4th > February > 2002 Archive
Microsoft will suspend software development for a month to scour its vast, bloated reams of code in search of bugs, according to a brief item by Government Computer News. This startling development was announced by MS privacy chief Richard Purcell during a conference in Washington on Friday. Chairman Gates "is really annoyed by the incredible pain we put everyone through in computing," Purcell is quoted as saying. It does seem odd that His Billness would make a frank admission of guilt for all the rotten things that have happened to users of Microsoft products. We can imagine him 'confessing' with an air of sadistic mockery during some matey boozefest with the Redmond brass; but it's rather hard to picture him putting an arm around Purcell's shoulder and saying softly, "Now Rick, I want you to go out there and make sure everyone knows how humbly contrite I am over the Hell we've needlessly put our customers through." We reckon Purcell must have misinterpreted the Chairman. Either that, or he'd recently lined up a new job and figured to go out in a memorable blaze of honesty. ®
World chip sales fell 32 per cent in 2001 to $139 billion, the worst slump ever for the semiconductor industry. Declining sales (that's value, not units) in chips for mobile phones and PCs were responsible for most of the slump, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) which compiled the figures. But demand bottomed out in Q3, and both product segments saw double digit growth in Q4. DRAM pricing also improved in December, although not to the point where any of the manufacturers made a profit. The perennially optimistic SIA detects signs of an upturn - outside perenially depressed Japan. Chip sales in Q4 were - outside Japan - 3.7 per cent up on Q3. Add Japan's figures and the market fell 0.1 per cent for the quarter. Compare December 2001 with December, 2000 and the figures look worse, with sales down 43 per cent year-on-year. According to the SIA, sales will see a slight upturn in Q1, this year and will pick up strongly in Q2. ®
BT is set to slash the cost of broadband – apparently. Today's newspapers of full of reports that BT's new boss, Ben Verwaayen, will announce the price cuts on Thursday when he releases the telco's Q3 results. Some reports claim that prices could be cut by as much as 50 per cent. If true, then the retail cost of ADSL could fall to below £30 a month – a point at which many believe would trigger mass-market take-up for broadband. So is this true? Has BT finally grasped the simple fact that price is a major factor in the take-up of broadband? Dunno. A spokesman for BT described the reports as "wildly speculative", which doesn't really answer the question. Still, at least it's not a "no". ®
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is examining the finances of Enterasys Networks. The subject of the investigation of the enterprise networking firm is unclear. In a statement published Friday, Enterasys said it "and certain affiliated companies" are under SEC investigation, adding only that it intends to co-operate fully. In the statement, Enterasys said it was delaying its fourth quarter results because of an "apparently unrelated" matter. The delay has been called in order to allow Enterasys and its auditors (KPMG) to reviews the terms of a $4 million sales contract recorded by its Asia Pacific operations. Enterasys was created after networking vendor Cabletron decided to split itself into four units back in 2000. The other units - Riverstone Networks, Enterasys Networks, Global Network Technology Services and Aprisma Management Technologies - do business in the service provider, e-business, services and infrastructure management software markets. The companies began as subsidiaries of Cabletron, with the plan to eventually spin them off as separate public companies. ® Related Stories Cabletron does OK amid networking gloom Cabletron shares jump as company splits 802.11b market grows
AMD has launched a motherboard certification programme for desktop AthlonXP and Durons, and has enlisted the support of top mobo maker ASUS to promote the scheme in North America. The aim is to help system builders seed more AMD boxes in American businesses. AMD PCs may be cheaper than equivalent performing Intel-powered machines, but on its own, this cuts little ice with corporates. Step forward the AMD Assured Program, a total cost of ownership (TCO) play, designed around quality assurance and shelf-life guarantees, as opposed to performance benchmarking. AMD assured boards comply with Microsoft's System and Device Requirements 2.0 and "incorporate the essential management elements" of Wired for Management 2.0. Qualifying mobos will stay in circulation for at least one year, making for easier and cheaper maintenance, and seamless technology transition is promised. Currently, AMD's market share in the North America commercial systems segment is rather lower than it is in Europe. This is because Intel has a stranglehold over supply of CPUs for A-brand desktops (from Dell, Compaq, HP and IBM) for corporates. In Europe, Fujitsu Siemens - AMD's biggest customer on the continent - and NEC use AMD in some commercial lines, making it easier for the chipmaker to win market share among corporates. The AMD Assured program will not make Dell, Compaq et al convert to AMD for corporate desktops, but it will help second and third-tier PC makers win corporate and government business today. Aspect Computer, Colfax International, Supercom Canada and VoodooPC are all cited as North American system builders 'expected to announce' AMD boxes using assured mobos from ASUS. ® Related links AMD/ASUS press release More on AMD Assured Program
