8th > June > 2000 Archive

How will the verdict hit the MS stock price?

MS on TrialMS on Trial Microsoft's investors know very well that the company will not be able to make nearly as much money with its conduct closely monitored by the DoJ and Judge Jackson. A restrained Microsoft may therefore find itself unable to produce that little bit of extra revenue to "beat the Street" (financial analysts love this of course, and may well conspire to help achieve it). For years Microsoft has put its tongue in its cheek, claimed that the future looks bleaker, and begged the financial analysts not to forecast results that are too good. At times, Microsoft has even talked down its share price - Ballmer did this with great success last year (and surely not because Microsoft was buying its own stock?). On the other hand, Goldman Sacks' Rick Sherlund tried to talk Microsoft's shares up, having been a bear earlier, and failed. Next month, Microsoft can probably resume buying its own shares, and will hope to send the price up substantially to please - most of all - its employees. But there's a considerable downside possibility as well that must be factored in. On Tuesday, Microsoft's new CFO John Connors gave a keynote at the PaineWebber technology conference. He has previously admitted that the present 4th quarter ending 30 June would be a difficult one, and that the outlook for the next financial year was not so good either: he expects 15 per cent growth (20 per cent was "unrealistic"), and if this were to come to pass, the Street would not be happy. He hinted that the DoJ case was interfering with growth when he said that "when the case goes into the appeals process I think we can have the kind of growth we feel good about...". Could that mean growth is behind the Street's expectations at present? Connors was also pessimistic about the shortage of Pentium III chips, so that PC growth would be between 12 and 15 per cent in fiscal 2001. He admitted the PC consumer market had slowed - in Europe because of the weak euro, and in the US because of the stock market slump. The more astute of Microsoft's investors may well be wondering if Microsoft will have to issue a profits warning at some stage soon, because of its inability to meet the voracious requirements of the Street. When IBM announced late last year that it expected some bad quarters - in effect it was a profits warning - its share price suffered considerably (until yesterday, funnily enough - when even Corel managed to put on more than 30 per cent). Sherlund claims that if broken up, Microsoft's value would be 15 per cent less. This may be a very modest estimate. ®
Anon, 08 Jun 2000

Bill Gates dismisses Judge Jackson's ruling

MS on TrialMS on Trial When Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates enacted his entry procession into the Hart Senate Office Building on Tuesday, flanked by both US Senators from his home state, both glowing with pride, the tedious liturgical airs of this exercise only accentuated our impression of a man severely out of touch. The Prince Bishop of Redmond toddled to his seat before the Joint Economic Committee with an air of abstraction and settled himself gently, only to discover that his two Evangelists had no place at the table. He gazed vacantly at the Committee while arrangements were hastily made to seat them. Microsoft was to be understood as nothing less than the soul of Washington State, bequeathing blessings uncounted to its grateful residents, and, by extension, to all of Mankind, the two Senators enthused. The topic of Tuesday's hearing was removing barriers to the development of the New Economy, but Gates, when his turn came, read from a script enlarging upon his solemn devotion to the health and education of the world's children, thereby enervating the Committee with his Pollyanna Gospel, insipid fake smile, and whining nasal monotone. Clearly he had graver matters on that reputedly brilliant mind of his. (Though we are at a loss to explain how a mind said to be brilliant struggles so fruitlessly to express itself in language more compelling than the inarticulate hoots and grunts of contemporary commercialese.) Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's impending decision hung about Gates like a vapour Tuesday, and cut short his scheduled annual pilgrimage to Capitol Hill, where all the Big Swinging Dicks from the tech and media sectors -- Andy Grove and Eric Schmidt and Michael Eisner to mention but a few -- had gathered to grease palms for a few days. Back in the Magic Kingdom, safely insulated from an ungrateful world which has the audacity to misunderstand him, and even knowingly contradict him, Gates prepared his response on Wednesday. It was a masterpiece of denial. "Today's ruling represents an unwarranted and unjustified intrusion into the software marketplace," Gates declared with confidence, far away from Congressional cynics and comfortably insulated by a gaggle of sympathetic upper-management MicroSerfs. Jackson's remedy would mean that "the Internet support in Windows could never be enhanced; it could never be updated to new standards, whether they relate to privacy, or XML, or any other consumer need." (Most notably the acute consumer need for NGWS, we understood him to be not saying.) "It says to creators of intellectual property that the government can take away what you've created, if it turns out to be too popular," he whinged. And then he repeated the Microsoft Core Message in spite of all signs to the contrary: "We're confident the judicial system will overturn today's ruling." His disciples nodded in approval. The man simply does not get it. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal put it best during the US Department of Justice (DoJ) press conference Wednesday afternoon. "Microsoft simply lost credibility before Judge Jackson, and before the public, and that was a critical point. Not necessarily on one day, or with one witness or one piece of evidence; but the....overwhelming momentum of the evidence, which creates such a record of misconduct, eventually persuaded Judge Jackson that conduct remedies alone -- if they relied on the good faith of this defendant -- simply would not be sufficient." Gates, of course, is innocent of this fact. While the majority of the thinking world has grown weary to the point of catatonia of his tired euphemisms and slick promises, he steadfastly persists in believing his own spin. And so does the sycophantic personality cult with which he has surrounded himself, we noted. Its numbing influence should not be underestimated. Try it for yourself; make thirty or so middle-class college graduates rich beyond their wildest dreams, and see how they behave towards you. ®
Thomas C Greene, 08 Jun 2000

