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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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September 28, 2006 4:11 PM

Zune battery life question

Posted by Brier Dudley

In response to a question today about how the Zune's battery life is affected by its wireless capability, I asked Microsoft for the official word on this topic.

The answer: Using Zune's WiFi radio shortens the battery life by an hour or two, or more depending on how much you use the wireless feature.

Zune spokeswoman Katy Gentes just told me via e-mail that the team is "working hard to minimize the impact of wireless so the difference in battery life for wireless on v. off is relatively minimal. The team has said it's looking at up to 13 hours of audio and 4 of video with wireless off. Wireless will probably shave an hour or two off that number for audio with a comparable ratio for video, but we're still testing so I can't confirm final numbers. Of course if you're continuously sending music during that time that will impact battery life as well."

So if you share some music with a Zune, the device should play for 11 or 12 hours on a charge. If you share a lot of music with your pals, you may want to ask for some electricity in return.

It's not an apples to apples comparison, so to speak, since the iPod doesn't have a wireless radio, but Apple claims its 30 gigabyte model has up to 14 hours of battery life playing music and up to 3.5 hours playing video.

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Microsoft , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 28, 2006 1:27 PM

Inslee dials in to HP pretexting scandal

Posted by Brier Dudley

During a congressional hearing today on the Hewlett-Packard scandal, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee called for fast action on a law making pretexting illegal.

``I hope the message is delivered to the leadership of the House of Representatives to pass this bill in the next 24 hours. We can have this on the suspension calendar tomorrow night,'' the Bainbridge Democrat said, according to a Reuters story.

Inslee's on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

In January, long before HP was caught pilfering phone records, Inslee introduced a bill that would have made pretexting clearly illegal. Now he's backing another bill, the Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act, H.R. 4943, that the committee approved in March.

Comments | Category: Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 28, 2006 10:54 AM

The Zune: Good deal or bad?

Posted by Brier Dudley

At $249, the Zune seems like a better deal than the $249 30 gigabyte iPod, especially if the Zune's W-iFi features work as promised.

But so far we haven't been able to get independent analysis of its performance, and the Wi-Fi sharing demo apparently failed during the Microsoft employee meeting last week.

Even without the W-iFi, the 30 gigabtye Zune has more in the box than the 30 gig iPod -- the Zune has a bigger screen (3'' to the iPod's 2.5''), an FM tuner that displays information about the songs that are playing and it comes with 25 songs and a mix of music videos.

The interfaces are pretty comparable, and both devices are pleasant to hold and fiddle with.

To get FM radio on the iPod you have to pay aound $50 more for an accessory.

But the iPod is more of a sure thing. It has more accessories available and, being in its sixth iteration, its kinks have been pretty much worked out.

Zune's cost advantage may be lost on consumers if there's a glitch in the Wi-Fi sharing feature, however. I'm sure it works -- I was apparently able to share a song during the press demo a few weeks ago -- but it involves a tricky mix of Wi-Fi and copy protection software that may be fickle in the real world.

Apple's probably already revving up a marketing campaign to help sympathetic bloggers emphasize the ambiguity about the Zune's performance, just in case Microsoft doesn't clear things up before the Nov. 14 launch.

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Microsoft , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 27, 2006 2:30 PM

Jeff Bezos talks up Amazon.com's S3 storage

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a video clip of him discussing the Simple Storage Solution at the MIT Technology Review's Emerging Technology Conference.





Comments | Category: Amazon.com |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 26, 2006 1:35 PM

A quick tour of Microsoft spinoff Wallop

Posted by Brier Dudley

Wallop is a MySpace challenger spun out of Microsoft's research group last spring that adds a new commercial twist to social networking -- there are no ads, but users can buy graphics and features to modify their Wallop home pages.

Microsoft is an investor in Wallop, but it's an independent company that also has venture funding. It began a limited public beta tested today, and it's presenting itself at the DemoFall conference in San Diego.


My Wallop home page.

