6th > July > 2000 Archive

Via, Intel kiss and make up (but not having kids)

Via has secured licensing rights to produce chipsets for Intel-produced Pentium III and Celeron microprocessors. It will pay unspecified royalties and a lump sum for the privilege. In turn, Intel is dropping lawsuits against its upstart rival in the US, Singapore and the UK. A complaint with the International Trade Commission, a US body, also goes out the window. This looks sensible all around. Intel could have wrapped Via in patent lawyers for months. But what it gains from stifling an x86 wannabe, it loses from upsetting the world's most important chipset manufacturer. Via, the champion of DDR-enabled memory, currently accounts for half or more of chipset sales worldwide, so it is a must-have company to have onboard for Intel. ® Related Stories Via gives DDR ringing endorsement Rambus rambushes DDR camp Cyrix III: P6 clone by name, but not by performance Where the hell are... DDR chipsets?
Drew Cullen, 06 Jul 2000

CD replicators landed with $1.5m piracy bill

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has netted $1.5 million from two CD-ROM replicator companies. The businesses, based in Central Europe, paid the financial "settlements" following their involvement in copying and distributing unlicensed Microsoft, Symantec, Adobe and Macromedia software. The BSA agreed not to name and shame the companies involved – which both knew they were selling their goods to software pirates - as part of the agreement. The body is currently trying to secure screening guidelines that would force replicators to: get consumer ID, track customer payment, verify the content of submitted material, open and examine encrypted software, refuse suspect orders and apply origin codes to CD-ROMs. It is also pressing legislators in Brussels to implement replicator codes of conduct, and ensure the mandatory registration and licensing of replicators. "Replicators firms enjoy a direct contact with the customer and can apply origin (SID) codes to CD-ROMs. This requirement can break the entire distribution chain of illegal compilation of CD-ROMs," said Beth Scott, BSA marketing director. Last year, the BSA seized more than 800,000 CD-ROMs in Europe, and 550,000 in 1998. It estimates that a third of computer software in the UK is unlicensed. ® Related Stories M'Soft anti-theft evening ends in robbery Schools hit by pirated Novell software
Linda Harrison, 06 Jul 2000

Anand duffs up Celery 700s with the Duron

More Celerons for you today. We missed one fromAnandtech last time, so we'll put it right today. His scores show the Duron consistently ahead, even performing well enough to be considered with the higher end of the market. The Celeron on the other hand, fits in snugly in at the low end. Put rather starkly: "If you care about performance at all you'll want to stay away from the Celeron 700." You tell 'em Anand! Still with the CPU's, on the front page of System Logic is a report about some Thunderbirds. It seems they found a box of T'bird 750's with a 900 core. The piece also mulls over some motherboard compatibility issues. Meanwhile, at OC Workbench they've posted the benchmarks of the 1Ghz Pentium 3 vs 1Ghz Athlon on different chipsets. Short and sweet. Copper has better thermal conductivity than aluminium. Not news, we know, but check out Frosty's step by step recipe for making your own solid-copper pin-type heatsink for PGA or FC-PGA based processors. The article is complete with photos of the production process - these guys are so dedicated its scary. All you speed demons out there will like the Plextor Ultra Wide SCSI drive according to the Duke of URL. It scores big on support, OS compatibility and performance but its price tag ($100-$120) may put it beyond the casual users reach. No category scored lower than eight and a half out of ten. And to finish you off, check out a quick point by point on The Meter's benchmark list for graphics processors. Only one result is published per chip, and none of them were tested on overclocked boards. Happy Hardware. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Jul 2000

Build it, multiboot it, and overclock it

First a brief foray into the world of operating systems with a look at a "how to" on Tweak 3D. The site has a step by step guide to multibooting your computer with Windows and Linux. It has been written with the less experienced in mind, so if you are "Granny", this is where you can learn to suck eggs. Also PC Scoop have got hold of a couple of new beta bios for their favourite boards out from Abit. "Could this be the bios that helps the SE6 (aka the i815E) in the numbers game against the BX chipset boards? Sounds like it to us." You heard it here (and there) first! If you fancy a fight, there is a five-way video card battle going on at Planet hardware. They have stacked 'em up and got the 3d Prophet II, the Elsa GLADIAC, the 3dfx V5 5500, Leadtek Geforce DDR and the Diamond Viper II all going head to head. I'm not going to tell you who won because that would spoil the surprise, wouldn't it? Via Hardware has had a look at the InnoVision GeForce DDR, one of the cheapest DDR cards on the market at the moment. It scored 3.5/5, losing most of the marks for lack of support, rather than performance, which matched up well with Creative's Annihilator. Just in case you didn't already see it the crew at HardOCP have written a comprehensive review of the KT133 chipset board. As always, they found a few photos to go with the text and overclocking results. System Logic has an column which seems to be a good old rant on all things hardware. This week eBay comes under fire for not describing fully integrated or Swiss Army motherboards as such on its site. Sounds reasonable to us, so check it out. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Jul 2000

Dr Tom checks Cyrix's Samuel

What are the ten best things that have ever happened in gaming hardware? Would you rank the 3dfx Voodoo graphics accelerator above the PC CDROM? And how important do you think mouse-based gaming is? Check out Planet Hardware for their top ten. Fodder for many discussions we think. Meanwhile, the good Dr Tom wonders whether the new Cyrix III is the same as the old Cyrix III, following the Via's takeover of Cyrix last year. Apparently not. Codenamed 'Samuel', it turns out that this is very similar to the IDT Centaur sporting a 128k L1 cache, but no L2 cache. For the rest of the lyrical waxing, check out his review. New meets old on Arstechnica as they report on a very cool application of 3D scanning and printing technologies. Get a pile of old roman rubble, scan it into your computer, digitally reassemble. Not so easy as it sounds - apparently Michaelangelo's David consists of 'two billion polygons with a spatial resolution of a quarter millimetre - a total of 32 gigabytes of data.' Definitelyworth reading. Changing the subject again, 3D Hardware reviews the Vapochill - apparently the Ferrari of cooling technology it scored a big A grade. It cooled just about any CPU down to -15C and describe it as a 'damn right brilliant system'. But you will pay many moneys for this level of coldness since it carries a fairly hefty asking price of $800. Phew!®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Jul 2000

Intel cans 800MHz Xeon, few hurt

Chip giant Intel confirmed this morning that lack of demand from its customers has led it to can the up-and-coming 800MHz Xeon. We revealed the existence of this part when we published details of the firm's roadmap earlier this year. An Intel representative said that PC customers preferred to wait for a faster Xeon processor. He said that customers wanted to wait six months or so between introductions of the server Xeon processors, mainly due to validation reasons. PC firms are also looking for double digital increments of raw megahurtz speeds. Intel will now release two flavours of 9xx Cashcades Xeon in the first quarter of next year, most likely with 1MB and 2MB of cache. Intel will cut prices on its Xeon family of processors on the 16th of July next, again as revealed here. That day, it is also expected to announce prices for its 64-bit Itanic family of products. However, readers of this publication report that they already have 800MHz components, installed in machines they have purchased. Intel said that while samples may have been available, the only chips delivered to its customers so far have had small caches. That suggests that Intel may have problems with yields, and the story about PC customers might merely be a smokescreen. See Also Intel's pricing, May to September Intel's cunning server plans Itanium prices, specs revealed
Mike Magee, 06 Jul 2000

