3rd > November > 1999 Archive
OpinionThey're like two old soaks staggering down the road, arm in arm, telling each other how great they are. But the sight of the government and BT reeling from side to side, all pally-pally with each other won't wash with British business or consumers. BT's extension of its Schools Internet Caller scheme offering cut-price flat-fee access to the Net may impress the government, but anyone with the sobriety to understand the challenges faced by the punitive telecomms tariff structure in Britain will know that BT is playing gesture politics. And like any old lush who's been out on the tiles all night, it stinks. If schools, colleges and other worthy institutions can be offered flat-fee access, why not small businesses, consumers -- or anyone else, come to think of it? But it's not an argument that's likely to hold any sway with either of these two boozers -- certainly not in their state anyway. At the moment, it's enough just to watch these party revellers make a fool of themselves in public. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, said last week that the Internet was invented in Britain. BT's "cost-cutting" announcement today means that bog-standard dial-up access for these worthy public organisations will cost more than broadband ADSL access. With gags like this, they've got to be the life and soul of any party. ®
Hewlett-Packard will this month be sending DIY Y2K fix-it kits to its European resellers. The free CDs will go out to HP's Connect accredited resellers, aimed at getting customers and resellers to check their systems for Y2K compliance. The kits will include BIOS releases for updating HP systems and software patches, with information available in 29 languages. Customers will be able to catch Y2K problems in advance by following the steps on the CD. Joseph Vigier, Y2K manager for HP Europe's commercial channel organisation, said: "With the millennium fast approaching, there are still a large number of businesses and consumers in Europe that have not taken adequate steps to ensure that they are Y2K ready." He added: "HP is also concerned that there may be relatively high levels of complacency about the millennium problem in the channel –- particularly among the smaller Connect resellers." ®
The government has announced a £50 million programme to kick-start the roll out of high-speed links to the Internet in schools and other learning institutions. Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett, said: "There is now an opportunity for local education authorities, in partnership with other agencies, to form regional consortia and submit innovative proposals for the introduction of broadband services for schools and other learning institutions." As part of the Government's National Grid for Learning (NGfL) BT would be a major beneficiary of any investment in ADSL access in schools and other places of learning. So, great news for BT -- and all revealed on the very day BT said it was extending its cut-price Net access scheme to libraries, colleges and other public institutions. Of course, any suggestion that was any form of backroom horse trading between Whitehall mandarins and BT spin doctors -- that BT "gave" cheaper calls to worthy public institutions in return for government money in its broadband service -- will not be tolerated at The Register. ®
DRAM prices fell steadily in October as the post-earthquake hype subsided and buyers were left holding excess stock. The first week of October in the spot market saw prices still nudging $20 per chip, around $160 for a 64MB module (PC 100), according to Dataquest. This was a drop of around 20 per cent on September's peak in the aftermath of the Taiwanese earthquake. During last month prices continued to fall steadily, bottoming out at around $10 per chip. Things picked up slightly last weekend, and yesterday UK memory distributor GSI was quoting £53.30 ($87.73) for a 64MB module. Dane-Elec was quoting around £60 ($98.66) for a 64MB module. Dean Johnson, GSI operations director, said there was little demand at present for 128MB modules. "People are simply not willing to pay for them," he said. "October was not the best month for DRAM. At the end of September prices were high -– there was a lot of panic and a lot of brokers jumped in. "However, prices came down quicker than they went up, and the whole marketplace seemed to bottleneck," said Johnson. "A lot of companies got punished during the first two weeks of October -– there is a lot of excess stock out there." Richard Gordon, a Dataquest analyst, said: "People were panic buying in September, and a lot of people were speculating on the stock market, forcing prices up." Regarding contract prices, Gordon said prices would continue to firm up, despite softening slightly in the run up to Christmas. Contract prices currently stand at around $12 per chip. "DRAM vendors are setting up the perception that prices are on the rise, which means contract prices are currently higher than on the spot market," he said. ®
