8th > September > 2000 Archive

FBI warns Congress: foreign telecomms may inhibit wiretaps

The great twins of American obsessiveness, Power and Wealth, stood in direct conflict on Capitol Hill Thursday as the House Commerce Subcommittee considered numerous implications of Deutsche Telekom's $46 billion takeover bid for US mobile phone operator VoiceStream Wireless. At issue was concern that the German government owns fifty-eight per cent of Deutsche, meaning that if the deal were approved, an American telecomms company would fall under the influence of a foreign state. An exquisitely painful choice for any US politician: the $46 billion of German capital is immensely tempting, but the loss of control is equally terrifying. Power The FBI, which, under the indulgent nurturing of the Clinton Administration, has developed into one of the world's premier control freaks, fretted openly that its ability to snoop on the populace could be hampered by the foreign owners of American communications networks. "There may be no practical way to conduct lawful surveillance effectively and securely if the facilities that process US communications are located outside the United States," FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson lamented. FBI wiretaps have skyrocketed under Clinton's tenure, and the Bureau, clearly, has grown very much used to the power. Ultimately, Parkinson said, it is "the safety of the American public that suffers the consequences of an inability to conduct national security investigations and detect criminal activity through effective investigative tools such as court authorized electronic surveillance." Yet we remain hard-pressed to produce a significant body of Americans who feel safer knowing that the Feds are reading their e-mail and tapping their phones with impunity. But Power persisted in fretting. Whole investigations may be blown, Parkinson declared, because federal agencies are understandably reluctant to reveal the capabilities, and the limitations, of their surveillance tricks to outsiders. "Data acquisition increasingly requires the cooperation of the communications service provider. In these cases, the US Government is required to disclose sensitive target information and investigative techniques to the service provider in order for it to provide the assistance required under the order," he whinged. "The FBI is pushing the envelope," US Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) observed dryly during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings Wednesday, where the FBI's controversial e-mail sniffer Carnivore was discussed in the context of America's rapid privacy erosion. The comment is all the more credible coming from a Democrat, especially one of Leahy's considerable stature. Wealth The Deutsche Telekom acquisition served chiefly as a foil to the Committee. No one seriously doubts that the German government would cooperate with US law enforcement if asked. The Committee met to consider the broad issues articulated in legislation proposed by US Senator Ernest Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina), who appeared as a witness before the House Committee, and who would make it impossible for a company to buy a US telecomms outfit if a foreign government owns more than twenty-five per cent of its stock. The long-term financial disadvantages of doing business with a government-owned company, Hollings argued persuasively, outweigh the short-term gains. Fair competition is poorly served when the owner of a company is in a position to influence the regulatory environment in which it operates. US Representative Edward Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts) noted that a third of Deutsche employees are civil servants whose salaries are determined by government regulation rather than personal merit, and who can't be sacked easily if they prove to be inadequate. Not exactly a model of lean, competitive fighting form, we must allow. As a majority shareholder, the German government has considerable influence over Deutsche's corporate decisions, Markey said, and would be naturally inclined to consider the preferences of a large body of selfish, lazy, inept civil servants even if they conflict with common business sense. And this from a well-mannered tribe eager, since the Second World War, for re-entry into the human race. One shudders to think of the problems associated with government-owned companies from monied states like China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, where Europe's and North America's celebrated Bourgeois, Protestant values are openly ridiculed as some bizarre affliction. (Hmmm...they may be onto something there.) So if Power pushed the envelope and risked drawing suspicions of gross self-interest to itself, Wealth may have won the day with a cautionary tale of future riches sacrificed to immediate greed. And there is damn little that grabs the attention of a politician during an election season as firmly as the health of the economy. And furthermore, if the American government can be prevented through legislation from owning a controlling stake in US telecomms, why not foreign ones? The Register's money, and wisely we think, is on the Hollings bill. ®
Thomas C Greene, 08 Sep 2000

Scaldera swings the axe

The Santa Cruz Operation is to shed 19 per cent of its workforce - 190 employees - as it gets ready to hand its Unix operations over to Caldera. The deep cuts affect all operations of the business across the globe said a spokesman for SCO. However, the Tarantella business unit of SCO escapes the axe. SCO Inc. will become Tarantella Inc. once the merger is approved, and Caldera acquires the Unix software and professional services core of the old SCO. SCO CEO Doug Michels said in a prepared statement that SCO's poor financial performance this year, along with overlap with Caldera, were to blame for the redundancies: "This reduction will lower expenses to better reflect SCO's recent performance in our server software and professional services divisions. Moreover, we have worked closely with Caldera to ensure that these actions produce staffing results consistent with its future, post-acquisition business model." SCO executives have put the blame on not having a refresh to its core OpenServer Unix, once the Y2k freeze was lifted, for a precipitous drop in income this year. Ironically SCO's business, despite its recent poor performance, has nevertheless performed far better than Caldera's. In the past quarter, Caldera lost over $7 million on $1 million revenue. But Caldera is a "new economy" Linux company, and SCO isn't. ® Related Stories More red ink spatters SCO Caldera goes Unix with SCO acquisition IDC pricks SCO-Caldera bubble
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Sep 2000

