8th > August > 2001 Archive

TSMC expects chip market to grow 20% next year

The market downturn notwithstanding, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's optimism continues unabated. Newly appointed deputy CEO F C Tseng yesterday said he expects chip sales to grow 20 per cent during 2002. That's something of a rebound, marking a near complete reverse of the dip experienced this year when compared to 2000's record sales. Tseng's forecast is largely at odds with other market watchers' predictions. While some - most notably Intel CEO Craig Barrett - say the worst is over and the market will begin to pick up through the current and last quarters of 2001, real recovery isn't expected until mid-2002. Much depends on Intel's own drive to revive the PC market - and its own fortunes - by cutting Pentium 4 prices. The next round of cuts will take place on 26 August alongside the introduction of 1.9GHz and 2GHz versions of the chip, and the long-awaited i845 chipset, which hooks the P4 up to very low cost PC133 memory. Intel is also betting on Windows XP, due to ship in October, as a second driver for new PC sales. TSMC is also relying on a Microsoft product: Xbox. It's producing the console's graphics and I/O chips, and undoubtedly expects them to contribute nicely to its bottom line over the next six months and beyond. Tseng's comments follow his elevation to deputy CEO from company president. His new role will centre on steering TSMC's long-term technology strategy. Vice-president Tsai Li-shin takes over Tseng's former position, and will double-up as chief operating officer. ®
Tony Smith, 08 Aug 2001

Pop star slammed for Dope Wars plug

Pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor loves playing Dope Wars, an enthusiasm that has landed her in hot war with the Daily Record. The mass-market Scottish tabloid accused her of glamorising drug dealing by making favourable comments about the computer game. Ellis-Bextor said she was a regular player of the popular game Dope Wars, where players have to accumulate a fortune as dope pushers while fighting the police and staying one step ahead of loan sharks. "I made $16.5m on a cocaine deal this morning. I am a dealer," she said. "You start off selling grams and then work your way up to running the supply for a whole city." The Daily Record then russled up a tame drugs councillor to say that Sophie should visit addicts before she praises games featuring drug dealers. Quite. Pop stars and drugs. That would never do. ®
John Leyden, 08 Aug 2001

Apple stops legal attack on alleged secrets leaker

Apple has settled its legal action against an ex-staffer who allegedly leaked company secrets. Actually, it withdrew its action some time ago, but the papers have only recently been filed with the court and made public, as CNET has just spotted. In return for dropping the case, ex-Apple employee Juan Gutierrez, better known by his online alias, Worker Bee, agreed to hand over any Apple secrets still in his possession and to keep quiet about anything he may have learned about the company while an employee. Gutierrez seems to have tacitly admitted that he did indeed leak Apple confidential information, in violation of a non-disclosure agreement he signed in October 1999. Said his lawyer: "[Gutierrez] exercised some non-maliced [sic], bad judgement. I think it was kind of youthful enthusiasm and exuberance." In other words, he did it but, didn't mean any harm. Apple may agree with him now, but it was pretty pissed off early last August when it launched the case against Gutierrez. At the time, it even went as far as issuing a subpoena against Yahoo! to demand the portal hand over any information it had that might identify the source of the leaks. Worker Bee had been posting details of upcoming Apple products, most notably the Cube, the dual-CPU Power Mac G4 and the company's optical mouse, on Yahoo!'s GeoCities bulletin board. Later in the month, Apple explicitly connected Gutierrez with Worker Bee's posts. Interestingly, Apple's case also named 24 other anonymous leakers. It's not known whether the company ever identified any of those. If it did, it certainly didn't make as much of a fuss over them as it did with Gutierrez. The case against Gutierrez followed a number of attacks made by Apple's lawyers on Mac-oriented Web sites for publishing allegedly confidential company information. Only last month, Think Secret was forced to remove information regarding Mac OS X 10.1 by Apple's legal team. ® Related Stories Apple identifies alleged lead secrets leaker Apple anti-leak action shifts to Yahoo! Apple raises legal sword over rumour sites
Tony Smith, 08 Aug 2001