Return of the Son of Willamette

Intel's 479 pin son of Willamette, due for launch next year, now has its very own codename, Prescott. A die shrink from 0.18 to 0.13 micron, Prescott and its associated Tulloch chipset are expected to support both synchronous and Rambus memory. ® Related stories Rambus rambushes DDR camp Tulloch, Willamette and Northwood plans firm up Willamette to have triflingly short shelf life
Andrew Thomas, 06 Jul 2000

Ask Doctor Spinola…

Dear Dr Spinola, I have recently got hold of a copy of Lernout and Hauspie's excellent translation software and wonder if you could demonstrate to your readers just how good it is, compared to the famous AltaVista Babblefish? Perhaps you could reproduce this question, for example, in French, and then translate it back into English? No sooner said than done. Est-ce que j'ai a obtenu de l'influence d'une copie de Lernout et l'excellent logiciel de la traduction de Hauspie et émerveillement récemment si vous puissiez démontrer à vos lecteurs seulement comment bon c'est, a comparé à l'AltaVista Babblefish célèbre? Peut-être vous pourriez reproduire cette question, par exemple, en français, et alors le traduit dans anglais en arrière? Do I have got the influence of a copy of Lernout and the excellent software of the translation of Hauspie and wonder lately if you can only demonstrate to your readers how good it is, did compare to the AltaVista famous Babblefish? Could you reproduce this question maybe, for example, in French, and translates it then behind in English? Ask Doctor Spinola Q I have read much in the media recently about the human genome project but cannot find the answer to the question 'whose DNA are they mapping?'. I am concerned that the key to life, the universe and everything may be based on an axe-murderer, Middle East tyrant or former Conservative Prime Minister. Can you cast any light on this? A No. Q I was recently on a Eurostar train heading for Lille, and I noticed a shy retiring chap sitting just a few seats away from me puffing away at a pipe. I would like to know if this person, who had some technology with him, is the famous Jack Schofield, who works for the Manchester Guardian? A Yes. Q I have noticed that when I read various technology newspapers that a question can occupy several column inches while the answer just seems to occupy one line, and is often just a few words long. Could you give me any idea why this is so? I feel that long questions deserve a long answer. Don't you agree? A No. Q I passed the BT shop close to Bond Street this morning and noticed that the shutters were down and there was a notice on the door saying that due to technical issues the shop will be closed indefinitely. Can you please tell me why such a busy outlet has such a big problem? A No. Send your questions to Dr Spinola. Answers may be edited for brevity. ®
Dr Spinola, 06 Jul 2000

Major vendors cagey on Transmeta support

IBM's interest in Transmeta's Crusoe mobile CPU appears to be cooling. According to IBM program director Leo Suarez, cited by VNUNet, Big Blue's Crusoe-powered ThinkPad 240, shown at PC Expo last week, was just a proof-of-concept machine, not a product announcement. "Our engineering team will be validating that we can bring to market this type of machine," said Suarez. "We are talking to customers to gauge their interest and, based on a successful engineering design and positive feedback, we will be willing and ready to introduce a Transmeta mini-notebook in the fall. So, it's all down to you, dear notebook buyer, not IBM whether it releases a Crusoe-based machine. It's also down to Transmeta, which isn't expected to ship its 5600 CPU - the chip in the ThinkPad 240 - until much later this year. So while IBM might introduce the prooduct in the autumn, it probably won't ship until Q4. The sticking point for IBM - and probably for other notebook vendors - is Intel's SpeedStep technology, designed like the technology at the heart of Crusoe, to minimise a mobile CPU's power requirements. Chipzilla's marketing machine can be relied upon to promote SpeedStep as a superior solution to Transmeta's, and its price-setters to undercut its rival. Transmeta's main weapon is its relationship with Taiwan's main notebook producers, who together account for the vast majority of the world's portable PC production. Taiwanese manufacturer Quanta is an investor in Transmeta, and has had its name linked to the production of IBM's ThinkPad 240, a connection that IBM officials have apparently confirmed. That IBM will ship an ultralight ThinkPad 240 made by Quanta is therefore reasonably certain - whether it will contain Transmeta technology is another matter. More certain is Quanta's relationship with Compaq. Officials from The Big Q recently told CNet that the company was indeed exploring the possibility of releasing a Crusoe-based machine, almost certainly with Quanta's help. The two companies this week signed a far-reaching manufacturing deal that will see Quanta start churning out notebooks for Compaq next autumn. Again, whether they will be based on Crusoe is open to question, and much will depend on how much of a threat Intel views the new chip. Compaq is also an investor in Transmeta, but that's no real guarantee the two will enter into a commercial relationship. ® Related Stories Transmeta signs stack of notebook suppliers Transmeta grows Crusoe line-up
Tony Smith, 06 Jul 2000

White van man wins Web commerce war

E-commerce is proving to be a boon to the so-called "white van man." Northgate, a commercial light vehicle rental company, has reported almost 50 per cent growth over the last year as more and more businesses are using its rental fleet. The company's chairman said growth has been significantly boosted by the popularity of online shopping. C&W shares got a £2 billion lift yesterday, as speculation mounted over a possible takeover by Deutsche Telekom. The rumours were fuelled by the spectre of political opposition to the German giant's deal with US-based Sprint. Market watchers have suggested that Deutsche may see a C&W takeover as a relatively painless route into the US market. Internet bank Egg suffered a massive drop in its share price yesterday as people worried about a possible price war between banks. At the end of the day, Egg shares had fallen below their float price of last month. Banks have been cutting prices this week, and as a result many have experienced share price drops. Tangential information: First-e, another Net bank, launched a 5 per cent interest current account yesterday. WAP company DigitalRUM has taken £3.5 million in funding off Carphone Warehouse and Virgin to develop a price-comparing WAP app. The company plans to launch the product in September and claims it will allow consumers to instantly compare the price of various goods from different stores. Lastminute.com has signed a deal with Qualiflyer Group, a consortium of 11 European airlines, to add yet more flights to its online offerings. Lastminute will initially offer flights from Swissair, Sabena and Crossair, with other Qualiflyer members - TAP Portugalia, LOT, AOM, Air Littoral, Air Europe, Volare and Turkish Airlines - expected to follow shortly. Video and DVD retailer Blackstar has had a whip round amongst wealthy Dublin folk and secured £6 million to close its second round of funding. The significant points about this are that it took three months to get the money together compared with under a month for the first round. And no venture capitalists wanted to get involved second time around. Blackstar now has a valuation of about £20 million, but the FT reports that at the beginning of the year it expected to float in the summer with a valuation close to £300 million. It is no longer on the IPO trail. ®
Team Register, 06 Jul 2000

