Author: Mike Magee

Gates hits out at Berlusconi's Italy

Bill Gates might well have joined Twitter last week but he’s capable of writing thousands of words as well as 140 characters and that’s what he’s just done in his 14 page second annual letter.

The letter is posted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website and because Warren Buffett is a co-trustee, he’s been chatting him up about the state of the world economy and that.

Gates said that while the acute financial crisis is over, the economy is still weak and there will be “lingering unemployment” and big government debts.

That, he says, may well have an effect on aid budgets offered to the developing world by developed countries. Bill  Gates courtesy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

He’s particularly scathing about Sylvio Berlusconi and Italy. “Italy was at the low end of European givers even before the Berlusconi government came in and cut the aid by over half, making them uniquely stingy among European donors.”

He’s met Berlusconi and tried to make the case for more support, but Sylvio probably wasn’t listening because he had other things on his mind no doubt somewhat related to girls and stuff.

Other countries, too, aren’t being that generous – he says that Russia, China and the rich oil countries give modestly.

Gates bases his assessment of aid as a percentage of gross domestic product and  judging by those critera, the USA comes out below Italy at 0.19 percent. However, the US is the biggest giver in absolute terms.

Gates is also worried that governments are increasing spending to reduce the effects of global warming will also have an impact on aid.

Most of the letter is concerned with projects that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is undertaking. Read it all, if you will, here.

China skews flat panel display market

Demand from the Chinese market will dramatically shift the balance of shipments over the next few years for flat panel displays of all types.

That’s according to a report from DisplaySearch, which said that while the market had reacted to demand from North America and Europe, most shipments happened in the second half of the year.

But the same type of seasonal buying isn’t true for the Chinese market, which continues to suck in displays of all types, whether for notebook PCs, TVs, monitors, mobile phones, cameras and GPS devices.

David Hsieh, VP of DisplaySearch, said: “China is changing because of the world, the world is also changing because of China.”

He said: “China’s influence on the FPD industry is changing the FPD cycle and reshaping the FPD supply chain, with increasing panel and product manufacturing shifting to China—creating fierce competition among Japan, Korea and Taiwanese panel suppliers to establish fabs. Together with different characteristics of FPD buying and consumer behavior, this shift makes China a land that is flooded with opportunities and risks.”

The peak shopping seasons in China like the New Year and the Golden Week in May are in the first half of the calendar year. That’s forcing brands and OEMs to pursue higher allocation in the first half to build inventories.

It also means that brands are concentrating new models launched in the first half of the year – that’s true for TV, PC and consumer electronics brands.

FPD demand – chart courtesy of DisplaySearch

Category 1H/2H 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
All flat panel displays 1H 45% 51% 44% 46% 46% 47% 47%
2H 55% 49% 56% 54% 54% 53% 53%
Large Area displays 1H 44% 52% 42% 47% 47% 47% 47%
2H 56% 48% 58% 53% 53% 53% 53%
Small/Medium displays 1H 45% 50% 44% 46% 46% 47% 47%
2H 55% 50% 56% 54% 54% 53% 53%
All TFT LCDs 1H 42% 49% 43% 46% 46% 46% 46%
2H 58% 51% 57% 54% 54% 54% 54%

US distributor sues Samsung, AU, Chi Mei, over LCD conspiracy

A New York based distributorship has filed a case in a Brooklyn district court alleging that a large number of Asian companies conspired to fix prices on LCD displays.

Electrograph Systems Inc named the defendants in the case as Epson, Hitachi, Sharp, Toshiba, Toshiba Matsushita, Sanyo, LG Display, Samsung, AU Optronics, Chi Mei Optoelectronics, CMO Japan, Nexgen Mediatech, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Tatung, Hannstar Display and Mitsui & Co.

The filing claims that “the defendants and their co-conspirators formed an international cartel which conducted a long running conspiracy extending at a minimum from at leasy January 1996 through at least December 11, 2006.”

