Cyber Ramblings - April 3, 2001

3 April 2001
Compiled by Kevin Smith

Nokia Extending European Presence
Nokia, the world's biggest cell phone maker, will provide third-generation mobile phone networks in Britain, France and Germany through deals worth a combined $1.3 billion. The agreements, with Britain's Orange, France's Itineris and Germany's MobilCom, were announced by Nokia on Tuesday, a day after the company clinched similar deals with Britain's Hutchison and Australia's Cable & Wireless Optus with a total value of almost $900 million. Under the three-year contracts, Nokia will provide mobile core and radio networks for the three mobile operators, "including a full range of professional services and operations support systems," the company said. Deliveries for the networks will begin soon.

MarchFirst Cutting 30 Percent of Workforce
Troubled high-tech consultancy MarchFirst Inc. said Monday it is laying off 1,700 people, about 30 percent of its staff, as it scrambles to sell assets and pay off heavy debts. The announcement ended nearly a week of silence since widespread reports that layoffs were imminent caused the company's already-ailing stock to fall steeply and ultimately be suspended last Thursday on the Nasdaq Stock Market at 16 cents a share. MarchFirst said it is trying to sell off more of its business units to raise cash. The company confirmed it is selling some core assets to Chicago software services company Divine Inc. in two separate deals totaling as much as $125 million in cash and notes--the same total Divine released in an announcement late Friday.

Former IBM Exec Gets Five Years for Fraud
A former IBM manager was sentenced Friday to 63 months in prison for his part in a scheme that landed him $2.5 million in kickbacks for steering the company's spare-parts business to a contractor. Robert St. Germain, 57, of Verbank, had been convicted in December for violating federal tax and money-laundering crimes. From 1990 to 1993, St. Germain managed IBM's Reutilization Department, which oversees the sale of surplus computer parts. Evidence at St. German's non-jury trial showed he steered business to Cerplex Inc. through sales representatives who kicked back part of their commissions to him, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said. Judge Colleen McMahon ordered St. Germain to forfeit $1.2 million and to pay $15,000 in fines. St. Germain is the 13th defendant in related cases to plead guilty or be convicted.

VeriSign Keeps .com but Gives up .org
The oversight body for Internet names voted Monday to give VeriSign Inc. longer rights to manage .com addresses in exchange for turning .org to another organization. Approval came in a teleconference call that was not open to the public. The vote was 12-3, with one abstention. The changes still need approval from the U.S. Commerce Department, which selected ICANN in 1998 to set policies on domain names. Although Commerce rarely overturns ICANN decisions, key members of Congress have urged the agency to evaluate the changes closely. Some competitors and Internet users had termed the proposal a windfall for a large company and complained that it was negotiated in secret with little community input. VeriSign now runs the master databases for addresses ending in .com, .net and .org. Internet users who need to find a Web site or send an e-mail under one of those suffixes touch on VeriSign's registry databases in some fashion.

RealNetworks Partners with Record Labels
RealNetworks, a maker of a popular Internet-based music and video player, is partnering with record label owners AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann AG and EMI Group to create an online music subscription service to be available sometime this year. Called MusicNet, the venture announced Monday will enable music fans to download their favorite songs over the Internet, but will oblige them to pay for it. Under the terms of the deal, the record labels and RealNetworks will each own a minority stake in MusicNet. Each label will license music to MusicNet on a non-exclusive basis, and RealNetworks will provide the technology for the service. MusicNet will then partner with companies to distribute the music. The initial partners, AOL and RealNetworks, will determine the cost of the subscription service on their own.

Microsoft Warns of Explorer Flaw
Microsoft Corp. warned customers that its Internet Explorer Web browser has a security flaw that could allow hackers to run programs on others' computers. The glitch causes Internet Explorer to automatically open specially coded attachments in e-mail without warning, possibly unleashing programs that could do anything from sending users a harmless message to deleting files from their computers, the Redmond-based software company warned late Thursday. Microsoft has developed a patch that can be downloaded from the company's website. Internet Explorer versions 5.01 and 5.5 are affected.

Amazon.com Fixes Price Goof
Shoppers visiting Amazon.com Inc.’s electronics store Monday night found major bargains on computer memory when an apparent glitch caused a handful of products to be sold for a fraction of their retail prices. A Viking 256-Mbyte memory board retailing for $9.99 reached No. 1 in Amazon's sales rankings before the price was corrected Tuesday morning to $329.99, and a 1-Gbyte board sold for $10.77 before being corrected to $999.99. The cause of the mistake, how many orders were taken, and how the company will respond aren’t known at this point.