The keeper of the TurboLinux kernel tree, Christian 'DocWhat' Holtje has written to us clearing up the company's position to its load-balancing patch to the Linux kernel. So let the man speak: "TurboLinux is not going to fork the kernel. One little module does not fork the kernel. Lots of projects do this, including advanced RAID, USB (originally) and PCMCIA. They are not "forks" but independently maintained enhancements. "The difference is we keep our 'patches' up to date with the core kernel. We don't try to maintain the whole thing separately. If we forked the kernel, we would have to maintain it entirely ourselves. This would lose all the advantages of Open Source (large pool of bug fixers, enhancements in areas we don't have a pressing need for, etc.). There is no point to it. Frankly, I feel faint just thinking about the work that would be required." With which we wholeheartedly agree. As we suggested here, the fork "scare" was a piece of yellow journalism, aided and abetted by an analyst. We hope he was misquoted, for if not, as a Unix expert he needs a rapid refresher course in recent Linux history. What's intriguing is that TurboLinux's business model is also getting clearer. Back to the Doc: "TurboCluster's Module works just fine without our proprietary tools. It has a simple interface via /proc/net/cluster/config. If you want a GUI, documentation, support, the newest patches, then you want to buy our product. But if you only want the module, I have placed it, by itself, on a Web page. Granted, there is no documentation in the module, but the source itself, as it is released. It is a 'DIY' in that respect. But you can always download our product via our FTP site, which includes this module in the kernel RPM, meaning there are easier ways than 'DIY.'" Clear? Almost. Now before you all jump on TurboLinux, the company is only road-testing the kind of cost-based upgrade treadmill that the other distributions have been implementing for some time too. With Red Hat, for example, you can download the OS and subsequent patches for free, but pay for the shrinkwrap versions. That fee not only includes support but reflects the added costs to the producer of the packaging, and the benefits to the user of the convenience of a one-time install, and not wrapping up that leased line for an hour. But we'll wait and see how many TurboLinux-only dependent modules the Doc mentions, like the GUI, are also freely available. And then we'll see how much the community objects to, or responds to, filling the gaps in itself. But we'll also repeat the point we made last week: Linux load-balancing will eventually be part of the bigger picture, incorporating Linux/HA work, RSN. And that will come with no strings attached, we expect. So the argument, sooner or later, will be pretty academic, and our advice remains: wait for Tweedie's APIs. Anyone from Turbo want to convince us otherwise why we shouldn't? ®
Goldman Sachs has upped its target price for ARM Holdings following the chip manufacturer's deal with Texas Instruments. In a note entitled "Adding Fuel to the Blazing Fire", Goldman Sachs upgraded its value of ARM's shares to 2200 pence from 1650 pence. Yesterday Cambridge-based ARM announced it would collaborate with Texas Instruments on a DSP and Microcontroller platform for next generation wireless devices. Its shares rose 94 pence to £18.91 on the back of the move. The two companies will develop technology to enable mobile phones and other hand held devices to access the Internet. The new Dual-Core platform will be based on TI's DSP technology and ARM's advanced 32-bit RISC microcontroller core. It will run current and future wireless cellular applications such as 2G+ and 3G. Although it will primarily be designed for cellular wireless devices, it hopes the technology will be attractive for other digital wireless applications such as wireless LAN. The deal follows a similar agreement with Intel last week. Yesterday also saw Apple reduce its stake in ARM to 6.86 per cent. The PC vendor sold 2.1 million shares, or a 1.1 per cent stake in the company. ®
