Microsoft stock to recover lost ground, and second, that the stock price promptly kicked upwards. Consequently we at The Register have started idly musing about the viability of something called, say, goldfish.com* as a source of stock tips. Difficulty number one with Rick's pronouncements is surely that we're not quite at the quiet news period. Microsoft itself ostensibly believes that the judge could pull the trigger today or tomorrow, while our very own Graham Lea, whenever we take out the gag and remove the straightjacket, is fixed on somewhere around 22 June for the next dose of bad news. Sure, nothing bad will actually happen to Microsoft immediately after the judge speaks, but that was the case after the mediation talks broke down as well, yet the stock nosedived the following Monday. Which brings us to difficulty number two. Immediately prior to the collapse of the mediation, one Rick Sherlund of Gold in Sacks, after a Microsoft analyst briefing, made confident noises about the talks' prospects of success. And the stock price kicked up, swiftly followed by Judge Posner's 1 April Saturday afternoon massacre. Since then Rick has downgraded Microsoft, and warned that a breakup could hurt the stock. But now he has the stock rated at outperform, although he says the company's business is still sluggish. Well, we'll see about that - but what do we know? ® *Unfortunately, goldfish.com is already a dull credit card site. So is carp.com, which when you think about it is even better for an investor site with attitude. Owned by some fishing outfit in Georgia that isn't even using it...
John Lettice, 01 Jun 2000