Lies, Damn Lies and BOFH Statistics

Episode 25Episode 25 BOFH 2000. Episode 25 So I get this tape in from the courier and it's marked - AS PER USUAL - "Ultra Urgent". Which means that The Boss is going to be in any time to see how.. "How's that tape going?" The Boss asks, trundling into the office at warp factor .0000000003 before I have a chance to nudge it off the table and into the bin. "What tape?" "The Survey Data tape!" He cries. "Very important stuff that. We paid a survey company twenty five thousand pounds to do an electronic survey to find out what our customers really want." "You mean like a good product at a reasonable price?" the PFY chirps in. "No, no," The Boss smiles condescendingly. "We want to know what the customer REALLY wants - product colour, naming, whether to use chrome or not." "All important stuff then," I comment, rolling my eyes at the PFY. "Yes! So where can the tape be?" "Probably hasn't been delivered," I say. "Well it's funny because I saw the courier on the way out," he cries triumphantly, producing a delivery receipt from his pocket. "And he says you DID get one." "Yes" the PFY jumps in, knowing my policy on signing for things only too well "- or rather someone named.. uh.. John Major did. Does HE work here?" "The beancounters maybe?" I suggest helpfully. "It doesn't matter," The Boss cries yet again, with a hint of triumph in his voice, while producing another tape. "I got a copy delivered just in case!" He hands itover, chomping at the bit to get the tape read-in. "Chop! Chop!" he cries. "What's on it?" "Well, as I've only just got the thing, it's hard to say," I respond, not appreciating The Boss's attempts to grease the gears of media reading. "Well it's really important!" The Boss burbles, stating once more, for the benefit of the COMPLETELY bloody stupid, the reason for his visit. "Yes, yes," I murmur, slapping the tape into the external drive on my machine. Normally - I have to admit - I'd only be reading a foreign tape once I'd run it through the Virus Scanning Bulk-Eraser (Never had a Virus that's survived a good, hard, scanning from that baby). HOWEVER, if I do that it's only going to have The Boss skulking about for even longer. And I don't think I could handle it. Once it's in, I run a quick tar, an od, and finally a binary dump to come to an interesting conclusion. "The tape's blank," I tell The Boss, ignoring his disbelieving facial response. "It can't be, it was written by a professional archiving company!" "Then it must have been written in Braille." "Or marker pen!" the PFY cries, recalling a past habit of mine of writing: "The Boss is a Winker" on the leader of 9 track tapes, to give the tape monkey something to cheer him up at backup time. "Well fast forward the tape along a bit, maybe the data starts further on.." The Boss cries, getting a little disconcerted. "Perhaps they didn't rewind it properly before they wrote it." "Can't happen," I respond. "All tapes have a beginning of tape mark of someform. If there's nothing after that mark, there's nothing on the tape." "But.. But.. " "Look, I'll show you" I cry, grabbing a recent addition from the rubbish bin and yanking it's label off before The Boss can cop a dekko, "Here's a tape with, uh, intermittent read errors, which we chucked out." I slap the tape in the drive and run it up. "Look, see, data!" "I see." "Which starts at the beginning of the tape. All valid data. Actually, how were you going to interpret your data?" "Oh, with this program," The Boss burbles, pulling a floppy out of the Pandora's box that is his business suit. I chuck the floppy into my machine and run up the executable (without even virus checking because I like to live on the edge) and pump the data at it. "Well" I cry, "if we used the data on THIS tape for instance, it says that... 68% of people prefer British Racing Green or Cobalt Blue, while 11% prefer reds and browns... 73% of people prefer a name that is orientated to the British and/or American markets as opposed to Asian... 67% like chrome, although 53% of those didn't like it to be a dominating influence... uh, 67% of the respondents were in the upper quartile of income earners, and a staggering 83% say they buy our products recently." "Well, that's believable as the survey was of our clients, and a lot of them are rather well-to-do," The Boss says. "Remember," I add, applying a pin to The Boss's bubble. "this is just a tape I pulled out of the bin. The results are just an interpretation of the binary data." "But it's so accurate - it's almost like it WAS the survey data!" he responds. "Hmmm. And you're not suspicious?" "Suspicious? Why?" "Well if a survey confirms EVERYTHING you expected, why spend a large amount of money on a survey? I certainly wouldn't like to be the person who suggested an expensive survey like that when it comes out telling us what we already know..." The Boss is strangely quiet at this. "No," I continue. "What you want is a survey that breaks new ground -tells us something we don't know. Similar data, but varying by certain degrees." A 15-watt bulb suddenly illuminates in The Boss's mind. "Have you got any data like the data on that tape?" "I don't know," I mumble, looking to the PFY for inspiration. "What was on that tape?" "Soft Core Porn," the PFY cries, obviously mistaking it for one of our archive tapes. "WHAT?!?" "We, uh, take copies of stuff we delete from the users' shares," I ad lib,"just in case they complain, then deny having it." "Ah. So I want to use soft core porn as the input." "NO!" I cry. "Soft core didn't work, the data was totally unbelievable. You're going to have to use some DIFFERENT data. Hardcore porn is probably best" "Hardcore?!" he says anxiously. "Yes," the PFY adds. "Possibly even bestiality. IF you want good data to cover your arse.." . . . Two days later, at The Boss's leaving drinks (after the Big Porn scandal, which was after the Big Survey scandal where The Boss presented the data that people liked the idea of Purple and Yellow-embossed Chrome product, with names like Kamakuza which would be bought en masse by low income types)... "How on earth did they find out?" The Boss cries. "Well, I think the giveaway was when you attached the data file to your email and didn't change the file extension from .jpg," I murmur. Sigh... Still, it was time for a change.... ® BOFH is the Bastard Operator From Hell. He is the creation of Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his copyright.
Simon Travaglia, 06 Jul 2000

Big Blue-Big Q join forces

IBM and Compaq have agreed to team together to make their storage networking interoperate, in a deal intended to cut other players, such as HP, but especially EMC, off at the gulch. The deal will mean that both players will sell and market products from each other's portfolio. Compaq will use Big Blue's Shark enterprise storage servers and Tivoli system management software. IBM will use Compaq StorageWorks modular array storage systems and also Q's VersaStor technology. The companies will also entertain each others' customers at each others' technology storage centres. ®
Mike Magee, 06 Jul 2000

Fifty BT stores fail to open

In a rare state of sobriety, an eagle-eyed Reg hack spotted a mysterious sign stuck in the window of BT's shop in London's Oxford Street this morning: "Due to technical issues, this store will be closed until further notice." On checking with BT central, it transpired that over 50 BT stores across London failed to open due to a networking glitch which disabled cash tills. A BT spokesperson told The Register that the problem had affected all stores in the capital and that they were slowly coming back on line. This account differed significantly from BT's original response: "Closed until further notice? That normally means the manager's drunk." ®
Andrew Thomas, 06 Jul 2000

Parrots get online

The domain names www.parrotsonline.net and www.parrotschat.com have not yet been registered, but if researchers at MIT Media Labs have their way, they might be soon. New Scientist reports that US scientists are trying to teach a parrot to surf the web. Arthur, an African Grey, can switch between four "sites" at the moment, but this is very much the beginning of the project. Irene Pepperberg, a biologist at the University of Arizona and Arthur's owner says: "What we're trying to do is build a web browser for parrots." The trouble with parrots, it seems, is that they are too clever for their own good, and being very sociable creatures they get bored and lonely very quickly. The idea behind this research is that there could be an online community of parrots who could keep each other company while all their people are out at work. If you don't think that sounds daft enough yet, the animal loving researchers plan to build a browser for dogs too. And we mean daft in the best possible sense of the word here. Arthur's browser consists of a plastic box with two click-able levers. One selects pictures and the other lets him listen to a few bars of music. But Arthur is not a child of the technology generation and seems deeply unaffected by any of the pictures. Undeterred, Pepperberg says: "We haven't got software that he is interested in yet. We need to get the ergonomics of the clicker right so that he plays with it more." Arthur's supervisor in the lab is also keen. "Toys are OK," he said, "but we want him to be social." Bless.® Check out the researchers' site for more details.
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Jul 2000