E-minister Patricia Hewitt yesterday dismissed accusations that the government is imposing a stealth tax on the telecoms industry with its auction for third-generation mobile phones operator licences. A £50 million deposit is required to even enter the game. All interested parties will then take part in an 18-day auction with minimum increments of £100,000. The five lucky winners will be those still standing on 24 March 2000. Final bids are expected to reach £500 million for each licence, netting the Revenue £2.5 billion. The increase in the number of licences from four to five is also seen as a transparent way of increasing takings. Hewitt claimed the system is not a tax but a way of ensuring that the best companies win access to the limited radio spectrum. The licences will be awarded to whichever companies stump up the most cash. Hewitt said: "This method is fast and fair, and is much more transparent than the government attempting to pick winners and losers through some kind of beauty contest." Hans Snook, Orange CEO, is not so sure. Nor is corporate commerce director at Vodafone, Mike Caldwell. Both would prefer a different system, but that won't stop them battling it out. The government is on to a winner here. Despite their annoyance, the major telecoms firms admit they have little choice but to take part. Without access to the bandwidth needed for the next generation devices they may as well pack up and go home. And with a potential 70 per cent of the UK's population up for grabs there is certain to be a big scrap. Aside from the UK's big four mobile companies -- Vodafone, Orange, BT Cellnet and One2One -- the process is certain to draw interest from power-hungry giants such as MCI Worldcom, Bell Atlantic, Energis and BSkyB. ®
Nortel Networks will create 5000 jobs worldwide in a $400 million splurge on its optical Internet systems unit. The Canadian vendor yesterday announced plans to triple production capacity in the division in 2000, creating jobs in systems integration and testing, engineering and customer service. Many of the new jobs will be in the UK, which can expect to see 1800 new staff. Of the rest, Montreal will gain 1450 and Ottowa 850. The company said it would be expanding its existing campuses in Paignton, Devon, and Monkstown in Northern Ireland. These two operations will divvy up $105 million of Nortel's investment. The company will also build a factory in Ottawa and boost staff numbers in its customer service sections in the US. The workers will build Nortel's optical networking kit –- which uses lasers to aid communication between electronic devices running the Web. This will aid Nortel's vision of the "optical Internet", a network carrying data at super-human speeds on fiber-optic cables. Nortel Networks is building 32 out of 40 national and pan-European optical networks which it has announced over the last two years. Nortel has around 71,000 staff worldwide, with 1998 sales of $17.6 billion. ®
Some of the shine rubbed off MSN's lustrous opening of its new digital store yesterday when eager shoppers were confronted with an error message instead of a well-stocked e-mporium. MSN's eShop was launched in time to capitalise on the holiday season spending spree, predicted by Forrester Research to top $4 billion this year. Unfortunately, the aggregated e-commerce site — which includes some of the tops names in online shopping, including Amazon.com, PETsMART.com and Sears.com — failed to respond yesterday to both Microsoft and Netscape Web browsers. Instead, a short message read: "Microsoft OLE DB. Provider for SQL Server error '80004005'. Cannot open database requested in login 'proddb'. Login fails. /inc/mainheader.inc, line 42" Thankfully for MSN, the site resurfaced late yesterday afternoon (GMT). Microsoft tech support was alerted and asked what may have caused this untimely slip-up. No reply had been received at press time. ®
Teledesic has raised another $121 million from the Abu Dhabi Investment Company, owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. This raises the total invested in Teledesic to around $1.5 billion. Deputy chairman Steven Norris of Satellite Holdings, one of the investing organisations in the ADIC funding, indicated his support for the Teledesic and ICO ventures, but gave no hint as to whether there might be a merger. The founding investors were Bill Gates and Craig McCaw, with strategic investments from Motorola ($750 million, and named as the primary contractor when it agreed to drop its own satellite plans), Saudi Prince Alaweed Bin Talal ($200 million), and Boeing ($100 million). The estimated cash requirement is $9 billion, but this must be as fluid as Teledesic's plans. When McCaw detailed the plan in 1994, there were to be 840 satellites, plus 88 spares, a figure that was included in the FCC licence in March 1997 (to be precise, only 84 spares were specified in the licence). The estimated cost of the polar-orbiting satellites is $5.5 million each, with launch costs of around $2.4 million each. The large number of satellites results from the need for a high angle of vision to avoid obstacles, since the high frequency Ka-band signals are stopped by trees or heavy rain. In 1996, the expectation was that the system would be operational in 2001. Early last year, the date had slipped to 2002, and there was a further slippage by last October to 2003. The current expectation is for 2004. A satellite spook who works in the Pentagon told us earlier this year that Teledesic had already lost 10 satellites because of mispositioning, and that there appeared to be some nasty problems yet to be solved. The number of satellites has been reduced to about a third of the original plan, to 288 plus spares, making the current expectation of around 300 satellites in total. This would preclude worldwide coverage with two satellites always in view, so the dream of global broadband is still a dream. ®