The fat judge sings: will the Supremes kick in?

MS on TrialMS on Trial Taking a seize-the-bull-by-the-horns approach, Judge Jackson says: "Microsoft officials have recently been quoted publicly to the effect that the company has done nothing wrong' and that it will be vindicated on appeal. He "is well aware that there is a substantial body of public opinion, some of it rational, that holds to a similar view. It is time to put that assertion to the test. If true, then an appellate tribunal should be given early opportunity to confirm it as promptly as possible, and to abort any remedial measures before they have become irreversible as a practical matter." His reference to the judgement being "appealable" is a sensible move, but he must be confident that in the light of the evidence, his judgement would be upheld on appeal. Judge Jackson has played the case in a legally-cool fashion, while Judge Sporkin, in the earlier consent decree case, found the attitude of the DoJ controversial, clashed with the then DoJ head of antitrust, and refused to enter the decree. It was Judge Jackson who signed the decree, at the instruction of the appellate court, although we do not know whether he was chosen by ballot, or assigned. The fact that his preliminary injunction three years ago was overruled by the Court of Appeals should not be taken as particularly strong evidence that the appellate court will be Microsoft-friendly this time, since it would very much depend on which judges are chosen by ballot to hear any appeal. The next step may well be that Microsoft asks Judge Jackson's court to stay both the conduct and structural remedies pending appeal, with the near certainty that he would agree to the latter, but not the former. Microsoft would presumably then either ask the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to agree the staying of the conduct remedies as well, or file a broad appeal against the Findings of Fact, the Conclusion of Law, and the conduct of the case by Judge Jackson. Although the intention of the DoJ to invoke the fast-track procedure and use the Antitrust Expediting Act to take the case directly to the Supreme Court (with Judge Jackson's approval), it is at the moment uncertain how the timing would work out, since the solicitor general has to certify that the case may be offered to the Supreme Court. In any event, it is unlikely that the Court of Appeals would decide anything while this was in progress. We can be sure that the Supremes will be involved - but it is not possible to forecast how they would act. The Supreme Court has the option of accepting, declining, or referring the case to the Court of Appeals with some instructions. The snag with the Supremes hearing the appeal is that it would potentially have to sift through all the evidence and briefs if the case were appealed directly, and that would take a great deal of time. Furthermore, although the case has as a very high profile, it may not present sufficiently interesting legal issues for the Supremes. They have not expressed much interest in antitrust cases in the recent past, with eight of the nine justices said to hold so-called Chicago School views opposed to antitrust enforcement. It is quite possible that it would refer the case, and ask to have certain legal issues narrowed for decision. If so, the most likely issue would be the appropriateness of the remedies, and not questions to do with the facts. It may also wish to express a view on the Findings of Law. It is worth bearing in mind that IBM's decline in the 1980s (and Microsoft's ultimate control of DOS) follows directly from the paralysing effect of the three suits and two consent decrees. Of course, the cultures of IBM and Microsoft could hardly be more different: IBM scrupulously tried to abide by the Court's orders, with the result that efficiency was low, and the financial results poor), but many doubt that Microsoft would get out the sackcloth and ashes. Nonetheless, the appeal procedure will have a very great demoralising effect on Microsoft - especially if the share price stays at around half what it was less than six moths ago. Microsoft would lose key staff, and find it hard to recruit the best talent. It should not be overlooked that this is not just a US case. The European Commission is watching the outcome, and if it is not to its liking, it could well take swift and effective action. The Plaintiff States have for the main part been a stiffener to the DoJ, and of course they harbour many of Microsoft's competitors. They could also bring separate cases under their state laws should Microsoft escape as a result of an appeal. The prospect of possibly having to defend a dozen or more simultaneous cases would be most formidable, even for Microsoft. So far as the timing of the appeal process is concerned, nobody knows because there are too many options at present, but estimates of one to three years are quite possible. We do know that the Supreme Court takes a three-month summer vacation, and is most unlikely to consider taking the case until it returns. There are now two legal phases: a procedural one involving the preparation of the basic documentation, which could well take until after the summer - and this phase would probably include a stay on structural remedies being enforced during appeal. Microsoft of course will wish to make the substantive part of the process last as long as possible. There always remains the possibility of political interference next year, whoever becomes the new president. The odds at present on the final outcome must be that there will be a dramatic ending with Microsoft upstaged: exeunt WinCo left, and AppCo right. Curtain. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jun 2000

