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State's case against Microsoft dismissed

A Texas judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Microsoft which claimed that the company's insistence on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in its Windows licences was hampering the state's anti-trust investigation. The Texas Attorney General, Dan Morales, filed the complaint in late November as part of the state's investigation into Microsoft's business practices. In December, a federal judge in Washington threw out similar objections to the NDAs in a broader anti-trust case brought against Microsoft by the US Department of Justice.

The NDAs prohibit all Microsoft business partners from disclosing proprietary information until it becomes public - and to let Microsoft know if and when their documents are subpoenaed by a court of law. The Texan case fell through when Microsoft's lawyers asked for specific examples of when the state's investigation had been hampered by the NDAs, which it said are similar to those used throughout the industry. State attorneys did not present any witnesses who had signed NDAs, choosing to maintain the confidentiality of its sources rather than bring them into open court and risk damaging their business interests, according to spokesmen for Morales.

Seagate opts for optical hard drives

Seagate last week announced Optically Assisted Winchester (OAW) technology that uses lasers, microscopic drive lenses and tiny mirrors to store 10 to 20 times more data on to hard disk drives. The technology will also allow Seagate to sidestep a looming engineering problem. Although hard- disk storage has been boosted by up to 60 per cent a year, the limits of magnetic technology mean that engineers expect to hit the theoretical maximum density for data storage in about 10 years.

Introducing OAW "is going to permit us to increase storage density, which will reduce cost to the customer and continue the growth of the computer industry," Alan Shugart, Seagate chairman, said. Refining the principles of existing magneto-optical technology, Seagate has discovered how to make mirrors and lenses no bigger than the head of a pin, using the same techniques that chip makers use to etch circuits on semi-conductors.

"There have been people doing magneto-optic disk drives for 30 years, but they have not been competitive with magnetic drives on cost and performance," Shugart said. "We took a harder look at this in recent years because of the theoretical limit." The first product using the new technology will be announced later this year, he said.

Net continues to grow by 50 per cent a year

The Internet is growing at a rate of 40 to 50 per cent annually, according to the latest findings of the longest-running survey of Internet hosts - machines physically connected to the Net. The Internet Domain Survey carried out by Network Wizards ( shows there are almost 30 million host computers in 240 countries and that if this trend continues there will be about 90 million hosts by the beginning of the year 2000.

Although 23 new country domains have appeared since July, "one of the more enduring phenomena is that still roughly half of all the machines are in the US", said Tony Rutkowski of NGI Associates, "but the growth in China or Indonesia or some remote Third World countries is as great, or in some cases greater, than that in the US."

In a Harris poll, conducted in December and January, the number of Americans using the Internet increased to 36 per cent from 28 per cent in a poll taken last June. In January 1996 the figure was 12 per cent. More than a quarter of US adults now have e-mail addresses, according to the poll, and e-mail remains the most popular use of the Internet.

Windows 98 release to go ahead in Europe

Anti-trust questions are not expected to arise, says Microsoft, when it releases Windows 98 in Europe this spring. PC makers will be able to bundle either Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape's rival Navigator with the operating system.

Patrick Tensil, Microsoft product marketing manager in Germany, said Windows 98 improves a range of features of Windows 95 by adapting them for the Internet. "Windows 98 is a platform for Internet information and entertainment," he said. Microsoft plans to demonstrate Windows 98 at the CeBIT computer trade fair in Hanover, Germany, next month. The product is scheduled for final release in the second quarter of this year, but computer users in Europe should be able to join North American users in ordering a preview version, Beta 3, over the Internet after 27 February. Windows 98 Beta 3 will cost $21.35, Tensil said. The price of the final product has not yet been set.