Lycos and Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) launched a multimedia search product yesterday called Lycos RichMedia Search for finding pictures, films, streams and sound on the Web, at www.richmedia.lycos.com . Search results are grouped, or may be chosen by media category. There are 17 million files in the catalogue at present. FAST claims to be faster than scour.net, which is MP3 only, and more integrated than the new AltaVista multimedia search. We thought we'd try out a search for pictures of the computer pioneer Babbage and were surprised to get 50 hits, most of which were relevant. It's a pity that the first page does not give the number of hits. FAST also has a nifty text search engine at alltheweb.com which was developed in collaboration with Dell and is claimed to be the world's biggest Internet engine, with 200 million documents indexed from the 400 million that had been selected -- the omitted ones were either duplications or considered too low quality. According to an article in Nature in July, the Web then had more than 800 million documents. Data centres are being set up in San Francisco, London and Singapore to increase the catalogue size. FAST is a Norwegian company, quoted on the Norwegian OTC market, with its R&D being in Oslo and Trondheim, but the sales, marketing and support operations are in Boston and Redwood City. The company is licensing its technology to portals, ISPs and content sites. FAST has a deal with Tibco, a Reuters subsidiary, for a high-volume personal filtering service. It has previously worked with Lycos to produce Lycos' FTP search (3.45 million page views in August) and MP3 search (1.1 million page views/day). ®
A lot has been written about the changes we announced in the Budget to stop avoidance of tax and NICs [National Insurance Contributions] by people using personal service companies. I want to explain why we acted.
AnalysisAmador City, close to the strangely named Dry Town in a wine-growing area of California, is the code name of choice for Intel's excursion into the wonderful world of SDRAM, PC-133 and double data rate (DDR) memory next year. Information we received yesterday from two separate semiconductor analysts in the US, suggest that the Amador chipset, which will use PC-133 memory, signifies a further shift by pragmatic Intel away from Rambus. Meanwhile, one PC manufacturer we have talked to this morning is saying that Intel has just confirmed to him it will launch i820 Rambus boards formally on the 15th of November. Some mobo manufacturers, at least, will ship four RIMM versions of the i820 He said: "Our mainboard vendor on this project is still saying they will ship a 2+2 solution. They are happy with their tests and I have to say we have seen no problems on this solution. From a technical point of view Rambus appears to offer nothing in the consumer market with benefits only in professional workstation or Server systems. So a four slot DIMM solution would be better. However, the Intel design is only two DIMMs" Yesterday it seemed as if Intel might slip until the end of November on its solution, but it is determined to make a splash at Comdex/Fall. That is not the same as shipping, of course. In the second half of next year, we understand, Intel will also promote an extension of this chipset which will support double data rate (DDR) memory. That is a volte face for Intel but most observers believe that the company has little choice. We reported in the summer that major PC manufacturers, including Compaq, HP and IBM, were less than pleased with the technical results they were getting from Rambus technology. At the Computex trade show in Taipei, Mosel-Vitelic was outspoken about the Rambus platform and pointed to specific technical problems with implementing the memory solution. We understand that many of the memory manufacturers feel the same way, but are timid about expressing their fears. One semiconductor analyst told us yesterday that to some extent the problem rested on their doorsteps. The manufacturers disliked having to pay Rambus royalties in the first place, as it cut into their already skeletonic margins. The analyst said that as memory is such a cutthroat, commodity based business, any fluctuations or uncertainty in these markets made their quest for profitability that much the harder. DDR, however, is not the perfect