Hacktivists have been blamed for cutting off access to the Web site of the World Economic Forum (WEF), a talking shop for the world's political and business leaders, over the weekend. The "denial of service" attack against weforum.org began on the first day of the five-day conference in New York and continued during the course of the meeting, Reuters reports. Despite the fact organisers were keen to point the finger at Internet vandals, statements to reporters suggest a more mundane explanation - failure to set up the site properly - might be behind the outage. Reuters reports that spokesman Charles McLean told journalists on Friday that "too many hits on our Web site are shutting it down." "If it's in fact vandals, that's unfortunate because we are in the dialogue business and dialogue involves communication," he added. New York's Village Voice newspaper reports that the Electronic Disturbance Theatre, RTMark, and Federation of Random Action have taken credit for staging a "virtual sit in" that crashed the site. Email messages to organisers on Thursday failed to get through, it reports. According to the Village Voice hacktivists reportedly used a tool to flood the Web site with spurious requests, so denying access to weform.org. However Reuters quotes unnamed law enforcement officials who said a group called "The Yes Men" used a tool called Reamweaver to redirect users to a parody site. The site (which incidentally uses the unusual combination of Lotus-Domino/5.0.8 on Windows 2000, Netcraft reports) is now back online. Last year, a group called "Virtual Monkeywrench" broke into the WEF's site and gained access to data on 27,000 participants, including the credit card details and phone numbers of participants such as Bill Gates and Yasser Arafat. Critics complain that the WEF, which normally meets annually in Davos, Switzerland but was moved to New York this year as a gesture of solidarity, is controlled by the rich and powerful, who they blame for many of the world's economic and political problems. Anti-globalisation protestors have taken to the streets to protest against the conference; a number of arrests have been made. ® Related Stories Activists target bank's Web site in animal rights protest World Economic Forum hacked World Economic Forum to decide Net's future Nike Web site owned by hacktivists
Fujitsu Siemens Computers BV said last week that wireless technology will drive the next great wave in corporate IT spending, and announced plans to establish itself as a top-three player in a "mobility" systems market it expects to be worth 14bn euros ($12bn) by 2003. The Amsterdam, Netherlands-based joint venture of Fujitsu Ltd and Siemens AG quietly set up a mobility business unit last November, but in Paderborn, Germany last week, new CEO Adrian von Hammerstein revealed the mobility strategy for the first time to 10,000 attendees of the company's annual customers and channel partner event. Von Hammerstein said corporate mobility will require investment in all parts of the enterprise IT infrastructure, and in Fujitsu Siemens' strategy will be backed up by a parallel commitment to security and reliability considerations encompassed by the company's second major marketing pillar, business critical computing. Delegates to the Paderborn event were invited to preview a raft of hardware, software and applications products that will be formally launched at the CeBIT show in Hannover next month. In terms of hardware, the new products include additions to Fujitsu-Siemens' established range of Lifebook business notebook computers, its Amilo D consumer notebook family, and its specialized wireless tablet and webpad offerings. On the software front, Fujitsu Siemens will showcase at Hannover products for mobile data management and synchronization, and wireless application integration tools based on its openSEAS middleware. For users of SAP AG, Fujitsu-Siemens will offer a range of mobile device interfaces and client software suites for mySAP applications, including human resource, customer relationship management, business intelligence, and financial suites. On announcing his company's new focus on business mobility, von Hammerstein promised that the strategy will be "about people, and not about devices." However, at CeBIT the most eye-catching product launch is likely to be that of the new Pocket Loox personal digital assistant. Technical details of the product were scanty last week, possibly because Fujitsu