20th > June > 2000 Archive

Intel notebook demos '100% Transmeta compatible'

AnalysisAnalysis Intel used its mobile chip launch this week to allay fears of incompatibilities between Transmeta presentations and its own demonstrations of mobile Notebook chips. Previously, spin engineers had encountered technical difficulties in the demanding science of reproducing Transmeta publicity point-by-point. But The Register was on hand at the launch of five new mobile chips in San Francisco, and we can confirm that the Intel has largely achieved compatibility with the Transmeta instruction set. This tricky feat involves synchronising both PowerPoint slides and real-time demonstrations of CPU voltage. It requires a clean room environment in which the slightest trace of FUD can lay waste to the entire presentation. On previous occasions residual elements of "MHz boasting" in the publicity manufacturing process have obliged Intel to abandon the low power message altogether. However, today those factors were largely absent. You can read about our preview here, and the prices and details of today's new chips here. What has happened is that Intel has brought power consumption down - through a combination of SpeedStep and blue smoke™ - more of that in a moment - to a sweet spot somewhere close to what Transmeta was claiming for its Crusoe processors back in January. For example, Intel's genial Frank Spindler - a very tall man indeed - demonstrated a DVD movie playback during which he observed that the average power consumption was two watts. In fact the graph hardly dropped below three watts from what we could tell, and certainly not enough to move the average down to two. But it's lower than before. And some desultory clicking around Microsoft Office didn't see the power consumption get much above one watt. Transmeta says that the impressive figures are the result of the computer not doing anything. Morphzilla reckons that the figures Intel was touting yesterday were under a 80 per cent idle usage, and that even Intel's revised Thermal Design Guidelines recommend designers work around a maximum power consumption of 16-17W. We checked, and it looks like the most recent revision of these - amended only Tuesday last week - suggests maximum power of 15.8W at 600MHz and 19.1W at 733MHz. And regardless of usage, that's what builders have to prepare for. You can find that document here. Maybe someone can clear that up? Transmeta reckons it can perform DVD playback at 1W, thanks to LongRun, which dynamically throttles the frequency back to the lowest necessary. We gather that Wintel notebooks from four OEMs will be on display at PC Expo in New York next week. Intel had production models of Acer, Toshiba, Dell, Compaq, Sony and IBM notebooks on display today. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 20 Jun 2000

Cybercrime scares Americans

Two thirds of Americans - that must be, oh, around 180 million people - feel threatened, or are concerned, by cybercrime. And more than 60 per cent reckon that Internet consumers are not protected enough from cybercrime, and around the same number say they are less likely to do business on the Internet as a result of cybercrime. Boy, that means there must be more American cybercrime scaredy cats than there are Americans actually connected to the Internet. This "sobering" survey, culled from the responses of 1000 people, is produced by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and EDS. From the survey, it looks like the representative sample are more concerned with getting their credit cards ripped off than with crackers, cyberterrorists, virus writers and the like. The findings were released at a "high-level meeting of industry and government hosted by ITAA at EDS' regional office here (Herndon, VA) to discuss cyber crime fighting". In a statement, Harris Miller, ITAA President, said: "The New Economy cannot operate like the Wild West, and ITAA has a multi-faceted campaign to better protect data and users from security threats." EDS Chairman Dick Brown told reporters at a news conference yesterday: "EDS takes the issue of cybersecurity very seriously, which is why we have pledged to take a leadership role in developing protections for Internet and computer users from illegal online behaviour." Some of you with long memories may recall a minor contretemps many years ago when EDS was caught ordering American employees to lie to British immigration officials about the purpose of their visits to the UK. As we say, it was a long time ago. But doesn't EDS have better things to do than assume leadership positions for itself in an ethical quagmire like cybersecurity? ®
Drew Cullen, 20 Jun 2000

Boss is jumping beenz

Philip Letts, chairman, chief executive and president of beenz is leaving the company that he helped found. It all sounds amicable enough - if rather sudden - from the positively gushing press release announcing his resignation from the virtual currency company, with pat-on-the back quotes from Letts and the people he is leaving behind to run the show. Letts is now ready to move onto his "next challenge", leaving behind a management team "poised to take the company into its next stage of growth". Under his tenure, beenz.com has grown from three to 250 staff, set up headquarters in New York (the founders are British)and raised $70 million in venture capital. According to the company, there are more than one billion beenz in circulation. ®
Drew Cullen, 20 Jun 2000