Amazon's Loyalty Tax: IE users pay more

Jeff McNeal, editor and publisher of the The Big Picture DVD site, says Amazon.com's recent random pricing has prompted him re-examine his relationship with the Seattle e-tailer. DVD shoppers have discovered that Amazon's prices can vary wildly, with loyal registered users paying up to 16 per cent more for the same items than first-time purchasers. It's also emerged that Netscape users can gain discounts over Internet Explorer users when shopping at Amazon. "We don't want to be precipitous, but we were not best pleased to discover our readers were not receiving the same discount when accessing Amazon through our site," McNeal tells us. "While we respect their right to test market prices, the same item should have the one price," he says. Which pretty much hits the nail on the head. If Amazon had been upfront about offering newcomers a first-time user discount - in addition to giving regular registered users gift certficates - there wouldn't have been such an outcry from its users. What Amazon.com has been doing in effect, is the e-commerce equivalent of having a store assistant follow you around the store, changing the price tags behind your back. It's really that simple. Charging different prices for the same goods is illegal in the United Kingdom, which lags behind the United States in consumer protection legislation, and we suspect that in the time it takes you to say "class action", someone somewhere will be filing for redress. We wanted to ask Amazon whether it plans to continue this "experiment", and if and how it intends to reimburse customers who have paid more for DVDs than they needed to. We also wondered if Amazon knew it was in breach of consumer protection legislation. The company missed two deadlines to respond by press time, but as soon as they do, we'll post an update. Amazon's pricing structure went even more wibbly-wobbly yesterday as for several hours steep discounts could be found on DVDs, including Planet of the Apes and Reservoir Dogs. Some of these still apply. (Hint: try the one with Roddy McDowall in a monkey suit). Cynics in DVD forums suggested this "accident" was Amazon's way of diverting attention from its discriminatory random pricing. There's also a salutary lesson here for e-tailing whizz kids who have invested in the latest CRM (customer relationship management) software. With an arsenal of data mining technology, it's possible to analyse buying patterns in great depth - and set pricing schemes accordingly. But it's easy to forget that there's a customer relationship there - and that basic legal requirements cannot be ignored. "I think their intentions were probably OK," says McNeal generously. "But it was not particularly tactful." ® Register Trivia No.00F01H Kim Hunter, Dr Zira in Planet of the Apes, played the role of David Niven's love interest, June, in Michael Powell's great A Matter of Life and Death. Related Stories Amazon makes regular customers pay more Amazon's new privacy regs may backfire
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Sep 2000

Leaked email halts SF newsroom

Never have the perils of bad mouthing your colleagues by office email been so vividly illustrated as in the unfortunate case of a San Francisco newspaper reporter. The city's two daily newspapers Chronicle and the Examiner are changing owners, with rival staff scrambling to get on the morning Chron. (Actually there is rumoured to be a third daily - some rubbish turns up on our doorstep now and again outside Fortress Register, but we've far been too busy to pick it up and see what it is). Examiner editor Phil Bronstein then invited journalists to stake out what jobs they'd like to have under the merged operation. Which one journalist did, in spectacularly reckless fashion, and her thoughts were rapidly leaked throughout the companies email systems. At this stage, we'd better warn you of some basic safety precautions. For what follows is so toe-curlingly embarrassing that before we'd finished reading the email, we'd already written off a sturdy pair of Caterpillar hiking boots. It came to our attention thanks to San Narcisco's answer to Dorothy Parker, the consistently magnificent Laurel Wellman, who writes the Dog Bites column in SF Weekly. So if you're ready, let's go. "First off," writes the reporter, Julian Guthrie, "I'd like to say that I want to be the chief/senior education reporter at the Chronicle. I'm not interested in joint bylines. I'm not interested in collaborating on investigative pieces or longer-term projects. If a story is breaking, and I haven't heard about it, I'd jump in and share that story. However, any story that I come up with is mine," she writes. (As you always suspected, Julian is a girl's name). "I am fiercely competitive: I want to win a Pulitzer Prize" she continues. She then suggests a sideways move for her more experienced counterpart at the Chron, one that would ease herself into her rival's shoes. Her rival has "been trying to cover education for two decades," she admits (miaoww...) but, "I have been covering education since 1996. By most accounts, I have dominated the beat." As SF Weekly's Laurel Wellman notes "It belatedly occurs to us that, if only we'd put the same level of effort into scheming for career advancement as we have put into, say, organizing our shoe wardrobe, we could be running this place." Guthrie then goes on to fire miscellaneous barbs at established Chronicle columnists - remember, this is the paper she's trying to join - and suggests exotic foreign assignments for herself too, to bring that desired Pulitzer all the closer. She also specifies elaborate seating arrangements listing colleagues she would rather or rather not be placed with. Clearly, a very particular lady. "That certainly isn't what I was looking for," Bronstein told SF Weekly. We could reveal more - particularly how the Guthrie email sparked off a series of hilarious parodies by Chron staff. But at this stage we'll point you right into the capable hands of Ms Wellman herself, who in an unscientific poll of Register US Bureau Chiefs held this evening, was voted the US columnist most in possession of The Right Stuff. And as we suspect you don't read The Register to be bored or to read bad writing ... click here and treat yourself. There's no finer glory in all of San Francisco than the Dog Bites diva herself, and you don't even have to leave your seat. Go on. You deserve it. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Sep 2000

Napster fan hacks 50 more sites

Pro-Napster hacker 'Pimpshiz' has proved true to his or her word and struck again, breaking into and defacing a host of US Web sites - just as promised last month. According to the New York Times, Pimpshiz hit 50 sites, including NASA and the Communications Workers of America, using their front pages to attack the music industry for its own assault on MP3 sharing software Napster. "The [Recording Industry Association of America] does not represent your favourite music artists, wrote Pimpshiz. "They represent rich record executives. These are the fat cats who make profit from the other 95 per cent of CD sales. All because you either wanted more money (not like you had enough to begin with, right!?) or because you wanted publicity." Last time round, Pimpshiz wrote in emails that he was using an as yet un-plugged security hole in Windows NT to break into his target sites. He also implied there would be further attacks of pro-Napster digital graffiti. And in further emails sent to the NYT, Pimpshiz promised that more sites would be defaced. ® Related Stories Pro-Napster hacker claims 60 site scalps Napster: Full Coverage
Tony Smith, 08 Sep 2000

