13th > January > 2001 Archive

Internet set-top box company disappointing customers

A company offering TV set-top boxes for free is facing increasing anger from consumers after the boxes have failed to arrive, despite a £10 downpayment. Freebox Ltd offers a seemingly incredible product - a set-top box that plays DVDs, CDs, offers Internet access, email and makes a smashing cup of tea - all for free. Those that wished to receive the box were asked for a £10 returnable downpayment and told the box would arrive before Christmas. However, despite the cheques being cashed, the boxes haven't arrived and customers are complaining they have not heard anything from the company and it is impossible to contact. Several have complained to their bank and investigations into the matter have begun. They have a point. We attempted to contact Freebox to ask what was going on. The company's enquiry line links through to an appliance-selling company that says it has never heard of Freebox. A second, order number, is merely a recorded message asking people to send their order to a Bristol PO Box address. However we eventually managed to get a message through the company's secretary Joshua Church, who called us up to explain. Joshua admits that the company has had trouble getting back to people but claims that 90 per cent of those that sent £10 in have had the situation explained to them. He promised to find out what had happened to the company's enquiry line. Mr Church said that the delay is due to the company having to suddenly pull out of a manufacturing deal with American company Maxit - their boxes were found to be insufficient for the market Freebox was after. Joshua assures us that the new delivery date for the boxes - June/July - will be met as the company has signed up with a UK manufacturer (which he can't name yet). Money is not a problem Mr Church assures us - the company has just done a deal with a major UK bank (which he can't name yet). The box manufacturers will be meeting the enormous cost of making the box and sending it to the 200,000 people that are said to have signed up. Mr Church told us he had had no communication from his bank, Barclays, concerning customer complaints. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 13 Jan 2001

The Intel history of its Shopping Mystery

Staff at outlets such as PC World, Tiny and Gateway can stop trembling in their shoes because it appears Intel may well pull the plug on its Mystery Shopping programme. But an insider at Intel has spilled the beans about how the programme, which has run for quite a while, actually works. In the UK, for example, the chip giant has a team of between ten and 15 people who pop into shops selling PCs, "train" the sales team, and promote whatever microprocessor is flavour of the month. He adds: "The aim of the Mystery Shopping campaign is to make sure that the reps are doing their job properly and brainwashing the PC sales guys into promoting PIII/P4 in every scenario. And the riot act is read to the rep whose area performs poorly." The situation is similar throughout Europe, and to keep the Intel reps on their toes, they only have 12 month contracts with Chipzilla, without nary a chance of a full time job unless they abandon their company cars, take wage cuts, and move into some desperately small cubicle in an Intel office. He said: "One thing the top bods at Intel seem to forget that PC sales staff promote products according to what spiffs are available at the time. As Intel don't provide spiffs, it's no wonder they don't always get recommended." A spiff, for our readers unfamiliar with this term, is an incentive to sell a particular product. Distributor sales forces are always being wooed with this type of incentive. If, for example, company X which produces a hard drive, wants the distie to sell this product, it might go so far as offering holidays in the Seychelles or a bright shiny car, for the sales rep who sells the mostest. This, dear readers, is what makes an otherwise hellish job at a distributorship, almost worth living. ® Related Story Intel re-vamps Mystery Shopper programme
Mike Magee, 13 Jan 2001

Government sends advice site the white finger

Government lawyers are investigating a website that advises miners how to make claims for compensation. The site, which tells miners how to "beat the tests" for industrial disease vibration white finger, is also being investigated by the police, according to The Guardian. The paper said Whitehall officials discovered the site on Tuesday and suggested it may be relatively new. Vibration white finger is caused by long term use of pneumatic tools. It affects blood vessels in the extremities such as fingers and toes. Compensation claims for the disease have so far cost the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) £206 million. They have settled just over 19,000 cases and made interim payments in a further 21,000. If all the claims made were to be paid in full, it could cost the government up to £800 million - almost as much as the Dome. The DTI said the investigation was needed to ensure that genuine claims were not jeopardised, and that doctors at testing centres were now aware of the site's existence. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 13 Jan 2001

A personal message to all Orange mobile phone users

...get off the bloody phone - you're clogging up the network. I've been trying to get hold of my voicemail all morning and all I get is "no network coverage". Same happened yesterday - and the day before that. It's not funny. Especially since anyone who tries to call gets put straight through to voicemail. And, guess what, it costs me money to retrieve the messages. That is if I can find a window when the network isn't busy. Perhaps mobile phone operators should start synchronising when people can and can't use the phone. Oh, and Orange. If you think I'm going to subscribe to your share offer when this garbage is going on, you are mistaken. Surely, you're facing mounting compensation pay-outs because your customers are paying for a service they can't use. Or are you merely a victim of your popularity? ®
Tim Richardson, 13 Jan 2001