Log on with the pigeons

For those who've ever felt a burning urge to log on in the middle of a park, life just got better. Yesterday residents of Bury St Edmunds were given a cyberbench. As we explained in July, this is a normal brown wooden bench fitted with four modem sockets where surfers can plug in their laptops. The seat is part of a trial by MSN, which will foot the phone bill for those using the bench for the next three months - a small price to pay for the amount of publicity it has attracted. After that it will be up to St Edmundsbury Borough Council to decide whether or not to keep the piece of cyberfurniture. This will depend on how popular the experiment is, a council representative said today. There is the great British weather to contend with, plus the threat of vandalism. Nothing much they can do about the first problem, but a park-keeper will be on "regular patrol" in the area to combat the vandals, while the 14-foot stone wall around the gardens will hopefully also serve as a small deterrent. According to one MSN representative, security may be stepped up even further. The company is actually thinking about getting a Webcam to watch over the bench. But surely, in this kleptomaniac country, they'll need Webcam to watch the Webcam. And a Webacam to watch that one... The council is also looking into the possibility of charging people to access cyberspace from the bench once the three-month free period is up. Quite how this would be administered remains a mystery. However, the parks of Britain are not destined to become littered with MSN cyberbenches. For MSN this is just a one-off trial. "We're not in the business of selling Internet benches," the company pointed out. And Bury St Edmunds need not think it has the monopoly on cyber-madness - not to be outdone, Manchester now boasts its very own Irish-themed cybercafe. This nice little Irish sandwich bar in Mosely Street lets punters sit and surf while tucking into their Celtic fare. Thanks to reader Roy Ellor for bringing this gem to our attention. ® Related Stories You've had the cyberlav, now here's the cyber parkbench World's first Bavarian cyber beer garden opens
Linda Harrison, 08 Aug 2001

The fattest ever fat cats?

Execs at Rhythms NetConnections in the US awarded themselves $4 million in bonuses just three days before seeking bankruptcy. In filings made to the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding the Chapter 11 bankruptcy, acting CEO Steve Stringer is to take a salary of $400,000 with a "retention bonus" of $2.73 million, reports the Denver Post. He will also get an annual bonus of 60 per cent of his salary, another $240,000. CFO J.W. Braukman III will get a salary of $300,000, retention bonus of $1.36 million and the 60 per cent, which gives him another $180,000. The money was agreed in new employment contracts produced just days before the company filed for bankruptcy and will be paid in monthly instalments over 2002, leaving both execs possible contenders for the title of world's fattest fat cats. Lawyers are looking at whether the bonuses can be allowed to go through. The company still has $133 million in cash. Rhythms NetConnections used to be a market leader in supplying wholesale DSL and was listed on Nasdaq, but has been in trouble for a while. In April this year, its chairman and CEO Catherine Hapka resigned as money dried up and the company brought in an investment bank to sort it out. It sacked 900 staff this year and will lay off the majority of the remaining 1,000 staff unless someone offers to buy the company by the end of this week. In contrast to the chief execs huge bonuses, bog-standard staff can expect a month's pay if they've been there less than a year and six weeks' pay if they've been there longer. Middle management gets 11 weeks' pay, irrespective of time spent at the company. Execs gets 50 weeks' pay. Steve Stringer has left an anodyne bankruptcy update on the company's Web site, with a link to the formal press release. At the end it thanks everyone for their support. Hmmm. ® Related Link Denver Post story
Kieren McCarthy, 08 Aug 2001

