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Unix workstations at PC prices

Sun Microsystems today launches its new PCI family of workstations, code- named Darwin, as the company responds to the influx of PC vendors who have gained a share of the market with low-end Pentium II workstations running Windows NT. The UK prices were not available before the official launch, but Ken Okin, vice-president and general manager of Sun's Workstation Product Group, said: "Compaq is our target. We will be competitive with them per megahertz."

In the United States, the machines have been available through direct sales channels since mid-December. The Ultra 5 - which has a 270MHz UltraSparc IIi processor, a 4Gb hard drive and 10/100-BaseT network card - retails at less than $4,000. The base price for the Ultra 10, with a 300MHz UltraSparc IIi processor, Sun's new Elite3D 24-bit graphics architecture and support for up to 1,024Mb of RAM, is $12,995.

Reaffirming its commitment to Unix, arguing that the Solaris-driven machines offer powerful computing which is more reliable than NT, Sun is pre-installing a friendlier version of Solaris 2.6. However, support for Windows 95 is catered for with SoftWindows 95 and Windows NT with Ntrigue. By summer, the Sun PC Card for running Windows 95 off an onboard Advanced Micro Devices K6 processor will be available. Other future enhancements include PC file viewing and printing and collaborative tools for sharing Windows and Unix applications.

IE4.0 for the Mac released

Microsoft last week posted the release version of Internet Explorer 4.0 for the Macintosh on its Web site ( Although the browser can receive push channels, the Active Desktop technology, which IE4.0 uses to turn Windows desktops into an extension of the World Wide Web, is not available for Macs. That may not be a disadvantage - according to many news groups most Windows 95 users opt to use neither push channels nor Active Desktop, preferring to stick to traditional ways of interacting with the Web and their desktops. IE4.0 for Mac includes Outlook Express, a mail and news reader, as well as support for the Java Development Kit 1.1.3, and the AutoComplete feature that finishes Internet addresses as users type them in. Five megabytes of memory is required.

With IE4.0 the default browser for new Macintosh machines, the release may well erode further Netscape's share of the browser market. According to the results of a study announced last week by Positive Support Review (PSR), since IE4.0 for Windows was released Microsoft's "usage" market share has risen from 42 per cent to 63 per cent. The methodology used by PSR is, however, unclear. A report from Dataquest, cited recently by Microsoft, estimated that Netscape still held the lead with 57 per cent, but concluded that Microsoft was rapidly gaining market share.

MS concern at special adviser

In the continuing anti-trust court case, Microsoft last week asked Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor investigating US government claims that the software company is monopolistic, to resign on the grounds that he is biased.

Lessig was appointed special adviser to a US District Court as part of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's preliminary ruling on the case between Microsoft and the Department of Justice. Microsoft produced a series of e-mail messages between Lessig and Netscape attorneys, dated last summer, to demonstrate Lessig's alleged bias. His e-mails cited problems he was having with the Mac version of Internet Explorer. Microsoft claimed that Lessig's opinions would affect his views on the default bundling of Internet Explorer on consumer PCs, the focus of the court case. Lessig rejected the call for him to step down.

"We think that's very unfortunate," Mark Murray, a Microsoft spokesman, said. "We have serious concerns about Professor Lessig's lack of objectivity in this matter." The software company has filed a motion asking Jackson to end the process with Lessig or anyone else and has also filed an appeal. Lessig is expected to complete his inquiry into Microsoft's licensing by summer, but a court case could delay his report.

A virtual lover on your key-ring?

The Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair last week offered a glimpse of the electronic key-ring gadget that may succeed cyberpets. My Lover, manufactured by Solar Tune Electronics, sells for $10 in Hong Kong and is scheduled for export to Europe and the US. It allows owners to win the affections of a virtual partner with flowers, chocolates, karaoke dates and love letters.

Points thus earned can be converted into virtual kisses and marriage, but a lack of attention will lead to rejections and if the owner fails to heed warnings and mend their ways, their virtual partner may desert them for someone else.

"Teenagers are always looking for love, and this game can give them some experience, teach them how to respect others," Stanley Chan, the company's assistant marketing manager, said.

Andy Oldfield