It continues: “The purpose and effect of the conspiracy was to fix, raise, stabilise and maintain prices for Thin Film Transistor Liqid Crystal Display panels.

The effect of the alleged conspiracy ran into billions of dollars, according to Electrograph. The conspirators, the filing alleges, met or talked to agree on product prices and as new producers entered the market, the new producers also agreed to fix prices and to control supply.

“Defendants’ conspiracy included agreements on the prices at which defendants would sell TFT-LCD products to their own corporate subsidiaries and affiliates, as well as their co-conspirators.”

The filing pointed out that five of the defendants – LG, Sharp, Chunghwa, Hitachi and Epson have pleaded guilty to a fixed price conspiracy.

Electrograph said it bought TFT LCD products and so suffered damages and is bringing the action to recover overcharges it believes it paid during the relevant period. Electrograph Systems is a value added wholesale distributor of display technology.

Psystar appeals against Apple ruling

Psytar has filed a case in a Northern California district court appealing against a previous court’s verdict that it breached Apple’s copyright.

Last December the 16th, a judge slapped a permanent injunction on Psystar to permanently halt sales of unathorised Mac clones and from copying, selling, distributing or creating derivative works of Mac OS X without Apple’s authorisation.

But Psystar obviously isn’t taking this lying down. The judge in the case said that until Psystar appealed against his ruling, it risked further action for distributing the $50 Rebel EFI Hackingtosh patch.

Whatever happens, it’s not going to happen particularly fast.

• Three more class acts started against Apple and AT&T. The number is legion.

AMD gets monkey to install graphics card

In a bid to convince you that it’s really really easy to install a graphics card in a desktop gaming machine, AMD has enlisted a monkey to show you how it’s done.

We’re not sure if AMD is taking the micky out of people or the micky out of monkeys with the video.

A lively discussion on Facebook, prompted by tech hack Sylvie Barak who posted the vid, ensued. Sylvie says she is “a little shocked that a certain company thinks people have nothing better to do than write up stupid videos of monkeys installing graphics cards”.

Damn it, we’ve just done it ourselves!

Intel beats the market with enormous profits

Chip giant Intel – formerly known as Chipzilla – turned in its fourth quarter results and made an enormous profit, reflecting a turnaround in the PC industry.

It turned in a profit of $2.28 billion on turnover of nearly $11 billion, the kind of results it was always used to before the darkening days of global recession.

Its gross margin also soared from 59 percent to 63 percent and it’s ambitious about the future too.

The industry is turning round – that was confirmed earlier this week by Gartner Group and IDC figures – and Intel is confident about the future as well.

CEO Paul Otellini (59) reckoned, in a statement, that the results reflected its investment in high end process manufacturing.

Intel is the “king” of process manufacturing, committed as it is to “Moore’s Law” which dictates that the smaller a chip gets, the more powerful it gets and you get many on a 12-inch wafer – a purified silicon slab that is photo-lithographed. That uses a very sophisticated and expensive kind of camera. The more chips you get on a wafer at a smaller size, the more money you make.

This is semiconductor technology. Software is a different ball game.

AMD rolls out HD gaming card

Chip firm AMD said it has introduced the ATI Radeon HD5670 graphics card and claims it’s the world’s first and only product fully supporting DirectX 11.

AMD says that the HD5670 graphics chip gives over 20 percent performance improvement over equivalent “competitive” products. It means Nvidia.

AMD HD5670 cardThe card costs under $100 in the US, and AMD claims it will provide up to 620 GigaFLOPS of computer power and GDDR5 memory.

The card will let you use up to three displays at once, and uses ATI Stream tech to speed up video transcoding and give better performance with Adobe Flash and the like.

The card, pictured above, takes less than 75 Watts under full load, and includes ATI CrossFireX dual mode support.

New-fangled democracy won't cut it in China

According to Winston Churchill – whose mother was American – democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

And while America is the land of the free, and quite a liberty bearer generally, it’s not right to assume that what’s sauce for the US goose is sauce for the Chinese gander.