How will the verdict hit the MS stock price?

MS on TrialMS on Trial Microsoft's investors know very well that the company will not be able to make nearly as much money with its conduct closely monitored by the DoJ and Judge Jackson. A restrained Microsoft may therefore find itself unable to produce that little bit of extra revenue to "beat the Street" (financial analysts love this of course, and may well conspire to help achieve it). For years Microsoft has put its tongue in its cheek, claimed that the future looks bleaker, and begged the financial analysts not to forecast results that are too good. At times, Microsoft has even talked down its share price - Ballmer did this with great success last year (and surely not because Microsoft was buying its own stock?). On the other hand, Goldman Sacks' Rick Sherlund tried to talk Microsoft's shares up, having been a bear earlier, and failed. Next month, Microsoft can probably resume buying its own shares, and will hope to send the price up substantially to please - most of all - its employees. But there's a considerable downside possibility as well that must be factored in. On Tuesday, Microsoft's new CFO John Connors gave a keynote at the PaineWebber technology conference. He has previously admitted that the present 4th quarter ending 30 June would be a difficult one, and that the outlook for the next financial year was not so good either: he expects 15 per cent growth (20 per cent was "unrealistic"), and if this were to come to pass, the Street would not be happy. He hinted that the DoJ case was interfering with growth when he said that "when the case goes into the appeals process I think we can have the kind of growth we feel good about...". Could that mean growth is behind the Street's expectations at present? Connors was also pessimistic about the shortage of Pentium III chips, so that PC growth would be between 12 and 15 per cent in fiscal 2001. He admitted the PC consumer market had slowed - in Europe because of the weak euro, and in the US because of the stock market slump. The more astute of Microsoft's investors may well be wondering if Microsoft will have to issue a profits warning at some stage soon, because of its inability to meet the voracious requirements of the Street. When IBM announced late last year that it expected some bad quarters - in effect it was a profits warning - its share price suffered considerably (until yesterday, funnily enough - when even Corel managed to put on more than 30 per cent). Sherlund claims that if broken up, Microsoft's value would be 15 per cent less. This may be a very modest estimate. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jun 2000