Wall Street goes mad on imaginary MS settlement talks

the twitchy vulnerability of Wall Street was amply illustrated yesterday by what seems to have been an entirely spurious rumour that settlement talks between Microsoft and the DoJ were under way again. Microsoft stock promptly kicked up on double normal trading volume, but it seems the rumour was at best wishful thinking. At the moment it's conceivable that some form of contact could take place between Microsoft and the government, but the chances of such contact actually leading to anything concrete are vanishingly small. Microsoft wants the trial appeal handled by the 'slow train' appeals court, rather than having it go directly to the Supreme Court, and it currently stands a reasonable chance of getting at least half a loaf here. Microsoft also doesn't want any of Judge Jackson's unpleasant remedies kicking in, but as the Good Judge has agreed to keep his whips and thumbscrews locked up until the shooting dies down, Microsoft is getting its way here too. So why on earth would it want to settle, unless it could secure the sort of amazingly lenient deal the government isn't going to offer it? There's still plenty of scope for delays and - particularly if you count time in Internet years - Microsoft can go a long way with business as usual, still technically guilty, but conspicuously unremedied. If the legal process looks like springing the company from some of Jackson's nastier remedies, then it might start to get seriously interested in dealing, but at the moment there's not a lot of point. ®
John Lettice, 08 Sep 2000

MP3.com's battle with RIAA not ours – Napster

Napster moved to distance its legal wrangle with the music industry from MP3.com's own tussle with the world's biggest recording companies - which could see MP3.com paying up to $250 million in punitive damages for copyright theft. Napster's battle with the Recording Industry Association of America comes to court next month, and since the case, like that of MP3.com, centres on alleged violation of intellectual property rights, the last thing Napster wants is for its own defence to overshadowed by the ruling against MP3.com. "We believe Judge Rakoff's decision on the MP3.com case is both factually and legally distinct from the Napster case,'' said Jonathan Schiller, one of Napster's legal team, told Reuters. "US District Judge Jed Rakoff found MP3.com liable for direct infringement because it copied tens of thousands of CDs for its own commercial purposes,'' he said. "Nobody at Napster can be accused of direct infringement because we have not copied any of the works. Our technology is completely different and Napster has been accused of contributory infringement." True, but Napster's opponent, the RIAA, regards the effect as much the same: that Napster is enabling music piracy for its own "commercial purposes", to use Schiller's words. The RIAA will this week file its response to Napster's call, made on 18 August, for the US appeal court to throw out its case altogether. That request follows the appeal court's decision to overturn a preliminary injunction on Napster granted to the RIAA back in July. ® Related Stories Napster: Full Coverage
Tony Smith, 08 Sep 2000

Cunning stunt hunt worth a punt

The Digital Freedom Network (DFN) has challenged Net users to scour the Web in search of the very worst examples of online censorship. Punters are being asked to probe sites, chat communities and bulletin boards to expose and mock the pointlessness of censorware's existence. DFN Internet Development Director Alan Brown said: "The purpose of the contest is to have a little more fun with something whose greatest accomplishment is as an object of ridicule." According to Brown, different types of filtering software are used in an attempt to regulate content. Often, though, it is little more than a joke. For instance, someone's contribution was blocked because of the phrase "who reports" was used. That's right, the censorware had detected the word "whore" in the first letters and blocked it. And recently, Los Angeles attorney Sherril Babcock was refused entry to a site because the filtering software rejected her name because it contained the word "cock". She later successfully registered as Sherril Babpenis. "Foil the Filters" entries can either be e-mailed to contest@dfn.org or submitted via DFN's Web site. The contest ends 25 September and prizes will be awarded to the winners. Good luck mother #######. ® Related Stories Net censorship row is right cock-up Cock and bull story gets pricked
Tim Richardson, 08 Sep 2000

Clothing company hit by anti-DeCSS suit

Programmer-oriented T-shirt supplier Copyleft has fallen foul of the DVD Copy Control Authority, the movie industry-sponsored body that oversees DVD anti-piracy technology. Copyleft's sin, it appears, was to sell a shirt printed with the source code to DeCSS, the controversial utility that cracks DVD movies' copy protection system. And that's a violation of our trade secrets, claims the DVD CCA. It has a point. A US court recently granted a request from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to prevent Web site 2600.com from posting DeCSS' source code, and putting something on a T-shirt is as much an act of publishing as putting it on a Web site. Not so, claims Copyleft founder Steve Blood, who told IDG Newswire: "This is not about breaking the law. I wouldn't do a Napster shirt. Napster is a public forum for doing something illegal." Ironically, the DeCSS shirt was offered to help fund Internet pressure group the Electronic Frontier Foundation's representation of Web sites hit with lawsuits for posting the utility or publishing its source code. So sales of the shirt will ultimately fund the defence of the shirt. ® Related Stories Hollywood 1: Hackers 0 DVD biz steps up action against DeCSS
Tony Smith, 08 Sep 2000

MS Hotmail caves to Harris over spam blocking

Survey outfit Harris Interactive has triumphed over the mighty MAPS (Mail Abuse Prevention System) Realtime Blackhole List. After finding itself on the anti-spam list earlier this year Harris sued AOL, Microsoft Hotmail and a clutch of other outfits for blocking its email surveys. Microsoft has now joined AOL in bravely giving in to Harris, although the company says no money has changed hands. Harris uses the Internet to conduct research, and therefore if a massive email system like AOL or Hotmail blocks its mail as spam, it's going to be both seriously inconvenienced and seriously annoyed. Announcing that it had settled with Harris yesterday, Microsoft said that it would make sure the company's emails would get through to Hotmail users, but that it would still be able to stop its users being spammed by 'real' spammers. Harris dropped its suit against AOL last month on the basis that it believed it was now "able to fully communicate with all of its registered respondents who have AOL email addresses" (i.e., a discreet 'arrangement' was brokered between the two companies). Still in the frame, as far as we can see, are Qwest, MAPS and a couple of other outfits. Harris won't have made any money out of the actions against Microsoft and AOL, but it must be well-satisfied with the outcome. It has established that the mighty MAPS is not all-powerful, and created a precedent whereby the death list can be circumvented, so long as you rattle enough lawyers. Could this be the beginning of the end for MAPS? Related story: MAPS under fire as Harris sues MS, AOL over spam block
John Lettice, 08 Sep 2000