VNU to shell out £15m for ZD Euro paper biz

After a good few weeks of wrangling it looks as though Dutch publisher VNU has been told £15m is a fair price for Ziff Davis' European paper mags. So that's what it has got to pay. The figure was settled on after a spot of arbitration following due diligence. VNU has been dying to get into the German market, where it is titchy, and this is what a Ziff deal will do for them. In the UK VNU will get IT Week, PC Direct, PC Magazine and a games magazine. Nightmare scenario realised: Episode 2 You might recall when VNU bought CMP's UK titles, Information Week, Network Week and Computer Reseller News in July 1999 and only one title survived the deal. Also, there are a hell of a lot of ex-VNUers in ZiffUK land. Who will not relish going Dutch a second time. And if you're looking towards the Register for salvation - there are enough refugees from VNU here already. ®
Robert Blincoe, 20 Jun 2000
Cat 5 cable

Proxim buys Farallon for Mac expertise

Proxim, the acquisitive wireless networking specialist, has bought small LAN veteran Farallon for $14 million, all but $4 million of it in shares. Best known as a supplier of Mac products - even though it has always sold to the PC market too - Farallon's Mac expertise is what interested Proxim. Picking up Farallon's product portfolio will also help Proxim push into the home and small business networking markets, the company said. Farallon will exist as a division within Proxim, essentially becoming the parent company's small business and home networking operation. It will continue to develop its cross-platform HomeLINE phone-based networking system, wireless SkyLINE and Ethernet-based NetLINE product families. It will also work on bringing Proxim's Symphony wireless LAN product, currently a Wintel-only offering, to the Mac. "Our intent is to leverage the Farallon development expertise to make Symphony a cross-platform solution, hopefully by the end of the year," Kurt Bauer, Proxim's VP of marketing told Mac-oriented Web site MacCentral. Both companies view the acquisition as synergistic: Farallon provides the small business and home networking products that Proxim needs to break into this sector, while Proxim brings to Farallon a much boroader sales and marketing channel. ®
Tony Smith, 20 Jun 2000

Windows ME in the shops 14 September

Son of Windows 98, Windows Me, has been released to manufacturing. Punters will be able to buy retail versions on Thursday, 14 September. Pricing will be the same as for Windows 98: £139 for the full product and £79 for a version upgrade. ®
Andrew Thomas, 20 Jun 2000

Intel .13 micron fab online next year

Intel is spending $2 billion to build a new wafer fabrication facility in Leixlip, Ireland. Fab 24 will include 135,000 square feet of cleanroom in a total of more than a million square feet of space. The fab will build products on the 0.13 micron process. Construction will begin immediately with first production expected in the second half of 2001. The new factory will initially manufacture on 200mm silicon wafers, but will be capable of moving at a later date to 300mm. When the new fab is completed, Intel's cumulative investment in manufacturing facilities in Ireland will total approximately $4.5 billion. During construction, Fab 24 will be the largest single construction project in Ireland. The Leixlip site produces chipsets, Pentium III and Celeron processors. ®
Andrew Thomas, 20 Jun 2000

AOL's Steve Case shafted in penis hoax

AOL has launched an urgent investigation into why people are receiving spoof emails allegedly sent from its CEO, Steve Case. Two emails have been discovered by The Register so far. One claims to include details about an "upgrade to fix all the bugs in your version of AOL". The other advises that "penis enlargement and strengthening is possible". In both cases the emails were sent from stevecase@aol.com - the same address that is given on Case's personal home page. "Did you know that penis enlargement and strengthening is possible. If not I can tell you now that it is for the details head to http://penilefitness.cjb.net," reads one email, dated 14 June. A message on the penilefitness site reads: "The web site you are trying to access either does not exist, expired due to inactivity, or has been terminated for violating our policies." On 1 April, an email sent from the address of stevecase@aol.com, said: "We have recently come up with a new upgrade to fix all the bugs in your version of AOL. This is optional and only valid for a few members so we sent this out in email. Don't worry though the download is fast and simple." The download link originated somewhere deep within fortunecity.com. A week later "Donna" from the "Office of the Chairman" used the same stevecase@aol.com address to reply to a rather bemused Net user. "The letter in question is not legitimate," she said. "None of the statements are [sic] credible and we would urge you not to comply with its instructions in any way." In light of AOL's recent security blunders it is somewhat worrying that it cannot protect the integrity of its CEO's own email address. A spokeswoman for AOL in Britain denied the emails had been sent by Case and added that the Webco took "all security issues very seriously". And she denied outright that AOL's system had been infiltrated, abused or hacked in anyway. "Someone's probably disguised the look of the email address," she said. Yep... that'll explain it. ® Related Story AOL's secrets of spin revealed
Tim Richardson, 20 Jun 2000