I was kind of given access to the site -- a spokeswoman gave me one of the invitations you need to join, but it only let me into a limited portion of the site. It was like having the bouncer let you into the lobby of a nightclub, but not the bar or the dance floor.

I could get a whiff of the ambiance, at least. First off, Wallop is dark and stylish and it takes a little poking around to figure out how to move around. The place is filled with packs of people who seem to know each other, and you feel a little dorky if you walk in by yourself.

Like other social networking sites, this one lets you set up and customize a home page where you can blog, post photos, list buddies and chat with them and others through messages ("conversations") that other users can view.

The features that you can buy, called "mods" on the site, are in Macromedia Flash. I wonder if the site will also support and sell mods created the graphics tools Microsoft is developing to compete with Flash; that may be an interesting test of Wallop's independence.

You can also upload music from your PC, so buddies and others can sample your exquisite selections.

<
The vast empty area on the left is my Wallop buddy list. The thumbnails on the right are users outside my network.

Home pages have a little atom symbol you can click to see who is in a user's network. I have no one in my network, but the PR person who invited me appeared in a sort of exosphere dividing me from the space where the other Wallopers reside and connect to each other. I could click and drag her icon into my network, but it didn't look right for my only friend to be a flak.

Outside my network I found the profiles of the former Microsofties running the San Francisco-based venture, but I wasn't sure if I was getting the full picture or just an edited sample of how they're using the site.

Wallop CEO Karl Jacobs describes himself as CEO, a kiteboarder and soon-to -be father. He also mentioned on his blog that he's souping up a black Dodge Viper that he hopes to give 1,200 horsepower. To Wallop the Google guys' Tesla Roadsters, perhaps?

One of Jacobs' network buddies is a guy named Sean, who may be Sean Kelly, the former Microsoft Research developert who developed Wallop and now works as the fledgling company's chief technology officer. Items on his blog included a photo from an Australian beach and a YouTube music video.

I wonder if Wallop's marketplace will enable people to buy and sell video clips. User-generated video sites haven't figured out a good way to monetize content yet, but it may be easier to do within a network where users are registered for one-click micropayments.

The site had a long pause when I moved around or clicked things, but it's still in test mode and probably busy today with all the other reporters poking around the lobby.

Comments | Category: Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 26, 2006 10:03 AM

Tech employment bounces back, sort of

Posted by Brier Dudley

As of June, high- tech employment in the U.S. reached its highest level since 2002, according to a new report from the AeA.

But tech job growth from January to June -- 2.5 percent -- was less than the average in private sector employment of 3.5 percent, the report said.

Engineering and tech services and software were the fastest growing sectors of the industry. Altogether the industry employed 5.81 million as of June, up about 150,000 jobs since June 2005.

Comments | Category: Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 26, 2006 9:37 AM

Another VC wants to show you the pastoral

Posted by Brier Dudley

Former Seattle biotech investor Steve Johnson is pitching the third humor book he's written since downshifting to country life on a farm near Walla Walla.

Blue Walla includes "humorous stories about how to live life slow" according to a press release from his PR firm. He writes under the pen name Sam McLeod.

Johnson co-founded Altitude Life Science Ventures and was managing partner and president of Tradegar Investments and Perennial Ventures from 1992 to 2003. Among his major investments were Caliper, Rosetta Inpharmatics and Illumina.

When I heard the name of Johnson's Web site - LettersfromWallaWalla.com - I thought it may have something to do with the penitentiary, but that landmark doesn't appear on the site's nifty interactive map.

Comments | Category: Entrepreneurs |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 26, 2006 9:28 AM

California VCs want to show you the money

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another sign that relations between Redmond and Silicon Valley have thawed: Microsoft is hosting next month's gathering of the Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs at its Mountain View, Calif., offices.

Not only that, the startup group is looking for Northwest companies that want to participate and pitch their businesses to Valley VCs. The deadline to apply is Oct. 6, and more details are here.