Worldwide PC sales to rocket in Q3

Worldwide PC shipments are due to rise 18.5 per cent this quarter, with Asia Pacific leading the way, according to IDC. Sales will reach 33.4 million units - an 18.5 per cent year-on-year increase, and 10.1 per cent jump on Q2. Asia Pacific and Japan are expected to come up trumps in Q3 - with year-on-year growth of 36 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively. This will largely be driven by healthy sales of consumer desktop and portables, while Japan will thrive on consumer PCs along with continuing recovery in business PC sales. The US is forecast to ship almost 13 million units, representing 10.6 per cent year-on-year and 13.4 per cent sequential growth. Here the market is expected to improve in both consumer and business PCs after a sleepy first half of the year. Western Europe is expected to drag its heels, with just 14.5 per cent year-on-year and 7.5 per cent sequential growth. Internet demand and retail offers will drive the market, and the business PC sector is also expected to show some recovery. Vendors with the best chance this quarter will be in the consumer, Asian and portable markets, with Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway in the best position globally, IDC reported. In Q2 Dell was the top ranking vendor for volume sales in the US with almost 2.3 million - giving it more than 20 per cent of this market. This compared to 16.6 per cent the previous year. Compaq's shipments dropped in the US to 1.7 million from 1.8 million, giving it 14.8 per cent market share for Q3 2000. HP saw sales soar by 45 per cent to 1.2 million, with 10.7 per cent market share, Gateway 964,000 and 8.4 per cent of the market, with IBM down 18.6 per cent to 713,000 shipments and 6.2 per cent. More than 30 million PCs were shipped worldwide in Q2, with Compaq flogging the most PCs. Sales rose 6.8 per cent to four million for Big Q, letting it hang onto 13 per cent of the market - one per cent less than the previous year. Dell's shipments were up 22 per cent to 3.5 million, or 11 per cent of the sector. They were followed by HP, IBM and Fujitsu-Siemens. ® Related Stories US losing grip on IT industry PC sales disappoint analysts for Q2 Compaq outsells Dell by 1 million units in Q1
Linda Harrison, 08 Sep 2000

Hitachi to offer Linux support from mobile to mainframe

Hitachi is to offer Linux on all of its major product lines, from mobile devices to mainframes, the company announced in Tokyo yesterday. Support for Linux will be available on its MP mainframe series; IA-64, 9000V Unix and HA8000 PC servers, the Flora PC series and its mobile products. Hitachi says Linux currently accounts for two to three per cent of its PC server business, and that it intends to increase this to ten to 15 per cent by fiscal 2002. A beta of Linux source code for the MP series is due to be made available today, with final code expected for the first half of next year. The company is also planning to kick off all-in-one server packages using the HA8000 range and TurboLinux, and has come up with some more details of the Transmeta-based Linux appliance it plans to ship from December. The device will be offered as an Internet terminal, will have a 10in TFT, Crusoe TM3000 CPU, flash memory rather than hard disk, and a claimed battery life of six hours. ®
John Lettice, 08 Sep 2000

SoundMax audio drivers – how to get hold of 'em

UpdatedUpdated Most Reg readers' response to our story about the vastly superior SoundMax 2 audio drivers for Intel's Easton mobo, was 'where can I get them?' The official advice from Analog Devices is to contact the people from whom they bought their PCs or mobos. Apparently, each OEM shipping ADI AD1885 codecs has a driver built for them with and without SoundMAX 2. ADI's Dave Babicz says some OEMs are now considering a Web update of their drivers, adding: "User requests may help them make up their minds." ADI says it can't provide a generic release of the drivers on its own web site because its customers need to certify the driversw with their particular platforms. "Also," adds Babicz,"no true generic driver load exists because each WHQL certified driver is specific to the OEM platform and the INF file has VID, SSVIDs and chip set IDs that match and control the customisation for that platform). ADI is updating its web site to direct end users back to OEMs for potential download upgrades. Compaq has confirmed that it has the latest versions available for download, but warns that DirectX 6.1 or greater is required. ® Related Stories Intel not shipping the best audio drivers for its Easton mobo Intel shoots self in foot. Twice
Andrew Thomas, 08 Sep 2000

Kmart limits sale of violent computer games

US retailer Kmart yesterday said it will clamp down on sales of violent computer games to young children. The company will now require would-be buyers to prove that they're old enough to meet a game's age rating. The US games industry established its rating system, in which titles are graded according to their level of violence and adult content, some time ago. Ratings are given by the industry-appointed Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ESRB was set up to show that the games industry was willing to police itself - ie. not have a rating system imposed upon it by government - amid concern that exposure to violent games was having a harmful effect on young players. The flaw in the scheme is, of course, that without legal back-up, there's nothing to force stores to take any notice of the ratings whatsoever. The fact that it's taken Kmart so long to make the move it made yesterday - and then under some pressure from various US senators, including Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut - arguably shows just how worthless the ratings system has been. In the UK, the games rating system, based on the nation's movie classification system, makes it illegal to sell titles to under-age buyers. A parallel voluntary code, set up by the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (Elspa), rates games that do not fall into the film system's remit. Most major UK games retailers abide by the Elspa code of conduct forbidding sales of violent games to buyers who are too young. "While manufacturers have put ratings on the games, we think education has to occur with the retailer too," Dale Atley, Kmart's Vice President for Public Policy, told US newswires. It's worth noting that Kmart claims that only around three per cent of the games it sells have an M rating, which shows the game is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 17, so the store isn't exactly going to be badly hit financially if it turns away 12-year-olds trying to buy Quake III. The company did not say what penalties it will apply to any staff at its 2000 stores who sell games to under-age buyers despite the new regulation. The band of politicos who asked Kmart to take a stand against violent games made the same request of other US retail chains Target and Toys-R-Us. They have yet to respond. Retailers Sears and Wards, meanwhile, earlier decided to stop stocking M-rated games altogether, again under pressure from Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan. ® Related Stories Video games the root of all evil Video games to blame for everything Canadian province rules violent game 'pornographic' Quake developer not responsible for school killings - judge Ban Quake, Home Office adviser demands Brazil bans Quake and other PC games Al Gore says Web violence had hand in highschool massacre Games vendors to 'blame' for murdered students
Tony Smith, 08 Sep 2000