RIP will turn Britain into police state – Clinton Web guru

Bill Clinton's Web guru has come out against Tony Blair's Internet snooping plans - saying they are tantamount to turning Britain into a police state. Esther Dyson, adviser to the US president, said the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill should be scrapped, today's Times newspaper reports. "You don't want a police state. Crime is crime, but that doesn't mean you can have a law making everyone keep their curtains up to help the police," she said. Dyson, who is also chairwoman of Internet body ICANN and of venture capitalist group Edventure Holdings, said the Blair administration's proposals were part of an international disease. "The UK is not uniquely clueless on this. This is what governments do, they control things. But the Government needs to have the courage and the faith to leave people alone," she said, adding she was relieved that RIP had run into opposition. The bill finished its committee stage in the House of Lords last week - where it ran into such criticism that Ministers were forced to make amendments to some of the proposals. It is due to go to the Report Stage in the Lords next week. FIPR has published an analysis of these amendments, but still feels the bill is likely to "cause critical damage to business confidence". Its findings can be found here A Home Office spin doctor today denied the allegations made by Internet expert Dyson. "It's certainly not about creating a police state...it's about bringing existing legislation up to date," he said. So that's OK then. ® Related Stories RIP Bill: Full coverage Register scotches Esther Dyson armed robbery rumours
Linda Harrison, 06 Jul 2000

Via-Cyrix runs into PR problem

UpdatedUpdated Sources close to the manufacturers of the Cyrix-branded Centaur microprocessor said today that technical difficulties are preventing Via from producing 666MHz versions of the chip. Via announced the Cyrix III chip in Taipei last month, in a blaze of publicity. Joshua died officially inside Via last week, partly because semiconductor engineers could only make it clock at 400MHz, we understand. One source close to the company's plans alleged today: "Via has been advertising 667MHz versions of this single pipe machine, but don't let that fool you. They are still PR rating the silicon." Cyrix was notorious for using a PR rating to measure microprocessor performance, but at the Computex show in Taipei last month, the firm finally threw up its hands and decided to abandon the practice. Late last night, Via and Intel decided to abandon all but one legal action against each other. However, Richard Brown, marketing director of Via, denied that the PR rating was still in use for the fledgling CPU. "This is a megahertz part, it is not PR rated," he said. Currently, Via is producing parts at speeds of 500MHz, 533MHz and 600MHz, he added. When Via introduced the Cyrix III, the firm said that it would bring out a 667MHz CPU. That now looks very unlikely, a mole at Cyrix said. ® See Also Via, Intel kiss and make up Cyrix III: P6 clone by name but not by nature
Mike Magee, 06 Jul 2000

Kannel sets itself up as the WAP Apache

Aside from WAP's other problems has been the age-old issue of proprietary structures. Everyone and their dog appears to have a WAP gateway and of course they've never bothered to make sure theirs will communicate with anything but what they're interested in. Enter Kannel. The company has set up a free, open source WAP gateway which it would like you to download from its site. The model is already familiar - it basically wants to be the mobile equivalent of the Apache Web server. Kannel says it wants to open up WAP's potential [and that is? - Ed] and an open source gateway is certainly one obstacle out of the way. The software also works as an SMS gateway for GSM and this is where the company's intrinsic interest comes in. Kannel was set up by Wapit just over a year ago. The name certainly gives an indication that it might be interested in growing the WAP infrastructure. Wapit acts as a "content innovator" and wireless overseer and has put most of its effort into SMS. So there's the reasoning. WAP does get a hard time here at The Reg, mostly because what is actually available is rubbish, but then with more and more companies pumping resources into the protocol, even we are sure that something good will come out of it - it's just a matter of when. A free, open-source gateway is definitely a step in the right direction. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 06 Jul 2000

Philips to unite MP3 and CD technology

Consumer electronics giant Philips will set the proverbial cat among the music industry's pigeons when it launches its eXpanium MP3-based CD player later this year. The device, the same size as a standard portable CD player, is designed specifically to play discs jammed full of MP3 files ripped from the users own CDs or downloaded from the Net. It's hard to imagine a device that the music biz would fear more. Philips claims a home-made CD full of MP3 files gives you up to ten hours of playback time, rather more than Flash memory-based players like Diamond's Rio. You'll need a CD writer, of course, but since they're increasingly becoming standard on home PCs, that's unlikely to trouble Philips' target audience. It will, however, trouble the likes of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The trade body, which represents the music business' biggest names, is notoriously anti-MP3 and in particular the process of downloading them from the Net. To date, downloading has largely been an issue of copying files to a user's hard drive for playback - hardly a hi-fi experience - or perhaps a Rio. The size - or, more accurately, the cost of Flash memory - has ensured the portable MP3 player is hardly what you'd call a mass-storage device. A CD-based player, however, is another matter. Quite apart from users ripping their own CDs - legal under the terms of the US Home Recording Act - and downloading tracks from Napster (unless the RIAA's copyright theft case against the software developer is successful), there's the issue of mass-produced CDs containing ten hours' pirated MP3 files. The music industry has always admitted that the real piracy threat comes not from MP3 but from Far Eastern CD pressing plants that can churn out illegal CDs en masse. Philips eXpanium brings the two together. Not that it's the first device to do so - Pine has that honour, various Reg readers remind us - but it is the first from a major global consumer electronics company, one whose name will certainly go a long way to legitimise MP3 and the conversion of existing CDs into MP3 files. That's the issue here - particularly given the failure of the music industry to block the sale of home audio recording equipment in the past. And Philips is a company that's too big for the RIAA to bully into submission. Of course, Philips is keen to stress that eXpanium is only intended to play legitimate MP3 files - "You can also down-load legal MP3 music files from the Internet to your hard drive," says the promotional bumf (our italics) - so it's clearly aware of the piracy issue. The player doesn't appear to come with CD ripping software, suggesting Philips wants to make it clear the responsibility for doing so lies firmly with the user. However, it's hard to see how the company could have come up with a device that makes MP3 more attractive. There's certainly no mention of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) in Philips' eXpanium promotional material (tag line: "Rip it! Burn it! Spin it!"). Philips is planning to ship eXpanium in August, and the company is currently recruiting 50 "lucky" beta testers via its US Web site. ®
Tony Smith, 06 Jul 2000