Windows ME goes gold – in shops 14 September

Windows Millennium Edition (ME) was officially released to manufacturing on Monday, Microsoft announced yesterday; the new, latest, last version of Win 9x will be rolled out on 14 September, at which point it will be available in the shops and preinstalled on machines. Given the usual six to eight weeks lead time PC OEMs need for testing and general preparation work, the first machines running Windows ME should actually be available about a month ahead of that. Wouldn't it be nice if all operating system development projects were so easy? Earlier this month Microsoft said it would be releasing gold code to MSDN members in the middle of July, and although RTM hadn't been rubber-stamped until this week, Microsoft reps have been telling people about the 14 Spetember date for a couple of weeks now, and the last round of beta code was to all intents and purposes just Microsoft going through the motions. The new software includes a new version of Media Player, IE 5.5, digital video, home networking support, and the ability to roll back configurations. But like its predecessor Windows 98 SE, it's pretty much a service pack with enough added bells and whistles for it to be positioned as a 'new' OS. Unlike its predecessor, we trust, there won't be any confusion between it and a real service pack. You may recall that Microsoft got itself into quite a tangle over free upgrades from 98, and because of the simultaneous release of SE and the 98 service pack. This time around it's crystal clear it's a "new" product. An upgrade will cost you £79, or $109, while the full product will be £139 ($209). ®
John Lettice, 20 Jun 2000

ZDNet is castrated

Limp IT news outfit - ZDnet - has admitted it doesn't have any balls, according to top columnist Jane Wakefiled. In her latest column Jane Wakefield: You've Got Mail the author blames email for bastardising the English language and even describes herself as an "email snob". However, the admission that ZDNet is gutless comes later. She writes: "Judging by some of the emails we get in the ZDNet cyber post bag I am not alone. 'Send me details' and 'It's all bollocks' are just two examples of recent missives. Send me details of what? What is bollocks? (They can't of course be referring to the ZDNet News site which is so far removed from bollocks it is almost a eunuch.) Oh yes they can...
Our correspondent, 20 Jun 2000

Compaq owed $94 million by Inacom

Compaq yesterday said it was owed $94 million by Inacom - the US distributor that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week. Compaq claims Inacom has been withholding payments for computers and services since the PC manufacturer bought Inacom's distribution business in February, today's Wall Street Journal reports. In a tit-for-tat move Compaq decided to withhold $43 million in fees that it owed to Inacom. Compaq now wants to be able to keep this $43 million, and is also asking to be paid a further $51 million from Inacom it claims is also outstanding. As a result, Big Q has filed an objection to Inacom's bankruptcy protection. It wants to have the $51 million returned as "misdirected funds" instead of having it classified as part of Atlanta-based Inacom's unsecured debt. However, Compaq may be out of luck in its quest for preferential treatment over other creditors. "The banks say [Compaq] has to get in line with everyone else," an Inacom representative told the WSJ. Inacom filed for court protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code on Friday. It is ceasing operations, and listed assets of $956.6 million and debts of $560.7 million. Inacom's collapse has also thrown worldwide reseller consortium International Computer Group (ICG) into disarray. The group, which includes UK reseller Computacenter, used Inacom as its sole distributor in the US. Phil Williams, Computacenter head of corporate development, said ICG was currently talking to other parties to take over Inacom's contract. It expects to announce a replacement within a week. In related news, Specialist Computer Centre (SCC) has left its longstanding position in reseller consortium ACSL. ®
Linda Harrison, 20 Jun 2000

LinuxPPC launches latest Netscape fix

LinuxPPC has released the latest version of Netscape Communicator for the open source OS running on PowerPC-based computers. Netscape Communicator 4.7.3 rolls in a stack of major bug fixes and resolves a number of security issues that emerged in previous releases, primarily involving the browser's use of cookies and SSL. Upgrading to the new release of Communicator is relatively straightforward, though it does require previous versions of the browser to be explicitly removed before installation. Full details should appear shortly on the LinuxPPC Web site. The upgrade itself can be downloaded from LinuxPPC's FTP server, here. ®
Tony Smith, 20 Jun 2000

IBM takes Microdrive to 1GB

IBM has boosted its Microdrive line to include a one gig drive. In the storage per square inch stakes, the Microdrive ranks in top ten per cent of all IBM's storage products. It will sell for around $500. The matchbook sized drive is destined for the digital camera market which will for about a third of shipments. A similar volume is likely to be sold for use as backup storage for notebook and desktop computers. IBM is pushing hard to get the drive into the hand-held and wearable computing device markets. The drive is built to withstand a 1500G shock, according to a company spokesman, and will come with tiny rubber bumpers to improve reliability. The drive has already been incorporated into one miniature PC. Tiquit Computers has built a 5 cubic inch computer, called the Matchbox PC weighing in at a mere 3.3 ounces. However, you don't get many inches for your money: the computer is retailing at $1495.®
Lucy Sherriff, 20 Jun 2000