PC Direct sticks two fingers up at former employer

Staff at computer magazine PC Direct have had the last laugh at Dutch publisher VNU in its last issue. Staff were unhappy to hear the company had decided to shut the mag and sack all the staff, just weeks after it had pulled in a new team and revamped the title. However, in what some staff claim is proof that the publisher knows nothing about publishing and everything about numbers and pie charts, the powers-that-be failed to check the last issue for possible signs of disgruntlement. Hence the September issue features a strong criticism of VNU's actions. Editor Paul Hales writes: "I may question the wisdom of the decision to bring me here in the first place, to hire a brilliant editorial team... to relaunch an old and well-established title in order to simply close it down some weeks later." He continues: "If I'd been here longer than it takes a hummingbird to climax, I'd have a big long list of people to thank. But I haven't." He then goes on to state the reasons VNU has given him as to why the mag had been shut down, including his own "that kept the shareholders happy". But that's not all. On the front page, the Handera 330 is described as "the perfect handjob" and the contents page does not always point to right contents. It is on the letters page, however, that the staff let rip. In response to the star letter, the response reads: "At least PC Direct is here to weed out the cowboys and point you towards the best deals around. Oh, but we've been shafted too. Is there some conspiracy going on here? Does good honest journalism count for nothing any more? Should we have kept doing deals with suppliers to keep them advertising? Should we have taken up the share offers that came our way?" In response to other letters, readers are advised to go and buy rival product Computer Buyer, and continued references are made to the mag's closing, including the suggestion that a previous award winner may have trouble getting hold of the prize. Oh dear. ® Related Story PC Direct disappears from newsstands
Kieren McCarthy, 08 Aug 2001

Samsung to mass produce 256Mb RDRAM

Samsung is moving into mass production of 0.15-micron 256Mb Rambus DRAM. It has said the move to 0.15-micron, from 0.17-micron will improve yields by 30 per cent, and cut costs. Samsung thinks the move will boost 256MB DRAM demand, and so it plans to introduce a 0.13-micron Rambus DRAM by the end of this year and a 'market affordable' 4 Bank Rambus DRAM within the first half of 2002. ® Related Link Samsung release
Robert Blincoe, 08 Aug 2001

Don't work on 24 August, it's National Slacker Day

Seeing as we're sat in silly season, where there's no news to be had so all the nuts and freaks coming rushing out for moments of temporary fame, we would suggest you visit Slackerday.com. The site is battling for a National Slacker Day on Friday 24 August, in which, well, in which everyone just sort of stays in bed and takes it easy for a while. By way of argument, it claims that: "The UK currently endures the longest working hours in Europe and one of the shortest average life expectancies. Everyday, otherwise creative and intelligent people are driven to hair loss and road rage due to an unhealthy 'work comes first' stress driven culture." As such, "Slacker Day intends to remind people that life does not revolve around the office and that a day spent in bed or in front of the telly can make a remarkable improvement to your health and happiness." A noble cause if ever we've heard one. And it seems to be picking up a head of steam: in the last few weeks, every sunny Friday in fact, the same email encouraging people to take the afternoon off has done the rounds. You can sign up for the cause at Letsgetitoff.com. Of course, there is something perverse about people getting together to sign a petition to take Friday off. Well, sad. Stand up for yourselves, wage slaves! ® Related Link Slacker Day.com
Kieren McCarthy, 08 Aug 2001

.Net may yet close the open source movement

A few weeks ago Project Mono was announced. Led by Ximian, the Linux desktop application provider, Project Mono was initiated to develop an open source version of Microsoft's .Net development platform. This would allow open source developers to quickly and easily deliver .Net compatible software on Linux platforms. The ongoing battle of words between Microsoft and the Open Source Movement has been well documented but this latest move demonstrated that the Open Source movement recognised the commercial and technical importance of .Net. Everything seemed fine but now some open source developers have become concerned that Microsoft may still be able to demand licence fees, which of course goes against the principle of open source. Furthermore it appears there could be hidden patents owned by Microsoft within the .Net technologies. As patent owners Microsoft can not only demand royalty payments but also refuse to issue a licence altogether and simply demand that use of the application using the patented software be stopped immediately. Microsoft itself is not without problems in the .Net arena. The next major release of the Windows operating system, code named Blackcomb, is to be the first pure .Net operating system. Blackcomb's release has now been delayed until 2005, two years later than was originally planned and to fill the gap an interim Windows release called Longhorn is scheduled for 2003. While Longhorn increases the .Net functionality from the current Windows XP operating system users will have to wait until Blackcomb's arrival for a fully featured and highly integrated operating system that will sit at the heart of .Net. Microsoft claim to be still on course with the .Net schedule and some of the first .Net products, focusing on personal context services, are expected to be seen later this year. It is the need to deliver .Net products sooner rather than later that Microsoft claims is the main cause of the delay. But many are questioning whether it is the still unfinished anti-trust battle and the release of Windows XP that has prompted the pause in events. Windows XP, due to be released on the 25th October, integrates instant messaging, video streaming and Internet telephony technologies closely with the operating system. It is exactly this type of close integration that led to the original anti-trust suit and Microsoft may be wary of testing those waters again so soon. Whatever the reason, Microsoft could be spending more time in court both as the accused or the defendant. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 08 Aug 2001