Sony doubles CD capacity

Sony believes that by modifying the manufacture of CDs it can double their capacity to a maximum of 1.3GB by 2001. The company said yesterday that it would begin licensing 'double-density' CD technology this September in conjunction with Philips Electronics. CD drives (ROM, RW, etc.) would require little or no modification to be brought in line with the higher capacity discs, the company said. Analysts said that there would probably need to be some modification of the drive controller chip as well as the discs themselves. The disc manufacturing process would change to allow the track pitch to be changed to 1.6 microns, and the pit length to 0.833 microns. The optics would have to be redesigned with the lens' numerical aperture set to 0.5 for both recording and playback, but the recorded light's wavelength would stay at 780nm. Additionally, the error correction scheme would be slightly modified, and the address format expanded, Sony said. "Right now, the 650MB capacity [of a CD-ROM disc] is a rather tough sell compared to a standard hard drive," said Masataka Ogawa, vice-president of business planning at Sony. The new discs are likely to be priced comparably with DVDs, and although there is no official timetable yet, the products could be available by the end of the year.®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Jul 2000

Email is the British Jerry Springer

Kids have it easy these days. Email is what we all dreamed of when teenagers - you get to tell your parents what you think of them and they can't interrupt or send you to your room. But in terms of getting things off your chest, you would be hard pressed to find a better story than that of Sufiah Yusof and her barking father. The story has been plastered all over the papers in recent days but just gets better and better. It started off as a mystery thriller. Young Sufiah (aged 15) disappeared after her final maths exam. The thing that made the story different was that the exam was for the maths degree she was studying at Oxford University. You can presume she is smart. So she vanished. Was it the stress? Where had she gone? Was she okay? Her father was worried, if a little peculiar. She's run off with a boyfriend, he stammered. Then an email arrived, the press sniffed a story, and all hell broke loose. "I seen you've taken the liberty of running to the national newspapers with the story of how your 'innocent and naïve daughter' has run off from a 'happy home' with some nasty socialist boyfriends," it began. Interesting. "Has it ever crossed your mind that the reason I left home was because I've finally had enough of 15 years of physical and emotional abuse?" It hadn't. It goes on: "I've finally had enough of suffering because of your stupid whims. You ruined my brother's life because you wanted him to make lots of money for you winning tennis tournaments [hello?]. I want, first thing tomorrow, to read about how I'm safe with relatives or family friends in Scotland or London. Otherwise I'll go to the press with my side of the story. I mean it. Try to damage me and I'll see you in Hell." This truly is the British equivalent of Jerry Springer. But of course, as with every good Springer show, there's a twist. She didn't write it, says her father Farooq. No, Farooq has a far more plausible explanation: she has been abducted by people who want to learn his accelerated learning techniques. They have brainwashed her. "They are not words written by the daughter we know. It is from a third party which has taken her, is in control of her and is pursuing their own agenda. They are preparing the ground for something dramatic, possibly the loss of her life." There's loads more of this since Farooq seems to have spoken individually to virtually every newspaper. One of the more revealing quotes: "We are going to defeat their agenda and redouble our efforts to defeat them by producing more Sufiahs. From our perspective this is the end of the story for Sufiah." With a Dad like this, it's perhaps just as well that email exists. The story also highlights the next stepping stone in the digital revolution - there was no way for Farooq to know the email actually came from her. He knows it didn't but the police aren't in total agreement. Perhaps a digital signature may have helped, but then it somehow seems unlikely. Farooq denies putting excessive pressure on Sufiah. But then he didn't explain why he felt the need to call her on her mobile every two hours either. We would suggest text messaging, but that won't work either. What about a Web site? ®
Kieren McCarthy, 06 Jul 2000

The Reg greets readers in person

We are proud of what we see as a pretty good relationship with you, the readers. But then we were surprised when Christian Treczoks and Edith Geradz from Cologne in Germany literally turned up on our doorstep. Considering we'd also all had a very drunken Reg dinner the night before, the arrival took on a surreal air. ("I thought it was Thomas [C. Greene, our US hacking expert who is also in the UK [for a holiday] doing a silly accent," explained Sean [Fleming, our content king], who had hit the entry buzzer.) Christian, sporting a smashing beard à la Open University, explained that while he was in England on holiday he thought he'd pop round and meet those that ran his favourite site. He didn't give us any exclusive story material but heartily thanked us for all our stories over the years. We were very touched and gave them both a Reg T-shirt. And then they left, strolling off into the sunset. We went down the pub. Disclaimer We would like to warn readers that we cannot guarantee pleasantness and free T-shirts to an unannounced arrival. It's pretty much a Russian roulette kinda gamble. But then would you expect anything less? ®
Kieren McCarthy, 06 Jul 2000

Bill Gates runs M$ at 2mm per hour

Bill Gates may have a brain the size of Washington State, but that doesn't mean he is particularly quick on his feet when it comes to dishing out business advice. Last year, the Microsoft chairman distilled some of his thoughts on technology and commerce in a book, Business @ the Speed of Thought. But how fast does thought actually run? At last we have the answer, courtesy of some British boffins who have caught the process on film, and it's not exactly Speedy Gonzales - thought has a molecular engine which runs at the stately pace of two millimetres an hour. The engine, a protein called Myocin V, sounds pretty funky. It whirrs inside your brain to enable you to think, and it transports the messenger chemicals that underpin the process of thought by using "two legs with which it 'walks' along fibres made of the protein actin, which act like rails within nerves," the Sunday Telegraph's Roger Highfield reports. "At first sight," he comments, "it is a wonder that humans are quickwitted at all." And that goes for business executives with the brain of Washington State too. So what was billg or his ghost writer thinking of when they were thinking of thought? Perhaps their quick-thinking business metaphor drew for inspiration upon the massive parallelism capability of the brain. Unfortunately, this also runs into the sand - human neural circuitry is very slow, as this extract from Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil reveals. "The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. With an estimated average of one thousand connections between each neuron and its neighbors, we have about 100 trilion connections between each neuron and its neighbors, we have about 100 trillion connections, each capable of a simultaneous calculation. That's rather massive parallel processing, and one key to the strength of human thinking. A profound weakness, however, is the excruciatingly slow speed of neural circuitry, only 200 calculations per second. For problems that benefit from massive parallelism, such as neural-net base pattern recognition, the human brain does a great job. For problems that require sequential thinking, the human brain is only mediocre." Kurzweil is a very successful inventor/entrepreneur with a brain the size of Massachusetts. I can recommend his book wholeheartedly, as a fine example of massive parallelism at work. ® See also Neuro boffins mimic brain action WAP revives ex-Guinness chairman's braincells
Drew Cullen, 06 Jul 2000

Intel CuMines stiffed by suppliers

Continued difficulties in obtaining components is behind the latest delay in Intel Coppermine processors, we can report. According to Japanese sources, a sliver of ceramic used to make Coppermine chips run at the right speed is still in short supply. Although Intel CuMine chips are based on plastic packages, making a silicon chip is a very complicated process. Intel depends on thousands of suppliers to make everything work properly. The rather hackneyed expression that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is particularly true in this case. As reported here in February, Intel found itself in a small fracas with one Japanese ceramic manufacturer, which made its shortage of CuMines even more acute than before. When a Japanese gum factory caught fire in Sumitomo six years back, and strangely enough on July the Fourth, it caused prices to rise, principally because it was the only glue factory which made silicon chips work. ®
Mike Magee, 06 Jul 2000