Breakup it is – judge signs off DoJ MS proposal

MS on TrialMS on Trial Where were you when you heard about the Final Judgement on Microsoft? Yes, it was one of those moments in history. Judge Jackson had two choices: either he could accept the DoJ proposal in its entirety, or modify it. By doing the former, he avoided the need for producing a lengthy memorandum to explain his actions, and confined himself to making a few choice remarks mainly directed at Microsoft's current behaviour - which he takes a pretty dim view of. He let the proposal stand because the "Plaintiffs won the case, and for that reason alone have some entitlement to a remedy of their choice". It had become near-certain, at least publicly, that his judgement was imminent during the teleconference on 1 June when he particularly asked for the DoJ's final brief to be filed on Monday morning, and Microsoft's response by Wednesday morning. Perhaps Microsoft knew he really was in a hurry to rule, so it filed earlier than necessary in order not to be antagonistic. In any event, Microsoft was caught unawares by the filing yesterday, since it had been saying it expected it Thursday or Friday. Execs hit the runways Bill Gates was in Washington with a busy lobbying programme, and Steve Ballmer was in Oslo, having just come from Vienna where he discussed Internet crime - although this amusing coincidence probably did not strike him, or the Austrian Minister of the Interior. Despite the encouraged image of Bill Gates sitting at the back of a scheduled trans-Atlantic flight working with his laptop, or asleep across several seats, the reality is that Air Microsoft jets him and his bodyguards around, for perfectly understandable security and efficiency reasons. So on Tuesday evening, when presumably he had been tipped off about the filing of the Final Judgement, he cancelled his Washington appointments for Wednesday and got back to Fort Redmond pronto to prepare for meltdown. The judge's total endorsement of the DoJ/Plaintiff States proposal makes any substantive appeal in his court highly improbable, although the possibility of Microsoft asking him to stay the breakup until the result of its appeal is known would be likely to be heard sympathetically. This could also be a much quicker procedure for Microsoft. In his Memorandum, Judge Jackson is critical of "Microsoft's claims, in effect, to have been surprised by the draconian' and unprecedented' remedy the plaintiffs recommend" and makes it quite clear that "yet another round of discovery, to be followed by a second trial" had already been "considered and rejected by the Court". But that wasn't all: "Microsoft's profession of surprise is not credible" since it would have known from Supreme Court precedents that this was "a possibility, if not a probability" - and "the Court's Findings of Fact gave clear warning to Microsoft that the result would likely be adverse". The judge makes a telling point (for an appellate court) that his Court "delayed entry of its Conclusions of Law for five months, and enlisted the services of a distinguished mediator" (who was of course a senior judge from the Court of Appeals), in the hope of a remedy more acceptable to Microsoft might be agreed through a consent decree. Continuing 'innocent' claims irk judge It clearly irks the judge that "Microsoft has been found guilty of antitrust violations, notwithstanding its protests to this day that it has committed none", so the entry of the final, appealable judgement was essential since "Microsoft as it is presently organized and led is unwilling to accept the notion that it broke the law or accede to an order amending its conduct." He then goes on to make four points that he doesn't like about Microsoft's behaviour, starting with Microsoft's refusal to concede that any of its business practices violated the Sherman Act, and claiming that the company has "done nothing wrong" and would be vindicated on appeal." Nor does he like Microsoft's scorn for any conduct remedies, and carrying on business-as-usual to the extent of trying to sabotage new markets (a reference to the recently-revealed Gates' emails of course). The judge also bluntly says that: "Microsoft has proved untrustworthy in the past" and harks back to its failure to comply with his earlier preliminary injunction while it was on appeal. His last point is that it is unlikely that opinions about remedies could be resolved by further hearings, and as for the "offers of proof", he had found from experience that future predictions were less reliable than "even the testimony as to historical fact". Judge Jackson has added a stinging footnote about Microsoft's alleged surprise that it would be heard no more in his court: "Despite their surprise, compounded no doubt by the Court's refusal on May 24th to allow discovery and take testimony on the issue, Microsoft's attorneys were promptly able to tender a 35-page "Offer of Proof," summarizing in detail the testimony 16 witnesses would give to explain why plaintiffs' proposed remedy, in its entirety, is a bad idea. Within a week they added seven more." [It's actually six more, because Schmalensee is down twice.] The judge expresses satisfaction that the judgement "is the collective work product of senior antitrust law enforcement officials of the United States Department of Justice and the Attorneys General of 19 states, in conjunction with multiple consultants". This is of course another gentle message to an appellate court not to mess with it. The result is that the objectives of relief are achieved: "to terminate the unlawful conduct, to prevent its repetition in the future, and to revive competition in the relevant markets". Lest parting be sweet sorrow, Judge Jackson concludes by noting that his "Court will retain jurisdiction following appeal, and can modify the judgment as necessary in accordance with instructions from an appellate court or to accommodate conditions changed with the passage of time". He then denied Microsoft's outstanding motions, rejected Microsoft's "position" brief, and entered the Plaintiffs' Proposed Final Judgement as his Final Judgement, without any changes. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jun 2000

Timna mobos spotted in Taipei

Computex 2000Computex 2000 Several manufacturers are exhibiting Timna motherboard units at their suites in the Grand Hyatt next to the Computex Trade Fair. But, as revealed earlier this week, the boards are like an old fashioned carriage without a horse. The Dobbin in question in this case is the Timna processor, which Intel confirmed will be unavailable to populate such mobos until Q1 next year. Gigabyte has a Timna board in its suite at the Hyatt, and there is a possibility that the specification, which has not yet been finalised, will utilise double data rate (DDR) memory rather than the SDRAM that most people expected. The existence of infrastructure support for the Timna chip indicates the extent to which the Taiwanese manufacturers are in thrall to Intel, and to a lesser extent, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The firms have to spend considerable amounts of money and devote R&D resources never really knowing until the last minute whether the chip is going to turn up to the party at time. They are cheesed off with Intel big time. But what can they do? ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jun 2000