Orange network problems

Today's rant about the inability to use my Orange mobile phone because of persistent "no network coverage" appears to have struck a chord with some of our readers. Jonathan held up his hands to say he wasn't responsible for the network congestion: "In reference to your article asking Orange users to get off the phone, it can't be me who's clogging up the network because Orange seem to delight in cutting me off half way through my conversation with the excuse 'Network Busy'. I know [it was busy] - I was using it, but obviously some other customer is more important to Orange than I am." At least Jonathan can get on. I haven't been able to use the phone all day and it's now 3.30pm (GMT) and still no joy. Still, it appears we are not alone. Nick wrote: "Me too! With my £200 a month bill its enough to make me think of moving to one of the so-called 'inferior networks'. Please try and find out what their excuse is for four to five months of continuous appalling network performance (I'm in central London)." Tom chipped in: "Too bloody right. Orange are getting worse and worse... and what's more they really don't like their customers very much. Also, with all the problems Vizzavi are having why isn't anyone talking about the orange.net portal's crapness as well?" Then there's this from Stephen in Edinburgh: "Just to let you know it's not just Orange, but Vodafone is just as bad. Not that you'll feel much better for it but I guess I just needed to get that of my chest!" Oh, and someone calling themselves "John" (I've changed the name to protect identity) wrote to say: "I've been using my Orange phone all morning - it ain't a problem with the whole network, just either your area or your phone." Ah hah - so do you think he's the culprit...? ® A personal message to all Orange mobile phone users
Tim Richardson, 13 Jan 2001

Rambus profit leaps, but misses targets

Rambus saw profit rise 191 per cent to $13 million for the first quarter, but slightly missed Wall Street expectations. The chip designer recorded sales of $34.7 million for the period ended December 31, compared to $11.9 million for the same period in 1999. Earnings were 12 cents a share, a penny less than forecast - the California company said it would have hit expectations if it wasn't for a higher tax rate (40 per cent, up from 35 per cent). Contract revenue grew to $7.9 million, compared to $7 million in the previous quarter. Included in the sales were $26.8 million in royalties for its technology from chipmakers - this revenue grew tenfold from the previous year, and 35 per cent from the previous quarter. "We are pleased with the market reception for both the Sony PlayStation 2 and the Intel Pentium 4, and we are confident that these products will drive the demand for RDRAM-compatible ICs to higher levels in fiscal 2001," said Rambus CEO Geoff Tate. He went on to warn that, due to falling SDRAM prices in December, royalties were not expected to rise in the current quarter from Q1 - unless Rambus managed to recruit fresh blood for its customer base. The company also said costs would increase in the short term due to its various legal spats with the industry over patents, as well as a move to bigger facilities. ® Related Stories Xbox future may depend on Rambus lawyers Intel denies Rambus legal action - at last Intel to push Rambus hard in 2001 Rambus-Infineon legal spat delayed Chip sales hit $18.66 billion in October We are Borg, er, Rambus
Linda Harrison, 13 Jan 2001

Turbolinux looks to buy LinuxCare

It's looking increasingly likely that Turbolinux will buy troubled services company LinuxCare. Earlier today internal emails suggesting the deal leaking out onto the Net, but neither company confirmed their authenticity. One was allegedly sent by Turbolinux CEO Paul Thomas, who wrote: "Our discussions with LinuxCare... have become more serious, and have resulted in the signing of a... letter of intent. A LOI merely states that both companies will make best efforts to reach a definitive agreement. "The boards and management teams of both Turbolinux and LinuxCare believe we have very complimentary strengths, that together make us much stronger as combined companies." LinuxCare has since admitted that it is in talks with Turbolinux. The negotiations are at an early stage, and as yet no agreement has been reached on how - or indeed if - the two companies will combine their operations, according to a LinuxCare spokeswoman cited by CNet. Her comments mirror the contents of Thomas' email. He wrote: "We are still early in the discussions, and don't yet have a final agreement... I will do my best to answer your questions early next week when we have a company meeting." If the two companies do come together, the merger would bring to Turbolinux a portfolio of services and tech support products. Turbolinux hasn't done badly for itself, with its for emphasis on providing high-end corporate-oriented software products on top of its version of the open source OS. It has carved a niche for itself by specialising in versions of Linux for the Japanese and Far Eastern markets. LinuxCare has had less success, and was forced to postpone and then knock on the head its proposed IPO around the middle of last year. That followed the sudden departure of CEO and founder Fernand Sarrat. At the time LinuxCare cancelled its IPO, its VC backer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said it was actively seeking a buyer for the company. At the time Red Hat and VA Linux were the most widely tipped candidates for the acquisition. Either they weren't, or neither company felt LinuxCare was worth it. ®
Tony Smith, 13 Jan 2001

