Five ways to kiss your iPod goodbye
These days, thinking different means eschewing the ever-so-common iPod, says the U.K.'s T3, a gadget magazine. For those who don't want to follow the crowd, the magazine offers five iPod alternatives, each with its own charms. Topping T3's list is the Meizu miniPlayer, which the Browser wrote about in May, and features "a stunning screen and pint-sized proportions."
Creative, which has struggled to gain traction in the MP3 player market it pioneered, has a potential winner in the Zen V Plus, which includes an FM radio and voice recorder. The iRiver T10's battery lasts for 53 hours, a good thing for those who don't want to keep recharging. Sony Ericsson's V630i music phone can play MP3s and also does Internet radio over its cell-phone data connection. And the MobiBlu US2 is even thinner than a Nano.
The downside to all of these iPod alternatives? None of them work with the iTunes Music Store, so if you've bought a lot of music there, you'll have to kiss those tracks goodbye along with your iPod.
Microsoft ponders Windows after Vista
Is there life after Windows Vista? Microsoft is already looking past the Windows XP successor that took five years to hatch to a radically different version of the Windows operating system. New "multicore" chips from Intel and AMD, which include multiple processors on a single piece of silicon, could require a substantial revamp of Windows, says Bryan Barnett, a program manager in Microsoft's research operation. While Windows Vista will run on multicore chips, it doesn't take full advantage of their processing power.
Of course, the biggest holdup to starting work on the replacement to Vista may be getting Vista out the door. The much-delayed operating system may not reach consumers until the second quarter of 2007, says Citigroup analyst Brent Thill.
Startup deletes itself
How do startups die? There's the MySpace cease-and-desist letter, a reliable death knell. There's a crushing surfeit of competition. And now, there's the really stupid way to go: accidentally deleting yourself. TechCrunch looks into the boneheaded, utterly avoidable end of CouchSurfing. The two-and-a-half-year-old startup was revolutionizing the travel industry through the peer-to-peer provision of lodging -- er, that is, letting strangers meet online and make arrangements to sleep on each others' couches. On Friday, though, the website suffered a fatal hard drive crash and its operators found that they didn't have the needed backups. Founder Casey Fenton left a long, rambling message on the website explaining how "This crash is like a sign from the universe" that he should abandon the project. A lesson to entrepreneurs: If you're going to pour three years of your life into a project, invest in some decent backup software.
Apple's options investigation is good PR
With an SEC stock-options investigation roiling the tech industry, Apple made a smart PR move and announced it was investigating itself -- before the SEC got around to it. In a statement late Thursday, the company said that it was investigating "irregularities" in stock options granted between 1997 and 2001, including one grant made to CEO Steve Jobs. Jobs's option, however, was cancelled in 2003 before he exercised it, so he didn't gain anything from the grant in question, according to Apple.
Perhaps Apple should be investigating Jobs's business acumen instead. If he'd held onto those options and exercised them instead of trading them in for a restricted stock grant, the shares would now be worth more than $3 billion. But even the visionary Jobs couldn't have predicted Apple's iPod-fueled stock rise. And for Jobs, who's already a billionaire from selling Next Software to Apple, and then Pixar to Disney, his reputation may be more valuable than whatever profit he might have made from exercising possibly tainted options.
Google would like to see your ID
Google wants to save users the trouble of remembering multiple usernames and passwords by letting other websites use its login system, the Identity 2.0 blog reports. For websites, the motivation is two-fold: They won't have to spend time coding their own login system, and they can tap into Google's growing user base. For users, the appeal seems simple -- they won't have to remember yet another username and password. (Only Google will see the user's password; the website will just get an "authentication token" meant to prove the user's identity.)
But Google's new Account Authentication system poses some troubling issues -- largely the same ones Microsoft faced five years ago when it tried to introduce Passport, a similar master password for the Internet. The debate back then was fierce, but boiled down to this question: Can we trust a single company with all of our online identities?
Digital ID World notes an irony here: Microsoft, bruised by its past experience, is relaunching Passport as Live ID, which lets websites use any online ID directory, not just the one Microsoft currently uses to let people log into Hotmail and other MSN websites. Google's system, by contrast, only works with Google usernames and passwords. And of course, it makes Google the sole guardian of our digital identities. So: Are you ready to hand over your ID?
Apple may include VOIP in new Macs
As it delves deeper into software, Apple has already found itself competing with Adobe, Google, and Yahoo. Now rumor has it that it's taking on Skype, too. AppleInsider reports that the upcoming "Leopard" version of Mac OS X, set for a preview in August, will include VOIP features in Apple's iChat software to allow Mac users to call regular phone lines, not just other iChat users. With AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google all including VOIP in their instant-messenger software programs, the feature seems like a competitive must-have. But it may also be a defensive move on Apple's part to keep Mac users happy, since some of the most popular IM programs aren't available on the Mac, or don't include VOIP in their Mac versions.
Internet bigs defend Craigslist
Who's on Craig's list? Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Google, and Yahoo, for starters. The five Internet giants signed an amicus brief in a housing-discrimination case filed against Craigslist in Chicago, Law.com reports. Craigslist, a classifieds-listing site founded by software programmer Craig Newmark, has been accused of discrimination because of listings posted by users on its site looking for, among other characteristics, "gay Latino" or "Christian" roommates. A variety of local and federal housing laws prohibit most kinds of discrimination in housing ads. But the federal Communications Decency Act passed in 1996, Craigslist's online allies argue, protect websites from liability for content posted by their users.
For Craigslist's allies, the issue goes way beyond roommate-wanted ads. Amazon and eBay et al. don't want to be liable for users' postings, since that would put a major crimp on their plans to rely on user-generated content for more and more of their Web traffic. It's no wonder that online publishers want to protect this legal privilege, since they enjoy an enviable position compared with other media. While newspapers might get sued for publishing such ads, Craigslist is in a different legal position thanks to the 1996 law, notes Eric Goldman in his Technology & Marketing Law Blog.
British Internet cafe sets speed record
At a remote satellite-transmission facility in Cornwall, BT is opening what's billed as the world's fastest Internet cafe. BT's Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station, which attracts 80,000 visitors a year to the site on a remote peninsula in the southwest of England, is hooked directly into the British telecom firm's high-speed Internet backbone. By tapping right into the backbone rather than going through a series of local network links, the cafe's computers will let users surf at speeds of 100 megabits per second, which is 20 to 60 times faster than the typical home broadband connection. The cafe's not just an opportunity for BT to demonstrate its networking prowess: Apple and Cisco are also using it as a showcase for their technology. Then again, that's assuming anyone will travel to a remote peninsula in the U.K. just to surf the Net at 100 megabits per second.
New Palm, RIM phones will duel this fall
Prepare for a next-generation smartphone duel this fall: Palm is prepping two new Treo models for October, while Research In Motion has a new BlackBerry due in November, according to leaked documents provided to Engadget Mobile. The new "BlackBerry Stealth" looks similar to RIM's 7130C model, and Engadget dings it for lacking a built-in camera and support for high-speed 3G networks. The Palm Infocenter blog is more excited about the Palm models, noting that the two new smartphones round out Palm's promise to release four new models this year, including the earlier Treo 700w and 700p. The larger Treo Lennon will run Windows Mobile, support 3G networks, and includes BlackBerry-like software that pushes emails to the device. The smaller Treo Nitro runs the Palm OS, and could be priced under $300, according to Palm Infocenter.
Which would you buy -- RIM's latest, or one of Palm's upcoming models?
China's Internet censorship, easily defeated
At Cambridge University, computer-security researcher Richard Clayton has found a way to defeat the fearsome Great Firewall of China: Just ignore it. The Great Firewall, a system of routers and other network equipment that lets China's rulers censor the Internet, blocks Web pages with objectionable terms like "Falun Gong" and "democracy." China's online censorship regime has had a massive impact on the Internet, forcing Google to compromise its principles to gain access to the Chinese market.
But Clayton has found that the Great Firewall may not be any more successful than the real Great Wall in keeping out foreign influences. In order to efficiently censor the entire Internet, the Firewall's routers don't actually block Internet traffic. That would require many more machines than China has installed, and slow down Internet access for the entire country. Instead, China's routers, when they detect an objectionable word or phrase, send a signal to the Internet user's computer that makes it think the original Web server has stopped responding to the request to download a page. Clayton found that these fake requests are easy to distinguish from real ones, and that by updating their Internet software to ignore them, Chinese Internet users can surf any page they want.
Last year, some shareholders criticized Cisco for its involvement in building China's censorship systems. Maybe they should be scolding Cisco for building shoddy, easily defeated software instead.
What do you think? Will China's Great Firewall withstand this crafty assault from abroad?
Microsoft fights software pirates with Vista
Avast, ye mateys: Windows Vista will eliminate a licensing loophole that has proven popular with Windows software pirates since the introduction of Windows 1995. Microsoft technically requires every copy of Windows to have a unique licensing key entered in at installation, to prove that the software was paid for. But for more than a decade, Microsoft has given large corporate customers so-called "volume licensing keys" that let them install Windows on all of their employees' PCs with a single key. Forcing corporations to track thousands of keys was too cumbersome, so Microsoft just performed occasional audits, mostly trusting its largest customers not to abuse the system. But naturally, pirates have latched onto these corporate keys as a way to churn out illegal copies of Windows.
With Windows Vista, Microsoft is putting the honor system to an end, writes tech trade CRN. Vista will include "key management" features to track Windows installations. For corporate customers, that has pluses and minuses. Key management may mean paying more for software in the short term. But for companies that are trying to stay honest, it will cut down on in-house expenditures to track copies of Windows. And for pirates? Maybe it's time to raise the white flag.
Will Vista's key-management features cut down on piracy? Tell us below.