Zen and PlusNet cut cost of DSL

PlusNet and Zen Internet have responded quickly to BT's shock news yesterday that it is to cut the cost of wholesale broadband access for businesses. Both ISPs say they will pass on the £5-a-month cut for BT's business-class IPStream products. Although the modest price cuts have been welcomed, critics still accuse BT of failing to make broadband attractive enough for consumers and businesses. Alistair Wyse of PlusNet said: "We've obviously got a long way to go before we see 'Broadband Britain', but this [wholesale price cut] comes as welcome news for business". The price cuts come into force from September 1 and follow a similar reduction in wholesale costs for BT's consumer-based single user broadband product. Elsewhere, it's also emerged that a number of ISPs were caught on the hop following yesterday's price cut and are annoyed that BT Wholesale went public with the news before telling them. ® Related Story BT cuts broadband wholesale prices - again
Tim Richardson, 08 Aug 2001

Acrobat virus delivers Bum's Rush

Virus writers have turned their sights on Adobe Acrobat: the result is a Peachy, a worm that infects PDF files. Peachy is a Visual Basic Script (VBS) worm which virus writers have embedded in a document that challenges user to "find the peach" among a series of pictures of naked female buttocks. Gullible users double-click on an icon which promises a solution to the puzzle. This triggers a VBS script, their machines becomes infected and copies of the virus will be emailed to people in a user's Outlook address book. The virus is low-risk because it relies on the installation of a full version of Adobe Acrobat to spread. according to Jack Clark, European product manager of the McAfee antivirus division of Network Associates. Users who only have an Acrobat reader are not affected because the reader does not support the code that recognises attachments in Adobe Acrobat (which is used to create PDF files). Clark said the virus shows that PDF files should be scanned for viruses - adding that antiviral products from McAfee were one of few to do this. ® External links: Write up on the virus by McAfee Related Stories: McAfee files patents for security as a service SirCam virus hogs connections with spam Rise in viruses within emails outpacing growth of email Symantec fails to stop SirCam Users haven't learned any lessons from the Love Bug
John Leyden, 08 Aug 2001

Toshiba slashes DRAM output

Toshiba is to slash DRAM production at its Yokkaichi plant in Japan by 60 per cent due to oversupply and flagging demand. The Japanese manufacturer said today it would close one of its production lines at the plant at the end of next month. Most of the 300 staff hit by the move will be transferred to another production line at the same facility. The Yokkaichi plant currently churns out 11.5 million chips per month, and this will be reduced to 4.5 million chips from the start of October. This will cut Toshiba's total monthly DRAM production from 27 million units to 20 million units. The company said the global downturn was making itself "strongly felt" in the semiconductor market, where weakening demand for mobile phones and PCs was creating oversupply. Unlike previous downturns in the memory market, DRAM makers have shown great reluctance in cutting production this time around. Individual companies are reluctant to make the first moves, for fear of giving up market share permanently to their rivals. But the price squeeze, which has seen the overall value of the DRAM market collapse in half this year, is at last exerting its toll. Hynix, the Korean semiconductor giant and - financially - the most vulnerable player has already cut back on production. And last month Toshiba rival NEC it aimed to shut its chip plants in Scotland and California by March and exit the DRAM market within three years. ® Related Stories DRAM production reduction talks fail NEC to axe 600 Scottish jobs Toshiba is having summer chip plant shutdown TSMC expects chip market to grow 20% in next year
Linda Harrison, 08 Aug 2001