Euro Parliament to investigate Echelon

The European Parliament voted Wednesday to investigate allegations that the United States and allies like Britain and Canada have been abusing their Cold War surveillance apparatus to favour their own industries in international competition. Specifically, the Euros charge the US National Security Agency (NSA) operates a vast satellite spy network called Echelon, with co-operation from Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Echelon's existence has never been confirmed by the interested governments or proven by outsiders, yet millions are convinced that it exists and is capable of intercepting nearly all the world's e-mail, microwave, cellular phone, and fax traffic. The NSA, meanwhile, refuses to confirm that Echelon exists, and strenuously insists that it gathers information from foreign businesses solely to detect fraud and has never misused its intelligence gathering to give friendly nations a leg up on the competition. In previous coverage we found that the NSA does indeed appear scrupulous in handling data, at least in regard to US citizens, whom it is forbidden to monitor. The EU committee formed to investigate Echelon will spend roughly one year conducting an inquiry, and - assuming that it can even manage to prove its existence - issue a report on whether it exerts a negative impact on European commerce and industry. Europe, and in particular, France, likes the myth of an Anglo-American conspiracy to cheat it of what it deserves, as otherwise it might be forced to concede that its mighty technological and industrial genius has been legitimately outdone by a bunch of snotty foreigners. Indeed, so keen are the French on a spying explanation for their lack of primacy in international affairs that they have initiated their own inquiry in parallel with the EU, in case, God forbid, the Parliament fails to rach a satisfactory conclusion. Thus French prosecutor Jean-Pierre Thierry has ordered the government's counter-intelligence service to investigate whether the Echelon network has been used for industrial espionage against French interests. The French government often expresses moral outrage over Echelon, but actually favours bringing it under international (read 'European') control, so that they might benefit from abusing it too. ® See also What the hell is the Echelon scandal?
Thomas C Greene, 06 Jul 2000

Cheap Brit mobiles attract phone smugglers

More than half a million mobile phones bought in Britain have disappeared overseas to be re-sold on the grey market. This figure is an estimate offered by "a senior executive at one of the four British mobile networks" to the Financial Times. And according to the article, the problem is costing network operators in the UK millions of pounds in lost subsidies. This country is a prime target for this kind of criminal activity because network operators subsidise the cost of almost all handsets – by between £40 and £200. This makes the handsets much cheaper than in most other countries, where the subsidising trend has not caught on or is illegal. The problem is also being fuelled by the ease of taking non-contract phones out of the country. Most phones sold in the UK are now of the pay-as-you-go variety, which can be taken abroad without the knowledge of the network. BT Cellnet, which yesterday claimed it added 670,000 new subscribers in the last quarter to make a total of 8.1 million users, has a total of 4.4 million pay-as-you-go customers. And its number of contract customers actually fell by 151,000 for the quarter. The handset scam is so profitable that organised gangs are apparently taking lorryloads of the devices abroad to the Middle East and other developing regions. Richard Shearer, One2One commercial director told theFT: "While there are subsidies, and while they are higher than in other countries, this kind of fraud is in some respects a cost of doing business." Vodafone also released its second-quarter customer figures yesterday – its UK subscriber base rose 572,000 to 9.4 million. Orange signed up an extra 1.2 million users to reach 7.17 million, while One2One, still the smallest operator in the UK, gained the most newcomers - one million, which gives it a total of six million users. But the export of handsets will distort true subscriber figures – none of the major networks were willing to disclose how many phones they lost per year, with a One2One representative admitting "there's no way of telling how many". ® Related Stories 30 million Brits have a mobile phone Nokia gets £2 million of mobile phones nicked
Linda Harrison, 06 Jul 2000

3D mall is just such a stupid idea, we can't believe it

You can almost hear the conversation: "Buying on the Internet's fine, but it's not like doing it for real." "Oh, I know what you mean. I like to browse." "Browse, yes. And walk about, go into shops. It's just more natural." "Oh, I know. What we really need is an online real shopping centre [laughs]." "Hang on. I've got a friend who has his own homepage." And so ECLand was born. ECLand is an online shopping mall. What's that? Well, it's a "unique 3D approach to shopping on the Internet." It has "finally made on-line shopping not only accessible to all but also fun for all." Terrific, you say. How does it do it? Why, by "replicating as closely as possible the experience of wandering around a real shopping mall (minus the crowds, screaming children and bad tempered shop assistants)." If you want to check it out go to ECLand's site here. It doesn't take long (but you will have to pull it off the start menu when you delete it). What do you get? Essentially, a sanitised version of Doom. Move around using your cursors. Rush about this brightly-lit mall. Go into shops. Click on pixelated signs for goods. End up in a text-based shopping service. Have a quick look on the next level up. Nothing there, you say? Oh well come back down again. And that's it. Oh, not forgetting the handy creature assistant thing that is just like (i.e. useless) Ms Boo from that reputable dotcom Boo. Now the question is: why oh why oh why? Why would anyone want to do this - it's horrible. And creepy. And time-consuming. And daft. And there's virtually nothing there. And it's crap. Everyone herethat has had a go said: "shame I haven't got a gun or something." So there is your only possible way of saving whatever you've paid to set up this dreadful thing - get Eidos or someone on the phone and sell the shopping mall landscape. Or get them to give you some shoot 'em up coding. And please think it through next time. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 06 Jul 2000

5K coding challenge

Thanks to Ars technica, we can bring you the results of the 5K code challenge. The premise: What if coders only had 5K of space to write in, how much cool stuff could they make? Some of these are really cool, and have that whole retro feel to them. We like numbers two and four best. Storage Review has got its mitts on an IBM Deskstar 75GXP DTLA-307045. This was awarded the site's "safe buy" tag, which basically means you won't regret buying one, but it isn't the best around. From JC's page: CPU Scorecard rates all CPUs on the same benchmarking system against each other. Go here of this is your kind of thing. The site amused JC since, as he points out, Intel's own benchmarking program puts it in second place to AMD. Via Hardware has begun a series of pieces about the Via chipset, kind of like an ultimate FAQ. So, if you had a question about Via and were too afraid to ask, maybe this link will have the answer. FullOn3D has posted a review of the MSI/Microstar BX Master here. It is based on the Intel BX chipset with a Slot 1 connector with 6 PCI slots, 1 ISA, 1AGP and an onboard Promise ATA66 controller. Despite a couple of niggles, they were happy enough with it that the list of pros was longer than the list of cons. Can't say fairer than that.®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Jul 2000

Cyrix III: P6 clone by name, but not by performance

VIA's P6 clone, the Cyrix III, underperforms Intel Celeron in a series of 2D applications and Windows 98SE benchmarks, run by tecChannel. In its review comparing the Cyrix III with a clutch of rival offerings from AMD and Intel, tecChannel summarise performance as "rock bottom: Only the predecessor Cyrix II is even slower. Having a big L1 cache and no L2 cache does not help here". The German IT site tells us it laid hands on production silicon "from the first batch of CPUs available in Asia. VIA says that the performance may only up 2 or 3 per cent with applications with a special BIOS". However, the article is no demolition job. tecChannel supplies a thorough discussion of the Cyrix III architecture (or at least the details released so far by Cyrix). It explains the low-power/low price/performance trade-offs, and there is a summary of VIA's Cyrix III OEM prices and sales projections. You can read it in full and in English at http://tecchannel.de/hardware/431 ®
Drew Cullen, 06 Jul 2000

What the hell is – the Echelon scandal?