Comcast buys build-your-own-YouTube site
Online publishing blog PaidContent.org is reporting that ThePlatform, a startup that builds customized, YouTube-like video-sharing websites for corporate customers, has been purchased by Comcast for more than $80 million. PaidContent's Rafat Ali -- who also got a big check of his own recently -- reports that he heard Comcast and ThePlatform were in acquisition talks late last year. The cable provider already uses ThePlatform to power TheFan, its online-video website that's used by traditional video providers like ABC, CBS and ESPN. For now, Comcast plans to let ThePlatform keep running sites for its other customers, like ABCNews.com and CourtTV. The upshot? Expect Comcast to get serious about online video, now that it has an in-house technology platform.
Four out of five portals doomed, says cable expert
The Deal's Tech Confidential blog reports that former AT&T Broadband CEO Leo Hindery is predicting the demise or acquisition of four out of the five major portals today -- AOL, eBay, Google, MSN, and Yahoo. That's a gutsy call for a group whose combined market capitalization is $225 billion. But Hindery argues that much of that market cap rightfully belongs to content providers like CBS, Disney, and NBC Universal, and distributors like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, and that over time much of the portals' market value will shift to them.
That's big talk coming from a guy responsible for several bubble-era flops, writes Techdirt. At AT&T Broadband, Hindery helped seal the fate of Excite@Home, the Web portal and cable-broadband provider that went bankrupt after bickering between AT&T and its other cable partners. And his stint at Web-hosting provider GlobalCenter during the bursting of the telecom bubble was similarly undistinguished. Hindery's arguments today are as wrongheaded as his management moves back then, argues Techdirt: "People aren't going online to get Disney or Time Warner content -- but to email with people, to instant message with people, to read and post to blogs."
Do you think Hindery has a point?
Apple's "Leopard" operating system to roar in August
Ready for another Steve Jobs keynote? The most foaming of the Mac faithful are still fanning themselves from this January's speech at Macworld Expo, where Jobs stunned the crowd with the announcement that Intel Macs were available months ahead of schedule. Now comes word that Jobs will again headline the lineup at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, set to take place in San Francisco August 7-11, and his hardcore fans are frothing at the prospect of seeing their idol once more.
The main topic of discussion at the conference? Apple's new "Leopard" operating system, the latest version of Mac OS X. The Technology Chronicles points out that Leopard is the first OS designed specifically for Intel chips, so this is an upgrade especially worth watching. Paul Thurrott is hotly anticipating Leopard, too, saying that the new release should be packed with features to "deflect pressure" from Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system.
Do you plan to upgrade to Leopard?
NBC to promote TV shows with user-created videos
At the Convergence 2.0 conference in New York on Monday, an NBC executive said that the network plans to market its new fall lineup of shows by broadcasting user-created "mashups" of NBC video clips as on-air promos. Gillian Lusins, vice president for intellectual property at NBC Universal, said the company plans to provide an online video-editing tool that lets users modify and remix video clips from its shows to create their own in-house promotional spots. eWeek's Steve Bryant speculates that NBC will use Flash, since the popular Adobe Web-video format is harder to copy (and therefore pirate) than other formats.
In a related development, NBC and web video outfit YouTube announced a partnership today where NBC will provide official promotional clips to YouTube, and YouTube would host a make-your-own promo contest for NBC's "The Office." While that seems like a halfway step to Lusins' vision of hosting video tools on NBC's own websites, "The Office" contest, as well as NBC's plans to broadcast user-generated mashups, should delight Todd Copilevitz of the Advertising Ourselves to Death blog, since he asked in May when NBC would start broadcasting user-generated content over the air, not just on its websites.
Do you think many people will bother putting together videos for a broadcast network?
Kent State makes jocks log off Facebook
Ah, college -- those sweet, innocent years when we made idiots of ourselves in public. These days, college administrators are worried that the Internet is making student follies a bit too public, however, which is why Kent State has banned its student athletes from Facebook, giving them until August 1 to remove their profiles. Kent State administrators say they're concerned for the students' safety, but the Columbus Dispatch suggests that they're more worried about the school's image. One Kent State athlete showed a photo of himself shirtless with a can of Miller Lite, while another belonged to the "My cell phone is my best friend when I'm drunk at Kent" group on Facebook.
On Ars Technica, Peter Pollack argues that despite free-speech issues, Kent State is wise to protect its image. But a ban, it says, is the wrong way to go. "Outright bans are probably less likely to produce the desired effect than simply educating the students about what is expected of them and potential issues they may face," writes Pollack. "Education, after all, is what going to college is all about, isn't it?"
Microsoft kills new Windows file system
Microsoft is famed for its strategy of burying competitors' products with "fear, uncertainty, and doubt," or FUD. But lately, it seems to be applying the FUD most liberally to its own offerings.
Take the fate of WinFS, a new, database-driven file system that was once supposed to be a key feature of Windows Vista -- and forever change how we do computing, according to Microsoft. Now, in a curiously oblique blog post, Microsoft's Quentin Clark announced that a planned beta release of WinFS wouldn't be forthcoming, and that components of WinFS would instead find their way into Microsoft's SQL Server database software and other less widely used products.
What does that mean? Programmer Charles Miller quickly decoded the post's "marketing-speak": "WinFS is dead." Since the database file system was one of Bill Gates's pet projects, bloggers like Robert Scoble were quick to point out that WinFS's disappearance as a standalone product had "interesting timing." Microsoft's Dare Obasanjo says that killing WinFS was the right thing to do, but that the decision came two years too late: "It's sad to think about the projects that got killed or disrupted because of WinFS only for this to happen." Sure sounds like there's a lot of fear, uncertainy, and doubt inside Microsoft these days.
What do you make of Microsoft's WinFS maneuvering?
Did Google hack a middle school?
For Google, a dispute over student information found online via Google has turned into a legal fight. On Friday, North Carolina Superior Court judge Richard D. Boner (yes, that's his name) issued a temporary injunction ordering the search engine to remove information about the Catawba County Schools Board of Education. The dispute began last week when the Hickory Daily Record reported that a student's parent had found the names and Social Security numbers of 619 middle-school students in a Google search. The school claimed that Google had broken through the password protection on the school's website to access the page; a Google spokesman said that was impossible.
Techdirt feels that the school should get its own injunction against stupidity. "It certainly sounds like the school district left the information open, and doesn't want to admit it," observes Techdirt, and the injunction seems pointless, given that a lawsuit is "bound to fail." SearchEngineWatch doesn't buy the school's story, either: "Someone at the school must have left an opening for Google."
What do you think? Did the school system do enough to protect its students' personal data? Leave a comment below.
PaidContent.org gets paid for content
ContentNext Media, a website operator best known for online-media blog PaidContent.org, has taken a first round of funding from Greycroft Partners, the latest investing vehicle for private equity biggie Alan Patricof. ContentNext founder Rafat Ali describes the funding as the "next big step" since his site's launch in 2003. A gaggle of bloggers logged comments on his post to bask in the reflected warmth of the infusion of capital: "This is not only a good day for you and your team but also a great day for blogging and all of the bloggers," writes one.
Ali's new backer, Patricof, is the celebrated investor known for putting money behind Apple, AOL, New York magazine, and Office Depot, among others. Patricof also backed Wolff New Media, the ill-fated startup of journalist-turned-entrepreneur-turned-journalist Michael Wolff, who later penned the book Burn Rate, a bemused reflection on his own dealings with Patricof, media revolutions, and liquidity events.
U.S. is "ill-prepared for a cyber catastrophe."
The Business Roundtable, a high-powered, invitation-only group of 160 of the nation's top CEOs, issued a report Friday saying that the U.S. is "ill-prepared for a cyber catastrophe." The report suggests that a major blow to the Internet -- from a natural disaster or terrorist attack -- could bring the U.S. economy to a halt, writes Ars Technica. There are three key problem areas: The lack of an early warning mechanism for problems, ambiguous and overlapping responsibilities for Internet management, and insufficient resources in the hands of recovery organizations. Hurricane Katrina, according to Ars, was a wakeup call for the group.
Indeed, Roundtable president John Castellani told the press, "If our nation is hit by a cyber-Katrina that wipes out large parts of the Internet, there is no coordinated plan in place to restart and restore the Internet." Ars readers, for their part, greeted the news with black humor. No worries, writes one, "just send an email out to everyone when there's an Internet attack." To which another responds, "And when you get that email, make sure that you click 'Reply All' so everyone knows you got it."
Seriously though, what should the government and the business sector being doing to prepare for a massive Internet outage?
MySpace, the startup killer
MySpace has a message for startups: It's our space, not yours. The social networking site has forced the shutdown of DatingAnyone.com, a site that alerted its users to changes in the "relationship status" of designated MySpace members. TechCrunch notes that this is the second startup MySpace has killed in as many weeks. Last week a similar site called SingleStat.us shut down due to MySpace's legal threats after less than two weeks in existence.
In MySpace's "cease-and-desist" letter -- which DatingAnyone founder Jared Chandler posted on his shuttered site -- MySpace ticks of several concerns, notably that Chandler's "automated script" would put an undue burden on its servers, and that its terms of service expressly ban the commercial use of user information. All valid points, but, as Chandler writes, "it's unfortunate that there is no avenue for outside improvement of MySpace." He even suggests that allowing a broader community of developers to create enhancements for the service might help solve the problem of sexual predators, and TechCrunch readers seem to side with him. Writes one: "Pathetic! MySpace is destroying the innovation here! Their reasoning is ridiculous. People should be aware of this evil approach of MySpace!"
MySpace is shooting themselves in the foot. Certainly, the issues are complex, but opening up its site as a "platform" would allow third-party programmers to expand MySpace's features -- and lock in its status as the top social-networking site. Look at how Google made Google Maps so popular by opening it up to outside programmers.
Are we missing something? Should MySpace open up? Leave a comment below.
Samsung backs away from universal-format disc players
Gizmodo reports that Samsung appears to be backpedaling on plans for a next-generation DVD player that can handle both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs. The move was brash for Samsung, a member of the Blu-Ray Disc Association, which is promoting the Blu-Ray format for high-definition videodiscs. Blu-Ray, favored by Sony, which is including it in its PlayStation 3 videogame console and is releasing movies in the format, is also supported by the Universal, Disney, and Fox studios. HD-DVD, meanwhile, has support from the tech industry, including Toshiba, Microsoft, NEC, and Intel. Warner Bros., Universal and Paramount are also officially HD-DVD backers, but they're releasing movies in both formats.