US in Net demise

Almost 300 million people around the world access the Net from home, according to the latest figures from ACNielsen eRatings.com. The US now accounts for some 137 million users - less than half of the global total - but almost double the combined domestic Net user population in Europe. David Day, director of analytics at ACNielsen eRatings.com, said: "The US and Japan are widely recognised as having the largest Internet populations in the world," But according to the figures, this could soon change. "...we see a European penetration figure of 82 million people which equates to one household in five, with more than half - 56 per cent - of those people residing in the UK, Germany and Italy. "Those three countries are well worth watching in the coming months as they continue to emerge on the global scene," he said. Last week, a bunch of US boffins confirmed that America's cultural dominance of the Net was beginning to fade. ® Related Story US Net empire crumbling
Tim Richardson, 08 Sep 2000

TSMC carries on chip churn

Another month, another record. Amidst talk of peaking semiconductor cycles and oversupplies of memory chips, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co posted another record high monthly revenue last month. The record will do well to last beyond next month's revenue announcement, analysts said. TSMC, the largest producer of made-to-order computer chips in the world, announced in a statement earlier today that revenue in August rose 129.3 percent from the same month last year to NT$16.08 billion on the back of continued growth in the world semiconductor. With its production utilisation rate at full capacity for the past eight months, January to August revenue rose 121.6 percent to NT$96.01 billion, TSMC said. "From our point of view, we still feel demand is very strong, at least stronger than what we can provide," said J H Tzeng, manager of the public relations department at TSMC. Tzeng's feeling is supported by the latest global sales report released on Tuesday by the Semiconductor Industry Association. According to the report, worldwide sales of semiconductors reached a record high US$17.3 billion in July 2000, up more than 50 percent over chip sales in July 1999. "These sales reflect the fact that semiconductors are being used in ever more interesting, exciting and useful ways," said George Scalise, president of the SIA. "Semiconductors are now being used in applications from optical networks to video games". Yet words currently seem to be speaking louder than facts. Several recent analysis reports released by international securities houses have fueled concern that semiconductor demand is peaking. Meanwhile, lower than expected demand for mobile phones and fears of an oversupply of memory chips have pared the prices of major memory chip and semiconductor makers. Steep falls in the stock price earlier this week of bellweather technology stocks in the US such as Micron Technology Inc and Intel Corp were reflected in Taiwan's stock market. Memory chipmakers such as Winbond Electronics Corp and wafer foundry providers TSMC and United Microelectronics Corp have all fallen sharply in recent days. However, the reality is different, according to TSMC and local securities analysts. "Our production utilization rate has been at more than 100 percent in August," said TSMC's Tzeng. Furthermore, with demand from previous orders at TSMC exceeding supply by 60 percent, analysts are very positive about its future prospects. Lower than expected orders from telecommunications companies means that TSMC remains fully overbooked, just less overbooked than before, said one analyst. "TSMC has orders booked until the middle of next year," said Ken Chang, an analyst at China Securities Co. Meanwhile, orders from integrated device manufacturers will continue to support foundries' continued growth, he said. Fears of an overcapacity in the IC industry are also premature, Chang said. Even TSMC's 12 inch wafer production lines won't start churning out a large number of wafers until the middle of 2002, Chang predicted. In the meantime, the company will have to overcome technical difficulties with the new lines. These are likely to push the cost of 12-inch wafers above their 8-inch equivalent to begin with, said Chang. TSMC is setting up its first 12-inch wafer production line at its No. 6 plant in Tainan. The first wafers will come off the line in December, TSMC's Tzeng said yesterday. "But the number of wafers will be quite limited," he said. All of which leaves TSMC's stock price looking very attractive. Following recent warnings about the semiconductor industry and the generally bearish market sentiment prevailing in Taiwan at present, the stock is cheap, analysts said. "Our recommendation is to buy," said China Securities' Cheng. TSMC's stock fell 0.8 percent to NT$124.5 on turnover of 15.24 million shares. ®
Iain Pocock, 08 Sep 2000

Hotmail co-founder starts new dotcom venture

Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia has launched his biggest private dotcom venture. The man who made $400 million selling the internet email service to Microsoft has spent less than $10 million of his own money on Arzoo.com - a business which will fix IT problems over the Web using software professionals based in the US and India. ISP, Affinity Internet Holdings, reported an increased turnover of £4.55 million today, compared with £960,000 for the same six month period to June last year. Gross loss inched up from £1.1 million last year to £1.8 this year. Group operating losses were also up, from £1.72 million to £7 million thanks to the growth of the company. Interconnect revenues accounted for were 70 per cent (£3.2 million) of the total group revenues for the period. Affinity has cash reserves of £12.5 million. Trafficmaster, the traffic information group, launched an online service today. The company claims that the market is 'hotting up' and sales will treble next year. Orchestream, which develops and licences software to Internet protocol network providers, posted first-half revenues of £576,823 for the period to June 30. It said it will have sales of £15 million in 2001 and become profitable in 2002. ® For more funny money dotcom tales visit Cash Register.
Team Register, 08 Sep 2000

Heatsinks that work by sound

Boffins at the University of Pennsylvania reckon that the future of cooling lies in converting heat into sound. The technique, which we don't pretend to understand for a moment, centres on some dinky little gizmos called carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes, filaments of pure carbon less than one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair with walls just one atom thick, turn out to be the best heat-conducting material mankind has ever known. Not only are they exceptionally tough - 100 times as strong as steel - but researchers now claim they may find applications as miniature heat pipes in the next generation of heatsinks. Writing in the September edition of Science, scientists John Fischer and Alan Johnson say that the heat energy in nanotubes is carried by sound waves moving very rapidly in what is effectively a one-dimensional direction. Our rather rudimentary grasp of physics suggests to us that a sound wave moving in only one dimension would necessarily have to have zero amplitude, making it absolutely silent, but, hey, what do we know? The only Doctor we have on the staff is Spinola, and his is just an honorary doctorate from the University of Life. The two real doctors found that sound waves carrying thermal energy travel through carbon nanotubes at roughly 10,000 metres per second - considerably faster than heat moves by conductivity through conventional heatsink materials such as aluminium. So maybe rather than relying on a simple finger on the heatsink, overclockers will soon be able to tell if their 2GHz Celeron 300A is dangerously close to oblivion by hearing it scream. ®
Andrew Thomas, 08 Sep 2000

