THE BROWSER: Truth and rumors from the tech world
Macs are cheaper than PCs by half, says a PC mag
Plus: Beth Comstock takes the Internet stage after spearheading NBC's $600 million iVillage buy -- and will AT&T deal lead to another split-up?
By Owen Thomas, Business 2.0 magazine online editor

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) - The last place you'd expect to find praise for a Mac is the pages of a PC trade magazine. But Network World columnist Winn Schwartau runs the numbers on what it truly costs to run a PC and a Mac in a business, and finds that a PC is nearly twice as expensive as a Mac when one takes support costs into account. Antivirus protection, firewalls, and IT labor to keep a PC secure and operational add up to a bill of $1,300 to $4,000 a year, according to Schwartau. Of course, there's one hitch in Schwartau's calculations: As the Mac gets more popular, it's becoming more of a hacker target, and protecting against those new threats could drive security and support costs up over time.

iVillage deal boosts NBC executive

NBC Universal's $600 million purchase of iVillage takes out one of the few remaining pure plays in Internet content, notes Jupiter Research analyst David Card. But it also sets up an NBC Universal executive as a new player in online media. Beth Comstock, who stepped down from her role as chief marketing officer at General Electric to run digital media at NBCU, will have an online empire to run after the deal closes. NBC Universal anticipates its online properties will have $200 million in revenue this year, with video from NBC's broadcast and cable networks running on iVillage websites.

AT&T merger could lead to split

The deal to merge AT&T and BellSouth would undo much of the 1984 split-up of Ma Bell. But will it last? Former Goldman Sachs analyst Michael Parekh says that consolidation hasn't really changed much in telecom, because no single company offers traditional "wireline" telephone service from coast to coast. And as companies like AT&T invest more to upgrade home phone lines to fiber-optic connections, investors may revolt. Parekh predicts that this latest deal will just lead to another split down the road, in this case between AT&T's fast-growing wireless business and its wireline operations.

O Canada, home of music file-sharing

Add this to the list of things that are legal north of the border: In Canada, downloading music over file-sharing networks has yet to be outlawed. The Canadian music industry blamed file-sharing for a four-percent dip in sales last year and called on Canada's legislature to update its copyright laws to cover digital music. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, Canada has the highest per-capita rate of file-sharing activity in the world.

MARCH 3, 2006

At the Under the Radar conference this week, Fox Interactive Media chief Ross Levinsohn announced that he'd acquired one of the 32 presenting companies -- but he wouldn't say which one. FIM, the Web arm of News Corp (Research)., is in the middle of an Internet acquisition spree that started with the $580 million purchase of MySpace last year. Blogger Vinnie Lauria narrows down the likely target to three startups that might complement MySpace: Eurekster and Sphere, which search blogs, and Popist, which helps bloggers track their favorite pop-culture items, from books to music to videogames. Levinsohn added that FIM may also acquire 5 more companies attending the conference "soon." Whichever companies Levinsohn ends up buying, he scored points with his dramatic style: On Techcrunch, one user said it was a "classic Hollywood moment," complete with cliffhanger. No word on when the final announcements will come.

Motorola's new phone registers a disconnect

Normally, having your gear show up on a popular blog like Engadget is a good thing, as it stokes buzz among the tech set. But when Engadget Mobile posted photos of what it believes is Motorola's (Research) forthcoming Rokr E3 music phone -- a successor to the current Rokr phone which plays music from Apple's (Research) iTunes -- the reaction was savage. Readers posted comments ridiculing the swooping, irregular keypad layout, and the thick soap-bar-like form factor. Engadget also noted that the iPod-like click wheel is fake -- it's actually just a four-way button, without the iPod's touch-sensitive controls that let you scroll through a music playlist swiftly.

They're "calling" your row

A German airline will let you use your cell phone as your boarding pass starting next week, reports. Passengers who register on the website of dba, Germany's second-largest domestic airline, will receive a multimedia message on their phones with an image of a barcode. At the gate, dba agents will then scan the barcode just like they currently process printed boarding passes. Previously, dba has offered a text-message seat reservation service which let passengers confirm their seats three hours before the flight.

Reuters CEO sees "weird, hybrid world" online

Speaking at an Online Publishing Association event in London Thursday, Reuters CEO Tom Glocer wowed the crowd with his Internet savvy. Praising the efforts of bloggers who covered news events like the Asian tsunami and the Concorde crash, he noted that "There's no monopoly on being in the right place in the right time." He also said that mashup and filtering technologies are creating a "weird, hybrid world" where users can rearrange content as they see fit. Unlike most of his media-chief brethren, though, Glocer has made peace with the idea that Reuters content will be part of the mash. In fact, he sees a role for media companies like his own as "seeders of clouds," whose articles are the material bloggers use to start conversations. To be part of the online conversation, Glocer argued that media companies should embrace new technologies like RSS, as Reuters has.