Samsung had been trying to stay above the fray by producing a player that reads both formats. But, if Gizmodo is correct in reading the tea leaves, Samsung's Blu-Ray buddies may be pressuring the electronics giant to stay true to the cause. Not that consumers hoping for a universal player should worry, says Gizmodo's Charlie White: "There’s still LG, which publicly announced it would manufacture a player that goes both ways, and those in the know are saying other companies are sniffing around the possibility, too."
Forget about Flickr, PhotoBucket reigns supreme
What's the biggest photo site around? It's not Flickr, Yahoo Photos, Kodak Gallery, Snapfish, or any other site you've likely heard of. Instead, research firm Hitwise reports, it's PhotoBucket, a free service favored by MySpace users. PhotoBucket accounted for 44 percent of all U.S. Web traffic to photo websites, according to Hitwise's analysis. Yahoo Photos ran a distant second at 18 percent, and Flickr ranked sixth with 6 percent. MySpace provided 56 percent of PhotoBucket's traffic, which accounted for its rapid rise this year. "Amazing," says Om Malik at GigaOm, noting that Flickr's vaunted Ajax programming techniques didn't win it more traffic. "Success has nothing to do with Ajax or cool stuff. It has everything to do with simplicity and giving users what they want."
Which photo site do you prefer?
Sun CEO swings a slow-motion ax
Despite widespread rumors, Sun didn't announce expected mass layoffs of as many as 5,000 employees on Thursday. A company spokesperson said that the layoffs have actually been ongoing, in smaller waves, since a May 31 restructuring announcement, and that only about 400 got pink slips. But CEO Jonathan Schwartz, speaking at the Supernova conference, gave a pretty big clue as to where his slow-motion ax would fall in the future. "The era of custom hardware is on its way out," Schwartz told the crowd. That spells bad news, presumably, for anyone working on Sun's high-end Sparc servers, which use a special chip that's incompatible with the much more common Intel processor. Whose jobs are safest? Anyone working on Sun's Solaris and Java software, which Schwartz appears to favor.
Do you work for Sun, or know someone who does? What do you hear about the cuts?
AT&T disconnects privacy protections
We can't help but admire San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Lazarus. While a tad overserious, the high-tech consumer crusader is at his best when catching corporate PR people in the act of contradicting themselves.
Real Tech News says that the change in privacy policies is really a response to the controversy over AT&T's "alleged participation in [National Security Agency] wiretapping." The new policy includes language that appears to cover any disclosure of records in a government investigation.
Halo 2 gamers go pro
According to videogame news site TeamXBox, Major League Gaming -- the first professional sporting league for videogamers -- has signed a four-man Halo 2 team to a $1 million contract. Described as "by far the largest" deal ever for professional videogamers, news of the multi-year exclusive deal came as MLG also announced that Red Bull would become the league's official drink. All this has, not surprisingly, provoked discussion on Digg about whether gamers should be considered athletes. Commented one wag, "Gamers are not athletes. Try and have an ounce of respect for the people who wear that title. Except baseball players." Foul ball!
Should gamers be considered athletes? Tell us what you think.
Net abuzz about adult-proof ringtone
There's a new ringtone in town, and the older you are, the less likely you are to hear it. Agence France Presse reports that a ringtone known as "Teen Buzz," originally developed by a British security firm to discourage loitering by youths has "invaded U.S. classrooms." At a frequency of 17 Khz, the tone apparently "falls within the highest of pitches noticeable to humans." But as we age, we lose the ability to hear high-pitched tones. Students can thus delight themselves by text-messaging each other without arousing their aging teacher's suspicions. Of course, the downward glances and furious thumb-typing might still give them away.
New Yorker writer Louis Menand, inspired to a comical rant, writes that the main news of the story "is not that students are fooling their teachers, which was never news, even in ancient Greece, or that technology is rapidly unraveling the fabric of trust and respect on which civil society depends, which everyone already knows. It is that one more way for middle-aged people to feel that they're losing it has been discovered."
Nokia, Motorola duel on streets of Chicago
One block away from each other on Chicago's luxe Michigan Avenue shopping district stand dueling cell-phone flagships. First came Motorola's Destination Q, and now comes Nokia's flagship store, set to open this Saturday. Motorola's store is a single-purpose pop-up store meant to promote its Q smartphone, the cell-phone maker's answer to RIM's BlackBerry. Engadget Mobile found the store a bit too Q-centric: "Perhaps we didn't realize how focused it would be."
Nokia's, by contrast, is a considerably more substantial store, Engadget reports after an exclusive pre-opening walkthrough, featuring high-tech displays and LCD price tags below the phones. When the store opens this Saturday, Chicago residents and visitors will be able to see displays for Nokia's 8801 slider phone, the Vertu luxury phone line, and the N91 media-player phone, among others. "Nokia's effort wallops Destination Q soundly in every category," concludes Engadget.
Tell us which phone you find most appealing -- Motorola's Q or Nokia's new slider phone.
ABC's online TV experiment a success
The numbers are in, and ABC's trial of streaming TV shows online appears to be a success, with 11 million viewers clicking to watch free, ad-supported shows like "Lost" and "Alias" on their PCs in the month of May. ABC plans to keep running the site through the end of June and then close it down for a fall relaunch. Random Culture says that this shows there's a role for free TV on the Web, pointing out that Disney, ABC's parent company, only sold 6 million TV shows for $1.99 apiece on Apple's iTunes store in nine months. Jupiter Research analyst Joe Laszlo is more skeptical, however: Crunching the numbers, he finds that there were only 91,667 viewers per show per day, which doesn't even add up to a single Nielsen rating point.
What do you think about watching TV shows online? Does the idea appeal to you?
MySpace sued for $30 million in America, heads overseas
A 14-year old Texas teen has sued MySpace for $30 million, saying she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year old who contacted her through the site, masquerading as a high-school senior who played football. This is, of course, just the latest in a long stream of sexual-predator charges afflicting the social network, and Valleywag, for one, has started to lose its patience: "Look, kid, just because your dream boy turned out to not be a high-school football hottie doesn't mean MySpace will cut you a $30 million check," writes the acid-tongued Silicon Valley gossip site. Maybe so, but Publishing 2.0 thinks Mr. Murdoch's fast-growing Internet play is a "ticking time bomb" because of cases like this.
Meanwhile, MySpace has announced plans to go global, no doubt hoping that there will be fewer sexual predators -- or less litigious victims -- overseas. In an interview yesterday with the Financial Times, co-founder Chris DeWolfe went public with the social network's imminent plans to expand into 11 countries, specifically naming France, Germany, China and India. But the real shocker here is that DeWolfe and crew have made it to upwards of 75 million registered users, without even getting around to offering foreign-language versions of the service. Mon dieu!
Protesters launch guerrilla attacks on music, film industry execs
The ongoing battle surrounding digital rights management (DRM) -- the software that prevents unauthorized copying of music and video files -- is raging in full view today. You may recall DefectivebyDesign, the activist pranksters who showed up at a Microsoft conference last month in Hazmat suits to protest file formats that restrict users from sharing songs or movies. They're now asking volunteers to telephone executives at the Recording Industry Association of America to register their displeasure with these "crippled" files.
Meanwhile, fellow DRM foe Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing amps up the buzz surrounding a biting ad taken out by the Consumer Electronics Association in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. The ad features comically technophobic quotes from radio and television industry executives over the last century, making the point that the industry has a long history of knee-jerk opposition to technology change. Radio, for example, was once said to spell an end to the public purchase of music, while videotapes were nothing less than a threat to the American economy, according to the Motion Picture Association of America in 1982: "Now we are faced with a new and very troubling assault on our fiscal security, on our very economic life and we are facing it from a thing called the videocassette recorder." Note to the MPAA: It looks like the economy has survived quite nicely, which is to say nothing of all the profits Hollywood studios rake in from DVDs.
Microsoft's Google fighter leaves abruptly
Who says Microsoft's a slow-moving, lumbering giant? When it comes to eighty-sixing executives, Microsoft can move surprisingly fast. Take the unexpected exit of Martin Taylor, a longtime lieutenant to CEO Steve Ballmer who had recently been put in charge of the company's strategy to take on Google. Mere minutes after reports of his departure hit the Bloomberg wires late on Tuesday, Microsoft had already updated its website to note that the corporate vice president was no longer with the company.
Taylor, who at 36 had already been tapped as a potential successor to Bill Gates, had led Microsoft's anti-Linux push and in March had been promoted to head up marketing for Microsoft's Windows Live push, a response to Google's free, advertising-supported Web software. He even did a Q&A on Monday about the launch of Windows Live Messenger, one of Microsoft's first new Web-integrated software products.
Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox noted on the Microsoft Monitor blog that the departure was "sudden -- and unexpected." A company spokesperson told Bloomberg, "We've made the difficult decision to part ways with Martin." The company wouldn't give further details, but given the usual way Microsoft announces executive departures, that suggests that Microsoft, not Taylor, made the decision for him leave. And the abrupt departure of a longtime Ballmer protege does suggest that the CEO's power at the company is waning.
Did text messages skew "Idol" votes?
All five "American Idol" winners hail from Southern states. Is that a coincidence -- or a result of "Idol"'s sponsorship arrangement with Cingular Wireless? The deal gives the wireless carrier's subscribers the exclusive privilege of voting by text message instead of calling into "Idol"'s oft-clogged phone lines. According to research firm NPD Group, half of Cingular's 18 million text-messaging users come from the South, a result of Atlanta-based Cingular's formation from the merger of SBC and BellSouth's wireless divisions in 2001. In theory, that means that Cingular text-message users in the South may well be able to swing the vote.