ATI Radeon 200 debuts on Web

ATI's upcoming R200 chip - almost certainly to ship as the Radeon 2 - has appeared on the Web over at Korean site Brainbox, which has details and piccies of an engineering sample AGP 4x board based on the new graphics processor. The site's information shows the R200 to be fabbed at 0.15 micron. ATI's board contains 64MB of 128Mb 4ns DDR SDRAM clocked at up to 480MHz or 500MHz, with the R200 itself running at 240MHz or 250MHz. Single-rate memory is also supported across what an ATI R200 architecture diagram calls a "dual-channel" memory bus. As expected, the R200 provides four rendering pipelines, and contains second-generation Pixel Tapestry and Charisma Engine pixel and vertex shaders. Essentially, both take the original Radeon engines into the DirectX 8 era by adding programmability. ATI has already announced that it will support the next DirectX update, version 8.1, with a technology called SmartShader, but it hasn't yet said that SmartShader - essentially Pixel Tapestry II and Charisma Engine II - will ship in the R200. However, that's what information leaking out of ATI has suggested in the past, and the latest leak confirms it. Equally, while ATI has already announced its Truform N-Patch mesh manipulation technology, it hasn't explicitly said it will be part of the R200. Again, Brainbox's leaked architecture chart shows that Truform will indeed ship with the next-generation Radeon. The R200 also supports TV, CRT and digital LCD output, courtesy of its HydraVision technology. Pictures of the sample board show the presence of ATI's Radeon Theater chip, suggesting that the boards will also offer video digitisation support. The R200 is sampling now and expected to ship in September. ® Related Stories ATI unwraps DirectX 8.1-based Smartshader ATI Radeon 2: more specs leak ATI confirms Radeon 2 to ship late summer ATI talks up Truform, next-gen rendering tech ATI Radeon 2, 3 details leak Brainbox: ATI's R200
Tony Smith, 08 Aug 2001

2GHz P4 PCs to hit £999 in September

The arrival of Intel's 2GHz P4 and its expected price drop to $400 on 28 August should lead to some interesting PC pricing. One major UK PC builder, who isn't prepared to go on the record just yet, believes we'll see £999 ex VAT PCs built around the 2GHz P4 by late September. These will come with 256Mb RAM, 80GB hard drive and CD-R and DVD drives. And a voucher for Windows XP which will appear on 26 October. The £999 ex VAT price point has been the most popular computer price for the last 13 years. No matter how prices drop, and performance improves, dealers sell more £999 PCs than anything else. At the moment this is what £999 will get you. Dell has got its Dimension 8100 with 1.5GHz P4, 256Mb RDRAM, 20Gb Hard Drive, and DVD drive Time has been offering a PC with a 1.5GHz P4, 128Mb RAM, CD-RW, 40GB hard drive, and a printer and scanner Gateway has got a machine with 1.7Ghz P4, 256MB PC800 RDRAM, DVD and CD-R (its £1199 inc VAT, £1020.43 ex VAT) Tiny has got the 1.5GHz P4, 256MB RDRAM, 60GB hard drive, CD-RW and DVD drive (£1199 inc VAT, £1020.43 ex VAT) The 2GHz P4 will launch at $562. ® Related Stories Intel gets ready to cut Pentium 4 prices by up to 55%
Robert Blincoe, 08 Aug 2001

Freeserve still threatens to move to Algeria

Freeserve is still threatening to export its Internet operation overseas and run it from Algeria, Britain's biggest French ISP confirmed today. The threat - regarded as empty rhetoric by many industry watchers - is still in place following high-level talks yesterday between senior executives at Freeserve and Customs & Excise concerning the payment of VAT by ISPs with servers outside the European Union. Last week, Le Freeswerve capitalised on a report which revealed that rival AOL UK didn't pay VAT in the UK because of a tax loophole. Le Freeswerve demanded an urgent meeting with Customs to clarify the position and threatened to move its operation to Algeria so it too could benefit from the same loophole unless the issue was resolved. Commenting on yesterday's meeting a spokeswoman for Le Freeswerve said the details of the meeting were confidential. However, it was a "workman-like discussion" and both parties got through a "lot of detail". AOL UK maintains it "complies fully with all applicable laws in all territories in which it operates". ® Related Stories Freeserve takes swipe at AOL's tax free status Freeserve threatens to move operation to Algeria
Tim Richardson, 08 Aug 2001