In the past week increasingly scandalised Echelon stories have ripped across Europe, following the publication of a European parliament report into the shady spook system. But in all the sound and fury there are aspects that haven't really been properly covered - how little of Echelon's claimed activities we didn't know about already, and how little new information the report adds. Basically, the report tells us quite a few things that were already obvious, and fails to stand up earlier stories claiming more dramatic and dastardly sins by the Echelon alliance. It repeats these, certainly, and the European press repeated them some more with glee, but when it comes down to it there's a sad lack of further information. That doesn't mean the Echelon scandal won't run and run, of course; it's an important factor - possibly the important factor - that Echelon is an intelligence co-operation agreement between the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, so Brussels politicians can get paranoid about being bugged by an Anglo-Saxon alliance. The French are leading the charge here, with former interior minister Charles Pasqua coming up with what might be viewed as an unfortunate sound-bite: "The rules of the game are rigged and they are rigged especially by the British. This is shocking." Roll that one around in your head before you start thinking of Brussels as a defender of liberty and privacy in the face of unauthorised intrusions by the evil Echelon alliance. M. Pasqua seems not to be objecting to the bugging, but griping about not getting fair access to the data. You might think Brussels launching an inquiry is a good thing, but you'd be better reserving judgement until you get the full result. So, as an aid to rational analysis, we at The Register are publishing an instant guide to the Echelon scandal. What is Echelon? Echelon has been memorably described as a huge vacuum cleaner in the sky sucking up phone, Internet and fax traffic. If something of this sort didn't exist already, then the security agencies would be bound to want to invent it, so we can safely assume it exists, even ignoring the odd hard-copy sighting. Is Echelon wrong? Well, of course it is, silly. The spooks are bugging their way around the world invading privacy willy-nilly. But this is what spooks do, and we hear French spooks are especially keen on it. You knew that already. Does Echelon work? What Echelon does with this stuff is another matter. Even if all of the intercepted stuff was in unencrypted ASCII, sorting out the ones that warranted attention would be a massive crunching task. Register spook specialist Thomas C Greene tried a few 'look at me Echelon, I'm an international terrorist!' phrases last year here, but remains strangely unarrested. Rational people might reckon that identifying dubious traffic you didn't know about already was beyond the technical capabilities of any system today, and that Echelon therefore targets known suspects. It's worth noting at this juncture that, as you generally don't know who terrorists are, or where they are, 'known suspects' generally can't include rational suspects. How likely is Gerry Adams to have planted any bombs in the last week? But how likely is Gerry Adams to be a target for Echelon? Exactly. And who are these known suspects? This is where the scandalised press gets interested. Margaret Thatcher's less sound cabinet ministers. Princess Diana. Saddam Hussein (not a lot of point here though, because he knows he's being listened out for). Liberal and left wing organisations and agencies. Anything that's well-known as maybe a bit subversive, but too well-known to be stockpiling semtex. Your partner governments, and businesses from rival (friendly?) countries trying to sell in competition to your own industries. Aha! So this is where the US using Echelon to stop European countries getting contracts comes in? Well, sort of. There are a couple of examples in the report of the Euros having been blown out following the US government allegedly using Echelon material to tip off US competitors. The scandalised reports of this didn't point out that the Euro companies were said to have been offering bribes in order to win the business. We note that US trade negotiators have in the past been somewhat vehement on the readiness of European companies to bribe their way into deals, and that US captains of industry (hello, AT&T) have tended to be curiously in step with this. So we think this allegation is true, but the kickback aspect does make it a more difficult one to get on your high horse about. US spooks are probably unshakably convinced that it is right to tip off US industry under such circumstances, and will be happily blind to the number of bungs their own companies are prepared to dispense. Microsoft leaves holes in its software so Echelon can snoop This was a press favourite early in Echelon Week, but unfortunately the hacks reporting the claim neglected to run it down in the report, and then understand it. The old claims that Microsoft, IBM and Lotus leave holes for this reason are repeated, but the report doesn't claim they're true. The nearest it gets is to point out that US restrictions on the export of encryption technology mean that the likes of Exchange and Notes in European versions are a lot easier for Echelon and the NSA to crack than US ones. Since the US relaxed restrictions, this is of course no longer applicable, and there's no obvious justification for claiming that US software companies complying with US law were colluding with the US government prior to this. So what's going to happen? Given that Europe in general, and France in particular, is agog and aghast over the whole thing, you'd reckon on some pretty stringent reprisals. But the report's own recommendations are extremely tame, and the subtext seems to be that we're more likely to be seeing the air slowly leak out of the whole dirigible. The recommendations repeat a Euro parliament resolution calling for "protective measures concerning economic information and effective encryption". The report suggests blocking access to message content by "hostile Comint" (Communications Intelligence). It suggests defining a "shared interest," the implication being that the UK should be inside the tent, but it's unspecific on the nature of the tent. It adds further to any doubts you might have had about privacy by noting that: "A clear boundary between law enforcement and 'national security' interception activity is essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms." And beyond that, it covers the cryptographic imbalance, suggesting that US software that has strong encryption disabled should conform to "open standards," allowing encyryption to be added, and then suggesting that the alleged extra-parliamentary activities of Europe's own law enforcement agencies be brought under control. This last is another of the report author's areas of concerns, but not absolutely Echelon-related. Not a lot really, is it? ®
Team Register, 06 Jul 2000
Robot as person illustration via Shutterstock

World's first cyborg: man-machine or pipedream?

Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University, will breach the human/computer divide by implanting a 2.5cm microchip into the top of his arm. Signals from a computer will cause the chip -- which is connected to the nerves in his arm -- to send out various electrical impulses and thereby control how his arm moves. Or will it? While we love a good story at The Register, we can't help but wonder. After all this is the same man who claimed to control lighting, heating and computers through an earlier implant and who was barred from taking a robot cat to Russia. So we contacted Prof Warwick. Or rather, tried to contact him. Four phone calls, two emails and four days later and still nothing. Perhaps he was too busy with the nationals -- in the last week, our Kevin has appeared in the Daily Mail, Guardian and The Times. He has also cropped up on Tomorrow's World and CNN, and been famously referred to as 'Britain's leading prophet of the robot age' by none other than Agent Scully from the X-files (well, the actress that plays her). Perhaps we're just not important enough. He also has a list of academic papers as long as your arm -- with or without implants. So do we really have the audacity to question a leading academic? No, of course not -- but we simply can't bring ourselves to believe that what he says is possible. It's one thing to make predictions of what the future holds but quite another to set up heavily publicised experiments. Professor Warwick's academic pedigree is impeccable and while his expertise in the area is beyond reproach, we have been unable to find academic papers that back up the more futuristic experiments he has embarked upon. We will continue to press for solid evidence and hopefully Prof Warwick will get in touch and prove such scepticism wrong. Then we can all sit back and look forward to the inevitable decline of the human race. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 06 Jul 2000

Dell web site is ‘the worst in the world’