technology to propel servers into the next decade and lacks the scaleability, or the potential scaleability of the Rambus platform. That, the analyst said, made it imperative on the manufacturers to come up with a technological solution of their own, something they had signally failed to do. Intel has plunged a great deal of its loose dollars into the Rambus project. Not only does it have a share in the company itself, but it spent half a billion dollars encouraging Micron to put more efforts into the Rambus initiative. Our information is that Intel initially offered them a billion bucks, but Micron turned this amount down because it felt it would be too much in the chip giant's pocket. Like many of the other Dramurai, Micron has to hedge its bets and support alternatives, just in case they turn out to be the industry standard. Samsung, too, received a sizeable investment from Intel to promote the Rambus platform. The logic Samsung Semi executives exercised here was coloured by the up-and-coming merger of Hyundai and LG Semi, we understand. Samsung wanted to be seen as the Korean manufacturer of excellence. The industry sensed the first whiff of Rambus trouble as early as February this year, when Intel was forced to delay the introduction of its i820 Camino chipset because of unspecified problems, but probably Rambus related. We're still waiting to see that chipset. We also smelt a Rambus rat at Intel's last Developer Forum when it became apparent that the Merced-Itanic project would not use Rambus memory either. This is all very embarrassing for Intel but there's no doubt whatever that Rambus will continue to be profitable. It's not dependent on the x.86 platform alone and does have promise for the future. The whole episode should serve to remind us just how interlinked the whole industry is, and how dependent one technology is on another. ® Mosel-Vitelic announces PC 133 support Computex 99 coverage Why Intel and Rambus are so close Intel abandons server Rambus efforts
NEC has pulled the plug on Packard Bell -- at least as a retail-oriented operation, by firing 80 per cent of the subsidiary's staff, including all of its senior management. The reason? PB entirely failed to stem its losses to the extent that backers NEC and France's Groupe Bull required. A PB spokesman, quoted in today's Wall Street Journal, said that the company was on track of post a loss of $150 million. Earlier this year, when PB announced it was laying off 200 support staff, the company said it was on track to get its losses down to $100 million -- believed to be the limit imposed by NEC. Back in July, NEC president Kouji Nishigaki threatened to "sell, merge or close" Packard Bell if the company showed no sign of a turnaround. "If things don't work out in the end, there's nothing to do but get out," he said. According to the WSJ, Packard Bell will close its Sacramento, California assembly plant and sell off the Utah-based call centre that lost 200 staff in July -- the company hopes the buyer will want to retain the centre's 600 staff, but that will still leave 1000 people out of work in Sacramento. Other facilities around the globe, with the loss of a further 1000 jobs. The company will continue with just 300-400 staff. For now, that number will include most of PB senior staff, but they are expected to quit at the end of the year. The layoffs mark NEC's decision to pull PB out of the retail PC market. Where that leaves the company now is a good question: the WSJ suggests it's looking at Internet sales. Earlier this year the company launched the Z1, an executive-oriented machine with a suitably inflated price tag to match. It's not clear how successful the Z1 has been, but it does suggest the kind of less-populated market what's left of Packard Bell can focus on. ®
UK distributor KMS has now confirmed it has received a long brown envelope from Intel containing an accusation that is involved in patent infringement. Linda Drew, company secretary at KMS, said the firm had received a writ in the High Court from Intel, in which her company, First International Computer (FIC) and Via were also named as defendants. KMS said: The nature of Intel's claim is described as "patent infringements". The exact details of those alleged infringements cannot be discussed at present, but the defendants and their lawyers are looking closely at the patent involved and Intel's allegations. KMS intend to respond to Intel within the 14 day limit that is specified." The statement added: " KMS would like to take this opportunity to stress that the situation will not affect product deliveries in any way, and are sure that business will carry on normally. We will still continue to offer our full product range, for further details see out website at KMS Components". It is very unusual for distributors to be implicated in actions relating to alleged patent infringements. KMS is a distributor for Intel, AMD and Cyrix parts, as well as FIC motherboards. It is all a little reminiscent of the late James Goldsmith's legal vendetta against UK satirical magazine, Private Eye, in which practically everyone involved in the production of the magazine was the subject of M'Learned Friends. Attacking the channel seems a tad over the top to us, and other distributors and their dealers will wonder exactly what the point of it all is... ®