Siemens is constrained by a non-disclosure agreement with Intel Corp, whose new ARM-based Xscale processor is expected to be at the heart of the Loox. The Xscale chip will ensure that the Loox is at least as powerful as the Compaq iPaq, which is currently the runaway leader in the Pocket PC-based corporate handheld device market, and Fujitsu Siemens is promising other features that may give Loox the edge on iPaq. Chief among these is the device's native support for Bluetooth, and a GPRS plug-on module that will make the Loox an early contender for best wireless PDA. Fujitsu-Siemens' implementation of Bluetooth in the Loox is particularly impressive, since it is supported by an icon-driven configuration tool that should go a long way toward simplifying the often complex business of creating Bluetooth connections with other devices. At the moment this Pocket Plug-Free product is available in desktop format only, but Fujitsu-Siemens promises to have it ready for use on the Loox when or shortly after the product launches in March. Early Loox users may also have to wait a little while for the GPRS plug-on, but when it arrives, they will pleased to discover that it comes with its own integral battery, an important consideration for users who expect to make use of normally power-hungry multi-slot data packet links. © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
Dell Computer Corp may be setting the pace in the Intel-based server market by virtue of the high-volume business it does at the low-end of the server market, Timothy Prickett Morgan writes. But the company does not have any expertise in enterprise Unix servers and it sure doesn't have all that much experience in the fast-growing market for high performance computing (HPC) clusters using Linux operating systems and clustering extensions. This is why Dell will today announce that it has chosen Cray Inc, the Seattle-based company that flies the flag bearing the moniker of the founder of the supercomputer business, to be its partner in HPC Linux clusters. The deal is, according to sources at Cray, much more than a normal OEM agreement. Cray isn't simply buying Dell servers and selling them into HPC accounts, which it could do with or without Dell's help. The deal, which does not involve any equity investments from either party, includes provisions for lead sharing. For customers who know what they want and know how to build their own clusters, Dell will be the main conduit for sales of PowerEdge servers and add-on networking and software under this deal. But the minute a company wants evaluation, installation, maintenance or other services, Cray will take over the deal and it will acquire the necessary PowerEdge hardware and other equipment from Dell - or other third parties as required - and build a Linux cluster and install whatever software on the cluster is necessary. Cray has 300 installation and service techs worldwide who know how to do this work, and it is easier for Dell to push products and leave the integration work to experts. As part of the agreement, Cray has access to the Dell server roadmap (which means it knows exactly what Intel and third party suppliers who support Intel platforms are up to for the next few years in terms of hardware) and can even influence the design of servers specifically suited for HPC applications. Cray says that it will sometimes sell its SV and MTA lines of supercomputers, other times sell just HPC clusters using Dell hardware, and sometimes sell both at the same time to customers. The Cray HPC clusters will be based on Dell PowerEdge servers and Red Hat Linux 7.2 with the cluster extensions developed by Linux, according to Steve Conway, a spokesperson for Cray. He says that Cray had been working on advanced clustering designs before it was acquired by Silicon Graphics in 1996, and that the company has software technologies that will blow away current Linux clusters. He says that the Cray offering will include popular Linux clustering hardware and software from Myricom Inc and Quadrics Ltd; the company will not be selling clusters based on the open source Beowulf clustering software for Linux, however. "Beowulf is for companies that do not need high-performance clusters and who can get by with some clustered PCs," says Conway. "Beowulf clusters are great at dealing with many small problems, but PCs are not made to communicate with each other at high-speed, and therefore on true HPC jobs Beowulf isn't good enough." Conway says that Cray is chasing about a half-dozen HPC cluster deals right now, and that Dell has a much larger backlog of customers who are interested in building Linux clusters. Cray and Dell needed to do a deal, which is exclusive to Cray once a customer asks for integration or implementation services, because neither company had a dance partner in the Linux HPC cluster market. © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