AMD Slot A death threatens stock crunch

Computex 2000Computex 2000 Motherboard manufacturers are performing a difficult juggling act during the rapid phase out of Slot A in favour of Socket A for the AMD Athlon and are putting pressure on the chip maker to keep on making the parts. After the release of the Thunderbird Athlon at the beginning of this week, which coincided with the simultaneous release of a large number of third party motherboards using the KT rather than the KX133 chipset, reports circulated at the show that manufacturers felt miffed at the swift demise of Slot A. Gigabyte denied that it had heaps of manufactured motherboards using the KX-133 chipset, and that it had put pressure on AMD to carry on manufacturing Slot A parts that little bit longer. Stephen Huang, product manager of Gigabyte's business division, said that the firm had figured out an exit plan to avoid it being stuck with stock. He said "We have worked very closely with AMD". But he did admit that stocks of Slot A would become very thin on the ground in quarter three and "limited to select system integrators". AMD said at its Thunderbird announcement that its Dresden plant is up and running. Cartridge-based microprocessors cost around $40 more than Socket A chips and it is unlikely that AMD will respond to pressure to crank up the volume. No-one from AMD was available to respond to the situation at press time. ®
Mike Magee, 08 Jun 2000

CallNet 0800 stands ground on FRIACO

CallNet 0800 has confirmed it will not be ditching its telephony-based net access model despite earlier reports claiming it may be "forced to change its entire business model". A spokesman for the company said CallNet 0800 was assessing its business model on a "day-by-day" basis. He said he couldn't rule out the introduction of a new product based on a soon-to-be-released wholesale Net access product (FRIACO), but added that if this was the case, it would not be the kiss of death for CallNet 0800's existing telephony-based ISP. Instead, any new product would exist hand-in-hand with CallNet's other services, he said. Earlier this week CallNet confirmed it had suspended registrations for the service in a bid to improve the network's sluggish service and performance. Other network capacity improvements would take "weeks rather than days", it said. ® Related Stories Unmetered access just a few weeks away, says BT
Tim Richardson, 08 Jun 2000

Amex sets debt collectors on ex-Boo staff

Former Boo.com staff are slowly discovering how much they have been shafted by their ex-bosses. Yesterday's Times newspaper revealed that 17 ex-employees of the failed online sportswear retailer may be forced to pay for debts run up on company credit cards. The individuals, ranging from the founders of the company to junior fashion buyers' assistants, got corporate American Express credit cards from Boo. But it seems the company, which crashed last month, had signed a joint liability contract with Amex which made staff liable for the debts if the company was unable to cough up. Now Amex is trying to ply the money owing, thought to total around 15,000 according to The Times out of the employees, and has sent threatening letters to all the cardholders via a debt collection company. While the cards were mainly used to fund hotel and corporate entertainment, some former Boo staff were also said to have been using the cards for personal purchases. Their favourite haunts were the bars and restaurants around Boo's Soho, London offices with the dotcommers patronising one bar in particular called The Midas Touch. "There were buyers who owed more than the most senior executives in relation to their salaries; one former Booer blabbed to The Times. So now what? To be fair, Boo former human resources co-ordinator is trying to persuade Amex to hound former staff only for their private purchases. While it looks like Boo's three founders, no doubt party to the Amex agreement, will fall victim to their own small print and have to pay their own bills in full. ® Related stories Boo.com; it lives! Boo assets go for a song Boo: gloaters outnumber creditors Brave Boo.com battling on
Linda Harrison, 08 Jun 2000

Tories elect Net to save Pound

William Hague dropped in to a hi-tech London venue yesterday to launch an online petition to save the British Pound. The Tory leader was flanked by political heavyweight, Michael Portillo, and Francis Maude in the basement of the Silicon Rooms. Together, they each sat down at a PC and tapped in their e-commitment to sterling. The campaign -- to muster support against Britain ditching the pound in favour of the Euro -- is to be supplemented by a paper petition. Although the online petition went live only yesterday morning, by the time Portillo arrived 1,257 people had already pledged their allegiance to Britain's currency. Portillo's deft typing made it 1,258; Maude was 1,259 and Hague was 1,261. As the politicians huddled around the PC for a photo-call it probably escaped the attention of all but the most vulture-eyed journalists present that the Logitech wireless keyboard being used for this patriotic moment included the Euro sign on the number "4" key. Still, it's unlikely that Hague, Portillo and Maude will let such a little detail like that interfere with their campaign to Keep the Pound. ® Related Story Slap in the head for Hague domain name turkey
Tim Richardson, 08 Jun 2000