Sun Microsystems is offering hard-pressed ecommerce sites an hardware upgrade path that's so smooth the hardware remains the same. It works like this: buy a 24-processor E10000 server but pay for only the processors you use. And when you need extra capacity -- just turn the tap on. Typically, swamped e-commerce sites have had to move to new hardware just when they are really busy and it is most inconvenient, Sun says. The company expects to recover the extra costs when the spare capacity is used, and it will also avoid sales costs that would otherwise be associated with flogging new tin. Sun has also been digging at the weakened SGI by announcing the Ultra 80, which will have four UltraSparc II processors, greater memory capability and more videocard slots. Chris Scheusele, Sun's workstation manager, hints at at a ten-fold increase in graphics performance in a new video system known as TVD that will use Sun's MAJC chip, probably be available in Q1 next year. Cheetah, the UltraSparc III chip is also expected next year. A comparison of Sun's UltraSparc machines with Intel-based competition has to take into account such things as the bandwidth between the processors and the video system. Sun manages 1.9 GB/second whereas Windows only manages 800 MB/second. Yesterday, Sun cut prices on some Ultra 60 models by up to 18 per cent. ®
Novell has landed the biggest NDS for NT contract in the world from BT, with 50,000 licences for immediate deployment, and a further 40,000 licences by May next year. BT is a bit of a Novell shop. In May, Novell received its biggest contract outside the US when BT renewed its licence agreement to upgrade its NetWare installation, which was running on NetWare 4.11. BT is now in the middle of migrating its 360 NetWare servers with 70,000 users to NetWare 5. Chris McGarr, BT's infrastructure design manager, said that "Businesses struggle with the limited domain directory of Windows NT 4.0. NDS for NT brings all the benefits of NDS to the Windows NT server and alleviates the issues of managing domains and trusts. We are impressed by Novell's cross-platform directory strategy, which will enable BT to bring other platforms such as Solaris and HP-UX into the directory-enabled network." With customers like that, what else could Novell possibly say, apart from pointing out that NDS for NT can reduce administration and management costs by 40 per cent, with an additional 10 per cent if MS Exchange administration is consolidated. ®
Action Computer Supplies is ditching mail order for online sales with the launch of a new Web site today. The reseller, which last month saw its proposed buyout by US giant Insight Enterprises fall through, plans to phase out its paper catalogues and sell entirely online. This move is part of a wider cost-cutting exercise, according to Henry Lewis, chairman of the Middlesex-based company. Action has already started reducing catalogue costs through the adoption of a cheaper printing system. It has replaced 46 of its field sales staff with 100 telesales staff and shut down offices in Camberley, Milton Keynes and Salford. The company has also spent £5 million on a new computer system and cut back on its loyalty point scheme for customers. The move to the Web will encourage a wider range of customers, including smaller individual sales, the company said. Action traditionally sells to larger corporates, but has seen sales suffer this year due to these customers holding back on orders in the face of Y2K. Action saw Web turnover increase 34 per cent to £25.8 million this year, with 14,800 customers buying online. Its Web site, relaunched today, will be faster and offer more back office integration such as order tracking. George La Plante, Action MD, said: "As the Web takes over, we’ll reduce the paper catalogue. But people are so used to the catalogue that we’ll need to have a transition period. The Web will cut costs as paper is replaced with electronic communications." The moves will help Action get back on track after the collapse of the Insight deal. "We will get back to our core business -- making a living the hard way," said Lewis. Conditions in the market were tougher than a year ago, but there had been no reduction in growth, he said. "We plan to expand rapidly next year through acquisition and organic growth. Globalisation will probably follow," he said. Lewis expects sales to return to "normal" levels in the first quarter of next year. "I don't expect a huge pent-up demand, but companies will start to buy normally again." Action posted pre-tax profit before exceptionals of £2.2 million on sales of £276.6 million, for the year ended 31 August, as pre-announced last month. This compared to last year's £7.1 million and £249.6 million. ®