March 2, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) -- In another sign that Apple (Research) is planning an iTunes Movie Store, a research firm is surveying users to ask what they'd think of such a service. The survey details a subscription service with 1,000 movies available for $9.99 a month, and a different option where movies would be available to purchase for $12.95 apiece. Movies could be moved to a video-capable iPod or played on TV, but couldn't be burned to DVD. Those polled were asked whether they'd prefer the rental or purchase options. No word on when the movie service might launch, but at Tuesday's launch of the Intel Mac mini, Jobs closed the event by announcing, "We'll see you all real soon." Previously, at Macworld Expo, Jobs had hinted in his keynote that Apple might announce products around the company's 30th anniversary, which takes place on April 1.

Yahoo media executive stays put

Lloyd Braun, the former ABC executive recruited by Yahoo CEO Terry Semel to head up the Web giant's media businesses, is sticking around -- but he's learned his lesson. Instead of trying to program one-off hit shows for the website, like he did for TV, Braun says he's now embracing user-generated content. User-generated content, like the photos people post on Yahoo's (Research) Flickr website, is already transforming Yahoo's business, from web search to auto reviews and travel. It also has the benefit of being vastly cheaper than Braun's old specialty of Hollywood-style TV shows. Just a week ago, the blogosphere was ridiculing a Braun proposal for a Web video show with animated puppets; now AdPulp says that Braun's statements show that he now understands that Yahoo is not a cable channel.

Can Sun and HP kiss and make up?

Will Sun (Research) CEO Scott McNealy make up his mind about archrival Hewlett-Packard? Just a month ago, he implied that Hewlett-Packard's software was so bad, it didn't even rate a critique from him. Now, in an open letter to HP CEO Mark Hurd posted on Sun's website, he's making nice saying both companies have "terrific products." Why the sweet talk? McNealy is hoping to convince Hurd to merge HP's variant of the Unix operating system with Sun's Solaris. The two operating systems share similar roots, but they're different enough to require separate versions of application programs for each, making extra work for software developers. While there's some logic to McNealy's proposal, CRN points out that the letter came out right before a planned event today with HP, Oracle (Research), and Intel (Research), suggesting that McNealy's real aim was to steal HP's thunder.

Microsoft in search of improvement

Promises, promises: Microsoft (Research) executive Neil Holloway claims that its search engine will be "more relevant" than Google's (Research) within six months. But Microsoft News Tracker scoffed at Holloway's boast, as did The Inquirer, which called it a "yarn". But you have to give Microsoft this much: At least it hasn't given up altogether, like Yahoo.

March 1, 2006

Cell phones may cause airplane turbulence

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) -- Those pre-flight warnings about putting away all electronic devices? They aren't making that up. A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found that using cell phones and wireless laptops on airplanes can actually interfere with cockpit systems. Researchers, who brought spectrum-analyzing equipment aboard in their carry-on luggage, also found that several scofflaws made cell-phone calls during takeoff and landing, the most dangerous parts of flight. The Wireless Report blog notes that this sets up a battle of "science versus economics," since airlines are eager to sell in-flight cell-phone and Wi-Fi services to customers.

Server sales seen slowing down

The $50 billion market for server computers grew slightly last year, according to analysts -- but not everyone saw that news as good. Tech pundit Nick Carr detected signs of a crash to come in a fourth-quarter slowdown -- the first quarterly revenue drop in the server business since 2003. Thanks to new technologies like virtualization and grid computing, Carr believes, the number of servers in the world could drop by half or more, as fewer, cheaper, more efficient machines do more work. But SAP (Research) executive Charles Zedlewski debunks Carr's arguments on his personal blog, observing that as servers get cheaper and more efficient, customers have generally bought more of them, not less.

Napster blames everyone but itself

As the digital-music service struggles with out-of-control marketing costs and subscribers who can't seem to drop the service fast enough, Napster (Research) CEO Chris Gorog has figured out who's at fault: Why, it's Microsoft and the consumer electronics industry, not Napster, of course. Napster's service only works with Microsoft Windows Media software and compatible music players, not with Apple's (Research) popular iTunes Music Store and the iPod, which have a commanding lead in the digital-music business. In comments at a Reuters conference in New York, Gorog characterized his partners' work as "less than brilliant," but said he believed that the Microsoft (Research) format would win out in the end.

Microsoft to replace Passport sign-on

For hundreds of millions of Hotmail users, Microsoft's Passport sign-on is a familiar daily ritual. But that could soon change, according to BetaNews. As a first-generation online service, Passport is on the chopping block, due to be replaced in Microsoft's to push to roll out a new generation of online services under the "Live" brand. Microsoft is replacing Passport with Windows Live ID, which a Microsoft spokesperson characterized as "a major upgrade to Passport technology." While Microsoft isn't providing details on Live ID's new features, the service will likely include a new Microsoft security technology called "InfoCards," which allows users to control how much personal information they share with websites and online retailers. The switch to Windows Live ID could happen as soon as 2007.