Dell UK is dutifully doing its bit in the war against terrorism, as evidenced by the Export Compliance section of the company's online order form. Says Question 4: "Will the product(s) be used in connection with weapons of mass destruction, i.e. nuclear applications, missile technology, or chemical or biological weapons purposes?" Check yes or no. It is not, obviously, clear what happens if you check yes; nor, given the current shoot from the hip draconian policies being implemented on both sides of the pond these days, are we calling for volunteers. But from the way Dell puts it, responsibility lies with the US government rather than the company itself: "Dell Computer Corporation is a US Corporation and is therefore subject to all US Export Laws and Regulations. In view of this, please answer the following 4 questions for US export compliance purposes." Dell subs do indeed seems to be subject to those regulations. We note at the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Export Administration site that Dell Gmbh (German subsidiary) was fined in 1998 for breaching US anti-boycott legislation. We tried to check to see if IBM UK's online sales operation had a similar section to Dell's, but if it does, Big Blue unsportingly puts it after the section where you have to get your credit card verified. The Dell US shop, as far as we can see, only asks if you're going to be giving the kit to foreigners, and doesn't mention weapons of mass destruction at all. Presumably this is something to do with NRA lobbying. ®
RM, Britain's biggest IT supplier to schools, today expressed concern at the threat presented by BBC's Digital Curriculum proposals to the UK educational IT industry. In a profits warning today, the company said it would spend whatever it takes to support joint action with "other industry partners to defend choice, innovation and diversity in the digital learning resources market". In other words, The state-funded BBC is muscling into an already crowded market, and RM does not like it. But this is a threat for the future; the present is also problematic for the company, which today warned that sales will be 15 per cent lower and profits 50 per cent less this year than in 2001. This is against a backdrop of an anticipated increase of nine per cent in total educational IT expenditure in 2002. RM bases its sales forecast on trading in its first quarter, soundings taken at last month's BETT (the key UK trade show for IT in education)and recent market research. It says that sales in December and January were down considerably on the same months in the previous financial year. And it attributes this to three reasons: 1. Schools are spending more of their IT budgets on broadband access, leaving a smaller slice of the cake for the software, PC and maintenance services supplied by RM. And changes in the way that the Government is funding schools is making it more difficult for RM to calculate how much sales will come its way. 2. The PC market remains difficult, and RM says it will be hard to maintain traditional market share (it used to be the dominant PC supplier in British schools). Rapidly declining margins for notebook PCs is making the hardware business even tougher. 3. Two software products are late. One, RM Community Connect 3, is described as "a major strategic upgrade for our customers and will generate a large amount of additional business for RM's other product ranges". The company now expects to ship this in May. It is the software business where it fears the potential impact of the BBC. ®
Up to 370 BT staff will be transferred to Computacenter, the UK's biggest computer reseller, as part of a £100 million deal, The Guardian reported today. The staff are said to be angry and discussing strike action. Computacenter issued a statement to the London Stock Exchange confirming that it was in discussions with BT "in respect of a strategic partnership to provide support for desktop computing equipment and supply of IT hardware products. "The Board understands that, in accordance with TUPE regulations, the BT Group has informed some staff of a possible change of employer, should the terms of the contract be agreed." So that's where the leak comes from. If BT told staff that they could be moving to Computacenter, then this will be very encouraging news for the reseller. Computacenter is already the incumbent IT hardware supplier in BT, and the telco is its biggest account. As such, the outsourcing deal would represent an extension of existing business, rather than completely new money. ®
SOYO's latest motherboard, the SY-P41 Fire DRAGON Pentium 4, has a "patriotic color scheme" - it comes in red, white and blue. These are the colours of the flag of Taiwan, SOYO's homeland, but it's American patriotism the company is playing to with this limited "addition" (sic) Pentium 4 mobo. Buy a board and five bucks goes to the American Red Cross 911 appeal. Curiously, the stars and stripes-themed Fire DRAGON etc. is available to resellers and disties worldwide. This could give Anti-American overclockers another way of burning the US flag. Here's a little bit of spec. It's designed for Intel socket-478 CPUs, comes with 400MHz system bus and Intel's i845D DDR SDRAM-supporting chipset. One board will cost you $249. ®