Sun Microsystems is offering early-access releases of both the Sparc and Intel versions of Solaris 8, now due in February, for the knockdown price of $20 (to cover materials and documentation). It is wooing Linux users with the inclusion of Perl and GNU development tools in Solaris 8. With the new release, the Solaris kernel is "hardened". So if a system runs out of resources when it gets a request for memory, it rejects the request as opposed to shutting down. According to Sun, all Solaris applications are forward compatible with Solaris 8. This means there's no need for applications upgrades. Solaris 8 also supports Java 2SE, the Java Media Framework for streaming media, PDA synchronisation and other goodies. ®
Angry protesters outside the House of Commons today have slammed Paymaster General Dawn Primarolo's open letter on IR35 proposals, accusing her of running to the press rather than meeting concerned representatives. Primarolo claimed in the letter -- released yesterday in time for a Commons debate today -- that all parties had been consulted and their concerns incorporated. Not true, said Susie Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Professional Contractors Group, who told The Register that the PCG was only allowed to meet with the Inland Revenue the day before the final proposals were released. "I don't call being told what will happen 'consultation'," she said. The House of Lords threw out IR35 last month, rejecting Government concessions which included scrapping the colander-like test for who would be included in the new legislation. Primarolo said in her open letter that the Government will reinstate the clause and send the Bill back to the Lords. Today's Commons debate prompted opponents to march on Parliament with the aim of lobbying MPs. The IR35 proposals, outlined in the March Budget, pointed to a change in the tax law which would close the 'loophole' of people paying less tax and national insurance when employed by their own companies. IT consultants will be especially affected. ® Related story Contractors: cast aside your IR 35 fears, Paymaster General says Don't email us. Visit The Register's forum and share your views with the world.
With more oppressive regimes going online every day, it seems only natural that Britain, The E-commerce Nation,(speak to Tony) will make the most of it. So if you're shopping for electric stun guns -- particularly good for torture -- then go no further than the DTI's TradeUK Web site. With machetes sent to Rhodesia and Hawk jets to East Timor, you'd think stun guns advertised on the DTI site by a Surrey arms dealer wouldn't be a problem. But apparently they are. In fact, the government spoke of deficiencies and urgency and this sort of thing not happening again. Good for them. Foreign secretary Robin Cook doesn't want to sell weapons to people likely to use them in the wrong way, even though there's loads of money to be made doing it. That's not to say he will tell us what and to who he is selling. But then, as this little incident shows, we can trust him not to do anything stupid. ®
Compaq has repudiated suggestions from marketing research firm the Gartner Group that the Alpha programme is in any sort of danger. A report on the Gartner Group's home page gives probability figures for the Alpha platform continuing and discusses its involvement in the Monterey project, as well as commenting on the demise of its Alpha NT endeavour. But Richard George, Alpha director of marketing at Compaq UK, claimed the report, while in some ways positive, did not describe the whole picture. George said: "Where's the five year roadmap from any other vendor? We'll put the Alpha processor into the Himalaya boxes and the product is good for the Unix platform. We've over 6,500 applications running on Tru64 Unix, that's more than any other vendor." He said that Gartner's suggestion that Compaq might drop the EV bus for an IA-64 solution was "not credible". He said that Compaq's Alpha offerings were not small fry. "We'll never do that," he said. Compaq is spending $100 million on marketing over the next three or four weeks, said George. Gartner doubts about Monterey were also without foundation. The company will support Monterey on clients and on Alpha, and will move it to 64-bit Unix, he said. He claimed that Compaq was having success in migrating many of its former Alpha NT customers to x.86 Proliants already as part of its support programme. ® The Gartner report is here.
