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Microsoft `only following orders'

The anti-trust court case brought by the US Department of Justice against Microsoft focused last week on a contempt charge. On 11 December Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued a temporary injunction requiring Microsoft to offer computer makers the option to include or exclude its Internet Explorer browser with the Windows 95 operating system. Microsoft responded by saying that since the browser was integral to current versions of the operating system, the order meant it could offer manufacturers only old versions of Windows, or non-functional ones. The Department of Justice filed a claim of contempt asking that Microsoft be fined $1m a day until it complied fully with the terms of the injunction.

Last week, David Cole, a Microsoft vice-president who oversaw the development of Windows 95, reiterated Microsoft's position. When asked by Judge Jackson whether "it seemed absolutely clear to you that I entered an order that required that you distribute a product that would not work", Cole said: "In plain English, yes. I followed an order. It wasn't my place to consider the consequences of it." He went on to demonstrate that removing the browser by usual methods, such as the add/ remove software utility in Windows, left enough of the browser's files in the operating system to enable Web access using other software. Removing all shared library files from the OS rendered it inoperable.

Judge Jackson cannot clarify the wording of the original order as Microsoft has launched an appeal against it, rendering it unalterable until that appeal is heard in March. Meanwhile, both sides were told to present their summaries this week. Judge Jackson is expected to announce his verdict before the end of the month.

Silicon Valley redundancies

The hard-disk manufacturer Seagate last week announced what is believed to be Silicon Valley's largest lay-off, cutting 10,000 jobs as part of a struggle to regain profitability. Most of the redundancies - which include the earlier elimination of 1,100 employees in Clonmel, Ireland - are taking place in the company's Far East facilities. But 1,300 jobs in the US will also be lost.

Silicon Valley's fourth-largest company said it decided to make 10 per cent of its workforce redundant as a quick fix for financial problems caused by increasing competition, falling prices and overproduction in the market. "We only want to go through this once," said a spokesman.

Chip technology moves on

The price to consumers of Pentium II chips will continue to fall as Intel prepares to ship a new processor technology next year. Formerly known as MMX 2, now dubbed Katmai, the new technology is designed to boost a computer's ability to handle 3D graphics, full-motion video, and speech recognition. It will run at speeds starting at about 500MHz, company executives said.

The technology will appear on Pentium II processors early next year, preceding the next generation, 64-bit Merced chips and closing further the gap between workstations and PCs. Katmai consists of 70 new processor instructions compared with the 57 introduced by MMX. With its release coinciding with enhancements to Intel's Accelerated Graphics Port technology, it could make separate graphics cards redundant.

EU will not look at Net phone calls

Services that let consumers make long-distance phone calls at local rates over the Internet are not yet sophisticated enough to fall under European Union rules on voice telephony, the European Commission said last week. But as technology improves, Internet service providers could be subject to the same licensing and public-service obligations as phone companies.

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