Comments | Category: Entrepreneurs |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 25, 2006 12:25 PM

Fight over FCC broadband data

Posted by Brier Dudley

The FCC is being sued by a public interest group seeking data on who provides broadband service where in the U.S.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Center for Public Integrity is requesting an FCC database that lists broadband providers by Zip code.

The non-profit wants to share the information with the public on its Media Tracker Web site that provides details about media ownership.

Whether or not you equate broadband providers with media distributors, the database would be a great tool for consumers and people following municipal broadband projects like Seattle's.

Comments | Category: Public policy , Public policy , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 25, 2006 10:55 AM

Tech, taxes and education

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lots of feedback on today's column on the tech industry, education and tax breaks.

Mostly I've heard from people who don't think money alone is the answer to school problems. It's a great topic but I don't want to stray too far from technology and business subjects.

One thing I didn't mention today -- Microsoft's interest in education isn't new or specific to Washington state. Along with other big tech companies like Intel, Microsoft has brought similar concerns about education and workforce preparedness to Congress.

Hopefully it's putting a little more oomph into its back yard.

Comments | Category: Education , Microsoft , Public policy , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 22, 2006 4:57 PM

Oracle ties to Flyboys movie

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Wall Street Journal has a neat story about the risks of filming dogfight scenes in the new aviation movie, Flyboys.

Almost in passing, it mentions that funding came largely from Oracle boss Larry Ellison.

Apparently the movie project languished until Ellison's 23-year-old son, David, heard about it and got involved. The paper described David Ellison as an aerobatic pilot and aspiring filmmaker.

Technorati Profile

Comments | Category: Enterprise |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 21, 2006 5:08 PM

Costco goes HD-DVD

Posted by Brier Dudley

You can now get a polish dog, a soda and Toshiba's first-generation HD-DVD recorder for $450.49.

Costco's also carrying HD movies, priced at $19 to $24.

The warehouse retailer isn't playing sides -- it's also got Samsung's Blu-ray player for $899.99.

Technorati Profile

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 21, 2006 4:59 PM

Dealwatch: Core Duo and Slingbox

Posted by Brier Dudley

Slingboxes are suddenly $140 at outlets like J&R.com and Buy.com. Hmmm.

Also on the list: Compaq dual-core, Vista-grade laptops for $599.

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 21, 2006 4:16 PM

Merrill Lynch intrigued by Concur

Posted by Brier Dudley

The firm initiated analyst coverage with a "neutral" rating of the Redmond provider of corporate expense software and services.

Concur's stock has been on a tear, up about 24 percent over the last year. The research note suggests it could have more potential, calling it the "only 'pure-play' OnDemand T&E company."

"In our opinion, Concur could have higher future growth than management
estimates, if the company were to ramp up investments in operating resources
such as sales and marketing. Although the timing is uncertain, on the flipside,
investors will have to weigh revenue acceleration versus margin compression."

The coverage didn't do much for the stock today. CNQR closed down 77 cents, or 5 percent, at $4.79.


Comments | Category: Enterprise |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 21, 2006 10:59 AM

Seattle analyst says Microsoft increasing agility

Posted by Brier Dudley

The quick release of Microsoft's Soapbox video service suggests the company is finally getting more nimble, according to a comprehensive report by McAdams Wright Ragen's new analyst, Sid Parakh.

"Though the Soapbox launch lags competition, MSFT's announcement
comes at a much faster pace than have past product launch plans / announcements ... Overall, we believe that MSFT's brand recognition, opportunities to cross-leverage its broad product portfolio, immense financial clout and persistent attitude will enable it to regain lost ground and be a powerful player in the markets it enters going forward."

Parakh maintained a "buy" rating and predicted the stock will reach $31 within a year, adding that "patient investors may benefit handsomely."

Goldman Sachs also released a positive Microsoft note today, suggesting that investors "buy the product cycle" and benefit from the company's upcoming releases.

The firm suggested a similar approach to Adobe, and noted that SAP will be delivering its next platform and Oracle should benefit from renewed demand for its applications.