UpdatedControversial Linux distributor LinuxOne has announced the release of LinuxOne Lite, a cut-down version of the open source OS that will run straight out of a user's Windows installation. It's not the first time a Linux distribution that works from within another OS' hard drive partition has been offered -- that honour goes to LinuxPPC's LinuxPPC Lite, launched last year, which boots right off a MacOS disk. And in any case, say Register readers, it's been possible to do this with various Linux distributions using UMDOS technology to fill the gaps between Linux's file system and Windows'. Still, the software does promise a vary simple installation procedure -- just copy the files from the CD into the folder of your choice, the installation takes up under 600MB of hard drive space and, most importantly doesn't require users re-partition their hard drives. Like LinuxPPC Lite, it provides a handy way for new users to try Linux without committing a good portion of their system to it. LinuxOne Lite costs $29.95, though it's also available for at a "special price" of $9.95 -- it's not clear why there's a special price, or for how long it will last. LinuxOne is also offering LinuxMac, an app that reads and writes data to MacOS-formatted disks, an odd facility for a Intel-oriented distribution, you'd have thought. But since LinuxOne is charging $39.95 for a beta copy of the software -- the final release will cost $99.95 -- we don't expect there will be too many takers. ® Related Stories LinuxOne takes more than a leaf our of Red Hat's book
Chip company Intel is under pressure on a number of fronts and has all sorts of deals to make with all sorts of people. It's the keystone that cops all sorts of trouble when things go awry. But now it has emerged from a source close to its plans that it was Hewlett Packard which persuaded Intel to adopt a non-Rambus chipset for future server platforms. According to the source, HP told Intel it would not go to market with the Merced-Itanium unless it used non-Rambus memory. Double data rate (DDR) SDRAM was already being considered by Intel but when it came from push to shove, executives at Santa Clara felt its relationship with HP was more important than any considerations it might have with Rambus Ink. Intel was sympathetic to HP's overtures because its own technical staff had investigated DDR memory thoroughly. "This now puts Intel in a very safe position [with Merced]," the source said. "Rambus on server platforms created heat and density problems. With SDRAM (synchronous memory), you can go to a quad density DIMM, effectively quadrupling a 256K module". Intel was in a cleft stick as it pondered the options, the source added. Given the circumstances, it was prepared to sacrifice the i840 chipset as the high end workstation/server platform. ®
New laws outlawing child pornography in Japan came into force in Japan on Monday and could eventually lead to a net reduction in the sexual exploitation of children on the Web.
The author of Microsoft's 'Halloween' Linux documents has indeed left the company for a start-up, but it's not a Linux one, nor was his departure anything to do with the leaking of his reports a year ago. That, at any rate, is what Vinod Valloppillil said to Dow Jones Newswire, which tracked him down to onebox.com.
Technicians in Japan have transformed Intel 450MHz Pentium IIIs into 750MHz Pentium IIIs and have encouraged the system bus to go like the clappers at 165MHz. The site, Tomato Overclockers, describes a method of transforming what is now a singularly cheap chip into something that bests the up-and-coming Coppermines in performance terms. The site lists, in the English language, the results it has. But as a local technician pointed out to us yesterday evening, overclocking is only for those who wish to take the x.86 platform to its extreme limit. For example, running cold water through PCs running at the UK standard of 220-240 volts using alternating current is not a good idea. Please don't try it at home. Thanks to Japanese reader Battlax for showing us what can be done. ®
An American site is offering Athlon 800MHz and 900MHz for sale, many months before the chips are likely to be available. That has led AMD to the conclusion that the chips must be cryogenically cooled, although the Web site is not clear on this point. They're not cheap. If you turn to Shop USA, the site is offering 800MHz and 900MHz Athlons at $2,199 and $2,799.99 respectively. An AMD representative suggested that the parts being sold were, most probably, cryogenically cooled. But the representative agreed that the page, as it stood, could potentially mislead innocent buyers. The fastest Athlon AMD currently sells runs at 700MHz, and the representative would not be drawn on future clock speeds. We are expecting a 750MHz part to become available during the week of Comdex/Fall. In fact, if Shophere USA was selling such chips without cryogenic adjustments, it would make the busy Web site a fab, which quite evidently it is not. ®
The first Pentium III to die has quietly shuffled off this mortal coil. The 450MHz part has been consigned to the chip gulag in the usual low-key manner -- no official announcement, it just stops being mentioned in despatches. The untimely death -- the poor little thing was only launched at the end of February -- was caused by the inexorably rise of the Celeron range bringing so many bangs per buck that the slowest PIII just couldn't keep up, despite its Screaming Cindy Extensions. If this trend continues we'll eventually see Intel end-of-lifing processors before they're launched... ®