There's a problem with the theory, though, RCR Wireless News points out -- Cingular took over as an "American Idol" sponsor after it acquired AT&T Wireless, based in Redmond, Wash., in 2004. AT&T Wireless, the original sponsor of American Idol, didn't have Cingular's demographic skew. That means Southerners Kelly Clarkson and Ruben Studdard won in the first two seasons on their own charms, not regional bias.
Meanwhile, some fans of Chris Daughtry actually believe that it was a technical problem with "Idol"'s conventional phone lines, not text-messaging demographics, that was to blame for his loss.
Did voting technology influence the show's outcome? Tell us what you think.
50 Cent wants to make an urban Mac
According to Forbes Magazine, 50 Cent, the rapper and hip-hop impresario, has been in talks with Apple's Steve Jobs about launching "an affordable line of personal computers for the inner city." It doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
Why shouldn't the inner city have easy-to-use, affordable computers, and why shouldn't 50 Cent, the hardcore gangsta rapper who last year brought us the autobiographical movie "Get Rich or Die Tryin," be the person to help make it happen? As he said to Forbes about his rap career, "I never got into it for the music. I got into it for the business." Apple's personal computer business has more momentum now than it has in years, but it still remains tiny relative to the WinTel monopoly. And while it isn't clear just how much a partnership with 50 Cent would actually boost Apple's market share, courting a new audience by going "old school" couldn't hurt.
But this will require lower-cost machines which may put pressure on Apple's margins. Steve Jobs, known for his exacting design standards, may balk at the inevitable design compromises, which could also alienate the vocal Mac faithful. Moreover, "Fitty," with his history of gunplay and explicit lyrics, might prove a problematic partner for the progressive, family-friendly computer company.
Still, the man born as Curtis Jackson earned $41 million last year from a panoply of product lines -- including his G-Unit clothing, sneakers, videos and even mineral water -- has proven to be a shrewd businessman. And Steve Jobs has always been the Mac Daddy when it comes to marketing. If nothing else, we'd love to see Jobs and 50 Cent on stage at the next Macworld Expo talking trash about Windows machines.
Yahoo upgrades instant messenger
Things are heating up in competition for instant messaging market share. Monday saw the release of Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger, and on the same day Yahoo delivered an upgraded version of its IM client, while also providing tools to third party developers to write "plug-ins," or add-on tools, for the software. Clearly, Yahoo hopes that opening up its IM tool will help it stay ahead in the IM arms race.
Elinor Mills at ZDNet reports that the web portal and its partners have already released upwards of 20 plug-ins for the client that allow users to monitor eBay auctions, share calendars, and listen to music while chatting, among other things. With messeging tools taking on more functionality, notably adding voice messaging (or VoIP) capability, the IM client may now have usurped the web browser as the Internet's most contested turf. For some, however, piling all of these new features into chat software is too much. "I don't know about you, but I'd prefer my core Web services in my Web browser," writes John Paczkowski at Good Morning Silicon Valley. "Adding them to an instant messaging client just seems to be needlessly mucking things up."
Google looks abroad for growth
With its utter domination of the U.S. Web search market nearly complete, it's natural for Google to look abroad for growth. Already, the company's mobile division is based in London, headed up by Nikesh Arora, a former T-Mobile executive who is now vice president for European operations, the Times of London says. And the company is desperately trying to hire someone to head up efforts to "localize," or translate, all of its Web products for the 112 countries where Google has registered its domain name, IDG News reports. Google executives have asked Reinhard Schaler, a localization expert at the University of Limerick, to help find candidates. Already, Google's Dublin staff hails from 40 different countries and together speak 30 languages, but apparently, that's not enough.
What do you think? Is Google better off seeking growth overseas? Leave a comment below.
Microsoft fights open standards with free software
Note to Massachusetts politicians: Bill Gates may be on his way out, but his lobbying juggernaut isn't going anywhere. A case in point is the struggle in the Bay State over the Open Document Format, an open standard for saving documents that competes with Microsoft Office's proprietary file formats. The state government's policy favors ODF, but Microsoft is using both public philanthropy and behind-the-scenes lobbying to undermine it.
The software giant made headlines and raised eyebrows last week by donating $30 million in software to Massachusetts schools. It was a seemingly generous gift, worth some $800 per student according to Standards Blog, but one that may have come with strings attached. Since Word and other Microsoft software don't support ODF, accepting the gift would mean a blow to the state's plans for ODF.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is continuing an invidious lobbying campaign against Massachusetts's controversial CIO. Although an amendment that would have limited the CIO's power to mandate ODF was recently defeated, the Standards Blog reports that the fight isn't over: "I am told by an informed source that the amendment lives on." The Microsoft-friendly proposal will be voted on separately, according to the blog. Slashdot users are already conducting a vigorous debate. Some see Microsoft's software gift as a good thing regardless of motive, while others are a bit more cynical: "Microsoft offered $30 million in software licenses. That's not money. That's advertising."
What do you think? Is Microsoft's supposed charity really a move to quash competition? Leave a comment below.
"Blingtones" go platinum
Believe it or not, the Recording Industry Association of America does something besides sue music fans. Most recently, it's extended its gold- and platinum-album awards to cell-phone ringtones. The Associated Press dubs the first-ever awards -- which substitute a gold or platinum cell phone for the customary precious-metal disc -- "blingtones." In total, 84 musicians received golden cell phones for sales of 500,000 or more ringtones, 40 received platinum ones for sales above a million, and 4 received multiplatinum awards for sales that topped 2 million.
About 10 percent of music-industry revenues now come from ringtones, making hot-selling blingtones an increasingly important part of the business. Even Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz took notice, wondering if the industry would need to invent a level above multiplatinum, since the audience for ringtones consists of more than a billion cell-phone users worldwide.
Craigslist doubles U.S., foreign city websites
Olli and Najib, meet Craig. PaidContent.org reports that the quasi-socialist online classifieds service has added another 100 cities to its lineup. "The U.S. expansion covers 72 new markets from Akron/Canton, Ohio to Yakima, Wash.., including nine in Texas," -- as well as 28 international sites including Beirut and Helsinki.
According to the Wall Street Journal's Brian Carney, who broke the news in a weekend interview with Craisglist CEO Jim Buckmaster, the expansion represents a doubling of Craislist's U.S. market presence. "Since its founding," writes Carney in his best line, "Craigslist has been aggressively passive (newspapermen might say passively aggressive) about monetizing its huge audience and user base."
That passive aggression -- Craigslist's longstanding reluctance to splash advertising all over the website or charge fees for anything but a few listing categories -- is about to hit the good folks at the once highly profitable Akron Beacon Journal, who were no doubt just getting back to work after getting sold off by erstwhile parent Knight Ridder. Things could be worse: They could be working at Beirut's Daily Star. Compared to the prospect of Syrian meddling in the newsroom, a little competition from Craigslist might not look so bad.
Design-it-yourself -- shoes, T-shirts, and more
The New York Times has finally deigned to discover the movement toward customer-designed goods -- a trend previously documented by Business 2.0, among other outlets. The Times, however, does illustrate that the idea of letting customers use the Web drive new products is spreading into unexpected new areas, like shoes. Designer John Fluevog solicits designs from loyal "Fluevogers" online, calling it "open source footwear." Threadless, a T-shirt store, has contests for the best customer designs.
Consultant Rex Hammock finds the notion familiar, saying that it echoes themes found in a book called The Cluetrain Manifesto, which proclaims that online communication will undermine the traditional approach to marketing. It's unlikely that shoe fans read that geeky tome, however. Fluevog, according to the Times, just sees the move to selling customer-created shoes as a natural outgrowth of his customers' enthusiasm.
Apple may prep new iPod, ultraportable Mac
What's Apple up to? Lately, we haven't seen much innovation from the maker of computers and music players, save for swapping out IBM chips for Intel processors in its desktop and notebook lineup. But the latest rumors indicate that the company may be set to release a new wave of breakthrough products. For one, it may have an ultraportable PC in the works, similar to Microsoft's indifferently received Origami designs. Apple's ultraportable would use flash memory -- the same kind of memory used in the iPod Nano, which could give Apple a substantial price advantage over competitors, since it purchases the component in very high volumes. The new computer could come as soon as the next Macworld Expo in January 2007.
Meanwhile, Taiwan's China Post reports that Hon Hai Precision Industries, a major contract manufacturer for Apple, is planning to sell $1.8 billion in shares to fund expansion plans. Chairman Terry Gou told the paper that he expects demand to pick up in the second half of the year as Apple unveils a next-generation iPod. The new music player uses a "none-touch" interface, Gou claimed, without elaborating. While it's not clear what Gou meant by "none-touch," Apple has registered a number of patents for devices with touch-sensitive screens.
Bloggers bid for media influence
Is the New York City cocktail party circuit is a leading indicator of media-industry influence? If so, this week's calendar suggests that once-scruffy and disreputable bloggers are networking their way to mainstream power. On Monday, a well-lubricated launch party at the 21 Club for DealBreaker.com, a Wall Street gossip blog, managed to haul in the likes of television host Charlie Rose, Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff, and a gaggle of investment bankers. Gawker Media founder Nick Denton arrived with his photographer to cover the affair.
On Thursday it was Denton who played host in his SoHo loft (downstairs from Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein), to welcome Michael Jackson to the Internet fold. Jackson -- the recently named president of programming for Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, not the controversial pop star -- summarized the current NYC zeitgeist by saying he'd made the leap from producing TV series like Battlestar Galactica to join Diller online because television had become a stagnant, "homogeneous" business.
Among others nodding in approval were the Zelig-like Jason Calacanis, fresh from his relaunch of Netscape.com as well as a beaming Arianna Huffington, the activist turned political blog operator.
A Treo-toting, sleep-deprived Blaise Zerega, Managing Editor of the yet-to-be-launched Conde Nast Portfolio magazine was also in the room, fresh from posting the first original content to the nascent www.cnportfolio.com: a long interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt in which the CEO laments declining professionalism in media.