Intel: “Buy your mobos from someone else”

When we asked an Intel Europe spokesman a couple of days ago which mobo he recommended we use for our 750MHz Coppermine processor now that Cape Cod has gone to that great fishmonger in the sky, his response was interesting: "There are loads of 3rd party boards that you can use." So there we have it – if you want to use SDRAM, Intel's official advice is to look elsewhere for a motherboard. Only one Intel desktop mobo, the incredibly long in the tooth Seattle 2, can support the 'E' variants of Coppermine from 550 to 850MHz. Seattle 2 can hardly claim to be feature rich or to offer earth-shattering performance. Other Chipzilla BX mobos like the Sun River offer better functionality such as on-board TNT graphics, but can't deliver the correct (lower) voltage to the faster Copperwhines which are at risk of being fried if you try it. And no SDRAM Intel desktop mobo can support AGP4X, meaning the simple choice is either the Rambus VC820, or another manufacturer. Never let it be said that Chipzilla doesn't help the competition. ®
Andrew Thomas, 08 Jun 2000

Online flirting will send you straight to hell

Flirting online is the devil's work and akin to flesh and blood adultery, the Catholic Church has declared. Logging on for an amorous chat with someone other than your spouse amounts to online adultery and is a sin in the eyes of the Church,a ccording to Italy's top weekly Catholic mag Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family). Father Antonio Sciortino, the magazine's editor, got a letter from a female reader asking for moral guidance about infidelity on the Internet, but soon put this wannabe sinner in her place, The Times reports. Could encounters on the Net not inject a bit of life into a flagging marriage? she asked the Father. The woman, who knew she was on a touchy subject and decided to remain anonymous, claimed these virtual meetings could be "good therapy for bored couples". But the Church responded in true medieval style, branding surfers' visits to their cyber bits-on-the-side the same as the real thing. "Evil thoughts are no less culpable than evil deeds," Sciortino fulminated from the pulpit (otherewise known as "Conversations with the Priest" advice column. He added that individuals who "log on with amorous intentions" must not kid themselves that surfing the Internet will wash their sins away. "For Christians there can be no moral difference between a virtual affair and a flesh and blood betrayal." So what are you waiting for? If you've already sinned online in the eyes of the Lord, you may as well go out and get laid. You're going straight to Hell anyway. And that's official. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jun 2000

lastminute.com in CWAP deal

lastminute.com is to offer its just-in-the-nick-of-time bucket services to Continental Wireless Application Protocol (CWAP) mobile phone users. The British dotcom has signed deals to offer localised CWAP services with two of Europe's largest mobile phone operators, T-Mobil (Deutsche Telekom MobilNet) and France Telecom (Itineris). Both services will be available from this month and will enable CWAP users "to spontaneously book flights, hotels and various entertainment events using their phones". Brent Hoberman, CEO of lastminute.com, said: "We are confident that consumers want last minute inspiration and solutions on the move and consequently lastminute.com is working towards delivering a personal, local, and timely service that is accessible anywhere. "We believe that these two alliances, along with the other operator agreements and applications developed, represent an important step in lastminute.com becoming a major player and content provider in the rapidly developing world of mobile commerce," he said. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jun 2000

Cheaper TFT screens on the way

NatSemi and Samsung are working together on the development of thinner, lighter displays for notebook PCs which the companies claim will eventually replace traditional desktop monitors. The development follows a technology licensing deal - dubbed the Mount Blanc Project - signed last summer that gave Samsung the use of key elements of Natsemi's interface technology. "Our partnership with Samsung further validates the leadership of National's Advanced Digital Interface Technology as a primary enabler of next-generation display products," said David Handorf, vice president of National's Interface Products Group. "Among the keys to success for future generations of LCD panels is simplified design and improved performance. "This is particularly true in portable products where new features are being added continuously, often at the expense of power consumption, cost and time-to-market. Together, we will also speed the migration toward larger and higher-resolution panels that will eventually replace traditionally bulky and power-hungry displays." The collaboration aims to make improvements in the size, weight and manufacturing costs of TFT displays, leading to their adoption in desktop systems and TV displays. ®
Andrew Thomas, 08 Jun 2000