AMD to axe prices again October

Newport BeachNewport Beach Sources close to AMD in the US say the firm will make an attempt to queer Intel's Pentium 4 pitch by once more slashing prices on its microprocessors . Intel, in a bid to position its Pentium 4 platform correctly, is to drastically slash the price of its still rare Pentium III 1GHz Pentium III in October, according to an updated roadmap by chip analyst Bert McComas, which can be found here. It will cut the price of that part to around $465, but that will not be enough to still compete with AMD, the sources said. Although we do not have specific price details yet, we will have, soon enough. AMD is keeping its prices as close to its chest as it can. Currently, AMD's top end parts are priced well below equivalent Pentium III prices, as revealed here earlier. During this year, AMD has repeatedly taken the price battle to its much bigger rival, which is now playing catch up, a complete reversal of the plot which used to prevail pre-2000. Interestingly, Ace's Hardware has published an iWill roadmap which is pointing towards big double data rate (DDR) announcements, also in October. iWill, a Taiwanese mobo maker which mostly focuses on the server market, was an Intel only house until November last year. ® Related Stories AMD DDR boards to arrive October
Mike Magee, 08 Sep 2000

World Online happy with Italian job

The UK CEO of World Online has welcomed the move by the Italian ISP, Tiscali, to acquire the Dutch outfit. Simon Preston told Reg today: "It means we're backed by a bigger, stronger parent. It gives our consumers even more reassurance about World Online and our ability to deliver the Internet future [that's broadband to you and me] to their homes." Yesterday, Tiscali said it would take over World Online in a deal worth £3.6 billion creating Europe's second biggest ISP behind Deutsche Telecom's T-Online. The new merged outfit will drop the name World Online in favour of Tiscali. ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Sep 2000

Nokia unwraps Linux Net appliance

Mobile phone maker Nokia today unveiled its entry into the Internet appliance market. Called Media Terminal, the device - the first in a series of consumer electronics units - is based on Linux. Media Terminal has been designed to hook up to the Net through digital TV services, though an ADSL version is in the works to take advantage of that broadband connectivity technology as and when it becomes widespread. In addition to Internet access - provided through the Mozilla open source Web browser - Media Terminal also operates as a TiVo-style digital VCR and an MP3 player. The unit is based on an Intel 366MHz Celeron, though it could easily be upgraded to something faster by the time Media Terminal ships, in Q2 2001. We note, too, Media Terminal's ability to play "3D games", and while Nokia does say the box contains "accelerated 3D graphics and special effects", there's no mention in the blurb of which chip will be used. The machine also ships with a 20GB hard drive - Nokia hasn't released a memory spec. More interesting is Nokia's support for open source. Rather than simply using Linux and Mozilla just because they're free, the Finnish company said it will release its own code to the open source community, the better to encourage Media Terminal application development. "To be successful in the fast-moving Internet environment we need to aim for an open Internet community with a multitude of players," said Rickard Nelger, Media Terminal's product manager. "Nokia's first step is the co-operation with Convergence Integrated Media [of Germany] to develop a standard low-level DVB API for Media Terminal." That API will be released soon in the LinuxTV Web site. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Sep 2000

TSMC carries on chip churn

Another month, another record. Amid talk of peaking semiconductor cycles and oversupplies of memory chips, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co posted another record high monthly revenue last month. The record will do well to last beyond next month's revenue announcement, analysts said, writes Iain Pocock in Taiwan. TSMC, the largest producer of made-to-order computer chips in the world, announced in a statement earlier today that revenue in August rose 129.3 per cent from the same month last year to NT$16.08 billion on the back of continued growth in the world semiconductor market. With its production utilisation rate at full capacity for the past eight months, January to August revenue rose 121.6 per cent to NT$96.01 billion, TSMC said. "From our point of view, we still feel demand is very strong, at least stronger than what we can provide," said J H Tzeng, TSMC's chief spin doctor. Tzeng's feeling is supported by the latest global sales report released on Tuesday by the Semiconductor Industry Association. According to the report, worldwide sales of semiconductors reached a record high $17.3 billion in July 2000, up more than 50 per cent over chip sales in July 1999. "These sales reflect the fact that semiconductors are being used in ever more interesting, exciting and useful ways," said George Scalise, president of the SIA. "Semiconductors are now being used in applications from optical networks to video games". Yet words currently seem to be speaking louder than facts. Several recent analysis reports released by international securities houses have fueled concern that semiconductor demand is peaking. Meanwhile, lower than expected demand for mobile phones and fears of an oversupply of memory chips have pared the prices of major memory chip and semiconductor makers. Steep falls in the stock price earlier this week of bellweather technology stocks in the US such as Micron Technology Inc and Intel Corp were reflected in Taiwan's stock market. Memory chipmakers such as Winbond Electronics Corp and wafer foundry providers TSMC and United Microelectronics Corp have all fallen sharply in recent days. However, the reality is different, according to TSMC and local securities analysts. "Our production utilization rate has been at more than 100 per cent in August," said TSMC's Tzeng. Furthermore, with demand from previous orders at TSMC exceeding supply by 60 per cent, analysts are very positive about its future prospects. Lower than expected orders from telecommunications companies means that TSMC remains fully overbooked, just less overbooked than before, said one analyst. "TSMC has orders booked until the middle of next year," said Ken Chang, an analyst at China Securities Co. Meanwhile, orders from integrated device manufacturers will continue to support foundries' continued growth, he said. Fears of an overcapacity in the IC industry are also premature, Chang said. Even TSMC's 12in wafer production lines won't start churning out a large number of wafers until the middle of 2002, Chang predicted. In the meantime, the company will have to overcome technical difficulties with the new lines. These are likely to push the cost of 12in wafers above their 8in equivalent to begin with, said Chang. TSMC is setting up its first 12in wafer production line at its No 6 plant in Tainan. The first wafers will come off the line in December, TSMC's Tzeng said yesterday. "But the number of wafers will be quite limited," he added. All of which leaves TSMC's stock price looking very attractive. Following recent warnings about the semiconductor industry and the generally bearish market sentiment prevailing in Taiwan at present, the stock is cheap, analysts said. "Our recommendation is to buy," said China Securities' Cheng. TSMC's stock fell 0.8 per cent to NT$124.5 on turnover of 15.24 million shares. ®
Our correspondent, 08 Sep 2000