Intel's Barrett predicts PC shortages for 18 months

StockholmStockholm The CEO of Intel, Craig Barrett, has predicted continuing worldwide PC shortages for the next 12 to 18 months. "The cause of the shortages is due to under-investment in 1996 and 1997. Inaccurate forecasting added to the problem. The only cure is to make more capital investment," he said. Barrett claims the PC drought is the result of low supplies of all PC components and not just processors. The Chipzilla chief has also repeated his call for Europe to drop the price of Internet access and urge businesses to re-vamp their plans to take better notice of e-commerce. Barrett said that business leaders "should demand reduced telecommunications costs to increase Internet usage and to accelerate e-commerce". The call is not the first time that Intel, and Barrett himself, have urged such changes in Europe and while it is obviously made in the self-interest of his company, he has a point. "While many European companies have embraced e-business, all companies need to adopt it to improve business efficiencies and to take advantage of the Internet economy," Barrett said. Europe is the leader in wireless communications and because the next generations of mobiles will have far better bandwidth, the continent has the chance to become the leader in that sphere, he added. Business to business e-commerce worldwide will grow to seven trillion dollars in the next four years. By embracing the Internet, companies can increase both productivity and better supply chain management, he said. Barrett is calling on business leaders throughout Europe to put pressure on political leaders to bring about more deregulation and cheaper access. ®
Mike Magee, 20 Jun 2000

ZDNet in castration shock

Limp IT news outfit - ZDNet - has admitted it doesn't have any balls, according to top columnist Jane Wakefiled. In her latest column Jane Wakefield: You've Got Mail the author blames email for bastardising the English language and even describes herself as an "email snob". However, the admission that ZDNet is gutless comes later. She writes: "Judging by some of the emails we get in the ZDNet cyber post bag I am not alone. 'Send me details' and 'It's all bollocks' are just two examples of recent missives. Send me details of what? What is bollocks? (They can't of course be referring to the ZDNet News site which is so far removed from bollocks it is almost a eunuch.)" Oh yes they can...®
Team Register, 20 Jun 2000

Kozmo.com delays IPO

US online convenience store Kozmo.com has postponed its flotation until market conditions improve. The New York company, which filed for the IPO in March, had hoped to take the company public by this month, sources told CNET. The company is now understood to be looking at a September IPO. Kozmo has also run into trouble over a waiver it wants staff to sign, which would allow it to run background checks on staff. Some staff have refused to sign the document, which Kozmo claims is to safeguard staff, customers and the company's assets. Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Media Group is joining forces with US investment bank, Bear Stearns, to create a £95 million new media investment fund called Lynx New Media. Former DG of the BBC, John Birt, has been named as a non-executive chairman of the company. Durlacher, the e-investment outfit, is looking to expand its operations into Europe. It is understood to be talking to the German-based e-crowd, Value Management Research, and other Continental operations. Chris Gent, Vodafone Air-Touch boss, stands to receive a £10 million bonus in cash and shares for the successful takeover of rival phone company Mannesmann. The proposed payout has sparked an angry response from the investment community. Two of Vodafone's top 20 shareholders told The Financial Times that they would prefer the size of the bonus to be linked to the long term success of the deal, rather than its completion. The £10 million is on top of his salary package of £1.36 million, and the £2 million he already holds in shares. It also follows a £320,000 lump sum paid out after the acquisition of Airtouch. ®
Team Register, 20 Jun 2000

I've got a Willamette at home

For those readers who like that sort of thing, Hardware Central has posted some pictures reputed to be of an early sample Willamette. The pictures are of the usual electronic quality - ie. complete crap - but that didn't put off our resident semiconductor sleuth from poring over them with a magnifying glass. The conclusion he came to was that the pix may, or may not, be genuine and that the chip could be a Willamette and that the mobo it's sitting in might be an early Intel sample using the i850 chipset. Willamette samples are indeed out there - we know that Intel boffins in Europe have at least one 1.4GHz one to play with (runs very hot, apparently), so we somehow doubt that the Hardware Central posting claiming that the chip runs at 1.8GHz is entirely accurate. Of course, if someone out there has a genuine Willamette they'd like to talk to us about, you know where we are. ®
Andrew Thomas, 20 Jun 2000