101 jobs go in dog-eat-dog dotcom world

The "sudden collapse of confidence in worldwide dotcom sector" has been blamed for the loss of 101 jobs in Northern Ireland. Lution -- an incubator outfit for embryonic dotcoms -- only managed to stay alive for ten months before pulling the plug on its business. And this from an e-outfit that claimed it was "helping to build tomorrow's economy". In a statement issued by Belfast-based parent, BIC Systems Group, the company said: "The closure of the local company has come about as a consequence of the sudden collapse of confidence in the worldwide dotcom sector following the failure of several major international technology companies in recent weeks." According to what's left of Lution's Web site the company's raison d'etre was to "nurture young firms, helping them to grow during the start-up period when they are most vulnerable". Shame it didn't take its own advice. It's unclear how the collapse of Lution will affect start-up dotcoms that were on its books. Although lifestyle outfit, activelives.co.uk, is quoted on the Lution Web site, Simon Hamlyn, marketing director of activelives.co.uk, said his company deals directly with Lution's parent, BIC Systems Group. We've been unaffected by the collapse, he said. The demise of Lution could also send out shockwaves in the world of competitive motor sport. Lution sponsored Simon Harrison and his team in the National Saloon Championship. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jun 2000

Kewill buys US systems integrator

London-based systems integrator Kewill Systems has bought US group EVCOR for $45.5 million (30.2 million pounds) in cash and stock. The deal, through Kewill's subsidiary Kewill Electronic Commerce, involves $30 million (19.9 million pounds) cash, with 952,542 shares. An extra $15 million (9.9 million pounds) depends on EVCOR's financial results over the next three years. Kewill has taken out a seven year bank loan to pay for the acquisition. EVCOR is an affiliation of 18 system integration businesses in the US and its main business is fitting and supporting Kewill's business software. It has 160 staff. Kewill also posted its results for the year ended March 31. The company saw operating profits fall to 9.6 million pounds, from 10.8 million poundsthe previous year. Sales rose 25 per cent to 75.2 million pounds. The company said it was also planning to look at Germany and France for more acquisitions. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jun 2000

Oftel kicks butt

Oftel has banged the heads together of a number of telcos and hardware suppliers after they failed to agree to technical guidelines for unbundling the local loop. The public and embarrassing ticking-off of some of the biggest names in the Net industry -- including BT, MCI Worldcom, Energis and NTL -- is further evidence that Oftel means business and will not tolerate foot-dragging over the introduction of broadband service in Britain. Today's muscle-flexing announcement centres on the 'Access Network Frequency Plan' -- the guidelines necessary to ensure that any equipment installed by an operator does not cause interference with another operator's equipment. It's a highly technical, yet very important, element of the overall plan to open up Britain's telephone network to competition, said a spokeswomn for Oftel. and broadband services. According to Oftel, the industry group charged with producing proposals by the end of the month failed to come up with an agreement. Which is why the winged watchdog stepped in and issued its own proposals. Hardman David Edmonds, Director General of Oftel said: "Oftel set a challenging timetable for local loop unbundling and I am determined to ensure that the timetable is met. "Oftel has published the draft plan to ensure that there is no interference between equipment installed on unbundled local loops. Since industry was unable to reach a consensus on this issue, Oftel's guidelines set out a balanced solution. Operators have 28 days to respond to the proposal and Oftel will publish its final decision in July. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Jun 2000

Dixons buys a piece of Sugar's e-m@iler

Dixons Group has bought 20 per cent of Amserve -the Amstrad subsidiary responsible for the "E-m@iler"machine. The 15 million pounds deal is split two ways - the retail giant is paying 3 million pounds cash, while also agreeing to provide a service support and distribution package - courtesy of its 1,000 UK shops - valued at 12 million pounds. A national press advertising campaign which "will focus on the unique benefits of the E-mailer;" is also on the cards, Dixons said - something the company has included in the 12 million pound offer. This will target "non-computer literate consumers," the retailer added. Sir Alan Sugar, Amstrad chairman, described Dixons as "the perfect partner for Amserve". "The company is always at the forefront of new technology distribution and its store staff are probably the best equipped in the UK for demonstrating and selling the new E-mailer,"he said. Dixons - and its stores The Link, Curry's and PC World - and Argos are the only retailers in the UK currently selling the Em@iler device -and Dixons will not win exclusive rights to the products thanks to today's 15 million deal, a Dixons representative told The Register. "There is a definite pent up demand in the market for a product that will give non-technical people really easy access to e-mail services," John Clare, Dixons CEO, said in a statement. "Once again, Sir Alan has shown that he has his finger on the pulse of high tech products." Consumer interest for the e-mailer, launched in March, had been "intense", Amstrad said today. Although no actual sales figures were released, the company compared demand "with that created by the Amstrad word processor". Amserve was formed this year to look after business generated by the e-m@iler, which generates revenue from unit sales, advertising and e-mail traffic. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Jun 2000