Porno Webmasters nailed in $43m credit scam

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday ordered a California Web-porn outfit to pay $37.5 million in restitution for a credit-card billing scam, made possible after the defendants purchased access to a database of three million credit-card numbers from Charter Pacific Bank of Agoura Hills, California, and illegally tacked charges onto those accounts to the tune of $43 million, or over ninety per cent of their annual revenues. Dennis Rappaport and Kenneth and Teresa Taves of Malibu, California, as well as their businesses, J.K. Publications, Inc., MJD Service Corp., Herbal Care, Inc., and Discreet Bill, Inc., were all named in the suit. The original complaint had been filed in January 1999, alleging that the defendants billed consumers without authorization. The businesses were promptly shut down by court order and placed in receivership. The defendants used five separate merchant accounts and four fake business names to evade detection. Each time a card issuer noticed an excessive number of charge-backs and added the account to a list of suspicious merchants, the defendants would close the suspected account and open a fresh one. The trio operated a group of porno Web sites including AsianHQ, Erosisland.com and Restricted.com. Victims' accounts were billed under the names Netfill, N-Bill, MJD Service Corp., and Webtel. US District Court Judge Audrey Collins barred the defendants from owning or managing any business that handles credit cards. "The only reasonable inference the court can draw from the corporate defendants' access to the Charter Pacific Positive Database and the timing of the defendants' fraudulent billing practices is that the defendants stole and processed Visa and MasterCard numbers from the database," the Court stated. The Register is at a loss to explain why the three are not presently on their way to the slammer. Equally puzzling is the Court's disinterest in the irresponsible way that Charter Pacific Bank handed over access to a credit database without first investigating the legitimacy of the buyer. (When teenage cracker 'Curador' made credit card account details available on the Net back in February in a similar act of irresponsibility, we recall, he was treated to the full force of an FBI criminal investigation.) Not surprisingly, millions of dollars obtained in the Rappaport/Taves scam have been transferred to accounts in the Cayman Islands and Vanuatu. The FTC reckons the companies now possess roughly $20 million in available assets. Consumers who wish to stake a claim may contact the FTC on its Web site, or by phone at 1-877-382-4357. This is not a unique case. As we reported here, the FTC filed suit last month against the operators of Playgirl.com and Highsociety.com, who stand accused of charging surfers for visiting free portions of their Web sites. ®
Thomas C Greene, 08 Sep 2000

Gigabyte provides Pentium 4 support

Newport BeachNewport Beach Our pals at OC Workbench have their mitts on details of a Gigabyte mobo supporting the Pentium 4. The board, the site says, is called the Gigabyte 8TX, with up to 2Gb of memory support for the Rambus platform, using four RIMM sockets. The ATX board has one AGP Pro slot, four USB ports, two channel Ultra ATA 100/66 IDE devices, five PCI 2.2 slots and a CNR slot. The news is good news for Intel, which has been struggling to complete its own "Garibaldi" boxed motherboard design, and also has had little support so far from third party Taiwanese mobo makers. ® See Also PC RIMM support hangs on mobo makers MMore Pentium 4 benchmarks tip up Intel's Garibaldi takes the biscuit Leak! Intel's server board strategy
Mike Magee, 08 Sep 2000

Timna – bring on the orange sauce

US analysts seem to have just woken up to the fact that Intel's system on a chip Timna is scheduled for launch next year. We've mentioned before that the cheapo chip is on shaky ground, and the analysts' comments give us no reason to make us change our minds. Timna's due to launch in Q1 2001 at '700MHz or above' is still Intel's official line. Given the rate at which clock speeds are rising - and prices falling-, by the time it appears in March, at - let's say 750MHz to give it the benefit of the doubt - it's going to look distinctly underpowered and overpriced compared with the Duron and Celeron notebooks that will be on sale by then, let alone mobile PIIIs and the like. Megahurts sells. If it didn't, Chip and Chimp Zillas wouldn't be persisting in their rather puerile 'mines bigger than yours' battle at the high end. Punters going into their local PCs 'R' Us will go for an 800MHz Celeron/Duron every time, rather than a 750 Timna, even if it's a few bucks cheaper. And then Intel has an unofficial bottom line when it comes to pricing - no Intel CPU in living memory has ever sold for less than $69, regardless of its clock rating. Any lower than that and the cardboard box it comes in and the delivery costs weigh in at more than the chip itself. That'll give Intel a problem. The total saving for a notebook manufacturer by using a Timna rather than a Celeron plus separate graphics and audio will be no more than $30, tops. How will Chipzilla price Celerons against Timna? The SoC chip should cost less than Celeron because it's entry-level, but the Celeron has less functionality, so it should cost less than Timna. If Celeron costs less than Timna, there goes a sizeable chunk of that $30 saving. If Timna costs more than Celeron, Celeron becomes the entry level. We still reckon Timna's headed for the gulag before it's even hatched - a bit like the i752 graphics chip that never was. Who'd be a chip manufacturer, eh? ® Related stories Intel's Timna has dead duck look 'n' feel Timna mobos spotted in Taipei MTH flaw forces Timna delay Intel Timna to have triple mobo support
Andrew Thomas, 08 Sep 2000

CMGI in trip to knacker's yard

CMGI - which has lost two thirds of its $50 billion value since the beginning of the year - is to take measures to try and halt the company's slide. In a bid to improve his company's "path to profitability" CMGI chairman, David Wetherell, said the Net investment outfit would reduce its stable of companies by around half and look to run a more focused operation. So that's the glue factory for a few knackered old donkeys then, is it? AltaVista UK - an ass of an outfit - is a CMGI company. According to reports, CMGI has identified five broad business areas where it feels it should really concentrate its efforts. Being an ISP is not believed to be one of them. CMGI would not say which daft old creatures would be taken outside and loaded onto an unmarked van for the short but bumpy ride to the abattoir. Still, it's probably for the best. Don't want to upset them, do you? ®
Tim Richardson, 08 Sep 2000