BT invented hyperlinks shock

BT's announcement that it invented the principle behind the hyperlink has receiving mocking condemnation from a number of Register readers. "Ted Nelson might have a few things to say to BT about this..." wrote Mark Allerton pointing to the Professorial Home Page of Ted Nelson, Project Professor, Keio Shonan Fujisawa Campus, Japan. Phil Randal said: "My first exposure to the hyperlinking/hypertext concepts came from Ted Nelson's seminal book Computer Lib published in 1974." Steven C Den Beste said: "The entire concept was described by Ted Nelson in the book Dream Machines, which was published at least five years before BT's claimed work. In fact, Ted Nelson invented the word 'hypertext' as part of that discussion, which was precisely about the entire concept of non-linear texts." Raymond Rodgers of Vancouver University wrote: "Interesting. In 1952 I wrote of computers (then the size of busses) 'they will shrink, and link, and help us to think' - and then spelled it out in a 1971 book. "So they should pass some of the money on to me?" he said. Either way, it appears there is a dispute about BT's "claim" to this particular piece of Net engineering. And since the telco has only six years left in which to stake its claim (its US patent runs out in 2006) the chances of it actually getting any cash from US ISPs look slim. Then again, they were awarded the patent. Which begs the question: why did BT only decide now to capitalise on its intellectual property? And shouldn't they have saved this story for 1 April when we could all have had a good laugh together? ® Related Stories BT claims ownership of hyperlinks
Tim Richardson, 20 Jun 2000

Got an Intel i815E? Use the AGP slot

Bit of a mixed bag out there today. in Hardware Land. Lots of little titbits to check out, and a beginner's guide to Benchmarking. Sharky takes a look at the new i815E chipset from Intel. While generally scoring well, the performance suffers terribly with onboard video in particular in content creation. Sharky advises people to take the optional accelerated graphics port slot. Overall, the verdict is that this could be a viable alternative to the 440BX chipset. Meanwhile GamePC has posted a breakdown of the good the bad and the ugly about the ASUS CUV4X VIA PZ-133 motherboard here. No major problems reported, and the guys anticipate a long lifetime. But don't put it in a small case - you'll lose all your expansion slots! AMD Zone points the way to a review of the Asus K7V atVTR Hardware. You may benefit from a translator. David Woods at NV News reckons that heatsinks on memory chips might be a waste of time. Hisinvestigation into the hotspots on the board concludes that although CPUs can almost double in temperature when they're working really hard the GPU only varies in temperature by a few degrees centigrade. The site also starts its guide to benchmarking today. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 20 Jun 2000

AOL to sell set-top boxes

AOL is to flog set-top boxes so that couch potatoes can use the Net while watching TV. The service will only be available in a few areas, including Phoenix, Sacramento and Baltimore to begin with, but the giant Internet/media company hopes AOLTV will be a hit with mass-market consumers. The interactive TV will carry features including email, instant messaging and chat. The package includes a Philips Electronics set-top box, and a wireless keyboard or universal remote control, and is being hailed - by the company at least - as a "major step forward in America Online's 'AOL Anywhere' strategy". Existing AOL members can get the service for an additional $14.95 per month. All others can expect to pay $24.95 per month. Critics of the service point to the unconvincing performance of Microsoft's WebTV service and believe AOL could suffer a similar response. Elsewhere, the European Commission has confirmed it is to launch an inquiry into the proposed merger between AOL and Time Warner. According to the FT, there are fears that AOL could become the "'gatekeeper' for online music distribution". ® Related Story Euro Commission to investigate AOL Time Warner
Tim Richardson, 20 Jun 2000

Chinese cybercafes dubbed ‘electronic heroin’

Chinese officials have launched a fresh crackdown on cybercafes after a regulation banned them from operating within 200 metres of schools. Police in Xiamen, in China's Fujian province, have shut down 45 Internet cafes in the city, the South China Morning Post reported. Chinese kids were turning some of the establishments into PC games rooms, with parents and teachers dubbing the cybercafes "electronic heroin". Around 45 per cent of the cafes patrons were high-school students, and another 35 per cent were youngsters who had left school, a survey found. Over half logged on to chat, 30 per cent to read newspapers online, and ten per cent to email and gain stocks and shares information. The police were quick to crack down on the dens of iniquity in Xiamen, and passed a regulation that no cybercafe could be set up nearer than 200 metres to a school. The city's Public Security Bureau insisted it must increase its role as an "Internet policeman". This is not the first time China has tried to control Internet cafe use. In February, Shanghai officials raided and shut down 127 unlicensed cybercafes - it claimed they "corrupt the minds of young people" and posed a threat to state secrets. ® Related Stories China shuts down Internet cafes China warns West over Net interference China tackles Internet China gets hands-on with the Net
Linda Harrison, 20 Jun 2000