It’s the most ancient culture in the world, and the only way such a vast country could have been governed is through a centralised bureaucracy that certainly paid no heed to what the Greeks were up to with their curious ideas of democracy.

It’s curious, then, that multinationals like Google, Yahoo and for that matter Microsoft naively believed that because China opened itself up to commerce, a centralised government would just blithely gaze on while an opportunity existed for China’s communist government to exploit source code for its own military and cryptic ends.

But it’s also no surprise that the US government is standing back from the Google affair while it sees how the Chinese government reacts to the search engine’s threat.

Sir Winston ChurchillThat’s because there’s one other foundation on which America is built apart from liberty – and that’s capitalism.  The USA is in debt to the Chinese government to the tune of not short of a trillion dollars – while Google spouts about its security being breached – it’s not in America’s interests to rock the boat too wildly.

China has overweening ambitions and has the resources to put long term plans into action. For most of 2008, I was working in India, which has espoused democracy, and I would hear a familiar complaint from the business people I talked to all the time.

They wished that India wasn’t a democracy so that the essential infrastructure needed to transform the sub-continent into another Asian powerhouse could be pushed ahead without the will of the people getting in the way of the plans.

No doubt it’s a terrible nuisance to have to take into account the wishes of individuals or parties they form when you want to press ahead with plans that are going to put crores of rupees into your pocket.

China’s stance to foreign companies operating in its country is that they have to obey the laws. China is a dictatorship and its laws aren’t created by an indepedent parliament or congress and moderated by an unfettered judiciary. In such circumstances, the normal rules of British fair play and the principles enshrined in the US Constitution just don’t run.

Google, perhaps, should have thought of this before it put time and energy into the marketplace, and not after the fact.

Dell continues to bleed market share

Figures from the Gartner Group for PC shipments during the fourth quarter of last year underline continuing weakness for Dell.

While HP showed 19.8 percent market growth in the fourth quarter, and Taiwanese PC company Acer grew by 13.5 percent, Dell only grew by 11.5 percent, compared to a figure of 13.3 percent in the same quarter in 2008.

This is in the face of the strongest growth rate in seven years in the PC market – although Gartner cautions that the fourth quarter of 2008 was very weak because of the economic crunch.

The growth in the PC market was down to low priced consumer mobile PCs – notebooks and netbooks. Dell’s strength is in the commercial and corporate sector and it declined to join a price war in the market, in a bid to preserve its profits.

The launch of Windows 7 did not create additional PC demand, but, said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, “was a good market tool during holiday sales”.

As far as territories go, the USA and Asia Pacific did best during the fourth quarter – Europe has been slower to recover. Nevertheless all regions showed positive shipment growth.

Ms Kitagawa said: “Aggressive promotion by PC vendors and channels stimulated consumer PC demand. However some vendors made damaging price cuts to increase market share.”

This table is courtesy of the Gartner Group.

Prelim worldwide PC vendor unit ships for Q4 2009 (thousands of units)
Company
Q4 09
Mkt Share
Q4 08
Mkt Share
Growth
HP
17,792.2
19.8%
14,239.9
19.3%
24.9%
Acer
12,188.2
13.5%
8,612.7
11.7%
41.5%
Dell
10,397.1
11.5%
9,839.3
13.3%
5.7%
Lenovo
7,836.5
8.7%
5,509.3
7.5%
42.2%
Toshiba
4,811.9
5.3%
3,668.1
5%
31.2%
Others
37,008.5
41.1%
31,855.4
43.2%
16.2%
Total
90,034.5
100%
73,724.7
100%
22.1%

HP became number one vendor in the US, beating Dell. Dell “struggled to retain its share in the consumer market. Dell had trouble keeping its share in that market and, said Ms Kitigawa, “could not win the severe price battle in the retail space”.

In the US, the top five companies were HP, Dell, Acer, Toshiba and Apple. Apple had a 7.5 percent share in the marketplace for the fourth quarter of 2009.