There's good PR bunnies and crap PR bunnies. Lewis PR has sent out an HILARIOUS release with pix of different-sized beards illustrating which beard size relates to specific IT abilities. How we laughed. But thoughtful Rainier UK sent us the results of this year's survey into how major corporations use the wacky world wide web. The report claims that more than 40 per cent of leading UK and US public companies are failing to take the Web seriously as a communication channel and are not using it as a direct communication medium with customers, investors and other target audiences. Some are even in the precarious position of failing to deliver on basic promises they make on their sites to customers and investors. Rainier claims that the results demonstrate a clear need for large corporates to adjust their global Internet strategies to ensure that their public Web response capabilities are at the very least as effective as telephoning, faxing or writing to their national or international headquarters. The Rainier Web-Index study found that in Britain only 71 of the FTSE 100 companies could be contacted by e-mail via their Web site and of these more than 20 per cent including, National Grid, P&O and Telewest failed to respond to multiple requests for basic investor information after a wait of three months. A total of 29 of the FTSE 100 companies including Bass, Marks & Spencer and Thames Water could not be reached by e-mail via their Web site or did not have a Web site. By comparison, 77 of the Fortune 100 companies in the US could be contacted by e-mail and of these a third, including American Express, Motorola and Walt Disney failed to respond to a request for basic investor information after a wait of three months. Additionally, 23 of the Fortune 100 companies including GTE, Hewlett-Packard and Intel and could not be reached by e-mail via their Web sites. The Rainier Web-Index study found that UK companies were marginally better than their US counterparts for the fastest responses, with 20 FTSE 100 companies responding to a request for basic investor information within two hours, compared to only 3 from Fortune 100 companies. All companies in the Rainier Web-Index study were contacted initially at the beginning of March, with a follow-up attempt made mid-March if a company failed to respond. E-mails were sent at the middle of the UK and US working day for the FTSE and Fortune companies respectively to overcome time zone issues. Of the FTSE companies, 45 responded within two days, compared with 38 Fortune 100 companies, 11 FTSE compared with 19 Fortune companies took more than two days and 15 FTSE companies failed to respond to multiple requests via their Web site, compared with 20 Fortune 100 companies. The Rainier Web-Index is a metric developed by Rainier marketing executives to measure the effectiveness of an organisation’s Internet communication strategy. "However you choose to cut the data, this situation is a shock and quite appalling. Corporate UK and US are out of touch. You would think that by now the world’s largest companies would have developed an effective Internet communication strategy," said Stephen Waddington, managing director of Rainier in London. "All too often companies focus on the content and look and feel of a site without considering its integration with existing customer contact systems. The result is that two in every five of the Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 Web sites are little more than corporate wallpaper," claimed Waddington. The Rainier Web-Index study showed that companies who published clear contact details for different areas of the organisation were able to respond more quickly than those who simply offered a single online form to submit. It also highlighted the importance of setting workable response times. "Large companies need a straightforward strategy for ensuring that their main web site is as effective a public communication mechanism as their main switchboard number at headquarters. They need dedicated resources for answering ‘company’ emails 24 hours a day, with a clear process for satisfying the question or request at a departmental or geographical level if the central communication team cannot do so immediately," added Waddington. Two companies promised to respond promptly to e-mails sent via their Web site, but failed to respond on the first attempt. In the UK, Royal Bank of Scotland says that it will respond to emails sent via its Web site "within a few days", while in the US, Costco claims that "we will try to respond to your e-mail within one business day". Ironically, amongst the slow responders and non-responders were a number of the world’s biggest names in communication. Colt Telecom took 27 days to respond and Dell computer took 23 days. Energis, Telewest, IBM and Motorola were amongst the companies that failed to respond at all. So how has this changed since last year? The first Rainier Web-Index focussed only on FTSE 100 companies. The standard of Web communication amongst these companies has improved little over the intervening 12 months. In fact the situation has got worse in many instances. The number of FTSE sites with general contact details has improved. Last year six sites had no contact information at all compared to just two this year. On the downside the number of sites without online contact methods has risen from 16 last year to 23 this year. The response times mirror last year’s results: 20 took less than two hours, 25 took between two hours and two days, 11 took more than two days to respond. The response rate was up from 71 per cent last year to almost 80 per cent this year. Most responsive Of the 56 FTSE 100 companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web Index study, the ten most responsive companies were: National Power (4 mins); Sema Group (8 mins); Scottish and Newcastle (9 mins); Woolwich (10 mins); Astrazeneca (12 mins); Kingston Communications (12 mins); Glaxo Wellcome (14 mins); Barclays Bank (18 mins); Royal & Sun Alliance (18 mins); and Whitbread (21 mins). Of the 57 top 100 Fortune companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web-Index study, the ten most responsive companies were United Parcel Service (5mins); Home Depot (34 mins); USX (1 hr 23 mins); Mobil (2 hrs 8 mins); PG&E (2 hrs 12 mins); Procter & Gamble (2 hrs 28 mins); Aetna (2 hrs 33 mins); Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (2 hrs 58 mins); ConAgra (2 hrs 58 mins); and Lucent Technologies (3 hrs 3 mins). Least responsive Of the 56 FTSE 100 companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web-Index study, the ten least responsive companies were Colt Telecom (27 days 17 mins); Abbey National (14 days 1 hr 37 mins); Old Mutual (12 days 42 mins); Wolseley (8 days 4 hrs 34 mins); BG Group (6 days 2 hours); Unilever (5 days 4 hrs 21 mins); British Telecom (5 days 4 hrs 12 mins); BAA (5 days 3 hrs 27 mins); Sainsbury (5 days 1 hr 49 mins); and Logica (4 days 11 hrs 51 mins). Of the 57 top 100 Fortune companies that responded to queries via their Web site in this year’s Rainier Web Index study, the ten least responsive companies were SBC Communications (25 days 1 hr 25 mins); Dell Computer (23 days 5 hrs 50mins); Sears Roebuck (16 days 22 hrs 48 mins); UAL (14 days 1hr 46mins); Allied Signal (13 days 5 hrs); Sprint (13 days 4 hrs 2 mins); TIAA-CREF (11 days 5hrs 12mins); Coca-Cola (8 days 19 hrs 55 mins); Columbia/HCA Healthcare (7 days 2hrs 33mins) and Cardinal Health (7 days 1 hr 13 mins). There was no mechanism to e-mail a basic query to 29 out of the FTSE 100 companies. The reasons were as follows: no online contact method (23); no corporate Web site (1); no contact details at all (2); and online forms/sites that crashed or wouldn’t load (3). There was no mechanism to e-mail a query to 23 out of the top 100 Fortune companies. The reasons were as follows: no online contact method (15); no corporate Web site (2); no contact details at all (2); sites that couldn’t handle questions (3); and online forms that were for customers only (1). In conducting the study, a research analyst from Rainier visited the Web sites of each of the FTSE 100 companies and each of the Fortune 100. Each of the Web sites was reviewed in detail to locate address, telephone and e-mail contact information. Where e-mail contacts could be found, Rainier sent an e-mail requesting basic investor information about the company. The time and date the e-mail was sent was recorded and if the company responded, the time and date of response was also recorded. Where companies failed to respond after 14 days, a repeat e-mail was sent. For full details of the Rainier Web Index study and its findings, check out Rainier's website. They promise to reply. Honest. ®
Andrew Thomas, 06 Jul 2000