Why we'll miss Bill
Are you really leaving, Bill? We only ask because it seems like some people are going to miss you. Take software entrepreneur and former Microsoft employee Joel Spolsky, for example, who reminisces about the first time Bill Gates reviewed one of his products. Back in 1992, Gates was Microsoft's CEO and still reviewed every feature of every product. Spolsky had given Gates's office an inch-thick spec for Gates, then Microsoft's CEO, to read. "There were notes in all the margins," Spolsky recalls. "On every page of the spec. He had read the whole goddamned thing." Fourteen years later, it's hard to imagine Gates -- or anyone, for that matter -- giving Microsoft products that kind of detailed scrutiny. But it was that kind of attention to detail that made Gates an effective software-company CEO back in the day. "Watching non-programmers trying to run software companies is like watching someone who doesn't know how to surf trying to surf," concludes Spolsky.
Even Mini-Microsoft, the anonymous renegade-employee blog which has often criticized the company's management, says that Gates will leave a hard-to-fill hole at the company. "We're going to need a Bill Gates action figure for those future program reviews, one that has the recorded line, 'That's the stupidest f'ing thing I've ever heard!'" Hopefully Gates will cut down on the swearing as he moves into the more genteel nonprofit world.
NY Times.com finally opens up to search engines
The New York Times may be the paper of record in print -- but it wasn't getting its due from search engines until recently. That's changed since Marshall Simmonds came on board as part of the newspaper publisher's purchase of About.com last year. In an interview, Search Engine Watch gets Simmonds to lay out how he made the Times easier to search. Some basic steps Simmonds took: Giving Yahoo, Google, and other search engines unfettered access to the website, whose registration requirements previously blocked them from indexing its pages. "Yahoo had indexed our registration page 20 million times," said Simmonds.
He's also trained writers and editors to write clearer headlines, a push that was skeptically documented by Times reporter Steve Lohr in April. Simmonds's revolutionary idea? Keep headlines simple and use the words that readers are likely to search with. The search push seems to be working: Simmonds says search-engine traffic to NYTimes.com is up 59 percent.
Netscape.com to relaunch as Digg imitator
The news that AOL is poised to relaunch Netscape.com as an experiment in community-filtered journalism is topping most tech outlets this morning. "The site is a journalist- and community-driven news aggregation site, much in the vein of Digg and other sites," writes PaidContent.org basing its analysis on a "beta" version of the site that was released late Wednesday night. "This [goes] beyond just technology, and covers other culture/business/news/social areas." PaidContent is among many who see the new site as a credible attempt by AOL to become a leading online destination for general interest news. It aims to bring mass-market traffic to the kind of "social" news mechanism that had previously been the reserve of geek sites like Slashdot and Digg.
The relaunched Netscape is unlikely to match the traffic enjoyed by Yahoo or Google's news sites anytime soon. But the threat to Digg, which only yesterday announced that it would expand into non-tech news, seems real. "According to statistics provided by AOL, Netscape serves a whopping 811 million monthly page views -- far more than Digg today," writes Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, who notes also that Weblogs Inc. founder Jason Calacanis is heading up the new operation. On Digg, readers had already begun to circle the wagons against the challenger. Comments like "I love Digg, I won't switch," and "Long live Digg" led off an emotional discussion, in which at least a few downplayed the threat. "There's nothing to worry about here. Digg is made up of a large group of people who share very similar interests, ideas, and the like."
Meanwhile, some intrepid Diggers also appeared to have registered their disapproval on the new Netscape beta site itself by "voting up" to the top position on the site the headline "AOL copies Digg," and filling the related comment thread with bitter criticism: "How very Microsoft of you," began one visiting Digger. "Isn't this the same thing Microsoft did to the Navigator [Web browser]? Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony." The news has certainly gotten people talking -- and isn't that the point?
No dancing on YouTube, says record industry
Watch out, Judson Laipply wannabes: The Recording Industry Association of America seems to be taking its cues from Footloose character Reverend Shaw Moore these days: Users dancing to copyrighted music on YouTube are its latest legal target, according to Techdirt. In the comments, Techdirt reader DittoBox asks, "How is getting free product placement bad?" The answer: Now that Apple is selling music videos on iTunes for $1.99, and big companies like Yahoo and AOL are paying fees to license them for Internet video channels, the labels have a commercial market to defend.
Project Opus reports that Universal Music Group is taking particularly aggressive action against amateur video using copyrighted songs, but notes that it and other music labels are in a tough legal spot: "If the RIAA doesn't pursue it, they set a nasty precedent that will haunt every other case moving forward." What's the answer? One solution: Make your own music and then dance to that.
What do you think? Should Internet users be allowed to post videos of themselves dancing to copyrighted music? Leave a comment below.
Google's Picasa is no Flickr-killer
Google has released -- in beta-test, of course -- Picasa Web Albums. Google's photo-editing software, which was previously limited to organizing photos on your computer's hard drive, now has a Web-based version for storing and sharing photos online, much like Yahoo's Flickr. "Is it a Flickr killer?" asks blogger Radioactive Yak. "Not yet."
Picasa Web Albums, bloggers say, lacks features like tagging and tailored search capabilities, but it does show promise. If anything, it's a refreshing change to see Google as the underdog in Web-based software.
Cybersex isn't just for geeks
In a new feature, British weekly New Scientist reports that cybersex and online gaming are converging. "Games developers are teaming up with the porn industry to open up cybersex to the broad public," summarizes Agence France-Presse.
The notion is that navigating the current offerings of sexually charged chatrooms and photorealistic "avatars" is too intimidating for most hard-up lonely hearts. But combining online dating with sophisticated, easy-to-use videogame software could help the tech-challenged make the leap into virtual romance. If it helps people find love, we're in favor, but one request: No screenshots, please.
Digg to branch out beyond tech news
In a move first reported by Business 2.0 in March, heavily-trafficked tech news site Digg will branch out into rating mainstream news articles, Valleywag reports. The Silicon Valley gossip blog has posted what it claims are "exclusive" screenshots of the soon-to-be-released third version of the site. Naturally, the Valleywag post has rocketed to the top of Digg's rankings, where readers are struggling to decide whether the potential expansion of their community is good or bad.
eBay integrates PayPal with Skype
Topping the tech blogs this morning is the news that eBay appears to have integrated its PayPal payment service with Skype, the Internet telephony software it acquired last fall for $2.6 billion. There was no official announcement, but screen shots have surfaced this week at the eBay Developers Conference of an upcoming Skype release featuring PayPal menu items, suggesting that Skype users will be able to transfer money to or receive money from whomever they happen to be talking with or instant messaging. The integration would seem to demonstrate critical synergy between eBay's core business and its two biggest strategic acquisitions.
Fair enough, says makeyougohmm.com, but why has it taken nine months since the big purchase to complete the integration? "Makes me wonder if the delay was figuring out how to deal with policing the usage of the feature," the tech blog comments, noting that PayPal has cracked down on the adult entertainment and gambling operations attempting to use its service. Gizmodo points out that, while useful, this new feature ranks more as a minor convenience, not as a killer app in itself: "If they integrate this with the WiFi Skype phones, you could possibly be able to send money to people wherever you have a WiFi connection. Then again, if you have a cellphone, you could use Paypal Mobile and do that right now."
FutureMedia sues chat-room con artist
U.K.-based FutureMedia, a web-based learning solutions outfit, is suing a Dutch man "for using Yahoo Finance and other message boards to impersonate company officials and deride the company," reports alarm:clock. The chat-room con artist, Maas van Dusschoten, allegedly demanded payments in cash and stock from Futuremedia to "go away," but he may have "picked on the wrong dog," says the a:c, as Futuremedia, struggling just to stay listed on the Nasdaq, is short on both cash and patience. But give the man his due for throwback, bubble-era stock manipulating audacity: Trading Markets Live notes that Mr. van Dusschoten even went so far as to post "several false press releases" on the Yahoo Finance. Note to day traders: double check your sources.
Flock browser back in flight
Last year a group of geek celebrities from the open source Mozilla project (cast your mind way back to the last desperate days of Netscape) set out to build a new kind of browser that would somehow make web browsing in the age of social networks a richer, deeper experience. They called their new browser Flock, but the early "developers release" landed with a thud.
The first version "wasn't ready for consumers," Flock CEO Bart Decrem told BusinessWeek.com. Now the Flock has landed again with a "public Beta," and, once again, the early adopters are eager to be pleased. "I've been running the most recent developer release on my Mac for the last few weeks and it is now my browser of choice," writes Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, praising the software's "photo integration with Flickr or Photobucket, social bookmarking integration with Del.icio.us or Shadows, blogging tool, enhanced search and RSS reader."
The Swisss-army-knife publishing tool might make good sense for the likes of Arrington, who posts pictures and subscribes to RSS feeds by the dozen, but it's unclear that the revolution will spread to the unwashed public. Even Wall Street Journal writer Jeremy Wagstaff, who applauds the tool, damns it with faint praise: "Another browser can't be bad news," he writes. "I'm not going to dump Firefox for now, but I think I'll keep Flock a-flickering too for now."
Ipod too pricey for its underpaid workers
The next time you toss a $99 iPod Shuffle into your Target shopping cart, consider this: The Chinese worker who assembled the music player would have to work for two months to afford one, if a report in the Mail on Sunday is accurate. (The British newspaper's "iPod City" article is not available online but has been summarized by Macworld UK.) The Mail says that Hon Hai Precision Industry, a Taiwanese contract manufacturer which assembles the iPods for Apple, houses 200,000 workers in dormitories in the Chinese city of Longhua and pays them the equivalent of $50 a month to work 15 hours a day on iPod assembly lines. iPod Shuffles are made in a similar plant in Suzhou, China. The plants, the Mail notes, employ women because they are viewed as more honest than male workers, according to security guards interviewed by the newspaper.
There may be errors in the report, Wired News notes For example, the Mail claims Hon Hai's Foxconn subsidiary employs 200,000 workers in Longhua, but the company only has 100,000 employees in the country according to published reports. Whatever the actual numbers, the Guardian's Technology Blog observes that working conditions in Apple's Chinese manufacturing plants may be to blame for company's quality problems.