Official Lord of the Rings site goes live today

An official Web site for the much-anticipated film trilogy based on JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books goes live today (Friday) at 8pm GMT. Lordoftherings.net, will feature video and audio clips, chat rooms, screen savers, interviews with cast and crew from the film and an interactive map of Middle Earth. The New York Times reports that in April, when New Line Cinema offered a trailer about the films on a previous site, there were 1.7 million downloads the first day and 6.6 million during the first week. A figure surpassing the previous benchmark of 1.1 million downloads for the Star Wars trailer during its first day on the Internet. Download fever that accompanied the release of the Star Wars: Episode 1 trailer, which was a whopping 11-25MB in size, paced a severe burden on network infrastructure. Anticipation for the two minute trilogy trailer of the Tolkien-related film is if anything keener still, with an estimated 400 sites dedicated to the movie trilogy alone, to say nothing of the hundreds related to the book or Tolkien-related themes. The trailer, which will be seen in Cinemas from tomorrow, will become available online on January 19 and will use streaming media technology from Real Networks. In large part the web site is an attempt to generate for The Lord of the Rings the kind of viral-marketing which made The Blair Witch Project a surprise hit in 1999. The first instalment in the film series, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is due for release in the US on 19 December, and (most unusually) five days earlier on 14 December in the UK. The second instalment of the trilogy,The Two Towers, is due in December 2002, with the final instalment, The Return of the King, completing the cycle in December 2003. The total budget for the films, which were shot in New Zealand, is a cool $270 million. ® Related Story RealNetworks licenses Apple's QuickTime
John Leyden, 13 Jan 2001

Ralph Lauren retreats in po-lo.com row

Fashion giant Ralph Lauren has backed down over its threat to grab domain po-lo.com from a village saddlery. In November The Register reported that the URL was at the centre of the dispute after it was one of a handful containing equestrian words registered by Brit Keith Collingridge. He wanted the domains, including onthetrot.com, chukkas.com, and horselivery.com, to point to the Web site of his wife's Surrey saddlery business. However, nasty letters soon started flying across the Atlantic from top New York lawyers Amster, Rothstein & Ebenstein, representing Ralph Lauren. They demanded Collingridge remove his registration of po-lo.com, while also warning that "cybersquatters" faced fines of up to $100,000 under US law. Collingridge felt that polo was a traditional English sport, and denied he was a cybersquatter. So he hired his own lawyer, Prettys Solicitors, in the UK. He has since contacted The Register to report a happy outcome to the domain debacle. The corporate bullying tactics have stopped, and on 3 January Collingridge received a letter from Ralph Lauren's lawyers stating: "We have reviewed your Website, which currently links to Polo.com as well as sites for 'Polo-Volkswagen' and 'Polo Mints-Nestle'. "At this time, Polo has decided not to take any further action in connection with your registration of the subject domain name." Collingridge had the following advice: "If anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation, please don't just hand over your domain name through unfound threats and bullying," he said. "As this dispute has found, it doesn't make them right." Matthew Rippon, Collingridge's lawyer, is so chuffed with his success that he has set up an email address for people with similar 'cybersquatting' disputes - he can be contacted at domaindefence@excite.co.uk. ® Related Stories Ralph Lauren threatens village saddlery Warner Brothers shoots at more innocents Warner Bros/Harry Potter dispute kicks off again Palm leans on 'cybersquatter' who predicts future Mr Wembleystadium.net loses domain case Madonna wins her domain namesake
Linda Harrison, 13 Jan 2001