FBI chief Mueller lied to Senate about key-logging

New FBI chief Robert Mueller's testimony before the US Senate during his confirmation hearing last week, to the effect that he had no understanding of key-logging technology, sounded very wrong to us. We were hoping that he was just exhibiting naiveté when, under questioning from US Senator Maria Cantwell (Democrat, Washington State) about the FBI's prosecution of mobster Nicodemo Scarfo, Jr. by means of a black-bag job involving a key logger, Mueller claimed that he's "not familiar with that new technology, and [had] not had occasion to use it in [his] district." We figured that little gem had to be either a bald-faced lie, or evidence of his technical incompetence and consequent unfitness to lead the FBI in the 21st Century. Naturally, we all prefer honest incompetence to active deceit, and we were hoping that the second explanation would prove right; but we're sorry to report that we've got evidence that Mueller actually knows a great deal about key-logging technology. If we consult the following advisory from the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University, we find that Mueller contributed to a report on the legalities of installing key-logging technology on a network. The bulletin advises systems administrators that because key logging could be controversial (as the courts had yet to rule on its legality), it would be best to put a prominent banner warning users and intruders alike that their comings and goings will be monitored. The bulletin is dated December 1992, revised September 1997. Clearly, Mueller has been well acquainted with the technology he told Congress he knows nothing about. Obviously, in order to offer legal advice about key logging he would have to understand the technology quite well. And even if he was splitting hairs during his confirmation, i.e., speaking of a very specific implementation of key-logging technology which he himself hasn't yet played with, he's still deceitful. He might have been a man about it, and declined to answer on grounds that the technology in question is currently being tested in the courts -- that is, in the Scarfo case. At least he would have shown some spine. But by fobbing off the question with a lie, or with a split-hair statement calculated to mislead the Senate, he demonstrated that he's afraid of tough questions, and eager to take the coward's path out. It's a sad symbol of his brand-new tenure, and a most horrible way to start it. ®
Thomas C Greene, 08 Aug 2001

MS appeals to US Supreme Court

Microsoft is trying to convince the US Supreme Court that it got shanked so badly by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that it deserves an entirely new trial. The Court of Appeals did recognize Jackson's bad behavior, but also let some of his findings of fact stand. MS is arguing that Jackson did such a poor job on the bench that even the decisions he got right should be thrown out -- baby-with-bathwater-wise. In its request for a Supreme Court writ of certiorari to review the decision by the appellate court, MS concentrates on Jackson's unfitness to preside at trial, and figures the appeals court failed to give it the weight it deserved. "It is difficult to imagine a civil case that will leave a more indelible mark on the public's perception of the administration of justice than this case.... The threat that the judge's misconduct poses to the public's perception of judges and the process of judging is palpable." Thus the mere appearance of impropriety should suffice to overturn both the district court and the appeals court, and win Microsoft an entirely new trial with a new judge. "What matters is not the reality of bias or prejudice but its appearance," the company argues. MS also appeals to a previous Supreme Court ruling in Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp, reminding the Justices of their own words: "This Court stated that 'in determining whether a judgment should be vacated for a violation of § 455(a), it is appropriate to consider [i] the risk of injustice to the parties in the particular case, [ii] the risk that the denial of relief will produce injustice in other cases, and [iii] the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process.' All three factors counsel strongly in favor of vacatur of the findings of fact and conclusions of law." "Failure to vacate these rulings will result in manifest injustice to Microsoft," the company brief warns. Because the appeals court ruled unanimously, we're not terribly confident in MS' chances of getting the Supremes involved. However, we can't dismiss the possibility out of hand. We naturally look forward to reading the DoJ's counter-brief as soon as it's published. ®
Thomas C Greene, 08 Aug 2001