Music file-sharing on the rise
Bloggers are openly scoffing at music-industry executives' claims that online file-sharing has been "contained." Actually, the say, file-sharing activity is on the rise -- it's just taking place through technology that the labels can't track. Gizmodo compares Recording Industry Association of America CEO Mitch Bainwol's declaration of victory over file-sharing to "Elliot Ness cracking open a few barrels of Canadian whiskey and announcing that bootlegging has been stopped." Digital Music News points out that traffic to file-sharing tracker website The Pirate Bay has surged, not plummeted, after a raid on the site by Swedish police. And by the numbers, Bainwol's claim that file-sharing activity is "flat" is just plain wrong: Nearly 10 million people are now sharing files, according to research firm BigChampagne, up nearly 15 percent from 8.7 million people a year ago.
Magazine writer hopes for blog empire
Business 2.0's May issue profiled the new trend of cubicle startups -- "using your current job as a launchpad for your own startup." Little did Business 2.0 editor Josh Quittner know the article would hit so close to home. Senior writer Om Malik is turning his popular tech blog, GigaOm, into a venture capital-backed media startup. Quittner's memo announcing the departure was leaked to Valleywag, the tech-industry gossip blog.
Microsoft executive Don Dodge notes a developing trend of corporate bloggers striking out on their own. (Browser readers will recall yesterday's news about big-name blogger Robert Scoble's departure from Microsoft for a startup.)
Blogland mostly suspended its sense of snark, with bloggers too busy noting how recently they'd dined with Om and swearing up and down that they knew the big news was coming. It falls to SiliconBeat to round up the facts of the deal, noting that Om has "raised several hundred thousand dollars from San Francisco venture firm True Ventures to focus full-time on building out the blog site." And at least one SiliconBeat reader sounds a note of reserve: "This should be interesting -- a great theorist meets reality head on."
How to build a bulletproof flash drive
Flash memory is already nearly indestructible -- the digital storage medium can survive being doused in coffee, boiled, stomped on, and washed. Now, your vital files can escape getting shot, too, thanks to Pretec Electronics' i-Disk Bulletproof USB flash drive. The "ruggedized" drive has dual layers of metal to protect the flash-memory chip inside from fire, water, and bullets. Pretec hasn't set a price yet, but the drive will come with up to 2 gigabytes of capacity. No word yet on the prospects of a celebrity endorsement from 50 Cent.
Microsoft's Scoble defects to startup, sends blogosphere into tizzy
Robert Scoble, Microsoft's famed corporate blogger, is leaving Redmond for Silicon Valley. He plans to join podcasting startup PodTech.net. The Scobleizer weblog has been perhaps the country's highest-profile experiment in company-sanctioned blogging, and the news of Scoble's departure, which broke Saturday, has lit up the Web. "Scoble" even briefly outranked "World Cup" as the top request on blog search engine Technorati, sending so much Web traffic to PodTech that its website was still unreachable by Monday morning. "Robert did more in his three years at Microsoft to improve the corporate image than any one I know," blogs Microsoft executive Don Dodge.
Scoble appears to have left Microsoft on good terms for greener pastures, but some believe he was underappreciated. "He has created a tremendous amount of positive publicity for Microsoft, but there have been many within the organization that have resented his very public position," notes Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher. "It is only within the past year that MSFT has tried to use his position as one of the most popular bloggers to its advantage."
Paul Kedrosky at Infectious Greed, however, thinks the whole affair is overblown. "My view is that Scoble is a cute media sideshow, but ultimately irrelevant," writes Kedrosky. "Fellow bloggers are entertained and enraptured by the sight of some tech PR guy (which is what Scoble really is/was) being touted as the Next Big Thing in media, but there is really very little there there."
Will eBay ads save the Web?
eBay's move into online advertising might seem like a me-too move. But Techdirt argues that it could save the Internet. How? Here's the problem eBay could solve: Google's easy-to-use AdSense advertising program has created a massive incentive for the creation of fake websites, which profit from Google-brokered ads. The fake sites clutter up search results and drain online advertisers' budgets through fraudulent clicks. But eBay's ads -- which let other websites carry auction listings -- only pay websites a share of the commission when an advertised item sells, rather than a fee for every viewer who clicks on an ad. It's easy to fake a click, but faking a sale is another matter altogether.
By tying advertising to sales, not clicks, in other words, eBay could create a revenue stream for legitimate websites and shut out spammers. Will the program take off? The Conversion Rater blog says eBay's earlier success with its affiliate-marketing programs should help.
Your car has more friends than you do
First there were social networks for people, then for soccer fans, and even dogs. Now from two ex-CNet staffers comes a social network for car enthusiasts. Boompa allows users to create MySpace-like pages for cars they own -- or wish they owned. "Users can tag and comment on the vehicle, and contact the owner and/or add him or her as a friend," writes TechCrunch.
At least some TechCrunch readers are optimistic, "Nice idea," comments one fan. "If high school boys find it, this site is going to be the biggest thing ever." But others point out that the competitive auto-related Internet space may be unforgiving. "Boompa is competing against thousands of generalist and niche-oriented auto communities that already have established brands, huge user bases, and equal if not superior feature sets," writes another reader." If opinions are mixed on Boompa's business prospects, there does seem to be a consensus forming around the unusual name, which conjures images of Willy Wonka munchkins, not hot rods: "Nice idea, horrible name," says yet another reader.
MySpace no longer pals with Tglo
Just last January, MySpace and VOIP provider Tglo seemed like best buddies, with Tglo offering buttons that MySpace users post in their profiles to let others call them over the Internet. (Some took it as a sign that the companies had a joint marketing deal, but that wasn't the case.) Then Tglo launched its own social-networking website, Tglofriends a couple of months later. Now MySpace is suing Tglo for allegedly spamming its users using fake MySpace accounts. It's the latest sketchy marketing move by Tglo, according to some. Industry watcher Andy Abramson told VOIPNews that Tglo's efforts to latch onto the popularity of eBay, Craigslist, Monster and others by offering click-to-call services for those websites' users constituted "parasitic marketing."
Google launches portable Firefox settings
Google has released software that allows users of the Firefox web-browser to save their "cookies, passwords, bookmarks, history and current list of open tabs" to a Google account, reports Lifehacker, effectively allowing web surfers to create what one Slashdot reader describes approvingly as a "roaming profile" that lets users access their browser settings regardless of what computer they're on. While generally welcomed, the release of Google Sync Firefox extension has re-ignited the privacy debate in the blogosphere.
"Personally, I'm not so worried about what Google sees," comments on Slashdotter. "I'm worried about the recent moves by the gov't to collect that info. Google is unintentionally setting up a nice little trap for a bunch of people." Lifehacker and several other Slashdot readers, however, downplay the privacy issue, noting that Google has implemented several levels of optional encryption which should satisfy all but the most security-sensitive users. Encryption is good, but there may be a more prosaic privacy issue notes another, perhaps more candid, Slashdotter: "Wait, I don't want all my bookmarks from home in my work browser!"
Rocketboom interviews Soros
As further proof of the coming of age of video blogging, pioneering "vlog" Rocketboom landed an interview with billionaire George Soros yesterday, which text blog Boing Boing describes as "excellent." Among other things, Soros spoke to Rocketboom's Amanda Congdon about the Bush Administration (general disapproval), the limitations of free markets (but he's not for world government!), and about his own relationship with the Internet. "I don't have any online habits. I'm a dinosaur," said the man who once more or less cornered the British pound. "I understand what's going on but I don't actually participate."
Louisiana braces for...video game threat
Just as the 2006 hurricane season begins, the Louisiana state legislature has passed a bill to protect minors from...dangerous video games. Ars Technica reports that LA state bill HB1381 is headed to the desk of Governor Kathleen Blanco who is expected to sign it into law, despite the fact that "it's a near certainty that the courts will bar enforcement of the law due to First Amendment concerns." It seems the bill is similar to legislation blocked by courts in Illinois, California, and Michigan and was drafted in part by well-known anti-video game activist Jack Thompson.
Ars clearly doesn't think much of the ambiguous phrasing in the bill, which prohibits, among other things, games that appeal "to the minor's morbid interest in violence" according to "contemporary community standards." Indeed, in an earlier post, Gamasutra noted that "the law itself leaves retailers exposed, with no clear definition as to what is and is not appropriate to sell to a minor."
FIFI predicts FIFA World Cup winner
According to artificial intelligence software written by two computer science students in the United Arab Emirates, Brazil will beat Italy in the finals of this year's World Cup of soccer. Shocking! say sarcastic Digg readers who collectively wonder why such an obvious outcome would require artificial intelligence. "Brazil winning the World Cup? Kinda like the Yankees winning the World Series," comments one. Still, others were intrigued by the application of artificial intelligence algorithms to a popular problem. The Dubai-based GulfNews.com says that the students put 20 years of historical data in to their model, which they have named FIFI, and which their American University professor calculates "operates with 83% accuracy."
iPod better than beer, college students say
Who's to blame for Anheuser-Busch's slumping stock? Apparently, it's Apple. College students now say they prefer iPods to beer, the perennial favorite in a regular survey conducted by Student Monitor, a market-research firm. The Unofficial Apple Weblog's Dave Caolo admits surprise at the results: "I love my iPod and all, but I'm not going to turn down a (properly poured) Guinness."
Students probably won't do so for long. The last time beer was displaced from its no. 1 slot was in 1997, when students named "the Internet" as their favorite thing. Beer quickly regained its crown. Anheuser-Busch might be better off riding the trend -- how about giving away some free songs on iTunes with those six-packs?