Comments | Category: Microsoft , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 20, 2006 3:56 PM

Microsoft vs Google: We've got bigger resumes

Posted by Brier Dudley

Commenting on a meeting of his developer and platform team at Microsoft, Joshua Allen said "everyone on the team is an nth-degree blackbelt, mountain climber, famous artist and poker champ. One nice thing about having a median age about 10 years older than the median GOOG employee age is that our overachievers have had 10 years extra to add lines on the resume. "

His popular Better Living through Software blog has neat insights into Microsoft, but another comment he made today, on journalism, got my hackles up. I felt as software developers probably do when they read a newspaper story that makes a false and misleading assumption about their profession.

In a comment on the fiasco over Hewlett-Packard misappropriating reporters' phone records, Allen said, "I challenge any of these oh-so-sanctimonious journalists to prove that they never used pretexting for any of their investigative journalism."

While they're at it, the reporters should prove they've never beaten their wives.

This is a digression, but I've never heard of any reporter using pretexting. It's a slimy tactic and the information gained wouldn't be worth the effort and ethical taint. A list of phone calls may be useful to a corporate leak investigation or a prosecutor, but reporters want to know what was said and why.

Decent, professional reporters don't lie about their identity to obtain personal records. Really, it's not like the "Rockford Files."

Reporters are also wary of their stories suffering the fate of the Cincinnati Enquirer's 1998 notorious expose of Chiquita Banana's business practices. The reporter's allegations of Chiquita's misconduct were confirmed in part by access he gained to the corporation's voice mail system.

That gave Chiquita leverage against the Enquirer and its corporate parent, Gannett, which ended up apologizing for the series and paying Chiquita $10 million to avoid a lawsuit over the phone system intrusion. Worst of all, a little sketchy reporting enabled Chiquita to discredit the entire story.

Microsofties can probably sympathize -- if a few bugs are found in 50 million lines of code, people stop talking about the program's overall quality.

Bottom line, no pretexting here. But I did look twice at our janitor after reading the latest stories about HP's skulduggery.

Comments | Category: Google , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 20, 2006 3:39 PM

Xbox offering world's least expensive HD-DVD player

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft is beefing up the Xbox 360 to match Sony's forthcoming PlayStation 3 point by point, and the $170 price announced today for its accessory HD-DVD player in Japan is unbeatable, according to Paul Thurrott at WindowsIT Pro.

Xboxers today announced that they're releasing the high-def DVD player in Japan in November, but there were no U.S. pricing or release details. I asked a spokeswoman for more info, and she would only say "we have more exciting announcements coming soon."

The price of a 360 plus an external HD-DVD player is competitive with a PS3 with a Blu-ray drive, but the Sony console will have a tidier setup since its next-generation drive is internal.

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 20, 2006 10:51 AM

Panasonic going for Connexion market Boeing left

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Japanese electronics giant has a system ready to go, but it's still lining up customers, according to this report.

Panasonic should benefit from Boeing's groundwork with Connexion -- it spent $1.5 billion over six years on the business before dropping it Aug. 17.

Comments | Category: Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 20, 2006 10:38 AM

The best broadband customer service

Posted by Brier Dudley

According to a new survey released by J.D. Power and Associates, customers are happiest with Midwest provider Wow!

Among the big providers here in the Northwest, Verizon and Qwest are providing above-average service and Comcast is below average, according to the survey.

PeoplePC scored the highest among dialup providers. MSN and EarthLink were also above average. United Online, AOL and AT&T/Yahoo! were ranked below average.

Here's a link to the press release.

Comments | Category: Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 19, 2006 12:56 PM

Blodget's spooky Google and Yahoo! outlook

Posted by Brier Dudley

If I was an investor in Internet stocks, I'd be a little nervous after today's warning from Yahoo!

Henry Blodget's post called it the company's third-quarter "wilt" and said even the almighty Google will suffer if the economy weakens and advertising slows.

Lots of other investors are thinking that way, apparently. At last check, Google was down nearly $11 and Yahoo! was down $3.