Eidos confirms takeover talks

Eidos, publisher of the Tomb Raider computer game series starring the pneumatic Lara Croft, saw its share price soar today after confirming it was in takeover talks. "The company is currently in the early stages of discussions which may or may not lead to an offer for the whole of the issued share capital of Eidos," it said in a statement this morning. By end of play on the stock market today, the UK company's share price had shot up 28 per cent to 550 pence. The announcement fuelled rumours in the city that Eidos was the target of one of the French software houses - either Infogrames Entertainment or Havas Interactive. The move would signal a u-turn for Eidos chiefs. Last week Michael McGarvey, Eidos CEO, told financial newswire AFX he was opposed to the company being bought. "I think at this stage of the game we're going to shy away from [a takeover] because this management team is committed to carrying this business forward, and we can continue to convince shareholders that there's long-term value in this business," said McGarvey. "We've tended to be more of an aggressor in consolidating rather than someone who's going to be consolidated." Last week Eidos reported a loss of £27 million for the year to March 31, and that sales had dropped nine per cent to £52.2 million for Q4. It also predicts a weak year ahead. ®
Linda Harrison, 20 Jun 2000

Bluetooth danger to world nuclear balance

A visit to Intel's wireless communication centre here in Stockholm today revealed that the designers have not quite got worldwide agreement on frequencies. According to an Intel boffin at the site this morning, his company and the Bluetush SIG are currently conducting intense negotiations with the French government. He said that the French military use the same wireless frequency as Bluetooth, and that he hoped the matter would be eventually resolved. But if he thinks that the French will be cowed by the might of Chipzilla, he might have to think again. Remember Rainbow Warrior? And we don't want the French nuclear deterrent popping off in the South Pacific just because some techie wants his mobile phone to talk to his notebook PC, do we? ®
Mike Magee, 20 Jun 2000