Motorola fights for "Razr" name
Apparently, some people are prone to confusing cell phones with scooters. That must be why Motorola is fighting with scooter maker Razor USA over its use of the "Razr" name. Back in 2004, Motorola licensed trademark rights to the "Razr" name for its ultrathin flip phone from Razor, a deal that's set to expire in October. Rather than continue the license, though, Motorola plans to change the phone's name to "Motorazr." Razor isn't happy, and the dispute has escalated to the point that Motorola has filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the scooter maker. Motorola, in the lawsuit, noted that it was "expend[ing] substantial funds" to make the switch to the slightly revised "Motorazr" name. Why anyone would be confused by the products is something of a head-scratcher, since they share little beyond the ability to fold up.
Microsoft, Yahoo, spend hundreds of millions on data centers
The cost of new data centers is rapidly rising, Slashdot notes, as the glut of facilities built during the bubble dries up. Once available on the cheap thanks to dotcom bankruptcies, the mammoth computer-hosting facilities now cost $100 million and up to build, and can consume as much electricity as a small city. Yahoo and Microsoft are rolling their own data centers -- large, warehouse-like spaces outfitted with cooling equipment and cages for rack after rack of server computers -- because of the shortage of space, and Equinix, a data-center operator, is opening new centers in Chicago and Los Angeles. Slashdot readers are posing keen questions about the trend -- why not, asks one, refit abandoned industrial buildings in cities like Detroit where land is cheap? But it turns out that the cost of electricity, not land, is the major factor in choosing sites, which is why locations like Quincy, Wash. and San Antonio, Texas are becoming the new hot spots for data centers.
Yahoo has double vision on Web products
At Yahoo, it takes two, baby, to make a website so real. In the process of acquiring new websites and revamping old ones, Yahoo's accumulating a curious set of twins. On Monday it upgraded the year-old My Web service -- a relaunch that overlaps with the recently acquired online-bookmarking service Del.icio.us -- and this morning it released a Flickr-inspired version of Yahoo Photos, the Web's largest photo sharing site.
Michael Arrington at TechCrunch approves of the new photo site, pointing out that it allows unlimited storage and "brings in the best of Flickr," the photo-sharing site Yahoo purchased last year. And therein lies the rub: Yahoo has chosen to to keep its home-built applications separate from its sexy new acquisitions like Flickr and Del.icio.us, leaving users unsure which application to use. Flickr and Yahoo Photos both let users share photos online, while Del.icio.us overlaps with My Web in providing a way for Net surfers to categorize and share Web bookmarks.)
"So I am a little confused," writes a TechCrunch reader. "Should I pay for Flickr's Pro service or do I use Yahoo Photos, which does exactly the same for free?" Commented another reader, "About Del.icio.us and Flickr, anyone know why Yahoo is trying so hard to sideline two of its best purchases?" Showing up on the TechCrunch message board, Flickr founder turned Yahoo executive Stewart Butterfield spun the situation as best he could: "Don't worry... Neither Del.icio.us nor Flickr are being sidelined. They are different, slightly-overlapping-but-complementary products."
How Google can find your cell phone
You may never lose your cell phone again, thanks to an experiment by Google Maps enthusiast Tim Hibbard. Hibbard shipped a GPS-enabled cell phone to Mike Pegg, editor of GoogleMapsMania, cleverly leaving the cell phone turned on. Thanks to a program that links the phone's Global Positioning System data with Google Maps, Web surfers are now monitoring the progress of the phone as it travels across the country.
Cell-phone providers like Disney Mobile have marketed GPS-enabled cellphones as a way for parents to keep track of their kids, but linking up Google Maps with new phones' GPS features could make the tracking function useful for just about everyone who's ever misplaced a cell phone. "I've always wanted to be able to track my phone using the built-in GPS," commented one loss-prone Digg reader.
China quietly blocking Google
Even as Google founder Sergey Brin was in Washington, D.C. yesterday, and all over the press, testifying on Capital hill regarding "net neutrality" -- and taking heat for allowing its Chinese site, google.cn, to be censored -- Paris-based Reporters Without Borders reported that Google's main, uncensored, international website was no longer accessible in most Chinese provinces, and that it was "completely inaccessible throughout China on May 31."
The blocking of Google's main site by the Chinese authorities would undermine Brin's primary defense against congressional critics, which is that the vast majority of Chinese Google users bypass the censored domestic site in favor of the uncensored international site. Reporters Without Borders notes sensibly enough that "it was only to be expected that Google.com would be gradually sidelined after the censored version was launched in January."
In a post-testimony conversation with reporters, the Sidney Morning Herald writes that Brin acknowledged having second thoughts about Google's Chinese strategy: "Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense," he said -- words that left at least some wondering if the search giant would pull out of China altogether.
Newspapers strike back with free classifieds
Watch out, Craigslist: Topix.net, a startup owned in part by newspaper chains Gannett, McClatchy, and Tribune, has launched free online classified ads alongside its local newsfeeds. The ads show up on local pages keyed to specific ZIP codes. PR expert Steve Rubel notes that the move "does convolute this market," since Topix's free online classifieds compete with paid newspaper classifieds, as well as with online job listings provided by CareerBuilder, a company owned by the same partners who own a stake in Topix.
Chris Tolles, Topix's VP for sales and marketing, argues on his company's blog that "it's clear that a 'free' classifieds system is going to be part of an overall listings strategy" for newspapers. Indeed, Topix's move follows the Bakersfield Californian's creation last year of Bakotopia, a free listings site which launched shortly after Craigslist entered the Bakersfield market.
TiVo to deliver web video
TiVo may soon deliver popular web video clips like "Lazy Sunday" and the "Chinese Backstreet Boys" directly to its subscribers' living room TVs. TVPredictions.com reports that the DVR pioneer will begin distributing short video content from ten partners -- including the NBA, the New York Times, and iVillage -- to over 400,000 of its 4.4 million subscribers. That lineup is not likely to threaten ratings for CSI or 24 any time soon, but it's the start of a significant trend, says TVPredictions: "Video on the PC will never find a large audience, but online video on the TV will."
TiVo has been running hard this week to differentiate itself from the pack of DVR clones nipping at its heels. Yesterday, the company announced the fruits of a year-old deal with cable giant Comcast. Beginning in July, Comcast's cable customers will be able to download TiVo software onto their existing set-top box DVRs, a move that Ars Technica describes as a vital test for TiVo's future: "It will directly answer one critical question: Are customers willing to pay a premium for the TiVo interface on top of other DVR-related costs?" (While cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner charge a monthly fee that covers the rental of the DVR and the service, TiVo users must buy a box and then pay an additional monthly subscription that, at $12.95, is more expensive than most cable companies' DVR offering.) Several Ars readers were quick to answer that they'd gladly pay a reasonable price premium. Commented one: "I hate my Comcast DVR on so many levels...The interface is horrendous and the implementation is buggy."
AOL to users: You've got ads
What do AOL users get for $25.90 a month? Increasingly, the same thing Web users get for free -- like ad banners attached to their email. AOL has quietly added ads that appear when users read email using AOL's dial-up software, though unlike Google's controversial Gmail ads, they aren't targeted to the words that appear in the email. Here's AOL user NJMom72's unvarnished opinion of the ads: "They are so annoying! You have to wait for them to load before your email loads, they shorten the space of your email so you have to scroll to even read it AND they automatically refresh themselves to new ads! UGH! I almost hate to read my email now because of this...booooooooo AOL!"
Could Apple team with BlackBerry?
What do you get when you cross an Apple with a BlackBerry? Call it a BerryPod. Peter Misek, an analyst at investment bank Canaccord Capital, proposed this particular horticultural experiment to the Globe and Mail, saying that adding Apple's iTunes to Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphone could help both companies.
For Apple, RIM's wireless-email capabilities could help it crack the cell-phone market, while adding iPod features to the BlackBerry would help RIM boost sales outside the business market, Misek argues. Executives at Intel, which supplies chips to both companies, have been urging the match-up, according to Misek.
Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee is skeptical, however, saying that Apple CEO Steve Jobs would likely clash with RIM co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis in striking an AppleBerry deal. "The thought of this menage a trois is absolutely hilarious," cracked Gassee to the Globe and Mail.
Pud out as CEO at AdBrite
Internet bad boy Philip "Pud" Kaplan is turning over the reigns of his latest venture, AdBrite, an Internet ad marketplace, to Iggy Fanlo, former President of Shopping.com. AdBrite, which was born of Kaplan's desire for self-service ad sales on his wildly popular FuckedCompany.com, has seen torrid growth over the last two years. Given that success, the notoriously unconventional entrepreneur says he wants to bring in a "hardcore business guy," reports ClickZ. But the buzz online is that offbeat Pud may well have been forced upstairs by the company's lead investor, Sequoia Capital. Certainly, Kaplan has had a front row seat to the demise of many once-promising tech start-ups, and no doubt he hopes that his new company will not itself provide fodder for its original corporate parent.
Biometrics foiled by Gummi Bears
They're sugary, adorable, and capable of foiling advanced security systems: A Japanese researcher has found that the gelatin used in Gummi Bears can also be used to make fake fingers that fool biometric fingerprint scanners. The research also found that it's a simple matter to lift a fingerprint from a glass, photograph it, and then imprint it onto a mold to create a duplicate fingerprint. This follows a study last year that found Play-Doh worked equally well. So much for plans by large retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco to let shoppers pay for purchases by scanning their fingers at the register.
eBay executive jumps to Wikia
Gil Penchina, a vice president and general manager for international operations at eBay, has left Meg Whitman and crew to take the top job at Wikia, a user-driven community site launched by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Penchina is also an angel investor in Wikia, which hosts "wiki" websites for communities which allow any user to edit their pages. The official press release describes Penchina as an "eight-year veteran" of the auction giant, which places him on the fortunate side of eBay's September 1998 IPO. Certainly, the most heady years of personal net-worth appreciation for eBay employees are over. Alarm:Clock wonders if Penchina's defection is "another sign of weakness at eBay, or that VCs are able to convince big-company execs that startup valuations are on the upswing." Perhaps both.