A beneficiary could be Microsoft. It's up a bit today, probably because it seems like a safer bet now that Jim Allchin is saying Vista is "very close to being done."

After his legal takedown, the guy who famously predicted AMZN would hit $400 during the boom is no longer a Wall Street analyst. Instead Blodget does consulting and offers tart commentary on his blog.

Comments | Category: none|Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 19, 2006 12:48 PM

Corny side of the Zune boss

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nina Shapiro wrote a nice profile of J. Allard that discloses one of his marketing research tricks.

"Once a month," he says, "I go to Target. I get a corn dog, walk the aisles, and listen to customers."

Comments | Category: Microsoft , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 18, 2006 5:18 PM

A different take on Flight Simulator X ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

A much funnier commentary on FSX is here, but don't click the link if you'll be offended by some vulgar language.

Thanks to former Seattleite Brad, reading the column from Sweden, for the link.

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 18, 2006 4:29 PM

Cool Cray event -- in Mountain View, unfortunately

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Computer History Museum is hosting an interesting event Thursday night to mark the 30th anniversary of the first Cray supercomputer, the Cray 1 that was delivered to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1976.

A talk will cover the history of founder Seymour Cray, his company and the supercomputer.

Cray is now a Seattle company, but the talk is likely to focus on its pre-Seattle days. Cray merged with Silicon Graphics in 1996, then the SGI division merged with Seattle-based Tera Computer in 2000. Tera renamed itself Cray, and now Cray is Seattle's most prominent manufacturer of computer hardware.

Moderating the talk will be Burton Smith, Tera's founder and chief scientist until last year, when he became a technical fellow at Microsoft.

The museum is in Mountain View near Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus. If the Cray event is a hit, they ought to have an encore here in Seattle.

Comments | Category: Enterprise , Entrepreneurs |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 18, 2006 3:42 PM

Wall Street likes Adobe's new products

Posted by Brier Dudley

ADBE was up 51 cents, to $37.51, after the announcement of its new Acrobat 8 line and Connect, an online service that lets users videoconference while working together on PDF documents.

Goldman Sachs said the announcement "signals the start of Adobe's long awaited product cycle" and investors should be confident that shares "can continue to rise" heading toward the even bigger launch of Adobe's new Creative Suite early next year.

I haven't had much time with the products, but I was given a quick demo this afternoon, via Connect.

Acrobat has a more streamlined look, with fewer buttons facing the user. Connect seems nifty and it's available free until the end of the year, when it will start costing $39 a month.

Adobe doesn't seem too worried about competition from Microsoft, which is offering add-in PDF support to Office and creating a competing document format known as XPS.

The PDF support "is a good thing for PDF and Adobe,'' Tom Hale, vice president of Adobe's knowledge worker business unit, told me. He said it helps to have more people using the format.

As for Microsoft's new document format, Hale said "XPS is aiming at where PDF was 10 years ago."

Adobe's Seattle office made some prominent contributions to the new products, he said, including the control in Connect to start a meeting and its hosted meeting service.

Comments | Category: Adobe |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 18, 2006 3:12 PM

Rhapsody in your pocket

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'd heard rumors that RealNetworks was developing its own portable music player, but it was probably cheaper and smarter to partner with device manufacturers like SanDisk instead.

Today, the company announced that SanDisk's Sansa e200 series players will come with Real's Rhapsody DNA software -- and 32 hours of free music from major labels and independents -- starting this fall.

As some readers said in response to my Zune column on Friday, all this competition in the MP3 player market is great. It gives buyers more choices, it may push prices down and it could force the market leader, Apple, to develop innovative new products.

But what I want to know is whether Microsoft will be forced to give the Sansa Rhapsody players free promotion on MSN Search, just as Microsoft introduces its Zune player.

Under an October 2005 settlement, Microsoft agreed to promote Rhapsody on its search site, and Rhapsody will probably play up the Sansa and other devices that use its software. The promotions were to last 18 months, so Rhapsody's presence on MSN should be strong through the holiday retail season at least.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 18, 2006 2:00 PM

Disclosures about today's Flight Simulator column

Posted by Brier Dudley

I should disclose a couple of things about today's column on Flight Simulator X.

