Portalizing Asia

By Julian Matthews

A quiet revolution is brewing on the Internet portal-playing landscape in Asia.

Even as Yahoo!, Microsoft’s MSN and Lycos move in to colonize the masses, Asian players are taking counter-offensive measures.

The payoffs are obvious. Portals are proven big traffic generators, and Asia is the one of the fastest-growing Internet markets. Couple this with the potential to direct that traffic onto gold-lined e-commerce pathways and the war has just begun.

The battle cry seems to be: “Whatever Yahoo! can do, we can do better.” In Malaysia, a new player has entered the fray while others have revamped and expanded their portal offerings.
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Packard Bell NEC and NEC to merge sales outside Japan

By Julian Matthews

PENANG–Packard Bell NEC Asia Pacific and NEC will consolidate its desktop PC, notebook and server businesses, outside Japan, under a single entity by the year 2000.

“Managing and operating from the same organization gives certain advantages. Now, we are able to serve corporate customers worldwide under one umbrella. All products and services will be unified,” said Wim Giezenaar, vice president and managing director of Packard Bell NEC Asia Pacific in a statement.

Packard Bell NEC and NEC sales offices in the region operated independently of each other previously.

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Packard Bell NEC will not shut down Asia Pacific plant

by Julian Matthews

PENANG–Packard Bell NEC will not shut down its Asia Pacific plant in Penang nor layoff any of its staff there or in sales offices in Middle East, Australia or New Zealand.

Company spokesperson Grace Lau confirmed this in a response to CNET Asia following the announcement of drastic restructuring of its US unit with 80 percent staff cuts and withdrawal of the Packard Bell brand from retail shelves.

“There are no cuts in Asia Pacific that we are aware of at this moment,” said Lau, who said the company in fact just advertised for new engineers last month.

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A fully-networked school rises in rural Malaysia

By Julian Matthews

LUMUT, Perak–If a school can be described as four walls with the future in it, then the Dindings National-Type Secondary School in rural Perak has confirmed its place in the new millennium.

Situated 95km from the nearest city Ipoh, the school is mostly made up of wooden buildings and wedged between a palm oil estate and a coconut plantation.

But running under the floors and in conduit piping along the corridors are Cat-5 networking cables inter-linking 70 PCs in the classrooms, the library, the staff room, the administration office, the science labs and computer labs. Every room has RJ-45 connectors that gives it instant access to the Internet on a 64Kbps leased line.

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Malaysia budget will help VCs

By Julian Matthews

KUALA LUMPUR–Malaysia has proposed that its central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, and two commercial banks provide RM300 million to finance venture capital companies (VCCs) to support the country’s desire to shift to a knowledge-based economy.

“VCCs will (also) be given full tax exemption on all sources of income received during its life span or for a period of 10 years, whichever is earlier, ” said First Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin at the unveiling of the federal budget in parliament today.

He said the tax holiday, however, carries the caveat that VCCs invest at least 70 percent of its funds for seed capital, start-up capital and first-stage financing.

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Virtual Varsities: Getting a degree from your desktop

by Julian Matthews

Jalaluddin Abdul Halim once took long, lonely bus-rides to-and-fro Ipoh city from the remote estate off Bruas where he lived and worked – a journey of nearly 100 km – just to attend accounting classes.

“Sometimes I would reach home at 3am and have to go to work the next day,” he said. The trips also entailed leaving his wife and young children thrice a week to fend for themselves.

But his determination eventually paid off. In 1992, he obtained his diploma which led to a subsequent rise in pay and broadened his career options.
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Catcha.com plans Nasdaq listing in 12 months

By Julian Matthews

KUALA LUMPUR–Asian portal player Catcha.com plans to list on Nasdaq in 12 months.

Chief executive Patrick Grove said the company may also seek a dual listing in Malaysia or Singapore within the same timeframe.

He was speaking at the launch of Malaysian version of its portal. The site is currently in English but Malay and Chinese language versions are in the works.

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Malaysia govt should not push telco mergers, says analyst

By Julian Matthews

KUALA LUMPUR–The Malaysian government should back-away from attempting to merge the six telcos in the country into three as it would do more harm than good to the industry, says a Gartner Group analyst.

“Consolidation is necessary. But when the government intervenes, it risks delaying an inevitable process. Government intervention tends to strengthen the hand of the weakest and undermine the fittest. That will not strengthen the sector,” said Bertrand Bidaud, director of telecommunications for the Asia-Pacific Gartner Group.

Bidaud said intervention by governments elsewhere has not been positive citing France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and several Asian mergers that remained “superficial”.

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When teenagers rule the world

By Anita Devasahayam

Author Douglas Rushkoff in his book, “Playing the Future: What We Can Learn from Digital Kids”, coined the term “screenager” to describe a child born into a culture mediated by the television and the computer.

He said that children are the natives in a media-rich world where adults are immigrants. Parents and teachers haven’t even begun to understand the language in this new information-saturated environment, while teenagers are hip to the new media and we scorn their savvy at our peril, he argued.

Written in 1995, Rushkoff’s assertions may be even more relevant in today’s Internet-plugged world. The examples are everywhere. A 16-year-old Irish girl invents a new data-encryption technology to rival the RSA encryption algorithm. A 14-year-old South Korean runs a successful MP3 Web site. A 16-year-old American boy gets an internship at a Silicon Valley company.
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Seagate will not shut down any Malaysian plants

By Julian Matthews

PENANG–Seagate Technology, the world’s largest disk drive manufacturer, will not shut down any of its seven Malaysian plants, said a senior executive.

“We do not have any plans on the table to close any factory in Malaysia,” assured Seagate chief financial officer Charles Pope in a teleconference to announce the company’s first quarter results for fiscal 2000.

Last month, Seagate Malaysia offered voluntary retrenchment packages to its staff as part of a worldwide restructuring plan to bring headcount down by 10 percent.

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