PlayStation 3 slow, hard to program
As more technical details of Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3 leak out, it appears that the videogame console is going to be underpowered and difficult to program, according to the Inquirer, largely because of the way it handles memory. The main selling point of the PS3 is its Cell microprocessor, developed at a cost of billions of dollars by Sony, IBM, and Toshiba to deliver breathtakingly realistic graphics. But in reality, the PS3 may not be able to deliver the promised performance. PS3Portal noted earlier this year that adding support for video chat and other interactive features will take away some of the processing power available for rendering game graphics.
And if the graphics aren't up to par, will gamers be willing to pay a premium price of $500 or $600 for the PS3? This may well explain the recent departure of Sony's U.S. PR chief for the PlayStation. On the bright side, corporate synergy could at last pay off: Getting into the movie business has taught Sony nothing if not how to cope with expensive flops.
Apple pulls back from India
First Apple CEO Steve Jobs delayed a planned trip to India, which would have been his first official visit since visiting the country as a tourist in the 1970s. Now the company, according to the Times of India, has dismissed 30 Indian employees at a recently opened tech-support center in Bangalore. An Apple spokesman told the Times that the company had "re-evaluated" its operations in India and now plans to expand tech-support operations in other countries instead. The Unofficial Apple Weblog notes that Dell pulled back on some Indian tech-support operations a few years ago, and congratulated Apple on abandoning its plans to answers calls in India. Apple still has a small sales and marketing operation in the country.
JetBlue offers in-flight Internet
JetBlue fliers may soon be checking their email in-flight. eWeek reports that at the FCC's latest auction, LiveTV LLC, a JetBlue subsidiary, placed the winning $7 million bid for a 1 megahertz wireless license, a move that clears that path for the domestic carrier to offer in-flight Internet connectivity. Meanwhile, a more powerful 3 Mhz license was purchased for $31.3 million by AirCell, a provider of in-flight phone service to airlines, suggesting that broadband connectivity will likely make it to other carriers as well. High-speed Internet access has been available on overseas carriers' flights for some time, but it hasn't yet made an appearance in the U.S. TechLiving worries at the prospect of VOIP users "squawking into the phone" on long flights. "Thank goodness for noise-cancelling headphones," writes the blog's Rachel Cericola.
UK pols to music industry: Rip. Mix. Burn.
The BBC reports this morning that an "influential" group of British members of Parliament has called on the music industry to clearly label digital media so that consumers know "exactly what they can and cannot do with songs and films they buy online." The Beeb notes that Parliament's "digial rights management" manifesto comes partly in response to concern over Sony BMG's controversial DRM strategy which used "virus-like techniques to hide itself and stop CDs being copied." At issue is the fact that many users have little idea of how the DRM software works, and what "rights" it's taking away from them. Beyond labeling, the report by the All Party Parlimentary Internet Group makes a host of other recommendations, even suggesting that music vendors employing overly aggressive DRM strategies could be sued.
Slashdot readers, of course, have wasted no time in making suggestions for warning label copy. One reader suggests the following warning: "[DRM] can induce heart disease, nerve breakdown, breakage of furniture such as chairs, and ultimate humiliation from friends, after the content within crashes your computer into miserable useless mess...."
Bloggers abuzz with rumored Intel layoffs
Tech blog Second Hand Smoke published rumors earlier this week that Intel may shrink its headcount by 16,000 people and cut back on its marketing. Recall that in late April, against the backdrop of declining profits and market share, Intel CEO Paul Otellini committed the chip giant to a top-to-bottom overhaul.
Since then, things have only gotten worse for Intel, with rival AMD scoring a major deal with Dell. Thus, the prospect of layoffs is not that shocking, but the scale and specificity of the job cuts mentioned was notable, and several other sites have jumped on the news, adding that Intel was planning an announcement on June 15. Silicon Forest has provided a reality check however, and concludes, somewhat tepidly, that "It seems clear Intel anticipates some job cuts out of the reorg. It also seems a tad soon to say massive layoffs are imminent."
Intel's headcount isn't the only thing set to shrink in the world of microprocessors, which is one of the few places you find grown men bragging about having smaller equipment. AMD CEO Hector Ruiz was recently talking up the compact size and power consumption of AMD's chips compared to Intel's. Power usage is a hot topic as data centers fill up with servers whose heat output overwhelms the facilities' air conditioning, and Ruiz claimed that AMD's new server chip consumes 20 percent fewer watts than Intel's.
He also talked up AMD's move to smaller-scale chip-manufacturing processes, with 65-nanometer chips expected later this year. (The size designation actually describes the average size of circuits on the chips, not the chip itself.) Intel looks set to beat AMD to move to a 45-nanometer process next year -- so don't expect an end to the ours-are-smaller trash talk anytime soon.
Sony reminds world: We make TVs, too
What does Sony do, exactly? Insurance, cosmetics, restaurants, movies, music -- and, oh, right, doesn't it make televisions, too? Sony decided to clear up any confusion on that last point by announcing seven Bravia LCD TVs and five gigantic rear-projection Grand Wega models. These must be what Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer means by "champion" products -- if by "champion," he means "extremely expensive." The top-of-the-line Grand Wega model will set you back $7,800. Of course, for that price, you get a 70-inch screen, multiple HDMI inputs for high-definition TV, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, and major bragging rights the next time you have friends over to watch a game.
PC market share: How about them Apples?
As the old saying doesn't quite go, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics about Apple's market share. Is it up? Down? As The Unofficial Apple Weblog points out, it depends on whom you ask. Maybe it's 3.6% and slightly up; maybe it's 2.0% and down by a tenth. The confusing plethora of numbers is made worse by the different measures used -- U.S. versus worldwide, retail versus online, and so on. Apple blogs do seem to agree -- whatever the real numbers are -- that Apple's market share is set to rise this year as it completes its transition to Intel chips. Some potential buyers were discouraged from buying soon-to-be-outdated machines with PowerPC chips.
Live from the Mexican border
Move over, Minuteman Project: Here come the webcams. The San Antonio Express-News reports that Texas governor Rick Perry has allocated $5 million to deploy hundreds of webcams along the state's border with Mexico. The cameras will have night-vision features, feeding images to state-run Web servers 24 hours a day. The idea takes a page from US HomeGuard, the 2003 vision of a webcam-based U.S. national-defense system put forward by erstwhile dot-com billionaire Jay Walker (of Priceline.com renown). Perry's vaguely "open source" notion is that anyone sitting at home can tune into the camera network and call a toll-free number should they spot a would-be illegal immigrant.
The BBC was quick to pick up the story, noting that Perry, a Republican, is up for re-election in November. Slashdot, in turn, linked to the BBC coverage, and one Slashdotter pointed out what he felt was a "subtle but important difference" between recent British neighborhood surveillance projects and Perry's proposal: "Britain's cams look in while Texas's cams look out. If Texas tried to spy on its citizens the same way that Britain does (not that I'm saying that Brits necessarily mind the camera[s]), the Texans would blow them away with 20 gauge shotguns." There is, as yet, no official word from the Mexican government regarding the plan.
Yahoo Video re-launched: Call it "YahooTube"
Yahoo made a break for the front of the Internet video pack last night, launching a retooled version of Yahoo Video, its well-trafficked but heretofore uninspired video-hosting service. The buzz online is that the upgrade is overdue, and may well push Yahoo ahead of current video leaders YouTube and MySpace Videos. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the new Yahoo Video, unlike the old, will allow users to upload their own movies, and goes one "step further by integrating the amateur content with professional videos from the likes of ABC News, CBS's "60 Minutes," the Discovery Channel, and CNN. This, says the Merc, "appears to position the Sunnyvale company for a future in Internet television."
TechCrunch's Michael Arrington also finds the new site promising, noting in particular that Yahoo plans to promote popular videos on its home page. But he wishes the new service was integrated with Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site Yahoo purchased last year. Flickr doesn't currently let people upload videos, but Arrington thinks it would make sense to add video features to Flickr, too: "People will upload videos on Yahoo Video to get distribution and fame," he writes. "People will upload videos to Flickr for sharing mostly with friends and family, and to have a safe long-term place to store them. I'm much more interested in the latter."
Dell bundles Skype calling software
Is it "Dell" or "Deal"? Last week, Dell announced it would install Google software on its PCs. This week, Dell has announced it will include Skype's Internet phone-calling software on two of its latest laptop models. For Dell, the move may add sex appeal to its high-powered but bulky XPS notebooks (ITWire, among others, describes the new gaming-ready portables as "luggables.")
It's also very likely that Dell got paid for offering up space on its machines' hard drives, since Skype is in an all-out race with rivals to achieve critical mass in voice-over-Internet-Protocol services. (Google is reportedly paying Dell $1 per installed machine). The reaction to the Skype deal on Digg, where most still don't see the big advantage of preloaded software, was muted. "Wow gee ... Thank God! That would save me the 10 second download," commented one underwhelmed reader.
Red Hat wastes time on social networking
You're not the only one whiling away the hours on the likes of MySpace when you should be working. It turns out that Red Hat, the Linux distributor, has been frittering away valuable time developing a new social-networking website called Mugshot, which launched Wednesday. Red Hat has released the service's code as open source to make it easier for developers to include photo- and video-sharing features in other software applications, but that's the only tenuous connection to the Linux vendor's day job. Ars Technica comes down hard on Red Hat for putting its engineers' efforts into this questionable side project when there are serious flaws that need fixing in Linux's built-in desktop and email software.
Chicago cops hop on Segways
Remember the Segway? Soon, Windy City crooks will have trouble forgetting the much-derided scooters. Defense Tech reports that the Chicago Police Department is laying out $580,000 to triple the size of its Segway Human Transporter fleet to 150. Already, Chicago cops patrol the city's lakefront and airports on Segways.
While Segways never became the mass-market hit inventor Dean Kamen hoped for, they found willing buyers in law-enforcement agencies -- so much so that Segway now makes a special model specifically for police. The Segway makes foot-patrol operations more efficient, without limiting cops' mobility the way car patrols do. The Browser has some unanswered questions: Do Segway cops have to make their own siren noise? And how, exactly, will riding around on a Segway instead of walking help more police officers pass the department's voluntary fitness test?
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