Missing hard drives reappear under FBI's nose

Two hard disk drives containing secret information on nuclear weapons, which disappeared from a secure area in the Los Alamos National Laboratory, were found behind a photocopier days after the area was searched, making it all but certain that they were replaced under the noses of FBI investigators. The FBI's Computer Analysis Response Team (CART) is examining the drives for evidence that they may have been tampered with, and to determine whether or not the data on them has been duplicated. CART will "try to determine if those hard drives were accessed", an FBI spokesman said. Because the FBI is reluctant to say precisely how it will examine the drives, it is not entirely clear that they can make these determinations with much confidence. It will at least be possible for the team to determine if data on the drives has been modified, since Lab officials have stated that at least one more set exists, against which they can be compared. The drives were found in the X Division of the Los Alamos campus, from which they originally vanished. The X Division is concerned with weapons design. The drives in question contained detailed instructions on how to arm and disarm numerous nuclear weapons from US and other arsenals, including those of Russia and China. The information is kept handy by the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST), which responds to nuclear attacks, accidents, and terrorist incidents. The drives were discovered missing in May, when Los Alamos staff were struggling to secure the facility against a huge fire in the surrounding countryside, originally set by the US Parks Service in an ironic effort to thin the brush and so reduce the risk of wildfires. About 25 FBI agents are now on the job at the Lab. They have interrogated and administered polygraph tests to the members of NEST's staff who had unfettered access to the missing drives. Some "irregularities" have already been observed during NEST staff interrogations, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has said. Roughly 85 people at Los Alamos work part-time in NEST, but only 26 of them have unescorted access to the vaults where the hard drives were stored, and thus would not have had to sign out the kit, Lab officials said. The last written audit on the drives was done in January, meaning that it's possible that they've been missing for as long as six months. The University of California serves as the Lab's management and operating contractor. This is hardly the first time that practice of putting academicians in charge of national security has given occasion to bring the overall concept into question. Politics Meanwhile, Secretary Richardson, who entertains hopes of becoming Al Gore's vice-presidential nominee, convened an impromptu news conference Monday to assuage public fears that the hard drive incident has compromised US nuclear weapons security. "I want to assure the American public that we're going to get to the bottom of the incident. We're going to hold people accountable; there's going to be disciplinary action," Richardson told reporters. "I will not take a back seat to those who say I haven't put in strong security measures" at the Los Alamos Lab. Security is his "number one priority," he added. Unfortunately, Richardson had previously assured the public that the country's nuclear weapons secrets were to become secure when he took over the Department in the wake of another debacle, in which it is believed that Los Alamos staffer Wen Ho Lee transferred sensitive weapons design information to China. The Lee investigation was handled so poorly that by the time the Feds finally moved on him it was impossible to determine whether or not he had actually passed the information along. He was charged only with mishandling classified data, for which he is now awaiting trial. Because the Lee disaster occurred before Richardson's tenure at DoE, many had hoped that under his leadership the Lab would improve security and avoid any further incidents of this sort. However, many in Congress feel that Richardson's tenure at DoE has yielded few improvements beyond a slicker, more Clintonesque, PR routine. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (Republican, Alabama) has been among those most critical. "[Richardson] has not done a good job as Secretary of Energy," Shelby said in a brief press conference Monday. "The Senate and the House have basically lost confidence in him." Noting that the drives reappeared in a supposedly secure area of the Lab, which was at the time the object of FBI surveillance, Shelby said that "the counterintelligence implications have increased by an order of magnitude. We may have someone on the inside who doesn't want anyone to know they had the drives or what they did with them." It is all but certain that the X Division incident will obliterate Richardson's hopes of running for the Veepship. Perhaps now he can apply himself to his actual job as Energy Secretary, for better or for worse. It's the system Government-wide nuts-and-bolts steps required to secure 'secret' and 'top secret' information have been relaxed dramatically under the Clinton Administration, it was revealed during a joint hearing of the Senate Intelligence and Energy Committees chaired by Senator Shelby last week. Access to the drives in question is limited first by general access to the area, which is confirmed with machine-readable ID badges, and biometric checks. Once one is inside the X Division area, a simple access list determines which people may proceed unescorted, and without electronic monitoring, to the vaults where the drives were stored, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director John Browne explained. Incredibly, there are 26 members of NEST who are permitted to enter the vaults and remove materials without signing out the inventory or otherwise accounting for their comings and goings. The custodian on duty is responsible only for ensuring that those without unescorted access are supervised in and around the vaults. Thus anyone with the required clearance would have been permitted to remove the drives without notifying anyone else. Not only is this risky from a counterintelligence point of view, it might make for some logistical disasters if NEST staff should need to respond immediately to a threat, and should then find the kit missing with no record who might have it. The missing drives were classified as 'secret'. If they had been classified as 'top secret', there would be a written account of who had taken them. The Intelligence Committee found this an appalling policy, with several Members sarcastically suggesting that retail shops and public libraries have better inventory control than the Los Alamos X Division. "That sounds like a really bone-headed security procedure to me," Committee Co-Chairman Richard Bryan (Democrat, Nevada) observed. "I cannot conceive of not requiring some kind of sign-in and sign-out procedure for those 26 individuals." "It's [my] personal opinion that the government made a mistake in the early 1990s by eliminating personal accountability for 'secret' documents across the government," Lab Director Browne replied. "'Secret' data is no longer accounted for in this country. Period." These relaxed security measures were conceived during the Bush Administration, and subsequently put into practice under the Clintonites, he explained. Rather than re-institute personal accountability for 'secret' documents, DoE Director of Security General Eugene Habiger suggested that some 'secret' documents should be bumped to 'top secret' for a higher level of protection. "The Department of Energy needs to re-visit the classification levels for encyclopaedic data bases. There's such a large amount of very sensitive data on one piece of electronic media that we need to review our procedures," General Habiger noted. "Ten years ago we had rules that information of this type would have been 'top secret'. When I became Chief of the Strategic Command, I was astounded in 1996 when I found that those rules had changed," he lamented. Always look on the bright side of life Energy Secretary Richardson has been soft-pedalling the significance of the Los Alamos security lapse, as he did during the Wen Ho Lee case. Of course back then no one could say it was his fault; it was Morning in the Department, so to speak. However, this has since worn thin, especially because last week, while the Intelligence Committee was grilling his underlings, Richardson was over at the National Press Club chirping optimistically to reporters about improvements in energy efficiency among the latest automobiles. Apparently, he considered PR more important than fact-finding with Congress. To symbolise their contempt for his cavalier behaviour, the Intelligence Committee conspicuously left an empty chair for Richardson at table, bearing his name card, throughout the hearing. Meanwhile, Richardson has been expressing hopes that the data on the hard drives has not fallen into the wrong hands. The sudden re-appearance, he hopes, indicates only that whoever took them wishes to remain anonymous merely to spare himself inconvenience in a hot-button case. The Register is not entirely confident in this scenario. If the drives were in fact removed and maintained according to regulations, then the person in question should have nothing to fear in stepping forward. The obvious desire for anonymity here suggests that there is a bit more behind this incident than some garden-variety 'irregularity', as Secretary Richardson calls it. The Intelligence Committee intends to subpoena Richardson to be grilled during a closed hearing this week. We regret deeply that we'll be unable to play the fly on that wall. ®
Thomas C Greene, 20 Jun 2000