First, a family friend works on the product but that had no influence on my reporting -- I hadn't seen the guy for 15 years until I ran into him at the game studio, after the column had already taken shape.

I went into a room with a couple of guys testing the system -- an Italian version at the time -- and one of them was Mike Lambert, who rode his bike across the country with my brother when they were teenagers. I probably won't seem him for another 15 years, unless I buy the game -- his face was used on one of the pilots.

Second, I've had a lot of e-mail from Mac users wanting to know if the game will run on their computers. I checked, and a Microsoft PR person said, "We have nothing to announce regarding a Mac version at this time." That leaves open the possibility of one in the future, but for now they want people to buy the game and Windows Vista.

Of course, users of new Macs could also run a version of Windows XP and then run Flight Simulator on XP, but it probably wouldn't have the oomph to show off the new graphics.

Third disclosure: The image we used in the paper shows a Kenmore Air seaplane flying over Elliott Bay, but the caption mentions Lake Union (you can fly over or land on Lake Union as well in the game). I wasn't involved with that, but wanted to let folks know.

The thing that probably fired me up the most about Flight Simulator was the demonstrations I'd seen with those De Havilland Beaver seaplanes. I live close to Lake Union, and love seeing them fly over the Aurora Bridge every morning on their way to the San Juans.

If you're interested in more screenshots or the free trial download, they're available here.

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 14, 2006 1:42 PM

Zune's calling

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here at the Zune demo Microsoft is putting on.

The company said it's considering a Zune brand phone. A Zune phone is "definitely part of the future of this brand," Zune marketing manager, Chris Stephenson, said.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Microsoft , Telecom , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 13, 2006 4:56 PM

Zune alert

Posted by Brier Dudley


MICROSOFT
Microsoft is introducing the Zune digital media player.


Expect to finally hear Microsoft's official word on the Zune digital media player and music service Thursday morning. Press briefings are being scheduled, and Microsoft isn't being particularly secretive about it.

It's probably not a coincidence that the Zune announcement is happening while dozens of tech journalists from around the world are in town for a Microsoft hardware launch event today and tomorrow. It would be a bonus for them to learn about more than new mice and keyboards.

Thursday is also the day that hallowed Wall Street Journal gadget reviewer Walt Mossberg's column is published. It would be infuriating -- but not suprising -- if Microsoft has given Walt first crack at the Zune. He adores the iPod and Macs, so his take on the Zune will be pretty interesting.

Update: Here's the press release:

REDMOND, Wash. -- Sept. 14, 2006 -- Marking the next big milestone for its Connected Entertainment vision, Microsoft Corp. today unveiled details of the first products to be released under its Zuneā„¢ brand. Designed around the principles of sharing, discovery and community, Zune will create new ways for consumers to connect and share entertainment experiences....

Update 2: If Walt's got a Zune, he didn't write about it this week.

Instead he wrote about RealNetworks' Rhapsody service, which is now bundled with the Sonos wireless home music system. The Sonos is one of the slickest devices for streaming music from a PC around the home, but a basic system starts at $749. Subscribing to Rhapsody costs $10 a month.

With it's wireless connectivity, Zune may turn out to be a great alternative to the Sonos -- or at least force Sonos to bring its prices down.

Comments | Category: Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 12, 2006 12:40 PM

Fiber-to-home estimate: $8,500 per house

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a new report on phone companies' broadband video efforts, Merrill Lynch said Verizon's fiber to the home technology is superior to AT&T's approach that extends fiber to neighborhood "nodes."

But Verizon's approach will cost the company $8,500 for every new video subscriber it acquires, the report said.

"We do not believe these economics will ultimately be sustainable,'' analyst Jessica Reif Cohen wrote.

She also predicted telcos will acquire 5 percent of the video service market, or 5 million subscribers, by 2010. But she questioned whether telco investors will have the patience for such a costly investment.