Gates: 'I could have saved MS if I'd taken the stand'

MS on TrialMS on Trial The extent to which Bill Gates does not get it became even more abundantly clear this morning, when he suggested on ABC's Good Morning America that if he'd made a personal appearance at the trial, it all could have been different. Tom Lehrer gave up satire when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize and frankly, we begin to grasp how he felt. Bill told ABC: "If we look back, I think it's clear that the whole story of personal computing, how the great things that have been done there and how we created an industry structure that's far more competitive than what was the computer industry before we came along, that story didn't get out. And I do wonder if I'd taken the time to go back personally and testify, if we might have done a better job in getting that across." Now, as we all know, Bill wasn't put forward as a witness by Microsoft, but was heavily videotaped by the DoJ. That footage was replayed at the trial to devastating effect - Bill was evasive, unconvincing, awful. A major fault in Microsoft's case, as we've observed previously, was that it just plain didn't understand the difference between offering evidence and evangelising products. You look at the huge documents Microsoft's execs filed with the court, and they're almost entirely (we're being kind) PowerPoint-style presentations that assume the audience is supposed to believe, because I'm the guy on the podium. Courts don't work like this. Bill has now convinced himself (with remarkable and commendable speed), that if he'd made the presentation he could have just told the court how great everything was, what a great job Microsoft was doing, and that would have been the end of it. But courts don't work like this. Bill does great demos, everybody knows that. But there's a corollary - Bill's greatness in demos is closely related (as the people in Microsoft who'll tell you he does great demos will actually admit) to his ability to make things look convincing when the products aren't finished, or even don't really exist yet. So Bill now thinks he could have fixed it. But Bill definitely doesn't get it. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jun 2000

Intel ATA driver makes PC run like the clappers

Now I realise you Reg regulars believe that us vultures have a serious and radical down on whatever it is that Intel is doing. But this could not be further from the truth. Chipzilla has posted an updated UltraDMA driver here. This is designed for the Caminogate chipset and the VC820 mobo in particular. We tried the new driver on our reference VC820 and were astonished to discover that performance increased by three times between the original Win98 system and the new Win2K installation on the same hardware. Initial hard disk SiSoft Sandra ratings under Win 98 were a disappointing 113.7 Mb/sec. After upgrading to Win 2K and the lovely new Ultra ATA 5.01 driver, the performance improved to an impressive 358.9 Mb/sec. How do these guys achieve this kinda improvement? Maybe Intel should move into software. ®
Andrew Thomas, 08 Jun 2000

MS ships Love Bug patch – do you feel lucky?

Microsoft finally shipped the Outlook 'Love Bug' patch today, and from the sound of it the delay in getting it out has allowed time for a climb down from the original 'take them out and shoot them' approach. Rather than blocking everything that looked even slightly like it was packing iron - as originally planned, in a knee-jerk sort of way - the patch now incorporates some flexibility. Think of it like this: there's a knock on your door, it might be the milkman, the guy next door you didn't like anyway, or an axe murderer. With the spec as previously advertised, the door wouldn't open. Now you have the choice to decide whether to open the door, or blow the mother away. And Microsoft isn't liable, because you've been warned. But hey, that's just our take on it. According to the release, the Outlook email security update "provides a significantly improved level of security for Outlook users by blocking access to potentially unsafe file types that virus writers target and use to transmit viruses as email attachments." Those file types are of course Microsoft file types, but that doesn't mean the file types themselves are unsafe. No way - it's just because they're such popular file types. Microsoft "strongly recommends" that all Outlook users download the security update, and this covers Microsoft. But given that the original spec update would have broken lots of legitimate systems written to take advantage of the features of Outlook which it would have, er, disabled, the update "now allows organisations to customise the new security features for the functionality they require without sacrificing security." We're not entirely sure about the veracity of that last bit, but we'd read the bottom line as being that if you've got mission-critical systems dependent on executable files running via Outlook, you can still run them, but it's not Microsoft's fault if some punk uses this as a loophole to trash your entire network. You can get the patch here. We know where you can get Eudora too, but we're being nice. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jun 2000