Overcharging for Windows: how MS may beat the rap

This week Microsoft scored its second victory against a class action claiming it overcharged for Windows, when a Nevada judge granted the company's motion to throw out the case. This follows on from an Oregon ruling last week, where the judge rejected the claim on the basis that consumers could only sue if they'd bought directly from Microsoft. It's been widely reported that Microsoft doesn't sell direct, but although that isn't entirely true, it's reasonable to say that the vast majority of Microsoft's sales to consumers have gone either through retailers or via PC OEMs. So to that extent, Microsoft is largely in the clear, and stands a good chance of getting quite a lot of the private suits against it thrown out. But it does still have to deal with suits in US states that do allow consumers to sue when they've bought through an intermediary. And then there's the international angle - the EU, individual European states, or both, could still mount actions, and there have been rumblings of discontent over pricing from the East - Korea in particular. There are a couple of points to bear in mind while we watch Microsoft bat aside class actions over the next few months. First of all, quite of a few of the cases are likely to be pretty ramshackle operations mounted by ambulance-chasers, and secondly, a substantial body of useful evidence on pricing was uncovered during US Government versus MS; the Nevada and Oregon suits were thrown out because the judges ruled they couldn't be brought, rather than that there wasn't a case to answer, and not all suits are going to be like that. It's a matter of fact that Microsoft has employed differential pricing, discriminating between OEMs. That's helped some of them, particularly the likes of Compaq and Dell, but it's hurt others. Microsoft's case is that there were sound business reasons for the price differences, but the government argued to the contrary, and that argument was accepted by Judge Jackson. So at least some OEMs could rough up a case - they probably won't, but they could. Aside from the variations in pricing, there's some pretty damning evidence supplied via subpoenaed emails from our old friend, Microsoft OEM chief Joachim Kempin. You'll recall that, as hardware prices fell in the direction of $500, Kempin was writing about how important it was to hold the line - Microsoft should not allow the cost of Windows to OEMs to fall in line with the fall in hardware prices, or even to fall at all. This meant of course that as PC sales rose, although margins fell for the PC manufacturers, Microsoft would make a lot more money, because it would get the same price per PC. Kempin helpfully pointed out that Microsoft's share of revenues per PC would rise as this happened, but we can work this out for ourselves, and so can lawyers (albeit only with the aid of expensive economist consultants). Kempin's active resistance to the notion that prices should go down as volumes go up could be seen as providing some basis for overpricing suits - this, and the differential pricing operated via Microsoft's secret Market Development Agreements, could still add up to a case. But who would bring it? Somewhere out there there may be a private suit that doesn't fall at the first hurdle, and that's sufficiently well put together to stick. But there probably won't be many in this category; the failure of the Bristol suit showed that it's not always as easy as the DoJ made it look, and that even if you've got some pretty compelling evidence you can still blow it (on market definition, in this case). As we've already noted, an OEM probably won't bring one. A desperate or publicity-hungry one might, but the most desperate ones are no longer with us (Germany's Vobis might have, but it's no more), and the rest are too used to the status quo to go for it. They'll want to leverage better pricing in the future, and they'll see the past as been and gone. So maybe Microsoft really won't find itself being whacked for billions, not because there's no case to answer, but because nobody's going to bring it. If Judge Jackson's verdict stands through the appeal process, then Microsoft will remain guilty of harming consumers and business rivals to the tune of billions, but it could actually escape without drastic penalties being exacted. You might reckon that a split company and a stack of conduct restrictions could be classed as penalties, but of course they're not, or not at least designed to be such. They're intended to stop past misconduct being repeated, not as a punishment for that conduct. Will Sun stand up? Or Netscape? France? Brussels? If there's a killer lawsuit out there, it hasn't been brought yet, and maybe it never will be. ®
John Lettice, 20 Jun 2000

Judge points MS case straight at Supremes

MS on TrialMS on Trial Riding over Microsoft's objections, Judge Jackson has decided to send the appeal in the antitrust case direct to the Supreme Court. Earlier in the case the judge had indicated he felt it would make sense for the inevitable appeal to go straight to the highest authority, but Microsoft has been wriggling, and the appeal court has played ball to some extent by showing a strange eagerness to take the case on. Microsoft argues that sending it to the Supremes may mean it'll take more, rather than less, time - and actually there's at least a possibility that Microsoft is right this time. But probably only a small possibility. Now the ball's in the Supreme Court -will it take it, or not? If it does, will it get on with it, or will it spend a long time sucking its collegiate teeth? More importantly, how sucessfully will Microsoft be in staving-off the really bad stuff while the legal process takes its time in coming to the ultimate - but still extremely distant - conclusion? No, we don't know either... ®
John Lettice, 20 Jun 2000