Consumers may benefit, however, if telcos aggressively discount their services to compete with cable providers.

Bottom line, it's a risky investment for telecommunication companies. Which is all the more reason for Seattle to be cautious before it enters a joint venture with a private company to provide fiber to the home and broadband video services in the city.

Comments | Category: Public policy , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 12, 2006 11:29 AM

Another Apple yawner

Posted by Brier Dudley

Has Apple lost its mojo?

Today's "big announcement" was pretty thin -- the iPod will get a bigger hard drive and a slightly bigger display, and iTunes will sell downloadable Disney movies.

A new version of iTunes has some nifty improvements -- you can use it to synchronize a music collection between home and work computers, and use album art to browse a music collection, just like the new Windows Media Player that Microsoft previewed last May.

Steve Jobs also teased an upcoming $299 device code-named the iTV Box that will wirelessly stream video content from iTunes to a television. Maybe there's more to the story, but what I've heard so far is hardly revolutionary.

Similar devices have been available to PC users for years -- Microsoft calls them "media extenders" and most electronics stores call them wireless media adapters. They cost around $299 when they were introduced three or four years ago but now you can buy a D-Link version for $149 at Fry's.

Now I know why Apple doesn't sell a Wi-Fi iPod or an iMac with a TV tuner -- it wants you to buy a $299 wireless media adapter instead.

Update: Kim Peterson was at the Apple press conference and we posted her report here.

Update 2: I've been playing around with the new version of iTunes (version 7) and the album cover browsing feature works really well, as long as you've got the artwork sorted out in your music collection. The software can add artwork to your songs automatically, but only if you're registered with the iTunes music store and only if the store carries those songs. I believe the previous version would grab artwork without requiring you to have an Apple account (which requires a credit card or PayPal account ... ) but I have to double check that.

The synchronization between multiple computers only works with computers on a local network.

Also new is a feature that backs up music stored in iTunes to disks. It prompts you to load either CDs or DVDs, one at a time, until the collection is backed up. But the disks can't be played by themselves in a CD or DVD player, they're only good for restoring a lost digital music collection.

Comments | Category: Apple |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 12, 2006 10:45 AM

TiVo back on gadget lovers wish list

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's suddenly clear why TiVo has been practically giving away its Series 2 boxes.

The company today unveiled a Series 3 model that's going to be one of the hot products this holiday season. Consumers are going to see a wave of new high-def video devices, and the new TiVo looks much cooler than anything Apple has announced recently, it's coming to market before Microsoft Vista's Media Center and it may have broader appeal than Sony's new PlayStation 3.



The TiVo records high-definition video, including free over-the-air broadcasts, and stores up to 300 hours of content. It's also designed to download content directly over a broadband connection, bypassing cable networks, though you'll have to use TiVo's download service.

TiVo finally added a display that shows what's recording, even when your TV is off, and upgraded its remote.

But the Series 3 costs $800, and you've got to subscribe to TiVo service, which costs $299 for three years.

That's about what you'll pay for a PlayStation 3, if you can find one this holiday season.

It's also about the same price as a current Media Center PC, which will do more than a TiVo and doesn't have any service fees. But Media Centers are more complicated and may seem obsolete in a few months, after Vista arrives.

TiVo's launch is one more reason for PC makers to fume about Vista delays. Vista's Media Center PCs will probably blow TiVo out of the water, if Microsoft can resist the temptation to charge a service fee. But consumers aren't likely to buy one after dropping $1,000 on a TiVo bundle, and TiVo has a head start.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Gadgets & products , Microsoft |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 12, 2006 9:42 AM

Back in business

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm back after a wonderful paternity leave, but feeling a little left out because I wasn't one of the reporters whose phone records were stolen by Hewlett-Packard.

Give me a ring if I've missed any juicy tech tidbits over the past few weeks -- it's a pretty secure line to my desk, 206-515-5687.

Comments | Category: Miscellaneous |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.