Napster hopes link to CDNow will drive CD sales…

Bertelsmann's investment in Napster may begin to pay off when the MP3 sharing software company ships its next upgrade. The new version, unveiled yesterday, will contain built-in links to online music retailer CDNow, owned by the German media giant. The move is the first part of a plan to not only provide Napster with a business model, but to stress its legitimacy and desire to work with the music industry. Neither Napster nor CDNow said how much they expect to make out of the deal or how it is structured financially. It seems primarily an advertising-style arrangement. Napster will promote CDNow on its Web site which will also link through to a dedicated search page. Presumably the idea is to allow all those folk who use Napster to sample new music to then easily buy the CDs. An obvious extension to this is to present users with 'Click here to buy this disc from CDNow' whenever they download a track from that CD. That's certainly what some users fear. As one put it yesterday, speaking to Reuters: "Napster is going against its original mission, which was to be a free service that cut through the bureaucracy of the recording industry." Actually, it isn't - it's developing a business model that operates alongside and funds the free service, but it's not surprising many Napster fans might not see it that way. Bertelsmann's fellow music industry giants are likely to remain sceptical too. However, the deal with CDNow will allow Napster to demonstrate - or not - that it's users are willing to pay for music and that providing a mechanism to share MP3s does indeed encourage users to try new bands and artists and to buy their CDs. In that respect, this is make-or-break time for Napster's free service. If CDNow records a substantial (and demonstrable) volume of Napster-generated sales, Napster will be able to cut more deals with other e-tailers, which it desperately needs to secure for itself a revenue stream. Just as importantly, it will also be able to show the major labels that it's not a danger to them, as it has been arguing all along. ® Related Stories Microsoft preps Napster clone Napster and co. violate copyright, users admit We can make Napster pay - Bertelsmann
Tony Smith, 13 Jan 2001

Intel's Itanic epic to run and run

"Besides being invisible, your Highness, this cloth will be woven in colors and patterns created especially for you." The emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin working on the fabric immediately. Emperor's New Clothes -- Hans Christian Andersen There have been pilot systems of the Merced-Itanium processor available for ages, and they're revenue generators too, according to Intel. But while the silicon may be available, there still seems to be precious little operating system support for the 64-bit corporate Intel platform, with developers in both the Windows 64 and Linux camps still beavering away to produce gold software. And, unless they get their skates on and deliver gold versions in the near future, Intel faces the truly horrifying prospect that AMD, with its own 64-bit platform, may actually have Win64 support -- and a processor -- out in the marketplace first. Moles following the efforts of the Open Software camp point out that software developers, at the beginning of this month, were hoping that the latest 2.4 build of the Linux OS would help solve all their problems. On a newslist devoted to the subject, one hopeful programmer asked this question: "I just got the latest final version of 2.4.0 and it is said to compile on IA-64 out of the box. What then, did I get wrong." One IA-64 wizard answered him thus: "No, it doesn't compile out of the box. The stuff in 2.4.0 is very close to the IA-64 tree, but you still need IA-64 specific patches that didn't make it into the 2.4.0 tree. An updated patch should be out sometime soon." From other posts on this and similar forums, it appears that programmers are having to apply all sorts of patches in all sorts of ways and that resolution of some of these issues is quite some way off. The situation at Redmond Central with Win64 is, as you'd expect, much harder to understand. While you can search successfully on Intel's biggest distributor - the Dell Corporation -- for Windows 64, there's nothing attached to the search string. Compaq, meanwhile, is giving the Itanic a somewhat thrilling oral experience, as you can see from this page. And we've just noticed there are some notional benchmarks for the Itanic 666MHz platform over at Ace's Hardware. We took the time out to get the official Intel line on what's happening -- and here's what the firm says: "Intel remains on track for platform rollout in 1H'01. Intel is working with many operating system vendors in preparation for the Itanium processor-based platform rollout, including Windows 2000 64-bit, HP-UX, AIX 5L, and Linux. Microsoft has committed to support all rollout phases for the Itanium processor." First half 2001. Now where have we heard that first half stuff before? (See a few of the links below for an answer to that question.) Thanks, though, to Wired Magazine, which in its Vaporware 2000 section, mentioned us and Intel's Itanic -- number five in Wired's list. Repeated in The Grauniad yesterday, it appears that the Itanic, as a moniker, is here to stay. ® See Also Pentium 4 Foster may sink the Itanic Intel's Itanic, McKinley go misty-eyed Itanium set for March launch Intel patents IA-64 instruction set Intel's McKinley tapes out: Itanium is Itanic Intel late again on Merced-Itanium Dell to demo Linux on Itanium The Lateness of Intel's Mercedium Linux beating Win64 to Itanium punch First Merced-Itanium systems get cobbled together Hollywood outfit to use Merced A good one this, seeing as it's the firm which created special effects for the Titanic... Intel to create halfway-house Merced HP bids for Merced server lead Muted response to Intel Merced delay June 1998. Production volumes put back to mid-2000... Pfeiffer positions Alpha against Merced 1997. Sluttish river delayed until dawn of year 2000 Intel embarks on epic 1996. Fishing is good in California
Mike Magee, 13 Jan 2001