February 28, 2006

Cable companies dominate VOIP race

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) -- As consumers continue to sign up for voice-over-Internet-protocol phone lines at a rapid clip, cable companies are grabbing the lion's share of this new market, reports Business 2.0 senior writer Om Malik. Cable companies like Cablevision (Research), Comcast (Research), and Time Warner (Research) (CNNMoney's parent) now have 52 percent of the VOIP business, according to a new study from telecom research firm Telegeography. Meanwhile, independent VOIP companies like Vonage, Primus, and SunRocket now only have 37 percent of the market. Local phone companies, which would rather sell traditional phone service than VOIP connections, have just 11 percent market share. The cable companies have a key advantage over the phone companies and independents: They can sell phone service as part of a bundle with cable TV and Internet access.

Tivo tries again

TiVo (Research) invented the digital video recorder -- but it has faced stiff competition from cable and satellite companies which rent similar equipment for as little as $5 a month. That makes TiVo's $70 DVR and $13-a-month subscription fee look like a bad deal in comparison. So now CEO Tom Rogers is considering plans. One would give customers the DVR for free if they pay a higher monthly fee, while another has consumers paying more for both the DVR and the service plan upfront, without having to pay any monthly fees. The company, which now has just 4 million subscribers, is already experimenting with a version of this plan: Customers can now get a used TiVo for free if they pay $156 for 12 months of service in advance.

Yahoo sues mobile-games business

Yahoo has filed a lawsuit against MForma, one of the largest providers of wireless games, alleging theft of trade secrets. The suit also names seven former employees who left Yahoo (Research) to join MForma. MForma, which does about $100 million in annual revenues by selling sports and action games to cell-phone users, denied the allegations. President Jonathan Sacks says the lawsuit is an attempt by Yahoo to discourage its employees from joining his company.

Virtual fans throw mock U2 concert

On the Internet, nobody knows you're just a tribute band -- which could pose problems for real bands as they try to reach out to online fans. The tribute group U2 in SL has been performing eerie facsimiles of U2 concerts in the Second Life online virtual world, with avatars that are lifelike resemblances of Bono and the rest of the world-famous band. Virtual worlds are an extension of the fast-growing online role-playing game business. Unlike games, though, virtual worlds provide a space for hanging out with friends and building out creative digital spaces -- a practice so popular that some have turned it into a business. A U2 in SL concert organizer said that the events weren't aimed at making money, but hoped they would raise awareness for U2-favored causes like Make Poverty History. No word yet from Bono and The Edge on whether they approve.

February 27, 2006

Google turns on PayPal killer

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) -- It's official: Google has started offering a rival to eBay's PayPal payment service. Google Account, a service that previously just let users purchase videos, will now be available to sellers on Google Base, Google's classifieds website. Google Blogoscoped says that the move brings it "one step closer" to becoming eBay. To be sure, Google (Research) lacks eBay's (Research) auction capability, and a community of buyers and sellers. But Google could easily list Google Base items on its Web search results pages for free, making money on Google Account payment commissions.

Microsoft to unveil tablet PC?

The Web is buzzing about a Microsoft website claiming to unveil details of a product that will "change your life" this Thursday. On Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter rounds up the rumors, which point to a compact, handheld tablet PC capable of playing games and music. Bishop also links to a video showing an early concept of the device. On the video, the device is shown playing Halo, a game which helped popularize the Xbox -- a link that may tie this device to earlier rumors of a handheld Xbox.

What's behind the PlayStation 3 delay

At the heart of Sony's (Research) next-generation PlayStation 3 is the Cell microprocessor, a screamingly fast and complex chip designed by IBM (Research), Sony, and Toshiba. Ars Technica's Hannibal digs into an IBM technical document and finds the reason why Sony has been hinting at delays to a planned PS3 launch this spring: Writing code that runs on Cell is a challenge for even the most sophisticated programmers. Hannibal's conclusion: Cell's complexity won't doom the PS3 launch altogether, but it's unlikely that the first generation of games for the PS3 will take advantage of Cell's advanced capabilities.

The oddest iPod add-ons

You may know that the business of making accessories for the Apple (Research) iPod is thriving. But did you know quite how bizarre it's gotten? TechEBlog rounds up the 10 strangest iPod accessories. Some of the highlights include an iPod-enabled bed, an iPod-powered Wurlitzer jukebox, and a hybrid toilet paper dispenser and iPod dock. Other devices take advantage of the iPod Nano's small size: There's a Nano belt buckle and a wallet which holds your Nano -- it really is the size of a credit card. Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.