Qwest to shed 13,000 staff

US telecom company Qwest Communications International is to cut around 13,000 employees following its buyout of US West. The Denver-based outfit said yesterday it would shed 15 per cent of its permanent staff, or 11,000 people. Around 4,500 will go by the end of this year, and another 6,500 by the end of 2001. Around 1,800 contractors will also get the boot by the end of next year. Qwest did not detail which regions would be worst affected by the reorganisation - but said it would mainly hit non-union and middle management jobs. The move follows Qwest's $44 billion acquisition of regional phone company US West in July. According to a Qwest statement, the job cuts: "Come as Qwest streamlines its business and employees become more entrepreneurial and accountable for accomplishing strategic priorities." It added that most of the cuts would "focus on overlapping staff functions". The company remained upbeat about its future - announcing plans to expand its DSL service to 72 markets by the end of this year, and to double its number of DSL users (estimated at 250,000 by the end of this year) to 500,000 by the close of 2001. Also by the end of 2001 Qwest said it expected to have 1.6 million wireless customers, and would have doubled revenues to $1 billion in this area. The company also slightly upped its sales forecast to $19.1 billion, from $18.8 billion, for 2000. ® Related Stories Qwest blames US West for DT deal going West Qwest goes Dutch over European fibre IP network
Linda Harrison, 08 Sep 2000

Vulture hits new heights

Intrepid Reg fan Alex Cooksey has set a new vulture merchandising altitude record of 14,000ft during a daredevil ascent of Nepal's Annapurna. Intrepid Alex - supported only by 35 native bearers and a Medivac chopper - fought his way from the tourist bus to the bar in a nightmare thirty-yard trek through driving snow. Alex has deservedly won himself a bag of Reg goodies for his Captain Oates impersonation. Click here to see how you too can join the Vulture hall of fame. If you think you're hard enough. ®
Team Register, 08 Sep 2000
cable

Vodafone upgrade improves voicemail security

Ever vigilant cellphone operator Vodafone upgraded its voicemail software this week to provide improved security. Security was improved to the extent that a sizeable chunk of users found themselves locked out of their own voicemail. Slothful punters who had never bothered to change their PIN numbers from the original '0000' or '9999' were unable to listen to vital messages such as 'I'm on the train'. A Vodafone spokesman - who rather engagingly couldn't tell us how many users the company has - reckoned that around 45 per cent of customers used voicemail on a regular basis. "We put notices that we were upgrading the system in the bills," he explained, "But anyone who hadn't changed their PINs was, unfortunately, locked out." ®
Andrew Thomas, 08 Sep 2000

ISPA: no decision on LineOne

LineOne is still waiting to hear whether it's been kicked out of the Internet industry trade group, ISPA. The council of the Internet Service Providers Association met today to decide whether the ISP had broken its rules when it ditched unmetered Net access during the summer. An insider at LineOne said: "We still haven't heard anything. It'll either be later this afternoon or early next week." ISPA failed to return a call by press time. ® Related Stories ISPA to rule on LineOne this week ISPA slaps LineOne
Tim Richardson, 08 Sep 2000

PlayStation 2 to sell out this weekend

The UK's high street retailers will have sold all their allocations of Sony PlayStation 2s by the end of the weekend. Pre-ordering started yesterday. The Dixons Group, which also owns Currys and PC World, claimed it took 10,000 phone enquiries in the first two hours of business on its direct order phone line. The games console will be available on 24 November - but there are only 200,000 of them to go round. Retailers in smaller towns, even branches of the larger chains, have only been given around 20 PS2s to sell. Sony has introduced an ordering system to make sure the game player is sold on a first come first served basis. Exactly 200,000 order forms have been printed. Customers either collect the forms from shops or ring an order phone line, pay a £25 deposit, then wait for Sony to process the order. If you try buying more than one you're likely to have your order rejected. HMV's flagship store on Oxford Street was running out of forms this morning. As we reported earlier in the week that the Sega Dreamcast is being bundled with an Encore 450 DVD player to compete with the PS2. The PlayStation is supposed be poor as a DVD player so the scheme might have potential as a spoiler, except that PS2s will sell out no matter what Sega does. The Dreamcast/DVD player bundle will retail at £299.99. The DVD player has a street price of £199 and the Dreamcast is now selling at £149.99. DVD Times says the Encore 450 is "a cheap and cheerful multi-region DVD player that unfortunately, suffers from lip-sync issues". You can read the full review here. ® Related Stories Sega unwraps SegaNet ECTS: Dreamcast bundled with DVD to take on Playstation 2 Sega Dreamcast sales shrink
Robert Blincoe, 08 Sep 2000

Keyboard grime analysis

Ever wondered what makes up the grimy residue that coats your computer keyboard? According to intensive research by AOL, it consists of bits of fingernails, hair, insects, vegetables and the odd cornflake crumb. And as if that isn't enough useless information for one Friday afternoon - here's some more. Britain's seven million online households accumulate 0.138 tonnes of this stuff every year. Thus AOL has teamed up with fast food outlet Domino's Pizza "to put a halt to the ever-growing mound of filth in and around the nation's PCs". The two companies sent a sample of one month's grime "chosen at random from a London company" to be analysed at Reading Scientific Search Laboratory. The major identifiable components, and their per centage of the total weight of grime are listed below. Corn Flakes 15% Boiled sweet 15% Noodles 7% Vegetable piece 4% Leaf 1% Pencil lead/shavings 1% Staple 1% Finger nail 1% Tape/plastic 1% Insect 1% Foil 1% Hair 1% Under the deal with Domino's, AOL users will be able to order pizza online - "a food easy and convenient to eat at the keyboard without crumbling or spillage," according to AOL. ®
Linda Harrison, 08 Sep 2000